Tuesday, 18 January, 1944

BH GARIGLIANO XINGThe Battle Honour GARIGLIANO CROSSING is emblazoned on the Queen's Colours of The Royal Irish Regiment.

The Axis and German Commander-in-Chief Italy, Field Marshal Kesselring, believed that he could halt the German retreat in Italy. Hitler, in October 1943, ordered him to base his plans on holding a front south of Rome. Kesselring planned to hold the Allies along the Gustav Line running from the west coast along the River Garigliano, Gari and the Rapido, through Cassino and then across the high Apennines to the River Sangro on the Adriatic coast.

The weakest sector was the wide-mouthed Liri Valley, obstructed only by the Rapido/Gari, which, meets the River Liri to form the River Garigliano. Monte Cassino, however, offered excellent observation across the entrance to the Liri. The Germans estimated that the most likely main Allied route was astride Route 6 to and through the Liri Valley, with an advance also astride Route 7 on the west coast sector to support any amphibious options. Therefore, during the autumn, the German’s main preparation effort went into blocking Routes 6 and 7 as the Allies fought their way to the Gustav Line.

The attack to begin the Battle of the Garigliano Crossing started at 2100 hours on 17 January 1944. The X (British) Corps’ plan was for the 5th Division, which included the 2nd Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (2 INNISKS), to attack on the left along Route 7 on the coastal sector and secure the Minturno Ridge, and the 56th Division, which included the 1st Battalion The London Irish Rifles, to attack on the right and secure the high ground at Castleforte. The Corps’ third division, the 46th Division, was to support the left flank of II (US) Corps by its later crossing of the River, with its objective as the San Ambroglio area on the southern edge of the Liri Valley.

The 2nd INNISKS tasks were:

  • conduct a silent crossing over the Garigliano River at 2100 hours.
  • clear the bridgehead between the river and its tributary, the Ausente, of enemy outposts.
  • assemble ready to move to the forming up area.
  • move from the forming up area and cross the start line in front of the railway line to attack the German entrenchments in the Gustav Line, Zero Hour - 0330 hours.

Initially, surprise was to be achieved through strict silence and adherence to precise timings. Well before 2100 hours, D Company had secured the home bank but found that there were no boats. Only two were brought up before the 56th Division artillery shoot went ahead on the right, thus alerting the enemy to the attack on the Gustav Line. A patrol crossed in the two boats and established a bridgehead under machine-gun fire from the enemy outpost in the Epitaffio farmhouse, which it captured. It was after midnight and the 2 INNISKS should have been beyond the assembly area and nearer the forming up area. The Battalion's position was desperate as only A Company's leading platoons were on the enemy bank and enemy artillery fire was falling on them, the river and the assembly area. The Commanding Officer (CO), Lieutenant Colonel O'Brien Twohig, was granted permission to move the artillery shoot to support Zero Hour which was to be delayed from 0330 hours to 0530 hours. B Company was moved left into the flank battalion's area to make use of boats there to cross the river. Meanwhile, A Company had crossed and, despite serious command casualties, its objective, the Massa Rossi farm, was taken by a bayonet charge with Lance Sergeant Banton in command; A Company's strength was reduced to 20 men. B Company and C Company were across the river by 0200 hours, including the machine-gun platoon and a detachment of mortars. By 0530 hours, a much depleted 2 INNISKS was on its start line ready for Zero Hour.

In the advance towards the railway line, the forward companies were B and C Company with D Company in reserve, co-located with Battalion Headquarters in an apple orchard to the rear. An artillery round fell onto this position wounding the CO as well as vital battalion and artillery signallers. A quick reorganisation of signallers and radio sets soon re-established battalion command, control and artillery support. In the morning light, the forward companies continued to advance beyond the railway line supported by a protective artillery barrage that kept the enemy below ground. By 1200 hrs, C Company, led by a fighting patrol commanded by the courageous and skilful Pioneer Sergeant Boak, had broken into the centre of the objective where, occupying enemy trenches, C Company beat off a German counterattack. B Company had been held up, sustaining some 17 casualties in a minefield, but it too fought its way forward into the German line. Soon, the BBC in London was announcing:

'An important breach has been made in the main defences of the Gustav Line'

The 800-yard breach formed a salient into the Gustav Line with the assaults on either brigade flank failing to achieve the same gains. The afternoon of 18 January was spent consolidating the Battalion's position, improving its line of logistical support, and planning a night attack to the Minturno ridge position on the left, where the Wiltshire Regiment held a position at Tufo, just short of Minturno.

The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was awarded the Battle Honour GARIGLIANO CROSSING, a distinction carried forward by its successor The Royal Irish Rangers. Another of the Rangers' antecedent regiments was the The Royal Ulster Rifles and its London Irish Rifles was also awarded this Battle Honour.