The Italian Campaign
4th Infantry Division, 4th Indian Division, 8th Army
|4th Infantry Division|
As the Queen’s went, so the Surreys took over and were fully committed in the battles for CASSINO. The 1st Battalion was deployed to the area in early March 1944, and the 1/6th Battalion as part of the 4th (British) Division came from Egypt at the same time and was deployed along the river Rapido. When the final Battle started in May the 1/6th had the key role of crossing the Rapido and going on to enter CASSINO itself, linking up with the Polish Division, which took the Monastery. Both Surrey Battalions then continued forward harrying the German rearguards past Rome and on towards Florence and the next German main defence line along the Apennines and across to the east coast south to Rimini, the Gothic Line.
In July, 56th Division now commanded by Major General JY Whitfield, and still including 169 Queen’s Brigade having been largely reinforced by Royal Artillery men, returned to Italy to take part on the assault on the Gothic Line, as part of the 8th Army on the east coast.
The overall plan was for the 8th Army to drive through along the coast before breaking into the flat lands of the Po Valley, then the 5th Army would thrust through the main Apennines to take Bologna. There was talk at Army Commander level of “On to Vienna”, but as often in Italy, insufficient consideration was given to the difficulties of the Italian country, and the German Army’s defensive capabilities. The break-through the Gothic Line was successfully made, but soon faltered on the German fall back line on the Coriano Ridge, overlooked to its south west by the higher ridge of GEMMANO. After an initial probe by 7th Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry of 56th Division, it was decided that an attack by the whole of the Queen’s Brigade was needed, and this took place on the 8th September with 2/7th Queen’s taking the walled village of GEMMANO and 2/6th capturing the higher point 447. There were intense German counter-attacks against all three Battalions of the Brigade, but the village was held and next day the Brigade was relieved by 46th Division for whom it took another 5 days of fighting, together with 4th Indian Division, before the whole feature was taken. On relief 56th Division were moved round to the Coriano Ridge, and on 13th September the Brigade once more took part with great success in a renewed Army attack. Then after Coriano came the Ceriano Ridge and eventually the Army was through the hills on to the flat lands and across the River Rubicon. Disappointment again was experienced as the Po Plain is well covered with vines, cutting down all visibility, and a succession of embanked rivers, so the Infantry-led battle continued.
|4th Indian Division|
In the Gothic Line battles lasting just 4 weeks, the three Queen’s Battalions had each sustained some 400 casualties and 56th Division as a whole was reduced to only two Brigades. The month had seen possibly the most intense fighting of the whole war, and at the end of it 56th Division was withdrawn to recuperate and reinforce once more.
As the Queen’s Battalions came out of action 4th British Division with 1/6th Surreys took over and pressed on to take Forli, before in November the Division was transferred to Greece to deal with the unstable situation there. 1st Surreys meanwhile, who had gone back to Egypt with 78th Division in July, returned to Italy again to be deployed during the winter in the mountains north of Florence. Then, in December, 169 (Queen’s) Brigade came back into the line for the winter to be involved in actions to clear to the line of the River Senio.
With spring the final battle for Italy took place, with the Queen’s Brigade crossing Lake Comacchio and 1st Surreys driving through from the mountains to fight alongside each other in mid April in the Argenta Gap which was the gateway to the River Po. After crossing the Po and the Adige, the Queen’s were in Venice when the German Armies in Italy surrendered on 2nd May 1945.
The “Black Cat” and the “Battle Axe” had been carried from the south of Italy to the north in a campaign lasting nearly two years, and of which Field Marshal Lord Alexander said in his final summing up “Nowhere in Europe did soldiers face more difficult terrain or more determined adversaries”.