Counting the Cost

 

Counting the Cost

 

It is difficult to record in any detail the events of that night and the early morning following. It is reported that 10 enemy counter attacks were beaten off and the Battalion’s Anti-Tank guns were all knocked out and the crews killed or wounded. Most of the officers and NCOs had fallen and only about 20 men survived in each Company. Major John Fry was the only surviving Company Commander. At one stage in the battle Colonel James was shot through the neck and killed while sending corrections to the Artillery fire directly to me which I was passing on to our Regimental Headquarters. I only recall firing concentrated smoke cover from our guns when Major John Fry decided the position was completely untenable and ordered the withdrawal of survivors under the smoke cover. Indeed, smoke cover was often critical – and was used offensively and defensively. My stock phrase to the chaps under my command was “Bash on … bags of smoke!”.

It is recorded in 179 Field Regiment’s history that in this battle for Hill 112 the guns never stopped firing and in one recorded 15 minute period the Regiment fired 1,800 rounds of 25-pounder high explosive in response to calls from the DCLI (directed by myself). The history of 43rd Wessex Division records that two men of the 10th SS Panzer Division who had actually taken part in the battle, when interrogated as prisoners, revealed that the enemy defences consisted of a strong outpost line forward of the main road across the hill with the main position just on the reverse slope and that, of the nine or ten tanks attacked only two returned undamaged. 21st Regiment (Lorried Infantry) and 22nd Regiment (Armour) were all committed in the attack. The enemy casualties were stated to be so appalling that when they were finally withdrawn they were reduced to five or six effective men in each Company. The 9th SS Panzer Division which had arrived on the afternoon of the 10th July suffered losses on a comparable scale.

The Divisional War Memorial now stands on Hill 112, on the very spot where Colonel Richard James and so many DCLI officers and men together with their fellow Battalions, the Wiltshires, the Middlesex, the Royal Artillery and the Armoured Corps, gave their lives. In the Divisional history Major General H. Essame, then commanding 214 Brigade in 43rd Division states “much of the credit for the successful defence of the Divisional front on this and on the following days must be given to the overwhelmingly efficient support given to the Infantry by the guns and to the daring and skill of the Battery Commanders and FOOs (Forward Observation Officers) who, regardless of risk, kept the enemy’s every move under “observed fire”.

Lieutenant-Colonel George Taylor of the Worcestershire Regiment, who had been Second in Command, took over as Commanding Officer of the DCLI who had lost more than half their strength in the battle for Hill 112. I remained as Gunner OP with Colonel Taylor’s command for several days before the DCLI were withdrawn to the rest area and their position taken over by the 7th Somerset Light Infantry.

 

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