In Memoriam Private William John Berrill Home
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|Arthur Ernest Abbott||Harold Cheaseman|
|Gordon Roy Coe||Jack Dunkley||Gordon George Elderton||Peter Gifford Felce|
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|Edwin Hudson||John Arthur Paul Loake|
|Raymond Reginald Norman||Raymond George Osborne||Brian Terence Peck|
|Colin Roderick Penness||Douglas Arthur Prigmore||John Harry Sharp||Norman Perkins Sharpe|
|Robert Troath||Died after Korean War:||Raymond-Kimber||Leslie Walters|
WILLIAM JOHN BERRILL, born 13.1.1919, entered the School in September 1930. In December 1932, he left School and became a Dairy Farmer.
At the outbreak of war he joined the 5th Northants Regiment and served in France, North Africa, Sicily and Italy. He was killed on 24th April 1945 in the last engagement in which his Battalion took part. He was buried near the Argenta Gap.
He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. W. Berrill, 40 Northampton Road, Wellingborough. 'In Memoriam' Book
Two other Old Grammarians who served in the 8th army also died in Italian battles.
John Loake died on the 28th April 1944; buried at Naples.
Colin Roderick Penness 3rd September 1944 at the Gothic Line
William Berrill died on the 24th April 1945, in the battle at Argenta Gap
The dates when the Northamptonshire 5th Battalion were abroad are given below and confirm that this was William’s battalion. The 5th battalion was always part of 11th Infantry Brigade and after BEF (after Dunkirk) the: 78th ‘Battleaxe’ Infantry Division
The Battle Honours won by the Battalion, give a good indication of its route through N.W. Europe, North Africa, Sicily and Italy:
North-West Europe 1940
North Africa: Djedeida; Djebel Djaffa; Oued Zarga; Djebel Tanngoucha; Sidi Ahmed;
Sicily; Adrano; Sicily 1943;
Italy: Sangro; Monte Gabbione; Trasimene Line; Monte La Pieve; Argenta Gap
Posting of Northamptonshire 5th Battalion
|Egypt and M East||23/7/44-9/9/44|
It is evident ,from the above, that William fought a long war, his Battalion was the first TA unit to come into contact with the Germans as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and finally evacuated from France on the 1st June 1940 just two days before the end of the Dunkirk rescue. Information on the Battalion’s presence at Dunkirk was hard to confirm, web pages mostly mentioned the 11th Infantry Brigade rather than 5th Northamptonshire! However, the best confirmations of the presence in Dunkirk is the dates in the table above and a 10 year old girls description of a shell-shocked 5th Btn Soldier and an example of a Typical Grave.
The 5th Northamptonshire spent under 2 years in Britain, during that time it was incorporated in the 78th Division in June 1942 in Scotland to form a strike force. In August, with the division barely two months old, they held their one and only divisional exercise: ‘Dryshod’. In October they embarked for action. This force was incorporated as part of the 1st Army at the start of the Anglo-American invasion of north-west Africa called Operation Torch. A conflict which started easily for the British against the Vichy French fighters in Algeria and Tunisia, but which became much tougher when they came face to face with German forces.
The 5th Battalion became part of the 8th Army, under Montgomery, and was involved in the invasion of Sicily. The invasion began on the 9-10th July 1943; the Northampton Battalion landing on the 25th. The Battalion saw action at Adrano, Sicily.
The Battalion advanced up Italy as part of the 8th Army. On November 15th the allied advance halted at the Sangro River and stayed there for the winter. The 78th Division including the 5th Northants was allowed to recuperate in Egypt between July and October 1944, before returning to Italy. William then continued marching and fighting in the middle of Italy (click here for personal account of a 5th Northants soldier) and the Trasimine Line. Finally arriving and being involved in the last battles at Argenta Gap (click for general account of the 84th Division and 8th Army). William Berrill died on the 24th April 1945, probably at the Battle when Ferrara was taken - just days before the German surrender in Italy on May 2nd . http://ww2chat.com/forums/unit-history/221-northamptonshire-regiment.html
The 5th Battalion finally ended the war in Austria.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Typical Grave http://www.warmemorial.firstworldwarrelics.co.uk/html/army_l-y.html
Peterborough War Memorial
Topham, John Leslie, 46, Northfield Road. 5886242, Private, 5th Northamptonshire Regiment. Died 10th May 1940, aged 21. Buried in Dunkirk Town Cemetery, Nord, France. Grave reference: Plot 1. Row 1. Joint Grave 29.
After Dunkirk a 10 year girl describing a Northampton 5th Battalion Soldier
Dunkirk from the eyes of a 10 year girl by eawarren
I was with my mother in the sitting room of our house in Northampton on a sunny afternoon, helping to tidy her workbasket and recovering from whooping cough, when the front door burst open and there stood my cousin, John Perry (aged 23)saying "Hello Auntie".
His face was black and unshaven, his hands very dirty also. He had come straight from Dunkirk. I never knew what transport had got him across the sea but he said he had seen the ship with his kit - and men - completely blown up.
His trousers were torn and done up with tacking cotton and safety pins. From his pocket he produced a battered spoon and fork and a rifle slung over his shoulder he said he had picked up on the beach; no other possessions.
My mother rushed to telephone his parents in Wembley and also my father. She then went straight to a nearby baker (Lawrences in St. Giles Street) to get his favourite Chelsea Buns, leaving him with me, and reading "Punch".
It appeared, after reaching land, they were put on any train just to disperse them and when he enquired where this particular one was going and they said “Northampton”, he could hardly believe it. (He was in the Northamptonshire Regiment). He walked from the Station, on his own, straight to our house. My father came home and immediately took him to Northampton Barracks to check in.
John spent the night with us wearing my father’s pyjamas and sleeping almost through the next day.
He cleaned the gun on the kitchen table and then asked if he could fire it in the air in our garden to get rid of the sand - my mother saying an emphatic "No" and then she put a belt of cartridges in the Corner Cupboard for safe keeping.
He told us he had got separated from his men and spent the night/s in a dug-out on the beach. I never picked up any more but I just remember how stunned he seemed. Later, he rejoined his Regiment but because of his behaviour (I never knew details but insubordination was mentioned) was discharged from the Army but later diagnosed with Shell Shock.
He went to St. Andrews Hospital, Northampton, and later underwent a Leucotomy Operation there to try and relieve "blackouts" which were increasingly frequent. My uncle moved mountains to get him reinstated into the Army. Before that, he would not get up unless he could wear his uniform and he refused to see my father (who had been in the First World War) because he felt he had disgraced the family.
Eventually, he made apparent improvements and, in 1946, we went to see him at St. Andrews just before he was going to Wales to St. Andrews Holiday Resort, and then to be discharged to his own home, apparently cured. In Wales, however, he had one more "blackout" from which he never recovered.
Elizabeth Warren (nee Perry)
The 5th Regiment After Dunkirk Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/11th_Infantry_Brigade_(United_Kingdom)
The 11th Infantry Brigade, which included the 5th Northamptonshires, was originally part of the 4th Infantry Division, serving with it during the Battle of France in 1940. On the 6th June 1942 it was re-assigned to join 78th Infantry Division (commanded by Vivyan Evelegh, a previous commander of the brigade). This division was being created to take part in Operation Torch as part of the First Army (commanded by Kenneth Anderson, also a previous commander of the brigade). The 11th Brigade landed in North Africa at Algiers in November 1942 and fought with the 78th Division throughout the Tunisian Campaign which ended with the Axis surrender in May 1943. It then served with the 78th Division through out the campaigns in Sicily and Italy (except for a period of rest and training in Egypt between July and October 1944), ending the war with crossing the Italian border into in Austria.
Operation Torch Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Torch
Invasion of North West Africa
Operation Torch (from November 8, 1942) was an Anglo-American invasion of North-West Africa in WW2 (World War 2).
The Soviet Union had been putting pressure on the United States and Britain to begin operations in Europe, a second front to relieve the pressure on the Russian forces. The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill favoured an attack on northern Africa followed by an invasion of Europe in 1943, while American president Roosevelt suspected that the Africa operation would rule out an invasion of Europe in 1943 he agreed to support Churchill.
The Allies planned an Anglo-American invasion of northwestern Africa (Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia) - territory nominally in the hands of Vichy France. The French had around 60,000 soldiers in Morocco as well as coastal artillery, a handful of tanks and aircraft, ten or so warships and 11 submarines at Casablanca. The Allies hoped that the French forces would not fight, but they harboured suspicions that the French navy bore a grudge over the British action at Mers-el-Kebir in 1940. The Allies co-opted a French General, Henri Giraud, into their force as a potential commander of the French troops following invasion. The Allies intended to advance rapidly eastwards into Tunisia and attack the German forces in the rear. General Dwight Eisenhower gained command of the attack, with headquarters in Gibraltar.
ii) Battle Plan
The Allies planned a three-pronged amphibious landing to seize the key ports and airports of Morocco and Algeria simultaneously, targeting Casablanca, Oran and Algiers. Successful completion of these operations was to be followed by an advance eastwards into Tunisia.
The Western Task Force (aimed at Casablanca) comprised American units, with Major General George Patton in command. This Western Task Force consisted of the U.S. 2nd Armored Division, the U.S. 3rd and 9th Infantry Divisions—35,000 troops in all. They were transported directly from the United States.
The Centre Task Force, aimed at Oran, included the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, and the 1st Armored Division—18,500 troops. They sailed from Britain.
The Eastern Task force, aimed at Algiers, consisted of two brigades from British 78th and the US 34th Infantry Divisions and two British Commando units - 20,000 troops. During the period of the amphibious landings the force was to be commanded by U.S. Major-General Charles W. Ryder, commander of 34th Division, because it was felt that a U.S.-led invasion would be more acceptable to the French defenders than a one led by the British. Naval forces were commanded by Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Burrough.
iii. The Action
The British-commanded Eastern Task Force landed at Algiers. The French forces offered no resistance. Five days later Algiers saw a striking example of wartime political realism, when Eisenhower gave the Vichy French Admiral Jean Darlan political control of French North Africa in return for collaboration with the Allies.
Anderson’s 1st Army pushed east to Tunis. The German garrison in Tunisia was massively reinforced and reorganised as 90th Corps. By 16th November the 1st Army was over the Tunisian border 50 miles from Tunis. There, however, its advance was halted. Anderson ordered the 1st Army to go on the defensive. An unsuccessful offensive on 22-24 December demonstrated the wisdom of this decision. The 1st Army settled into defensive positions and built up its forces, which were expanded by local French troops as well as American reinforcements arriving from the west.
The Experience of Northamptonshire 5th in North West Africa preçied from a longer report written by a member of the 2nd Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers.
The 5th Northamptonshires and other troops boarded the Viceroy of India on 15 October and set off down the Clyde. On 19th October, not having progressed very far, they came back again as far as Gourock and passed two days in a landing exercise.
The Division was under US command the troops were unaware of where they were being sentut they soon heard news of the Battle of El Alamein.
‘A most impressive sight, this armada of ships,’ reported the War Diary of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers Battalion, ‘the pick of the Merchant Navy they say. Convoy totals 41 ships, including an aircraft carrier.’ In fact,forty-nine ships steamed majestically into the North Atlantic in six rows of eight abreast, with the carrier away on the port side. There followed the usual round of seaborne infantry activities, PT, weapon-training, deck games etc. But, not until the convoy was well out at sea and away from all possible insecure contacts was the battalion’s actual destination disclosed. The task of the First Army was to invade North Africa and attack Rommel’s army in the rear.
No one was quite sure what would be the reception of the invading forces, because no one could forecast the attitude of the French. Would they cooperate, or could they resist? The Allied plan, at any rate, reckoned to do without them. In point of fact, when the troops headed for the shore in their landing craft early on 8th November, the French neither resisted nor cooperated, but remained suspicious and apathetic. Some days later the Darlan affair cleared the air. On the other hand, the French did not resist the Axis forces pouring into Tunis the very day after the landings.
A double thrust for Tunis was made by the 78th Division, with the 11th Brigade advancing along the southern road from Beja through Medjez el Bab, and Blade, a composite force formed around the 17/21 Lancers and 1 Parachute Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel R.A. Hull, clearing the high ground in the centre.
On the night of 21/22 November the 2nd Fusilier Battalion arrived at Oued Zarga, a dozen miles west of Medjez, where the main road leaves the hills and slopes down towards the plain. Here it took up a position on the forward slopes of the hills, but the division was not yet sufficiently concentrated to allow any further forward movement. The Germans, meanwhile, had retired east of the Medjerda, but were still patrolling actively on the Allied side.
The plan was for the Lancashier Fusiliers to advance from the positions held by its leading companies, cross the river by 6 am and attack the town from the north while the Northamptons made a similar attack from the southwest. They were to be supported by 132 Field Regiment, Welsh territorial gunners, and a battery of mediums, with an American tank battalion held in reserve.
Unfortunately the Lancashire Fusilier battalion was delayed, and it was already light when they were heavily attacked. Obstinately the leading companies renewed their attack, and again the enemy machine-guns, sweeping over the flat, open country, forced them back into the river bed. Four times they tried to form up, and four times they were beaten back with heavy losses.
The withdrawal began at about 4.30 pm. When all the companies had crossed, except ‘D’, the covering company, the Germans put in a heavy counter-attack with tanks from the southwest side of the town. The Northamptons had already been driven back by these same tanks.
What was particularly galling was to see the bridge in Medjez, whose capture was one of the principal objects of the operation, go up in a cloud of smoke as the forces retreated. But if this object had not been achieved, at least another one had, for the Germans who had significantly not followed up their counter-attack, pulled out of Medjez el Bab that night.
The weather had now begun to break. It was a depressing period; the cold mountain air was now abetted by blinding rainstorms every day, and the troops had no change of clothing. Every road and track away from the main roads was a quagmire, and to make things even more unpleasant, the Luftwaffe had complete control of the sky and was strafing and dive-bombing at will. Every day we heard of some vehicle of the brigade being caught on the road and shot up. Above all, there was the feeling that the brilliant dash for Tunis and glory had petered out.
Tebourka had been occupied; there had been confused and indecisive fighting between Tebourka and Mateur, but although the Northamptons had reached Dejedeida, only a few miles from Tunis, they had been turned back again, and the Hampshires (lent to 11th Brigade from the Guards Brigade) had again occupied it and in their turn been pushed out after a heroic battle, all attempts to make further ground towards the east came up against opposition that was, for the moment anyhow, too strong for defeat. It seemed that the Germans had decided to stand and fight all along the line. They had won the first round, their build-up had been swifter than the Allied advance and for the time being Tunis would not be taken. But at least the Allies had Medjez el Bab, the Gateway, and in spite of their many attempts to do so the Germans never succeeded in re-taking that key position.
The rest of December passed without a major action. Christmas was not a great day in 1942. ‘Very wet and miserable’, said the Fusilier’s War Diary. ‘Rum issue very welcome. Men very cheerful considering the conditions.’
One of the hardships of this period was the shortage of men. The campaign was being run on a shoestring, there were not enough men left to work any kind of system of reliefs. One just went on and on, and of course them were no rest camps, no buildings even in the utterly bare battle areas, in which one could take refuge from the cold wet North African winter.
During most of February the focus was on the south. The Eighth Army, having passed Tripoli, was now acting as one arm in a pincer movement towards Tunis, and von Arnim’s forces in Tunisia were being strengthened by Rommel’s forces retiring from Tripolitania. With General Montgomery up against the Mareth Line, Rommel turned against the Americans of First Army and hit them hard at the battle of the Kasserine Pass.
Von Arnim reckoned that the time was now ripe for him to strike again. He did so on 26 February, coming in on 78th Division’s front south of Medjez.
Von Arnim’s offensive died down again on 3rd March and the front became comparatively quiet. But spring was coming, the season for a new Allied push. The spring offensive was timed to begin in the early days of April. The plan was for the 78th Division to advance on a front of some 10 miles to a depth of about the same extent, taking in turn a series of peaks called the Mahdi, Hill 512, Hill 667, Djebel el Ang and Tanngoucha, and the mountain villages of Toukabeur, Chaouach and Heidous. ‘This mountain land,’ wrote General Sir Kenneth Anderson, GOC First Army, in his despatches, ‘is a vast tract of country, every hill in which is large enough to swallow up a brigade of infantry, where consolidation on the rocky slopes is very difficult, in which tanks can only operate in small numbers, where movement of guns and vehicles is very restricted and where the division had to rely on pack mules for its supplies and to carry wireless telegraphy sets, tools and mortars. The general impression,’ he added in a somewhat more generous tone, ‘is one of wide spaciousness, a kind of Dartmoor or general Sutherlandshire, but with deeper valleys and steeper hills.’
For the 78th Division, the attack on Toukabeur was due to begin on 7th April. Fresh orders came during the night, and at 6 am the Fusiliers attacked under the cover of an intense artillery barrage against Hill 512. The enemy now began to hit the hill with artillery and mortars. It appeared subsequently that the East Surreys had got into Toukabeur that night, but news of this was not made known until the morning.
Next day the rest of the battalion closed up on ‘B’ Company’s hill, and at 10 am continued the advance, making now for Chaouach in company with the East Surreys. It had become very hot; soldiers who a bare few weeks earlier had felt that anything would be better than to be cold and wet now began to feel exhausted by the heat and the strenuous climbing. Nevertheless, Chaouach was taken by the battalion at 1 pro, and positions on the high ground to the north of it consolidated. It yielded about a hundred prisoners, mostly Austrians, and many weapons.
The battalion held Chaouach for the next two days, then began to move forward again on the 12th April. By daybreak on 14th April they had reached the lower slopes of Djebel Bettiour, where they linked up with the Northamptons at the top, while the East Surreys took the neighbouring height of Mahdouma. At about 10 am it was seen that the troops on Mahdouma were being forced back. ‘A’ Company was sent to counter-attack. This had such success that the company’s impetus carried it on to Djebel el Ang. Major Garner-Smith, who was commanding the battalion in the absence of Lieutenant Colonel Kelly, who had been evacuated sick, now got together with the CO of the Northamptons and together they hatched a plot to attack the next commanding feature. This was Tanngoucha, a wicked-looking mountain with a jagged, craggy peak, the capture of which was a key element in the divisional operation.
The attack was carried out by ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies and two companies of the Northamptons. It began at about 4 pro. While they were on the start-line, the troops were heavily shelled. For a while there seemed to be an inclination on the troops’ part to go to ground; but CSM Alexander of ‘C’ Company went about among them with great coolness and courage and urged them on - he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The advance then picked up a lot of dash and elm, but unfortunately after the troops had advanced a little way the leading wave was caught in very heavy mortar fire and crossfire from machine-guns and could go on no farther. Dusk was now approaching; there seemed to be no future in the attack in its current form, so the two COs decided to call it off for the time being. The attacking troops disengaged, withdrew and reorganized.
A fresh attack went in at 9.15 pm, using ‘C’ Company with the other two rifle companies of the Northamptons. All went well at first, but in the early hours of the morning of the 15th April a thick mist descended and contact with ‘C’ Company was lost. At 4.30 am ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies on Djebel Bettiour suddenly came under heavy artillery fire and the enemy loomed up through the mist in a determined counter-attack. There was nothing for it but to retire to new positions on Djebel el Ang. When daylight came it became evident that the fighting during the night had been bitter, and there was still no news from ‘C’ or from one of the Northamptons’ companies. (The other had failed to reach its objective and returned during the day, but without news of the situation in Tanngoucha.) ‘A’ and ‘B’ companies had both had heavy casualties, and it was decided to leave the former on Djebel el Ang while moving the latter to Bettiour.
The Fusiliers had fought continuously for ten days over mountain country of the most appalling difficulty. ‘I consider that the 78 Division deserves high praise,’ General Anderson wrote, ‘for as tough and prolonged a bit of fighting as has ever been undertaken by the British soldier.’ The Fusilier battalion returned to Toukabeur for a short period of rest, and here it was given enough reinforcements to bring it back to a four rifle company basis instead of the two to which it had been reduced by its losses in the mountains.
The two jaws of the attack were now closing in on Tunis. The two forces faced one another along a 100 mile front forming roughly the arc of a circle centred on Tunis, or, to be more accurate, on somewhere in the sea east of Tunis. The Eighth Army under General Montgomery was on the right of the allied line. On its left was the French 19 Corps, then came the First Army, extended over some 30 miles from Bou Arada to the heights northwest of Medjez el Bab, and from here almost to the sea stood the American 2 Corps, which had made a notable move from the southern sector right across the lines of communication, entirely unknown to the enemy. The coastal sector was occupied by some more French units. On 19 April the Eighth Army attacked in the area of Enfidaville and fighting broke out in sympathy all along the line. In these operations 5 Corps, consisting of 1, 4 and 78th Divisions, advanced to a depth of about 6 miles between 22nd and 30th April, capturing most of the Germans’ main positions facing Medjez, including Longstop.
The end in North Africa was now very near. By the 4th May patrols of the Fusiliers found indications that the enemy was pulling out, and two days later First Army, reinforced by units of the Eighth Army that had now become available to thicken the front, launched a direct attack on Tunis. The infantry secured their objectives, the armour seethed through, driving northeast from the area due east of Medjez; they captured Massicault by evening. The American 2 Corps secured positions close to Bizerta. Tunis and Bizerta were both entered on the afternoon of 7th May. There was hard street-fighting in Tunis at first, but chaos and confusion increased among the enemy, until finally the Axis armies in Tunisia folded up like paper.
Sicily 9 July-17 August 1943
On the night of 9th-10th July 1943, an Allied armada of 2,590 vessels launched one of the largest combined operations of World War II— the invasion of Sicily. Over the next thirty-eight days, half a million Allied soldiers, sailors, and airmen grappled with their German and Italian counterparts for control of this rocky outwork of Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” When the struggle was over, Sicily became the first piece of the Axis homeland to fall to Allied forces during World War II. More important, it served as both a base for the invasion of Italy and as a training ground for many of the officers and enlisted men who eleven months later landed on the beaches of Normandy.
Invasion and the‘Foot’ of Italy Source: http://history.sandiego.edu/GEN/WW2Timeline/Europe04.html
Note: The Northamptonshire 5th are part of the 8th Army and they invaded the ‘foot’. No battle honours are noted here, so presumably the battalion was no in the front line. . The Americans landed at Salerno on the west coast (see map).
On November 15th the allied advance is halted at the Sangro River.
• Winter Position occupied by Allies
• between Volturno & Gustav Lines
• became a “prepared killing ground”
• most difficult and heartbreaking time of the Italian campaign
5th Northamptonshire Fighting above the Sangro River up the ‘Leg’ of Italy Source below: http://battlefieldsww2.50megs.com/johndray.htm
John Dray served with the 5th Bn Northamptonshire Regiment (78th Division) in Italy from 1943-44. Because he had enlisted under age he was allowed to choose his unit. Although he was from Devon, John selected the Northamptonshires’ as his father had fought with the regiment in the First World War. Following training, he was posted to the 5th Battalion, part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 78th (Battle Axe) Division following the Sangro River Battle in the autumn of 1943.
The 5th battalion was transferred to the Cassino front in May 1944, and John’s company took over positions on Snakeshead Ridge. They reached this via the ‘Jeep Head’ a position north of Cassino town on the reverse slope of the high ground in front of the Abbey, which was as far as a vehicle could go. From here it was on foot or by mule. Once on the Ridge they occupied ‘Sangars’; small stone structures, which served as foxholes for the men in the line here. Movement was restricted, but occasionally there was some patrol work. There were also regular mortar bombardments - ‘stonks’ - but thankfully John’s battalion wasn’t one of those thrown into an attack on the Abbey itself.
After Cassino, John took part in the advance up the Liri Valley, where he and his battalion crossed the Rapido. In this action John served as a company sniper. As they pushed up the valley, they witnessed the Poles take Monte Cassino; John could remember seeing a flag go up on the ruins, which they all thought was a Red Cross flag, but which was in fact a Polish one. Eventually they reached the Acquino aerodrome, a circular airstrip with several wrecks of Italian aircraft scattered around. While picking some grapes on the edge of the aerodrome, John was wounded by a shot from a German sniper.
A rest in Egypt followed, and the 78th Division returned to Italy in September 1944.######
Montegabbione more information from John Dray http://battlefieldsww2.50megs.com/italy_diary_2004.htm
The Orvieto War Cemetery is in a beautiful location, with spectacular views to the hilltop town of Orvieto, this was a special journey for John Dray, as many of his mates from 5th Northants were buried here.
We followed the passage of 5th Northants up towards Montegabbione, the location of one of the toughest battles, in June 1944, after the breakout from the Liri Valley. The battalion, with tank support from the Wiltshire Yeomanry, was given the task of clearing the village, which sat on top of a small hill. The men became bogged down in a firefight in the village, and when John (the individual describing the battle) was making his way below the village walls, a sniper killed his mate Jack Warner. John holed up in a house in a nearby street, where the Northants 5th fought across the road with Panzer Grenadiers. John’s house was set on fire and the only way out was to jump the balcony!
After the fight at Montegabbione, the 5th Northants reached the shores of Lake Trasimino, a beautiful place.
Cassino We began at the start line where 5th Northants were during the Liri Valley battle. We found the farm where John, the young soldier, had taken up a sniping position. It was not far from here that his company commander was killed.
At Acquino Aerodrome and using a wartime map we were able to work out where John had dug in and been wounded by a German sniper. The day ended at Roccacasa railway station, where John recalled a sad incident in July 1944 when an Unexploded Bomb went off alongside a troop train containing his battalion, killing several men.
British Eighth Army’s British XIII Corps headed up highway 3 towards Terni and Perugia whilst V Corps advanced up the Adriatic coast.
Between 4th June and 16th June, whilst maintaining contact with the advancing Allies, Albert Kesselring executed a remarkable and unorthodox maneuver with his depleted divisions, resulting in his two armies aligning and uniting their wings on the defensive positions on the Trasimene Line. Remarkable though this was, he was probably helped by the confusion caused in the Allied advance by the relieving of II and VI Corps (substituted by U.S. IV Corps and the French Expeditionary Corps). British X Corps had also been brought into the line on XIII Corps’ right whilst V Corps had been relieved by Polish II Corps.
By the last week of June the Allies were facing the Trasimene positions. The toughest defenses were around the lake itself with XIII Corps’ 78th Infantry Division experiencing fierce fighting on 17th June at Città della Pieve and 21st June at San Fatucchio. By 24th June they had worked their way round to the north shore and linked with X Corps’ Indian 4th and Indian 10th Infantry Divisions as the German defenders withdrew towards Arezzo.
War in the North of Italy
The Spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot, was the Allied attack by Fifth United States Army and British 8th Army into the Lombardy Plain. The Argenta Gap was a well defended strip of land between Lake Commacchio and the Lombardy marshes, in the province of and near the town of Ferrara. The Axis defences there blocked the Allied advance into North-Eastern Italy.
The Battle to breach the Argenta Gap began with Operation Roast, a commando assault across Lake Commacchio on 1st April to secure the flanks for the coming assaults by the Eighth Army, and to seize three canals that ran through the area. The operation was highly successful, capturing large numbers of German artillery pieces, with the destruction of three German battalions at a low cost to Allied forces. It was in this raid that Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter of 43 Commando posthumously received the Victoria Cross for his actions.
By late morning of April 12th , after an all night assault, 8th Indian Division were established on the far side of the Santerno and British 78th Division started to pass through to make the assault on Argenta. In the meantime the British 24th Guards Brigade, part of British 56th (London) Division, had launched an amphibious flanking attack from the water and mud to the right of the Argenta Gap.
On the 13th , the 24th Guards Brigade landed near the defensive positions of the 29th Panzer Division, and with a German retreat the British 6th Armoured Division was able to penetrate the Argenta Gap. Although they gained a foothold, they were still held up at positions on the Fossa Marina on the night of April 14th. 78th Division was also held up on the same day on the Reno River at Bastia.
17th April 1945: The Allied offensive operations continued. On the right flank of the British 8th Army attacks and Argenta falls to forces of the British 5th Corps after an amphibious move across Lake Commacchio . North and east of Argenta there are no more rivers before the Po River and the British units are soon passing through what becomes known as the "Argenta Gap. West of Argenta, the British 13th Corps enters the line between British 5th Corps and the Polish 1st Corps which is moving northwest toward Bologna. The US 5th Army attacks continue as well, though with slower progress because of the more difficult terrain south and west of Bologna. German resistance was moderate, with the stiff defence of small villages such as the villages of San Antonio and Casa Tomba. German Panzer tanks were captured with their crews sleeping inside such was the speed of the Allied advance.
By the 18th the battle for the Argenta Gap was over, and much of the retreating German force had been destroyed before it could retreat accross the Po River.
By April 19th, on the Eighth Army front, the Argenta Gap had been forced, and British 6th Armoured Division was released through the left wing of the advancing 78th Division to swing left to race north west along the line of the river Reno to Bondeno and link up with the US 5th Army to complete the encirclement of the German armies defending Bologna. The German army began a general withdrawal from the area around Bologna on 20th April.
21st April 1945 Bologna is captured by units of the Polish 2nd Corps (part of British 8th Army). Units of US 2nd Corps (part of US 5th Army) enter the town a few hours later. US 5th Army forces have now cleared the Appenines and advance rapidly on the Lombard Plain. East of Bologna, The Italian partisans took control of the Italian towns out of reach of the Allies, and ordered the execution of all Fascist leaders, especially Mussolini, who fled towards Switzerland. A German roadblock stopped his car and he tried to disguise himself with a German military uniform, but it was hopeless. He and his mistress Clara were thrown in jail.
On 22nd April, Polish troops took Bologna as Vietinghoff hastily withdrew across the Po river by 23rd April and even left his big weapons behind as Truscott followed him to capture Modena. Vietinghoff met up with Wolff to decide their future, and against the strong wishes of Hitler decided on surrender. Advance units of both US 5th and British 8th Armies reach the Po River. US 5th Army units manage to cross the river south of Mantua.
24th April 1945 Units of both US 5th Army and British 8th Army begin to cross the Po River at several points near Ferrara and to the west. Ferrara is captured (William Berrill was killed on the 24th).. On the west coast, La Spezia falls to the US 92nd Division.
25th April 1945 Mantua, Parma and Verona are liberated by the Allies as German resistance begins to collapse and significant numbers of German troops surrender. ... In addition there are partisan uprisings in Milan and Genoa.
26th April 1945 The British 8th Army has crossed the Adige River and moves northeast toward Venice and Trieste.
28th April 1945 Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, as well as other Fascist leaders are caught by partisans near Lake Como as they attempt to escape to Switzerland. They are shot and their bodies transported to Milan and hung up by the heels in the main square, where a mob then mutilates the corpses.
29th April 1945 The Allied armies continue to advance quickly. Venice is liberated by British 8th Army.
1st May 1945 In Italy... General Vietinghoff, commanding German Army Group C, agrees to the surrender terms signed at Caserta. By 2nd May the Allis had nearly all of Italy and 2 days later the Allied forces in Italy met up with General Patch in Germany.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
BERRILL, WILLIAM JOHN
Date of Death:
Son of William and Elsie Louisa Berrill, of Wellingborough, Northamptonshire; husband of Veronica Mary Berrill, of Southbourne, Hampshire.
Commonwealth War Dead
I, E, 10.
ARGENTA GAP WAR CEMETERY
Britain didn’t waste any time taking action after the French Vichy government signed a treaty with the Germans on 25 June 1940. The French had a powerful fleet which was a threat to British naval supremacy in the Mediterranean. Only eight days after the treaty was signed, on 3 July, the British seized all French ships in British ports. Then, under the command of Admiral Somerville, Force H was dispatched to deal with the French in North Africa.
The British were not privy to intelligence regarding an agreement made between Germany and France; the French fleet was not available to the Germans or Italians but was rendered immobile with strict instructions from Admiral Darlan, Vichy Naval Minister, not to take orders from Germans.
British warships made their way to the Algerian port of Mers-el-Kébir where several French battleships were docked. Negotiations with the French were awkward (the French commander, Admiral Gensoul, at first refused to meet a British emissary) but Admiral Somerville was reluctant to attack. British intelligence forewarned Somerville that he would have to act quickly before the French support arrived. Somerville opened fire, causing serious damage to several battleships and blowing up the Bretagne. Over a thousand French were killed.