Gunners of 78th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery make use of 'liberated' sunshades to keep the rain off while making a brew, Anzio, Italy, 27 February 1944.

Gunners of 78th Field Regiment, Royal Artillery make use of ‘liberated’ sunshades to keep the rain off while making a brew, Anzio, Italy, 27 February 1944.

On the Anzio bridgehead the struggle continued. After the German attempts to breakthrough had failed the situation reverted to a battle of attrition. The Allies had plentiful supplies but struggled to bring them into the narrow bridgehead. Every inch of the territory was vulnerable to shellfire and it soon proved to a potent threat to anyone within the perimeter, not discriminating between front line soldiers or nurses and quartermasters at ‘the rear’. The ‘rear’ was only a few miles back at most.

V.C. Fairfield was with the 64th (7th London) Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, he describes events on the 21/22nd February:

The next day, a Sunday was relatively quiet. This is apart from continuous activity by our guns. There was also the usual outburst of our antiaircraft fire when enemy Messerschmitts came in low out of the morning sun and attacked some unfortunate targets, usually road transport for everything else was dug in and well camouflaged. But it was also essential that those of us on the battery gun position were kept supplied with food, the guns fully stocked with ammunition and all the other necessary replacements provided.

This necessitated daily journeys from the “waggon lines” a mile or more behind us to the battery position and the very few roads that could be used were subject to much intermittent shell fire and hit and run air attacks. And when that happens there is nowhere to go, no cover and no warning to the unfortunate occupants of the trucks involved. Furthermore they know they are the particular target for destruction. So each quartermaster became adept at timing his dashes to his respective battery to coincide with lulls in the shelling.

That afternoon we were visited by a party of two officers and a sergeant major from one of the other battery command posts in the regiment. They were not impressed with our dugout particularly as it had only a tarpaulin cover. Their own command post roof had been constructed of chopped down trees on top of which they had placed a further cover of sandbags and earth and was felt by them to be much more suitable.

Late in the evening, just before darkness set in we were again the target for some very heavy shelling and indeed it was a miracle that nobody was hit. I believe it was during this particular onslaught that I counted twenty-seven duds that buried themselves in the soft earth but failed to explode. This could have been caused by the use of old ammunition but a more likely explanation was sabotage by slave labour in the German factories.

The nearness of the previous night’s shelling gave me much food for thought the next morning and later in the day I set about improving the safety of our command post which felt more vulnerable each time the enemy had a go at us. Therefore I organised the collection of steel boxes, each containing a full complement of used cartridge cases made of brass.

These littered the area around the gun pits, being thrown to one side for collection and stacking by the gunners after firing off the appropriate shells but the guns had been so busy that they were beginning to get in the way. I suppose each box was about two feet six inches long, a foot wide and eighteen inches high. These I had placed to form a wall along the side of the command post facing the enemy to provide an obstacle against any shells coming in at an angle of about thirty degrees which was roughly the angle of descent of an 88 or 105 mm shell. This wall of cartridge case boxes was to prove very useful on the day we pulled out and when the command post was crowded with our own personnel and key officers from 5th Division.

That night I was off duty for a few hours and slept in my personal slit trench which was as narrow as I could bear, about two feet deep but warm enough. I managed a fair night’s sleep disturbed only by some shelling and bombing. However the trouble with sleeping alone was that during the shelling I tended to develop an uncontrollable tremble. This never happened at other times and was no doubt a manifestation of fear.

And strange things did happen. One member of the battery had had a “feeling” and had spent the night with the Light anti-aircraft guns. On returning to his bivouac he found it wasn’t there! Instead there was a large crater made by a 210 mm shell! And there was a gunner who, after his duty at the gun returned to his tent only to find under his bed an unexploded 88mm shell.

In the morning and indeed all next day there was spasmodic shelling. We were so far as we could make out, the target for an enemy troop of three guns and we could hear them firing before the shells arrived. The standing joke while we were at Anzio was that it was quite safe to go about our business if we heard “boom, boom” or even “boom, boom, boom, boom” but everybody dived for cover when we heard “boom, boom, boom”.

During the afternoon the strongly built, logged and sandbagged roofed command post of one of the other batteries in our regiment received a direct hit causing the deaths of two officers, a battery sergeant major and a bombadier which brought home the fact that survival in war, as in peace is all a matter of “when your time is up, it’s up!”

This is part of a much longer account on BBC People’s War.

US artillerymen protect their ears as a 155mm 'Long Tom' gun fires from a dugout during fierce fighting resulting from German counter attacks.

US artillerymen protect their ears as a 155mm ‘Long Tom’ gun fires from a dugout during fierce fighting resulting from German counter attacks.

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Feb

20

1944

London faces up to the ‘Mini-Blitz’


20 February 1944: London faces up to the ‘Mini-Blitz’

Finally we decided to go up on the roof. Very cold as we climbed by the fire escape. Firewatchers were like ants below. White frost on all the roofs, and in the direction of Portobello Road there was the sound of a crackling fire. We knew it was near. Other fires round about. We well deserved pneumonia, but could not resist such an amazing sight from the roof.

Feb

19

1944

Walker gets another U-Boat – U-264 and crew


19 February 1944: Walker gets another U-Boat – U-264 and crew

“U 264” remained submerged for some time after her contact with the convoy. At about noon on 19th February, she came to a depth of about 20 m. (65 ft.) in order to signal Control. She was then discovered by a group of destroyers which immediately began a prolonged attack. The U-Boat immediately submerged to a greater depth and, taking evasive action, released several S.B.T. charges. She was unable to shake off her pursuers and depth-charges continued to rain down on her.

Feb

18

1944

Operation Jericho: RAF breach Amiens prison walls


18 February 1944: Operation Jericho: RAF breach Amiens prison walls

Intention: To break the outer wall in at least two places.
Method: Leading three aircraft to attack eastern wall using main road as lead in. Second section of three aircraft when ten miles from target will break away to the right at sufficient height to allow them to watch leading three aircraft and then attack northern wall on a North-South run, immediately following the explosion of the bombs of the leading section.

Feb

17

1944

The London Irish try to find the ‘Ox and Bucks’


17 February 1944: London Irish casualties as they try to find the ‘Ox and Bucks’

As the leading troops emerged from the protection of the wadis they came under savage artillery, mortar, and small-arms fire, and were unable to make further progress. Casualties among officers and non-commissioned officers were heavy, and that led to some disorganisation. Since January there had been an eighty per cent. change in the personnel of the battalion owing to the need to replace losses among officers and men.

Feb

16

1944

Hitler calls for “iron will” and permits no retreats


16 February 1944: Hitler calls for “iron will” and permits no retreats

Hitler had pointed out many times that Nikopol manganese was particularly important in the making of stainless steel. That was why sources of raw materials had to be retained at all com. For that reason the Nikopol area had to be turned into a fortress that could not be taken by the Russians.

Feb

15

1944

7th Ox and Bucks wiped out holding the line at Anzio


15 February 1944: 7th Ox and Bucks wiped out holding the line at Anzio

Inside a wired enclosure nearby, new positions were adopted and after further bitter fighting all during that day and night, the Germans launched yet another heavy attack at dawn. The field telephone rang at Battalion HQ and Captain Closebrooks heard the signaller say; “We’re in our sangers. The Boche is pelting us with grenades!” Subsequently, the sadly significant message was received; “We are turning it in now”.

Feb

14

1944

The gruesome remains left on a jungle battlefield


14 February 1944: The gruesome remains left on a jungle battlefield

The bones and skulls and equipment of the Jap dead lie about in great quantities, and even these last traces will not survive much longer. It gave me a strange feeling to probe among and walk over these bones of what had once been fanatical Jap soldiers, bent on the destruction of our boys for some strange reason which they probably never understood

Feb

13

1944

Italians suffer as the battles continue


13 February 1944: Italians suffer as the battles continue

It is odd how used one can become to uncertainty for the future, to a complete planlessness, even in one’s most private mind. What we shall do and be, and whether we shall, in a few months’ time, have any home or possessions, or indeed our lives, is so clearly dependent on events outside our own control as to be almost restful. For of course everyone else is in the same boat. Refugees from southern Italy bring tragic tales of the results of the ‘scorched earth’ policy, carried out by the Germans in their leisurely retreat.

Feb

12

1944

Troopship Khedive Ismail sunk with 1,296 souls lost


12 February 1944: Troopship Khedive Ismail sunk with 1,296 souls lost

Survivors and crew went about the ship throwing everything moveable over the side to lighten her. I dumped loads of 4 inch shells from ready use lockers. Both sets of quadruple torpedo tubes were turned outboard by hand and fired to lighten ship. On board Petard, six torpedoes were fired at the Japanese submarine, but they all missed, the seventh was fired by local control and did the trick. It blew the submarine in half; I watched the two halves upend and sink with no survivors.