Attack continues after 100 casualties in 2 minutes

German prisoners being searched during the attack across the River Gari on the Gustav Line, 13 May 1944.

German prisoners being searched during the attack across the River Gari on the Gustav Line, 13 May 1944.

In Italy the battle for Cassino continued with the intensity that it had begun. There were several natural defensive features that had to be overcome, the river crossings that had begun on the 11th May had not proceeded as expected. Although strong swimmers had been able to cross the notorious River Rapido, they had been able to make little progress when they reached the opposite bank, held up by sustained machine gun fire.

Tank support was brought in on the 13th and they were able to cross by a bridge, enabling the Hampshire Regiment to make some progress, although they did so in the face of grenades and machine gun fire. Captain Wakeford contributed to the capture of 200 prisoners that day.

In attempting another tank supported crossing, of the River Pioppeta, on the 14th, the tanks crashed through the collapsing bridge. The Hampshires sustained over 100 casualties in two minutes, as the surprise of their attack was lost. It took extraordinary courage to pursue the attack in these circumstances. Captain Richard Wakeford was not deterred:

On 13th May, 1944, Captain Wakeford commanded the leading Company on the right flank of an attack on two hills near Cassino, and accompanied by his orderly and armed only with a revolver, he killed a number of the enemy and handed over 20 prisoners when the Company came forward.

On the final objective a German officer and 5 other ranks were holding a house. After being twice driven back by grenades. Captain Wakeford, with a final dash, reached the window and hurled in his grenades. Those of the enemy who were not killed or wounded, surrendered.

Attacking another feature on the following day, a tank became bogged on the start line, surprise was lost and the leading infantry were caught in the enemy’s fire, so that the resulting casualties endangered the whole operation.

Captain Wakeford, keeping his Company under perfect control, crossed the start line and although wounded in the face and in both arms, led his men up the hill. Half way up the hill his Company came under heavy spandau fire; in spite of his wounds, he organized and led a force to deal with this opposition so that his Company could get on.

By now the Company was being heavily mortared and Captain Wakeford was again wounded, in both legs, but he still went on and reaching his objective, he organized and consolidated the remainder of his Company and reported to his Commanding Officer before submitting to any personal attention.

During the seven hour interval before stretcher-bearers could reach him his unwavering high spirits encouraged the wounded men around him. His selfless devotion to duty, leadership, determination, courage and disregard for his own serious injuries were beyond all praise.

London Gazette 11 July 1944

Captain Richard Wakeford receiving the Victoria Cross when the King visited Italy later that year.

Captain Richard Wakeford receiving the Victoria Cross when the King visited Italy later that year.

For more on this battle see Dal Volturno a Cassino

Walking wounded coming back from the line for treatment during the attack across the River Gari (Rapido) on the Gustav Line, 14 May 1944.

Walking wounded coming back from the line for treatment during the attack across the River Gari (Rapido) on the Gustav Line, 14 May 1944.

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