Youngest Victoria Cross in the war is posthumous

5.5-inch howitzers of 236 Battery, 59th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, firing at dawn, before 12 Corps' attack in the Sittard area of Holland, 16 January 1945.
5.5-inch howitzers of 236 Battery, 59th Medium Regiment, Royal Artillery, firing at dawn, before 12 Corps’ attack in the Sittard area of Holland, 16 January 1945.
Infantry of 6th Cameronians, 52nd (Lowland) Division, passing Sherman tanks near Havert in Germany, 18 January 1945.
Infantry of 6th Cameronians, 52nd (Lowland) Division, passing Sherman tanks near Havert in Germany, 18 January 1945.
Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers pass between a Sherman and a Churchill tank during 52nd (Lowland) Division's attack towards Stein from Tuddern, 18 January 1945
Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers pass between a Sherman and a Churchill tank during 52nd (Lowland) Division’s attack towards Stein from Tuddern, 18 January 1945

While the US Army were fighting against determined German resistance in the ‘Saar Triangle’, further north the British were encountering similar difficulties in the Roer Triangle, on the border of Holland and Germany, between the Maas and the Roer rivers. Operation Blackcock had been launched on the 14th and also sought to breach the Siegfried Line and push into Germany.

Nineteen year old Dennis Donnini was from Easington Colliery, County Durham, the son of an Italian immigrant father, Alfredo Donnini, and English mother, Catherine Brown. He had two older brothers, Alfred had been captured at Dunkirk in 1940 and was a prisoner of war, and Louis had been killed in May 1944. His two sisters served in the ATS in Britain. There was little doubting the family’s loyalty to the Crown, yet his father Alfredo had been interned as an ‘Enemy Alien’ because he had been born in Italy, even though he had lived in Britain for over 40 years.

Dennis Donnini
Dennis Donnini

At just 4ft 10ins tall Dennis Donnini would only just have made it into the British Army. He seems to have been full of determination, he told his mother when he left home for the last time “When I get there, I’ll finish the war”:

In North-West Europe, on 18th January 1945, a Battalion of The Royal Scots Fusiliers supported by tanks was the leading Battalion in the assault of the German positions between the rivers Roer and Maas. This consisted of a broad belt of minefields and wire on the other side of a stream.

As the result of a thaw the armour was unable to cross the stream and the infantry had to continue the assault without the support of the tanks. Fusilier Donnini’s platoon was ordered to attack a small village.

As they left their trenches the platoon came under concentrated machine gun and rifle fire from the houses and Fusilier Donnini was hit by a bullet in the head. After a few minutes he recovered consciousness, charged down thirty yards of open road and threw a grenade into the nearest window.

The enemy fled through the gardens of four houses, closely pursued by Fusilier Donnini and the survivors of his platoon. Under heavy fire at seventy yards range Fusilier Donnini and two companions crossed an open space and reached the cover of a wooden barn, thirty yards from the enemy trenches.

Fusilier Donnini, still bleeding profusely from his wound, went into the open under intense close range fire and carried one of his companions, who had been wounded, into the barn. Taking a Bren gun he again went into the open, firing as he went.

He was wounded a second time but recovered and went on firing until a third bullet hit a grenade which he was carrying and killed him.

The superb gallantry and self-sacrifice of Fusilier Donnini drew the enemy fire away from his companions on to himself. As the result of this, the platoon were able to capture the position, accounting for thirty Germans and two machine guns.

Throughout this action, fought from beginning to end at point blank range, the dash, determination and magnificent courage of Fusilier Donnini enabled his comrades to overcome an enemy more than twice their own number.

Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers interrogate German prisoners during 52nd (Lowland) Division's attack towards Stein from Tuddern, Germany, 18 January 1945
Men of 4/5th Royal Scots Fusiliers interrogate German prisoners during 52nd (Lowland) Division’s attack towards Stein from Tuddern, Germany, 18 January 1945
Men of 7th Armoured Division stand over the corpse of one of the defenders of Schilberg, 19 January 1945.
Men of 7th Armoured Division stand over the corpse of one of the defenders of Schilberg, 19 January 1945.

One thought on “Youngest Victoria Cross in the war is posthumous”

  1. Dear Sirs,
    In the second photo on this page.
    Infantry of 6th Cameronians, 52nd (Lowland) Division, passing Sherman tanks near Havert in Germany, 18 January 1945.
    The tanks are C squadron Sherwood Rangers Yeomanry.
    Cheers,
    Thomas

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