Where the lines were static it was common for both sides to send out probing patrols, sometimes with the aim of discovering more about the aim of the enemy’s positions, sometimes with a view to capturing prisoners. There are not many accounts by people who were successfully overcome by such raids.
The author Nicholas Mosley is the son of Sir Oswald Mosley, the Blackshirt who had been locked up by the British during the war for his Fascist sympathies. In 1944 he was a 20 year old officer with the London Irish Rifles, having just arrived in Italy, where the Regiment had been for some time. They held a position on the snow covered slopes of Montenero, where the ground was so hard it was not possible to dig proper trenches:
On the first morning of our second period, when my sergeant and section commanders were all in the tent getting their orders, an artillery shell or mortar bomb landed next to us or almost on top of us, wounding two or three and leaving us all dazed.
I thought that I was wounded because I was spattered with blood; but this turned out to be from one of my corporals or my sergeant. I shouted the order to ‘Stand to’ — which meant that the people in the trenches would be ready to open fire. I looked out from the torn tent and saw ghostly figures coming down through the trees; they were dressed in white smocks and were making noises like wolves.
I shouted an order as I had been taught — ‘Enemy on the left, a hundred yards, coming through the trees, open fire!’ No one fired. I did not know what to do about this: it was not a situation we had been taught how to deal with during training.
The section leaders who had not been wounded were crawling back from the tent towards their trenches; my sergeant and I had a small slit trench outside the tent which was where we were to go in an emergency. My wounded sergeant had slithered to this and was lying at the bottom so that there was no room for me to get under cover except by kneeling on top of him.
I shouted my order again; Why had no one told us what to do if orders to fire were not obeyed? Such an event was not thought possible. My sergeant said —- ‘Don’t tell them to shoot, sir, or we’ll all be killed!’ I thought this was probably true, but was not that what we were here for? However if we didn’t fire, yes, we might all be taken prisoner. And wasn’t this what at times I had imagined I was here for?
Then I decided – or it was somehow decided for me? — no, that is not what I am here for. And my view of the world seemed abruptly to change at that moment.
As an officer used to obeying regulations, I was armed only with a pistol; officers were supposed to give orders for rifles and Bren guns to be fired, not themselves to be equipped seriously to shoot. The Germans coming down through the trees were now almost upon us: still there was no one firing.
I thought I should clamber out of my useless trench and crawl to one of the forward section positions where I could myself get a Bren gun working. I had got some way when more grenades started landing; I threw myself — or was propelled — into a snowdrift.
I lay there immovable for a few seconds until there was someone jerking at the lanyard of the pistol round my neck; it was a German with a sub-machine gun. I made it possible for him to remove the lanyard and pistol from round my neck; but how in God’s name had I got into such a situation — and one which I had even thought desirable? The experience was unbearable. I had to get away.
Nicholas Mosley, being the son of his father, was especially anxious not to be taken prisoner by the Germans. He managed to escape with a few other men but he faced an awkward time explaining how most of his platoon were taken prisoner. See Nicholas Mosley: Time at War.
The original reports relating to the incident can be read at Irish Brigade.