The battle for the hills overlooking Salerno continued. On the night of the 24th the Grenadier Guards had taken Hill 207 but had been unable to hold it against a heavy German counter-attack. Now the Coldstream Guards were asked to make a daylight attack, which was launched at midday on the 25th.
It was no less disorientating for Michael Howard than the night attack he had made earlier, who remembers a series of “unpleasant episodes” in his memoirs. His Company attacked on the right of the hill. No 1 Company was in the middle, on the left was No. 3 Company with fellow officer Christopher Bulteel, who describes the early stages:
It was a glorious morning, I remember, and it was hard to envisage our enemies formed up on the hill opposite. In between us, down in this little side-valley, the village slumbered, only the bell in the campanile sounding the hours to noon. I had a shave. We all brewed up a drink of tea, below the crest, and wondered what was going to hit us. There had been too much talk about ‘artillery support’ to make me altogether complacent. If our guns tried close support, shooting us in, as it were, then the shells would either go over the top of the hill altogether or, if they were ‘shorts’, would land among us. But I kept my misgivings to myself. I was a worrier, I knew.
As No. 1 Company broke cover, and emerged into the more open ground around the farm, the Germans opened up with every weapon they had. We followed. The row grew more intense. There must have been a dozen Spandaus firing at once, now: ‘a team of giants ripping up a tarpaulin’ had become standard verbiage. It was impossible to distinguish individual shots. They concentrated first of all on the farm area, on the men of No.1 Company as they dodged through it on their way to the trees; then on the platoons of No. 3 Company: us. This was no place to wait around. It was soon all too evident that the farm was a registered target for German mortars, as well.
But the unbearable noise, the streams of bullets, and the bang of mortars and grenades, rolled down the steep slope from above, were almost as continuous here. This was no German ‘outpost’. The High Command had got it wrong again, and we were all doomed. There was no way through this. The only sensible course of action was to turn our backs to this torrent of fire and run, like rabbits, down the steep hill and into cover. Some did.
Overcoming his terror Bulteel eventually made it to the top of his section of the hill. In the final stages he realised that the German machine guns were usually firing a spray of bullets over their heads, and that by keeping up the momentum of attack they gave the Germans no time to realise this and adjust their fire. On the ridge he met CSM Peter Wright from No 1 Company, all of their officers had become casualties. It later became apparent that Peter Wright had captured the position almost by himself.
Peter Wright was originally awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for this action. It was only when the King read the details of what Wright had done that he decided that it merited the Victoria Cross and personally insisted that the award be changed:
2657545 WOII (CSM) Peter Harold WRIGHT, 3rd Bn Coldstream Guards
On 25th Sept 1943 3rd Bn Coldstream Guards attacked PAGLIAROLLI feature, a steep wooded hill near SALERNO. Before they reached the crest the right hand company were held up by heavy spandau and mortar fire and all the officers had become casualties.
CSM Wright, seeing that his company was held up, went forward to see what could be done. Finding that there were no officers left he immediately took charge and crawled forward by himself to see what the opposition was. He shortly returned, collected a section, informed them that three spandau posts were holding them up and put them into a position where they could give covering fire.
Single handed he then attacked each post in turn with hand grenade and bayonet and silenced each one.
He then led the company onto the crest but realised that the enemy fire made this position untenable. He therefore led them a short way down the hill again and up onto the objective from a different direction. Entirely regardless of enemy fire, which was very heavy, he then reorganised what was left of the company and placed them in a position to consolidate the objective. Soon afterwards the enemy launched a counter attack which was successfully beaten off.
Later, with complete disregard for heavy enemy shellfire on the area of company headquarters and the reverse slopes of the hill and of machine gun fire from the commanding slopes on the left flank of the position, he brought up extra ammunition and distributed it to the company.
It is due to this Warrant Officer’s complete disregard of the enemy’s fire, his magnificent leadership and outstanding heroism throughout the action that his battalion succeeded in capturing and maintaining their hold on this very important objective.
London Gazette 27th January 1944.
Read much more about the battle at Peter Wright VC.