The weather was deteriorating in Italy and the Allies were struggling to break through the Gothic Line. Despite the withdrawal of troops to southern France the Germans did not notice that the Allied attacks were particularly weakened. In his memoirs the German commander Albert Kesselring played grudging tribute to the assault on his line at this time. Right through to the end of October he was to have some anxious moments as the Allies nearly found their breakthrough:
The fierceness of the battles and the large commitment of men and material revealed the importance of the Italian theatre to the Allies, which had not declined with the invasion of the south of France. While the forces expended on it were replaced by foreign divisions (Brazilian, Italian), the close-support activity of the air force after a temporary slackening had been very quickly stepped up again to its former intensity, though their naval forces lay curiously doggo. Meanwhile guerilla warfare grew sharper with the expansion of the Partisan organisation.
Allied strategy showed a remarkable improvement. True they had not been able to carry out their original far-flung plans, having conspicuously neglected to exploit the help of the navy and the air force to out-flank or overhaul our troops in the peninsula. Tanks were still regularly employed on a narrow front. But – operations were in themselves more compact, each army’s assignment was adjusted to its means, and attacks were delivered at points of main effort in noteworthy breadth and depth.
The old Mediterranean divisions had further perfected their fighting efficiency and tactics. The support of the infantry by artillery and tanks was now supplemented by air reconnaissance, air artillery spotting and close support from the air with a degree of co-ordination by now classical. Technical expedients had reached a high stage of development and were used with great skill.
On the other hand the initiative of smaller unit commanders showed no particular improvement, nor was this compensated by the excellent signals network allowing wireless communication through multifarious types of instruments – which was more of a hindrance than a help.
It was also to our advantage that the enemy continued to respect the customary right of units to be relieved after a certain period in the line, regardless of the local situation. Their troops were, indeed, badly in need of rest, as their replacements were of acclimatisation and training. On the other hand, it was increasingly important for them to curtail the rest periods of the German troops, to harass their recuperation and to prevent them accumulating any large stores of ammunition and fuel.
On this day their was yet another outstanding example of what this meant on the ground:
In Italy on 8th October, 1944, two Companies of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment moved forward to take a strongly held feature 760 metres high. The capture of this feature was vital at this stage of the operation as it dominated all the ground on the main axis of advance.
The assaulting troops made good progress to within twenty yards of the crest when they came under withering fire from Spandaus on the crest. The leading platoon was held up and the Platoon Commander was wounded. The Company Commander took another platoon, of which Private Burton was runner, through to assault the crest from which four Spandaus at least were firing.
Private Burton rushed forward and engaging the first Spandau position with his Tommy gun killed the crew of three. When the assault was again held up by murderous fire from two more machine guns Private Burton, again showing complete disregard for his own safety, dashed forward toward the first machine gun using his Tommy gun until his ammunition was exhausted. He then picked up a Bren gun and firing from the hip succeeded in killing or wounding the crews of the two machine guns.
Thanks to his outstanding courage the Company was then able to consolidate on the forward slope of the feature. The enemy immediately counter-attacked fiercely but Private Burton, in spite of most of his comrades being either dead or wounded, once again dashed forward on his own initiative and directed such accurate fire with his Bren gun on the enemy that they retired leaving the feature firmly in our hands.
The enemy later counter-attacked again on the adjoining platoon position and Private Burton, who had placed himself on the flank, brought such accurate fire to bear that this counter-attack also failed to dislodge the Company from its position.
Private Burton’s magnificent gallantry and total disregard of his own safety during many hours of fierce fighting in mud and continuous rain were an inspiration to all his comrades.