To the thunder of guns by the hundred, the 8th Army, in Sicily, launched a near-midnight attack against the Four Hills, at the beginning of August 1943. How his battalion waited for the crucial moment and then went into battle is told by Pte. J. O. Chaddock, of the Cameron Highlanders.
Zero was at 23.50 hours, and we lay in the darkness waiting for the barrage to open. Our positions lay in a ridge of hills. The next ridge was held by the enemy, the Hermann Goering Panzer Grenadiers – one of Hitler's crack divisions. There were also some Eyetyes of the Napoli (Naples) division. Between these two main ridges was a large valley through which ran a road and railway, and we held as far as the railway line.
We were badly overlooked – we had held the place a few days previously, and couldn't move out of our holes for any reason whatsoever. The slightest movement and down would come a concentration of six-inch mortars. The start line for the attack was 300 yards on our side of the road and railway. The barrage, a "rolling" one, was laid on for 23.50 hours, and was to come down on the road for ten minutes and then move forward, lifting 100 yards every five minutes.
Then, after the attack was successful and all objectives taken, a defensive barrage was to come down on the F.D.L.s (Forward Defence Localities) to pin down any possible counter-attacks. Our two forward companies were to clear the two ridges, then proceed down to the next road 1,600 yards beyond, clearing the ground and then back again, finally consolidating on our side of the ridge before first light.
It was a dark night with no moon. We lay silent, looking at the stars and watching the faint outline of the road. Watch fingers crept round – quarter to twelve, five minutes to zero, one minute... suddenly the hills behind glowed as hundreds of guns thundered, ripping the silence to shreds. Then the whine of the shells and the whole length of the road, 300 yards in front, erupted in smoke and flame. Simultaneously our heavy machine-guns opened up, firing from both flanks to keep German heads down, although surely no human would have his head above ground in that terrible barrage.
We went forward as the barrage lifted. A Bofors light ack-ack gun was firing tracer shells up our axis of advance to help us keep direction in the dark and the fog of the shell smoke. The first part went off O.K., although we were mortared when crossing the road and railway. The two forward companies reached their objectives, but got shot up on the trip down to the road and back, where the Boche had his main positions on the reverse side of the ridge.
A favourite trick of these Huns was this: as the boys were approaching a Spandau nest, the Jerries would shout "Kamerad!" so putting some inexperienced lads off their guard; then would follow a vicious burst of tracer at point-blank range, and someone would be found with his insides blown through his back. When we found this was happening, very few prisoners were taken.
Perhaps one of the reasons I am still alive is because I learnt at El Alamein never to pass an empty trench without putting a few rounds in each of the dark corners. It's safe enough taking risks with the Eyetyes, although they are very treacherous sometimes; but usually they have all their kit packed up waiting only for the barrage to pass over them. As soon as they see bayonets gleaming in the moonlight, it is "caputo"! With Jerry, your safe plan is to shoot first and ask questions after – if you have any desire to go on living.