Tuesday, 11 November 2008

The Gunds of 6 AGRA - 6th Army Group Royal Artillery - 1939-1945

The Guns of 6 AGRA

When my dad returned home after five years fighting in the second world war he brought a few souvenirs with him. I remember the allied forces bank notes he had, each one with a value of three to four million deutsch mark. Naturally worthless, but that was inflation at that time at the end of the war. He also had his letter of discharge from the army, a few medals and a book. He served in the heavy artillery in Egypt, Palestine, and Italy. At the end of the war he was stationed in Germany and even managed to go to Paris at the expense of the British Army.

Today being armistice day I had another look at the book and found it to be quite interesting. My father remembers an artist making sketches of the soldiers as they were in action and this book must be the result. It is about the invasion of Italy with quite a few drawings. I chose a few to show here and scanned them into the computer. The first drawing shows the British soldiers landing on Italian soil. They piled into landing craft from the bigger ships and stepped into Italy mostly under fire, my dad landed at Salerno. I had a look at the book and as my dad was in Monte Cassino actually towards the end of the battle, here is the written text from the book . I assume that the book was published some time in 1946 and on the back cover it says in print "certified passed by field press censor" and here is the text about Monte Cassino and the journey to Rome (he was there as well).

"The Spring came and the 8th army moved across to Cassino. The group deployed for the final battle of Cassino and its fire power was enormous. 76 (Shropshire Yeomanry) Medium Regiment R.A. and 75 (Highland) Heavy Regiment R.A., became the final members of the basic AGRA. 76 Medium which had been in Syria with 78 Medium, was the sister regiments of 75 Medium - a unique instance of two halves of one Yeomanry Regiment fighting in the same Brigade. 75 Heavy had fought with 51 Highland Division in France, as 75 Field: they were now converted with two 7.2" How batteries, and two 155 mm gun batteries, and keen to get their revenge. 2 Medium Regiment R.A. a regular gunner regiment, also came under command. In addition 6 AGRA had 1 Canadian AGCRA under operational command and the operational support of 194 US Field Artillery Group and a HAA regiment, the London Scottish. The total weight of shell from one round gun fire was 7 tons.

The story of Cassino needs no repetition. It is sufficient to say that the monastery had been twice attacked before without success and was now a heap of rubble providing complete protection to its garrison. Detailed preparations for Counter Battery, Air support, Arty/R.Air O.P. and Close Support were made for four feverish weeks before the battle.

The Guns of 6 AGRA

On 12th May 13 Corps attacked across the Rapido: 4 British Div and an Indian div established their bridgeheads. Polcorps fought magnificently round the back of the monastery. 78 Div and 6 British Armoured Div were brought in: Canadian Corps advanced to the South of the Aquino line. The Americans and French came in from the left. the communications and Artillery tie-up worked perfectly, and 6 AGRA who were in the middle, can justly be proud of the support they gave at the crossing of the Rapido and the capture of Cassino. Brigadier Holbrook received the CBE for his successful coordination of the artillery in this attack.

One word of thanks and appreciation to the American 194 Field Artillery Groups which left us after this battle. Both on the Gustav and the Hitler lines they had been magnificent: the 240 mm bonus concussed Cassino whenever retaliation was required, the 8" bonus shattered the station and Aquino in spite of the proximity of our own troops, while the long toms and 8" rifles effectively harassed communications and bridges as far away as Pico (a range of 33,000 yards).

The Guns of 6 AGRA

The advance swept on and the regiments were out under command of Divisions. AGRA followed gently behind with a small reserve, while the CAGRA travelled long distances each day to see that all were well. They were but they took a lot of catching. The Heavies, thrilled by getting their Long Toms past an RHA Regiment on the road, moved with the armour. On one occasion, the Battery Commander, sent forward to recce a more advanced position reported over the air that he had found a good gun area but an infantry battle still in progress. "Move them up" said the Colonel "the battle will be over by the time the guns arrive" - it was - just.

So to Rome and beyond the River Tiber. Here some regiments got a breather and saw the sights of Rome. The Headquarters, either through loss of firection or at the whim of their Commander, saw most of Rome on their march through the town. The advance continued until Lake Trasimene where it was balted by increased resistence. Brigadier Holbrook was borrowed from us to be C.R.A. 78 Div and Lieut Colonel Thuillier (66 Medium) took over the temporary role of CAGRA with the regiments returning to the fold to concentrate resources and break down the defence."

The Guns of 6 AGRA

The book itself is bound in cardboard and held together by string tied through two holes, something like a file. My father served in the heavy artillery and was one of the lucky ones. His only war injuries came from dropping a shell on his foot (he was lucky as the ground was muddy and his foot sunk into the mud) and a bout of malaria in Italy, which repeated itself after his return to England, but luckily only once. He is now 93 years old and still has a few memories of what happened then, although he never really told me the dark side of the war, just the brighter side. Something like when they found a complete celler full of wine hidden by an Italian farmer (there was not very much wine left afterwards) or hiding behind donkeys on his way up the cliffs at Ravello in Italy (for protection against enemy fire).

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