CLEAR THE WAY

di Richard Doherty (1948)

It was believed that the German attack on E Company of the Rifles was a reprisal for a feint attack staged by the Irish Brigade two days earlier to divert attention from a French attack on the Brigade's left flank. Such activity was hated by the soldiers although, as Nelson Russell noted, it was «very highly thought of by all Higher Commanders and Staff». The reason for the soldiers' dislike of what were known as Chinese Attacks were the twin facts of unnecessary activity and reprisals. As Russell wrote «the least self-respecting enemy in the world feels he must make some gesture in reply tothe pantomime - and usually institutes reprisals».

The German attack was followed by a spell of intensive activity as the Faughs and Rifles exacted retribution from their opponents around Castel di Sangro, the Bifurcation and the hills about Montenero. And then Brigade Headquarters received two letters from Very High Authority. Both in the same envelope, one preferred praise for the success of the well-staged Chinese Attack while the other demanded explanations for the loss of forty men from the London Irish!

By this time the Inniskillings had returned to the fold although they were sent into reserve. They had had a very trying time at Capracotta, having been cut off completely some 5,000 feet up. They, and 56 Recce who were deployed as infantry, could only be supplied by air; fortunately there was plenty of food in the deserted villages. During their time at Capracotta several men went missing while on patrol. Rescue parties on skis, including Italian civilians, went out to search for them. Five, including Fusilier Henry (Darkey) Elwood from Belfast, were found alive; the others with Darkey Elwood were Corporal Keys, Lance-Corporal Woods, both Londoners, and Fusiliers Jones, from Northampton and Hanlon from Dublin. Hanlon had suffered so badly however that he had to have his legs am-putated. Some days passed before the body of Sergeant Paddy Sullivan, another Dubliner, was found in the snow. It appeared that he had crawled almost two miles in the snow before finally succumbing. The other man who died was also southern Irish, although Elwood could not remember his name.

  • R. Doherty, Clear the Way! A History of the 38th (Irish) Brigade: 1941-47, Irish Academic Press, Dublin 1993, p. 111.

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