In Memory of
267195, Attd. 1st Bn. The Princess Louise's Kensington Regt
Secondary Regiment: Middlesex Regiment
who died age 26
on 5th August 1943
Son of James Thomas Smullen and Margaret Smullen, of Falcarragh, Co. Donegal, Irish Republic. B.A. (Dublin): Trinity College.
This is a section of a letter from my grandfather, Sgt Frederick Frank 'Ken' Kendell, B Group (Signals),
1st Kensingtons to his wife Iris describing the incident that resulted in the death of John J Smullen who is buried at Catania. Letter written 11th August 1943 from his bed in a field hospital.
'A young officer and I had to go forward on a reconnaissance in order to find a "hide" for one of our companies. We found our area just before dark and settled in an orchard to wait for our lads to come up. This was at about 9pm, and they weren't due up until 2am. Just after dark Jerry lobbed over the first mortar bomb, and we lost no time in scrambling into a ditch! We thought we were safe enough, because although the bombs were bursting uncomfortably close the ditch was about four feet deep and was providing pretty good cover. The bombardment went on for about half an hour , and we were continually being showed with dirt by those falling extra close. Then by a hellish stroke of fate Jerry got a direct hit on our trench. I remember screaming, and then I felt strangely calm. I was buried in burning earth and knew my leg had been hit. I scrambled out somehow and yelled for the officer. There was just a heap of charred earth where he lay and I began to scratch away at it with my hands. All the time I was calling his name, but there was no reply and no movement. I dug for ten minutes, then had to stop because of the pain in my leg - it was bleeding pretty badly, so I put my field service dressing on it and resumed my search for Mr Smullen. It was dark, and bombs were bursting all round me, and I felt as though it was a horrible nightmare, up till then I hadn't been able to realize Mr Smullen was dead, but it suddenly struck me, and I knew my efforts were futile'.
theatre of war
The Durham Light Infantry had a quite astounding record in Sicily including the action at Primosole Bridge. No less than twenty-one medals for gallantry:
4 Military Crosses, one a Bar
1 Distinguished Conduct Medal
16 Military Medals.
The recipients, as listed, were:
SUPPLEMENT TO The London Gazette off TUESDAY, the 19th of OCTOBER, 1943
Published by Authority
War Office, 21st October 1943.
The KING has been graciously pleased to approve the following awards in recognition of gallant and distinguished services in Sicily:
BAR TO THE MILITARY CROSS.
Lieutenant William James Hedley Muir, M.C. (203140), The Durham Light Infantry (South Shields).
THE MILITARY CROSS
Lieutenant (temporary Captain) Christopher Lowery Beattie (75176), The Durham Light Infantry (Timperley, Cheshire).
Lieutenant (temporary Captain) Philip Godwin Hampson (162663), The Durham Light Infantry (8th).
Lieutenant (temporary Captain) John Angus Leybourne (73424). The Durham Light Infantry (Springwell, Co. Durham).
Lieutenant (temporary Captain) Dennis Arthur Neale (130505), The Durham Light Infantry (Oswestry, Shropshire).
THE DISTINGUISHED CONDUCT MEDAL
No. 4455800 Sergeant (acting Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant-Major) Frederick Thompson, The Durham Light Infantry (Newcastle-on-Tyne) (since killed in action).
THE MILITARY MEDAL
No. 4451703 Colour-Sergeant (acting Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant-Major) Selby Wardle, The Durham Light Infantry (Chester-le-Street) (since died of wounds).
No. 3191164 Sergeant (acting Warrant Officer Class II (Company Sergeant-Ma jor) John Ritchie Hannah, The Durham Light Infantry (Eastriggs, Dumfriesshire).
No. 3967322 Corporal (acting Sergeant) Charles Joseph William Mackmin, The Durham Light Infantry (Enfield).
No. 4461364 Corporal (acting Sergeant) Frederick Mitchinson, The Durham Light Infantry (Cramlington, Northumberland).
No. 3658132 Lance-Sergeant Charles Richard Critchley, The Durham Light Infantry (Liverpool).
No. 4039943 Lance-Sergeant Patrick Daly, The Durham Light Infantry (Limerick, Eire).
No. 3955493 Lance-Sergeant David John Richards, The Durham Light Infantry (Swansea).
No. 4458341 Corporal John Dowling, The Durham Light Infantry (attd. Special Service Troops) (Liverpool).
No. 3970084 Corporal William Donald Scriven, The Durham Light Infantry (Gloucester).
No. 5677650 Lance-Corporal Stanley Seymore Rose, The Durham Light Infantry (Stunninster Newton, Dorset).
No. 4461144 Lance-Corporal George Frederick Shepherd, The Durham Light Infantry (Bradford).
No. 4454467 Lance-Corporal Frederick Herbert Spink, The Durham Light Infantry (Sherburn, Durham).
No. 4459865 Lance-Corporal George Worthington, The Durham Light Infantry (Hyde, Cheshire).
No. 4036125 Private Reginald George Goodwin, The Durham Light Infantry (Hereford).
No. 4453511 Private Richard Robinson, The Durham Light Infantry (Sunderland).
No. 4464458 Private Douglas Harry Saban, The Durham Light Infantry (London, E.17).
No. 3662261 Private Harold Duckworth , The Durham Light Infantry (Middleton)
During the night of the 13 July, 1943 part of the 1st Parachute Brigade was dropped in the area of the Primosole Bridge which stretches across the River Lentini in Sicily. It removed the demolition charges placed there, however, many of the troops had been dropped wide of the target and consequently only a small force was available to hold the bridge against repeated German attempts to recapture it. It was, therefore, essential for troops of the 50th Division to reach the Bridge sometime during the 14th or at latest by nightfall As 69 Brigade had so far borne the brunt of such fighting as there had been during the advance, 151 Brigade now took over from them. The three Durham Battalions set out on a forced march of some 25 miles, the 9th Battalion DLI leading, followed by the 8thDLI and then the 6thDLI. By afternoon the 9thDLI Battalion was well over half way and by dusk, together with 4 Armoured Brigade, it was within a mile of the bridge.
The paratroopers had bad news to relate. All day they had fought back repeated counter-attacks with success, but at about 7.30 pm, just two hours before the arrival of the 9th Battalion, lack of ammunition had forced their sadly depleted force to withdraw in the face of another counter-attack. With demolition charges removed, of course, the bridge could not be blown and the paratroopers were near enough to prevent the enemy planting any more. But the Battalions of the 151 Brigade were too tired after their forced march to fight a battle that night and the Brigadier decided to postpone any such attack until the following morning. It was not the Italians with whom they would have to deal but Germans of the 3rd Parachute Regiment, most of whom were veterans of the Crete and Russian campaigns and all of whom had been flown from the Italian mainland only a short while before. The country round about the Primosole Bridge is flat and open. The road running north from Lentini runs along the ridge and from about 1,000 yards south of the bridge a good view is obtainable not only of the bridge itself but also of the country beyond it. The bridge was four hundred feet long with a superstructure of iron girders about eight feet above a sluggish reed-bordered river. North of the bridge were two small farms, one each side of the road, each consisting or two or three buildings and a barn. The road beyond the bridge could be seen running absolutely straight, between two lines of poplars, towards Catania. North of the river are thick vineyards, dotted with olive groves, to a depth of some four hundred yards; beyond them lies open country. Nothing, however, could be seen of the enemy positions nor of a sunken road some few hundred yards north of the river; indeed such cover as there was lay all on the enemy side of the bridge for the British side was completely flat and open. Both the 8th and 9th Battalions tried to snatch a few hours rest during the night. The 6th Battalion was still some way behind, after clearing un at Solarino, and did not arrive until later on the 15th. But at 4 a.m. the 9th was attacked by some Italian Armoured cars which penetrated as far as Battalion Headquarters before being halted. The Battalion antirank gunners quickly came into action and soon put an end to this desperate Italian bid from which there were fewenemy survivors.
Sharp at 7.30 a.m. the 9th Battalion attacked as planned, supported by the fire of two Field Regiments. But the companies advancing over open ground were heavily machine-gunned before they reached the river bank and lost a number of men. Only a few platoons were able to cross the river and where they did so, ran into heavy resistance from Germans concealed in the vineyards and lining the sunken road which hitherto no one knew existed. Many were drowned in the river as they crossed. After fierce hand-to-hand fighting the Battalion's precarious hold north of the river was finally broken and those men who had gone across were driven back, leaving their dead and wounded behind them.
After this first encounter it was clear to the Brigadier that the bridge was a tougher nut to crack than had been hoped. Although a further attack by the 6th Battalion was planned for later in the day news had been received from Corps Headquarters that there was no immediate urgency for the capture of the bridge provided that a proper footing was secured on the far side by the 16 July. Another daylight attack would be suicidal; so the 8th Battalion's attack was postponed and timed to take place by the light of the moon at two o'clock the next morning.
The Battalion was fortunate in having the help of Lieutenant- Colonel Alastair Pearson - CO of the Parachute Regiment - in the operation. The information he provided was invaluable, and he offered to lead the attacking companies over the river at a crossing place he knew of, some hundred yards upstream from the bridge. Two companies were to cross here, then move back towards the bridge and when once they had captured it, the rest of the Battalion was to cross over it.
For an hour and twenty minutes before Colonel Pearson guided "A" and "D" Companies across the river the guns put down concentrations upstream of the bridge and a squadron of tanks and a platoon of machine-guns joined in the overture. For the last ten minutes every gun was concentrated on the area of the bridge. Then at 2.10 a.m. the two companies waded the river at two points fifty yards apart. Once across, the thickly planted vineyards made movement difficult - it would have been difficult enough by daylight - and platoons had to shout their numbers to maintain contact. However, the unexpected form of attack took the Germans by surprise and when the companies reached the bridge only a few of them were encountered. So far so good, wrote David Rissik in his book "'The DLI at War". Both companies established themselves across the Catania road, though "A" Company had to run the gauntlet of Spandau machine-gun fire to get there; and once in position visibility was limited to only a few yards due to the thickness of the vines, shrubs and tall grass for it was the middle of the growing season. Constant vigilance was needed to keep the Germans at bay.
Now it was the turn of the rest of the Battalion to cross the bridge. Colonel Lidwill, who was with the leadingcompanies, had arranged a number of alternative signals for bringing up the Battalion; but when he got back to the bridge every one of them broke down. The mortar flares had got separated from the mortars; the wireless sets had got "drowned" during the crossing, and an R .E. Carrier with a wireless received a direct hit as it reached the bridge. Just at the critical moment, however, a War Office observer turned up at the bridge riding a bicycle. It was rather like a fairy tale but the C.O. dispatched him back to the Battalion to tell it to come forward at once.
Night fell and the Brigade prepared to deliver the coup de grace. Ibis was the task of the 6th and 9th Battalions who, shortly after l.30 am, forded the river upstream from the bridge area where the 8th had crossed the night before. They had little difficulty in crossing; but once on the far bank they encountered savage resistance from the German paratrooper who stood and fought it out until they either shot down their assailants or were shot down themselves. Movement was not easy through the vineyards and companies got split up in the thick undergrowth. As they fought their way forward in the moonlight they cleared up opposition in their path but inevitably left pockets of resistance on their flanks. "B" Company of the 6th Battalion, under Captain Reggie Atkinson, had just such an experience. Once in the vineyards it met intense automatic fire from the Germans in the sunken road and cleared tie Germans from it. Then they struggled on, using bayonets and grenades, to a position beyond it on the left of the Catania road. There, approximately one platoon strong and entrenched in a shallow ditch and a large shell crater, Reggie Atkinson and the remnants of his company were able to engage any Germans tying to advance up the road to reinforce the bridgehead and, what is more, to prevent any in the bridgehead from withdrawing from it. At dawn the Germans managed to infiltrate back into the sunken road and for a time they made things difficult for the Company; but for three and a half hours the enemy were kept at bay and finally driven back. This gallant action very materially influenced the course of the battle.
"A" Company of the 9th Battalion was less fortunate. It started out only two platoons strong and almost at once came under heavy fire. The advance was not made any easier by loose telephone and barbed wire lying among the vines; but the Company pushed on towards the main road and captured a machine-gun post and took three prisoners; by which time the Company Commander, Captain Hudson, found he had only fifteen men left. Heavy fire was then opened on this small party from their rear. So they began to withdraw towards the main road. As it got lighter, fire was opened on them from the road itself, but Hudson, recognising the Commander of another Company advancing on the far side of the road, managed to attract his attention and signal to him to attack the post on the road.
This they both did but were halted by very heavy fire. Hudson then found himself both short of ammunition and with only seven unwounded men left so he ordered them to make their way back to the Battalion as best they could. He himself was wounded and was soon afterwards taken prisoner. At about 6 a.m. the Germans counter-attacked with tanks, but the attack was broken up by shell-fire; and shortly afterwards both the 6th and 9th Battalions reported they were well beyond the bridge, At 7 a.m. some Sherman tanks crossed into the bridgehead and broke through the grapevines shooting at everything in sight. The effect of this added support was felt at once. The sunken road was quieter than for 24 hours and gradually white handkerchiefs began to appear in increasing numbers along the length of it. The Germans had had enough. By mid-day all resistance had ceased; over 150 Germans had surrendered; and their dead on the ground numbered over three hundred. The area around the bridge was a regular hell's kitchen; it was littered with smashed rifles and automatics, torn pieces of equipment, bloodstained clothing, overturned ammunition boxes and the bodies of British and German dead. It was a scene of terrible destruction and telling evidence of a bitter struggle in which neither side had asked or given quarter. There can have been few better German troops in Sicily than those who held the bridge. They were Nazi zealots to a man, but they fought superbly well and as their Battalion Commander was led away to captivity, Colonel Clarke of the 9th Battalion quietly shook him by the hand.
Apart from the British paratroopers the brunt of the fighting had fallen on the 8th Battalion who owed much to the conspicuous leadership of their C.O., Colonel Lidwill, and to the countless deeds of individual heroism that occurred over the period of the battle. But when at the end of the fighting the three DLI Battalions counted their casualties they had lost between them five hundred killed, wounded and missing.
Six regiments were awarded the Honour which the Durhams, Parachute Regiment and the London Scottish elected to carry.
from http://www.ww2Talk.com forun (Verieres senior member)
Some more eyewitness accounts of the fighting around Primosole bridge, taken from 'Operation Husky' by S.W.C. Pack
..by 6.30am 14 July, about 120 British (airborne) troops had fought their way to the bridge and removed demolition charges, and were guarding their prize with three anti-tank guns. HMS Newfoundland gave valuable help in the matter of supporting gunfire. By the time the relieving force of 4 and 151 Brigades arrived on the scene there had been some tough fighting, with what Montgomery's Chief of Staff described as fanatical savagery.
In 151 Brigade was Tony Pridham, a platoon commander with 8 Battalion Durham Light Infantry, who writes:
I landed near Avola on D-day. I lasted only until the crossing of the Simento river and the Primosole bridge and was probably the first member of the Eighth Army to cross the bridge. I was later the only one to live of four who returned to the bridge in the carrier which was knocked out just on the south side of the bridge. I made contact with a tank lying near a wrecked glider just south of the bridge.
One who took part in the unfortunate airborne attack on Primosole bridge was Major G.H. Seal, who at that time was signal sergeant of 21 Independent Parachute Company. Seal says:
The operation was suspended for some reason for 24 hours, But on the beautiful clear evening of Friday 13 July we re-assembled. The CO 1 Parachute Battalion (Alistair Pearson, who later became Brigade Commander and won four DSOs) was wearing no badges of rank, a plain khaki shirt and dirty plimsolls. We knew that the job was on.
At about 8.30pm we took off from Tunisia and had a quiet flight, although it seemed much longer than a direct route would have taken. Light flak was fairly regular. I remember reflecting briefly that it wasn't a bad firework display. Our American pilot was flying very low; in fact, standing in the doorway, I was disconcerted that I was able, in the gloom, to discern quite easily the individual branches of the olive trees. the terrain was dissimilar to that one expected around the dropping zone.
As the green light came on, I went out like a bomb. My parachute opened and I hit the ground immediately on a hillside. My corporal was nearby. We never saw anything of the others in our stick.
All around us every activity, German and Italian, was intense. If any pattern revealed itself it was probably that the former were heading seemed to be heading north, and the Italians south. My corporal not wishing to proceed, I set off walking into the darkness. It was clear that the dropping zone was not in this neighbourhood. Accordingly I destroyed my pathfinding equipment by explosive. My course was north-east, but I had many stops, always to hide.
The operational objective for 1 Parachute Brigade was the capture of Primosole bridge, and the holding of it for 48 hours. The bridge is the entrance to the plain of Catania, and the Brigade task was to facilitate the passage of Eighth Army. Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, with a tiny force, captured the bridge and held it for many hours. I believe he performed excellently on a Bren gun. I never found the bridge.
At first light I identified a north facing strip of the east coast and realised that the bridge was several miles to the north of my position. An Italian commando captain, with his sixty or so armed men, came up to me and pleaded with me to take them prisoner I asked him to get lost, which he did.
Seeing what I thought to be a German patrol, I ran into a pillbox and found an undamged Italian machine gun, and trained the gun on the group. The group soon revealed itself as a British airborne collection. we occupied an adjacent farmyard and took up defensive positions. Soldiers filtered in and gradually our numbers built up. We assumed the bridge had been won or lost for we were ordered to make south, away from the scene, to Syracuse.
The first advancing Eighth Army vehicle was driven by a sergeant whose passenger was General Montgomery. He asked me some very pertinent questions and was given some straightforward comments on aircraft navigation. He spoke in a quiet and friendly way, gave me a cigarette and passed slowly on.
The whole affair had been thoroughly disappointing. If it had not have been postponed, and with a better navigation, the operation could have been a brilliant success.
Military Medal Action 3191164 CSM Richie Hannah 8th DLI
3191164 CSM Richie Hannah 8th DLI
Sgt Major John Ritchie Hannah - 8th Durham Light Infantry initially recommended for a DCM it was changed to a Military Medal Citation/Details
John Ritchie Hannah was Company Sergeant Major of the leading assaulting Company when the 8th Battalion DLI secured a bridgehead across the Simeto River on the night 15/16 July 1943.
He led his men splendidly across the river and was one of the first men on the objective.
The Company was heavily counter-attacked the next morning and was forced to withdraw. One platoon was some distance away and the sergeant major went himself to warn them to withdraw.
During the withdrawal this platoon and the CSM were separated form the rest of the Company.
He then withdrew his men across the river and made a detour, crossing the river again higher up where he found the rest of the Company and assisted his Company Commander in organising a new position.
During the day of the 16 and 17, the Company was constantly under heavy machine-gun, mortar and shell fire, but he was always amongst his men, cheering them on and keeping them continuously supplied with ammunition and water.
Throughout the two days his devotion to duty and complete disregard for his own safety was a magnificent example to his men and was a very vital factor in the Company maintaining the position until the enemy were forced to surrender.
Alerted to the invasion, the Germans airlifted paratroopers to Catania, further north of the 8th Army's landing sites near the Primosole Bridge. One of the major links into mainland Sicily, the bridge was to be held at all costs in order to stop the British from gaining any significant ground. British Paratroopers were sent to capture the bridge, but the operation went drastically wrong and although the British 1st Airborne Brigade managed to take the bridge from defending Italian soldiers, they were forced to retreat due to an overwhelming enemy presence. The Durham Light Infantry and the 44th Royal Tank Regiment were aware of the plight of the British paratroopers at the bridge and made haste to reinforce them. It was at the ensuing battle for the Primosole Bridge that my grandfather Reginald George Goodwin earned the greatest honour of his wartime service.
Reginald George Goodwin
The Battle of Primosole Bridge
A Bren-Gunner in A Company, 8th DLI, my grandfather saw action on the assault on the Primosole Bridge that spanned the Simeto River on 15th July 1943. Throughout the attack he covered his section forward by Bren-Gun fire from the hip. His company successfully destroyed defensive pillboxes at the bridgehead, which then allowed sappers to dispose of anti-tank and anti-personnel mines that barred the British route across the bridge. The company took up defensive positions in slit trenches around the bridgehead and held their positions overnight under intense enemy mortar, machine-gun and sniper fire. At first light on 16th July 1943 his platoon was heavily counter-attacked by the German soldiers of the 3rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 1st Fallschirmjäger (Paratroops) Division and elements of the Fallschirmjäger Panzer Korps Herman Goering (Armoured Paratroops) Division.
Quite possibly the finest German troops in Sicily at the time, the London Times - August 27th 1943 reported; "They fought superbly. They were troops of the highest quality, experienced veterans of Crete and Russia: cool and skilled, Nazi zealots to a man and fanatically outrageous. To fight them was an education for any soldier."
The platoon was quickly ordered to withdraw when they were in danger of being overrun by the enemy paratroopers. Some of the soldiers had to wade back across the river to safety, but my grandfather stayed behind to cover the platoon and only got away himself by backing away firing from the hip. He made his own way back to his company and at once took position at the bridgehead to engage the enemy. He remained at his post throughout the day, though he was continuously under heavy machine gun and sniper fire. He succeeded in accounting for at least four enemy snipers and showed complete disregard for his own personal safety and of enemy fire and by his courage, cheerfulness, and devotion to duty he inspired all his comrades. For this action he was later awarded the Military Medal, his citation ordered on 25th July, 1943 and signed not only by his commanding officers Major G.P Chambers (8th Battalion DLI) and Brigadier R.H Senior (151st Infantry Brigade), but also Field Marshal B.L Montgomery (Commander-in-Chief, 8th Army).
My grandfather's sergeant, Ray Pinchin, recalls (sic); "The battle was very noisy and very, very bloody. It caused us all a lot of grief. After we'd crossed the river and taken up a defensive position behind a low stonewall, I had my section dug in and we all had our heads well down. I kept telling Reg to "get your bloody head in!", but he insisted he couldn't be seen."
During the assault A and D Companies met to reinforce each other's positions and Ray remembers, (sic) "Reg was shouting that a party of Jerries were crossing our front. Sergeant Mackmin of D Company ran over to him and together they had a go at them. Reg acted as a rest for the Bren by standing up with the gun on his shoulder. They fired a couple of magazines at them. It must have been a bit hard on Reg's eardrums. When the battle ended we looked over the ground and between them they had accounted for a few of the enemy."
Sergeant C.W.J Mackmin later received the Military Medal for his actions at the Primosole Bridge with D Company of the 8th DLI.
My father Keith also remembers; "I often wondered why Dad couldn't hear the grasshoppers in the garden at home." This was because my grandfather had lost much of his range of hearing due to the firing of the Bren-Gun as it rested upon his shoulder. Ray recollects my grandfather, (sic) "He was quite unflappable, never seemed to raise his voice, and never, unlike most soldiers, used bad language. And being from the West Country his dialect was like music after Geordie twang."
After the action on the bridge Ray Pinchin lost contact as my grandfather may have been reassigned to B or C Company of the Battalion. The Primosole Bridge was captured from the Germans after continued assaults from the Durham Light Infantry and the Sherman tanks of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment, which then allowed the 8th Army to push forwards into Catania and take Sicily. Casualties were heavy on both sides and soldiers who had experienced the fiercest fighting at the battle of El Alamein were heard to remark they had never seen so much slaughter in such a small area. After the securing of Sicily and Italy by the 8th Army, in October 1943 the DLI embarked on the Dutch freighter Sibajak and sailed in convoy out of Augusta Harbour for Algiers, Gibraltar, and then England. While on leave the investiture for my grandfather's Military Medal took place. On March 14th, 1944 he was presented with his Military Medal at Buckingham Palace by King George VI. The King shook his hand and smiled, saying, "Well done."
Article by M.J Goodwin on WW2 PEOPLE' WAR