Sicily and 78th Division battlefield tour, August 2022

Discussion in 'WW2 Battlefields Today' started by Giberville, Aug 16, 2022.

  1. Giberville

    Giberville Junior Member

    My first post will be about the town of Adrano. I wanted to visit as it had made such an impression on the men of 78th Division in the accounts I have read.
    In August 1943, 78 Division was skirting the west side of Mount Etna, fighting for the small towns of Centuripe, Adrano and Bronte...

    Major Peter Pettit (17th Field Regiment RA) wrote in his diary: 'Adrano is a sort of Guernica, bodies still on the pavements, ruins everywhere and they had to use bulldozers to clear a way through for wheels.'

    Driver/Operator Ron Goldstein (49th Light Anti-Aircraft RA) wrote a poem about Adrano:
    Darkness was falling as we entered the town, but t'was light enough still to see
    The shattered ruins of what had been a town in Sicily.
    It wasn't much to call a town, compared with those of greater size.
    It wasn't built for modern war and now a stinking heap it lies,
    Rotting beneath the azure skies, of Sicily.
    It seemed as if an angry God had run amok with gory hands,
    Then dropped a veil, a canopy, of dirty, blinding, choking sands
    And as to wreak his vengeance more
    Had propped a body in every door
    We drove on by with sober thought,
    of those poor b******s who'd been caught,
    We grimaced at the sick, sweet smell, of this small piece of man made hell
    This could be you, the bodies said, this could be you, gone, soon dead
    We hurried by, enough to be, alive that day, in Sicily.

    1. 78 Div troops enter Adrano, and same spot today.

    Adrano pathe entering 7.png P1080971.JPG

    2. Two scenes in Via Garibaldi in the centre of Adrano with comparisons in 2022.

    Adrano Northants.jpg P1080957.JPG

    Pathe Adrano 2.png


    3. 6pdr guns (probably 64 Anti-Tank Regiment RA) trundle towards Bronte and the front line. Same spot today.

    Adrano pathe 3.png


    4. Fortunately, a Pathe film records activities of 78th Div troops as they move through Adrano after the enemy had withdrawn. Here, they cook up some food beside the road. The railings act as a reference point today. The best comparison I could manage.

    adrano park pathe 5.png


    5. Evidence of the battle is everywhere in Adrano. Many buildings are marked by shrapnel.




    To be continued...
  2. 4jonboy

    4jonboy Daughter of a 56 Recce Patron

    Fantastic, keep 'em coming :).
  3. minden1759

    minden1759 Senior Member


  4. Giberville

    Giberville Junior Member

    Next up...gun positions of the 17th Field Regiment RA on the road to Bronte. On the 8th August 1943, 17th Field Regiment moved to new positions south of Bronte. They were supported by C Troop, 280 battery, 49th Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment RA. This gun position would be the last for a number of men in both 17th Field and 49 LAA.

    Cyril Ray in 'Algiers to Austria' writes: '...the intermittent enemy shelling of the Bronte area throughout August 9th was particularly uncomfortable for 17 Field Regiment...the regiment had been obliged to occupy a position two miles south of Bronte which was hemmed in by walled terraces and olive groves and under observation from enemy held hills. A concentration put down on them after dark took a heavy toll...'

    Major Peter Pettit: 'This is the most awful artillery country. We are the furthest forward guns and have had fifteen to twenty hit by mortars and shells so far. Steep slopes, larva walls and loose lava make it a nightmare for me, finding gun positions and places to get vehicles off the road...Fetched fire plan from CRA...while there Jerry strafed again, great swooshing through the air as big mortar bombs went over...some were obviously close to our guns and RHQ...On return found that one officer and three men had been killed and another officer mortally wounded by one of the German mortar bombs that landed in 26 Battery gun line. They had gone to see if a wounded LAA chap was alright in the corner of a wall by a stone building, they had heard it coming and crouched against the wall but the bomb landed almost on the wounded man and got them all...'

    The only photo I could find of guns on Bronte road, is this one...I'm sure it is 17th Field...

    17th field bronte road.jpg

    First photo shows location of 26 Battery, 17th Field on 9th August...looking towards Bronte. The terrain, even today in August 2022, is as described by Pettit.

    26 and 13 battery positions south of Bronte.JPG

    10 Battery were located here on 9th August, 1943...

    10 Battery position 17 field.JPG

    A visit to Catania War Cemetery, found the resting place for the men killed on 9th August in the Nebelwerfer mortaring and shelling, as described in the accounts above. First, is my tribute to Serjeant Compton, 280 Battery, 49 LAA.

    compton tribute.JPG

    Gunners Mersey and Crowley of 280 Battery were also killed. I wonder who was the LAA chap mentioned by Pettit? Guess, we will never know for sure...

    Crowley 49 LAA.JPG

    mersey 49 LAA.JPG

    Captain Gibson from 17th Field RA. One of the officers mentioned by Pettit. The inscription is interesting...three brothers...

    Gibson 17 Field.JPG

    To be continued...
  5. OpanaPointer

    OpanaPointer Pearl Harbor Myth Buster

    I had an apartment at Motta San Anastasia. One of seven volcanoes I lived on at one time or another. I traced the forces routes around the island.
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  6. Giberville

    Giberville Junior Member

    As a footnote to my post about 17th Field RA and 49 LAA on the 9th August 1943, I find this article in a local newspaper. Perhaps, it was Sergeant Compton of 280 Battery that dragged a wounded comrade (LAA chap referred to by Pettit) to the relative safety of the wall, when disaster struck.

    compton newspaper report.png
  7. Giberville

    Giberville Junior Member

    Centuripe...a town I have always wanted to visit and finally manged it on this trip. I must say I am grateful to Richard whose excellent website (Welcome to the Irish Brigade Website) is a mine of information about the battle for Centuripe and the activities of 78th Division throughout the war.

    The square was buzzing with activity when I visited. All the older men, were sitting around the square chatting and watching. Our driver chatted to some to see if he could glean any information. One man was willing to talk about the war, and he related how his father had witnessed the battle. He mentioned that there were not actually that many Germans in the town; they had two tanks and moved about to make the force appear larger than it was in reality. I am not sure of the exact numbers of German troops in Centuripe but it would be interesting to know - perhaps a case of a small force with a great position, holding up a large number of British forces? Are there any photos taken by the Germans in Centuripe, I wonder?

    A few 'then and now' pictures to start...

    Skins, probably HQ troops, head towards the town square...

    centuripe bespectacled fusilier.jpg


    Again, probably Skins, moving away from the town square...tough looking Bren gunner here with spare magazine tucked under webbing strap in readiness...

    centuripe 3.png


    Carriers and a Military Police jeep about to enter the town square. Comparison on a very busy Thursday morning...

    centuripe 2.png


    HQ troops (I think it's the same bunch as in the first picture) turn a corner to enter the area of the town square. This was hard to match and not easy to get the angle but I think it's the right spot...

    centuripe 1.png


    Had to include this one... often published photo...
    centuripe pimple hill.jpg

  8. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Great sets and thanks for the kind comments.

    Busy, busy in Centuripe. I shall be there again in September.

    Yes, the position of the Centuripe was fundamental to the defensive pivot underpinning the withdrawal plan for the German forces in the area. While acknowledging the heroics of the Skins to climb up the vertical terracing and enter "through the front door" of the town, the crossing of the Simeto on 5th August (which was held to the last as it was fundamental to the lateral road running round Etna) was a much tougher and bloodier affair for the Irish Brigade.

    To add "my" contribution to the Then and Now illustrated by that last one, this hybrid look was put together during our last LIRAssn visit to the island - and kindly taken by one of our group, former Faugh and LIR officer, Tim Lawrence.

    34 Irish Brigade at Centuripe then and now.jpg
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  9. Giberville

    Giberville Junior Member

    The cemetery in Centuripe featured in the battle - 'a maze of vast baroque tombs, is perched on a high hill separated from the town itself by a deep ravine. From this natural bastion, the Germans put up flares and machine-gunned the East Surreys...' (Cyril Ray, 'Algiers to Austria'). Later, the Irish Fusiliers also engaged the enemy in the cemetery.


    I searched for evidence of the battle but the cemetery was completely destroyed and later rebuilt, it appears. However, I did find some battle damage of one of the tombs.

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  10. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    I was just reading the Faughs' account of that attack on the cemetery:
    "Our own attack had to be delayed until 8pm to conform to the London Irish, who had had an exhausting struggle up the precipitous slopes on our left. The attack was on a one company frontage (D Company) as there was no room for more. Just before zero hour, a pimple just in front, which had been giving trouble, was well soused with Mortar fire and a Platoon moved on to it to support the Company’s further advance.

    At zero, a terrific concentration of fire came down on the objective; it really was most impressive – great gaping holes appeared in the huge mausoleums of the cemetery, trees crashed down and the place became a mass of dust and flashes of burning shells. Under this cover, D Company, with Captain Billy Hanna leading, started forward.

    A good old cheer, “Up the Faughs” rang out as they disappeared into the gathering dusk.

    On passing the pimple on which was the Platoon, however, they came under very heavy fire from cunningly concealed positions which had escaped the artillery fire and poor Hanna was killed almost at once. A good many other fellows were hit and the attack was brought to a halt. Under cover of darkness, a further advance was ordered but, as communications had failed and signals could not be seen, it was not known whether it had succeeded.

    C Company (Captain JS Clarke) was now ordered forward along a track running to the cemetery on the western side of the ridge and, at midnight, we were greatly relieved to see their success signal. They had actually reached objective at the same time as D Company to find the enemy had had enough and cleared out.

    The place was a shambles, littered with dead bodies of Boche and the bones of long deceased Sicilians blown from the resting places inside the mausoleums and smashed tombs."
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  11. Giberville

    Giberville Junior Member

    The 6th Skins advance to Centuripe
    The 6th Skins were photographed entering the battlefield as they crossed Dittaino River, near Catenanuova on their way to Centuripe.
    catenanuova bridge.jpg


    78 Div Field Engineers were photographed removing mines beside the bridge.

    catenanuova engineers.jpg

    Best comparison I could manage, after clambering beneath the bridge (no water but boggy):

    The 6th Skins War Diary for 2nd August:
    0400 Orders received for Irish Brigade to advance to Centuripe, which was believed to have been captured by 36 Brigade. A warning order had been issued to coys.
    0530 Bttn, less S Coy, started to advance by mule track to Centuripe, an advance of 6000 yards, with a climb of over 2000 feet. Coys moved in light order without small packs and hard rations carried, wrapped in gas capes.

    The track along which the Skins advanced to Centuripe as it appears today (August 2022). The terrain is almost exactly as it was in 1943.

  12. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

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