Field Companies Accounts on Amazon Bridge. Taken from their War Diaries.
Extracts from the RE War Diaries:
Amazon Bridge Progress Report
and sit rep for 16 May 1944
RE Intelligence Summarys Nos 3, 4, 5 & 6
59 Fd Coy story of events on the construction of Amazon Bridge
Extract of 6th Bn B.W. Cassino Battle Map
Aerial Photo of Liri Valley Battle Area
marked with 6th Bn B.W. advance.
Also shewn is Massa Vertachi where
Capt Wakeford, 2/4 Hamps won the only
V.C. in the 4th Division in WW2
Message from 13 Corps Commander to Commander Brit 4th Division. 18 May 1944
Letters from OC 7 Coy & CRE to OC 2 RNF
Front page Daily Herald 15 May 1944
(Back page to follow, Peter!)
Unit war Diaries:
HQRE 4TH Div
10 Inf Bde
12 Inf Bde
28 Inf Bde
7 Field Company RE
59 Field Company RE
225 Field Company RE
586 Army Field Company RE
578 Army Field Company RE
18 Field Park Company RE
8 Field Squadron RE
14 Field Company RCE
6 Amd Div
2 Lothians Border Horse
91 L A A Regt RA
99 L A A Regt RA
14 Anti -Tank Regt RA
1/6 Bn E Surreys
2 Bn D.C.L.I
2Bn Beds & Herts
2 Bn Kings Regt
2 Bn SOM. L.I.
2 Bn R.F.
6 Bn B.W
5 Bn Northants
6 Bn Inniskillings
2 Bn N.F.
North Irish Horse
A History of the 7th Field Company RE
Author Tommy Riordan
Author Tony Daniell
This page will be updated as and when more material becomes available
23 May:The 8th Army made an all out attack on the 'Hitler Line', later changed to 'Senger Line'. At the same time General Alexander ordered the 5th Army to break out from Anzio. The agreed objective was Valmontone an important road junction on Route 6, the main AXIS of the retreating beaten German 10th Army.
24 May: The CRE addressed the Shiny 7th on the 'Rapido Operations', congratulating everyone on their efforts on the 'Amazon' calling it an 'ENGINEERING CLASSIC'.
25 May: A day in Naples was granted to all ranks. It was possible to visit some of the wounded in hospitals in Naples.
Sergeants of the 225 Field Company generously apologized for leaving the Shiny 7th with a dirty job on the 'Amazon' and offered congratulations on the '7's efforts.
2 June: At1100 hours the 7th moved off on a glorious sunny day to Acre. Enroute they passed old haunts of Mignano,Trocchio and through the rubble of Cassino with the wrecked Monte Cassino towering above. Building large and small were all shattered with hardly a wall partially standing, craters of all descriptions, touching one another, some full of water. The whole countryside was wrecked, every tree was a broken skeleton, and the wreckage of war littered the area - vehicles, tanks, equipment. Mines were still claiming lives and the task force had a hard job on their hands. The bulldozed road through Cassino and way beyond was covered in white dust inches deep.
At 1700 hrs 1 and 3 platoons left to double up two Bailey bridges from one to two storeys.
3 June: At 0300 hrs 1 Platoon had completed their 60' DS. 3 Platoon were unable to do their job as the wrong chord jacks had been sent out. 2 Platoon's task was to improve route 82. Work continued on roads and bridges for the next few days. 6 June: At 1215 hrs the 7th moved west of Rome near Tivoli. Whilst there they began work on water points including testing wells for poisoning and 2 Platoon built a 30' SS Bailey bridge over a damaged culvert.
10 June: The 7th moved to a location near the 'tiber' using a school as billets.
Right: 4 Division RE rest area after the Rapido Bridging operations
May - June 1944
10-16 June.1944 the Company worked on the River Tiber west of Rome
Right: The aerial photo above was taken 14 months after the three bridges were built. Either side of the river Rapido/Gari were fields, the clear visible track to and from the Congo site illustrates just how much it was used during, and well after the battle had moved on. The Congo site is also one of the two crossing points where the 141 Inf Regt of the US 36 Inf Div (the 'T' patchers) took appalling losses on January 20/21 1944
Photo kindly supplied by Paul Hooton
EIGHTH ARMY NEWS (shortly after the Battle of Cassino)
EIGHTH ARMY NEWS AMAZON BRIDGE EPIC
THE SAPPERS BUILT IT UNDER WITHERING ENEMY FIRE by Fred Redman
Special to "Eighth Army News "
This is the story of Amazon, the first bridge to be thrown across the Rapido by a British division fighting on the right flank of Eighth Army when the big attack went in.
The engineers who built it worked under withering fire, and with sheer guts got it across. Many men said "Thank goodness for the Sappers."
Amazon was one of several bridges planned to transport tanks and other vital equipment.
SNIPERS RAKED CHOSEN SITES
As the attack went in, shelling and mortaring made a hell of the river bank and snipers raked the sites chosen for the bridges.
But a bridge was essential for the tanks, and it was decided to build the Amazon at all costs. It was arranged that three companies should share the work, relieving each other as casualties in each became heavy.
In fact, men of all the companies engaged stuck grimly to their posts all night.
Work began on the evening of D plus one, and the first tank rolled across at five o'clock next morning.
Shellfire rocked and chipped the growing bridge and one sniper in particular took heavy toll of the men who swarmed over it.
There is a touch of grim humour in many of the tales now told about the Sappers and their job. One bulldozer driver watched bullets shower on his machine till they began to rip into the engine.
Setting the throttle , he got down and walked in front of the lumbering bulldozer - just as the seat he had left was neatly punctured.
Right: 36 US Inf Division crossing the Gari river (often referred to as the Rapido river) 20 January 1944. It was a courageous but disastrous attempt. Many men were killed by mines, shell and MG fire before they even reached the river. Many who made it to the river found their boats had been wrecked by shell splinters and MG fire as they had carried them, many sank or capsized. A few made it across only to be pinned down. The next day reinforcements were sent in a daylight attack that saw more heavy casualties. The attack failed and the men who had managed to cross the river were forced to withdraw. Some were taken prisoner. The two river crossing sites used by the 141st Infantry Regt are the same sites as where the 'Congo' Bridge was built and 7 Coys ferry site that was attempted in the May of that year.
12 Inf Bde excerpts from their respective war diaries 13 May-17 May 1944
4 Division’s 12 Inf Bde were held in reserve for the initial attack and were under command 78 Division who were to exploit any holes made by the 4th Division.
On the 13th May the three infantry Bns of 12 Bde were brought into action. The 6th Bn BW (RHR), 1 R.F. and 1 R.W.K. All supported by tanks of the 2nd Lothian Border Horse.
6 Bn BW and 'A' Squadron 2nd Lothians crossed Amazon bridge by 0730 hrs and advanced up to the Brown Line (Queen Street. 4 Div's first objective) which was about as far as 4 Division had reached. Almost immediately 'D' Coy the leading Coy met heavy MG fire fom Pt 33 (862178) where the R. Pioppeto crosses Queen St. A recce was done and about 0930 hrs 'D' Coy went into attack supported by a troop of 'A' Sqn tanks. The Bn came under heavy shell fire causing a few casualties. While they were engaged in this battle, the C.O. was ordered to attack the ‘Blue Line’ from the point already reached. The start time given was 1000 hrs. It was too late to recall ‘D’ Coy and a plan using the other three Coys was quickly made. 2 R.F. was to attack simultaneously on their right. Both Bns had the support of a barrage and a squadron of 2 Lothian tanks. At 1000 hrs the barrage came down and unfortunately some shells fell short and landed on the Bn’s forward troops. As the barrage moved forward the Bn and its tanks move on and again the men were too eager and some ran into the barrage and had to be checked. The attack proceeded with great dash and determination and the objective was reached with the company of 2.R.F. at about 1130 hrs. After an hour ‘D’ Coy arrived as ordered, after their successful, if not expensive attack of their own.
14th May. 0500 hrs. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Coys each supported by a troop on 2nd Lothian & Border Horse tanks advance to attack the red line. Hampered by thick mist and smoke from artillery fire they advanced slowly capturing positions including point 76, a German strong point not marked on the battle map. MGs, mortars and an A/tank gun were captured, the latter with a round up the breech, which they had not been able to fire as they could not see the tanks. Had there been normal visibility this would have been a difficult position to take. The advances continued and by the 17th they had cut across to the right astride route 6 and the railway line, cutting the exit of the Germans from Cassino. During their advances the BW had captured a German Para who told them that the Germans intended withdrawing from Cassino on the evening of the 17th . This information was immediately passed on to 10 Inf Bde who placed it’s infantry on route 6. Ambushes were set up and many escaping Germans were captured, killed or wounded trying to escape. The BW never got any of these spoils as they had already been taken by 10th Bde.
13 May. Approx. 0700-0800 hrs. 2 R.F. crossed Amazon Bridge. As soon as the noise of the crossing was heard they were heavily shelled and mortared but casualties were light. They followed the 6 Bn B.W. across and were to advance on their right. ‘Z’ Coy left and ‘W’ Coy right were to be the first wave, followed by B.H.Q with ‘X’ and ‘Y’ Coys following ‘Z’ and ‘W’ Coys respectively as 2nd wave and mopping up troops. According to their war diary, ‘C’ Squadron, 2 Lothian tanks in support, was already over the bridge lined up facing front forming an impressive and encouraging sight. From the bridge to S.L. enemy mortar fire was very heavy and a lot of casualties sustained. The Company ‘18’ set was knocked out and the operator killed or wounded. The smoke had lifted and as a consequence the Bn was easily seen by the Boche. Once across S.L. the tanks moved with infantry meeting very little S.A.A. opposition but continuous D.F. mortar and Arty fire. B.H.Q. followed rear of assaulting Coys and was soon depleted losing 3 operators, intelligence 4, including 2 killed, Sgt Bullock and Fus. Mapson.
At approx 1200 hrs the advance was stopped and consolidation took place.
The afternoon was comparatively quiet except when the R.W.K. came on the scene and enemy again put down D.F. fire.
During the evening a heavy gun fired at B.H.Q. causing considerable damage and casualties. Approximately 20 rounds were fired and very accurate, rendering B.H.Q untenable and had to move 200 yds from an old posn SE. Total casualties from the day’s ops were heavy. Five POWs taken.
14 May. During the morning the enemy made strong counter attack from the north but were repelled.
0600 hrs ‘W’ Coy who had consolidated on the right was brought over to the left of the Bn front and pushed fwd a rew hundred yards to an objective given by Bde.
15 May. 0500 hrs. Heavy conc of enemy mortar and Arty fire on Bn area.
Bn reorganised into 2 composite companies in view of casualties. i.e. W & X and Y & Z
1430 hrs. Enemy tried to infiltrate on right flank. Tanks was called up and the situation was soon restored.
16 May. Fairly quiet morning. Bde visited BHQ and informed us that R.W.K. on our left and Beds & Herts on our right were to attack at 1830 hrs.
17 May. During early hrs of the morning ‘W’ and ‘X’ Coys moved fwd to 846189.
‘W’ Coy patrol returned having made contact with our left flank.
0900 hrs. Began the general move fwd, WX Coy followed by YZ Coy & BHQ finally cutting the railway between Points 53 and 46 taking up posns on Pts 61 & 51.
1900 hrs. Bn was ordered to advance to and cut Route 6 in order to prevent the escape of the Cassino garrison. Approx. posns by 2000 hrs were W&X at 841200. Y&Z south of the road at 842196.
2100-2200 hrs. 8 POW gave themselves up and from then onwards up until first light a steady flow of prisoners arrived. Total 57.
1800 hrs.1000 hrs. O.C. ‘W’ Coy (Major I.Thomas) took a patrol up the mountain to the monastery and claims to be the first British troops to enter and proudly cherishes a white tablecloth belonging to the monastery with which a party of 28 PWs surrendered.
1900 hrs. Bn again moved fwd along Route 6 relieving a Bn of Surreys belonging to 78 Div.
13 May.The 1 Bn R.W.K crossed Amazon Bridge at 1100 Hrs and passed through 10 Inf Bde to push on towards Pt 86. 836174.
14 May. Bn engaged in fierce fighting to gain control of Pt 86 suffering heavy casualties.
15 May. Bn captured Pt 86 and consolidated and on relief by 5 Northamptons, Bn came into reserve south of EVANGILISTA. 8518
16 May. Bn moved out EVANGILISTA and proceeded to secure line of road running south west from G. CIGNANTE 8418 to prevent enemy infiltration. On reaching objective Bn consolidated.
17 May. The Bn moved fwd over the railway 8419 and advanced toward Route 6. By nightfall Bn was established astride the road and railway to intercept any enemy retreating from CASSINO and MONASTERY HILL.
18 May. Bn moved into area 838198. into Bde reserve. (12 Inf Bde had now come under comd 78 Div to protect their right flank in their move to the HITLER LINE) Bn moved fwd along the railway line, where again, the Bn remained in Res in Conc area at 7820.
17May: The Shiny 7th carried out maintenance, rested and watched a film in the evening. The Germans made a stealthily withdrawal from Cassino and Monte Cassino in the evening, leaving behind their wounded. 18 May: The battle advanced up the Liri valley towards the Hitler Line, 10 miles beyond. It had taken the Allies five months to break through the Gustav Line. 19 May:The Company prepared to move forward again but cancelled at the last minute. Instead at 1000 hrs they moved with the remainder of the Division to a rest area at Piedmonte d'Alifa. The location was on a hillside overlooking the Volturno.
578 Fd Coy war Diaries 9 -15 May. A platoon was in reserve to build Amazon Bridge and maintain the bridge and approaches when completed. They were used to help deck and launch the bridge
586 Army Fd Coy RE. War diary 1-23 May. 586 Coy were tasked to build Congo Bridge on 13 May. They experienced difficulties and the build was going too slow, the C.R.E. called out 7 Coy to assist who took over the bridge and 586 Coy did the approaches
Carl Strom Interview. Carl was a Platoon officer In 'B' Coy 141st Inf Regt, 36 Inf Division who crossed the Rapido at the same site as the Congo bridge in January 1944. The crossing was repulsed with very heavy casualties.