The following extract is from Corporal Frank Wallbank’s War, 3rd King’s Own Hussars.

25 May 1944
Nothing doing today so we just relaxed, listening to distant shelling and watching the aircraft pass overhead. In one group alone there were 97 4-engined bombers.

26 May 1944
News this morning is good- the Infantry are at last getting through, and we are under 2 hours stand-to. GENERAL ALEXANDER has just passed through in his big open tourer, surrounded by MP’s- he seems mighty pleased with the way things are going. 11.15 and we are on our way- our purpose is to support the 78th Division Infantry, as a Brigade, each Regiment supporting an Infantry Brigade, and each Squadron an Infantry Regiment. The 3rd Hussars are to be attached to the Irish Brigade.

Cpl Frank Wallbank is on the left.

For 3 miles we followed Highway 6 , then turned left down ACE track. The permanent way, wrecked by jerry has been cleared of rails and is now used as a road. After 5 miles down here we crossed the Rapido River, on the west bank of which lies the razed town of San Angelo. From here we had a perfect view of Monastery Hill with its shattered monastery on the summit. Near the foot of the hill we could see the remains of Cassino, and are now halted 2 miles from the foot of Mount Cairo (5,000 feet) on the side of which we can see the ruins of Piedimonte which the Poles took yesterday.

We are now in the Hitler Line, a defence line solid with gun emplacements, anti-tank pits and machine gun rests. Round every corner we found knocked-out Jerry Mark III’s, IV’s and every type of anti-tank gun. One of our reccy planes is just burning out on the roadside. Whole areas have been shelled to nothing, every foot of land being shell marked. One of our M3 Honeys hit a pile of S mines and turned completely over, the crew of 4 losing their lives. We’ve just pulled into a vineyard at dusk- already we’ve found a 76mm gun with its crew dead around it and in another place a dead Jerry with his revolver still in his hand. Up the hill from us lies the town of Castrociello; above which lies a monastery apparently used as a Jerry Observation Post. Our artillery got ranged on it and have just fired about 150 rounds, and I guess no more than 3 missed it. Immediately afterwards, Ghurkas were in there, and we can see them climbing the ruins. In front of us lies another big hill, still in Jerry hands, and our artillery behind us are now piling dozens of shells onto the Jerry positions.

All day long civilians with their scanty possessions have been passing through – they are terrified and all very hungry, poor devils. Enemy shells have been landing 150 yards away and our Artillery has had several lively spells. We are just off the edge of Highway 6 and all day long the road is crammed with Sherman’s, Priests, Anti Tank guns, Artillery, Bofors and 3-7’s.

28 May 1944
No sleep last night for our artillery had a non-stop barrage until dawn. Whit Sunday today, and we are just off. Moved out at 9 am and crossed the River Melfa after 2 ½ miles. Turned left off H6 down a track along which Priests are shelling a hill about a mile away. No sign of life among the shell bursts.

2pm We are now in position on the edge of a large wood- Jerry’s nearest possible point is about 2,000 yards away where three 88’s have been spotted. Artillery is massed on both sides of us and behind us to a depth of about 2 miles. Mount Piccolo (1.100 feet) taken by the Guards yesterday, was retaken by jerry last night and is now the target for our shells.

4pm News has just come back that Mount P and 2 of the 88’s are ours – next point is Mount Grande (1200 feet) and at 6.30 our artillery began working on it firing a barrage of 30,000 rounds by 240 guns. They’ve just hit something big, for after a huge explosion, there’s a huge column of smoke rising. Night Infantry is now moving up to get in position for a dawn attack.

Reveille for us was 3.30am after a bad night of artillery exchanges. When dawn came we found Mount G had been evacuated, so we immediately set off for the next objective, Ceprano on the Liri River, junction town of Highways 6 and 82. All along the route are signs of a hasty retreat- piles of ammo, unburied bodies, and the 2 main bridges unblown. Ceprano has been badly battered and the main bridge destroyed but RE’s soon had a span bridge over the river. Bull-dozers are doing magnificent work clearing roads and levelling tracks. 2 miles beyond the town, Jerry Artillery was again contacted and shells are landing on our rear left. Afternoon reccy spotted 10 enemy tanks in the distance but when we moved up to engage them, an anti-tank ditch was met and the Valentine Bridges have gone up to span it. Jerry is now in a village 3 miles N of Cep. And our tanks and Priests are moving in to shell him. Canadians have just found an Ity lying wounded in the ditch – 2 bullet wounds- and have taken him to the Casualty Collection Station. Enemy shells are now trying to find our artillery battery just in front of us, but not getting within 200 yards so far. ‘A’ Squadron moving up to the right of the village encountered treacherous ground, 2 turning over and 3 getting bogged.

30 May 1944
Recovery is now going up to salve the ‘A’ tanks and ‘B’ are moving into position on the left flank. The leading tank struck a mine and blew a bogie assy. off. Artillery is pounding away again at noon, and 1pm is the zero hour for ‘B’ advance.

31 May 1944
Moving steadily up the road towards Ripi ,2 of our tanks crashed through the embankment – 1 has track off and the other is over on its turret. Going up at 4pm to find them, we got caught by a Jerry Artillery Barrage- several chaps just off the road were hit and 2 in the ditch on our right were caught, 1 wounded fatally. Our tanks have shelled several houses in which Jerry was hiding and some are still burning. We are now on the outskirts of Ripi and our Artillery are sending plenty over- Jerry is replying with spasmodic bursts but well wide of any target. One of the locals was killed when she stood on a mine and another had her hand injured. Poor civvies- whenever a battle develops near, they quickly pack what goods they can carry and move out. Their houses and farms are all either damaged or destroyed and their property such as clothing, pigs and cows, food and wine is all taken. Soon as we move forward they are back with whatever kit they have left and it is pitiful to see their sorrow. They’re quite willing to do washing etc. for us, and dig us up their potatoes, and are very thankful for any food we can spare them. Broke the prop shaft off our car when we dropped over a 5 foot bank. One of our planes dropped leaflets to the Jerries during the afternoon and quite a few blew over our lines. On the way to B.I. We saw a Jeep which had hit a mine- the unfortunate driver was still among the burning wreckage.

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