Extracts from 'Only The Enemy In Front'. This page covers the regiment's first spell in Italy under the U.S. Fifth Army, from going ashore at Salerno to being withdrawn to Egpyt.

44 Recce > Only The Enemy In Front > Italy with the U.S. Fifth Army 1943-1944.

The invasion of Italy was planned as a three pronged assault. On 3rd September 1943 13th Corps of the 8th Army would cross the Straits of Messina from Sicily to land at Reggio di Calabria, a short distance which could be done in landing craft. On 9th September the 1st Airborne Division would land at Taranto while the main assault took place at Salerno by the U.S. Fifth Army. The Americans were still short of manpower at the time so the army was made up of the U.S. VIth Corps on the right flank south of the river Sele, and the British 10th Corps on the left flank. The 10th Corps was made up of 46th Infantry Division, 56th (London) Infantry Division and 7th Armoured Division and was augmented by two batallions of Commandos and three batallions of U.S. Rangers. If you like to think of Italy as being shaped like a boot. Reggio di Calabria is the toe, Taranto is where the sole joins the top of the heel and Salerno is on the calf. The plan was basically for 10th Corps to move up and take the vital port of Naples while VIth Corps moved inland to cut off the German army as it retreated from the 8th Army. As it turned out Taranto was pretty much unopposed, and the Germans were happy to retreat from Calabria, but Salerno was extremely well defended, and in particular the gap between the British and American corps made for an attractive target. It was 44 Recce who found themselves holding that gap.

44 Recce were among the lead elements when 56th Division landed at Salerno in September 1943 with 10th Corps now under the command of the U.S. Fifth Army and they saw heavy action holding the line against a large German counter-attack. The division was also involved in the capture of Naples, and the Volturno Crossing before moving on to  Mount Camino in December where 44 Recce assaulted with companies of 167th (London) Infantry Brigade that they had been portering for.

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) pp70–71.

The first wave of Fifth Army was at sea between North Africa and Salerno when Italy's surrender was announced. Hitler had anticipated this and German forces moved to neutralise the Italian army. As leading elements of 46th and 56th British and 36th US Divisions came ashore Kesselring had already deployed von Vietinghoff's Tenth Army to meet them. Resistance was light at first as Vietinghoff held back his forces until he was certain that the Salerno landings were not a feint; then he hit the Allies with two Panzer and two PanzerGrenadier divisions in an attempt to implement Kesselring's order that 'the invading army... must be completely annihilated and… thrown into the sea.'

Two regiments of the Reconnaissance Corps were in the Salerno beachhead. 41 Recce with 46th Division and 44 Recce with 56th Division.

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) pp80–81.

On the west coast of Italy, Fifth Army had entered Naples on 1 October but their struggle on the Salerno beaches has been, to paraphrase Wellington, a close run battle. The two British divisions of X Corps which had been in the first wave of invaders had included recce regiments in their orders of battle. In Fifth Army's situation there was little scope for the normal operations of a reconnaissance regiment and once again it was a case, for 44th and 46th Regiments, of helping to hold a line.

Believing that the Americans were the weak link in Fifth Army, Kesselring tried to drive a wedge between the British and American elements on the beaches. The attackers had the line of the River Sele as their axis of advance for that river marked the inter-Allied boundary in the beachhead.

On D Day, 9 September, elements of both recce regiments had been among the first troops of their divisions ashore

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) p81.

Fifty-sixth Division had landed south of 46th Division with the Tusciano River marking the boundary between them. C Squadron, 44 Recce landed with 167 Brigade while RHQ and B Squadron came in with 169 Brigade. The regiment was soon in action, a squadron going forward with a commando troop to join 41 (RM) Commando at the La Molina defile. Early next morning, the squadron recce'd forward to discover Germans dug in at La Molina in positions overlooking 41 Commando in the valley. The squadron was later withdrawn by 138 Brigade to rejoin the brigade in Salerno. During the morning 41 Commando was machine-gunned and mortared by the Germans above them but at the same time 2 Commando was creating a perimeter in the hills around Vietri.

On the 10 September the regiment was placed on 56th Division's right flank and given two tasks, both of which it carried out successfully. These were to reconnoitre and observe the enemy on that flank, and to establish contact with the American 36th (Texas) Division. However pressure from von Vietinghoff's Tenth Army soon had the allies on the defensive and that pressure was to last for almost a week with Vietinghoff at one stage claiming that his army was 'pursuing enemy on a wide front.'

During that week 44 and 46 Recce deployed as infantry in a situation where every available soldier was put into the line with a rifle or submachine-gun.

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) p82.

The breakout from Salerno put three recce regiments - 5, 44 and 46 - on the western sector while 56 was advancing on the Adriatic sector. From Salerno 44 Recce's squadrons operated with the three brigades of the Black Cat Division in following up the retreating Germans. There were several small scale actions and A Squadron was able to surprise a German sapper party preparing to blow a bridge; the sappers were captured and the bridge taken intact.

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) pp121–122.

Earlier efforts had been made to break through the German lines before winter set in with all its severity. Those efforts had involved 56th Division tackling Monte Camino in which operation 44 Recce were given an altogether new rôle, being employed portering supplies to the assaulting infantry battalions of 167 Brigade. On 28 November a Porter Battalìon was established around 44 Recce; also included was a company of 6th Cheshires, troops from 100 LAA and 67 A/T Regiments, the defence platoons of 168, 169, and 201 Brigades and 56th Divisional Defence Platoon. A jeep train was also established.

Not all 44 Recce's personnel were involved in portering. Captain Osmond of A Squadron departed the British lines through the forward defended localities of 2nd/5th Queens to carry out a two-day patrol behind the German positions on Monte Camino. On 30 November the divisional commander, Major General Templer, telephoned the CO to say that Osmond had returned with complete and valuable information. He described Osmond's patrol as 'an inspiration to every officer in the Division.' Less than a week later Osmond carried out a similar patrol for 167 Brigade; it was equally successful with his singlehandedly clearing 12 Germans from Colle.

On 1 December recce porter parties attacked with the Companies for which they were portering. One detachment took ten prisoners but the regiment lost three killed, three wounded and 25 missing. A welcome end to porterage duties took the regiment to San Donata and Falciano to spend Christmas, prior to which announcements were made of the awards of two MCs and four MMs to 44 Recce.

On 1st January 1944 the Reconnaissance Corps was formally absorbed by the Royal Armoured Corps and so became 44th Reconnaissance Regiment, RAC.

In January 1944 the regiment was active with the 56th Division at the Crossing of the Garigliano. It was detached from 56th Division on 16th February 1944.

56th Division went to reinforce the beachhead at Anzio and timed their arrival for just when the Germans were launching a large counter-attack. They saw heavy action and were withdrawn to Egypt in March in a somewhat reduced state.

In March 1943 the 44 recce were  on the western slopes at Monte Cassino, still acting as infantry. They had a period of training in April and a short spell back in action in May before being withdrawn to Egypt and coming back under 56th Division.

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) pp122–123.

On 8 January 1944 the regiment became the core of Hicksforce which also included two companies of 6th Cheshires, a battery from 67th Anti-Tank Regiment and 56th Division's Defence Platoon. Hicksforce's task was to take over the coastal sector south of the Garigliano river thereby providing a screen for 5th Division's concentration to the rear of the sector. The force operated for a week, during which it carried out extensive patrolling and captured five prisoners. The deployment of Hicksforce had been part of X Corps' plan to cross the Garigliano and on the night of 17 January that crossing began: 5th Division was on the left flank and 56th on the right. During the following day 44 Recce crossed the Garigliano on foot to fill the gap between the two divisions. However, plans were changed almost as soon as the regiment had crossed and, instead of filling in in the centre, 44 Recce deployed with C Squadron on the left sector of the San Salvatito feature, A Squadron continuing the  line across the road and B Squadron in reserve.

The Germans still had a number of machine-gun positions on San Salvatito which B Squadron was ordered to clear. During the afternoon of the 19th the squadron cleared those positions and several Germans were killed or wounded with another five taken prisoner. C Squadron inflicted even more casualties on the enemy when it was attacked that night. The squadron's fierce resistance drove off the attackers who left 20 of their number dead, including the company commander. B Squadron was again in action on 20 January when one of its troops, supported by tanks, attacked and took Massa Vezza without loss.

The CO, Lieutenant Colonel J.B. Hicks, attracted the attention of enemy on the afternoon of 23 January by accidentally setting fire to the chimney of RHQ. The smoke and fire provided a marker for German artillery and shells began to fall around RHQ. Two rounds landed quite close and Colonel Hicks' popularity temporarily diminished.

On 27 January the regiment was relieved, moving back to Montanaro to re-organise on to a jeep, carrier and White scout car establishment. But, once again, plans were changed and 44 Recce returned on foot north of the Garigliano on 1 February to relieve 8th Royal Fusiliers. Its new location was Lorenzo from where it patrolled until relieved by 40 Commando (RM) on the 12th. While at Lorenzo the regiment captured a number of prisoners, including an entire six-man patrol (taken by a four-man patrol from A Squadron), a Pole - serving in the German army – and a German in civilian clothing. At the end of this stint the regiment was commended for its work by the commander of 56th Division, the brigadier of 167 brigade and the CO of 40 Commando. It had also lost a number of men, including two killed when an armour-piercing shell landed on a house being used as a section position on the crossroads at Lorenzo. Eight men were buried of whom two managed to get out and four were dug out before REs advised against further digging due to the dangerous nature of the building.

Forty-four Recce relieved the King's Dragoon Guards on 11 March. They were spectators at the bombing of Monte Cassino and carried out a series of patrols as part of their infantry rôle, enduring shelling and mortaring but intercepting some German patrols before being relieved by Moroccan troops on 28 March. The White scout cars were finally collected in April and a training spell began which lasted almost until the end of the month when C Squadron, under command of 5th Grenadier Guards, occupied positions on Point 1190 in the Castel di Sangrio area. C Squadron was joined by B Squadron on 9 May but the regiment was relieved a week later and withdrawn with 56th Division to Egypt.

Comparing a map indicating where 56th Division were operating at the time with a modern map suggests that 'Lorenzo' is likely to be San Lorenzo in the province of Latina.