Colonel Dennis Walton, CBC, MC, TD, MA (aged 93)
230 Battery of 58th Suffolk Medium RA
I stupidly got involved with Gurkhas at Tavoleto. Even I wondered why the Teds were holding it so furiously. I learned afterwards that it was regarded as a “forward bastion” of the Gothic Line. It is difficult to find on a map.
I had been supporting the Royal Tank Regiment in a tank. They suggested they blow up the tower in Tavoleto, but I asked them not to as it was an obvious OP for me.
“Well in that case”, the tank Lieutenant-Colonel said, “why don’t you go and help the 2/7th Gurkhas. They are leading the attack and you’ll be able to get into your OP all the sooner”.
My chaps looked a little glum at this, but the fear of shame was a strong motivator, and I joined a company of the Gurkhas who were vaguely hiding in holes at the foot of a steep grassy bank leading to the wall of Tavoleto.
They grinned at me amicably, as Gurkhas do, and made room for me. Then off we charged, early on 2nd September 1944. My companions clearly thought it would be a most delightful stroll. I had left my party in the tank, by the way, with instructions to meet me in what was left of the tower. However, there was a smarmy German officer and assistant at the top of the steps firing his MG. When he ran out of ammo, those of us who were left ran to the top. He came out, hands up, with an ingratiating smile. However having used all his ammo he was not protected by the rules of war, and one of my new friends sliced a hand off at the wrist, a second did the other, and third took his head off! Very neat movements I thought!
I had fallen very heavily on the run up and remember my wrist hurting. I was trying to flatten myself to avoid MG bullets.
Having been reminded of the derring-do of the 2nd September 1944 I am persuaded to finish my story.
By the time we got to the edge of Tavoleto the Teds had withdrawn, or so we thought. I selected the highest undamaged floor of the tower, in full view of a German OP as we passed by the gaping holes in its walls. They could see I was using it as an OP (obvious actually), and an 88 fired occasionally. But at a range of 6 – 7000 metres it is not easy to hit a tower as a metre is enough to make the round vary.
I then met a golden boy, a young man in his early twenties, who was to lead the tank attack towards the next ridge. I asked whether he’d like me to come with him. “No”, he said, “I’ve only got three tanks and none of these is an observer’s tank”. “Well, I’ll give you covering fire. I’ll put my wireless on your frequency”. “No”, again “you’ll only hit us by mistake”. This was a God-send. I had just found out that my armoured car was between two high stone walls and completely screened. I used bad language at the bombardier, and he began to whinge that if he took the car from the walls into the village street someone shot at them. Also, we were running out of batteries, rations, water, etc., and the ration trucks complained that by the time they approached the base of the tower they were shot at – and it wasn’t in their contract to be shot at delivering rations. They had no intention of visiting me until I assured them personally that there would be no repetition of this unpleasant behaviour.
I was a little put out by all this complaining, so went down to see what the problem was. I found a congenial infantry captain. He explained that the Gurkhas hadn’t been trained in house clearing; their idea of a morning stroll was to run along a street chucking grenades through windows. “They get a temporary sense of power when they do that, but some of these houses have cellars, so I’ve sent my chaps along to sort them out”.
“But there’s something funny at the base of my tower”. “Oh yes, there are cellars there and we haven’t got round to them yet. Be a good chap and deal with it yourself”. So we opened the doors to these cellars and chucked a few grenades down and that seemed to quieten things down.
The tank CO then said “by the way, we’re attacking the next town tomorrow (Lugo). Just up your street as I’ve got an observer’s tank for you”.
At least he put me in for the MC having completely over estimated what I’d done. But I reckon I probably deserved it for what we’d done before and after Tavoleto.
Stories still to write – giving the true facts! The coup de main, Battle of Hammam Lif, Battle of Banana Ridge, the dash for Tunis, Lugo, San Marino, Palena, the Russian Front etc.