38 (Irish) Brigade land at Termoli

Tuesday, 5 October, 1943 - Wednesday, 6 October, 1943

In Italy, the 38 (Irish) Brigade's parent formation, 78th (Battleaxe) Division, had been advancing to the Volturno Line when its progress was threatened around Termoli as it encountered the 16th Panzer Division.

Contemplating when to depart Barletta for Termoli, Brigadier Nelson Russell had to consider the additional risk from sea mines during darkness against the risk of sailing by day and attracting enemy aircraft. He decided to depart around 1000 hours as the Brigade would be beyond the range of enemy aircraft during most of the first part of the ten-hour journey. It was, nevertheless, a pleasant and uneventful passage as the Brigade sailed through several Italian fishing fleets without encountering enemy aircraft or striking a mine.

One hour before Brigadier Russell landed, he received a signal on board LCI 291 to attend an ‘O’ Group Conference near Termoli. On arrival at Termoli’s harbour, which was receiving German shellfire, he was met by a Commando officer who led the Brigadier and his Intelligence Officer to meet with the Commando force’s CO in the basement of a large house where he was briefed on the current situation:

  • The Germans had counter attacked strongly with tanks and infantry.
  • 11 Brigade’s position had been penetrated by some tanks from 16th Panzer Division and its situation was confused.
  • Enemy was on the outskirts, and likely some elements actually in the town, with only depleted Commando, Lancashire Fusiliers and remnants of the Recce preventing them reaching the sea.
  • Five of the nine tanks that had crossed the River Biferno had been knocked out and the Germans had some 25 tanks.

However, Brigadier Russell was confident that the Germans were unlikely to launch a determined night attack on Termoli. The situation also favoured his Brigade with its street fighting experiences as its strength on the ground would increase by 300 every 1½ hours as his Brigade continued to arrive and disembark from 1945 hours on 5 October 1943.

Nelson Russell then moved south by borrowed jeep along an unsecured route to meet the Commander 78th Division then located at HQ 36 Brigade. The situation was almost as had been described by the Commandos plus the expectation to have some 80 to 90 tanks across the River Biferno, just south of Termoli, by the early morning of the following day, 6 October.

The Divisional Commander’s plan was:

  • 38 (Irish) Brigade to occupy the Termoli perimeter for the night.
  • 2 x battalions of tanks to attack the San Giacomo ridge on the left flank at 0800 hrs and occupy it by 1100 hrs.
  • 38 (Irish) Brigade to advance with one squadron of Sherman tanks from Termoli at 1100 hrs and relieve the tank battalions on San Giacomo ridge.

LIR TermoliBrigade HQ was established in Termoli, near HQ 11 Brigade at 2300 hours and by midnight Battalion Headquarters and two Companies of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers, three Companies of the 6th Battalion The Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and one Company of the 2nd Battalion The London Irish Rifles had disembarked.

(Left, 2 LIR manning a Medium Machine Gun at Termoli (© Image in RUR collection))