3rd Battalion Welsh Guards

2 COY, 3WG

Remnants of 2 Company, 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards at Arce.

 

The 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards was formed at Beavers Camp, Hounslow on the 24 October 1941, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel A M Bankier DSO OBE MC from the Holding Battalion, which had itself been formed in the Spring of 1941, under the Command of Lieutenant Colonel W D C Greenacre MVO.

The Battalion sailed for North Africa on the 5th February 1943, landing in Algiers on the 16th February they did a three mile swank-march through the town and found, unexpectedly that they had a further fourteen miles to go.  On the 24th February they moved by "Hommes 30-Chevaux 12" trucks and then by Battalion transport to El Aroussa, which is twenty miles south of Medjez El Bab, where they joined the 1st Guards Brigade on the 1st March.

The 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards started to play their part in North Africa; the 8th Army had driven Rommel back through Cyrenaica and Tripolitania and invested the Mareth Line.  A series of fortifications on the Southern boundary of Tunisia.  From the North the Axis Forces were threatened by the First Army and the United States 2nd Corps.  In order for the Brigade to allow an attack to be made on the enemy flank it was necessary for the Allies to capture the rugged hills on either side of Fondouk Gap, a feature about 1,000 yards wide through which passes the road to the coastal plain.

1st Guards Brigade was to capture the hills to the North of the Gap; the 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards was to carry out the opening assault.  On the night of the 8th April Battalion Headquarters and all companies except Number One Company were dug in near the higher ground west of the river bend, Number One Company was across the river on a knoll, acting as the advance-guard to the Battalion.

The following morning the 9th soon came, the Battalion stood two at 0500 hours, and by 0630 hours the Battalion was to advance and capture the whole El Rhorab feature.  The Battalion soon came under heavy machine gun and mortar fire, as they pushed on the fire increased and they had many casualties before they finally stopped at the foothills.  Machine gun and mortar were hidden in the hills, and carried out some unanswerable damage.  With every attempt to get forward casualties multiplied.  The Battalion reached the top and the enemy surrendered.  Casualties for the 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards were 9 Officers and 105 other ranks.
 
With the pursuit continuing it was not until the 8th May 1943 that the 3rd Battalion was involved once again, in which the 6th Armoured Division they were serving reached the approaches to the town of Hammam Lif.  Here the enemy was strongly placed, in the town itself.  The Battalion was ordered to capture the town which they did and were completely successful but with high price.  Casualties were 24 killed or died of wounds and 50 wounded.  The following day the armour attacked the town and forced the enemy to withdraw three days later the cease-fire came through and the campaign as over.  The 3rd Battalion spent the rest of 1943 in North Africa, spending it in different areas such as Sousse and Constantine in Algeria

Early 1944 the 3rd Battalion had moved to Italy, on the 9th February 1944 the 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards lay on a shoulder of Monte Furlito, which was a thousand feet above the Garigliano.  Since landing at Naples four days before they had little time to accustom themselves to surroundings vastly different from those they left in Algeria.  The 3rd Battalion had been on the move of the time and they had a long climb at the end of the journey.  They had crossed the river by Skipton Bridge, where the accumulation of rations, ammunition and stores brought by jeeps were distributed for the men and mules to carry up the mountain.  They had climbed in single file, a long snake of men winding slowly up and down narrow tracks.  The Country strange to them and the Indian Porters and mules were strange.  Everything was accepted with the philosophy and collective self-confidence, which are born of the Regiment.

The Battalion was ordered to relieve the 2nd/4th Hampshire Regiment, their role was to hold Monte Cerasola, the apex of the newly gained salient, and it was an immediate proximity of the German line.  This task, in nightmare conditions, which they succeeded in performing for ten vital days.  They were under constant fire from the enemy, snow driving rain and icy winds added to the discomfort of this barren mountaintop.  Twice in the dawn of the first day before even a chance to see the positions their were holding, they repulsed in attacks at the point of a bayonet.  On the last day the Coldstream Guards on Monte Ornito nearby repelled a determined assault.  It was the last attempt by the enemy to take Monte Cerasola.  In March the Battalion was used in various holding roles but did not take part in any attacks.

The Battalion's next major experience was the period spent in garrisoning a part of the town of Casino.  They were to hold what had been so dearly won: they made no attack and none was made on the Battalion.  Yet the weeks they spent there put as hard a strain on them as any similar period in the campaign.  This was due to physical conditions, the existence in the gloom of half-underground ruins never left in daylight, partly due to the impression on the mind made by this stagnant of death.

In May they came out in to the spring sunshine.  The battle line moving forward.  It was not until they reached the town of Acre on the road to Rome that the Battalion was called for.  The 3rd Battalion was a long way back in the divisional column when they were ordered to come up in tanks.  They "married" with the Lothians and Border Horse and moved up to an assembly area behind the Grenadier Guards.  They had had a tiresome journey; the tracks had been bull-dozed through the farmlands, in the rear it was overcrowded with traffic struggling to push forward.  Mounted on the tanks the Battalion was separated from the transport, which resulted in the men having no hot meal, and wireless batteries could not be renewed.  They could not see beyond the rising ground which lay ahead but their maps told them that Acre lay about six miles from their assembly area, two miles before they reached the highway they new ran through Monte Oria which lay on the right and Monte Piccolo and Monte Grande on the left.  Information was received that the enemies were leaving Acre and the hills were not being held in which they passed.  It was not clear that the enemy had moved, and this was to prove right as patrols were sent out.  Of the Battle that was fought at Acre the 1st Guards Brigade at nearly three hundred casualties, of which one hundred and twelve were Welsh Guardsmen.

The 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards went on to take part in the great advance in Italy, by-passing Rome they turned northwards to Tiber Valley until they found themselves before Perugia.  The enemy to avoid being surrounded abandoned the City and the pursuit continued.  The 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards along with the tanks of the 16th/5th Lancers occupied the town of San Marco in the face of heavy shelling and machine gun fire, but suffered no casualties.

From San Marco the Battalion went on to the Arno Valley moving towards the Gothic line the Battalions of the 1st Guards Brigade leap-frogged up the valley.  They observed the enemy movements by day and probing their positions by night.  When the Battalion was not in the lead there was time for relaxation but whenever there was contact made by the enemy there was always inevitable drain of casualties.

The 24th August 1944, the enemy had abandoned Florence and by the 2nd September the Allies had made a breach twenty miles deep through the eastern end of Gothic Line.  On the 10th September the 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards was in pursuit along the road, which runs through the Appenines from Pontassieve at the junction of Sieve and the Arno.  At San Bavello the 3rd Battalion patrolled and found the emplacements of the section abandoned.  However further patrols discovered that the enemies in strength on the heights beyond.   The 1st Guards Brigade moved to another sector, where a patrol from the Battalion went to the top of Monte Vescovi they discovered that the enemy at gone.  Once again the Brigade was moved to a mountain just north of Florence.

The 2nd October saw the Brigade relieve the Americans at Monte Battaglia a position then being subject to constant counter-attack.  Here they stayed off and on, in appalling weather conditions and under constant danger from shelling and intermittent attacks till the last week of October when they moved to another mountain position.  After this they had a short time in billets before doing their final, uneventful stint in the Battaglia sector.

The 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards spent the winter of 1944-45 in the mountains, holding a sector of the line which stretched across Italy while Allied Air Forces bombed the enemy's rear areas.  On the 17th February 1945 the Battalion left the mountain and rejoined the 1st Guards Brigade at Spoleto, South of Perugia.

In March 1945 the Battalion was serving with the 8th Army, they moved northwards to the River Po.  Operations went according to plan in April; they crossed the PO and made a spectacular but unsuccessful attempt to seize a bridge over the Bianco Canal between the PO and the Adige.  Even so the Canal was soon crossed.  On the 27th April the 3rd Battalion Welsh Guards reached the Adige and on its banks they fired their last shots of the Campaign.

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