Monte la Difensa
Today, when you look at the routes up Difensa’s crags, it is just possible to imagine small groups of highly trained mountaineers conquering them. But hosts of heavily laden troops could not succeed, could they?
They did, but not without facing almost overpowering difficulties. As one Forceman said, ‘no fear of death, just sheer exhaustion and survival. I can still see us climbing the hill and watching the German mortars bracketing us.’
There was immense artillery preparation along the whole ridge, and the Germans were alert, suspecting attack, but they remained unaware that an approach was being made from such an unlikely quarter.
The climb started at about 4.30pm on 3 December, and continued in the pitch black and icy rain throughout the night. A couple of hours’ respite was gained on a series of ledges several hundred feet below the crest, as the 2nd Battalion gathered itself before clambering on up a cliff the pitch of which is mostly 60°-70°.
By 4.30am, most of the Battalion was in a position to peer down into the darkness at what they could just make out as a mass of German troops. As one soldier said, ‘we were so goddamn close we could smell them cooking sausage!’
There they intended to pause until first light at about 6am, but a rockfall gave the Force’s precarious position away prematurely. Flares shot into the air, shouts were heard, and very shortly enemy automatic weapons began to spray green tracer into the night.
Staff-Sergeant Crichlow takes up the story:
All hell broke loose. I dived for cover, and my section, who were laboriously climbing up the ledge behind me, started to crawl into position to my left… They started to return the Jerries’ fire. In the dark it seemed that there was a kind of fort ahead of me, from which came the flashes of German machine-guns… there was a quick intake of breath near me and I knew somebody was hit… I kept firing my Tommy Gun at the flashes ahead of me, and then the dark forms spread to my right. Apparently, McGinty’s section was getting into action.
This map and extract of text appeared within the feature on The First Special Service Force in Italy in issue 72 of Military History Monthly.