23 platoon had been spearheading the advance into Italy since dawn but by mid-afternoon had been pinned down outside a small village. Their attached artillery observer couldn't contact his battery, and they had outpaced their supporting tanks. Their lieutenant had been injured and the 2" mortar crew killed by accurate mortar fire from the rear of the village, and any further movement of the soldiers attacted a further salvo. It became obvious that the German defenders had an observer in the church tower some 1800 yards away but they couln't screen themselves from it. Eventually one of the soldiers -moving very slowly- managed to throw a smoke grenade in front of the platoon; as the smoke cloud grew several men rose and started to fall back.
The sergant called out: "Stand firm lads -dig in. Don't retreat! Who else has any smoke grenades?"
Even as he said this one of the Lance-Corporals ran forwards, his Sten gun slung over his shoulder with a couple of smoke grenades in one hand and his pick in the other. "I've got a couple." He called as he knelt right up by the smoke screen and energetically wielded his pick to start a foxhole. Even as the first grenade started to fail he turned and lobbed both of his to form a longer screen. As he had hoped, the German observer had assumed the platoon was falling back toward the trees and was directing the fire to the rear of the platoon's position. One of the privates joined him having collected more smoke grenades, and between them they dug out a foxhole and maintained the smokescreen. Meanwhile the sergeant ordered the rest of the platoon to dig foxholes or scrapes to protect them from the mortars and for the riflemen to be ready to fire at the chuch tower. When the smoke cleared it was as if the malacian troops had fled the scene leaving their dead and equipment behind. In fact they had dug themselves in to the soft soil, making good use of the cover offered by the small bushes, and awaited their sergeant's orders.
Lying next to the bell in the cramped space at the top of the church tower the German mortar observer convinced himself that that the attackers had retreated and call down to his compatriots that apart from three bodies and dropped equipment -including a map-case- all the attackers had been routed. The German infantry commander turned to an engineer NCO and ordered him to collect some mines and a handful of soldiers, and go out and retrieve any thing of use -especially maps- and reig some booby traps. The NCO quickly picked up a satchel of mines and grenades and led half-a-dozen men out of the village. Bolstered by the observer's confidence they simply walked out as a close group, unperturbed by the distant sounds of tank battles, secure in the knowledge that the single road approaching from the south-west was covered by a PAK75 and several PAK37s hidden in a farmhouse. On seeing the party approach the Malacian sergeant quietly called out his orders and waited for them to get closer. When the group was about 200 yards away he called out and the German infantrytmen were horrified to see the 'abandoned' Bren guns swing towards them and start firing; they tried to return fire but they had been far too complacent and the fire from the three Brens and a dozen Sten guns cut them down. At the same time the platoon's four sharpshooters started firing at the church tower, aiming at the top opening which was missing some of its louvres. Another rifleman acted as a spotter calling out the position of the bullet strikes on the tower as each sharpshooter fired in turn calling out range settings to one another. At first they were hitting the tower too low as they had underestimated the humidity but they soon corrected this and 'walked' their fire into the opening. As soon as they achieved this one of them called out "Sights at 1900 yards, aim two feet to the left of the opening -go for it."
The remaining riflemen did as they were told and soon built up a heavy fire, swamping the top of the tower with their bullets.
The German mortar observer saw his countrymen fall to the gunfire and reached for his field telephone to call down the mortars onto the Malacian infanty's position. As he did so he heard the first few bullets stike the tower but he assumed that they were stray shots from the Bren guns. It was only when the bullets started passing through the louvres spraying fragments of wood about the bell space that he realised he was being targeted directly. He had just started giving the mortar team their firing orders when all the riflemen started firing, many more bullets passed into his eeryie with some ricocheting off the bell. Within seconds one bullet smashed the handset from his hand; instinctively he lay flat on the rough wooden floor while bullets, masonry chips and splinters of wood flew around and into him. All too soon his nerve broke and he made for the safety of a lower floor but this was his downfall -as he squirmed his way to the hatch he was hit several times and fell down the ladder. The sound of breaking wood and his cries of pain brought his comrades up to help him down to the ground. Ironically some of the bullets that missed the tower fell among the mortar crew who hurriedly returned fire but they used the same settings as before and again the mortar shells landed beyond the Malacian Infantry. After a few minutes a runnere from the Company HQ arrived telling them to stop firing while a counter attack was being organised.
Last updated: 4th May 2012.
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Copyright SR Jenkins May 2012.