Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion SAS Regiment by Bob Tong
Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 2nd Battalion SAS Regiment
The 1st Parachute brigade sailed to Tunisia/Algiers and for some months were in fierce battles with the German, French and Italian forces, involving horrendous loss of life. The Royal Warwickshire regiment was used as reinforcement. There were terrible battle at Tebourba Heights at Christmas 1942, when the Hampshire regiment lost a battalion in three days, with numbers down from 800 to 36 men.
I enlisted with Royal Warwickshire regiment in 1941. In 1943 we transferred to the SAS 2nd regiment. We went to Sicily and back to North Africa and eventually across to Italy (another first landing, Sicily was the other). This was the invasion of Europe and this year is the 70th anniversary.
We sailed across to Italy on an American cruiser, The Boise. We had been on bully beef and biscuits for about two months and they had fresh bread three times a day – we thought it was heaven. On the way across, the Italians surrendered so we went in at Taranto on the Adriatic side. Some of the Italians were friendly and others were fascists and couldn’t tell by looking at them which were which. The Italian campaign kept a lot of German troops occupied and away from Western Europe.
Another member of our Wolverhampton Branch, Jack Baker, came into Taranto with the 1st Battalion Parachute regiment, two boats behind us. We sailed into the harbour and stepped over the side and walked onto the dock. The next boat coming in, The Abdiel, was a trooper full of mainly infantry men with all their kit on ready like us, ready to get off. They hit a mine in the harbour and 800 blokes were killed. Jack was stopped from coming in until next day and the bodies were still being pulled out of the water.
When the Italians surrendered they just left the prisoners to fend for themselves. They had walked out of the camps, and hundreds of them were in the hills around Macerata and Servigliano, behind enemy lines. About 20 of my squadron of 2nd SAS were inserted in the coast by LCTs to gather up these POWs and bring them down to the coast to be taken off by our navy. This operation worked alright for the first three days, but then we were ambushed on the coast road at night and lost about 12 of our group. We finally went back up into the hills and continued our operations.
I spent about 12 weeks behind the German lines. We finally ran out of ammunition and had to come out. A partisan told us of a diesel engine fishing boat at a place called Grotte Mare about 80 miles away. We walked there in two nights and laid up in the hills above the town and watched. At dusk we walked down through the town and got on the boat. The engine started first time and we sailed away out into the Adriatic and then south to Termoli.
In the Italian campaign we lost 60,000 men and people have forgotten that 2013 is the 70th anniversary of what was the first invasion of Europe, Sicily then mainland Italy.
Next year was the battle of Cassino. The battle to take the Monastery cost the lives of thousands of men and took place about the same time as the Normandy landings. General Freyberg insisted we bombed it as the Germans had it as an observation post. It was a real killing ground.
Not many of us are left now. I’ve never really talked of what we did but I feel it is important to remember the Italian campaign.
It was hard to believe the number of crosses of British soldiers at Monte Cassino, Anzio and Salerno. We visited the American and British cemeteries and held a service at the cross of sacrifice in each cemetery, finishing with the last post. It is very difficult to take photos and give people the full picture of the rows on rows of gravestones and sheer numbers.