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A DAY NEVER TO BE FORGOTTEN
My three visits to Montecchio in Italy since that unforgettable evening of August 30, 1944 to what had been the forward positions of the Gothic Line and the scene of the Canadian 1st Corps' greatest victory of the Italian Campaign were emotional events. And when I say this, I don't mean that the great battle fought here overshadows in any way 2nd Brigade's victory at Ortona, nor the performance of the other battalions of 1st Division in the fighting at the Gully and Casa Berardi, and the Moro River. Those were stirring vict-ories, no doubt about it, but they were not decisive in the sense of a breakthrough and a great sweep forward by the army. In the taking of Ortona, the front remained where it was and stayed that way right through to the end of May when the Germans were forced to retreat or be cut off by what was happening to their army on the western side of the peninsula in the final stages of the liberation of Rome.
My participation in the Gothic Line battle I've always looked upon as my shining hour and so des-cribed as such to my sons Johnny and Jerry. In every sense of the phrase, it undeed was ' my shining hour' when I look back and memory brings to mind what I had seen going on around me, and though my con-tribution to my Regiment's decisive victory was minor, I was there every foot of the way. I can't help but look at what had gone on here for me as a victory not only over the enemy, but also over the fear that was always present within me, a fear so great at times I thought at one point I wouldn't be able to hold body, soul, and mind together much longer. To die was something I didn't dwell on, as long as my death would be quick and clean. What worried me more was not losing my leg or suffer some other grievous wound, but the likelihood my nerves would give out like the others I had seen wide-eyed and right out of it huddled along the Foglia River embankment in the characteristic look of men that had reached end of their tether in facing up to fear. I didn't relish the thought of going home as a psycho case, better known as shell shock "Oh God! Spare me that," went through my mind as I ran up the road in the wake of those ahead of me to whatever fate might be mine. They were good boys back there, but had gone as far as the courage they once had could carry them. I felt sorry for them and would like to have consoled them or pick their spirits up somehow. but I had to go on. I had an un-pleasant job to do.
It was in the minefield that I found I had what it took to keep me moving forward even when men were dropping all around me in the blasts of Schumines blowing off their feet. I also had what it took to sprint across the bullet swept roadway where earlier this same MG on the height to our front cut down a dozen of our Baker Company boys, their bodies lay scattered about on the road, the verges and in the drainage ditches. If it took bravery to go up the slope of Point 111 to take out the enemy MG crew at the top, then I guess I had it. And when it came time to make that final charge with the bayonet to take out the MG igun post and a trench full of Grenadiers, then what else can I say but I had just enough guts left to go those final few yards.
Back on the bayonet courses in training camp we were told to holler like all blazes whenever we went into into a bayonet charge. We were also told that the enemy had no stomach for cold steel. Hell! Neither did I. And then that moment came when we went that final 30 or 40 yards, and we let out a holler so loud that our troops a thousand yards back at the Foglia River heard the commotion. At least so we were told, But I doubted it. And be damned if it didn't have an effect on the enemy! They threw down their guns and threw up their hands in surrender, crying out "Kamaraden! Kameraden! Kameraden! For that brief moment, strangely, my fear had gone. In fact I act-ually felt an exhilaration sweep over me, as though I could do this every day without batting an eye. Maybe the feeling came over me because I sensed a huge victory building. And how could I know at the time that my depleted company was on the verge of making history? It's no wonder then, that every time I come to Montecchio (this my 4th visit) I felt a glow of deep pride come over me for my being amongst the very few who knocked down the door to the Gothic Line so that the Mighty Maroon Machine could go through and get rolling in the morning in what would turn out to be the greatest victory by the Canadians in the Italian Campaign. Next came Hill 204 two miles away to the north-east where Dog company of the Perths along with remnants of Baker Company beat back three strong counterattacks by the baggy pants boys of 1st Para-chute Division, the same battalion that had given us a brutal going-over in the valley of the Riccio River outside Ortona eight months earlier. This time, they were the ones who took an 'ass kicking', losing a hell of a lot more men in killed, wounded and captured than they inflicted on us. This time we were the winners, winners in a much much bigger way. So, the reader can see why I look on the Gothic Line battle of Hills 111 and 204 as my shining hours.
Up until we went up that slope and took 111, the four assault battalions were stopped cold. The West Novas on the west, caught in the minefield and pounded by mortars could go nowhere. The PPCLI on their left also came to grief in the minefield and pinned down on the open ground by half a dozen MG 42s firing from the rubble heaps of Osteria Nuova. Then came the Perths who in their advance down the road 1000 yards forward, getting shot up as the lead platoon reached the anti-tank ditch running parallel to the the road along the base of the ridge. No prog-ress here. And on the left flank the assault it was the Cape Bretons who gave it everything they had in trying to take the pine-covered steep knoll of Point 120, but couldn't do it as the Germans showered grenades on their heads and shot them off the slope when the Capes couldn't shoot back. All the courage in the world couldn't help them here. So, that was the unpromising state of affairs when Dog Company of the Perths rushed up to get the assault moving.
The full account of what happened here on that warm and muggy evening of August 30 is well described in my book "Not All of Us Were Brave." So, all I'll say here is, that It was Dog'' Company of the Perth Regiment that rammed home the jimmy-bar in the door of the Gothic Line and pried it open, allowing 'Able' and 'Charlie' Companies to go through the opening we created and take hills 147 and 115. And it was 'Dog' company along with the remnants of Baker Company that beat back three counterattacks the next night on Point 204 by the tough paratroop-ers as they had just entered the battle and were cocky enough to think they could kick us off the hill the that the British Columbia Dragoons had seized and we later secured. After Point 111 and the two other elevations were in our hands, 5th Armoured Brigade poured through the opening the next day and went on a roll, and roll they did! The BCDs especially went hog wild tearing across the rolling country taking losses from 88s in tank turreted cupolas set in concrete bunkers as they went. Their 'hell bent for election' rampage over the open rolling countryside did the trick, however, in throwing the enemy reserves moving up to seal the breach, into such confusion they were unable to get organized and put up a strong front to stem the rolling tide of armour. That night, an hour before midnight while Jim Heaton and I were on outpost duty on the forward slope, we heard noises in the darkness below, voices, the rattling of kit, the sounds of something suspicious going on. We didn't know what to do. Was it one of our companies moving into place? Was it the Irish Regiment? Our doubts lasted only a minute, no more. All of a sudden a bazooka rocket bomb whizzed over our heads so close I could have touched it going by. We knew now those weren't Canadians down there. It had to be the enemy. Our people didn't have bazookas. The jerries were moving in on us in a counterattack! We scuttled up the rise to warn our boys that the Jerries were coming. And when I think back on this critical moment, if the Jerries had gunned us down, I could just imagine what would have happened next. When we got to the top and ran from trench to trench to warn our guys, we found every damn one of them sound asleep. The Jerries would have walked right in and taken the hill, and Dog Company to a man would have ended up as prisoners. But this didn't happen. We soon got them up and at the ready. A few minutes later, the enemy appeared over the lip and came at us in a half crouch, straight to their slaughter. Later on that night I got knocked out of the fight by a couple of grenades, and my part on the stage of battle ended, to reappear in later battles.
I joined the Royal Air Force in 1939, before the outbreak of the Second World War. I trained as a Wireless Operator as a means of getting into aircrew, but found myself working in ground stations. I decided to try t o re-muster as a pilot and completed the training for this in Canada where I was awarded my 'Wings'. It was not long after this that I became captain of an aircraft with a crew of five and ferried a Wellington Bomber to North Africa. I was then posted to Italy and joined 37 Squadron, a Bomber Squadron of 205 Group. We were flying twin engined Wellington Bombers affectionately known as the Wimpy, an extremely versatile aeroplane which was built before the war and was still in service at the end. This involved me in various bombing operations in Italy, S. Germany, Austria, and the Balkans, including the laying of mines in the River Danube. We attacked targets in support of the armies advancing through Italy, communication centres and oilfields in the Balkans.
205 Group was the RAF Bomber Command Group operating out of Foggia alongside of the American Air Force during World War 2 The glamour of being a RAF Pilot was soon dispersed when I found myself living in a rotting, bivouac, desert tent which we had pitched over a two foot hole in the ground to give us headroom ! We lived in the most appalling conditions yet still carried out our duties.
After completing a tour of operations I volunteered to do another tour. A six months rest period then I was posted to 40 Squadron. I completed 49 operations in total.
I was demobbed in 1945 and settled in Guernsey, my ancestral homeland, in 1963. I decided to write my story because nowhere could I find anything written about the part that we had played. During 1991 I wrote a book which was first published in 1992. It is titled "ITS DICEY FLYING WIMPYS (Around Italian Skies)" republished as "Out of the Italian Night" and deals with my various experiences in Italy. Very well reviewed it is still available.
Maurice G. Lihou.MBE
Maurice has his own Website, Click here to visit
Out of the Italian Night: Wellington Bomber Operations 1944-45
Previously published as "It's Dicey Flying Wimpys Around Italian Skies"
Maurice G. Lihou
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Out of the Italian Night: Wellington Bomber Operations 1944-45
My Father is old and not well. I spent 6 and a half hours writing his story about his time in Northern Italy in World War 2. I would like to tell you the story of what happened, my Father remembers everything.
On the 25th of April at night orders came,they was advised that 50,000 Germans soldiers were on the way coming towards them. My Father and his Partisan soldiers took up position at the power station near Nervesa in a town called in English "The Holy Cross". My Father told me that the Germans made a mistake, they took the wrong road. Instead of taking the road to the bushland between the river Piave and the mountains to avoid the resistance coming from the City, they ended up on the road called the Montello.
My Father and his men got ready and took position with a 4x88mm Anti tank gun. My Father open fire, there was other Partisan on the other side fighting also. After the great battle my father tells me not many were left of the 50,000 German soldiers. They caught 300 Germans.
The next morning the river Piave was full of dead bodies as my father remembers. My Father later went to a bridge on the river Piave and put there the Italian Flag. Also to wait for the Americans to arrive. He waited. After 5 hours an American Jeep with a captain major arrived. My father saluted the American major and sat down and talked. He asked where are the Germans, my Father replied that he and the Partisans Liberated North Italy from the Germans. The German prisoners were handed to the Americans. Then my Father and the Partisans proudly marched to town.
They were given a big welcome in the town of Nervesa, and plenty wine and food. This Day he will always remember. My Father 46 years later was honoured by the Italian Government awarded a gold medal and 2 bronze medallion, also Knighted, and presented with a Diploma of Honour.
My Fathers name is Bertillo Livotto I am very proud of my Father for what He done for Italy. This only part of the his story, before this he spent most days captured by Germans and and escaping many times. Before being captured by the Germans he was in the Italian Airforce.
Regards Vitto Livotto
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