Yesterday's story left off with the Brigade finally having received the last of its training, graduating and marching out the front gates on their way to their first actually mission.
He was another Winnipeg man in the unit and would later serve as the Executive Director of the Association for these retired Brigade members for over 30 years. A few days ago I had the privilege of speaking with this 92 year old veteran and he seemed rather upset. Not at me, but his car. it needed new brakes. I can only hope to have that to complain about almost 30 years from now.
One of the American troops to remain at Kiska throughout the war was none other than Sgt Dashiell Hammett, later famed writer and Pinkerton Detective Agency operative who was thrown in jail briefly in 1951 for refusing to become a snitch during the McCarthy hearings. And the commanding officer of the Canadian troops landing was a later Lt. Governor of BC and a Victoria Cross recipient from WW1 at Passchendaele. His name was George Pearkes, a Major General and ironically the 2nd of only two Victoria Cross recipients buried in the Victoria BC area. The other being WW1 Naval Lt. Commander Rowland Bourke who regular readers have read much about in this space.
The Allies had tried for months to liberate Rome but the geography of the area gave them serious trouble. It was very mountainous and on many of the peaks the German panzer divisions had dug in their heavy duty mortars and artillery pieces. Worse yet... any move on the lower levels for miles all around were under their close scrutiny from these high places. The Allies several times tried to make advances and were pushed back with heavy losses. But that was about to change when the Devil's Brigade came along. This is exactly what they trained so hard for, and bighting at the bit to get at. They were in their candy store finally.
The brigade had no less than 6 Colonels in the three regiments and headquarters and one of them, from Toronto, Lt. Colonel McWilliams came up with a plan. Move in middle of night and climb the only side that the enemy would least expect. Put 3,000 men on top of that mountain and then spread out and attack by surprise. Sounds great till you considered that the approach on that side was a cliff rising at an angle of about 65 degrees.., and it went up, and up, and up till finally stopping at about the 1,000 foot level.
The high ground is Monte La Defensa.
The McWilliams plan was accepted, the men got ready and were trucked to about a 6 mile distance from the base of the mountain. From there the men had to make it on foot in the dark hours, and get to the base of the mountain undetected. Still in pitch dark and a driving sleet of rain on a very cold winter's night, a handful of men had to scale the cliff without being seen, secure and drop the lines and get all the men of two regiments...and their supplies up over the face of the cliff, and establish a foothold.
But I'll leave this till the final blog on this subject tomorrow,