Regardless, the last blog left off with the plan from Toronto born Lt. Col. McWilliams being accepted and the movement of troops by vehicles to within 6 miles of the base of the 1000 ft cliff they had to climb. (Last night I found a quote of 1000 meters... making it triple the climb.) ( McWilliams should be spelt T.C. MACWILLIAM and he was from Moncton, not Toronto per latest info)
Talking to family of the late Colonel Lewis Millett noted in the first blog on this subject, I was told that some native soldiers were the first to scale the cliff and then secure and toss over the climbing lines. Sgt Hilton from BC says that there were a few natives that may have played a role. But up a handful went, climbing over hot rock in the middle of winter. Hot from the constant bombardment of shells the allies threw at the mountain for hours before they started their climb. (One soldier would later claim that it looked like the whole mountain was on fire as they climbed.) It was in the middle of the night and they must have been exhausted before even starting to climb as they had to hike through the bush for 6 hours to get to its base and do so with absolutely no noise that would warn the enemy that they were coming.
Then came the troops who had trained so hard to learn mountain climbing. But up they went, in two man teams tied to each other. One thing they did not consider in the training probably is that when you get dysentery, the climbing will stop...VERY regularly... for nature's calls, as noted by Richard Hilton.
When they men arrived on top of the mountain they ought to have been given a rest stop, no doubt all near collapsing from exhaustion. In fact the orders were to not start the battle till 6 a.m. But this changed when some shuffling of the rock face was overheard by the Germans as the Brigade were in the process of taking out some of the Germans sentries patrolling near the cliff side. When the noise was heard the Germans fired illuminating flares and wear no doubt panicking at what they saw.... hundreds of enemy coming right at them. The Brigade was no doubt equally concerned with what they found. The enemy was very deeply imbedded in place with artillery weapons and mortars. They even had rocket launchers and pill boxes and dug outs and lots were under overhead brush and cover to contend with.
In no time both sides were firing all they had at each other.
For over 30 days the allies were held back on their attempts to take Monte La Defensa. But after about 6 hours getting to the face, a three hour climb and two hours of battle, one that was expected to take about 6, the job was done. What Germans were not killed were soon put to flight. and made it off, via a narrow ridge, to a yet higher mountain top in the immediate area... Monte La Dometorea. That mountain was supposed to be the first target picked out by Lt Col. MacWilliam but it was later made a secondary target.
Orders were then given to get resupplied and therefore many in the third regiment...like Hilton made two climbs a day bring up supplies. One unusual thing they ordered was a lot of whiskey. Dick says five or 6 cases were found and carried up to celebrate the victory. Another demand was for lots of Condoms. No doubt the twinkling in many an eye subsided when it was learned the would be used to place over the ends...of the riffle barrels ...to keep the dirt out of the weapon.
It was this first battle that was the climax in the movie Devil's Brigade that was mentioned in the first blog on this subject. It made the Brigade famous. Their actions should have been the cause of the fame. But as also noted earlier, and emphasized by veterans of the battle and their family members, and much on the net, the movie created great entertainment but plenty of action that never occurred. One being the scene where the most senior Canadian officer on the mountain... Lt. Colonel T C MacWilliam... was killed there when he attempted to secure the surrender of a German officer and several of the enemy under a white flag. The enemy officer lured the Canadian into a position and then withdrew his luger from his rear and shot the Moncton NB born officer. But not so, many say in disgust at Hollywood.
MacWilliam was the senior Canadian killed but it would be by a mortar shell at not at Defensa but Monte Dometoria. That mountain was taken a few days later, as were several others in the chain in the days to come. But before they left La Defensa the Brigade would loose 77% of their initial force on the mountain. 73 were killed outright, and another 313 would be wounded. A handful went missing in action and another 116 suffered from severe exhaustion.
Sgt Richard Hilton would be with the unit as it cleared the Germans out of many of the mountain ranges, but in mid January he got severe frostbite from the winter warfare engaged in and spent 10 days in the hospital. It was his only injury during the war. He told me that he almost got more than injured on one of the high mountains when a German Machine Gunner opened up on him as he ran across the ground. Dick managed to escape without any hits whatsoever but sure remembered having to do a lot of zig zagging that day.
He checked himself out of the hospital rather quickly one day when he heard the trucks rumbling by. They were enroute to the landing at the Anzio Beach head and he sure did not want to miss it. He ran from the hospital still wearing slippers and having no rifle. He jumped onboard anyway and off he went with the rest of the men. What a way to celebrate your 28th birthday. It was 1 Feb. 1944 and the First Special Service Force landed with other allies on the 30 mile long beach head about 70 miles south of Rome. The Allies managed to push the Germans back a few miles but it was very tough fighting on both sides. His unit would spend the next 99 days in the same fox holes. But at night they would make their raids. And it was also here that they would start dropping their calling cards as they did their work. These were little cards with the unit crest on them and the words typed that ..."the Worst is yet to Come." These would be dropped wherever the enemy could find them...especially on the dead Germans bodies. And of course it was typed in German.
By this time the unit was also in the practice of blackening their faces with shoe polish to help in concealment. And it would be here that captured enemy documents declared that everywhere the Germans turned they found the BLACK DEVILS causing them serious grief. They would appear out of nowhere and disappear just as quickly... once their jobs were done. It was from this description that the name Devil's Brigade became got its birth.
Lt. Story from South Carolina (started with the Brigade as a Sgt, but got a King's Commission on Monte Defensa) and noted above, tells that it was here that he had quarters in the HQ building and actually shared a room with Lewis Millett, the Colonel earlier introduced, but then only a Lt.) Millett was a Forward Observation Officer and an Intelligence Officer as was Story at the time, thus the shared quarters. Story tells me that Millett would be working the opposite hours and be out at all crazy times gathering info and reporting back by wireless phone on enemy positions and movements.
When the Brigade was finally relieved at the beach head they continued the push towards Rome and took out 9 bridges along the Tiber River en-route. They would be amongst the first entering Rome on 4 June and many would be riding instead of walking. Interesting as they were never issued vehicles in Europe. They seized them during all their night raids and actually had more than units on the ground that were double their size.
The unit then moved into Southern France were they were employed in doing plenty of house clearings in the small communities as they moved forth.
When the war came to an end Richard recalled the very emotion last orders to the joint force.... "Fall out the Canadians!" The men did as ordered. They then formed up in proper formation and marched off to waiting trucks to start a long trip home. Richard has a tear in his eye as he told me said that he was leaving his friends behind. They marched off sharply with the officer in charge saluting their American brothers as they passed by. LT story, on hearing of this told me he was the officer that did the saluting. The Americans, having many holes in their ranks... did not really constitute a proper formation... so each one in turn saluted their Canadian friends as they moved off to the trucks. Men on both sides were in tears. Richard says his own Sgt a Yank... came running after his truck, like many of the others... just to try and get a hug and a handshake before they were separated for ever more.
But they were not separated for ever more. They did what all vets do... and formed an association that has met every year since... and will again in two months in Windsor Canada, but sadly there are only about 60 vets left. Sixty out of over 3,000 brave heroes.
And Richard Hilton, at age 97.5 claims to be the very oldest of the lot. (There is a possibility, not yet confirmed that a California vet is in his early 100's)
Shortly after the war ended the US government granted the Combat Infantryman Badge to all in the Brigade. Years later that badge was converted into a Bronze Star. The Americans got this but the Canadians didn't. Government had the wrong crowd mad at them and the battle continued to have the Canadians also duly recognized and just a few years back legislation was changed to allow the Canadians to also get the star. Richard's impressive bar of war medals now includes his star.
About a week ago the Congress and the US Senate signed off on the approval to award the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor to the Brigade. It awaits the approval of the President. Hopefully that will be done by September and that at the Windsor Ontario reunion those attending, and those not, will be presented later with their bronze version of this highest of medals. Legislation only allows two gold medals made annually and so all could not get one for a zillion years, and thus the bronze will hopefully be made to all. While most are still alive to appreciate it.
He was quite proud of his boots and noted how shiny they were. When he reported back to his old unit there was some grief and they did not want him to wear such nice boots compared to what they were wearing. But finally word came down that that was what the man was issued and that will be what the man will be allowed to wear.
Dick is shown as of last week holding the cane he has used for some 30 years. And he is most proud of the sticker he is pointing to...that of a BLACK DEVIL.
The Devil's Brigade as noted in a past blog has a very good web site and I highly encourage you to have a look at it and the incredible story of these 3,000 and more heroes. For those seeking more information of the Brigade, their association address on the net is... http://www.firstspecialserviceforce.net/FSSF_Members_pg1.html
Please check it out,