A Coy Account – Major David Collett, OC A Coy
A Company had crossed the start line at 0005hrs and moved into assault formation and advanced up the slope in dead ground to MOUNT LONGDON. Whilst advancing, the dull thud of an anti-personnel mine was heard to the South and then shells began to fall on LONGDON. At first when the firefight developed on the hill, the Company were in no danger as the rounds were overshoots and we were in dead ground.
Once the Company broke over the top of the ridge it began to come under small arms fire from the Eastern end of LONGDON. Initially, we went to ground but due to lack of cover, we moved forward to a series of peat banks. As we advanced the fire became more accurate. Once under the cover of the peat banks it was discovered that Cpl Hope (Company HQ Signaller) was missing and it was reported that he had been hit in the head. LCpl Lovett and Pte Wright (Company Medics) had stayed behind to treat him. At this stage the Company deployment was 1 Pl left, 2 Pl right, 3 Pl rear and Company HQ Sp Group left rear.
1 Pl was established in a good covered position along a peat bank and they initially identified some sniper positions using IWS. Pte Evans engaged them initially using is IWS and Pte Dennis then engaged using his GPMG. The fire had to be carefully controlled due to the danger of hitting members of B Company and in the end had to be stopped by 1 Pl altogether. It was during this initial period that Pte Grant had a lucky escape when a bullet creased the top of his helmet.
2 Pl on the right had less luck finding suitable cover, only one very small peat bank providing any protection from fire. It was whilst looking over the top of this bank in the first few minutes that Pte Jenkins was hit was hit in the head by a bullet and killed. 2 Pl using IWS, also identified the enemy positions and brought fire down using their GPMGs. However, as with 1 Pl, this was stopped as it was endangering B Company. The FOO, Lt John Lee and his party moved forward from Company HQ to 2 Pl to get a better view of the targets and bring down fire. However, in the end both direct and indirect fire from the Company had to be stopped due to the proximity of B Company.
Whilst occupying this exposed position the Company began to come under increasingly heavy and accurate fire. Initially the enemy had concentrated its fire on obviously planned DFs but it then began to adjust its fire back onto A and C Company positions, with some accuracy. It was during the shelling that Pte Brebner was hit in the leg by shrapnel and after being treated by LCpl Lovett and Pte Wright was evacuated to the rear.
As the Co was unable to advance further over such open ground without risking heavy casualties from the accurate and sustained MG and sniper fire from the high ground above them, we were ordered to pull back and move round the Western end of LONGDON with a view to passing through B Company and taking the Eastern end of LONGDON (FULL BACK).
Whilst still under heavy artillery and small arms fire, the Company moved round in the order 2 Pl, 1 Pl, Company Tac HQ, 3 Pl and Company HQ Sp Group. During the move, 2 Pl passed very close to the B Company mine injury (Cpl Milne) and they and the remainder of the Company moved the rest of the way on Tip Toe! 2 Pl moved up into the rocks, whilst 1 Pl went firm at the base. 3 Pl and Company HQ Sp Group came under fire and had to go to cover short of the main feature. During this period a Volvo BV arrived to pick up Cpl Milne. Three soldiers from Company HQ Sp Group (Cpl Black, LCpl Lovett and Pte Darke) went over to assist in the loading. As Cpl Milne was being loaded on the BV, LCpl Bassey stepped on another mine, injuring himself and causing minor injuries to Cpl Black and Pte Darke. Eventually both Cpl’s Milne and Bassey were loaded on and the BV departed.
Whilst this had been going on, the Company Comd in company with Sgt French and Pte Kipling (Radio Operator) had moved to the forward end of B Company’s position for a recce and briefing. The Company was then moved forward by Pl’s and moved into cover on the North side of the slope amongst the rocks to await the order to move.
Once B Company had established that any further attempts to out flank the Northern side of the feature were too costly and option, the Company HQ Sp Group under Capt Freer moved forward to positions two GPMGs to cover the fight Eastwards along the ridge. The gun positions were manned by Sgt Duffus, Pte Bojko, Pte Martin, WO2 Dougherty and Capt Freer. The FOO, Lt Lee and his party also moved up and began to bring down artillery fire on the enemy positions.
Once the Artillery and GPMGs had begun giving covering fire, Cpl Sturge led 2 Section of 2 Pl over the ridge and they began working their way forward. Cover was very limited and all movement was on the belly. Furthermore, B Company’s experience had shown the importance of clearing enemy positions systematically, to minimise the lethal danger of enemy sniping from behind the attacking Pl. Once 2 Section was across, the Pl Comd, 2Lt Ian Moore, followed with Cpl Bland and 1 Section. The advance was slow, especially as the enemy were directing accurate, heavy fire at both 2 Pl and the Company HQ Sp Group. In spite of the covering fire from 2 GPMGs, Artillery and SF Guns, the lead had to use all its own grenades, and 66mm LAW and the following sections LAW to clear the positions as they moved forward. During this phase, Pte Coady was struck by shrapnel from his own grenade. As the last men from 3 Section were crossing the ridge, some enemy could be seen starting to withdraw – an encouraging sign.
1 Pl followed 2 Pl across the crest and it was at this stage that the supporting fire had to be stopped as it was becoming a hazard to our own troops. The two Pl’s then proceeded to clear through the numerous positions, with fixed bayonets – 1 Pl on the Southern slopes and 2 Pl on the North. As the Pl’s advanced, more enemy were engaged as they moved off the positions towards the East. Once FULL BACK was fully secure, 3 Pl moved forward to take over and hold the extreme Eastern end of LONGDON, a long narrow forward slope running towards WIRELESS RIDGE. The Company then reorganised, mainly along the North side of the mountain. As the reorganisation was going on, daybreak came but fortunately for the Company, it also brought a heavy mist, hiding the position from the surrounding enemy held features and enabling the Company to reorganise safely. The sight of groups of young soldiers, tired, grim-faced but clearly triumphant, moving through the mist to check the enemy dead, with bayonets fixed, will remain forever vivid in the memory.
The enemy artillery did not take long in coming, although initially the fire was sporadic, due to the mist. 3 Pl in its forward position came under accurate sniper fire from the TUMBLEDOWN MOUNTAIN feature to the South and some positions on this forward slope had to be removed. Enemy Ops on TUMBLEDOWN also proved a major menace, for artillery fire was accurate and well observed over the next 48hrs. We had hoped that the unit attacking to our South would capture TUMBLEDOWN when we took LONGDON, as this would have allowed us to exploit forward onto WIRELESS RIDGE. This did not happen and any further advance Eastward in daylight would have be at great cost from both direct and indirect fire on and behind TUMBLEDOWN. Two men for example, were pinned down for four hours and were only able to move with the cover of artillery HE, Smk and GPMG covering fire. The snipers and RCLs on TUMBLEDOWN were well sighted and they continued to lay down accurate fire on our position over the next two days. Due to the excellence of their position, these could never be fully suppressed.
Having become established on the feature, we found ourselves almost in the middle of the enemy camp, being able to observe and bring down harassing fire on all the main enemy positions. The two Company MFC’s Cpl’s Crowne and Baxter called it an MFC’s dream. The enemy seemed to show little concern for this harassing fire and even continued to drive to and from MOODY BROOK and STANLEY at night with headlights when meeting the nightly C130 flights (yes they were still using the runway). The Huey’s and a Chinook also continued to fly regularly from the race course to the MURRELL feature. The number of targets were so great that they could not all be engaged.
The one morale dampening factor during the first day was the enemy’s ability to engage our positions at will, especially using their 4 x 155mm guns positioned behind STANLEY. There seemed nothing we could do, with our aircraft, guns or Special Forces, to neutralise their endless bombardment. The observers on the WIRELESS RIDGE feature were able to monitor all movement and made life very difficult. During the second day the Company was given some relief from this attention, as our own guns were now within range and started counter bombardment. The enemy also became a lot fairer with its distribution of fire across the length of the LONGDON feature.
Overall the Company were lucky not to have sustained more casualties than it did. The death of Pte Bull, late on the first day whilst returning to the Company position with the rations was our only fatality during this period and brought home to the soldiers the reality of the shelling. 120mm Mortars were potentially the most lethal of all – against the noise of gun against gun, it was hard to detect the sound of firing from the enemy baseplates; harder still to detect the incoming whistle, until the very last second. They could also reach into the gullies of LONGDON much better than artillery, whose shells could also be heard overhead and incoming more easily.
The Company did have a number of near misses. In 1 Pl, Cpl Dixon received slight shrapnel wounds, whilst Pte Dobson, who had left his webbing outside his sanger, had it shredded by a shell. Pte Johnson had a 66mm blown off his back. In 2 Pl, Pte Sparrock was hit in the ribs and evacuated and Pte Statham received minor wounds to his leg. Cpl Ferguson and LCpl Allman had a sanger wall blown in on them by a shell and were knocked dizzy.
Throughout the rest of the day the battalion reorganised. MOUNT LONGDON came under extreme enemy artillery fire. Our own dead were then collected.