The Battle for Mount Longdon – B Company

B Coy Account – Major Mike Argue, OC B Company

6 Pl guided by Patrols clear southern slopes of MOUNT LONGDON (known CP location), 4 and 5 Pl with Company HQ near northern slopes (known company positions with MMG), Sgt Pettinger as a guide.

Limit of exploitation was dependant on the degree of resistance encountered. The attack was to be silent until contact with the enemy was made. The move from the Company hide area to the Start Line went well. Only one incident could have affected the achievement of the mission, that occurred when the Fire Support group moving to their positions cut the Company columns with the result that part of 5 and 6 Pl were “lost” for almost 30 minutes. The delay crossing the MURRELL RIVER and this later incident influenced me in changing direction so as to approach the objective direct from the West, thus moving well South of the intended route and well to the right of A Company.

The Start Line was crossed 15 to 30 minutes late just as a good mist was rising to the East of MOUNT LONGDON. Against the moon the jagged feature could be appreciate as well as the degree to which it dominated the surrounding area. This last fact and the good night vision prompted me to change plans slightly. I ordered the Platoons to move in closer to the rocks so that best cover for the fight through could be sought. I believe in hindsight that if this had not been done and a wider northern route used, more casualties would have been received both from P mines and enemy gun fire from flank positions. This however will never be known.

Back at the Start Line, 6 Pl detaches itself under the guidance of Cpl Phillips and moved up to a FAP at the South West corner of the feature (FLY HALF). 4 and 5 Platoons shook out into close extended line with Sgt Pettinger’s group positioned centrally. Company HQ was to the rear but in visual contact of forward troops. 4 Pl was the left forward and 5 Pl was the right. Once the start of the rock feature had been reached, 5 Pl began to file out and slightly upwards into better cover. 4 Pl was still on low ground which was not quite dead to any enemy on the feature. At this point the left forward Section Commander of 4 Pl (Cpl Milne) stood on and AP mine. As expected this alerted the enemy dug in on MOUNT LONGDON and 5 Pl were very soon brought under fire, largely ineffective because of the good cover afforded by the rocks. At this point 6 Pl reported contact and fairly heavy automatic fire could be heard from the South.

Lt Cox deployed a GPMG team higher up on the rocks face and commenced to fire onto the position which was holding up his advance. One of his forward sections put the enemy GPMG out of action with 66mm and 84mm fire.

No sooner had this been done when more enemy automatic fire was brought to bear from further East along the ridge. Some of 5 Pl were now high on the ridge and technically straying into 6 Pl’s grid. They were ordered to make contact with 6 Pl to confirm their positions. Another section attack put paid to this enemy gun and one enemy POW was taken. At this point 4 Pl were still on the left and slightly to the rear of 5 Pl and largely out of contact, although they were engaging targets to the East and above 5 Pl elements. It is interesting to relate how the HMG (.50) was taken out of action. Covering fire was put down by LCpl Carver and others, whilst Pte’s Gough and Grey charged the position using grenades. They had tried to use a 66mm which misfired twice. Lt Cox remembers fire coming from the rear of his position but did not deal with it because of the proximity of 6Pl. These were snipers who were to cause 6 Pl their casualties.

6 Pl, after leaving their FAP progressed for some distance without making contact – it is clear now that they by-passed an enemy position high on FLY HALF that later was to fire on their rear. They moved through an unoccupied enemy sanger and then came under accurate sniper fire which fatally wounded 4 soldiers in quick succession. As attempts to destroy the source of the fire were repeatedly made, the Pl came under fire from the rear. Before these positions were cleared a further 8 had been wounded. The Pl’s position was made more critical because it had now exploited into the zone of the weapons firing at 5 Pl. The Pl Commander was now concerned that his advance would result in further casualties. Some of those that he had already taken lay amongst rocks covered by the snipers. He requested that he be allowed to go firm so that he could reorganise, recover casualties and treat them.  The request was granted but he was informed of the serious situation building up ahead and he was warned that he may well have to provide support for 4 or 5 Pl in dealing with their immediate problem.

Back on the Northern side of FLY HALF, 4 Pl were moving up on the left of 5 Pl and Although their left forward section was in partial dead ground to the enemy the right section was pushing up behind 5 and became intermingled for a time. Both Pl’s had arrived at an area forward of the summit of FLY HALF where the rock ridges had started to break up and the ground to slope away to the East, the FULL BACK feature could be seen in the distance.  Both Pl’s came under fire from what is now known to be the Western end of a Company defence position. Their immediate problem was to deal with a well sighted platoon position containing a 120mm RCL, RCL at least 2 x 7.62mm GPMG and a .50 HMG. The position also contained a number of snipers with passive night sights.

The initial effect of the enemy fire was devastating on 4 Pl, 5 Pl had good cover. In this initial hail of bullets Pte Burt was killed, OC 4 Pl (Lt Bickerdike) was shot through the thigh, his signaller through the mouth, Pte’s Gross, Parry, Logan and Kempster also received gunshot wounds.

Taking control of 4 Pl and using some of Cpl Bailey’s section, Sgt McKay determined to take out the .50 HMG around which the defence of the position seemed to be organised. This weapon was at the base of the sanger. On hearing that 4 Pl Comd had been wounded and on gaining higher ground and seeing the volume of fire to the front, I ordered Sgt Fuller to go forward and take command of 4 Pl. He was also told to accurately assess the situation and let me know by the fastest means.

On arriving forward, Sgt Fuller found some of 4 Pl uncommitted. He gathered them together and with a section from 5 Pl began to advance up and behind the MG position. The enemy then threw grenades from their position and caused severe casualties to tie advancing composite force – for the moment their progress was halted.

A small group under Cpl McLaughlin did however manage to gain the top of the ridge. He crawled to within grenade distance of the enemy gun and despite several attempts to silence the weapon with both grenade and 66mm but was forced to withdraw under heavy SA fire.

It seemed now that little more could be done to deal with the position. I could see that at least 2 x 7.62mm GPMG and the .50 HMG were still in operation and several enemy riflemen were still active further to the East, my position was now under fairly heavy fire but the rocks afforded good cover, particularly for the adjustment of artillery and mortar fire. I had closed with 5 Pl Sgt’s group. As a result of his information and that of Sgt Fuller who had returned to brief me. I decided to withdraw 5 Pl and the remnants of 4 Pl to a safe distance so that the enemy position could be more effectively shelled.

Here it should be pointed out that from the start of our advance my FOO had laid on the recorded target at the Eastern end of the ridge (FULL BACK) “at my command”. When Cpl Milne stood on the AP mine I ordered the target to be fired and from that time artillery fire had been coming down at a steady rate, hitting areas where we believed enemy to be located. At the time of my decision to withdraw 4 and 5 Pl’s, shells were landing within 50m of forward troops as a result of some excellent observation by Capt McCracken. We had crept the fire Westwards along the ridge and were still just outside bringing sufficient weight of fire onto the HMG position.

The CSM (WO2 Weeks) was despatched forward to organise the withdrawal with particular concern to the large numbers of casualties now laying forward. This he did and on his arrival he found Lt Bickerdike and his wounded signaller still firing from the positions they had fallen in. A number of 5 Pl were still active upon the ridge under Cpl McLaughlan’s leadership. At this time Lt Cox had been summoned to brief me and to receive orders for the next phase.

Concurrent with the last 30 minutes, A Company who were to the North and West of MOUNT LONGDON, had been brought under fire from the same enemy positions now holding B Company’s advance up. OC A Company was keen to neutralise this threat as some casualties had already been taken. IR viewing signatures could be seen and at first it was thought that these targets could be taken on with safely. Despite GPMG fire being brought to bear with great determination from A Company’s position, it had to be halted since a number of bursts were falling around 5 Pl’s position on the ridge. During the withdrawal, which was conducted with covering fire, further casualties were sustained, one fatal and several minor. At this time the CP’s ‘R’ Group arrived and I briefed him on what I knew. Adjustment of the enemy had begun in earnest prior to this meeting.

A group under command OC SP Company had by this time occupied a position on the summit of MOUNT LONGDON and GPMG SF fire was being directed at the enemy positions further East along the ridge. Heavy automatic fire was also being brought to bear from Company HQ in their OP overlooking the enemy position.

The CSM reported that all casualties and both Pl’s were now back to a safe distance. Those believed dead had to be left behind.

Back on the South slope, 6 Pl had met up with the stretcher bearers who had started to evacuate their casualties, everyone remained in the rocks which were still receiving regular enemy fire.

Considerable time elapsed whilst the .50 HMG position and other positions further East were subjected to heavy 105mm bombardment. 300 salvos of naval gunfire were also used and GPMG SF continued to fire.

Remaining troops from 4 Pl were integrated with 5 Pl and the composite force organised into 3 sections. A small ‘R’ Group accompanied them and the approach to the objective was to be the route recently used for the withdrawal since this was known to be clear.

The force moved off the ridge to the North and began to retrace their steps forward. I ordered them to pause whilst the final fire for effect was brought down on the objective.

The FOO lifted fire further East and we continued. After only 30m, fire was opened up at point blank range, the muzzle flashes were clearly visible to Company HQ but not to the forward troops. In this initial burst Pte Crow was killed and LCpl Carver wounded. Much of the fire passed over and along the line of march and we were very lucky to escape more injuries. I ordered that a 66mm should be fired from our position at the rear so as to indicate the enemy position, Capt McCracken did this with enthusiasm. Despite this, Lt Cox was still unsure where the enemy were but ordered the section to his rear to throw grenades knowing that this would place himself in great danger so that he could extract himself and his radio operator. This happened and with the use of his own grenades also withdrew a little way so that he could observe the position. No more fire was being brought to bear from this position and someone reported groans could be heard. To finally make sure that all was clear, both Lt Cox and Pte Connery fired 66mm at the position and then ran forward firing their rifles. At the end of the action 3 enemy dead were found.

After this, I was confident that the advance could continue. I had not heard the .50 HMG for some time and since the heavy bombardment there seemed to be altogether less enemy activity in the area of the HMG position. I assumed that the 3 enemy we had just killed had moved off the ridge during the bombardment to seek shelter.

We left cover to move up to the FAP close to where 4 Pl had previously come under heavy fire and immediately came under automatic fire from 2 flanks. Firstly, from a position further East of the HMG also from the NE where we knew there to be a line of trenches. Besides feeling incredibly disappointed that we had not finished the enemy in this area, I knew it would be foolish to continue on this axis and decided to move back and up onto the ridge to try and move up behind the enemy. On this move fire was opened up again, hitting three of 5 Pl (wounding Pte Grey in the head for the second time). After this news I considered that our numbers were now critical considering the position of the enemy and reported as much to the CO.

A Company would now pass through.