- Simon Biggs
The Battle of Monte Ornito and it peaks - 43 Cdo RM - 9 Cdo
After the Anzio landings the Commandos of 2 SS Brigade were placed in reserve before returning to Naples on an LST (Landing Ship Tank), arriving there on the morning of the 25th January and placed on a state of readiness for further action at short notice.
Initially No 9 and No 43(RM) Commandos were to join No 40 (RM) Commando to form part of a counter-attack force. However, General McCreery, the Commander of X Force, decided that Nos 9 and 43(RM) Commando would extend his foothold in the hills west of Garigliano by taking control of the three peaks of Monte Ornito - Tugo (2000 ft), Ornito (2,400 ft) and Faito (3000 ft).
The terrain was rocky, uneven and in places very steep with scree slopes and there was virtually no cover. Even without enemy action, supplying troops on these summits with food, water and ammunition would involve a great deal of human effort.
On 26th January 1944, the Commandos re-joined the 56 London Division. To the north, the 46th and 56th Infantry Divisions were holding onto positions opposite the heavily defended Gustav Line. The winter cold and exhaustion had compromised the fighting strength.
2 Feb 1944
The 2 Commandos 40 Cdo and 9 Cdo plus the Belgium Troop would advance in column led by 43 Cdo who were to seize Ornito and a subsidiary feature point 711, making an approach march of about 2 miles from the start line.
9 Commando would by pass Ornito and Take Faito a distance of about 3 miles
The leading troop of 43 Cdo led off at 18:30 under bright moonlight and made steady progress, even though the going was touch and arduous, they encountered machine gun and mortar fire from enemy outposts; but nether-the-less secured both Mount Ornito and 711 by first light. Though not with out casualties.
The Marines captured over 30 prisoners.
No 9 Commando passed Monte Tugo and proceeded NW, where they came under heavy fire from a feature in front of Monte Faito. Three Troops overran the stronghold against heavy mortar and shell fire, causing some casualties and firing continued while the Commando consolidated and reorganised.
Their advance continued still under fire, during which Tod suffered a bad injury to an arm. Major E W Clark, the 2nd in command, was killed and six other officers wounded. Against the withering fire they withdraw to Monte Ornito.
Commando Monument at Mount Ornito, Italy
Photo courtesy of Salvatore Costanzo.se. (Commando Veterans Archive)
Interrogation of prisoners indicated that the enemy had withdrawn to Monte Faito and a counter attack was likely. Tod was ordered to hand over command to his 2nd in command. Against such determined opposition, reinforcements were needed to continue the attack but meantime the increasing intensity of the enemy artillery indicated that a counter attack was imminent. At 1600 hours it started with No 43 (RM) Commando taking the brunt, but they succeeded in beating it off.
After heavy fighting for a day and a half, Mont Ornito and Point 711 had been captured despite the Commando HQ being mortared with some casualties. Monte Faito failed to be captured. These actions were in the most appalling winter conditions where all munitions, food and water had to be carried on the soldiers backs since the terrain was too steep for mules and the Germans were in well-fortified positions.
Such was the German determination to hold on to their defensive position, it changed hands 6 times in the ensuing months before finally falling to French Expeditionary Corps in the spring of 1944.
Captain John Blake awarded the Military Cross
Temporary Lieutenant (A/Captain) John Philip BLAKE, Royal Marines. For outstanding gallantry and leadership shown while serving with the 43rd Royal Marine Commando in the attack which led to the capture of Mt Ortino, Italy on 3rd February 1944.
On reaching the top of the Mount, through heavy machine gun fire, without hesitation and heedless of the danger from grenades, he led the forward section of his Troop in a bayonet charge on the enemy position and captured 20 prisoners. Later in the day during a strong enemy counter attack, this gallant officer moved from position to position encouraging his men and directing their fire
Temporary Lieutenant (A/Captain) John Philip BLAKE, Royal Marines.
Credit: Sherborne School Archives, Abbey Road, Sherborne, Dorset, UK, DT9 3AP.