Italy on the night of 21st-22nd October 1944, a Canadian Infantry Brigade was
ordered to establish a bridgehead across the Savio River. The Seaforth Highlanders
of Canada were selected as the spearhead of the attack, and in weather most unfavourable
to the operation they crossed the river and captured their objective in spite
of strong opposition from the enemy. Torrential rain had caused the Savio River
to rise six feet in five hours, and as the soft vertical banks made it impossible
to bridge the river no tanks or anti-tank guns could be taken across the raging
stream to the support of the rifle companies.
the right forward company was consolidating its objective it was suddenly counter-attacked
by a troop of three Mark V Panther tanks supported by two self-propelled guns
and about thirty infantry and the situation appeared hopeless.
heavy fire from the approaching enemy tanks, Pte. Ernest Alvia ("Smokey") Smith,
showing great initiative and inspiring leadership, led his P.I.A.T. Group of two
men across an open field to a position from which the P.I.A.T. could best be employed.
Leaving one man on the weapon, Private Smith crossed the road with a companion
and obtained another P.I.A.T. Almost immediately an enemy tank came down the road
firing its machine-guns along the line of the ditches. Private Smith's comrade
was wounded. At a range of thirty feet and having to expose himself to the full
view of the enemy, Private Smith fired the P.I.A.T. and hit the tank, putting
it out of action. Ten German infantry immediately jumped off the back of the tank
and charged him with Schmeissers and grenades. Without hesitation Private Smith
moved out on the road and with his Tommy gun at point-blank range, killed four
Germans and drove the remainder back. Almost immediately another tank opened fire
and more enemy infantry closed in on Smith's position. Obtaining some abandoned
Tommy gun magazines from a ditch, he steadfastly held his position, protecting
his comrade and fighting the enemy with his Tommy gun until they finally gave
up and withdrew in disorder.
tank and both self-propelled guns had been destroyed by this time, but yet another
tank swept the area with fire from a longer range. Private Smith, still showing
utter contempt for enemy fire, helped his wounded friend to cover and obtained
medical aid for him behind a nearby building. He then returned to his position
beside the road to await the possibility of a further enemy attack.
further immediate attack developed, and as a result the battalion was able to
consolidate the bridgehead position so vital to the success of the whole operation,
which led to the capture of San Giorgio Di Cesena and a further advance to the
by the dogged determination, outstanding devotion to duty and superb gallantry
of this private soldier, his comrades were so inspired that the bridgehead was
held firm against all enemy attacks, pending the arrival of tanks and anti-tank
guns some hours later.'