Personal info

  • Name: Robert Henry CAIN
  • D.O.B: 2nd Jan, 1909
  • D.O.A: 19th Sep, 1944
  • D.O.D: 2nd May, 1974
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Temporary Major, The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, attached 2nd Bn The South Staffordshire Regiment, 1st Airlanding Brigade, 1st Airborne Division
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
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The Second World War 1944

1944

After the Allies had captured German-held Sicily in August 1943, they landed on the Italian mainland in September and by the beginning of 1944 had conquered most of the Mezzogiorno. The Germans had been driven back to a series of defensive positions known as the Gustav (or Winter) Line. This ran across Italy, from Ortona on the Adriatic through Monte Cassino to the River Garigliano in the west. One of its strongest positions was at Monte Cassino on the western ridges of the Apennines which form the spine of Italy. Here four ferocious battles were to be waged between January and May 1944. The belief that the Germans would mount a stubborn resistance was the impetus behind the landings at Anzio on 22 January 1944. By outflanking the Winter Line in the west, it was hoped this would lead to its collapse while also posing a serious threat to Rome, only thirty-five miles north-west of Anzio. The enemy were taken totally by surprise and the Allies established a significant bridgehead but failed to take sufficient advantage of this bold stroke. By the end of January the Germans had brought up enough troops effectively to contain them, though desperate German attempts to destroy the bridgehead itself failed. It was only in the middle of May 1944 at the conclusion of the Fourth Battle of Monte Cassino that the Winter Line was finally breached in the west. On 25 May Allied forces fighting their way north made contact with those at Anzio and then advanced on the Italian capital. Rome fell on 4 June 1944. The Germans in Italy were, however, far from finished. To the north they had constructed a further strong defensive position, the Gothic Line. This ran from the coast at Massa in the west, then about fifteen miles north of Florence and along the ridge of the Apennines before reaching the Adriatic at Pesaro. Throughout the autumn and early winter the Allies fought their way towards this line and sought to breach it. On the Adriatic Coast Rimini was attacked and was captured on 21 September. Meanwhile, US Fifth Army prepared to cross the central Apennines, advancing up roads north of Florence towards Faenza and Bologna in the hope of breaking into the North Italian Plain. In fact, though their line was disrupted the Germans were not prepared to yield easily and by early winter it was clear that the most the Allies could hope for was to reach a line running west to east from La Spezia to Bologna and Ravenna. The campaign had developed into a war of attrition. Though Ravenna fell on 4 December, it was not until the Spring Offensive of 1945 that Allied forces finally succeeded in breaking through into the northern plain. Important as the fighting in Italy was it had always been intended as a distraction, a means to divert German resources which might be used to resist Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of German-Occupied Northwest Europe. On 6 June 1944 Allied forces landed along a 55-mile stretch of the Normandy coast from Cherbourg to Le Havre, the Americans to the west of Port en Bessin and the British and Canadians to the east. The Germans who were expecting an attack on the Pas de Calais at first believed the landings to be a feint and allowed the Allies to establish themselves. By 30 June, they had landed over 850,000 men in Normandy. Caen fell to the Allies on 9 July and while the British pushed south of it, to the west the Americans captured Avranches on 26 July, spread west into Brittany and south to Le Mans. They were thus able to swing round behind the German forces battling against the British and which were now threatened with being trapped in the Falaise pocket. Falaise was captured by the Allies on 17 August and by 21 August the pocket was closed. 50,000 troops of the German Seventh Army were trapped, about a quarter of those captured in the whole battle. The fall of Normandy sealed the fate of Paris. The Allies crossed the Seine west of the French capital on 20 August, and the city was liberated on 25 August. After the capture of Paris most of France passed rapidly into Allied hands and in the north they advanced into Belgium. Brussels was liberated on 3 September 1944 and Antwerp the next day. The Allies were now up to the German West Wall, the Siegfried Line, which stretched north as far as the Dutch border, where the Maas and the Rhine flowed towards the North Sea. The Allies in Operation Market Garden now planned to cross these rivers and by thus outflanking the Siegfried Line break through into the North German Plain before the onset of winter. On 17 September three airborne divisions attempted to seize five bridges over the Rivers Maas and Waal (one of the channels of the Rhine). The troops detailed to capture the bridge at Arnhem found themselves massively outnumbered and surrounded by German forces. By the time supporting Allied troops had fought their way north to the south bank of the river all they could do was organize the withdrawal of the survivors on the night of 25-26th September. While this bold move had been frustrated, the Allies had more success in clearing the Germans from the mouth of the Scheldt Estuary, a vital artery for supplies for the forthcoming advance into Germany. On 28 November the first supply convoy arrived in Antwerp. Such was the importance of the port that it was a major objective of the last German offensive of the war, the Battle of the Ardennes (the Battle of the Bulge), launched on 16 December 1944. Meanwhile, in the Far East, Japanese forces in New Guinea and the surrounding islands were in an increasingly desperate position and during the course of the year the tide of war also turned against them in Burma. At the beginning of 1944 the British had already begun operations in Arakan. What they did not know was that the Japanese themselves had two offensives planned. In the smaller of these, in February, their targets were British positions in Arakan around the Ngakyedauk Pass, north of Maungdaw. In the Battle of ‘The Admin Box’ the British recaptured the Pass on 23 February 1944 and by the beginning of March the Japanese threat here was contained. Far more serious, however, was a Japanese advance further north. On 8 March 1944 they launched an attack on Assam with the aim of capturing Imphal and Kohima. If successful, this would not only have pre-empted further British action in Burma but would have opened the way to the invasion of India. On 29 March the Japanese cut the road between Imphal and Kohima and by 8 April the small garrison at Kohima was itself besieged. The fighting at Imphal and Kohima was to be the turning point of the campaign. Both garrisons held out. The siege of Kohima was lifted on 20 April and that of Imphal two months later on 22 June. The Japanese were also suffering reverses elsewhere in Burma. To assist American and Chinese forces advancing towards Myitkyina on the Irrawaddy the Chindits attacked its rail link with the rest of Burma. Myitkyina eventually fell in August. In October the British began an advance along the road from Imphal to Tiddim. Their goal was Kalewa on the Chindwin, which was occupied on 2 December. At the same time their grip on Arakan was tightening.

Citation

 In Holland on 19th September, 1944, Major Cain was commanding a rifle company of the South Staffordshire Regiment during the battle of Arnhem when his company was cut off from the rest of the battalion and during the next six days was closely engaged with enemy tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry. The Germans made repeated attempts to break into the company position by infiltration and had they succeeded in doing so the whole situation of the Airborne Troops would have been jeopardised. Major Cain, by his outstanding devotion to duty and remarkable powers of leadership, was to a large extent personally responsible for saving a vital sector from falling into the hands of the enemy. On 20th September a Tiger tank approached the area held by his company and Major Cain went out alone to deal with it armed with a Piat. Taking up a position he held his fire until the tank was only 20 yards away when he opened up. The tank immediately halted and turned its guns on him, shooting away a corner of the house near where this officer was lying. Although wounded by machine-gun bullets and falling masonry, Major Cain continued firing until he had scored several direct hits, immobilised the tank and supervised the bringing up of a 75 mm. howitzer which completely destroyed it. Only then would he consent to have his wounds dressed. The next morning this officer drove off three more tanks by the fearless use of his Piat, on each occasion leaving cover and taking up position in open ground with complete disregard for his personal safety. During the following days, Major Cain was everywhere where danger threatened, moving amongst his men and encouraging them by his fearless example to hold out. He refused rest and medical attention in spite of the fact that his hearing had been seriously impaired because of a perforated eardrum and he was suffering from multiple wounds. On the 25th September the enemy made a concerted attack on Major Cain’s position, using self-propelled guns, flame throwers and infantry. By this time the last Piat had been put out of action and Major Cain was armed with only a light 2" mortar. However, by a skilful use of this weapon and his daring leadership of the few men still under his command, he completely demoralized the enemy who, after an engagement lasting more than three hours, withdrew in disorder. Throughout the whole course of the Battle of Arnhem, Major Cain showed superb gallantry. His powers of endurance and leadership were the admiration of all his fellow officers and stories of his valour were being constantly exchanged amongst the troops. His coolness and courage under incessant fire could not be surpassed. 

(Supplement to The London Gazette of 31 October 1944. 2 November 1944, Numb. 36774, p. 5015)

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