29 October 2004

The death, at the age of 89, has been announced in Harare, Zimbabwe, of Captain Gerard Ross Norton, Kaffrarian Rifles, South African Forces. attached 1st / 4th Royal Hampshire Regiment, who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his heroic action at Monte Gridolfo, Italy, during the advance on the Gothic Line in 1944.

The German C-in-C in Italy, Field-Marshal Kesselring, had regrouped his forces after the fall of Rome on 5th June 1944. Determined to to delay the Allie's advance in Italy, with the plan of holding the Gothic Line across the "thigh" of the peninsula, he confronted any forward move in apparent strength, only to slip away as soon as the American or British formations deployed to attack. But General Sir Harold Alexander remained determined to break through the Gothic Line before the winter.

The task of 1st / 4th Royal Hampshires was to take the Monte Gridolfo feature, one of the key positions in the line and defended by a series of concrete strongpoints with interlocking zones of fire. The leading platoon of Norton's company was pinned down by flanking fire almost as soon as it had crossed the start line. Entirely on his own initiative and with complete disregard for his personal safety, Norton began to attack the enemy strongpoints in turn. He silenced the first with a grenade. Then, alone and armed with his Thompson sub-machinegun, he took on the crew of a second strongpoint from which the enemy were holding up the advance with their Spandaus. A ten-minute fire-fight ensued, at the end of which Norton had killed all but a handful of the enemy who surrended.

Bringing his platoon forward to maintain the forward momentum, Norton cleared the cellar and upper rooms of a fortified house and took several more prisoners. Finally, although weak from loss of blood owing to a head wound that had severed a vein, he led his platoon up the valley to capture the remaining enemy positions on his company objective. He was also wounded in the thigh during the course of the action.

By an odd coincidence, Norton's twin sister Olga was serving with No. 102 ( South African ) General Hospital at Bari, to which he was evacuated when wounded in the Gothic Line action. Naturally, she was appointed to nurse him.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 26 October 1944 ], Monte Gridolfo, Italy, 31 August 1944, Lieutenant Gerard Ross Norton MM, Kaffrarian Rifles, att'd 1st / 4th Bn, Royal Hampshire Regiment.

In Italy, on the 31st August 1944, Lieutenant Norton was commanding a platoon during the attack on the Monte Gridolfo feature, one of the strong points of the Gothic Line defences, and one which contained well sited concrete gun emplacements. The leading platoon of his Company was pinned down by heavy enemy fire from a valley on the right flank of the advance.

On his own initiative and with complete disregard for his personal safety, Lieutenant Norton at once engaged a series of emplacements in this valley. Single-handed, he attacked the first machine gun position with a grenade, killing the crew of three. Still alone, he then worked his way forward to a second position containing two machine guns and fifteen riflemen. After a fight lasting ten minutes he wiped out both machine gun nests with his Tommy gun, and killed or took prisoner the remainder of the enemy.

Throughout these attacks Lieutenant Norton came under direct fire from an enemy self-propelled gun and, whilst still under heavy fire from this gun, he went on to clear the cellar and upper rooms of a house, taking several more prisoners, and putting many of the enemy to flight. Although by this time wounded and weak from loss of blood, he continued calmly and resolutely to lead his platoon up the valley to capture the remaining enemy positions.

Throughout the attack Lieutenant Norton displayed matchless courage, outstanding initiative and inspiring leadership. By his supreme gallantry, fearless example and determined aggression, he assured the successful breach of the Gothic Line at this point.

Gerard Norton was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh, on the 1st December 1944.

This was the second occasion on which Gerard Norton had shown himself capable of outstanding leadership and determination. In the Western Desert, when General Ritchie ordered the precipitate withdrawal of the 8th Army from the Gazala Line in June 1942, part of the rearguard of the 1st South African Division was cut off on the desert coast road east of Tobruk. Norton was then serving as a sergeant with the Kaffrarian Rifles the unit in which he had enlisted as a private soldier in 1940, which formed part of the rearguard. He was posted missing believed taken prisoner but he and his five comrades had avoided capture by taking to the desert in a cross-county truck.

The party drove south-eastwards until after 100 miles, their petrol ran out. Norton prepared his men for a long march and led them on an astonishing 470-mile trek through the desert, avoiding enemy positions and utilising water and supplies found abandoned. After a 38-day march, he found a route through the German forward area and reached the safety of the newly formed 8th Army defence line on the Egyptian frontier. Norton was awarded the Military Medal for his leadership and determination in bringing his men to safety. Ironically, he shortly afterwards broke an ankle while captaining a South African side in a rugby match in Nile Delta.

Medal entitlement of Captain Gerard Norton - Kaffrarian Rifles ( att'd 1st / 4th Bn, Royal Hampshire Regiment )

  • Victoria Cross
  • Military Medal ( MM )
  • 1939-45 Star
  • Africa Star
  • Italy Star
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Africa Service Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Queen Elizabeth Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )
  • Queen Elizabeth Golden Jubilee Medal ( 2002 )

VC Deaths

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Iain Stewart, 02 November 2004