Portomaggiore to the River Po.
On the 20th April, the Squadron moved to a concentration area near Portomaggiore with the rest of the Regiment. At tea time, a warning order came through, “B and C Squadrons get ready to move”. Guides were later sent back and we eventually moved up with them, at about 1830 hours, and just after first light, we arrived at an assembly area, a little south of the Fossa di Porto.
The big picture was roughly this – it had been decided to pass the Irish Brigade through 11 Brigade that evening. A bridgehead was to be established over the San Nicolo Canal during the night and the advance continued on the 21st. It was essential that the Royal Engineers bridge the canal before first light, to get the armour across. The Skins were to be on the right, supported by B Squadron, 10 Royal Hussars and the Faughs on the left. The whole attack was to be supported by a creeping barrage as the line of the Canal had already been found to be strongly held by the German infantry.
Our intention was to have two Troops, each supporting a Company across the Canal in the area, Montesanto; 2nd Troop with B Company on the left, 4th Troop with C Company on the right. The railway line was the boundary between ourselves and the Skins; our left flank would be quite unprotected, as the Indians would not be up. Troops were allotted to Companies, A to 3rd, B to 2nd, C to 4th and D to 1st.
The Faughs were doing well. By 0500 hours, they had, with the aid of the barrage, crossed the canal and had both the leading Companies firm by 0700 hours; they were supported by their respective Troops and the bridgehead was now secure and about 800 yards deep. A number of prisoners had been taken and no immediate counter attack appeared likely but the German defensive fire was devastatingly accurate and persistent. At about 0800 hours, 3rd Troop crossed the canal to join their Company, who were to move out to the extreme left. A little later, 1st Troop and reserve Company moved into Montesanto itself.
The whole area was, unfortunately under observation from each flank , from high church towers in the villages of the district (oddly enough, almost all the towers were of a similar pattern, with higher towers than normal, making most wonderful Observation Posts in this flat rather open country). As a result, it was extremely difficult to move about without a heavy stonk and, of course, a hail of AP – most unpleasant!
During the morning, we improved our positions and deepened the bridgehead a little and were fortunate to lose only one tank which, in a rapid endeavour to avoid AP, reversed into a hollow, where it stuck fast. The enemy certainly can’t have been short of ammunition for they plastered the whole area, liberally and frequently; the village of Montesanto, the crossing and farms south of it receiving the greater part of it on our sector. 1st Troop pushed out 300 yards on the north flank.
At about 1400 hrs, the ‘Kangaroo’ Force (9 Lancers and 2 London Irish Rifles) arrived: they were to go straight through us and the Skins and continue the advance; unfortunately, they were somewhat held up at the canal crossing, which was most uncomfortable for them and us, to say the least. At last, they were over into Montesanto, turned right at the Church, under the railway, through the Skins and off towards Voghenza.
By this time, the area south of the crossing had become an inferno, so Battalion and Squadron Headquarters moved quickly across into Montesanto: not a round was fired at us once we got into the village. Twenty minutes or so after, large numbers of shells of all calibres thundered down on Montesanto, followed by repeated doses every ten minutes for nearly an hour. Almost all the vehicles were hit by flying shrapnel and the air seemed full of dust and rubble – by happy chance, nobody was killed but the Fusiliers had a couple of men wounded. At last light, the whole Squadron moved back to the other side of the Nicolo Canal and leaguered for the night.
In the meantime, the ‘Kangaroo’ Force, well supported by the Royal Air Force had pushed right ahead and, by 0100 hours, had taken their objective (the bridges at Cona and Quartesana) and the 11th Brigade were to pass through and attack Baura and Fossalta on the 22nd.
The following morning (April 22nd), C Squadron moved to a leaguer area north west of Voghenza. It was a rest day of the 10th Royal Hussars and the Irish Brigade but this was rudely interrupted by a ‘Lightning’ shooting up and, indeed, bombing congested traffic approaching Voghenza – luckily, we had all been off the road several hours and thus were merely spectators.
In the evening on the 23rd, we assembled once again at the Battalion HQ of the Faughs, where we met what now seemed old friends and were provided with the customary brew.
Orders – Tamara was reported clear by 56th London Division and so A Squadron and the Skins were to move north through Tamara and on to Saletta and, there, strike west for Ruina. B Company would lead, followed by the 4th and 3rd Troops.
We moved off at 2300 hours and all seemed to be going according to plan except that the Fascine tanks were unable to cross the Po di Volano on account of their width until the leading elements of A Squadron approached Saletta with the Skins to find it quite definitely occupied – hand to hand fighting ensued and, subsequently, two A Squadron tanks were bazooka-ed! We were ordered to get off the road south of Tamara and hold ourselves in readiness to advance when the situation cleared a little at Saletta – we were now feeling quite bazooka conscious.
By 0500 hours, the Skins had sorted out Saletta but it was already obvious that the Germans intended to stand and fight and, at all costs, keep open their escape route across the Po for the time being. At 7 o’clock in the light of day, the advance continued. C Company was ordered to Saletta and 1st Troop (Lieut Elliott) brought up to support it. Just before 0745 hours, 1st Troop reported that there weretwo horses proceeding down the road from Saletta to Tamara, which were captured en route, and put in a stable. One of them, a chestnut mare, later named Gold Bridge, has been with the Regiment ever since and been placed a couple of times in Army Race Meetings in Austria and Northern Italy.
The situation was still rather complex to say the least, a couple of Spandaus still fired from time to time and the ping of rifle bullets, presumably from a sniper, whistled about one’s ears. 1st Troop advanced to the bridge north west of Saletta, the Krauts in this sector seemed to be pulling in their horns and the Troop did considerable execution among their fleeing remnants but C Company were heavily mortared in their move from the bridge, sustaining not a few casualties and were naturally rather put out of their stride.
D Company and 4th Troop (Lieut Harrison) then moved up through fairly thick cover on the road to Ruina. 4th Troop reported that a tracked vehicle could be heard ahead but, apart from intermittent shelling, there didn’t appear to be much opposition so they were ordered to proceed with D Company; this they did, but lost 4 B (Cpl Dellow) a few minutes later, knocked out by a Mark IV Special, the crew bailed out and managed to get back safely. D Company seemed to be able to proceed but, at the same time, definitely reported that they could hear tracked vehicles.
4 A (Sgt Moore) now advanced with them, carefully selecting a different route to that taken by 4 B but, short of the Canale Fossetta, they spotted two men removing the camouflage from a 50 mm Anti Tank gun. The tank Commander ordered his driver to reverse and immediately laid his 17 pounder on the target, which, fortunately, was almost directly in front of him and quickly fired the round he had “up the spout”. Within a few seconds of firing, his own gun was hit on the barrel from a different direction and rendered useless – the 50 mm too had been hit first time and never fired a round. The enemy now commenced to fire everything he had – 4th Troop’s nose was in a hornet’s nest to say the least. Squadron Headquarters’ 105 mms and B Battery put down smoke and a depleted 4th Troop was retrieved. D Company returned, virtually unscathed! 3rd Troop now took the place of 4th Troop.
It was now obvious that the opposition ahead was rather more than a demoralised rabble, if anyone had thought that such would be the case. As the ‘Kangaroo Force’ was shortly to make another advance somewhere out on our left, our duty at the moment was plainly to retain the initiative and keep the Krauts very much occupied in holding their bridgehead.
At Squadron Headquarters, we climbed the Church tower at Saletta from which we got a most wonderful view, at the same time realising what the Germans had been able to see at Montesanto and were still seeing – the countryside to the Po banks and beyond was stretched out before us like a vast carpet! The whole area was continually being subjected to a hail of fire and unpleasantness from both sides. The RAF were particularly aggressive during the afternoon – continually stropping up targets in houses and hedgerows and, on a number of occasions, bombed the area of the Po banks and the main road to Venice and the north on the other side of the river.
By 2030 hours, light was falling and we were able to move the Squadron back to a leaguer in Saletta, where we spent a noisy but, fortunately, uneventful night. During the night, vehicles could be heard moving back and there were a series of explosions, which seemed to indicate that the Germans were pulling out. The Faughs made good progress during the hours of darkness and, by dawn, it was obvious that the Bosche had packed it in and, by 10 o’clock the following morning, we had reached Ruina, finding all their positions abandoned and on to the Po banks without a shot being fired at us. The Faughs routed out the odd prisoner here and there, though the majority of the Germans, who had not managed to withdraw across the Po, had either been caught by the sweep made by the ‘Kangaroo Force’ or made their way in the crossing place near Zocca, where they now found no means of crossing and were subsequently captured.
The whole area was full of destroyed tanks and guns, the river bank and surrounding country was littered with stores, ammunition, guns and other Wehrmacht equipment, much of which was still in working order, though Motor Transport had noticeably been destroyed. There was a Veterinary Hospital, which had been abandoned like the thousands of horses, which we found amongst these miles and miles of wreckage and stores. No wonder, Tedeschi had made such a fight of the last battle with all this equipment at stake. Later that day, we moved to join the rest of the Regiment at Ferrara.
Within two days, we knew that the entire German Army in Italy had surrendered to Field Marshal Alexander and, that for the Eighth Army, at last, the war was over.