Extract from a Regimental Diary 16th to 19th April 1945.
Dawn saw 11 Brigade in the lead, advancing astride the railway with 1 Surreys on the right and 5 Northamptons on the left. Progress was slow and there was a great many calls for fire. The ammunition problem continued to tax us. An LO was sent to 8th Indian Division with a set on the ‘H’ Net and recce parties, who had been straining at the leash for some hours, were given the “off” before noon.
The route round by the right hand bridge was a long one and much blocked by Indian Divisional Artillery. It was noticeable, throughout this advance, that traffic control was excellent on divisional axes but as soon one got on a road that was common to elements of two divisions, it virtually ceased to exist.
The new gun, San Biagio, north of Bastia, was the most damaged area we have seen so far in the advance. The whole area had been most accurately covered by anti personnel bombs and practically all the roads were cratered by the heavies.
This made it more difficult to get about in MT and the recce took a very long time. Meanwhile, the guns were very busy firing ‘U’ targets and observed shoots for the Air OP Orders were received that the guns were not to move before the completion of a fire plan due to be fired at 2000 hours to help leading elements of 11 Brigade to clear up in the eastern flank of Argenta. Meanwhile, three further batteries (50 Battery, 24 Field Regiment; 214 HAA Battery and ‘Q’ Radar Battery) had attached themselves to the regiment to enable them to communicate with the outside world by line and, to a varying degree, for operational purposes. These kept the recce parties very busy indeed.
Fortunately, the Bastia bridge was completed by 1900 hours and all three batteries were able to move forward between 2130 and 2300 hours. As soon as the trails were on the ground, the guns were firing again for, by this time, the Lancashire Fusiliers had gone through the Surreys on the right and were closing up to the Fossa Marina. A series of DF tasks had been arranged along this obstacle and fire was called for on them at short intervals throughout the remainder of the night.
Had the German commander been able to lay his hand on a reserve of, say, one full strength regiment, there is little doubt that the Fossa Marina line would have proved a very formidable obstacle. As it was 42 Jager and 362 Infantry Division were now at the end of their tether and, on the night of the 16th, elements of 29 Panzer Grenadiers, his last complete formation in reserve, were hastily rushed up to the Fossa Marina. These troops, who had come from the Po, did not know the terrain and very few of them saw it in daylight. They did, however, know that they were likely to be attacked. Their dugouts were excellent but the first concentration fell before the relief was complete and the enemy commanders on the spot promptly ordered everyone to keep his head up in anticipation of a following wave of British Infantry. The LFs did not attempt to cross before there had been more concentrations, which daylight revealed to have done enormous damage to the enemy, compared with the disappointing results in the way of dead Huns, that were normally the case after a barrage.
The LFs were able to establish a bridgehead over the Fossa Marina before dawn but this was very heavily counter attacked by fire in the early hours of the 17th.
It was a busy day for the guns but our infantry made little progress and Argenta remained his, though elements of the Irish Brigade passed through the LF’s bridgehead and threatened to outflank the town. By evening, the Inniskillings had crossed Route 16, north of the town but San Antonio was still a thorn in our side and some stoutheaded enemy actually counterattacked southwards from there early the following morning. The Argenta Gap was cracked but not yet open. Argenta, itself, was cleared in the open.
11 Brigade HQ, together with Tac HQ, moved into Argenta in the morning. The battle, north of the Fossa, was getting fluid. There were many reports of counter attacks supported by tanks and SP guns but all were repulsed without difficulty. About 1000 hours, the recce parties crossed the Fossa and found a tank battle in progress in the square, in which they had been ordered to recce. In this, they took no very gallant part but had their share of excitement as the ruined farm at which it had been decided to established RHQ was found to be “the target for today” for a troop of 88 mms.
Considering the power of the Division’s punch which, on this day, reached its full momentum (36 Brigade had captured Boccaleone and were well on their way to Consandalo), it was surprising how much harassing fire the enemy was able to maintain in the area of the original Fossa bridgehead. They were no doubt largely SP guns, handled well and boldly but the accuracy of the little CB fire they put down on the first British guns to fire from positions north of the Fossa was remarkable.
The guns moved up from San Biagio and were in action shortly after dark, thanks to good digging with only one casualty.
Meanwhile, the ‘Kangaroo’ Force, followed up by 9 Lancers and the LIR had made the most spectacular advance of the battle to date. By midnight, they were reported right up on the Fossa de Porto north of Consandolo and west of Porto Maggiore. The enemy was given no rest and it was decided to exploit this success immediately. A sleepless night was spent planning at 11 Brigade HQ and recce parties were on the move again by 0415 hours with the LFs and East Surreys, who were directed to consolidate the success gained by the 9 Lancers.
The whole regiment was on the move the following morning by 0700 hours through country, which showed little signs of battle, except for tank tracks and, for 5 miles, we saw no human military life whatever. Just as the guns were coming into action, however, the cornfields, by the Fossa Benvignante, came to life and one Battery recce party captured 5 officers and 53 ORs, mostly from the artillery of 42 Jager Division, who were more than ready to give themselves up.
The Argenta Gap was now well and truly broken, though, it was not possible to maintain the impetus of the advance through country more thoroughly intersected by water obstacles than any we had met.
Argenta was not an artillery battle: it was an infantry slogging match. Artillery battles require much preparation and there was no time for that at Argenta, where the key to success lay in hitting the already disorganised enemy hard and repeatedly before he had the chance to regain his balance. It is, however, probable that the number of rounds of 25 pounder ammunition fired in the Argenta Gap exceeded the number of rounds of SAA. This would seem to indicate that a great deal of the slogging was done by the guns. There was no elaborate fire plan and the value of the support given was enhanced enormously by the accuracy of the maps combined with the fact that the enemy was confined in his choice of positions to the features clearly marked on them. The pre arranged ‘U’ targets were also of great assistance and resulted in the saving of a great deal of time in the encoding and decoding of map references.