- About the Irish Brigade website
- Dec 1942 – Resting At Peace
- Jan 1943 – Resting At Peace
- Feb 1943 – Resting At Peace
- Mar 1943 – Resting At Peace
- Apr 1943 – Resting At Peace
- May 1943 – Resting At Peace
- June 1943 – Resting At Peace
- War Cemeteries
- Formation of the Irish Brigade
- Roll of Honour 1939-45
- 2 LIR – January to October 1942
- 2 LIR – November 1942
- 2 LIR – December 1942
- 2 LIR – January 1943
- 2 LIR – February 1943
- 2 LIR – March 1943
- 2 LIR – April 1943
- 2 LIR – May/June 1943
- 2 LIR – July 1943
- 2 LIR – August/September 1943
- 2 LIR – October 1943
- 2 LIR – November 1943
- 2 LIR – December 1943
- 2 LIR – January 1944
- 2 LIR – February 1944
- 2 LIR – March 1944
- 2 LIR – April 1944
- 2 LIR – May 1944
- 2 LIR – June 1944
- 2 LIR – July 1944
- 2 LIR – October 1944
- 2 LIR – November 1944 to February 1945
- 2 LIR – March 1945
- 2 LIR – April 1945
- 2 LIR – May 1945
- Honours and awards
- They Shall Not Grow Old – 1 London Irish Rifles
- They Shall Not Grow Old – 2 London Irish Rifles
- War Diaries of 1 London Irish Rifles
- Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers – “The Skins”
- At Rest in Rome and Egypt
- In Sidi Bishr
- Back To Italy
- With the 5th Army
- Plan to capture Imola
- The Spaduro battles
- The Rains come
- Patrolling and Artillery Duels
- San Clemente
- And with the Skins and Irish Rifles
- Clamping Down for the Winter
- With the Faughs
- Raid on Casa Tamagnin
- Continuing in the Mountains
- Goodbye to the Mountains
- The Beginning of a New Phase
- Preparing for the Final Battles
- Senio Floodbanks
- London Irish Raid on the Floodbank
- Visitors to the Irish Brigade
- St Patrick’s Day in Forli
- Ready for Action
- The Last Offensive – The Plan and Opening Phase
- The Po and the End of the War
- Northern Italy
- Into Austria – Settling Frontiers
- Balkan Troubles
- Irish Brigade Awards: May 1944 to March 1945
- Irish Brigade Awards: April to July 1945.
- December 1942
- February 1943 (1)
- January 1943 (2)
- January 1943 (1)
- January 1943 (3)
- April 1943 (3)
- April 1943 (4)
- July 1943
- June 1943
- August 1943 (1)
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – November 1942
- March 1943
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – December 1942
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – January 1943
- May 1943 (1)
- May 1943 (2)
- May 1943 (3)
- December 1943 (1)
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – March 1943
- December 1943 (2)
- November 1943
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – May 1943
- October 1943 (1)
- October 1943 (2)
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – June 1943
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – July 1943
- October 1943 (3)
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – August 1943
- September 1943
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – September 1943
- April 1943 (1)
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – November 1943
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – December 1943
- April 1943 (5a)
- February 1943 (2)
- February 1943 (3)
- April 1943 (2)
- February 1943 (4)
- November 1942
- October 1944 (1)
- March 1944
- February 1944
- June 1944 (1)
- January 1944
- April 1944
- June 1944 (2)
- May 1944
- October 1944 (2)
- November 1944 (1)
- July 1944
- August 1944
- November 1944 (2)
- December 1944
- September 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – January 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – March 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – April 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – May 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – July 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – August 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – September 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – October 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – November 1944
- 38 (Irish) Brigade – December 1944
- Officers’ Roll : Nov 1942 to Dec 1943
- Officers’ Roll : Jan 1944 to May 1945
- 6 Innisks – November 1942
- 6 Innisks – December 1942
- 6 Innisks – February 1943
- 6 Innisks – March 1943
- 6 Innisks – May 1943
- 6 Innisks – June 1943
- 6 Innisks – July 1943
- 6 Innisks – September 1943
- 6 Innisks – October 1943
- 6 Innisks – December 1943
- Officers’ Roll : Nov 1942 to Jul 1944
- May 1943
- 1 RIrF – November 1942
- 1 RIrF – January 1943
- 1 RIrF – February 1943
- 1 RIrF – March 1943
- 1 RIrF – May 1943
- 1 RIrF – June 1943
- 1 RIrF – July 1943
- 1 RIrF – August 1943
- 1 RIrF – September 1943
- 1 RIrF – October 1943
- 1 RIrF – November 1943
- 1 RIrF – December 1943
- April 1944
- July 1944
- June 1944
- March 1944
- May 1944
- 1 RIrF – January 1944
- 1 RIrF – February 1944
- 1 RIrF – March 1944
- 1 RIrF – April 1944
- 1 RIrF – May 1944
- 1 RIrF – June 1944
- 1 RIrF – July 1944
- 1 RIrF – August 1944
- 1 RIrF – September 1944
- 1 RIrF – October 1944
- 1 RIrF – November 1944
- 1 RIrF – December 1944
- Officers’ Roll : Nov 1942 to Jun 1944
- Officers’ Roll : Jul 1944 to May 1945
- April 1943
- July 1943
- June 1943
- March 1943
- May 1943
- 2 LIR – December 1942
- 2 LIR – March 1943
- 2 LIR – April 1943
- 2 LIR – May 1943
- 2 LIR – June 1943
- 2 LIR – July 1943
- 2 LIR – September 1943
- 2 LIR – October 1943
- 2 LIR – December 1943
- April 1944 (1)
- April 1944 (2)
- April 1944 (3)
- August 1944
- December 1944
- February 1944
- January 1944 (1)
- January 1944 (2)
- July 1944
- June 1944 (1)
- June 1944 (2)
- March 1944
- May 1944
- November 1944
- October 1944 (1)
- October 1944 (2)
- September 1944
- 2 LIR – February 1944
- 2 LIR – March 1944
- 2 LIR – April 1944
- 2 LIR – May 1944
- 2 LIR – June 1944
- 2 LIR – July 1944
- 2 LIR – August 1944
- 2 LIR – September 1944
- 2 LIR – October 1944
- 2 LIR – November 1944
- 2 LIR – December 1944
- Officers’ Roll : Nov 1942 to Dec 1943
- Officers’ Roll : Jan 1944 to May 1945
- Point 286, Tunisia – Jan 1943 by Lt-Col Jeffreys
- Lieutenant Nick Mosley at Monte Spaduro
- The Skins in Sicily
- Percy Hamilton – On Route to Africa
- Percy Hamilton – To The Front
- Percy Hamilton – Djebel Mahdi
- Percy Hamilton – Tanngoucha
- Percy Hamilton – Advance To Tunis
- Percy Hamilton – Guelma/Hammamet
- Percy Hamilton – Arriving in Sicily
- Percy Hamilton – From Centuripe To Randazzo
- Percy Hamilton – To Mainland Italy
- Percy Hamilton – Termoli
- Percy Hamilton – Crossing the Trigno River
- Percy Hamilton – Assault on San Salvo
- Captain David Schayek – March/April 1943
- Colin Gunner at Argenta
- Ted O’Sullivan joins the London Irish Rifles.
- Day 2
- The making of Rosie
- Training at Wimbledon
- Invasion alerts
- From Lowestoft to Haverfordwest
- Onto Goodwood
- Joining the Irish Brigade
- Operation Dryshod and ready for War
- Setting sail from Glasgow
- Arrival in Algiers
- Christmas in Tunisia
- Point 286
- Stuka Ridge
- Rest and recovery
- The Djebels north of Medjez-el-Bab
- Entering Tunis
- Rest and renewed training
- Stormy Mediterranean crossings
- The Sicilian campaign
- From Termoli to the Trigno
- Crossing the Sangro River
- Interlude at Campbobasso
- Meeting the new OC
- German raid at Montenero
- In clear sight of Vesuvius
- Defensive positions at San Angelo
- Ascending Monte Castellone
- The Liri Valley
- North of Rome
- Back to Rome and onto Egypt
- Hospitalised in Alexandria
- Out of the Line
- Back to the London Irish at last
- Resting in Forli
- St Patrick’s Day
- From Argenta to Austria
- Peace at Last
- Home on Leave
- At Ease in London
- The Atomic Sergeant Major
- RQMS Edmund O’Sullivan goes home
- Irish Brigade at Termoli, October 1943
- Termoli. 5/6 October 1943
- Campaign Narrative
- Unit Accounts – 11 Brigade
- Unit Accounts – Other Arms
- Unit Accounts – Royal Artillery
- Unit Accounts – 36 Brigade
- Unit Accounts – 38 Brigade
- Unit Accounts – Royal Engineers
- 78 Division
- Unit Accounts – Maps
- Casualties/ Prisoners of War
- 11 Brigade
- 2 Lancashire Fusiliers
- 1 East Surreys
- 5 Northamptons
- 5 Buffs
- 8 Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders
- 38 (Irish) Brigade
- 38th Brigade
- 2 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers
- 2 London Irish Rifles
- 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers
- 1 Kensingtons
- The Queen’s Bays
- 9 Lancers
- 10 Royal Hussars
- 48 RTR
- Royal Artillery
- 17 Field Regiment RA
- 132 (Welsh) Field Regiment RA
- 138 Field Regiment RA
- 64 A/Tk Regiment
- Royal Engineers, 78 Division
- Veteran’s Account: Hill 286 – January 19/20 1943
- Battlefield Maps: May / June 1944
- Battlefield Maps: October / November 1944
- Detailed Battlefield Guides
- Battlefield visit: Cassino
- Battlefield visit: Lake Trasimene
- Honours and Awards – 38 (Irish) Brigade
- Honours and awards – 6 Innisks
- Honours and awards – 2 Innisks
- Honours and awards – 1 RIrF
- Honours and awards – 2 LIR
- Honours and Awards – Tunisian Campaign
- Honours and Awards – Sicilian Campaign
- Honours and Awards – From Termoli to the Moro
- Honours and Awards – Cassino/ Trasimeno
- Honours and Awards – Monte Spaduro / Tamagnin
- Honours and Awards – Senio/Argenta Gap
- Mentions in Brigade Orders – October 1944 to March 1945
- Mention in Brigade Orders – April 1945
- Contact Us
- Site Map
The Last Offensive – The Plan and Opening Phase.
Before the big offensive on Rome started last year, the Army Commander had held a ‘Malaria Conference.’ This year, it was to be a ‘Welfare Conference.’ It could never do if the Germans thought we were really having a conference about the war.
General McCreery held his ‘Welfare Conference’ on the morning of 5th April when he explained the general plan of both the Army and the Army Group in the coming offensive. This conference was attended down to CO level but its general terms were to remain secret until the last possible moment. The operation was to be known as ‘Buckland’ and ‘D Day’ was later given out as 9th April.
As we were not due to take part in the proceedings at the outset, I decided that 9th April would be a good day for us to talk to the three battalions about the coming battle as I could then say anything I liked without danger of breaking security. I accordingly walked to each one in turn as the first of the heavy bombers was passing overheard to open the last round.
The object of 15 Army Group was to defeat the Germans in Italy, south of the Po. Five Corps and the Polish Corps were to attack as part of the Eighth Army in a westerly and north westerly direction. The American Fifth Army was to attack due north to the west of Bologna, about three days after the attack of the Eighth Army had started. The two Armies were to converge on the Po somewhere to the west of Ferrara and, between these two great claws, it was hoped the bulk of the German Army would be smashed. This is, in point of fact, what happened.
Five Corps had already started several days before with 56th Division, the Cremona Gruppe and the Commandos attacking on our extreme right in the neighbourhood of Lake Comacchio. They had achieved some very reassuring results. The main attack of 5 Corps was to be launched on the afternoon of ‘D Day’ by 2nd New Zealand Division and 8th Indian Division, north and south of Cotignola, and the Polish Corps attacking between 5 Corps and Route 9. The cover plan was to try and make the Bosche believe that the main attack was to be astride Route 9 and that the Americans were participating in it also. 78th Division was to pass through either 2nd New Zealand or 8th Indian Division before or after they had passed over the River Santerno to Bastia and so link up with 56th Division’s advance along the north bank of the Reno. After this had been successfully done, the plan was to break through the Argenta Gap and advance to Ferrara. 6th Armoured Division were to remain in Army reserve during the opening phase.
Considerable controversy had arisen over the correct ‘H’ hour – whether it should be by day or night and what artillery or air support should herald assault. Each Division had different ideas. It was not unnatural that this should be so, for some Divisions were up the floodbank, while others were not.
‘H’ hour was eventually fixed for the Eighth Army at 1920 hours and was to be preceded by alternating artillery preparation and intense pattern bombing by heavy and medium bombers for some five hours. After the effects of Cassino last year, people had always been a little chary about the use of these bombers for close support and very careful safety precautions were being taken. They were to fly on a beam, they were not to bomb until they crossed on intersecting beam. There were to be marks on the ground which would guide them. There was to be flak barrage fired below them and they were not to bomb until they got beyond it. With these and other aids, it sounded pretty cast iron. 25 pounder fragmentation bombs were decided as being the best type to use. There were to be vast numbers of them. The entire Strategic Air Force was to carry out this project.
In spite of all these precautions, a certain number of bombs did go astray, especially on the Polish Corps front but, on the whole, results were excellent. No-one really knew at the time what the effect was, but we found out from prisoners afterwards that the German communications had been entirely disrupted and it was that which largely accounted for the absence of German defensive fire when the offensive started. Our only contribution to the initial assault was the use of ‘Wasps’ – a extensive flame throwing programme was carried out along the Army front and this terrified the Germans even more than the bombing. None of our ‘Wasps’ were any the worse for the experience.
The Senio was strongly defended but the defensive positions that the Germans had prepared on the River Santerno, about 8,000 yards to the west of the Senio were infinitely better. It was a really formidable set up. These positions had been carefully prepared throughout the winter in the light of knowledge that the Germans had gained in the defence of the River Senio. We estimated that at present the Germans had no fresh troops to man these positions. The one real danger to the offensive, therefore, was that the Germans should withdraw to the Santerno before our attack. A few days before ‘D Day’, there had been a considerable amount of German artillery fire throughout the Corps area and it was feared that he was shooting off his ammunition as a prelude to an immediate withdrawal. Had he done this, we might well have had to carry out a costly preliminary offensive up to the Santerno and started mounting the battle all over again. We found out later, when the German Corps Commander gave himself up, that this artillery activity to which I referred had, in fact, been the prelude to his withdrawal to the Santerno, but the withdrawal had been cancelled on the personal orders of Hitler at the last minute. Once again, we have Hitler to thank for a German military error.
The German Army Group had only two Divisions in general reserve, 90th Panzer Grenadier Division, somewhere south east of Bologna and 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, believed to be in the Rovigo area. On 5 Corps sector, the Germans had 362nd Division and 98th Division with one battalion in reserve to each. Everything also was in the shop window and an immediate counter attack appeared unlikely on anything larger than a platoon basis. 42nd Division were opposite 56th Division’s exploits around Lake Comacchio and 26th Panzer Division was opposite the Poles. In armour, the Germans were believed to have thirty Mark IV tanks in reserve and thirty Tiger tanks stretched across the front. Actually, the Germans had a good deal more Mark IVs than was originally believed. They also were believed to have some forty self propelled assault guns of various calibres in 242 Assault Gun Brigade, plus the normal element with their infantry Divisions. We had about five Armoured Brigades to set against this.
The crossing of the Senio was successful. 8th Indian Division met a good deal more opposition than the New Zealanders, especially on the floodbank itself but, by the morning of the 10th, the bridgehead had a general depth of about 2,000 yards. In most places, it was up to the Canale Lugo. 11 Brigade had had the job of doing a limited attack between the assaulting Divisions and had rather a sticky time getting up to the floodbank on their front but, later on, successfully cleaned up Cotignola.
The Last Objective – The Santerno Bridgehead.
On the morning of the 10th, I held a final conference at Brigade Headquarters in Forli to go through the plan that appeared to be the most likely one for us to embark on. The grouping was designed to be appropriate to any variety of the plan that might be dictated by future events. The Brigade Group that we handled during the Santerno Bridgehead phase was about the size of an Armoured Division.
In addition to our battalions, our armour included 2 Armoured Brigade (less the 10th Hussars), 4th Hussars, B Squadron 51 Royal Tank Regiment (‘Flails’), C Squadron 51 Royal Tank Regiment (‘Crocodiles’), an armoured assault troop RE, a donor troop RE. The artillery under command was the 17 Field Regiment, 11 RHA, 2 troop 209 Self Propelled Battery, 254 Anti Tank Battery, and the support of as much of the remainder of the Divisional artillery as we could use, which included a medium regiment. In addition, of course, we had our 214 Field Company RE, 152 Field Ambulance and D Support Group.
The object of our operation was to pass through 8th Indian Division’s bridgehead over the Santerno, about Mondaniga, swing north between the west bank of the Santerno and the Scalo Fossatone and capture the bridge over the River Reno near Bastia, an advance of about 12,000 yards. Obviously this was too deep an attack to carry through with the same units leading as there was no reason to suppose that the Germans would not contest every yard of the way from their well prepared positions. I, therefore, had three elements to undertake the task – a breaking out force, a mobile force to follow through and the reserve force for special roles.
This mobile force was entirely mounted on trucked vehicles and should be able to maintain a uniform speed of cross country performance throughout all its units and sub units. The object of the mobile force, under command of Brigadier John Coombe, was to be ready to pass through the breaking out force as soon as that force had either shot its bolt or the going appeared to be favourable for the armour. I hoped to be able to pass this force through as soon as the breaking out force had cleared up to the bottle neck at Giovecca. We hoped that the speed of the final advance, might bounce the River Reno bridge, which was our objective.
In detail, the grouping was as follows:
The Break Out Force.
1 RirF 2 Innisks.
A Squadron Bays. B Squadron Bays.
D Support Group MMG Platoon. C Squadron 51 RTR (Crocodiles).
Scissors Bridge Bulldozer Troop RE. D Support Group MMG Platoon.
Reconnaissance Party RE.
Artillery in Immediate Support.
17 Field Regiment RA.
The Mobile Force (Kangaroo Army).
Headquarters 2 Armoured Brigade.
4 Hussars (Kangaroos).
Z Troop 209 SP Battery.
Assault Detachment RE
Reserves for Special Roles.
C Squadron, Bays.
254 Anti Tank Battery.
SP Troop 254 Anti Tank Battery.
Armoured Troop RE.
D Support Group, Mortar Platoon.
214 Field Company RE.
152 Field Ambulance.
At 1300 hrs on the 10th, we left Forli and concentrated, less the armour, south of Bagnacavello. Our teeing up was really being done in two stages. We had two assembly areas east of the Senio – one for infantry and one for armour and we had a marrying up area near Lugo on the west of the Senio. It was necessary to assemble fairly near the Senio in order that we might start making use of the bridges as soon as they were ready. If possible, infantry and tanks should never cross an obstacle in the same place and so there was no object in bringing them together until they had got across the river by their different routes. We got into our assembly area without incident and, in the light of the latest information, I issued verbal orders for the move to the wedding area east of the Senio where the tanks and infantry would join up to start at 6 o’clock the next morning.
This move went without incident and, slowly but surely, we gathered the bits and pieces that were to form our force, At 9 o’clock that evening, I held a coordinating conference in Lugo, checked over the plan and the tying up of all the Group and made provisional arrangements for the order of march forward. During this night, 8th Indian Division were to form their bridgehead over the Santerno and to link up with the New Zealand Division, who had already got troops across in some places but whose bridgehead was not yet formed.
One of the characteristics of crossing rivers is the conflicting and often contradictory information that one receives over the state of bridges. One person says a bridge will be ready in two hours, then it is put back to six, then someone else says it was ready half an hour ago. The next thing that happens is that something falls in. We had learned that the only way to overcome this is by direct communication to our own representative at the bridge site. Even that does not overcome the human factor of incorrect estimates of time required to complete a job. The main point was that we were in a good position to get across the Santerno bridge as soon as it was ready. Apart from a few harmless shells that were scattered around Lugo, we suffered no discomforts.
About half past eleven on the 12th, the Santerno bridgehead was beginning to look pretty good and bridges were expected to be ready sometime during the afternoon. The general advance on our Northern flank was such that a variation to the original Divisional plan could be made. In the original plan, 36 Brigade were to sweep north along the east of the Santerno while we were on the west. It seemed unlikely that organised resistance east of the river would amount to anything very much and the wise alternative of switching 36 Brigade on to our left and merely using some of the Reconnaissance Regiment on the east of the river was decided upon. 36 Brigade were to strike out in a westerly direction towards San Patrizio and Conselice and so give us more elbow room to jump off and cover our flank. To be of most value in this role, it was clearly necessary that 36 Brigade could move first and fortunately the lay out in the wedding area permitted this to be done without any difficulty.
They started off about 4 o’clock and were able to begin their attack that evening. We had also hoped to start that evening but congestion on the tracks and bridges and the shelling of our bridge delayed matters so much that we could not manage it. The attack was therefore postponed till dawn and the Faughs were told to maintain contact that night by patrolling. The Indians kept contact on the Skins’ front.
0630 hrs on the 13th was the zero hour for our breaking out force.
36 Brigade, in the meanwhile, had done well and gave us considerable elbow room on our left flank. The Germans must have been a bit foxed when we turned north that morning, as 36 Brigade’s advance would have made them expect the main thrust to be in a westerly direction.
I left Main Brigade in the “wedding area” and established a Tactical HQ just east of Mondinaga with John Coombe, Margot Asquith commanding the Bays, Rupert Lecky commanding 17 Field Regiment and with John McClinton as assistant.
I was very keen for the Faughs to get some elements of infantry and tanks across the Scolo Fossatone to cover the left flank. This was more easily said than done but, fortunately, with the assistance of the Assault REs, we got them across. As the advance went northwards to the bottle neck of La Giovecca, the frontage between the Santerno and the Fossatone narrowed down to less than a thousand yards. I felt it was important that we should be on a rather broader front than this if we were to have the room to get the ponderous Kangaroo Army through the Gap.
The nature of the country was true to the form that I had previously described. Although, not yet in leaf, the vines and trees restricted visibility to about 100 yards and provided excellent cover for small determined parties on both sides. Especially did it help the Bosche bazooka men. Enemy strong points were continually being met but, by the speedy and determined efforts of the tank-cum-infantry packets, they were soon dealt with.
The strongest resistance was probably met about the line running east and west through San Bernadino. Elements of 8th Indian Division were advancing on this place from the east but, even so, the Skins had a tough time in this sector. The Bosche were sitting tight in their holes and it took quite a lot of determined work to kill or capture them.
By about midday, both battalions were approaching the La Giovecca bottleneck and the moment seemed ripe to unleash John Coombe and his Kangaroo Army.
It was a difficult job getting so many armoured vehicles through this thick country and to pass them through our foremost troops. I had arranged for recognition signals to be fired by verey pistol to indicate our forward positions to the approaching tanks but, even with this aid, they found great difficulty in determining friend from foe. Leading elements of the mobile force was beginning to take on the enemy by about 1330.
I include here the London Irish account of this phase of the battle:
“The object of the Kangaroo Army was to secure crossings over the Conselice Canal and, if possible, exploit to the River Reno, several thousands of yards ahead.
At first, little resistance was encountered. The Skins and the Faughs had given the enemy a good shaking and he was on the move back. Scattered enemy Bazooka men were met and one tank was lost through the fire of an anti tank gun but a number of prisoners were taken by G Company.
As the Conselice Canal was approached, the rivers opened out and H Company, with C Squadron of 9 Lancers, came up on the left. Resistance was encountered in the village of La Frascata. This was immediately by passed but, as the leading tanks arrived at the canal, the bridge was blown up immediately in front of them. H Company, who had driven past La Frascata in their Kangaroos, speedily de bussed on the banks of the canal and, covered by the tanks, forced a crossing over the remains of the road and railway bridges, getting into the houses on the far bank so rapidly that few of the defenders managed to escape.
Meanwhile, G Company was clearing the area up to the canal bank on the right and E Company was ordered to clear La Frascata and assist H Company in holding and enlarging the bridgehead. The enemy had been surprised by the speed and weight of the attack. Few of them, not more than tea, had been killed but all three forward companies had taken numbers of prisoners. By 1830 hours, the total was eighty.
The bridgehead was firmly established by 2200 hours and Companies were dug in for the night. Sappers were building a bridge over the canal, the armour was in leaguers and plans for the following day were being made. A large increase in the number of wrist watches possessed by H Company was noticed.
Early on the 14th, before dawn, patrols from E Company were feeling their way up through Lavezzola towards the River Reno. At first light, they were followed by the armour in two columns, one due north along the axis of the main road and the other sweeping round to the right to avoid the minefield that were known to exist in the Lavezzola area. The whole area was heavily mined and the houses booby trapped in the northern half of the village but luckily the German mine warning notices were still in place and not a single casualty was caused to either tanks or infantry. The ‘Flails’ had a great morning exploding mines.
The Reno was reached at 0940 hours, about 30 prisoners having been taken. These included eight taken in the act of laying further mines. Both the road and rail bridges over the river were gone but sufficient rubble still remained to allow foot soldiers to cross dry shod. Reconnaissance was carried out and a plan evolved for two platoons of E Company to cross and form a small bridgehead. This took place at 1230 hours without resistance and under cover of smoke, but while the platoons were advancing north from the river they were heavily counter attacked and most of them over run. No assistance could be given by the tanks owing to the high floodbanks and the absence of a bridge. Positions were now taken up on the next bank and further reconnaissance carried out with a view to making a deliberate crossing.
At this time, 56th Division, who had landed on the southern shores of Lake Comacchio were still several thousand yards east of this attempted bridgehead and the enemy was therefore very sensitive to a threat from their southern flank. It was however, decided to hold positions on the southern bank of the river for the night and eventually the battalion was ordered to maintain their static positions for the next two days. A point of special interest which arose at this time was that 1 London Irish, on the left flank of 56th Division, was, for the first time in this war, sharing a common piece of the front with this battalion and, on the first night, one of their patrols crossed the Remo and contacted G Company.”
On the evening of the 13th, the Skins clamped down about La Giovecca and the Faughs were spread out on the west of the Fossatone, watching the flank. Both battalions had fought magnificently during the day and had had a long and anxious period moving up for the battle. We captured two officers and one hundred and fifty seven ORs mainly from 362 Division during the day’s work.
On the 14th, the London Irish were the main participants as already described by them. The Skins had a day off and the Faughs were patrolling out in the west. Brigade Headquarters were established at La Palazzina about half way between the Skins and the London Irish.
Partisans appeared in this area. They proved a mixed blessing. There were two types, those who put on their arm bands and slung their muskets round their shoulders after the Bosche had pulled out and those who did fight genuinely, many of whom had fresh wounds. The second variety were extremely helpful and had detailed maps and drawings showing enemy positions and minefields, which later proved to be very accurate. They all, however, had one big failing, common throughout Italy. Once having allowed them to start taking, nothing would induce them to stop. They held non-stop meetings throughout the day, which were soon referred to as “Partisan O Groups”. These meetings resembled mobile arsenals, for all the men and also the women carried at least four weapons and were festooned with bandoliers, grenades, knives and every sort of “what have you”.
Bala Bredin, CO of 2 LIR, enlisted a platoon of these scoundrels, from which he was expecting great things but I never heard much more about them. As well as the partisans, some odd members of the Cremona Gruppo got mixed up in the proceedings – I suppose they had friends in those parts.
On the 15th, the Faughs sent patrols to clear up the marsh lands up to the Sillaro river. The enemy was holding the far bank in some places and had strong points in houses. That evening, this clearing up job was taken over by 36 Brigade and the Faughs concentrated.
56th Division, in the meanwhile, had come up level with us on the north of the Reno and had passed across our front towards Bastia and Argenta so were able to start bridging operations across the River Reno. It was estimated that the bridge would be ready for our further advance by midday the following day and we were accordingly placed at four hours notice to continue the advance the next morning. Not only had our part of the battle gone according to plan – which is a very rare thing to happen – but the whole of the Army Group was moving according to schedule too. Everything was looking very promising, but the big battle of the Argenta Gap, on which the whole success of the 5 Corps advance depended, still lay above us. Some regrouping took place at this stage and we lost a good deal of our force. The Bays were to join 11 Brigade and 9 Lancers were to be with us. The 2nd Armoured Brigade from now on remained directly under Division. The ‘Crocodiles’, ‘Flails’ and Assault REs also left us as all those sort of things would be playing a big part in the dense minefields of the Argenta Gap.
On the morning of the 16th, 11 Brigade passed through 56th Division towards Argenta, having made a detour to the east and passed over 56th Division’s bridges. At 1400 hours, we got a telephone message to say that we were to move at 1700 hours and pass through 11 Brigade after they had made a bridgehead over the Fosso Marina. The Bays were to cross back under our command on our arrival and the ‘Kangaroo Army’ of 9 Lancers, 4 Hussars and London Irish were to be reformed under command 2 Armoured Brigade. This sudden change in the armour caused some confusion, as preparations had already been made with 9 Lancers with regard to carrying ammunition in their tanks, netting their wireless sets and fixing in additional sets.
Our bridge was ready and we duly started off but there was the most terrible congestion on the road and bridge over the Reno. Something had gone a bit funny with the bridge at the last moment – it was a very long one. The London Irish were to go over at 0400 hrs the next morning in their ‘Kangaroos’ and “marry up” with 9 Lancers on the north of the Reno. Brigade Headquarters opened up that evening about 3,000 yards east of Bastia. The Brigade, less the London Irish, concentrated just to the north.
The plan was for us to pass through the Lancashire Fusiliers, as soon as they had secured their bridgehead over the Fossa Marina. These obstacles were the largest canal that ran from Argenta in a north westerly direction across our front. It was the main obstacle in the area. The Faughs were to go first and advance in a north westerly direction; the Skins were to follow them and swing west. Zero hour was to be first light on the 17th. Each battalion had its squadron of tanks and normal supporting arms. The whole move was designed to outflank the town of Argenta on the east and then cut Route 16 north of it. The plan, if successful, would seal off the town and open a way through the gap.
The Argenta Gap was no ordinary problem. It was flanked on the left by the river Reno and on the right by flooded low lying country and the Comacchio lake. The enemy was determined to prevent all attempts to break through this Gap of a little over 4,000 yards wide. Another gap in the floods about 1,000 yards wide existed further east by the Strada dell Pioppi and, in that area, 56th Division were smashing their way through against stubborn resistance.
The country, itself, was cut up by irrigation ditches and cultivation until it suddenly became very open beyond the Fossa Marina.
Most elaborate minefield had been laid to the south of the Fossa Marina. 11 Brigade had the ‘Flails’ to assist them in their advance up to the Fossa Marina. In the later stages, they tried to use them in the dark and the chains got hung up in trees. There was a great dearth of chains – why we should have run out of this rather obvious and inexpensive item of this rather expensive piece of equipment was difficult to understand. More were alleged to be on their way out from England by air.
The results at issue in this battle would be far reaching. If we were successful, all the enemy’s river defence lines up to the River Reno would be turned, his rear and left flanks would be exposed and the way to the Po would be open for us. It was not surprising, therefore, that a hard battle lay ahead; perhaps the most important battle of the campaign. The Germans were rushing their reserve 29th Panzer Grenadier Division down from the north to back up what was left of the now battered 42nd Jager Division and 362nd Infantry Division.
The original plan, which catered for the Lancashire Fusiliers crossing the Fossa Marina during the night, in order to give us a flying start at first light, was found to be so difficult that they were unable to carry it out during that night. Our start, therefore, had to be delayed for several hours while the bridgehead was formed and an ‘Ark’ put into position. Our forming up was considerably complicated by the fact that it had to be done in the middle of a German minefield. Fortunately, we had a trace of these minefields and their markings of its boundaries were still mostly in position. The usual bridge trouble was very much in evidence and so we were very slow in getting things across.
After the Faughs had got two companies across and had started off on their axis, I gave the Skins permission to start their crossing in order to get the attack going on a two battalion front. It was no place to hang about waiting for people. Even so, it was about midday before the leading companies of the Skins were across. Both battalions were very soon involved in hard fighting and were engaged by tanks, both large and medium and Self Propelled guns. The open nature of the country in place rather played into the enemy’s hands and it was unavoidable that we incurred a certain number of both tank and infantry casualties. By 3 o’clock, the Skins had reported forty two prisoners and one Tiger knocked out.
Our artillery was first class in all these contacts. The FOOs were excellent in their immediate response to stonks, which were called for. Throughout these battles, we were using the air photographs with the ‘Uncle’ targets marked on them, which had always proved so invaluable in the past.
By the evening, our advance did not represent much more than 1,000 yards all round, but we were beginning to achieve our object. The Skins were getting round beyond Argenta and were firmly established astride the railway and the Faughs were practically established up to the Scolo Cantonacci. In the afternoon, Brigade Headquarters moved up to Olmo, 2000 yards east of Argenta. So far, we had captured twenty Officers and one hundred and forty Other Ranks. Our advance did not look much on the map but it was one of the toughest day’s fighting we had had and probably one of the most important. A gap had been opened to the right of Argenta and 36 Brigade passed through that gap during the night. Some of them had started to move up before it got dark and I remember David Shay calling us up on the blower and asking how anyone could expect him to fight his battle when all sorts of other people were swarming past between his Headquarters and his troops. I endeavoured to assure him that it was a “good thing”. He said no doubt it was, but he would rather have his own battlefield to himself.
It was a “good thing” too. The Division was taking a big chance pushing its nose right out like that before the Argenta battle had settled. But more was to follow.
At dawn, the ‘Kangaroo Army’ passed through.
On the 18th, the Argylls had got to Consandolo and the West Kents to Boccaleone while the ‘Kangaroo Army’ moved on their right flank and reached the Fossa Sabbioossola to the north of Consandalo by the evening of the same day. However, more of that later.
We all expected a counter attack during the night of the 18th/19th but it did not materialise and, apart from spasmodic shelling and collecting up odd parties of Bosche that tried to get out of Argenta, the night was uneventful.
At first light the next morning, we started off again. By midday, the Skins had reached Route 16 and cleared the area behind them. Argenta was now definitely cut off. D Company, who played the main part in this operation, took sixty six prisoners, killed more than that number and knocked out a Tiger. The Faughs were pushing forward on their front as well but the opposition was a good deal less and anything that still remained there was definitely cut off.
The real focus of attention, from my point of view, at this time was the Skins’ battle to complete the encirclement of Argenta. Beyond Route 16, there were two enormous floodbanks with the Reno beyond them and beyond the Reno was a very strong party of Germans. On the west side of the Reno, moving up from the south west, was the Commando Brigade. They had had a very sticky time and suffered a considerable number of casualties. Any attempt by them to close with the Bosche met with most unfortunate results. By the evening, it became clear what all this was in aid of. The Bosche were holding the corner of the Reno very strongly – evidently with the idea of a counter attack. Now a successful counter attack delivered from here would have had the most dire results, as the bulk of the Division had pushed well on to the north west and the Germans would have landed us in our gun lines and other such places, where counter attacks are not supposed to take place.
Next morning, 6th Armoured Division were supposed to be passing through too. Unless this very difficult corner could be eliminated with certainty before morning, things were going to look a bit awkward. Unless we could really get this gap properly opened, 5 Corps would not be able to be able to fan out and surge forward in the manner which was essential if a real victory was to be obtained.
The Skins cleaned up to the floodbank with the aid of ‘Crocodiles’ by 1700 hrs but they did not have much time to consolidate their objectives for, almost immediately, a counter attack by about 300 Bosche, supported by a Tiger on the west of the floodbank, was delivered. The object of these forces, it later transpired, was an attack on Argenta to re-close the Gap. We found that a Bosche Divisional Commander was directing operations there himself and he had collected three battalions in this area for the purpose of achieving his object. This first sortie of the Bosche’s got such a smack that the General evidently changed his mind but we did not know that at the time. One platoon of Skins succeeded in getting to the west of the floodbank and found itself in an extremely difficult position there. The Bosche was vastly superior in numbers and the platoon was faced with running out of ammunition, so they withdrew to the floodbank in good order where they took up positions from where they could hit back more effectively. With this platoon out of the way, the artillery had a clear field and they did considerable destruction to any Bosche who were caught in the open.
A lot of ammunition had been used during the continuous fighting that had been going on all day and the Skins’ Bren carriers did excellent work in running consignments up to their companies. By dark, however, the position was still not in hand. We had three forces opposing the Germans in this corner of the Reno. The West Kents at Boccaleone, the Skins on the floodbank north west of Agenta and the Commandos, west of the Reno and south of Argenta, I felt it was essential to coordinate an assault by these three forces in order to make quite certain that 6th Armoured Division would get a free run through in the morning.
About 10pm, I was given authority to do this. The Commandos were to attack under a heavy artillery programme at midnight and the Skins and the West Kents were to do a converging attack at 130am. They could not start before, on account of the Commando’s artillery programme. I had had a guarantee that the Commando’s artillery programme would not include any shelling east or north of the Reno. Unfortunately, something went wrong in the works over this and the Skins had several unfortunate casualties. The great thing was, however, that all the Bosche were cleared out. The Argenta Gap was now fully opened and 6th Armoured Division could get cracking.
Our two battalions had taken prisoner three officers and one hundred and forty two other ranks and captured a fine assortment of equipment. The Faughs had collected a couple of Mark IV tanks with which they amused themselves for the next two or three days. That evening, I ordered the Faughs to push on at first light the next day to the Fossa Sabbiossola on their front and make sure that the Bosche in that area had been cleared up. This was done without much opposition. I told the Skins to stay where they were the next day and wave 6 Armoured Division through.
I must now return to giving you the London Irish Account of the ‘Kangaroo’ Army during this period.
“At first light on the 18th, the force moved forward into battle. This was an unforgettable move. Through the orchards north of Argenta, in the narrow gap between lake and canal, moved a mass of armour, all passing over one bridge that had been constructed over the main water obstacle. Wrecked vehicles, equipment and enemy dead strewed the route, whilst machine gun fire from a position in Argenta, already surrounded, cracked away on the left flank.
The usual difficulty was experienced in breaking through our own FDLs but, by 1000 hrs, we were in the open and the tanks were engaging SPs and Mk IVs. A ‘Kangaroo’ was hit by an AP shot and some trouble was experienced from Boccaleone and Consandalo on the left, neither of which had been captured but the weight of armour and mobile Infantry was beginning to make itself felt and the advance continued with prisoners streaming in.
At about 1700 hrs, the tanks, which had been trying to solve the jig saw puzzle of finding a way across the maze of ditches, discovered an intact crossing of the Fossa Benvignante and very soon they and the infantry were over and investing the area which lay between this and the next obstacle. As it was now late in the evening, this took the enemy completely by surprise and an Officers Mess, a battery of 15 cm guns, a battery of 88 mm guns and numerous smaller AA and A/Tk pieces together with approximately 200 prisoners were overrun. This, all in spite of the enemy’s attempts to hold us by close range firing over open sights. By the light of numerous burning houses and, with a sense of complete victory, the battalion moved to its final area for the night in the vicinity of Palazzo and Coltra, having already three intact bridges over the next canal in its hands.”
On the 19th, the Bays left us again to go off with 11 Brigade. They were not getting much rest these poor fellows. The ‘Kangaroo Army’ was paying a great dividend but it produced one considerable disadvantage in that it left only two armoured regiments to fight with three infantry brigades as 9 Lancers were always tied up with the London Irish. The General did his best to hang on to 48 Royal Tank Regiment and, if he had succeeded in this, the continual swapping of armour would not have arisen. Changing armour in a battle is always a tricky thing – especially when you have got to know one particular lot. It was difficult for people to realise why all this chopping and changing of armour was going on but, if we couldn’t get a fourth regiment of tanks, there was no other course open – that is, if we wanted to make the best use of the ‘Kangaroos’.
It was a day of rest for the Brigade and well earned rest too! Looking back on it, I still believe that the battle of the Argenta Gap was the turning point of the whole campaign and it was our two battalions that bore the brunt of it. If the Skins had failed to achieve all they did, it might have altered the whole course of the operation.
During the Argenta Gap battle, the Skins and Faughs took three hundred and four prisoners and the London Irish and 9th Lancers over two hundred besides a considerable amount of equipment, which all three battalions captured.
The Advance to the Po di Volano.
The 20th started as a day of rest but, at 4pm, we got a message that we were to pass through 11 Brigade that night and form a bridgehead over the San Nicolo canal. Short of this canal and running between San Nicolo Ferrarese and Portomaggiore were the twin canals of the Scolo Bolognese and Fossa Porto.
The London Irish, with two companies, had tried to bounce bridges over these canals in the early hours of the 19th but they were all found to be blown. They established positions on the near bank and were joined by their armour at first light. At 11 o’clock, another company of the London Irish were ordered to go to the assistance of 56 Recce in clearing the Germans out of Portomaggiore. During all these minor operations, prisoners were continually being taken in groups of ten or fifteen. At 1430 hours, G Company, to a considerable accompaniment of smoke, high explosive and flame throwing weapons, forced a bridgehead over the Scolo Bolognese. H Company, on their right, followed suit and, as soon as G Company’s bridgehead was established, H Company cleared the village of Porto Rotta.
The success of these operations led to the decision that the main Divisional axis was to pass through Porto Rottta and the London Irish were, therefore, ordered to enlarge their bridgehead. This was done at 2200 hrs that evening with the support of the Divisional artillery. By 2300 hours, they had captured all their objectives. Under mortar fire, the REs bulldozed a crossing place over the twin canals; and, by 0200 hrs on the morning of the 20th, 11 Brigade had begun to pass through in a north westerly direction. It had been hoped that 11 Brigade would reach the San Nicole canal and possibly make a bridgehead.
Unfortunately, this did not materialise and so it was, that in the late evening, it was decided that the Irish Brigade was to establish a bridgehead that night and continue the advance on the 21st.
Our Brigade was some miles in the rear at this time, not having moved since the Battle of the Argenta Gap. It would take two or three hours on the congested dirt track to get to anything approaching an assembly area. The chances of being able to carry out any reconnaissance were nil. I went off to 11 Brigade to get the form and, after discussing the project with the General, gave out orders to a hastily assembled ‘O’ Group from the side of my Dingo. It was getting almost too dark to read the maps. The 10th Hussars were to be our supporting tanks as the Bays were heavily involved. This added a further delay and complication. Gombi had been chosen off the map as an assembly area and, to that place, I had directed everyone before leaving Brigade Headquarters. This assembly area proved to be 4,000 yards in the rear of our start line. Working out problems of time and space, it seemed to me that we would do extremely well if we were ready to cross our start line by 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning – which would leave little enough time for the REs to bridge the San Nicole canal before first light. The country was pretty open. The more we could do under cover of darkness, the better for all concerned. We had tasted that type of country before, north of Argenta.
The object of our operation was to form a deep bridgehead over this canal and advance as far north west as we could. The plan was to form up behind 11 Brigade’s forward elements and cross the canal between the railway and the Fossa di Porto about 2,000 yards east of San Nicolo Ferrarese. The Skins were to be on the right, the Faughs on the left. As 11 Brigade had been held up by considerable infantry opposition, I laid on a barrage to cover the front of the assault. The start line and coordinates for the barrage were fixed but the timing was to be left until COs had completed their plans and get in touch with the forward troops from 11 Brigade. It would be impossible to arrive at the right answer until this had been done. ‘Z’ hour was later fixed for 0130 hours. The 5 Northamptons and 11 Brigade were to get to the canal and protect our right flank and 36 Brigade were to conform with our advance on the left.
It was an achievement of the highest order on the part of both the Skins and the Faughs that they were in a position to launch this attack by 0130 hours. The General had told me that he considered it was about the highest test in the military art that he had yet asked us to undertake. It was a test in which both battalions once again proved their ability. Everyone who has handled a battalion in these circumstances knows only too well the number of things that can go wrong unless the CO and his team foresee the possibilities for a muddle accurately and forestall them. It reflected the greatest credit on everyone concerned in handling those battalions.
Both battalions advanced quickly behind the barrage and each had two companies across within an hour. Opposition on our side of the canal was lighter than we had been led to expect – the barrage must have done some good work.
It was most unfortunate that one medium gun in the barrage was firing short and several times fell in the middle of C Company of the Skins, who had to choose between losing the barrage altogether or keeping up with it and enduring the inevitable casualties. They kept up with it – but at a price. Johnny Duane, the Company Commander and Mike Murray were wounded and a number of other casualties inflicted. The CSM took command of the remainder of the company but, by the time they had reached the canal, they were too reduced to be effective for the next phase.
Johnny Duane was a most unfortunate loss. His cheerfulness over long periods of time had been a never failing source of inspiration to his company, who very rightly thought the world of him. He is now at home trying to recover the use of his fingers after having had his hand nearly severed at the wrist. Mike Murray is now back again, not much the worse.
These barrage incidents are always far more upsetting to people’s morale than a higher number of casualties inflicted by the enemy and, in view of what happened the next day, must give the greatest credit to those fellows for the magnificent way they kept the fight up. It is a little hard for the chaps, who are suffering a “short” gun to realise it but, unfortunately, it is practically impossible to do anything to help them over an effort in a barrage now it has started. The only answer is to try and stop the whole thing, which would usually be far worse in the final count.
The troops were able to cross over the remains of blown bridges more or less dry shod and, by 0500 hours, both battalions were firm with a bridgehead about 800 yards deep and the REs were bulldozing a tank crossing. This crossing eventually took wheels as well. We had taken about thirty prisoners from 26th Panzer Division. It was the first time that we had met this Division, hurriedly brought across from the south west, who hoped, together with 98th Division, to stem the serious thrust that was now developing against the Germans.
It was unquestionably the time to take risks. Open flanks and things of that kind were just too bad. The point was that a deep penetration was far more upsetting to the Germans at this phase than the open flank was to us. They were already too disorganised to profit by such things.
The ‘Kangaroo Army’ was to pass through our bridgehead as soon as possible and strike in a north easterly direction. In order to do this, we would have to extend our bridgehead towards the north east. The ground was unpleasantly open for this sort of thing and there was a very considerable amount of stuff flying about. It meant that the Skins would have to swing north east and gain control of, at least, two crossings over the Condetta Motto and the Faughs would have to push forward a bit further and cover our left flank.
By 630 am, the first of our tanks was over and the Skins and been encouraged by finding a German Officer still in bed. The Bosche defensive fire on all likely crossing places in this area was extremely good. The Skins had lost fifteen men at one Company crossing place alone. Soon after starting in their new direction, the Skins lost two tanks from SP guns and the shelling and mortaring was increasing, while the cover was almost negligible. However, smoke was a great help. The Skins’ B Company, once it got started, never stopped till it reached its objective, which was far the best way of dealing with the situation. D Company, on their left, was having a more difficult time, receiving the full attention of the Bosche, who had occupied all the houses on the route to their objective. A Company joined them and held a firm base, while D Company got under way again and, once started, they, like B Company, went bald headed for their objective.
By midday, I was in a position to give the OK to the ‘Kangaroo Army’ and very glad I was to be able to get this strong force through this hotly contested battlefield. It appeared that we had defeated most of the Bosche on the ground but the battalions were suffering a good deal from well observed shelling. Out on each flank, observing both the battalions, were high towers in village and the situation would not alter until we could overrun the Bosche OPs so the sooner that was done, the better. The Indian Division was coming up on the left of the Faughs but it would take some time before they would really ease the Faughs’ situation; in the meanwhile, they had to keep a close watch on their left flank and be pretty careful how they moved about.
It was difficult to get the ‘Kangaroo Army’ quickly across the bridge and they had an unpleasant wait in an assembly area where the RMO, Rhys Evans, was wounded by a shell, which burst in a tree above his ‘Kangaroo’.
I include now the London Irish account of this phase:
“The force moved through the Inniskillings going due north over very open country to the west of Voghenza. As before, some difficulty was experienced in discovering the exact locations of our own FDLs.
Continual opposition was met from well sited SPs and tanks, often situated behind ground of farm buildings and the companies were called upon several times to de bus and mop up enemy bazooka men and Spandau posts. The RAF, as always, was putting in magnificent work, the “cab ranks” flushing or destroying several SPs and tanks ahead of the leading squadrons.
As evening approached, the resistance stiffened more and more. Fire from enemy tanks increased and F Company dealt with several pockets of enemy troops, some of whom were sited up trees. Some ‘Uncle’ targets were put down by our guns on points of resistance but the force was now rapidly running out of the supporting range of the artillery. A definite feeling that we were out on our own with no friendly troops on either flank became very noticeable. Reports of “lots of Krauts on our right” or “can see Ted transport moving out of range on the left” began to come in.
Light now began to fail. A quick conference was held and it was decided to carry on to the final objectives. These objectives were the bridge at Cona and Quartasena,
A most unorthodox battle followed. By the light of the moon and burning farmhouses, the tanks, escorted by E and F Companies, attacked Quartasena and Cona respectively. Both columns were soon involved in a most chaotic battle in which tracer flew in every direction.
Quartasena, the approaches to which were continually being mortared, contained three enemy tanks and several strong parties of bazooka men and machine gunners. After two of our tanks had been knocked out, the enemy withdrew and escaped in the darkness over the bridge. This bridge, our objective, was captured intact.
In Cona, an even more complex battle developed. The enemy had a 15 cm gun sited 100 yards over the bridge, firing with open sights back onto the bridge and down the village. It was backed up by the usual groups of machine gunners and bazooka men. At the second attempt, F Company rushed the bridge, having been nobly backed up by the tanks, who were having a most uncomfortable time nosing their war round in the dark. A firm bridgehead was captured and H Company was rushed up in their ‘Kangaroos’ to reinforce F Company. By 0100 hours on the 22nd, the situation at both bridges was satisfactory. Almost 60 PW were taken during the operation besides quite a few enemy killed. Several trucks and a 15 cm gun fell into our hands, while an enemy lorry laden with artillery ammunition was hit at short range, while trying to escape by one of our tanks.
By now, the battalion was extremely tired, at least half of it, having been on the go for over 72 hours. At 0600 hours on the 22nd, the Lancashire Fusiliers arrived up and relieved us. During that day, we all just slept.”
After the ‘Kangaroo Army’ had passed through, the situation on the Skins’ front eased at once. Their Tactical Headquarters, which had been with the forward companies since the battle started, was now to establish itself in some more suitable building, a little further back. The IO was accordingly despatched to look for one. He went back to an area some distance behind B Company, where a likely house could be seen. While crossing towards this farm, the IO was somewhat nonplussed by the antics of some British soldiers around some of the neighbouring buildings. Nearly 24 hours had passed since the Skins’ first crossing and so he decided that the first priority was a building where Battalion Headquarters could have a meal and a much needed clean up. He, therefore, continued on his way. When he got safely to the house, he noticed these British troops were advancing towards him under cover of a well laid smoke screen. They advanced in extended order, captured the house and promptly took him prisoner. In an immediate interrogation, the IO told these people, who I may say came from a flanking Brigade of our own Division, that this house was Battalion Headquarters of the Skins, who had been fighting all day in that area. This information was received with scorn, for those warriors claimed that they had just crossed the San Nicolo canal and, what was more, they were the first to do so. In reality, they were nearly the last unit in the Division to come over! This particular house, moreover, was their final objective. Even the IO’s identity card was eyed with considerable doubt. When an impasse appeared to have been reached the CO, David Shaw, fortunately turned up in a tank and told these veterans to go and look for some other objective. Enquiry showed that their attack had been a genuine one by a unit not quite in the picture and the whole thing was dismissed with a laugh.
After the ‘Kangaroo Army’ had launched itself, 36 Brigade advanced on an axis to the left of it, with 8th Argylls followed by 6th Royal West Kents. This force did a very fine advance up to the Po di Volano.
On 22nd April, 11 Brigade passed through the ‘Kangaroo Army’ to attack towards the Po di Volano at Fossalta and Baura.
We had a rest that day and the battalions had certainly earned it. It had been a very tough battle under a very difficult circumstances and everyone had done magnificently. I had a good look at that open ground that the Skins had advanced over in their turn north eastwards. It was perfectly foul!
We moved Brigade Headquarters to Voghiera ad the Skins brought their Battalion Headquarters there too. As I was driving back towards the village from visiting the Faughs, I heard an appalling rattle of musketry over my head and saw a Lightning shooting up the congested traffic approaching the village. Not content with that, he unleashed a couple of bombs at it. Divisional Headquarters’ transport was passing at that moment but luckily escaped unscathed though, when I appeared on the scene, there were one or two staff cars strewn about at odd angles when the drivers had very wisely made a quick move for a ditch.
On 23rd April, 11 Brigade succeeded in forcing a crossing over the Po di Volano and established a bridgehead, which enabled a bridge to be built about 500 yards south of Fossalta. 36 Brigade were warned to plan an assault crossing over the Po using swimming tanks, fantails etc.
At 0900 hrs, we were warned to be ready to go through 11 Brigade that night and carry out a final rush on the Po. At midday, we received definite orders for this. The Brigade was to move at 1700 hrs in TCVs to a suitable assembly area, south of the bridge. I went to Division at 1630 hrs to get the latest form and ordered an ‘O’ Group at my new Headquarters near the assembly area at 1800 hrs. Our objective was the Po. The enemy resistance was undoubtedly stiff and would probably become stiffer. He was defending the various canal barriers as much as possible in order to complete the withdrawal of the bulk of his forces and transport which lay east of Ferrara. If ever, it was necessary for the Bosche to stand and fight, it was now.
1 London Irish, with 56th Division, was now in Tamara and 11 Brigade were striking out towards Corlo and Baura. The plan was for the Skins to pass over first near Saletta and advance towards Zocca while the Faughs were to follow them, turn left and advance towards Ruina and the Po on their front. A Squadron of 10 Hussars was with each leading battalion and we had some assault REs to deal with the canals.
I had been giving out orders clustered round John O’Rourke’s big map outside the front door – one needed a big map these days to see all the country. When I had finished, we were inside and, shortly afterwards, there was a loud report outside, followed by others for the next ten minutes or so. When we looked out again, we found a shell splinter had gone slap through the map. It was just as well it had not arrived a quarter of an hour earlier. John was very distressed at the damage to his talc. Personally, I was more relieved that my skin was intact. It might have been the skin of several of us quite easily.
Bridge trouble was going on again but, by a bit of good luck, we had estimated the delays correctly and the Skins started to arrive at the bridge just after it was completed at about 2345 hours.
By 0245 hours, the Skins had reached Saletta and found it very much occupied, It was not captured until 0500 hours after a very still hand to hand fight. The enemy was fighting tooth and nail. About twenty of them were killed and four taken prisoner by the Skins. They then pushed on about 400 yards north of the village. The Faughs commenced to deploy on the left of the Skins about 0700 hours and began advancing up the road towards Ruina. The enemy resistance was increasing markedly and we were finally stuck on Canale Fossetta. The bridges were the main points of resistance where anti tank guns, self propelled guns of various types and a fair number of tanks were holding up all our attempts to push on or by-pass them. The enemy were bombed and strafed by aircraft and shelled continuously by everything we had throughout the afternoon but they still held on, keeping open the enemy’s escape route to the Po.
We moved Brigade Headquarters up to Tamara in the afternoon.
The ‘Kangaroo Army’ was again to be employed. They were to go up on the left of the Faughs across the Canale Fossetta and the Fossa Lavozzola, swing left and catch all the Krauts, who we anticipated were making for the main crossing place, which was on the Skins’ front towards Zocca and Guarda. The London Irish had crossed over the Po di Volano in their Kangaroos after the Faughs and wee in an assembly area west of Fossetta, ready to be used either in an infantry or ‘Kangaroo’ role.
By 11 o’clock in the morning, the General decided on the ‘Kangaroo’ role and 9 Lancers were called up to join them. Their operation was a complex one entailing a wheel of more than 90 degrees after they had started and getting over the various canal obstacles. It went very well but, for some reason or other, they turned westwards before crossing Fossa Lavozzola.
Here is their account:
“At 1330 hours, the ‘Kangaroo Army’ moved forward in two columns through the rest of the Irish Brigade in a movement designed to sweep the area between the River Po and the numerous canals running east from Ferrara and the Po immediately north of it. We moved forward through a maze of ditches and canals, the leading squadrons, aided it is true by air reports as to where bridges were or were not blown, doing a splendid job of work in finding a way through and, at the same time, keeping a sharp look out for the enemy.
By 1600 hours, opposition started to crop up and both G and E Companies did jobs of clearing enemy rear guards covered by our own tanks. Prisoners were now being taken in large numbers. At 1800 hours, reports came in over the air stating that enemy tanks could be seen in larger numbers than before. Between then and darkness, an exciting action was fought during which 7 Mark IVs were knocked out by 9 Lancers for the loss of only one of their own. The advance had gone so quickly that S Company carriers started to come under enemy AP fire from the right flank – a most undesirable situation.
As darkness fell, the tank action continued over a wide area, while the Companies in their conspicuous ‘Kangaroos’ tried their best to keep out of the armoured battle. Every farm from miles seemed to be burning and confusion seemed to reign. A decision to continue the advance by moonlight was again taken but, at 2200 hours, orders were received that the general direction of the advance was to be changed a full hundred degrees. We were now, when just short of our original objective, ordered to make straight for the Po at a point NE of Ferrara, where the Germans were reported to be evacuating their rearguards by pontoons.
A fire plan was laid on and, by 0130 hours, G and F Companies were feeling their way northwards with their respective tanks moving well behind. This complete change of direction during the hours of darkness was accomplished with very little difficulty in spite of the fact that we were still in contact with the enemy. As G and F Companies moved forward, the mass of armoured vehicles belonging to the combined armoured-infantry HW leaguered in a field only a mile or so north of Ferrara and waited for the two Company columns to report their progress. They met with only minor opposition and, by dawn, were on the banks of the Po in the midst of an extraordinary collection of abandoned and burning vehicles left behind by the enemy.
They included six more Mark IV tanks and a large number of lorries. Many Germans, who had either left it too late or could not swim, were rounded up.
Thus ended the fourth and longest advance made by the ‘Kangaroo Army’. The force settles down into billets in farms on its final battle field south of the Po and perhaps its final battlefield of the war.”
The ‘Kangaroo Army’ took about one hundred and fifty prisoners of war. Their exploits, of course, had a direct bearing on the situation in front of the rest of the Brigade. That night, there was to be an all out effort to get right up to the Po and finish the job. The advance was to continue at 0200 hours. By 0300 hours, B Company of the Skins had crossed the Canale Fossetta and, an hour later, C Company had reached the Fossa Lavezzola.
About this time, it was beginning to become evident that something had happened to the Bosche. We had no knowledge about our own troops on our right to help us but, whatever had happened, we could not afford to let up yet. This advance was continued as planned and the Skins captured the villages of Ro and Zocca without finding any Bosche in them. The Faughs reached Ruina at about 1000 hours and pushed on to the Po.
The next thing to do was a quick round up throughout the area. C Squadron, 56 Reconnaissance Regiment came under my command and I pushed them out on the right of the Skins. A real field day was had by all. Three officers and three hundred and ten other ranks, who had missed the last boat, were rounded up. The amount of equipment that was found strewn along the river bank was nobody’s business. There was mile after mile of wreckage and rubbish intermingled with thousands of horse. It was an unbelievable sight! No wonder our last battle had been such a stiff one with all that stuff at stake. He had enough guns there to blow us off the earth, to say nothing of all the tanks and other things there were.
Whatever else had happened, there seemed to be little room for doubt that 76 Panzer Corps had been well and truly defeated. This was evidently realised by their Commander, who had given himself up to 56th Division on our right on the previous day. The battle of Argenta Gap, he said, had been his downfall. Whatever was left of his Corps was in a completely useless state. The Brigade, alone, counting the ‘Kangaroo Force’ had passed back to Prisoner of War cages 22 officers and 2,099 Other Ranks since we started this campaign. Casualties inflicted had been far greater.
Leaflets were dropped to the remnants of the German 76 Panzer Corps.
“Divisional Commander, Officers, NCOs and Soldiers of 76 Panzer Corps.
Today, the 25th April 1945, Lt General Graf von Schwerin, accompanied by his ADCs. Lt Huss and Lt Reiners, surrendered to 27 Lancers.
Your General declared:
I know the situation. For German soldiers in Italy, it is hopeless. My Corps has had it. Under these circumstances, I cannot give further commands.
In full knowledge of the situation, I have chosen the only way open to a soldier, who had been honourably but decisively defeated.
It is now the duty of very officer, of every NCO and of every soldier bravely to look facts in the face and to realise that it is criminal to throw away more human lives.”