The Battle of Argenta.
On the morning of Sunday 15th April 1945, the Battalion moved to a concentration area at Castelleto, some 6,000 metres east of Bastia. Companies were warned to be ready for committal the following day and the men settled down to a day’s rest, some basking in the bright sunlight, others chasing guinea fowl in the hopes of an appetising supper. The Padre held a Church Service in a field close by at about 4 o’clock in the afternoon. At Battalion Headquarters, the Commanding Officer was unable to issue orders owing to the constant change of plan.
Finally, at 2250 hours, whilst orders were being issued to Company Commanders for an operation to take place on Monday 16th April, in support of the 1st Surreys, the Brigadier phoned up giving orders for an immediate advance to be made by the Battalion on Argenta, between the River Reno and the railway line in Portomaggiore, a frontage of about two miles: the Battalion was to capture Argenta, if possible, but was not to become involved and, if opposition became stiff, then close contact with the enemy was to be kept and advantage taken of any weakness that might develop.
Little information as to the enemy’s dispositions or to the disposition of the London Scottish about Bastia was available. It was known, however, that over about half of the 4,000 yards advance to Argenta, extensive minefields existed. The ground was flat, but covered with orchards vineyards and scattered trees with, on the left flank, the flood bank of the Reno rising 15 feet, affording ample cover for enemy snipers and MG posts. The ground could not be reconnoitred, but excellent aerial photographs were distributed down to company level.
Fresh orders were immediately issued, based on a simple plan – a controlled advance on a three company front by bounds.
The advance started about 0245 hours on Monday 16th April, the order of battle being – D Company right, moving along the railway line, B Company centre, A Company on the left on Route 16 and clearing the Reno floodbank and C Company in reserve.
A Company moved rapidly along the road and river bank for about 1.500 yards, where strong opposition was met on the edge of the main minefield and from beyond the Reno. When this opposition was finally overcome, A Company became the reserve Company, providing left flank protection.
B Company, in the centre, moved more slowly across open country and, just before dawn, after an advance of about 1,700 yards, came up against strong opposition covering the southern exits to the main minefield. Fortunately, at first, light tanks and ‘Flail’ tanks reached the Battalion and, though delayed by bridges breaking, managed to support B Company quickly. However, it was not until fighter bombers assisted that the opposition was finally cleared. B Company now pushed on up Route 16 towards Argenta. It was only possible to move on a very narrow front, on account of the thick minefields, which existed on each side of the road. It was an easy matter for the enemy to concentrate on the narrow northern exit of the minefield and B Company was unable to progress further than 100 yards from this exit as the ‘Flail’ tanks were withdrawn and could not clear mines to assist the company to manoeuvre
D Company on the right advanced slowly, meeting isolated opposition, until finally held at the south east outskirts of the town at about 1615 hours on Monday 16th April. C Company, in reserve, mopped up the area of the advance, capturing numerous prisoners. Tac HQ moved up to a more central position during the evening.
During the night 16th – 17th April, B Company kept the attention of the enemy drawn to the south, whilst D Company made efforts to enter the town from the east. These efforts were unsuccessful, the opposition, which was met, showing that the enemy was fully determined to contest the town.
The following morning, Tuesday 17th April, the enemy attempted to infiltrate into D Company’s area but were destroyed. This greatly improved the position. D Company was able to advance and capture the cemetery – a strategic point commanding the south east entrance of Argenta.