The Argylls on the Road to Ferrara – by a Platoon Commander.
After a few day’s rest at Consandolo, the Battalion moved off again. This time, the axis of advance was Route 16 and the final objective was an important crossroads dominating the main route to Ferrara. The general plan was for the battalion to push on as fast as possible and, whenever the leading company met opposition, it was to deal with it and the next company would bypass and take the lead. We had close support from Churchill Tanks.
The Battalion started off at 1730 hours on the 21st April, led by R Company, with X, B and Y following in that order. During the remaining hours of daylight, all companies came under heavy and accurate fire from Bosche SP guns. A shell landed a few yards from one of my corporals, who was carrying that unpopular burden, a PIAT, on his shoulder. The blast blew the corporal over and caused him to part company with his PIAT but he quickly picked himself up and merely vociferated his deeply felt objections to being sniped at with high velocity guns. Just before dark, R Company and then X Company took intermediate objectives they had been given and my company (B) passed through to attack a small village of rather scattered houses and farms.
About half a mile short of the village was a large house, which was to be tackled and had a large number of casualties. Despite this setback, they carried on and soon captured the house. At this point, Major Chris Burn, the Company Commander, ordered me to take my platoon (11) through and make for the village. Darkness had now fallen and we felt more comfortable as the shelling from the enemy had ceased owing to lack of observation. A strong fighting patrol from 11 Platoon moved into the village now and three prisoners were quickly taken from well entrenched and cleverly concealed positions just on the outskirts of the village. Information from these prisoners was to the effect that the enemy force holding the village had withdrawn during the afternoon leaving only a small rearguard to hold up our advance. This rearguard, however, had other ideas and were only too pleased to come out with their hands up and speak their only words of English. “I surrender”. These Bosche disposed of, the Patrol Commander reported the village clear of enemy and the rest of B Company moved in to consolidate and wait for Y Company to pass through. At this stage, my platoon HQ was established in a large cattle shed, which stank as only an Italian cattle shed can. The men, not on sentry, were relaxing, sitting about talking about the day’s work and things in general. They were in very good form. My signaller told me that he had come across a civilian in the shed and that, though he had spoken to him in his best Italian, he couldn’t make the civilians understand. This didn’t surprise me as he spoke with the broadest of Scots accents. However, we investigated and discovered that the so called civilian was a German soldier trying to make good his escape. We obtained some valuable information from him.
We now heard from Battalion HQ that Y Company had taken the next objective and X Company, followed by us were to move on again to the cross roads, which had been given as our final task. This proved very easy and X Company was soon consolidating round the crossroads. This meant that we were sitting astride the Ferrara lateral road. It was apparent that the Germans had no idea we were so far on. A Volkswagen, with three occupants, soon came down the road from Ferrara and was held up by Lt ‘Winnie’ Wainwright, our Pioneer Officer, who had insisted on transferring to the leading company each time a change in order of march was made.
Unfortunately for ‘Winnie’, while he was still holding and interrogating the prisoners, some of his men searched he car and removed all the loot. So well had the advance gone that the Battalion Commander ordered B Company to move on again through X Company along the road in the direction of Ferrara. This had to be done cautiously as we had no information about the enemy and they certainly didn’t know we were about. Deep ditches on either side of the road provided excellent cover for the advancing troops and we made good time for about half an hour without opposition. Then, for the second time, transport was heard coming from the direction of Ferrara. This time, there was definitely more than one vehicle and quick orders were given to 11 Platoon to prepare an ambush. All platoon weapons were quickly in position, including the PIAT, which the corporal had had blown off his shoulder earlier. When the leading vehicle of the three was only a few yards away, the signal was given and every man in the platoon opened up. The vehicles skidded to a standstill with a screeching of brakes and, in a few seconds, it was all over. Only one driver was still alive and, although he was badly wounded, he was only too keen to answer any questions put to him.
Just then, we were told to stop our advance and dig in – the final phase in every infantry battle. The men were tired but their morale was at its highest. We had had a long night advance with a fair amount of opposition: there had been casualties and very trying enemy shelling. But we had taken all objectives, seen prisoners come in and, above all, we were going forward fast. Everyone knew that the end was approaching at last. There would be no stopping us now.