Advance to the Po – 24th/25th April 1945.
The following is an account of the final action fought by the ‘Kangaroo’ Force, consisting of the 9th Lancers, with under command, the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles, carried in the ‘Kangaroos’ of A Squadron 4th Hussars, B Squadron 4th Hussars and E Battery 11 (HAC) RHA with SP 25 pounders. This force was used as the exploitation force for 78 Division during their advance from the River Santerno, through the Argenta Gap and up to the River Po.
At 1400 hours, 24th April, the ‘Kangaroo Force’, which was concentrated at Fossalta, was ordered to advance through the FDLs of the Infantry, who were held up on the general line of the Canale Naviglio and exploit westwards to Route 16 between Ferrara and the Po.
It was planned to move with two Squadron-Company groups up to start with and, later on when from the map and air photographs it appeared that the ditches allowed, to push up a third Squadron Group.
At 1415 hours, the Regimental Group, which consisted of 156 tracked vehicles and some 50 ‘A’ Echelon soft skinned vehicles moved off from the concentration area and, at 1500 hours, the two leading Squadrons began passing through the Infantry FDLS.
Almost immediately, both Squadrons reported that they were engaged with the enemy and being troubled by snipers, bazookas, Spandau fire and the odd SP gun.
For the first two and a half hours, the advance was extremely slow and Squadrons were only doing one thousand yards an hour. Once more, it was evident that we would have to fight in order to reach the objective. However, from now on, the advance proceeded apace and it was evident that the enemy crust was broken. Both Squadrons reported that they were pushing on fast but there were constant reports of AP shot coming from the front and both flanks. A Squadron, on the right, were picking up prisoners all the time and, once again, feeling embarrassed by the number. They eventually decided to leave one rifleman guarding over 50, including 3 Officers at a farmhouse and some of S Company were despatched to collect them.
B Squadron reported that they were running into more and more AP and then announced that they had knocked out one Mark IV and one SP 75 mm in the Boara area and a patrol from Recce Troop reported that the bridge over the Scolo Conca and Canale Bianco at P del Diavolo were intact. They had great difficulty in getting up to the second one owing to heavy stonking. On this information, B Squadron 4th Hussars and F Company were brought forward: they went past very quickly and got into positions between A and B Squadrons. From now on, we advanced three Squadrons up with RHQ behind B Squadron 9th Lancers and C Squadron and H Company bringing up the rear. There was only now one hour of daylight left and all squadrons reported that they were being engaged by AP shot from all directions – C Squadron, behind, reporting that AP was coming in to them from their right rear. The odd AP shot was also landing in RHQ.
B Squadron’s leading troops had now reached Malborghetto and reported three Mark IVs moving fast down the road northwards, 900 yards away. Shortly afterwards, they reported that two of them were brewing and the third had got away but was hit and had smoke coming out of its tail. The third one was afterwards found holed and abandoned about two hundred yards off the road with two of the crew dead. Sgt Edmunds had scored a right and a left with two shots right through the turrets and Cpl Nicholls had disposed of the third. A magnificent piece of shooting. Several of the crew were dead and Sgt Riley from his Recce Troop Honey had a good Browning shoot at the others bailing out. A Squadron, on the right, now reported that 3rd Troop had brewed two Mark IVs and that AP was coming at them fast and furiously from every direction and they were heavily engaged. B Squadron was also heavily engaged to their front and left front and there were two Mark IVs knocked out. For the last hour of daylight, both A and B Squadrons were very heavily engaged. Both Squadrons were pinned by AP fire and they were constantly reporting knocking out German tanks and SP guns. AP shot was flying in every direction.
Once more, the 9th Lancers were engaged in a major tank versus tank battle. At last light, both Squadrons were still pinned. B Squadron had knocked out seven Mark IVs and two SPs and A Squadron, three Mark IVs and two SPs. A Squadron had one tank holed through the turret, killing the gunner and slightly wounding the Troop Leader.
We were now ordered not to go on to our objectives but to concentrate where we were and be prepared to go off either north east to two crossings over the Po, where there were supposed to be pontoon bridges, possibly still intact, or to go south west to Ferrara and contact 8 Indian Division. Two slightly different roles. The Regiment was therefore ordered to concentrate in and north of Malborghetto. This was an extremely difficult operation for A Squadron and B Squadron to perform. Both squadrons were still pinned. Even though it was now night, there was a full moon and the whole countryside was lit up by burning farmhouses and Mark IV tanks. Any tank movement brought a hail of AP shot and our tanks, when they moved, were silhouetted against the burning farmhouses. However, by moving one tank at a time, all Squadrons managed to get concentrated by midnight and all sounds of battle had died down. At this time, A Squadron captured intact a Mark IV tank in a farm, 200 yards from their concentration area. The engine was still warm and it was doubtless one of the tanks which had been firing at them. Once again, the 9th Lancers group was sitting, surrounded by a ring of fire and destroyed German equipment.
We now got definite orders to proceed to the River Po at Francolino and Borgo, where it was suspected that the German positions were still in operation. It was now after midnight and this was a tall order as the Regiment had already advanced 10,000 yards against heavy opposition since 1500 hours and this entailed a further advance of 5,000 yards, retracing our steps part of the way.
There was no information about the enemy except what we knew ourselves. ie that there were still a considerable number of tanks and SP guns to our north and it was suspected we might meet heavy opposition. We ordered, therefore, a patrol forward to the two objectives with a platoon of infantry leading in each case backed up by a troop of tanks and the rest of the Squadron and Company backing them about 500 yards behind. A careful fire plan was laid on with the Divisional Artillery including Mediums covering the whole of both routes. This could be called on when required. At 0200 hours, A Squadron and C Company advanced north towards Francolino and B Squadron 4th Hussars and F Company north east towards Borgo. This advance proceeded smoothly, but slowly, with the infantry walking the whole way and, by first light, both companies were established on their objectives having met only light opposition on the way and having taken a number of prisoners. There was no sign of any pontoon at either place.
On checking up in the morning, we found the whole area between Ferrara and Francolino littered with German tanks, SP guns and equipment of all sorts. Apparently, 26th Panzers were taken completely by surprise by the arrival of the ‘Kangaroo Force’. They had started to withdraw in front of us and eventually decided to stand and fight but, after losing ten of their tanks by our accurate fire, the remaining crews became so demoralised that they deserved their tanks and vehicles and self destroyed them between 2000 hours and midnight. This was confirmed by the civilians on the spot.
Not since Alamein, have the 9th Lancers so beaten up a German Tank Regiment. Almost the entire tank strength of 26th Panzers must have been destroyed. Ten of their tanks were knocked out by our AP, the remainder became so frightened that the crews of two of them bailed out and gave themselves up and eleven bailed out and destroyed their own tanks.
During the day and night, we had advanced 15,000 yards; destroyed, captured or overrun much equipment.
This amounted to:
10 Mark IV tanks destroyed.
2 Mark IV tanks captured intact.
4 SP guns destroyed.
11 Mark IV tanks (found abandoned and destroyed by the enemy on the southern banks of the River Po at Francolino).
1 SP gun.
2 Large Mortars destroyed.
1 20 mm gun overrun.
230 prisoners taken (including 2 Officers including 1 MO).