Royal Artillery

The Breakout and Follow Through.

The divisional plan for 11 April was to get the Division concentrated by Brigade Groups in the vicinity of Lugo, ready for the break out. The appreciation for the divisional artillery was to get it into action so that its guns would cover the break out, individual regiments being deployed as adjacent to their own brigade ‘wedding area’ as possible.

Arrangements were made for regimental recce parties to meet the BMRA to the south east of Lugo shortly after first light. Movement and recce were restricted by cratered roads and mined areas. Recce parties of 138 found themselves in the area of a local infantry battle in the immediate west of Lugo, where a stubborn party of Bosche were holding out in the cemetery although the general line of contact was on the Santerno some 2.500 yards further west. This was the first of a number of occasions in this phase, when regimental recce parties, in an endeavour to get range in hand, carried out their work within small arms range of enemy rear parties.

An administrative problem, which presented itself at this stage, was ammunition supply. Of the 850 rpg dumped for the Senio assault battle, only some 600 rpg had been fired. The under expenditure was due to the speed of the advance; no repetitions had been called for and the forecasted barrage towards the Santerno on the morning of 10 April, being no longer required, had been cancelled. There were, however, great advantages in starting off a break out battle with ammunition on the ground well forward and it was decided to place on regiments the primary responsibility of collecting their own dumped ammunition and ferrying them forward. The decision entailed much hard work and very long hours by regimental ammunition echelons but the effort enabled the Divisional RASC to build up well forward the next Forward Ammunition Point.

The afternoon and evening of the 11th was spent on planning and re-planning but it was not yet the moment for the Division to go into action. Meanwhile, Main Division and HQRA had moved to, and were established in Lugo. It was not an ideal place as the screening effect of the high buildings made wireless communications difficult and the many street crossings made safe line laying a very slow and laborious business. Further, as was almost to be expected, the town received during the night 11th/12th a certain amount of harassing fire, one 15cm shell bursting in the HQRA officers’ mess at 0345 hours on the 12th. It not only cut all lines between the exchange and the offices, but destroyed a prized NAAFI spirit ration, drawn only the previous afternoon.

Eventually on the afternoon of the 12th, the attack of 78th Division was launched, a two regimental lane barrage, with additional regiments and some medium artillery superimposed, being laid on to carry 36 Brigade through and beyond the Indian bridgehead. This fire plan, simple in form, went anything but smoothly. In the first place, delays in the move of the armour to the assembly area resulted in more than one change in the time of zero and, secondly, faulty information as to the position of the troops of the Indian Infantry Brigade on the left of the one through which 38 Brigade were to pass, led unfortunately to some shells on the extreme left of the barrage falling amongst the right forward troops of the left brigade. However, progress after this sticky start was good.

From the break out onwards, the pace was so hot, the (inevitable) changes in plan so numerous and the closeness of the final decision on top of the time to take action, that paper practically ceased to issue from HQRA telephone lines being correspondingly hotter and the air a good deal fuller. Much that was done in this period stood or fell by the efficiency of the line layout and, as the lines stood up to the strain, nothing failed.

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