Operations of ‘A’ Squadron with 1 RIrF over the River Santerno.
This account describes the concentration of ‘A’ Squadron with the 1 RIrF in the Santerno bridgehead on the afternoon of 12th April and their joint advance northwards on the following morning.
On the afternoon of April 12th, the bridgehead over the Santerno in the area of Mondaniga was firm and ‘A’ Squadron was ordered to cross the river in order to exploit the success with 1 RIrF the next day. They were to be on the left of a northward advance by 38 (Irish) Brigade, while ‘B’ Squadron and another Battalion were to be on the right. ‘A’ Squadron arrived in the bridgehead approximately an hour before dark and, when the infantry arrived, formed up with their respective companies.
After dark, a report was received from 38 Brigade that the Germans were withdrawing and 1 RIrF was ordered to follow up during the night. Accordingly, ‘C’ Company on the right and ‘A’ Company on the left began the advance in the early hours of the morning on either side of the road running north from Mondaniga. It was arranged that the two leading troops should start in time to overtake the Companies by first light. The tanks used the road and, as it was getting light, reached the road junction 1,500 yards to the north. Thence, 2 Troop proceeded towards the north west, but 3 Troop took the turning to the right and continued north east.
After another mile, 2 Troop reached the point where the road crosses the Scolo Fossatone. The bridge had been blown and, since the ditch was wide, deep and full of water, there was no hope of tanks crossing until bridging equipment had been brought forward. One platoon of ‘A’ Company was engaging a party of Germans beyond the ditch, but the Troop could do nothing to help them so the Troop Leader advanced north east parallel with the ditch until he approached the next track, a thousand yards ahead. There, he was met by small arms fire from a group of houses by the track. He engaged these and, at the same time, asked on the Squadron net for some infantry to come and clear the houses. This was arranged with the Battalion Commander and, consequently, a platoon of ‘A’ Company arrived and 6 prisoners were captured, but snipers were still firing from the cover afforded by the west bank of the ditch. The Troop Leader burst a shell from his 76 mm gun on top of the bank, which stopped the rifle fire and a patrol, which crossed shortly afterwards, discovered three German dead. It was then 0900 hours and, as ’B’ Company was preparing to pass through ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies, the Troop Leader walked over to the fresh Company Commander.
After parting from 2 Troop, 3 Troop moved up to a house 1,000 yards to the north, where ‘B’ Company were relieving ‘C’ Company.
At 0930 hours, the Troop Leaders left Company HQ to return to their tanks, having arranged to continue the advance in 15 minutes time. At 0945 hours, the Troop Sergeant of 2 Troop began to move forward along the line of the ditch, with an infantry platoon following about 30 yards behind. They had only gone about a quarter of a mile, however, when they encountered LMG fire from some buildings called Arginello on their right flank. The platoon took cover, while the troop sergeant began to engage and the troop leader, who had been supporting from the last group of houses, came forward alongside the leading tank and shot up Arginello with both small arms fire and HE until several buildings and a haystack had been set alight and a number of Germans had been seen running away. Then the Troop Leader advanced to within 50 yards of Fiume Nuova, lying on the next lateral track northwards. There were signs of movement in the hamlet so the leading tanks sprayed it with MG fire until the platoon came up and cleared the houses. Three prisoners were collected and the inhabitants reported that a further fifty Germans had left only a few minutes beforehand.
In the meantime, 3 Troop on the right supported the infantry up to the line of the same lateral road. By 1130, the infantry were ready to start on the next bound and supported by 2 and 3 Troops worked up the east bank of the Scolo Fossatone.
4 Troop was in reserve at the beginning of the day but, before long, it was ordered to support ‘D’ Company, which was to advance on the west side of the ditch. But before the tanks could cross, an ‘Ark’ bridge had to put in and, for that to happen, considerable work by a bulldozer was necessary.
‘D’ Company, therefore, had to go on ahead alone. It did this at 0930 hours and the time was 1015 before the crossing was completed. Just as the bulldozer was pulling away, it was fired on by a tank or SP gun from the direction of Conselice, which the Germans defended stubbornly for most of the day. The Troop leader appreciated that he could not cross except under cover of smoke, so it was arranged that the 2nd Captain’s 105 mm tank, should build up a screen for 4 Troop. This manoeuvre was accomplished successfully and, once across, the troop leader found himself again under cover of thick vineyards. After a short search, he found the Company Commander, who had encountered no serious difficulties in his absence. Before long, ‘C’ Squadron passed through and began a rapid sweep up the left flank between the ditch and the railway.
By the middle of the afternoon, the day’s advance amounted to some seven thousand yards. This had been achieved with extremely few casualties to the infantry and without the loss of a single tank. Yet, there had been plenty of enemy machine guns, which might have troubled the infantry and bazooka men, who could have hampered the tanks. The successful advance, accompanied by the capture of about 100 prisoners was due to excellent cooperation between infantry and tanks, by which each arm eliminated the potential sources of danger to its partner.