The progress of the main assault during the night of 9th April caused the enemy to withdraw from his positions on the Division’s front by dawn on the 10th. When this was discovered, 11 Brigade at once crossed the river and occupied the western bank. By 0940 hours, one company of 1 East Surreys reached Cotignola without trouble and here contact was made with 27 New Zealand Battalion, which had entered the village from the west. Soon afterwards, the New Zealanders moved on and, at 1020 hours, 11 Brigade was ordered to make firm the general area of the village. At the same time, arrangements were made for necessary vehicles and, in particular, anti tank guns, to be passed over a bridge in the New Zealanders’ sector and to join 11 Brigade’s troops in Cotignola.
While these operations were in progress and the flanking divisions were pushing rapidly on, the Divisional Engineers were hard at work. As soon as 11 Brigade had crossed the river and occupied the far bank, a sapper recce party had gone forward and made a search for a suitable bridging place. By 1100 hours, a site was chosen and work began at once.
At this time, all indications pointed to a speedy sweep forward by the Indians and New Zealanders and it was thought that the Division might be called upon to move up any time. Once the two leading formations linked up to the west of the little town of Lugo, there would be nothing, except the problems of movement, to prevent the Division from concentrating between the Senio and the Santerno. That this should be done as soon as possible was vital to the maintenance of momentum in the whole offensive.
In preparation for this expected move, a preliminary concentration of the Division was effected during the day in the wake of 11 Brigade’s movements.
36 and 38 Brigades moved, during the early part of the day, to areas south and east of Bagnacavallo and those units off 11 Brigade, which were not engaged in occupation of ground to the west of the river concentrated in the Brigade’s original sector.
2 Armoured Brigade remained in area further to the north east.
The Divisional Artillery moved forward during the morning to positions just short of the Senio, the better thus to support the New Zealanders.
By midday, much “teeing up” has been done: the ‘Wasps’ and heavy mortar platoons, which had been lent to the flanks, had been returned to their parent units; an officer from the ‘Flail’ Squadron of 51 RTR had visited Divisional Headquarters during the morning and made arrangements to link his squadron to the Division, when across the river: in the north, 5 Northamptons were beginning to concentrate in preparation for rejoining 11 Brigade; in every quarter, planning and reconnaissance were in progress and all awaited the signal to move.
In the afternoon, the Divisional Commander attended a conference held by the Corps Commander and returned to hold his own at the headquarters of 11 Brigade. The plan had been somewhat changed. Originally, it had been the intention that 38 (Irish) Brigade should be passed over the Santerno river into the bridgehead of either the New Zealand or Indian Divisions and that it should move north along the eastern bank of the Santerno, providing protection to the right flank of the Irish Brigade and directing itself on the bridges over the Reno, south of Bastia.
As result of developments which were taking place in the advance of the 8th Indian Division, this plan was altered. The armour of 21 Tank Brigade, under command of the Indian Division, was to penetrate deep into the enemy’s territory between the Senio and Santerno during the night of April 10th and it was anticipated that the right flank operation, which was to have been the role of 36 Brigade, would be largely unnecessary. Accordingly, the Divisional Commander decided to pass 36 Brigade foremost into the Santerno bridgehead and to employ it as an offensive force to operate on the left flank of the Irish Brigade. It was certain by this time that the effort of the Corps would be directed northward, in a push aimed directly at Argenta, the hinge of the enemy’s line of defence.
As a necessary preliminary to these future operations, the Division was to be concentrated between the Santerno and Senio in an area where a successful “marriage” of infantry and armour could take place. Great care had been taken in the planning stage that there should be no hitches in this “marriage”. Provisional areas near Lugo, which had been nicknamed “Wedding areas”, had been allotted to each of the two forward brigades. Here, infantry and armour were to form up in their battle order, with assault engineer troops and every supporting element. Thither, they were to come from their non operational concentrations east of the Senio and, thence, they were to depart, in battle array, to cross into the Santerno bridgehead and break out into the enemy’s deeper defence.
By the evening on the 10th April, the leading divisions had made strides between the two rivers and had passed the town of Lugo. Orders were received at Divisional headquarters to move across the Senio early on 11th April and be ready for a move forward from the “Wedding areas” on the same afternoon – a formidable movement problem. Therefore, it was planned that the bulk of the transport should be passed over the Senio bridges in the Indian Division’s sector, while fullest possible use was to be made of the bridge, which was being constructed by the Division’s own engineers near Cotignola.
At 1900 hours on 10th April, the CRE reported that this bridge would be capable of passing traffic from 2030 hours onwards in case of emergency, but that it would not be completed to the best advantage until midnight. It was estimated that its capacity would be limited to 150 vehicles per hour, due to difficult approaches. The bridge was to be known as “Felix”.
Later in the evening, plans were changed in detail and it was decided that tanks would be passed across a bridge in the New Zealand Division’s sector, whilst those wheeled vehicles, which could not be sent over “Felix” bridge would make use of one being built by 5th Corps Engineers on the main road from Bagnacavallo to Lugo.
From Brigadier Pat Scott’s narrative:
The Last Objective – The Santerno Bridgehead.
“On the morning of the 10th, I held a final conference at Brigade Headquarters in Forli to go through the plan that appeared to be the most likely one for us to embark on. The grouping was designed to be appropriate to any variety of the plan that might be dictated by future events. The Brigade Group that we handled during the Santerno Bridgehead phase was about the size of an Armoured Division. In addition to our battalions, our armour included the 2nd Armoured Brigade (less the 10th Hussars), 4th Hussars, B Squadron 51 Royal Tank Regiment (‘Flails’), C Squadron 51 Royal Tank Regiment (‘Crocodiles’), an armoured assault troop RE, a donor troop RE. The artillery under command was the 17th Field Regiment, 11 RHA, 2 Troop 209 Self Propelled Battery, 254 Anti Tank Battery and the support of as much of the remainder of the Divisional artillery as we could use, which included a medium regiment. In addition, of course, we had our 214 Field Company RE, 152 Field Ambulance and D Support Group.
The object of our operation was to pas through the 8th Indian Division’s bridgehead over the Santerno, about Mondaniga, swing north between the west bank of the Santerno and the Scalo Fossatone and capture the bridge over the River Reno near Bastia, an advance of about 12,000 yards. Obviously this was too deep an attack to carry through with the same units landing as there was no reason to suppose that the Germans would not contest every yard of the way from their well prepared positions. I, therefore, had three elements to undertake the task – a breaking out force, a mobile force to follow through and the reserve force for special roles. This mobile force was entirely mounted on trucked vehicles and should be able to maintain a uniform speed of cross country performance throughout all its units and sub units. The object of the mobile force, under command of Brigadier John Coombe, was to be ready to pass through the breaking out force as soon as that force had either shot its bolt or the going appeared to be favourable for the armour. I hoped to be able to pass this force through as soon as the breaking out force had cleared up to the bottle neck at Giovecca. We hoped that the speed of the final advance, might bounce the River Reno bridge, which was our objective.
In detail, the grouping was as follows:
The Break Out Force.
1 RIrF. 2 Innisks.
A Squadron Bays. B Squadron Bays
D Support Group MMG Platoon. C Squadron 51 RTR (Crocodiles).
Scissors Bridge Bulldozer Troop RE.
D Support Group MMG Platoon.
Reconnaissance Party RE.
Artillery in Immediate Support.
17 Field Regiment RA.
The Mobile Force (Kangaroo Army).
Headquarters 2 Armoured Brigade.
4 Hussars (Kangaroos).
Z Troop 209 SP Battery.
Assault Detachment RE
Reserves for Special Roles.
C Squadron, Bays.
254 Anti Tank Battery.
SP Troop 254 Anti Tank Battery.
Armoured Troop RE.
D Support Group, Mortar Platoon.
214 Field Company RE.
152 Field Ambulance.
At 1300 hrs on the 10th, we left Forli and concentrated, less the armour, south of Bagnacavello. Our teeing up was really being done in two stages. We had two assembly areas east of the Senio – one for infantry and one for armour and we had a marrying up area near Lugo on the west of the Senio. It was necessary to assemble fairly near the Senio in order that we might start making use of the bridges as soon as they were ready. If possible, infantry and tanks should never cross an obstacle in the same place and so there was no object in bringing them together until they had got across the river by their different routes. We got into our assembly area without incident and, in the light of the latest information, I issued verbal orders for the move to the wedding area east of the Senio where the tanks and infantry would join up to start at 6 o’clock the next morning.
This move went without incident and, slowly but surely, we gathered the bits and pieces that were to form our force, At 9 o’clock that evening, I held a coordinating conference in Lugo, checked over the plan and the tying up of all the Group and made provisional arrangements for the order of march forward. During this night, the 8th Indian Division were to form their bridgehead over the Santerno and to link up with the New Zealand Division, who had already got troops across in some places but whose bridgehead was not yet formed.
One of the characteristics of crossing rivers is the conflicting and often contradictory information that one receives over the state of bridges. One person says a bridge will be ready in two hours, then it is put back to six, then someone else says it was ready half an hour ago. The next thing that happens is that something falls in. We had learned that the only way to overcome this is by direct communication to our own representative at the bridge site. Even that does not overcome the human factor of incorrect estimates of time required to complete a job. The main point was that we were in a good position to get across the Santerno bridge as soon as it was ready. Apart from a few harmless shells that were scattered around Lugo, we suffered no discomforts.
War Diary entries for 10th April 1945.
1) Irish Brigade HQ.
The crossing of the Senio was successful. More opposition was met by 8 Indian Division, especially on the floodbank itself and they suffered fairly heavy casualties. 2 NZ Division met less opposition. The whole depth of the bridgehead is about 2,000 yards and along the line of the Canale Lugo.
0900 Brigade Commander holds a conference to discuss future role of the Brigade Group.
The following outline plan was made.
Once the bridgehead over the Santerno is made and enlarged by 8 Indian Division in the area Ca Di Lugo (3143). 38 Brigade Group will strike north to the west of the river to try and jump the bridge over the R Reno at 315565.
The attack to break out of the Indian Bridgehead will be done by 1 RIrF left, 2 Innisks right. A mobile force will be held in readiness to go through these two Bttns once they have reached the limit of their advance (probably the Scolo Conselice 313, 3253) and continue to the R Reno to force a quick bridgehead.
1300 Brigade Group commences to move to concentration area south of Bagnacavello.
Brigade HQ 389373, Rear Brigade HQ 434350, 2 Innisks 382353, 2 LIR 385374, 1 RIrF 392363.
‘D’ Support Group 378375, 17 Field Regiment 404316, 254 A/Tk Battery 369379.
152 Field Ambulance 387371, 2 Armoured Brigade 489373 (now under command 38 (Irish) Brigade.
Bays 402355, 9 Lancers 500360.
2000 Brigade Commander holds a conference for the Brigade Group. The outline orders for the move of the brigade to the “Wedding Area” area north of Lugo were issued and confirmation of previous plans. The situation on the front was satisfactory and going according to the plan.
Certain difficulties were experienced during the night owing to the tanks and infantry going over separate bridges and the possibility of converging on the same road.
2) 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Bttn move to area 390365. Brigade ‘O’ Groups.
3) 2 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
0500 Reveille and everybody preparing for the move.
0600 An advance party of two reps per coy with the Battle Patrol commander i/c left assembly area to arrange the Bttn layout.
0700 The main body of the Bttn left by TCV for the assembly area (3440). The journey was full of interest for everybody particularly the part immediately behind the Senio floodbanks where the troops showed the keenest interest in the Bosche positions, which they had been dealing with in the past. Further on, the accuracy by the RAF was commented on and praised.
0930 The Bttn arrived in the assembly area and was soon settled in Boy areas with the men resting until the next instructions arrived. The remainder of the Brigade Group followed us into the area and was complete by 1430 hrs. Then our tanks arrived and ‘B’ Squadron of the Queens’ Bays were harboured in the Bttn area, for those were to be our companions in the coming battle.
1430 The Brigade Commander arrived at Brigade HQ and told us that the Gurkhas were not yet up to the Santerno so there was not much likelihood of a move tonight.
1700 The Bttn area was shelled lightly but not by observed shooting and there was not yet sufficient to cause alarm. Everybody got as much rest as possible during the night in preparation for anything that might happen the next day.
4) 2 London Irish Rifles.
0700 Preparations for move forward. Priority stores to ‘F’ Echelon, essential stores to ‘B’ Echelon and non essential stores ‘C’ Echelon.
1200 ‘F’ Hour.
1450 ‘F’ + 170. Bttn move off in TCVs to Assembly Area.
1700 Bttn HQ established in farm 385374 with Coys in close proximity.
1800 Bttn warned no move before 0730 hrs.
In the early hours of the morning of April 11th, the plans for operations were confirmed in a message from the 5th Corps, which read as follows:
One – 78 Div will be prepared to pass through 8 Indian Div pm 11 April. Div will have leading bridge group concentrated in Lugo at two hours notice to move wef 1100 hrs 11 Apr. Codeword for passing though – Milner.
Two – Axes beyond R Santerno.
A)78 Div west of R Santerno to Bastia.
B) 2 NZ Div Massa Lombara – T Sillaro 2145 – Scolo Sillaro 1849 – T Quaderna 1253 – Torrente Idice at 0957 – Moilnella 1561 – cross roads 073750.
Three – Body beyond R Santerno wef Milner 303417 – all incl 78 Div road junction 285444 – Scolo Zaniolo 264470 north down Scolo to R Reno thence R Reno to 19 Easting. Divs will arrange mutually if 2 NZ Div require crossings over Scolo Zaniolo in S Patrizio area.
Four – Bdys for concentration of 78 Div effective from 0600 hrs 11 Apr.
A) Bdy between 8 Ind Div and 78 Div as at present to railway at 386378, thence all incl 78 Div road junction 386379, thence rd to rd junction 361385, thence R Senio to 358396, thence excluding 78 Division cross roads 323406.
B) Bdy between 78 Div and 2 NZ Div as at present to R Senio, thence rly to all incl 78 Div rd at 359360 – rd junc 349367, thence at present right bdy 2 NZ Div.
Five – 78 Div will control all routes and allotment of areas within bdys as in para Four but will not displace operational units without permission divs concerned.
Six – Tank mov. 2 NZ Div will a lot tank route to 78 Div to enable tks to move from present 78 Div area to Lugo wef 0900 hrs 11 Apr. This route suitable tks only. 78 Division will liaise closely with 8 Ind Div also in case necessary to use another tk route.
Seven – Artillery. RA 78 Div incl 11 RHA will revert to command 78 Div at 0800 hrs 11 Apr. On completion of moves to area as required by 78 Div, this artillery will continue to sp 2 NZ Div until 78 Div is operationally committed. Orders re med regts follow.
Eight – 5 Northamptons will revert to comd 78 Div at 1800 hrs 11 Apr from which time 5 Northamptons will be prepared to move to 78 Div area on orders that div.
Nine – Cremona ICG will take over responsibility of 5 Northamptons front by 1800 hrs 11 Apr. Ack all informed.