By dawn on April 11th, everything was ready, ‘Felix’ bridge, which had been constructed by 237 Field Company RE, was open for traffic up to class 40 and exceeded all expectations in its ability to clear traffic. As a result, the guns of 138 Field Regiment were able to be fed into the stream of traffic and crossed the river well ahead of schedule.
A traffic control organisation, in touch by wireless with Divisional Headquarters, regulated the movement at crucial points and paid a high dividend on the outlay of energy and resources. The provost, as usual, were the salt of the earth and quietly worked their customary miracles whenever there was a block or a muddle.
The Division moved forward. With the leading Divisions, the fighting had progressed swiftly during the past 12 hours. By 0700 hrs on the 11th, forward troops of the New Zealand Division were barely short of the Santerno and it was expected that they would cross it during the next few hours. On the right, the Indians were also approaching the river and it seemed probable that, during the day. the whole Corps front would roll forward and close upon the Santerno line.
By nightfall, this had, in fact, happened and more also. The Indians, having assaulted the river with 17 Indian Infantry Brigade leading, had succeeded in establishing a foothold on the western bank by 1400 hours, just to the south of San Lorenzo. Earlier in the day, the New Zealanders, as have been anticipated, had forced a crossing south of Lugo – Massa Lombarda railway and had expanded this bridgehead steadily during the day.
The 78th Division was, by this time, concentrated around the town of Lugo, less 11 Brigade Group and Buffs, which were still east of the Senio.
This was an important time: it was vital that everything should be in readiness to press on. The leading troops of the Corps had already broken, the enemy’s hold on what might have been his most formidable line of natural defence – the Santerno river – and the success of the whole offensive depended upon one factor – momentum.
The intention of the 15th Army Group in launching the offensive was to “destroy the enemy south of the Po”. So far, he had been driven back and had suffered a hard knock but his positions on the Santerno were a fine cushion on which to fall back. Hinged, as they were, on the river Reno in the north and following the line of the Santerno southwards into the mountains, these natural positions were all that the enemy desired as a backbone for his defences.
Here, however, he reaped the harvest of his tenacious stand on the untenable banks of the Senio. The Santerno, like the Senio, had been subjected to “carpet” bombing to an extent rightly called “saturation” and all this just at the time when it was necessary to muster every man to hold the line. Struck at from the air and harried between the two rivers by the relentless and brilliant progress of New Zealanders and the Indians, he has failed to keep the front intact: there was a crack; the Indians and the New Zealanders were forcing it slowly open; the momentum of attack must be kept up at all costs.
In order that he might be able, at just such a moment as this, to unleash new pressure, the Corps Commander had held in his reserve until this time a formidable striking force. The moment was nearing when this force, this new sharp weapon, was to be pushed through and thrust about into the enemy’s vitals: it is suitable at this juncture to examine its composition.
War Diary entries for 11th April 1945.
1) Irish Brigade HQ.
0600 Brigade Group commences to move to Assembly Area north of Lugo. In this area, all tanks, Kangaroos and assault RE detachments linked up and coordinated with their respective battalions.
Main Brigade HQ – 336385, Rear Brigade HQ – 434350, 2 Innisks – 340408, 2 LIR – 343394, 1 RIrF – 343398, ‘D’ Support Group – 336396, 254 A/Tk Battery – 346390, 214 Field Company – 344392, 152 Field Ambulance – 337396, Bays – 341404, 9 Lancers – 343394.
1700 ‘B’ Squadron 51 RTR (Flails) and ‘C’ Squadron (Crocodiles) now under command.
2100 Brigade Commander holds a conference.
Brigade Group will be required tomorrow to pass through bridgehead being formed over the River Santerno by 8 Indian Division tonight. 2 NZ Division already have troops across the river but bridgehead is not firm yet.
Enemy resistance is fairly heavy. He is supported by Tiger Tanks and there is quite a lot of mortaring and a considerable number of mines.
Plan for Brigade Group is as follows:
Attack out of 8 Indian Division bridgehead will be done by 2 Innisks right, 1 RIrF left. Each Bttn supported by a squadron of Bays and Crocodiles will advance to the Scolo Conselice bounded by the River Santerno on the right and Scolo Fossotone on the left. Once these two Bttns have reached the Scolo Conselice or they think the time had come to unleash the remaining Bttn, if they themselves are held up or spent, 2 LIR in Kangaroos (4 Hussars) supported by 9 Lancers with Assault RE detachments will advance to the River Reno. (this mobile force to be directly under command 2 Armoured Brigade).
A barrage would be laid on to support the attack out of the bridgehead should it prove necessary.
2) 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.
Move to north at Lugo. Bttn HQ 34223990.
3) 2 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
A quiet day in which all Coys tied up every detail with their respective troops of tanks and then rested, waiting until the Santerno bridgehead had been made large enough to allow us to get in and then break out for our own part in the battle.
1100 The CO spoke to the whole Bttn on the form in which we would be fighting, namely the break out from a bridgehead and then the pursuit. After the CO’s talk, the Squadron Commander working with us, Major C Rich and his troop commanders were introduced to the Bttn to make sure that everybody knew who was whom; then the Coys went back to Coy areas and troop commanders discussed tank tactics with the Coys.
1300 Bttn placed at 3 hours notice to move. Information was received that the Gurkhas of 8th Indian Division had formed a bridgehead but that it was not yet big enough for us to get in.
2100 The CO attended an ‘O’ Group at Brigade HQ and learned that the Bttn was to move at 0600 hrs on 12th April, the plan being to break out of the Indian Division bridgehead and then advance up the west side of the Santerno on a two Bttn front. 2 Innisks right, 1 RIrF left. When the CO returned from Brigade HQ, he held his own ‘O’ Group conference at which he passed on all information learned at the Brigade HQ and gave his order of attack, which was ‘A’ Coy right, ‘B’ Coy left, each with a troop of tanks. These would be followed by Squadron HQ and the CO’s Tac HQ, which consisted of CO, IO and Battery Commanders with two signals for the three sets. All of Tac HQ travelled in one tank.
‘C’ Coy followed ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coy followed ‘B’ with Main HQ, ‘S’ Coy Crocodiles assault section of REs in the centre. Reserve Coys and tanks had orders not to come close enough to become involved in the battle as this would hinder their deployment. Timings would have to be given out in the bridgehead after a recce had been made.
4) 2 London Irish Rifles.
0630 Bttn advance party proceed to assembly area near Lugo.
1000 Bttn main body move in TCVs.
Bttn HQ in farm 343395 with Coys nearby.
1245 Brigade Commander visits Bttn HQ,
Information – Bttn Kangaroos now being used by 8 Indian Division in the assault on the enemy Santerno Line. 2 NZ Division already have one Coy across the Santerno.
1600 Bttn warned to be at 2 hours notice from 1000 hrs 12 April. Advance party under command of MTO ready to go forward and recce routes as soon as the New Zealanders make a sizeable bridgehead over the Santerno.
2145 CO’s ‘O’ Group on forthcoming move forward. 2 NZ bridgehead to be enlarged and consolidated for 38 Brigade to move through.
Composition of the 78th Division.
On the evening of April 11th, the 78th Division had under its command, the following additional troops:
2 Armoured Brigade less 10 Hussars, 11 RHA, 4 Hussars less C Squadron.
48 Royal Tanks, B Squadron 51 Royal Tanks (‘Flails’), C Squadron 51 Royal Tanks (‘Crocodiles’).
24 Army Field Regiment RA (self propelled guns).
Half ‘E’ Assault Squadron RE, Detachment of ‘H’ Assault Squadron RE.
The outline grouping of the Division’s fighting forces was as follows:
11 British Infantry Brigade (Commander – Brigadier GE Thubron DSO OBE).
Under Command –
2 Lancashire Fusiliers, 1 East Surreys, 5 Northamptons.
255 Anti Tank Battery (64 Anti Tank Regiment), ‘B’ Support Group (1 Kensingtons).
In Support –
152 Field Regiment RA (on and after 13 April), 237 (Highland) Field Company RE.
36 British Infantry Brigade (Commander – Brigadier GRD Musson DSO).
Under Command –
5 Buffs, 6 RWK, 8 A&SH.
C Squadron 56 Recce Regiment.
256 Anti Tank Battery (64 Anti Tank Regiment).
One troop (SP guns) 209 Anti Tank (64 Anti Tank Regiment).
C Support Group (1 Kensingtons).
In support –
138 Field Regiment RA, 256 Field Company RE.
38 (Irish) Infantry Brigade (Commander – Brigadier TPD Scott DSO).
2 Innisks, 2 LIR,1 RIrF –
2 Armoured Brigade (Commander – Brigadier JFB Coombe DSO), 9 Lancers,11 RHA, Bays.
4 Hussars (‘Kangaroos’) less C Squadron,
A Squadron 56 Recce Regiment.
B Squadron 51 Royal Tanks (‘Flails’), C Squadron 51 Royal Tanks (‘Crocodiles’).
254 Anti Tank Battery (64 Anti Tank Regiment).
One SP Troop 209 Anti Tank Battery (64 Anti Tank Regiment).
Half ‘E’ Assault Squadron RE, Detachment of ‘H’ Assault Squadron RE.
D Support Group (1 Kensingtons).
In Support –
214 Field Company RE, 17 Field Regiment RA.
Under direct command 78th Division:
56 Recce Regiment (Commander – Lt Col RMW Hartland-Mahon MC) less A and C Sqaudrons.
1 Kensingtons (Commander – Lt Col BL Bryar) less B, C and D Support Groups.
In Support 78th Division:
2 AGRA (of which 73rd Medium Regiment RA – one battery 4.5”, one battery 5.5”) was in direct support divisional artillery and under command for movement.
214/57 HAA Regiment RA (under command for movement).
155/52 LAA Regiment RA (under command for movement).
‘Y’ Survey Troop, 5 Survey Regiment RA.
‘A’ Flight, 654 Air Op Squadron.
8th Indian Divisional Artillery (in direct support for break out and again 15th – 20th April).