14th April 1945

Before first light on the 14th, patrols of 2 LIR, under 2 Armoured Brigade’s command, were feeling their way forward towards Lavezzola and the Reno. At dawn, they were followed by the armour in two columns, one working due north on the axis of the main road, the other sweeping round to the right of Lavezzola, which was known to be heavily mined. Both columns were directed on the approaches to the Bastia bridges. The column, moving through Lavezzola, found mines in profusion and houses in the northern part of the village booby trapped. Fortunately, the enemy’s departure had been so hasty that he had been unable to remove the warning notices from the danger areas and not a single casualty was caused either to armour or to infantry. The ‘Flail’ tanks of 51 Royal Tanks had a great morning exploding everything they could find. In addition to mines and booby traps, the sweep yielded about 30 prisoners, 8 of whom were taken in the act of mine laying.

At 0940 hours, the Reno was reached. Both road and railway bridges were found demolished but sufficient rubble remained at the site of the latter to enable the infantry to get across dryshod. Reconnaissance was carried out and a plan evolved for two platoons of 2 LIR to cross the river and form a small bridgehead. This was later to be increased in strength to the extent of two companies.

At 1230 hours, the operation began and the two platoons crossed under cover of smoke without difficulty. Advancing north from the far bank, however, the leading platoon was counter attacked strongly by the enemy and most of it was overrun. No assistance could be given to this party by the tanks on the south bank of the river owing to the height of the floodbanks and, until a bridge was built, it was impossible to move the armour across. The two platoons were, therefore, withdrawn across the river, positions were taken up on the ‘near’ bank, patrols were sent out east and west, and reconnaissance was carried out with a view to making a deliberate assault.

In addition to reaching the Reno, 9 Lancers had patrolled early in the morning towards Route 16, where it approached the Bastia area from the south east. Here, they had made contact with the Cremoma Group at 0930 hours, thus filling in a piece of the wider picture.

A similar move was made by 48 Royal Tanks with 36 Brigade, a patrol of Honey tanks being sent north from Conselice along the road to Lavezzola. This, they found heavily mined but it was cleared during the day with Engineer assistance and contact was made with the Irish Brigade in Lavezzola at 1730 hours.

Further to the left, 56 Recce Regiment fanned out during the day to close with the enemy all along the front on the line of the Sillaro. Contact was made in the area of the river, where the enemy infantry was established in well dug in positions and a great number of mines were encountered. B and C Squadrons were ordered to establish defensive positions to cover this river flank during the afternoon and, shortly afterwards, A Squadron reverted to command from 38 Brigade and moved to rejoin the Regiment.

By nightfall, “tidying up”, “mopping up” and consolidation were the orders of the day. The Santerno was far behind and had ceased to have a “bridgehead”. All along the front, there was a general loosening of the enemy’s resistance, as he readjusted his positions and fell back on his main line of defence based on Argenta. Again, therefore, there was that urgent need for maintenance of the impetus; somehow, the whole weight of the Corps had to be brought to bear without delay on the defences before Argenta and, to do this, there must be a bridge and the Reno must be crossed.

It was now exactly five days since the offensive began. The operations had progressed with a steady tenor of success and very largely on lines, which had been foreseen; in short, everything was going “according to plan”. The sum of the achievement was that the enemy had been forced back from his winter line on the Senio with such weight and drive in the attack that he had never been in a position to reform a second line. The whole area had been cleared from the Senio to the Santerno and from the Santerno to the Reno and Sillaro. Argenta was but a mile or two ahead and already one foot of the attack was well established north of the Reno where the 56th Division was on the point of linking up with the leading elements of the Irish Brigade at Bastia.

Away, on the left, the Fifth Army’s offensive was just beginning and Bologna was almost in sight. Another phase was ended and it was hard to foresee the form that subsequent operations would take.

From the London Irish Rifles account:

“Early on the 14th, before dawn, patrols from E Company were feeling their way up through Lavezzola towards the River Reno. At first light, they were followed by the armour in two columns, one due north along the axis of the main road and the other sweeping round to the right to avoid the minefield that were known to exist in the Lavezzola area…The ‘Flails’ had a great morning exploding mines.

The Reno was reached at 0940 hours, about 30 prisoners having been taken… Reconnaissance was carried out and a plan evolved for two platoons of E Company to cross and form a small bridgehead. This took place at 1230 hours without resistance and under cover of smoke, but while the platoons were advancing north from the river they were heavily counter attacked and most of them over run. No assistance could be given by the tanks owing to the high floodbanks and the absence of a bridge. Positions were now taken up on the next bank and further reconnaissance carried out with a view to making a deliberate crossing.

At this time, 56th Division, who had landed on the southern shores of Lake Comacchio were still several thousand yards east of this attempted bridgehead and the enemy was therefore very sensitive to a threat from their southern flank. It was however, decided to hold positions on the southern bank of the river for the night and eventually the battalion was ordered to maintain their static positions for the next two days.

A point of special interest which arose at this time was that the 1st Battalion, London Irish on the left flank of 56th Division was, for the first time in this war, sharing a common piece of the front with its battalion (2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles) and, on the first night, one of their patrols crossed the Reno and contacted G Company.”

Continuing from Brigadier Pat Scott’s account:

“On the evening of the 13th, the Skins clamped down about La Giovecca and the Faughs were spread out on the west of the Fossatone watching the flank. Both battalions had fought magnificently during the day and had had a long and anxious period moving up for the battle. We captured two officers and one hundred and fifty seven ORs mainly from 362nd Division during the day’s work.

On the 14th, the London Irish were the main participants as already described by them. The Skins had a day off and the Faughs were patrolling out in the west. Brigade Headquarters were established at La Palazzina about half way between the Skins and the London Irish.

Partisans appeared in this area. They proved a mixed blessing. There were two types, those who put on their arm bands and slung their muskets round their shoulders after the Bosche had pulled out and those who did fight genuinely, many of whom had fresh wounds. The second variety were extremely helpful and had detailed maps and drawings showing enemy positions and minefields, which later proved to be very accurate. They all, however, had one big failing, common throughout Italy. Once having allowed them to start taking, nothing would induce them to stop. They held non-stop meetings throughout the day, which were soon referred to as “Partisan O Groups”. These meetings resembled mobile arsenals, for all the men and also the women carried at least four weapons and were festooned with bandoliers, grenades, knives and every sort of “what have you”.

Bala Bredin CO of 2 LIR enlisted a platoon of these scoundrels, from which he was expecting great things but I never heard much more about them. As well as the partisans, some odd members of the Cremona Gruppo got mixed up in the proceedings – I suppose they had friends in those parts.”

From the War Diaries of 14th April 1945.

1) Irish Brigade HQ.

Before dawn, patrols from 2 LIR were feeling forwards towards Lavezzola and the River Reno. Two columns of armour followed up and the River Reno was reached by 0540 hrs, another 50 PW being taken. During the morning, contact was made by 9 Lancers with the Cremona ICC at 345543.

1300 2 LIR managed to get two platoons across the River Reno by means of the wrecked railway bridge 317563. These two platoons advanced towards the factory 316567. One platoon got into position and the other was still moving up when they were counter attacked heavily. A fierce fight took place but most of them were taken prisoner. 2 LIR locations HQ 312549 with two coys 314564 and other coys 324556 and 313550.

1600 Brigade HQ moved to La Palazzina 318524.

2) 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.

Patrols (Lt C Gunner) brought in 5 PoW.

1700 Patrol to area 281548 to 303565 found canal bank held in considerable strength and found themselves overlooked from north (Bastia 308571) and west. One casualty.

3) 6 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

When the Bttn awoke the next morning, it was found that the impetus, which we had given to the battle, had been maintained and that forward troops had gone as far that we were no longer operational. One platoon of A Coy with one troop of tanks patrolled the area east of the village in case there were any odd Bosche still roaming about, but they only found four. Everybody was in need of a day’s rest to clean up, reorganise and attend to domestic points and the opportunity was taken to do these things. Billets were adjusted for comfort and not for defence, D Coy moved into the village and Bttn HQ moved to move suitable buildings and A Echelon came up too.

There was no activity during the day or night. Coy Commanders and Officers of B Squadron Bays were invited to dinner at the Command Post Mess, where many of yesterday’s battles were relived.

4) 2 London Irish Rifles.

0730 First report say G Coy and B Squadron are meeting no opposition. E Coy capture 8 Germans in the act of laying mines. PWs point out location of mines.

0740 Bttn HQ move to to 318521.

0750 15 PWs taken.

0815 E Coy report slow going owing to area being heavily mined. Civilians show us the location of enemy mines. G Coy, moving over to E Coy’s right flank, report good progress.

Identification of PWs – 1060 Regiment, 362 Infantry Division.

0825 Seven more PWs taken. E Coy now 50 yards south of Lavezzola village (312549).

0830 REs now cooperating with E Coy by lifting mines and rendering booby traps harmless. E Coy and C Squadron ordered to keep going along the road until they reach the bridge over the River Reno at 314564.

0840 Eight more PWs taken.

0900 G Coy now at 336548 with no enemy opposition.

0930 E Coy 300 yards short of bridge. Too many mines in the area for the REs to cope with, so ‘Flail’ tanks were called forward to explode the mines.

0940 Recce party from E Coy moving up to bridge. Recce party from G Coy moving up to river.

1200 Railway bridge over the Reno reported blown. No enemy seen but plenty of Italian partisans in the area. Road bridge at 314564 reported blown.

1230 Two platoons of E Coy ordered across river to form a bridgehead.

1330 Bttn HQ now in Lavezzola village (312550).

1400 E Coy bridgehead being counter attacked. MO to go forward and collect casualties. F Coy move up to support E Coy.

1430 E Coy report their bridgehead eliminated. Some troops got back to our side of the river. Bttn request for air action.

1435 56 Division units moving west on enemy side of the Reno now in square 3456 and sending patrol over to our side to contact us. G Coy warned to keep lookout for them.

1530 Sitrep from E Coy Commander that one platoon was captured by the enemy and one section of the other platoon regained our side of the river. Fate of other two sections not yet known.

1605 Own aircraft bombed and rocket fired area on enemy side of river. This was followed by two more attacks in the course of the next hour.

1715 Nine more PWs brought into Bttn HQ. Identifications – 40 Regiment, 42 Jaeger Division.

1745 38 Brigade Commander, 2 Armoured Brigade Commander and CO held conference at Bttn HQ. Bttn to stay this side of river for the night.

1800 CO and IO visited forward Coys. During this period, a patrol from 1 LIR crossed the Reno and established contact with G Coy. This is the first time in the war that the 1st and 2nd Bttns of the LIR have held a common front.

1900 Local Partisan leader offers the services of his Partisan Group for patrol activities with the bttn.

2000 Btttn casualties for the day – 1 OR killed and 4 wounded; Lt Campbell (9 Pl, E Coy) and 35 ORs missing, majority believed PW.

2100 F Coy patrol over the Reno to see if enemy still in position now cancelled.