During the night 18/19 April, general activity continued over the whole front. On the extreme right, 1 RIrF moved forward on the east side of the railway and occupied the triangle of ground, bounded by waterways around Casa Biscie. This move secured for the Division a firm right flank beyond the railway.
Further west, at 0400 hours, the London Irish patrolled forward from the Foss Sabbiosolla, on the west of the railway, and reached the twin canals Bolognese and di Porto, just to the west of Portomaggiore. Here, a mile or so from the town, they found both bridges blown. In conjunction with the 9th Lancers’ tanks, which joined the infantry at first light, positions were established on the near bank of the double canal.
Between the London Irish and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, B Squadron of 56 Recce Regiment, with some of the Sherman tanks of the 4th Hussars, was having a confused struggle to cross the two canals in the village of Portomaggiore itself. One of these canals was at the entry to, and the other at the exit from, the town. The crux of the position was an enemy strong point at Croatia, just north of and overlooking the town, which was holding out with such obstinacy that no progress was possible beyond the second canal and the squadron was confined to the difficult, rubble strewn area of the town’s western outskirts.
In 36 Brigade’s sector, all round advances had been made overnight. 56 Recce Regiment, less B Squadron, was still under command and had passed through the Argylls, only a short time behind the Buffs. From Consandalo, the regiment had swung to the west and, at first, had met little enemy resistance in a rapid advance. A Squadron patrolled westwards during the early morning towards the Po Morto di Primaro and the Fossa Molino (two waterways, which run south from San Nicolo Ferarese towards the flooded lands by Budrio). These patrols met firm enemy resistance on a line approximately 2 miles east of the canals but it seemed certain that the enemy forces there were merely intended to cover the road northwards on the west side of Route 16 and were not, therefore, a direct menace to the Division’s main line of advance, which ran north from Consandolo.
On the extreme left flank, Route 16 had been opened for normal traffic and interest in the area west and south of the road waned into obscurity.
During the course of the day, repeated attempts were made by B Squadron of the Recce Regiment, assisted for a time by F Company of 2 LIR, to clear a way through Portomaggiore, but these were of no avail. In the afternoon, 2 Armoured Brigade was ordered to establish a small infantry bridgehead in the area west of the town, where it had originally hoped to seize the two bridges.
The London Irish Rifles, to whom F Company was, by this time, returning, succeeded in establishing two small bridgeheads over the canals by 1530 hours, to a great accompaniment of smoke, high explosive and flame from ‘Wasps’.
As a result of this successful small operation, it was decided that the main axis of the Division would follow through the bridgehead and would not be led round through Portomaggiore.
This decision taken, it was essential to exploit the foothold rapidly and get some bridging work in progress. Accordingly, 11 Brigade, which was entirely in Divisional reserve near Argenta, was ordered to pass into the bridgehead, enlarge it to cover bridging operations and press on astride the railway to cross the next canal, the Nicolo. For the purpose of this operation, the London Irish Rifles, already in the bridgehead, were placed under command of 11 Brigade and the Bays passed, at the same time, to 11 Brigade’s command.
By 2300 hours on the 19th, 2 LIR, with great assistance from the Divisional Artillery, had successfully enlarged the two small bridgeheads and merged them into one, which covered the whole triangular area between the canals Belriguardo and Bolognese and a line north east from Porto Rotta. The sappers started work at once on a crossing of the two canals to enable tanks to get over and 11 Brigade prepared to cross with the Lancashire Fusiliers leading, followed by the Surreys. Each battalion was accompanied by a squadron of tanks from the Bays.
From Pat Scott’s narrative.
On the 19th, the Bays left us again to go off with 11 Brigade. They were not getting much rest these poor fellows. The Kangaroo Army was paying a great dividend but it produced one considerable disadvantage in that it left only two armoured regiments to fight with three infantry brigades as the 9th Lancers were always tied up with the London Irish. The General did his best to hang on to 48 Royal Tank Regiment and, if he had succeeded in this, the continual swapping of armour would not have arisen. Changing armour in a battle is always a tricky thing – especially when you have got to know one particular lot. It was difficult for people to realise why all this chopping and changing of armour was going on but, if we couldn’t get a fourth regiment of tanks, there was no other course open – that is, if we wanted to make the best use of the ‘Kangaroos’.
It was a day of rest for the Brigade and well earned rest too! Looking back on it, I still believe that the battle of the Argenta Gap was the turning point of the whole campaign and it was our two battalions that bore the brunt of it. If the Skins had failed to achieve all they did, it might have altered the whole course of the operation.
During the Argenta Gap battle, the Skins and Faughs took three hundred and four prisoners and the London Irish and 9th Lancers over two hundred besides a considerable amount of equipment, which all three battalions captured.
The Advance to the Po di Volano.
The 20th started as a day of rest but, at 4pm, we got a message that we were to pass through 11 Brigade that night and form a bridgehead over the San Nicolo canal. Short of this canal and running between San Nicolo Ferrarese and Portomaggiore were the twin canals of the Scolo Bolognese and Fossa Porto.
The London Irish, with two companies, had tried to bounce bridges over these canals in the early hours of the 19th but they were all found to be blown. They established positions on the near bank and were joined by their armour at first light. At 11 o’clock, another company of the London Irish were ordered to go to the assistance of 56 Recce in clearing the Germans out of Portomaggiore. During all these minor operations, prisoners were continually being taken in groups of ten or fifteen. At 1430 hours, G Company, to a considerable accompaniment of smoke, high explosive and flame throwing weapons, forced a bridgehead over the Scolo Bolognese. H Company, on their right, followed suit and, as soon as G Company’s bridgehead was established, H Company cleared the village of Porto Rotta.
The success of these operations led to the decision that the main Divisional axis was to pass through Porto Rottta and the London Irish were, therefore, ordered to enlarge their bridgehead. This was done at 2200 hrs that evening with the support of the Divisional artillery. By 2300 hours, they had captured all their objectives. Under mortar fire, the REs bulldozed a crossing place over the twin canals; and, by 0200 hrs on the morning of the 20th, 11 Brigade had begun to pass through in a north westerly direction. It had been hoped that 11 Brigade would reach the San Nicole canal and possibly make a bridgehead.
Unfortunately, this did not materialise and so it was, that in the late evening, it was decided that the Irish Brigade was to establish a bridgehead that night and continue the advance on the 21st.