At 0145 hours, 2 LF began to move across and very soon afterwards, whilst the area was still under fire from enemy mortars, the sappers completed a bulldozed crossing of the twin canals and tanks began to pass across. The operation of moving into and through this small bridgehead proved more complicated than had been expected. Trouble was experienced in getting the wheeled vehicles over the crossing and, due to this and various other causes, the advance astride the railway with two battalions up (the Surreys on the right and the Lancashire Fusiliers on the left) did not get going until approximately 0900 hours. When it did begin, opposition proved to be stiff and the going was slow. By nightfall, positions were reached astride the railway on the general line of the road running south from Runco to the railway, thence westwards on the road to Montesanto as far as the Fossa Rivalda and thence south westwards to the twin canals di Porto and Bolognese. At the left extremity, the line now joined up with the positions of 5 Buffs, who had pushed on during the day, in the general direction of San Nicolo Ferarese and had thus confirmed with the main thrust beyond the twin canals.
While the main operation of 11 Brigade was going on, 5 Northamptons, who were in Brigade reserve, detached one company to join 2 Armoured Brigade. This company, together with the Sherman tank squadron of the 4th Hussars, set out at 1200 hours to assist B Squadron of the Recce Regiment and achieve what the squadron alone had so far been unable to do in dislodging the enemy from Portomaggiore and Croatia on the extreme right flank. This proved a very sticky operation. In Croatia, the enemy had two SP guns and plenty of ammunition; in the general area of the town, he had enough men; by nightfall, it looked as if progress had ceased and the enemy was still in occupation. As a result of this situation, 256 Field Company was prevented from getting to work on the north west exit from Portomaggiore and it was here that it was essential that a bridge be soon established in order to open up the main road north to Voghenza.
Meanwhile, away on the left, a great change had taken place. Between the Division’s left flank (at that time 56 Recce Regiment) and the marshy waste to the west of Route 16, the Armoured Division had begun to filter through on the evening of the 19th April. By early morning on the 20th, while 11 Brigade was beginning its advance north west of Porto Rotta, 2 Lothians reached San Nicolo Ferarese and the general situation on the left flank looked good and likely to get even better.
Progress on our front during the 20th had been slow and, by late afternoon, the Divisional Commander decided that, in spite of the fact that the forward troops of 11 Brigade were still short of Nicolo Canal, an attack must be made that night, so that the canal might be bridged before the enemy could fully regain his balance.
38 Brigade, now in reserve, was detailed for the operation and a conference was called at 11 Brigade Headquarters. There, on the side of his Dingo, the Brigadier gave out his orders.
The plan was to cross the Nicolo Canal between the railway and the twin canals in the region forward of the Fossa Rivaldo over which 2 LF had already secured an intact crossing. It was known that all bridges across the Nicolo Canal were destroyed but it was thought that, as they had been demolished cleanly at each end, it would be possible for infantry to cross by the rubble and demolished spans.
Zero hour for the attack was fixed for 0130 hours on April 21st.
From the War Diaries of 20th April.
1) Irish Brigade HQ.
Rest as much as possible.
Brigade Commander visits HQ 2 Innisks and 1 RIrF in the morning.
Message O62 received from the Division.
Following regrouping to be carried out:
11 Brigade with under command Bays.
36 Brigade with under command 56 Recce less B Squadron. 38 Brigade with under command 10 Hussars (to relieve Bays as soon as possible).
2 Armoured Brigade less Bays and 10 Hussars with under command B Squadron 56 Recce and 2 LIR.
1605 IO 78 Division arrives with verbal orders. 38 Brigade is to pass through 11 Brigade and make a bridgehead over the canal between railway at 214735 and the canal junction 202725.
Brigade Commander goes to HQ 78 Division immediately and bttns move off in TCVs at 1800 hrs to a dispersal point at Gombi 232695.
Brigade HQ moves to 252691.
Brigade Commander holds O Group at HQ 11Brigade at 2000 hrs.
Plan: Bridgehead to be secured over canal by 2 Innisks right and 1 RIrF left. Final details of assembly areas to be discussed with CO 2 LF. Start Line confirmed with 11 Brigade as being 223730 – 212716 and barrage with 200 yards lifts laid on. COs are to give Codeword Edinburgh when they wish Zero Hour and barrage to start. 5 Northamptons are to get up to the canal and protect right flank and 36 Brigade are to conform with advance on the left.
2) 2 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
0630 Bttn awakened after a comparatively quiet night and very thankful for the short rest they had managed to have.
0900 RC Padre held a service in the Bttn area, which was attended by all RCs.
During the day, an MBU operated in our area and all personnel in the Bttn took the opportunity of a much needed bath and change of clothing.
1600 Orders were given for the Bttn to prepare to move to a new location. Hasty preparations had to be made for the Bttn to be ready to move at 1815 hrs.
1815 The Bttn embussed and the convoy moved off at 1815 hrs. CO and IO went to Brigade HQ for orders of the forthcoming operations.
2000 The Bttn arrived in area of house at Comi 2389.
2130 CO arrived back from brigade and immediately held a conference for Coy Commanders and all supporting arms. Bttn was to make a night attack across the water obstacle in area 227237 and establish a firm bridgehead by the early hours of the morning so as to let the LIR go through in Kangaroos. C and D Coys to be forward Coys.
2215 Bttn move forward towards Start Line.
3) 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.
1700 Tac R Group forward. Bttn debuss – 232695 and move to FUP 219713.
4) 2 London Irish Rifles.
0600 11 Brigade, having moved through the bridgehead, swung left in front of G Coy, leaving H Coy still facing the enemy.
Situation as to when the Coys would be entirely squeezed out of the line rather confused.
Locations – Bttn HQ, still at La Fossa 239697. E Coy still in area 229678 and F Coy around the bridge at 267703.
1230 Bttn now squeezed out of line.
1330 78 Division Commander visits Bttn HQ. CO lays on the moves to be made by Coys in the event of the Bttn being called upon at short notice to carry out another ‘Kangaroo’ push.
1700 Fifteen more PW stragglers passed back through Bttn HQ.
2200 Bttn warned to be at one hour’s notice from 0800 hrs 21 April.
During the night, H Coy accounted for a still active SP gun.