22nd April 1945

During the morning of 22nd April, 56 Recce Regiment, still under command of the Armoured Brigade, pushed on towards the Po di Volano in a north westerly sweep on a broad front from Cona and Quartesana. Enemy infantry were by-passed and useful information was obtained on the state of the roads and bridges. At 1230 hours, the Regiment passed to under command of 11 Brigade which had, by this time, taken up the lead through the Armoured Brigade’s bridgehead.

During the afternoon, a good deal of enemy resistance was encountered in the area of Contrapo and thence northwards and eastwards. The Lancashire Fusiliers were directed through the Recce Regiment’s positions to try and deal with some of this and, on the right, the Northamptons were passed through and directed on the river to the east of the bridge by Fossalta. As evening drew on, however, resistance stiffened all along the front and it seemed that a considerable pocket of enemy as contained south of the river between Cona on the left and the Diversivo di Volano, south of Fisalta, on the right.

At the east end of the Diversivo di Volano, which at the time was beyond the Divisional boundary, 167 Brigade of the 56th Division had had a battle in the middle of the day and little progress had been made from there to the north. Further east, however, in Sabbioncello, the 1st Buffs from 24 Guards Brigade had crossed the river and found the bridge in an easily reparable state. The main effort of the 56th Division was, therefore, directed on this route.

As a result of this fortunate find, the inter-divisional boundary was changed by 5 Corps late on the evening of the 22nd and the main axis of the 78th Division was turned north east. 11 Brigade was ordered to take advantage of the presence of the 56th Division on the far side of the river and to establish a bridgehead in the area south of Fossalta. A considerable enemy pocket still remained south of the river but it had, by evening, been almost entirely compressed into the river bend or ‘bulge’.

During the night, the Northamptons crossed the river against negligible opposition but ran into strong enemy posts almost immediately as they began to extend the bridgehead. There was, however, a firm footing on the far side and bridging operations began.

With the exception of the enemy left in the Fossalta bulge, the ground was now clear up to the Po di Volano. From the time at which 2 Armoured Brigade and 36 Infantry Brigade had broken out from the Argenta position until the 11 Brigade reached and crossed the Po di Volano, was a period of just three days. In this time, the enemy had been relentlessly hustled along every inch of his many routes of withdrawal. In the minds of his commanders, there must have been a rising panic as the whole force became compressed against the Po’s south bank as the Air Force continued to pound and slash at the crossings of this great river and, as the queues of men and transport, guns, tanks, horses, mules and all the cumbersome paraphernalia of war, grew larger and thicker in the fields of the plain and along the floodbanks of the river. So long, however, as the line of the Po di Volano held, there was always a chance that another “Dunkirk” might be achieved.

But the line of the Po di Volano had not held, someone had made a tragic bloomer and failed effectively to blow the Sabbioncello bridge; even the limited hope of achieving a “Dunkirk” faded in that second of time.

From Brigadier Pat Scott’s Account.

“After the ‘Kangaroo Army’ had passed through, the situation on the Skins’ front eased at once. Their Tactical Headquarters, which had been with the forward companies since the battle started, was now to establish itself in some more suitable building, a little further back.

The IO was accordingly despatched to look for one. He went back to an area some distance behind B Company, where a likely house could be seen. While crossing towards this farm, the IO was somewhat nonplussed by the antics of some British soldiers around some of the neighbouring buildings. Nearly 24 hours had passed since the Skins’ first crossing and so he decided that the first priority was a building where Battalion Headquarters could have a meal and a much needed clean up. He, therefore, continued on his way. When he got safely to the house, he noticed these British troops were advancing towards him under cover of a well laid smoke screen. They advanced in extended order, captured the house and promptly took him prisoner. In an immediate interrogation, the IO told these people, who I may say came from a flanking Brigade of our own Division, that this house was Battalion Headquarters of the Skins, who had been fighting all day in that area. This information was received with scorn, for those warriors claimed that they had just crossed the San Nicolo canal and, what was more, they were the first to do so. In reality, they were nearly the last unit in the Division to come over! This particular house, moreover, was their final objective. Even the IO’s identity card was eyed with considerable doubt. When an impasse appeared to have been reached the CO, David Shaw, fortunately turned up in a tank and told these veterans to go and look for some other objective. Enquiry showed that their attack had been a genuine one by a unit not quite in the picture and the whole thing was dismissed with a laugh.

After the ‘Kangaroo Army’ had launched itself, 36 Brigade advanced on an axis to the left of it, with 8th Argylls followed by 6th Royal West Kents. This force did a very fine advance up to the Po di Volano.

On 22nd April, 11 Brigade passed through the ‘Kangaroo Army’ to attack towards the Po di Volano at Fossalta and Baura.

We had a rest that day and the battalions had certainly earned it. It had been a very tough battle under a very difficult circumstances and everyone had done magnificently. I had a good look at that open ground that the Skins had advanced over in their turn north eastwards. It was perfectly foul!

We moved Brigade Headquarters to Voghiera and the Skins brought their Battalion Headquarters there too. As I was driving back towards the village from visiting the Faughs, I heard an appalling rattle of musketry over my head and saw a Lightning shooting up the congested traffic approaching the village. Not content with that, he unleashed a couple of bombs at it. Divisional Headquarters’ transport was passing at that moment but luckily escaped unscathed though, when I appeared on the scene, there were one or two staff cars strewn about at odd angles when the drivers had very wisely made a quick move for a ditch.”

From the War Diaries of 22nd April.

1) Irish Brigade HQ.

1200 Brigade HQ moved forward to Vochera 222768. Bttns remain concentrated in present location. 11 Brigade pass through 2 Armoured Brigade to attack the Po di Volano at Fossalta 2387 and Baura 1987.

2) 2 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

0600 The Bttn stood to.

1000 A and B Echelons arrived at Voghiera

1530 The tranquility of the day was suddenly shattered when an unidentified plane dropped a bomb in the Bttn HQ area and then proceeded to machine gun in the area.

1800 Orders were issued that all guards were to be doubled as a precaution against fire from enemy air raids.

2000 A cinema show was held in the B Coy area.

2200 Message received for bttn to stand by, on 4 hours notice, on the following morning. Remainder of the night was quiet.

3) 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.

1700 Tac R Group to RV 211839. Bttn and tank RV 233840.

General idea – 2 Innisks attack Saletta 242915 and proceed north on road 241920 – 240928 Capitello.

1 RIrF clear left at Saletta and protect left flank via road Saletta – crossroads 238916 north west to junction 218937.

4) 2 London Irish Rifles. 

0100 F Coy cross bridge 188822 over the Po di Volano Canal and quickly consolidate a firm bridgehead with tanks and infantry at both ends. Heavy enemy shelling from SP guns.

0200 Another infantry Bttn on its way up to relieve Bttn.

0400 Situation: Locations – Bttn HQ at Casa Crioli 197819; E Coy 210822; F Coy in bridgehead supported by one platoon of H Coy in area 187824 and the other two platoons of H Coy at the southern end of bridge 187821. Mortar Platoon digging in their mortars behind house occupied by RHQ.

0415 Recce party from 2 LFs arrive at Bttn HQ.

0600 Bttn relieved by 2 LF.

0800 26 PWs at Bttn HQ. They were composed of Poles, Germans, Czechs, Russians, Slovaks, one Frenchman and one Lithuanian. All from 98 Infantry Division.

0830 2 Armoured Brigade Commander visits Bttn HQ, confers with CO and decides no more operations from the bttn today.

1400 Six more PWs passed through Bttn HQ.

1900 Bttn warned for possible night operations on the right flank. This, however, did not take place.