The morning of April 23rd showed us little major change on our own front, with the Division now closed up to the line of the Po di Valano and the Diversivo di Volano round the Fossalta pocket. 5 Northamptons had a firm bridgehead over the river and the sappers began work on the bridge site at first light. During the day, the Northamptons carried out operations to extend their bridgeheads and were supported in this by tanks of the Bays, which were passed round through the 56th Division’s bridgehead in Sabbioncello and thence west along the north bank of the river. At the same time, the Lancashire Fusiliers were engaged in trying to wipe out the enemy pocket south of the river by Baura.
By mid morning, the Northamptons succeeded in clearing the Fossalta and 11 Brigade was in the process of passing the Surreys across the river by boat and raft. Progress everywhere was slow due to the very open country where wide fields of fire were available to the enemy from any of the innumerable little groups of farm buildings dotted over the plain.
On the right, meanwhile, the 56th Division had made great strides forward and had cleared Copparo by first light. On the left, the 8th Indian Division was pushing northwards from the area of Ferrara and, further west, a race to the river was in progress. Tanks of the North Irish Horse (21st Tank Brigade), with the infantry of the 8th Indian Division started to advance at 0600 hours with the intention of reaching the banks of the river. At 1045 hours, they arrived, having taken large numbers of prisoners and by-passed the town of Ferrara altogether. At 1055 hours, the 6th Armoured Division’s leading tanks reached the Po further to the west and, very shortly afterwards, troops of the 5th Army were reported as being on the each bank at San Benedetto.
On our own front, the enemy continued to hold out stubbornly and, at the time, it was hard to understand why so little progress was being made towards the river crossings near Polesella. By evening, 1 Surreys were across the river and had joined 5 Northamptons, whilst 56 Recce Regiment with 2 LF were trying to make progress into the area of the “bulge” and to the west of it. At last light, the Northamptons reached Giacomo at the head of the bulge and the Surreys were beginning to pass through. The bridge was expected to be complete at any time and the Irish Brigade, with the 10th Hussars, was ready to cross over and push on.
At 2300 hours, the bridge was ready and 2 Innisks started to cross. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were to follow and each battalion was supported by tanks of 10 Hussars.
The plan was as follows. The Brigade would pass through the bridgehead with as little delay as possible and, with the Inniskillings leading, would seize the village of Saletta. This was chosen as the first Brigade objective because the small village of Tamara between Fossalta and Saletta, had been occupied during the day by the 1st London Irish Rifles of the 56th Division. Once in Saletta, the Inniskillings were to press north directed on the river crossings at Zocca and Ro, whilst the Royal Irish Fusiliers were to strike to north westwards towards Ruina and the banks of the river west of Zocca.
Having crossed the river, the Inniskillings moved north as planned and all went well until they began to approach Saletta at about 0200 hours. Here, in the narrow approaches to the village, they began to run into serious trouble. The enemy’s determination to stand was not one atom diminished from its earlier intensity and a fierce battle at close quarters ensued.
At this stage, it became glaringly apparent why the approaches to the Po just east of Ferrara were proving so troublesome. The 76th Panzer Corps, containing the 26th Panzer and the 29th Panzer-Grenadier Divisions, which had been given the task of covering the withdrawal of all the other forces, had chosen as its own line of withdrawal the crossings over the Po in the area of Polesella. Thanks to the work of the RAF, the bulk of this Corps was still waiting to cross.
From Brigadier Pat Scott’s narrative.
On 23rd April, 11 Brigade succeeded in forcing a crossing over the Po di Volano and established a bridgehead, which enabled a bridge to be built about 500 yards south of Fossalta. 36 Brigade were warned to plan an assault crossing over the Po using swimming tanks, fantails etc.
At 0900 hrs, we were warned to be ready to go through 11 Brigade that night and carry out a final rush on the Po. At midday, we received definite orders for this. The Brigade was to move at 1700 hrs in TCVs to a suitable assembly area, south of the bridge. I went to Division at 1630 hrs to get the latest form and ordered an O Group at my new Headquarters near the assembly area at 1800 hrs. Our objective was the Po. The enemy resistance was undoubtedly stiff and would probably become stiffer. He was defending the various canal barriers as much as possible in order to complete the withdrawal of the bulk of his forces and transport which lay east of Ferrara. If ever, it was necessary for the Bosche to stand and fight, it was now.
1 London Irish with 56th Division were now in Tamara and 11 Brigade were striking out towards Corlo and Baura. The plan was for the Skins to pass over first near Saletta and advance towards Zocca while the Faughs were to follow them, turn left and advance towards Ruina and the Po on their front. A Squadron of 10th Hussars was with each leading battalion and we had some assault REs to deal with the canals.
I had been giving out orders clustered round John O’Rourke’s big map outside the front door – one needed a big map these days to see all the country. When I had finished, we were inside and, shortly afterwards, there was a loud report outside, followed by others for the next ten minutes or so. When we looked out again, we found a shell splinter had gone slap through the map. It was just as well it had not arrived a quarter of an hour earlier. John was very distressed at the damage to his talc. Personally, I was more relieved that my skin was intact. It might have been the skin of several of us quite easily.
Bridge trouble was going on again but, by a bit of good luck, we had estimated the delays correctly and the Skins started to arrive at the bridge just after it was completed at about 2345 hours.
War Diaries for April 23rd 1945:
1) Irish Brigade HQ.
11 Brigade succeeded in forcing a crossing over the Po di Volano and provided a bridgehead for a bridge to be built at 238862.
36 Brigade were warned they might have to do an assault landing over the Po and are to be relieved accordingly by 56 Recce less B Squadron.
0900 Brigade warned to be ready to go through 11 Brigade and attack towards Lucca 2296 and Ruina. No definite orders received yet.
1200 Orders received. Brigade Group to move at 1700 hrs and attack Tamara 2489. Move in TCVs to bridge 238862 and march forward from there.
1630 Brigade Commander goes to HQ 78 Division to receive full details. Brigade ‘O’ Group ordered to RV at new Brigade HQ 211839.
1700 Brigade column commences to go forward.
1800 Brigade Commander gives out orders:
Enemy resistance is stiffening and he will defend the canal barriers as much as possible in order to complete the withdrawal of the bulk of his troops and transport east of Ferrara.
1 LIR (56 Division) now hold Tamara.
2 Innisks to pass through and clear Saletta 2491, followed by 1 RIrF. On clearing this village, 2 Innisks will carry on up the road to Zocca and 1 RIrF will turn left and clear the road leading up to Ruina and the Po. E Assault Squadron RE will be in support to help bridge canal obstacles. One Squadron 10 Hussars with two leading bttns.
2345 2 Innisks crossed over Bailey Bridge followed by 1 RIrF.
At 0245 hrs, 2 Innisks reached Saletta and found it occupied. The narrow approach to the village and lack of cover did not allow for reasonable deployment and it was not captured until 0500 hrs after a stiff close quarter fight. After the advance, 2 Innisks advanced quickly to 242917, four hundred yards north.
2) 2 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.
0630 This was another quiet morning.
1200 Orders were received for the Bttn to move to area Viatesta 225846.
1330 Advance parties left to recce new area.
1545 Bttn embussed and arrived in new area at 1900 hrs. CO visited brigade and returned to bttn area at 2200 hrs and held a conference.
2230 O Group. IO gave out details of the conference. We were to start as soon as a bridge at 240861 was completed. The bttn was to cross, supported by A Squadron, 10 Hussars and to advance up the road to Zocca 2296.
According to reports, the village of Tanara was reported clear of the enemy but the village of Saletta was still firmly held.
2300 The CO issued the following orders: B Coy was to be the right forward – C Coy was to be left forward coy – A Coy was to be the right rear – D Coy left rear. One troop of tanks was to be in support of each coy. Start Line was at 239910.
2330 The bridge was reported open and bttn moved off in the direction of the Start Line.
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.
1030 CO and Adjutant visit the Rifle Coys.
1130 CO and IO proceed to 38 Brigade HQ.
1145 RC Church Service held in local church.
2000 Bttn warned for possible move forward through the 1 RIrF and 2 Innisks on the right flank.
2300 Move forward confirmed. Time of move 0200 hrs. Bttn now under command 38 Brigade but the Kangaroos would be used as TCVs to take the bttn to scene of operations.