As dawn approached on 25 April, organised resistance was at an end.
A plan made overnight for the swift and thorough clearance of the whole divisional area was put into effect at first light. One squadron of the Recce Regiment passed to under command of each of 11, 38 and 2 Armoured Brigades and these three formations were each given an area stretching south from a sector of the river bank.
On the right, the Irish Brigade entered Zocca and Ruina to find an incredible scene of devastation. Packed in the fields, queued up in lanes, cast in ditches, in farmyards and woods, everywhere – even to the river itself – lay the remains of the transport ad equipment of 76 Panzer Corps. Practically everything was destroyed: anything that had not been riddled with cannon – shell or torn by bomb splinters from the air forces, had been burnt by the enemy as he fled. The only large quantity of serviceable things seemed to be the horse, these, abandoned, roamed everywhere amongst the devastation.
To the west of Ruina, 11 Brigade was given a sector up to the river and, here, similar conditions prevailed, although there was less equipment than in the Irish Brigade’s area. Having cleared up to the bank by midday, the task of watching the river was handed over the Recce Squadron and the battalions concentrated in Baura (2 LF), Corlo (1 Surreys) and Correggio (5 Northamptons).
On the left of the divisional sector, 2 Armoured Brigade did similar sweeping up and also handed over the river line to the Recce Squadron by evening.
The story is over: the intention of the Allied Armies in Italy was carried through to the end; on the ground before us was evidence enough of how much our enemy had lost. Despite all, however, few realised how near this was to the end, not of a phase in the war but of the whole odious epoch. One of those, who knew, was General Graf von Schwerin, commander of 76 Panzer Corps who, with his personal staff, surrendered to 27 Lancers on the morning of April 25th. On being asked the disposition of his Corps at that time, he is said to have replied – “You will find it south of the River Po”.
No small part of this vast achievement was due to the Air Forces; the accuracy of their bombing and fire, the promptness of their action on receiving a request and, best of all, their constant presence in the air above our heads – all these things hastened victory more than any can tell. No small part was played by each of the other divisions, which fought in the fight. In this report, however, we set out to describe the actions of our own division; its part was not a small one either.
A fire plan was laid on and, by 0130 hours, G and F Companies were feeling their way northwards with their respective tanks moving well behind. This complete change of direction during the hours of darkness was accomplished with very little difficulty in spite of the fact that we were still on contact with the enemy. As G and F Companies moved forward, the mass of armoured vehicles belonging to the combined armoured-infantry HW leaguered in a field only a mile or so north of Ferrara and waited for the two Company columns to report their progress. They met with only minor opposition and, by dawn, were on the banks of the Po in the midst of an extraordinary collection of abandoned and burning vehicles left behind by the enemy.
They included six more Mark IV tanks and a large number of lorries. Many Germans, who had either left it too or could not swim, were rounded up.
Thus ended the fourth and longest advance made by the ‘Kangaroo Army’. The force settles down into billets in farms on its final battle field south of the Po and perhaps its final battlefield of the war.”
The ‘Kangaroo Army’ took about one hundred and fifty prisoners of war. Their exploits, of course, had a direct bearing on the situation in front of the rest of the Brigade. That night, there was to be an all out effort to get right up to the Po and finish the job. The advance was to continue at 0200 hours. By 0300 hours, B Company of the Skins had crossed the Canale Fossetta and, an hour later, C Company had reached the Fossa Lavezzola.
About this time, it was beginning to become evident that something had happened to the Bosche. We had no knowledge about our own troops on our right to help us but, whatever had happened, we could not afford to let up yet. This advance was continued as planned and the Skins captured the villages of Ro and Zocca without finding any Bosche in them. The Faughs reached Ruina at about 1000 hours and pushed on to the Po.
The next thing to do was a quick round up throughout the area. C Squadron, 56 Reconnaissance Regiment came under my command and I pushed them out on the right of the Skins. A real field day was had by all. Three officers and three hundred and ten other ranks, who had missed the last boat, were rounded up. The amount of equipment that was found strewn along the river bank was nobody’s business. There was mile after mile of wreckage and rubbish intermingled with thousands of horse. It was an unbelievable sight! No wonder our last battle had been such a stiff one with all that stuff at stake. He had enough guns there to blow us off the earth, to say nothing of all the tanks and other things there were.
Whatever else had happened, there seemed to be little room for doubt that 76 Panzer Corps had been well and truly defeated. This was evidently realised by their Commander, who had given himself up to 56th Division on our right on the previous day. The battle of Argenta Gap, he said, had been his downfall. Whatever was left of his Corps was in a completely useless state. The Brigade, alone, counting the ‘Kangaroo Force’ had passed back to Prisoner of War cages 22 officers and 2,099 Other Ranks since we started this campaign. Casualties inflicted had been far greater.
Leaflets were dropped to the remnants of the German 76 Panzer Corps. They said:
“Divisional Commander, Officers, NCOs and Soldiers of 76 Panzer Corps.
Today, the 25th April 1945, Lt General Graf von Schwerin, accompanied by his ADCs. Lt Huss and Lt Reiners, surrendered to 27 Lancers.
Your General declared:
‘I know the situation. For German soldiers in Italy, it is hopeless. My Corps has had it. Under these circumstances, I cannot give further commands.
In full knowledge of the situation, I have chosen the only way open to a soldier, who had been honourably but decisively defeated.
It is now the duty of very officer, of every NCO and of every soldier bravely to look facts in the face and to realise that it is criminal to throw away more human lives.’
From the War Diaries of 25th April.
1) Irish Brigade HQ.
0200 2 Innisks commenced an attack to wipe out the enemy post at 236939, which succeeded. The bridge was intact and, by early morning, they were on the outskirts of Zocca.. This swift advance was followed up quickly by 1 RIrF, who reached Ruina by about 1000 hrs and pushed on to the Po.
Both bttns were then ordered to search the whole area and given boundaries in which to do this. C Squadron 56 Recce came under command and was ordered to clear the remaining sector to the right of 2 Innisks.
All members of the brigade had a field day, rounding up the last remaining Huns, who missed the last boat over the Po. In all 3 Officers and 310 PWs were brought in to Brigade HQ.
Ferrara was finally occupied by 1 A&SH (8 Indian Division) today.
2 Innisks – HQ 227954, with coys at 224969, 235977, 230948, 230970.
1 RIrF – HQ 218939 with coys at 216952, 208952, 198939, 218939.
C Squadron 56 Recce harbour area 245967.
2 LIR – HQ 163905 with coys at 175919, 171914, 158910, 156903.
Covering patrols out at 153933 and 177942.
2) 2 Royal Inniskillings Fusiliers.
0230 The Bttn resumed its advance and, by 0300 hrs, B Coy had crossed the canal at La Fosetta.
0400 C Coy reached Fossa Lavessora without opposition.
0445 The CO ordered A Coy to move through B and A Coys and occupy Zocca 2296 supported by two carriers and a troop of tanks. A Coy formed up between the two canals.
0515 Major Cochrane called upon Captain Long MC and was told that C Coy had patrolled the road as far as Cassa Rossa 228954 and found it clear of the enemy.
0530 The situation was not clear as to how far the troops on the right had reached out and there was no definite knowledge of the position of the enemy.
A Coy was ordered to proceed to 226997 after which 9 Platoon was ordered to Casa Vecchia 223955. This operation was completed by 0600 hrs. Both points were reported clear.
0600 A patrol of 6 Platoon went to recce the area, right of this road and captured 47 PWs. 7 and 9 Platoons moved to road junction 225962 from where 7 Platoon moved up to the bank of the River Po. This operation was successfully carried out and 60 prisoners were taken after slight opposition.
0700 7 and 9 Platoons were ordered to move once more, this time into Zocca. 8 Platoon was left at 229567 to cover the right flank. The town was reached by 0800 hrs and so our furthest objective on the River Po had been captured.
It was now quite clear that the enemy had finished all resistance in our area, south of the River Po and the large numbers of transport of all kinds, which he destroyed here was a good indication of the fact that, from now onwards, his resistance further north would be very feeble.
0800 7 and 9 Platoons started to clear the villages of Massa Downina 2396 and the village RO 2397, where many more PWs were taken. D Coy was sent forward to consolidate the village of Zocca.
1200 During the day, 220 PWs were captured by the bttn and, at least, 15 enemy formations were represented.
1700 Bttn HQ was established in area 225961.
1800 A conference was laid on at the Command Post and it was decided that coys would take up positions on the river bank for the night. A Coy at Casa Maccari – and B at Cassa Fanotti.
D Coy had positions to the north and north west – C Coy had positions to the south.
1900 The night proved uneventful and the enemy was in full retreat.
3) 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.
0850 C Coy passed B Coy on way to Ruina, report British transport in area.
0940 Tac at 225931.
0943 C Coy (Captain Beamish), 1st platoon in Ruina, no contact.
1000 Tac in Ruina, all coys and main support move up.
1200 B Coy – 216940. D – 217952. C – 211948. A – 198939. S – 218939.
This last action has been characterised by strong enemy tank and SP gun defences moving back from canal to canal only when closely threatened by infantry. It has also seen quick and accurate response by the gunners whenever a tank or gun could be pin pointed.
4) 2 London Irish Rifles.
0100 Patrols move forward to 151915 and 173923.
0200 Patrols report territory between undefended.
Consequently, G Coy moved forward to the first location and F Coy to the latter. Then, with patrols again out in front, G Coy moved north to reach the Po at Francolino 154932 and F Coy to the Po at Borgo 178941. Heavy artillery programme was laid on in case of enemy resistance.
0500 F and G Coys reached their objectives and held them until relieved by 56 Recce later in the morning. During this night’s operations, the bttn fired its last shots of the Italian Campaign.
0630 Bttn HQ now at La Pavonara 163906.
0900 20 PWs passed through Bttn HQ.
1200 Officers and 50 ORS PWs passed back through Bttn HQ.
Identifications – 26th Panzer Division, 42 Jager Division and 362nd Infantry Division. Nationalities – German, Polish, Russian, French, Czech and Austrian. The Fascist Deputy Mayor of Ferrara, who was attempting to retreat with the enemy, was also passed back to the Field Security Police.
1400 2 PWs with an MG 42 passed through Bttn HQ. Nationality – Polish; Identification – Army A/A Bttn.
1600 Locations – E Coy at Crosarola 155903; F Coy Casa Grande 171914; G Coy Casa Limoni 158910; H Coy road junction 175920; S Coy Il Cantone 165910.
2000 Brigade Commander visits Bttn HQ. Bttn now under command 38 Brigade.