Irish Brigade

The story of the 38th (Irish) Brigade in the Second World War

Faugh a Ballagh        Nec Aspera Terrent         Quis Separabit


9th April 1945

The 5th Corps attack across the Rivers Senio and Santerno.

April 9th dawned fine and warm by the banks of the Senio with the ground hard underfoot and a cloudless sky. It was ideal weather for the air forces to begin that process ominously known as “softening up”.

The morning passed in comparative peace except at each headquarters, where telephones rang incessantly and paper continued to pour from the machinery of planning and fall into every lap “for action” or “for information”; liaison officers came and went and generally came again: on the river bank, it was unusually quiet.

At 1350 hours, the first rumblings of attack began with medium and heavy bombers passing overhead on their way to drop a “carpet” of small fragmentation bombs in the enemy’s rear areas. Ten minutes later, the first “cab rank” appeared; Spitfires circling high up in the sky, ready to pounce on targets chosen by the ground forces.

At 1520 hours, the overture began in earnest; first guns and mortars, then the air, then guns again, then both; there was no mistaking this, the prelude of the assault.

The bombardment was planned and carried out in five phases. Each phase opened with an intense gun attack, employing every available gun and mortar on the Corps front. Then followed a ten minute period during which the guns were silent and fighter bombers strafed the river banks with cannon. Next, the aircraft switched to the area behind the river and attacked with bombs, while the guns and mortars also lifted from the floodbank and laid down concentrations beyond it.

This cycle of destruction revolved five times between 1520 and 1920 hours, the time planned for the ground assault, this time known as ‘H’.

The artillery and mortar bombardment for the fifth phase of the attack ended at 1920 hours precisely; the fighter bombers came down to strafe the river bank; but the attack was a feint. As the aircraft swooped, ‘Wasp’ and ‘Crocodile’ flamethrowers all along the river bank opened their jets and the enemy’s posts were subjected to intense saturation of flame on an unprecedented scale. This was the climax of the “preparation”.

At ‘H’, the leading infantry units assaulted across the river and the opening barrage began.

For two hours, the fog of war lay thickly over the front and conflicting news confounded efforts to paint a military picture with china graph on talc. By 2115 hours, however, it was clear that substantial bridgeheads had been gained in the initial assault and progress seemed, on the whole, to be good.

During the night, and all the next day, the Indians on the right and the New Zealanders on the left continued to make steady and substantial progress. By dawn on April 11th, they were approaching the second major obstacle in the way of the advance – the Santerno river. By nightfall on the same date, the Santerno had been crossed and each of the two leading divisions had a foothold on the far bank. The work of the 78th Division was about to begin.


Preliminary Operations of the 78th Division.

On ‘D’ Day, the divisional sector was held by 11 Brigade, with under command the Queen’s Bays, 5 Buffs, 6 RWK and a composite squadron of 56 Recce Regiment. 5 Northamptons, supported by the 75 mm SP guns of 56 Recce Regiment were detached from the Division filling a gap in the Corps front near Alfonsine, 36 and 38 Brigades and 2 Armoured Brigade less 10 Hussars were concentrated in rear areas, prepared to move forward, when required. 10 Hussars was detached from its Brigade and under command of the 56th (London) Division in the north.

Elsewhere, many of the division’s supporting arms were engaged in sundry tasks. The entire Divisional Artillery, including 11 RHA, was placed in support of the 2nd New Zealand Division for the preliminary gun attack and subsequently for the assault. By agreement with the New Zealanders, however, 138 Field Regiment was retained with its primary task, the support of the divisional sector.

In order to thicken the gunner support on the Division’s front, two batteries, each of six tanks equipped with 105 mm guns, were formed from 2 Armoured Brigade (Bays and 9 Lancers) and placed under command 11 RHA.

1 Kensingtons were deployed in support of the flanking divisions, having placed two platoons of heavy mortars with each.

The ‘Wasp’ Flamethrowers of the Division were dispersed along the Corps front so that the moral and physical onslaught, which was planned as the climax of the preparation might be more effective on the fronts of the assaulting formations, but the exact area of attack should remain concealed until the infantry were across. Nine were placed under command of each of the two assaulting divisions and which remained in 11 Brigade in the Divisional sector.

The Divisional Engineers were also engaged on tasks of assistance to the flanks and in particular on the business of road maintenance.

With the Division thus deployed, the preliminary air attacks on ‘D’ day necessitated the withdrawal of our own troops to a distance of 400 yards from the river bank. This operation was carried out by 11 Brigade at first light on April 9th, in conformity with the flanking divisions.

At ‘H’ hour, previous positions were to be reoccupied and 11 Brigade was then to push forward on the extreme right to occupy positions on the eastern floodbank some 300 or 400 yards beyond the original line, which here ran that distance short of the river.

In carrying out this task, the Brigade encountered some difficulty. By 2010 hours, all positions, previously held in the Division’s sector, were reoccupied but 2 Lancashre Fusiliers (2 LF), supported by a squadron of Bays, were meeting strong opposition as they tried to move forward to the new positions on the right. Enemy machine guns were very active from the area of the floodbank and many mines were causing some trouble. A further impediment came from individual enemy who, having observed our withdrawal early in the day, had moved forward from their posts and thus succeeded in avoiding the main weight of the air attack. These few enterprising huns kept bobbing up in the rear of the Lancashire Fusiliers. With the machine gunners in the bank, they inflicted between 20 and 30 casualties, preventing the battalion from gaining the new position by dusk.

From Brigadier Pat Scott’s narrative:

Before the big offensive on Rome started last year, the Army Commander had held a ‘Malaria Conference.’ This year, it was to be a ‘Welfare Conference.’ It could never do if the Germans thought we were really having a conference about the war.

General McCreery held his ‘Welfare Conference’ on the morning of the 5th of April when he explained the general plan of both the Army and the Army Group in the coming offensive. This conference was attended down to COs but its general terms were to remain secret until the last possible moment. The operation was to be known as ‘Buckland’ and ‘D Day’ was later given out as the 9th of April.

As we were not due to take part in the proceedings at the outset, I decided that the 9th of April would be a good day for us to talk to the three battalions about the coming battle as I could then say anything I liked without danger of breaking security. I accordingly walked to each one in turn as the first of the heavy bombers were passing overheard to open the last round.

The object of 15 Army Group was to defeat the Germans in Italy, south of the Po. Five Corps and the Polish Corps were to attack in the Eighth Army in a westerly and north westerly direction. The American Fifth Army was to attack due north to the west of Bologna, about three days after the attack of the Eighth Army had started. The two Armies were to converge on the Po somewhere to the west of Ferrara and, between these two great claws, it was hoped the bulk of the German Army would be smashed. In point of fact, this is what actually happened.

Five Corps had already started several days before with 56 Division, the Cremona Gruppe and the Commandos attacking on our extreme right in the neighbourhood of Lake Comacchio. They had achieved some very reassuring results. The main attack of 5 Corps was to be launched on the afternoon of ‘D Day’, by 2 New Zealand Division and 8th Indian Division north and south of Cotignola and the Polish Corps attacking between 5 Corps and Route 9. The cover plan was to try and make the Bosche believe that the main attack was to be astride Route 9 and that the Americans were participating in it also. 78th Division was to pass through either the 2nd New Zealand or 8th Indian Division before or after they had passed over the River Santerno to Bastia and so link up with 56 Division’s advance along the north bank of the Reno. After this had been successfully done, the plan was to break through the Argenta Gap and advance to Ferrara. 6th Armoured Division were to remain in Army reserve during the opening phase.

Considerable controversy had arisen over the correct ‘H’ hour – whether it should be by day or night and what artillery or air support should herald assault. Each Division had different ideas. It was not unnatural that this should be so, for some Divisions were up the floodbank, while others were not. ‘H’ hour was eventually fixed for the Eighth Army at 1920 hours and was to be preceded by alternating artillery preparation and intense pattern bombing by heavy and medium bombers for some 5 hours. After the effects of Cassino last year, people had always been a little chary about the use of these bombers for close support and very careful safety precautions were being taken. They were to fly on a beam, they were not to bomb until they crossed an intersecting beam. There were to be marks on the ground which would guide them. There was to be flak barrage fired below them and they were not to bomb until they got beyond it. With these and other aids, it sounded pretty cast iron. 25 pounder fragmentation bombs were decided as being the best type to use. There were to be vast numbers of them. The entire Strategic Air Force was to carry out this project.

In spite of all these precautions, a certain number of bombs did go astray, especially on the Polish Corps front but, on the whole, results were excellent. No-one really knew at the time what the effect was, but we found out from prisoners afterwards that the German communications had been entirely disrupted and it was that which largely accounted for the absence of German defensive fire when the offensive started. Our only contribution to the initial assault was the use of ‘Wasps’ – a extensive flame throwing programme was carried out along the Army front and this terrified the Germans even more than the bombing. None of our ‘Wasps’ were any the worse for the experience.

The Senio was strongly defended but the defensive positions that the Germans had prepared on the River Santerno, about 8,000 yards to the west of the Senio were infinitely better. It was a really formidable set up. These positions had been carefully prepared throughout the winter in the light of knowledge that the Germans had gained in the defence of the River Senio. We estimated that at present the Germans had no fresh troops to man these positions. The one real danger to the offensive, therefore, was that the Germans should withdraw to the Santerno before our attack. A few days before D Day, there had been a considerable amount of German artillery fire throughout the Corps area and it was feared that he was shooting off his ammunition as a prelude to an immediate withdrawal. Had he done this, we might well have had to carry out a costly preliminary offensive up to the Santerno and started mounting the battle all over again. We found out later, when the German Corps Commander gave himself up, that this artillery activity, to which I referred, had, in fact, been the prelude to his withdrawal to the Santerno, but the withdrawal had been cancelled on the personal orders of Hitler at the last minute. Once again, we have Hitler to thank for a German military error.

The German Army Group had only two Divisions in general reserve, 90th Panzer Grenadier Division, somewhere south east of Bologna and the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, believed to be in the Rovigo area. On the 5 Corps sector, the Germans had 362nd Division and 98th Division with one battalion in reserve to each. Everything also was in the shop window and an immediate counter attack appeared unlikely on anything larger than a platoon basis. 42th Division were opposite 56th Division’s exploits around Lake Comacchio and 26th Panzer Division was opposite the Poles. In armour, the Germans were believed to have thirty Mark IV tanks in reserve and thirty Tiger tanks stretched across the front. Actually, the Germans had a good deal more Mark IVs than was originally believed. They also were believed to have some forty self propelled assault guns of various calibres in 242 Assault Gun Brigade, plus the normal element with their infantry Divisions. We had about five Armoured Brigades to set against this.

The crossing of the Senio was successful. 8th Indian Division met a good deal more opposition than the New Zealanders, especially on the floodbank itself but, by the morning of the 10th, the bridgehead had a general depth of about 2,000 yards. In most places, it was up to the Canale Lugo. 11 Brigade had had the job of doing a limited attack between the assaulting Divisions and had rather a sticky time getting up to the floodbank on their front but, later on, successfully cleaned up Cotignola.”


War Diary Entries for 9th April 1945.

1) Irish Brigade HQ.

Individual training and interior economy by Bttns in the morning. In the afternoon, Brigade Commander talked to all Bttns in turn and gave a forecast of the future. In his talk, he gave the gist of the following information of the plan for the opening of the Spring Offensive in Italy by the Eighth Army.

Resume of Plan for Operation ‘Buckland’.

Enemy – On the assaulting sector, the enemy disposes some ten Bttns in the line from 98 Division and half of 362 Division. There is one Bttn in reserve to each division and, where all companies of a Bttn are in the line, counter attacks on a platoon or section basis might be expected.

Enemy Armour – 26 Panzer Division has some 30 Mark IV tanks in reserve in area Portomaggiore.

504 Tank Bttn has some 30 Tigers stretched between Lake Comacchio and Route 9.

242 Ass Gun Brigade (40 SPs) is also available.

Reserves – 90 PG is somewhere south east of Bologna in Army reserve and 29 PG is possibly available from Rovigo.

Plan – 2 New Zealand Division will assault the Senio south of Cotignola and 8 Indian Division to the north.

56 Division have already started an operation in conjunction with 2 Commando Brigade for clearing the eastern peninsula of the Comacchio lake and also to push westwards along the southern edge of the lake towards Argenta.

78 Division is to be prepared to support 2 NZ and 8 Indian Division in advancing to the River Santerno and to break out of the bridgehead formed by 8 Indian Division over the river, probably on D+2.

1920 Operation ‘Buckland’ commenced.

1930 The officers of 2 Innisks held a party for all officers of the Brigade Group.

2) 1 Royal Irish Fusiliers.

Talk to Bttn by Brigade TPD Scott DSO on future role of Brigade.

3) 2 Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.

The Bttn spent the morning making final preparations for the move.

1100 Special Orders of the Day received from Field Marshal Alexander, General Mark W Clark and Lt General RL McCreery, to the effect that the Mediterranean Spring Offensive had started today.

1215 The Bttn received orders from Brigade HQ to move off at 1315hrs in the assembly area at MR 3755.

1315 The Bttn left Forli , the Echelons to their respective sites and the main body to an assembly area at 3835/3835.

1530 The Bttn arrived in its assembly area and was quickly established, this being helped by everybody’s familiarity with the area, having operated in it only a few days previously.

2100 The CO and IO attended an ‘O’ Group conference held at Brigade HQ. Little knowledge was obtained apart from the fact that the Brigade would move into a concentration area north of Lugo on the 10th. This was passed on to Coy Commanders when the CO returned. The Bttn spent a quiet night in reasonable comfort as everybody had been able to fit into buildings in the area.

4) 2 London Irish Rifles.

0930 CO addresses all officers on Bttn’s future intentions.

1500 Brigade Commander addresses the Bttn.

Bttn now at notice to move on D Day + 1 at ‘F’ Hour + 170 to an assembly area near Bagnacavallo.

1700 D Day. Allied offensive on the Senio River line opens. 2 NZ Division on the left and 8 Indian Division on the right. Bttn’s role will be that of infantry cooperating with tanks and spearheading the Allied advance through the Argenta Gap.

1730 CO, IO, Adjutant and Coy Commanders proceed to conference with ‘Kangaroo’ (4 Hussars) and 9 Lancers’ Commanders.


Preliminary Operations of the 78th Division.

On ‘D’ Day, the divisional sector was held by 11 Brigade, which under command the Queen’s Bays, 5 Buffs, 6 RWK and a composite squadron of 56 Recce Regiment. 5 Northamptons, supported by the 75 mm SP guns of 56 Recce Regiment were detached from the Division filling a gap in the Corps front near Alfonsine, 36 and 38 Brigades and 2 Armoured Brigade less 10 Hussars were concentrated in rear areas prepared to move forward, when required. 10 Hussars was detached from its Brigade and under command of the 56th (London) Division in the north.

Elsewhere, many of the division’s supporting arms were engaged in sundry tasks. The entire Divisional Artillery, including 11 RHA, was placed in support of the 2nd New Zealand Division for the preliminary gun attack and subsequen   tly for the assault. By agreement with the New Zealanders, however, 138 Field Regiment was retained with its primary task, the support of the divisional sector.

In order to thicken the gunner support on the Division’s front, two batteries, each of six tanks equipped with 105 mm guns, were formed from 2 Armoured Brigade (Bays and 9 Lancers) and placed under command 11 RHA.

1 Kensingtons were deployed in support of the flanking divisions, having placed two platoons of heavy mortars with each.

The ‘Wasp’ Flamethrowers of the Division were dispersed along the Corps front so that the moral and physical onslaught, which was planned as the climax of the preparation might be more effective on the fronts of the assaulting formations, but the exact area of attack should remain concealed until the infantry were across. Nine were placed under command of each of the two assaulting divisions and which remained in 11 Brigade in the Divisional sector.

The Divisional Engineers were also engaged on tasks of assistance to the flanks and in particular on the business of road maintenance.

With the Division thus deployed, the preliminary air attacks on ‘D’ day necessitated the withdrawal of our own troops to a distance of 400 yards from the river bank. This operation was carried out by 11 Brigade at first light on April 9th, in conformity with the flanking divisions.

At ‘H’ hour, previous positions were to be reoccupied and 11 Brigade was then to push forward on the extreme right to occupy positions on the eastern flood bank some 300 or 400 yards beyond the original line, which here ran that distance short of the river.

In carrying out this task, the Brigade encountered some difficulty. By 2010 hours, all positions previously held in the Division’s sector were reoccupied but 2 LF, supported by a squadron of Bays, were meeting string opposition as they tried to move forward to the new positions on the right. Enemy machine guns were very active from the area of the floodbank and many mines were causing some trouble. A further impediment came from individual enemy who, having observed our withdrawal early in the day, had moved forward from their posts and thus succeeded in avoiding the main weight of the air attack. These few enterprising huns kept bobbing up in the rear of the LF. With the machine gunners in the bank, they inflicted between 20 and 30 casualties, preventing the battalion from gaining the new position by dusk.

The progress of the main assault during the night of 9th April caused the enemy to withdraw from his positions on the Division’s front by dawn on the 10th. When this was discovered, 11 Brigade at once crossed the river and occupied the western bank. By 0940 hours, one company of 1 Surreys reached Cotignola without trouble and here contact was made with 27 New Zealand Battalion, which had entered the village from the west. Soon afterwards, the New Zealanders moved on and, at 1020 hours, 11 Brigade was ordered to make firm the general area of the village. At the same time, arrangements were made for necessary vehicles and, in particular, anti tank guns, to be passed over a bridge in the New Zealanders’ sector and to join 11 Brigade’s troops in Cotignola.

While these operations were in progress and the flanking divisions were pushing rapidly on, the Divisional Engineers were hard at work. As soon as 11 Brigade had crossed the river and occupied the far bank, a sapper recce party had gone forward and made a search for a suitable bridging place. By 1100 hours, a site was chosen and work began at once.

At this time, all indications pointed to a speedy sweep forward by the Indians and New Zealanders and it was thought that the Division might be called upon to move up any time. Once the two leading formations linked up to the west of the little town of Lugo, there would be nothing, except the problems of movement, to prevent the Division from concentrating between the Senio and the Santerno. That this should be done as soon as possible was vital to the maintenance of momentum in the whole offensive.

In preparation for this expected move, a preliminary concentration of the Division was effected during the day in the wake of 11 Brigade’s movements.

36 and 38 Brigades moved, during the early part of the day, to areas south and east of Bagnacavallo and those units off 11 Brigade, which were not engaged in occupation of ground to the west of the river concentrated in the Brigade’s original sector.

2 Armoured Brigade remained in area further to the north east.

The Divisional Artillery moved forward during the morning to positions just short of the Senio, the better thus to support the New Zealanders.

By midday, much “teeing up” has been done: the ‘Wasps’ and heavy mortar platoons, which had been lent to the flanks, had been returned to their parent units; an officer from the ‘Flail’ Squadron of 51 RTR had visited Divisional Headquarters during the morning and made arrangements to link his squadron to the Division, when across the river: in the north, 5 Northamptons were beginning to concentrate in preparation for rejoining 11 Brigade; in every quarter, planning and reconnaissance were in progress and all awaited the signal to move.

In the afternoon, the Divisional Commander attended a conference held by the Corps Commander and returned to hold his own at the headquarters off 11 Brigade. The plan had been somewhat changed. Originally, it had been the intention that 38 (Irish) Brigade should be passed over the Santerno river into the bridgehead of either the New Zealand or Indian Divisions and that it should north along the eastern bank of the Santerno, providing protection to the right flank of the Irish Brigade and directing itself on the bridges over the Reno, south of Bastia.

As result of developments which were taking place in the advance of the 8th Indian Division, this plan was altered. The armour of 21 Tank Brigade, under command of the Indian Division, was to penetrate  deeply into the enemy’s territory between the Senio and Santerno during the night of April 10th and it was anticipated that the right flank operation, which was to have been the role of 36 Brigade, would be largely unnecessary. Accordingly, the Divisional Commander decided to pass 36 Brigade foremost into the Santerno bridgehead and to employ it as an offensive force to operate on the left flank of the Irish Brigade. It was certain by this time that the effort of the Corps would be directed northward, in a push aimed directly at Argenta, the hinge of the enemy’s line of defence.

As a necessary preliminary to these future operations, the Division was to be concentrated between the Santerno and Senio in an area where a successful “marriage” of infantry and armour could take place. Great care had been taken in the planning stage that there should be no hitches I this “marriage”. Provisional areas near Lugo, which had been nicknamed “Wedding areas”, had been allotted to each of the two forward brigades. Here, infantry and armour were to form up in their battle order, with assault engineer troops and every supporting element. Thither, they were to come fro their non operational concentrations east of the Senio and, thence, they were to depart, battle array, to cross into the Santerno bridgehead and break out into the enemy’s deeper defence.