Operation 'Buckland' - April 1945.

Discussion in 'Italy' started by bexley84, Apr 9, 2015.

  1. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Seventy years ago today, at 720pm on 9th April 1945, what turned out to be the final campaign period for the 8th Army in Italy, Operation ‘Buckland’ was launched. Over the next 16 days, comprehensive victory was achieved as Allied Forces completely overwhelmed strongly held German defensive positions and swept north of the River Po. Final surrender in Italy was confirmed on 2nd May 1945.

    These notes on ‘Buckland’ will be taken from various Regimental archive sources and personal narratives with particular focus and emphasis on the activities of 78th Division and 38 (Irish) Brigade during the final battle period. A meticulous study of the wider 5th /8th Army campaign during Operation ‘Grapeshot’ can be found in Richard Doherty’s excellent recently published book: ‘Victory in Italy’... http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/Victory-in-Italy-Hardback/p/7942

    I also shall continue to add a more extensive set of notes and archive material to my personal website...

    A full 78th Division narrative can be found here:

    You can also read the full narrative of Brigadier Pat Scott, 38th (Irish) Brigade here:

    Since my father’s death in 2009, I have been tracing his war time route and, in particular, his time overseas with the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles (2 LIR), with whom he served as part of 38th (Irish) Brigade across North Africa, Italy and Austria from November 1942 to March 1946. CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan had left Greenock with 2 LIR on 11th November 1942 and was now, at last, able to return on leave to his family in June 1945.

    Throughout his long and full life, my father’s thoughts would continually reflect on the memory of the hundreds of his friends and comrades from the London Irish Rifles who rest at peace in North Africa and Italy…..

    Of course, hundreds of thousands of men served in these theatres of war and I’m sure that those who were able to reach northern Italy at the end of April 1945 would have remembered the tens of thousands of their comrades, who were not able to join them in these first few days of peace.

    As I start this thread, I am also particularly thinking of Sgt Jim O’Brien, who trod the long road from Algiers to Villach alongside my father, and who died on Tuesday (7th April) at the age of 95.

    Best wishes

    edit - additional links

    Attached Files:

  2. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    SCAN1181.jpg 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 assaulted across the river and the opening barrage began..."

    Brigadier Pat Scott's view:
    "..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...."

    Further Reading - NZ Offfcial History, 'The Assault on the Senio'...III: The Assault on the Senio Line | NZETC

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Apr 9, 2020
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  3. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran


    Unhappily our erstwhile colleagues from the Canadian Corps had been called over to join the rest of the Canadian Divisions in

    NWE and so missed the final battles after the Senio which were due to them for their glorious actions in Sicily - Ortona -Liri
    Valley - Florence area and the Gothic Line - must have been very galling for them to miss those events…

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  4. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Indeed Tom - there are 5,916 men listed on the CWGC database for Italy as having served with Canadian forces - from Sicily to Ravenna and the Santerno valley


    Attached Files:

  5. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    P1110862 - Copy.JPG 78th Division would move forward over the Senio on the morning of 10th April 1945:

    "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 East 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...."

    Brigadier Pat Scott would recall the Irish Brigade's ongoing preparations on 10th April 1945:

    "At 1300 hrs on the 10th, we left Forli and concentrated, less the armour, south of Bagnacavello. Our teeing up was really being done in two stages. We had two assembly areas east of the Senio – one for infantry and one for armour and we had a ‘marrying up’ area near Lugo on the west of the Senio. It was necessary to assemble fairly near the Senio in order that we might start making use of the bridges as soon as they were ready. If possible, infantry and tanks should never cross an obstacle in the same place and so there was no object in bringing them together until they had got across the river by their different routes. We got into our assembly area without incident and, in the light of the latest information, I issued verbal orders for the move to the ‘wedding area’ east of the Senio where the tanks and infantry would join up to start at 6 o’clock the next morning.

    This move went without incident and, slowly but surely, we gathered the bits and pieces that were to form our force, At 9 o’clock that evening, I held a coordinating conference in Lugo, checked over the plan and the tying up of all the Group and made provisional arrangements for the order of march forward. During this night, the 8 Indian Division were to form their bridgehead over the Santerno and to link up with the New Zealand Division, who had already got troops across in some places but whose bridgehead was not yet formed.

    One of the characteristics of crossing rivers is the conflicting and often contradictory information that one receives over the state of bridges. One person says a bridge will be ready in two hours, then it is put back to six, then someone else says it was ready half an hour ago. The next thing that happens is that something falls in. We had learned that the only way to overcome this is by direct communication to our own representative at the bridge site. Even that does not overcome the human factor of incorrect estimates of time required to complete a job. The main point was that we were in a good position to get across the Santerno bridge as soon as it was ready. Apart from a few harmless shells that were scattered around Lugo, we suffered no discomforts..."
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2020
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  6. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    P1110861 - Copy.JPG 78th Division were moving up to the Santerno on 11th April 1945.

    "By dawn on April 11th, everything was ready, “Felix” bridge, which had been constructed by 237 Field Company RE, was open for traffic up to Class 40 and exceeded all expectations in its ability to clear traffic. As a result, the guns of 138 Field Regiment were able to be fed into the stream of traffic and crossed the river well ahead of schedule…The Division moved forward.

    With the leading Divisions, the fighting had progressed swiftly during the past 12 hours. By 0700 hrs on the 11th, forward troops of the New Zealand Division were barely short of the Santerno and it was expected that they would cross it during the next few hours. On the right, the Indians were also approaching the river and it seemed probable that during the day the whole Corps front would roll forward and close upon the Santerno line. By nightfall, this had, in fact, happened and more also. The Indians, having assaulted the river with the 17th Indian Infantry Brigade leading, had succeeded in establishing a foothold on the western bank by 1400 hours, just to the south of San Lorenzo. Earlier in the day, the New Zealanders, as have been anticipated, had forced a crossing south of Lugo - Massa Lombarda railway and had expanded this bridgehead steadily during the day.

    The 78th Division was, by this time, concentrated around the town of Lugo, less 11 Brigade Group and Buffs, which were still east of the Senio.

    This was an important time: it was vital that everything should be in readiness to press on. The leading troops of the Corps had already broken, the enemy’s hold on what might have been his most formidable line of natural defence – the Santerno river – and the success of the whole offensive depended upon one factor – momentum.

    The intention of the 15th Army Group in launching the offensive was to “destroy the enemy south of the Po”. .In order that he might be able, at just such a moment as this, to unleash new pressure, the Corps Commander had held in his reserve until this time a formidable striking force. The moment was nearing when this force, this new sharp weapon, was to be pushed through and thrust about into the enemy’s vitals…"

    The Irish Brigade and it multifarious armoured supporters had a relatively quiet day of continuing preparations according to its war diary entries:

    "0600 Brigade Group commences to move to Assembly Area north of Lugo. In this area, all tanks, Kangaroos and assault RE detachments linked up and coordinated with their respective battalions.

    1700 'B' Squadron 51 RTR ('Flails') and 'C' Squadron ('Crocodiles') now under command.

    2100 Brigade Commander holds a conference. Brigade Group will tomorrow be required to pass through bridgehead being formed over the River Santerno by 8 Indian Division tonight. 2 NZ Division already have troops across the river but bridgehead is not firm yet. Enemy resistance is fairly heavy. He is supported by Tiger Tanks and there is quite a lot of mortaring and a considerable number of mines.

    Plan for Brigade Group for 12th April is as follows:
    Attack out of 8 Indian Division bridgehead will be done by 2 Innisks right, 1 RIrF left. Each Bttn, supported by a squadron of Bays and Crocodiles, will advance to the Scolo Conselice bounded by the River Santerno on the right and Scolo Fossotone on the left. Once these two Bttns have reached the Scolo Conselice or they think the time had come to unleash the remaining Bttn, if they themselves are held up or spent, 2 LIR in 'Kangaroos' (4 Hussars), supported by 9 Lancers with Assault RE detachments, will advance to the River Reno (this mobile force to be directly under command 2 Armoured Brigade).

    A barrage would be laid on to support the attack out of the bridgehead should it prove necessary..."

    Further Reading: New Zealand Official History - 'Gatecrashing the Santerno.' IV: Gate-crashing the Santerno Line | NZETC
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2020
  7. ropey

    ropey Member

    I'm enjoying this very much 'Bexley84'. Looking forward to more.
  8. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Many thanks for your kind comments.

    You'll be pleased to know that there's 14 more episodes....

  9. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    P1110859 - Copy.JPG 78th Division go into action on 12th April 1945:

    "During the night 11/12 April, the “form” on the Corps front was beginning to crystallise. The 8th Indian Division had elements of five battalions of the 17th and 21st Indian Infantry Brigades over the Santerno and the bridgehead could be said to be firm, although small. No bridges were yet in operation due to trouble, which had been encountered in bringing equipment up to the water’s edge. The proposed bridging area was still under fire from enemy machine guns and mortars but the Indians were confident that, during the early morning hours, they would be able to establish a foothold in depth and bridge the river with an ‘Ark’, The confidence provided itself to be well founded: the ‘Ark’ was in position by 0530 hours and less than an hour later, a troop of tanks, having crossed the bridge, had penetrated a thousand yards beyond the river without meeting any really serious resistance. The infantry were engaged in wide and solid expansion of their gains and the enemy’s movements indicated that he was trying to carry out a general withdrawal.

    On the left, the New Zealanders’ bridgehead was also firm, although, as light first dawned, there were still many enemy in positions close around it. In bridging, they had been more fortunate than their neighbours. They had one Class 40 bridge working before darkness began to lift and, by first light, tanks were already across together with anti tanks and carriers.

    During the morning, a steady extension of the gains developed, while the enemy withdrew his armour and infantry as best he could from what had been a decisive failure. At midday, the two bridgeheads linked up and the 8th Indian Division’s area beyond the river grew rapidly thereafter.

    Just before two o’clock in the afternoon, the order was received from Corps Headquarters that 78th Division would pass into the bridgehead of 8th Indian Division at once. The Divisional Commander ordered the 36th Brigade Group to begin its move forward.

    The plan was as follows: 36 Brigade, with 48 Royal Tanks from 21 Tank Brigade (under command 8th Indian Division) and one squadron of 56 Recce Regiment, was to cross the river and extend the Indians’ bridgehead to the west. This done, 38 (Irish) Brigade Group, with the main weight of the Division’s armour under its command, was to pass over and form up facing northwards. The remainder of 56 Recce Regiment was to operate in conformity with any advance of the Irish Brigade but, on the east side of the river, in the role, which had initially been envisaged for 36 Brigade.

    From the time that the word “go” was given at 1400 hrs, events moved rapidly forward. The Commander of 36 Brigade made his plan and ordered 8 A&SH to cross the river forthwith, supported by ‘B’ Squadron of 48 Royal Tanks. This force, together with ‘C’ Squadron, 56 Recce Regiment, was to capture the group of houses known as ‘Tre Case’, 1,000 yards beyond the most forward troops of the Indian Division. Having reached this objective, it was to push on to the Scolo Fossatone and, thence, if possible, northwards towards the village of Conselice.

    With great speed, considering the congestion of the traffic, the battalion group succeeded in reaching its forming up area on the west bank of the river by mid afternoon. The squadron of tanks had difficulty on the road and arrangements for artillery support of the attack were also a cause of anxiety at one time, due to the speed with which everything had had to be done. Despite all, the attack was launched at 1730 hours and the infantry, with two companies up, moved steadily forward behind a barrage, supported by their tanks. Little opposition was met and, at 1855 hours, ‘Tre Case’ was reached and passed. By 1940 hours, the leading infantry were on the line of the Scolo Fossatone and every indication pointed to a general withdrawal of the enemy.

    As soon as 8 A&SH, with their supporting troops, had crossed the river, 38 Brigade, with the armoured ‘Kangaroo’ carriers and tanks, began to follow on. 1 RIrF, with the Queen’s Bays, crossed soon after six o’clock in the evening and formed up in the northern part of the bridgehead. 2 Innisks, the next to cross, was delayed by shelling on the bridge and a general congestion of traffic. They finally arrived just as it was getting dark and the Divisional Commander decided that it was too late to launch the general attack northwards that night. The battalions went into harbour areas around Mondaniga and fighting patrols were planned for the night to probe the enemy defences in preparation for an armoured advance in the morning.

    36 Division’s operation, meanwhile, was developing successfully against light and scattered opposition. The Argylls were still fresh and it was decided that the advantage would be pressed on through the night independent of the Irish Brigade. This was “offensive flank protection” indeed!

    The Brigade Commander ordered the battalion to strike out north westwards from its position on the line of the Fossatone dyke and seize the village of San Patrizio, on the road to Conselice. Little opposition had been met so far in the advance but the operation was hazardous nevertheless as the left flank was widely exposed. The New Zealanders had made great steps forward from their bridgehead and were, in fact, attacking the town of Massa Lombarda at this time but they had not extended their front far to the north and a gap of nearly five thousand yards lay on the left flank of the Brigade’s proposed line of advance. .

    ...By 2020 hours, the Argylls had crossed the Scolo Fossatone, working in close cooperation with their squadron of Churchill tanks and reached new objectives at Zeppa Nuova and Zeppa Superiore, nearly one thousand yards west of the dyke. There was fighting before these two objectives were taken and, before the end, both were burning fiercely in the night. The advance was pressed on and, after some further sharp encounters with enemy infantry and some tanks, San Patrizio was reached by 2130 hours. During the advance, the Argylls made the most of the armour fighting with them, both as vehicles and as guns. Travelling on the tanks, they fired their automatic weapons on the enemy positions, all the while moving forward and finally overrunning what little organised resistance was met..."

    48th Battalion, Royal Tank Regiment's account of their actions on 11th/12th April 1945:

    "..The Battalion had supported 21 Brigade of 8 Indian Division across the Senio and up to the Santerno and was leaguered in the Lugo area when orders were received on 11th April that the Battalion was placed in support of 36 Brigade of 78th Division. Lt Col PWD Sturdee, commanding the Battalion, visited 36 Brigade in the afternoon and Squadrons were affiliated as follows: ‘A’ Squadron to 5 Buffs, ‘B’ Squadron to 8 A&SH and ‘C’ Squadron to 6 RWK. Liaison was carried out during the evening and the Battalion officially came under command 78 Division that night.

    Early next morning, ‘B’ Squadron moved to 8 A&SH’s location and troops tied up with companies and both ‘B’ Squadron and the rest of the Battalion were, at short notice, to move all day.

    At 1345 hours, orders were issued at Argyll’s HQ for Operation ‘Archie’. ‘B’ Squadron and 8 A&SH were to cross the Santerno and to attack north-west to enlarge the bridgehead already made by 17 Indian Infantry Brigade with 12 Battalion RTR and to allow 38 (Irish) Brigade, with 2 Armoured Brigade, to assemble for their break through to the north. The attack started at 1800 hours. The objective was the S Fossatone and the tanks started on the west side of the river. At 1930 hours, the infantry were on the objective with no casualties and no resistance. A small number of PW were taken and a few enemy killed. Owing to the lack of resistance and the reports of the local civilians that the enemy had pulled back, it was decided to exploit boldly forward and capture Conselice before dawn.

    6 Troop with ‘B’ Company, therefore, advanced to Zeppa Nuova about two miles to the west and 8 Troop with ‘B’ Company to Zeppa Superiore, about 300 yards to the north. On arrival here, the Squadron, less 6 Troop, were formed up in order of march – 8 Troop, Squadron HQ, 10 Troop, 7 Troop and ‘R’ Company riding on the tanks. It was now dark but artificial moonlight and the flares of a bombing programme to the north made visibility good. This task force, followed by the reserve companies, on foot advanced with the first objective, San Patrizio. Before starting, the bridge, 300 yards short of the village, was shelled to encourage demolition parties and three wounded Germans were found in the ditch on arrival there. Along the whole, advance small packets of enemy were rounded up ad taken prisoner – the total bag for the night’s work was over seventy..."

    Last edited: Apr 12, 2020
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  10. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    P1110859 - Copy.JPG

    Friday 13th April 1945
    would see another day of rapid forward progress for 78th Division including the unleashing of the 'Kangaroo Army':

    "The Divisional Commander ordered 36 Brigade to press on and take the important village of Conselice at the earliest possible time. 6 RWK, who had originally been warned for a move forward from their concentration area near Lugo at 0400 hours, was alerted at midnight and ordered to move at once.

    They started at 0200 hours (April 13th) with ‘C’ Squadron of 48 Royal Tanks and passed over the river and on to San Patrizio, where they arrived in their vehicles shortly before dawn.

    By this time, the Argylls had made firm the whole area of the village and had secured the two bridges over the Canale del Molini further west. Little difficulty had been encountered in securing these points, although there was activity at the southern bridge in the early hours of the morning when a party of six enemy approached, presumably with the intention of demolition. The party was accounted for before it could do any damage and, likewise, two enemy armoured cars, which drove up shortly afterwards, but reversed in haste. Further attempts were discouraged by the brens of the Argylls, which continued to sweep the area of the road until daylight.

    Despite the lack of coherent enemy activity in this area, it was thought that Conselice would be a tougher nut to crack. Just to the west of the town lay the last bridge over the Molini canal before this waterway joined the Reno river five miles further north. For all the enemy troops south of the Reno and still east of the canal, this was the last way out to the west. How many enemy there were in this pocket, it was hard to estimate, but it was certain that he would keep his way out open until the last possible moment.

    This thought in mind, 6 RWK set out from San Patrizio in the lifting darkness at 0520 hours – the battalion was supported by a squadron of 48 Royal Tanks. An hour later, two companies were 500 yards short of Conselice and encountering bitter opposition. One troop of the tanks succeeded in knocking out two enemy self propelled guns but, itself, sustained a casualty, the troop leader being killed and his tank receiving a direct hit on the turret. The encounter was at close range; immediately the enemy saw his success, a small party dashed forward and boarded the tank. A moment later, it was driven away complete with the remainder of its crew, if these survived and carrying code documents and equipment. It was found later, abandoned north of the village.

    As always in his rearguard actions, the enemy made great and effective use of his self propelled guns. Throughout the morning of the 13th, scattered pockets of infantry, fighting with the support of these guns, engaged our own forces in a fierce struggle for the approaches to the town. Some 20 or more prisoners were taken but no decision was reached in the fighting and it was impossible to push on. At 0945 hours, the Air Force had been called upon and engaged, with gratifying effect, some guns in the eastern outskirts of the town. The nut, however, remained uncracked.

    Turning now to the Irish Brigade’s sector, the main axis of advance for the Division, the fight had begun in earnest. In the early hours of the 13th, the brigade launched its long planned attack with two battalions up; on the right 2 Innisks., on the left 1 RIrF. Each battalion was supported by a Squadron of the Queen’s Bays (Sherman Tanks) and a troop of ‘Crocodiles’ (Flame throwing Churchills) from C Squadron, 51 Royal Tanks. In addition, engineer assault equipment was available to assist the movement of the armour. ..

    Brigadier Pat Scott described the events of 13th April:
    "0630 hrs on the 13th was the zero hour for our Breaking Out’ force.

    36 Brigade had done well and gave us considerable elbow room on our left flank. The Germans must have been a bit foxed when we turned north that morning, as 36 Brigade’s advance would have made them expect the main thrust to be in a westerly direction. I left Main Brigade in the ‘wedding area’ and established a Tactical HQ just east of Mondinaga with John Coombe, Margot Asquith commanding the Bays, Rupert Lecky commanding the 17th Field Regiment and with John McClinton as assistant.

    I was very keen for the Faughs to get some elements of infantry and tanks across the Scolo Fossatone to cover the left flank. This was more easily said than done but, fortunately, with the assistance of the Assault REs, we got them across. As the advance went northwards to the bottle neck of La Giovecca, the frontage between the Santerno and the Fossatone narrowed down to less than a thousand yards. I felt it was important that we should be on a rather broader front than this if we were to have room to get the ponderous Kangaroo Army through the Gap.

    The nature of the country was true to the form that I had previously described. Although not yet in leaf, the vines and trees restricted visibility to about 100 yards and provided excellent cover for small determined parties on both sides. Especially did it help the Bosche bazooka men. Enemy strong points were continually being met but, by the speedy and determined efforts of the tank-cum-infantry packets, they were soon dealt with. The strongest resistance was probably met about the line running east and west through San Bernadino. Elements of the 8th Indian Division were advancing on this place from the east but, even so, the Skins had a tough time in this sector. The Bosche were sitting tight in their holes and it took quite a lot of determined work to kill or capture them.

    By about midday, both battalions were approaching the La Giovecca bottleneck and the moment seemed ripe to unleash John Coombe and his Kangaroo Army.

    It was a difficult job getting so many armoured vehicles through this thick country and to pass them through our foremost troops. I had arranged for recognition signals to be fired by verey pistol to indicate our forward positions to the approaching tanks but, even with this aid, they found great difficulty in determining friend from foe. Leading elements of the mobile force was beginning to take on the enemy by about 1330..."

    The London Irish Rifles would later describe their part in the battle:

    “The object of the 'Kangaroo Army' was to secure crossings over the Conselice Canal and, if possible, exploit to the River Reno, several thousands of yards ahead.

    At first, little resistance was encountered. The Skins and the Faughs had given the enemy a good shaking and he was on the move back. Scattered enemy Bazooka men were met and one tank was lost through the fire of an anti tank gun but a number of prisoners were taken by G Company.

    As the Conselice Canal was approached, the rivers opened out and H Company, with C Squadron of the 9th Lancers, came up on the left. Resistance was encountered in the village of La Frascata. This was immediately by passed but, as the leading tanks arrived at the canal, the bridge was blown up immediately in front of them. H Company, who had driven past La Frascata in their Kangaroos, speedily de bussed on the banks of the canal and, covered by the tanks, forced a crossing over the remains of the road and railway bridges, getting into the houses on the far bank so rapidly that few of the defenders managed to escape.

    Meanwhile, G Company was clearing the area up to the canal bank on the right and E Company was ordered to clear La Frascata and assist H Company in holding and enlarging the bridgehead. The enemy had been surprised by the speed and weight of the attack. Few of them, not more than ten, had been killed but all three forward companies had taken numbers of prisoners. By 1830 hours, the total was eighty.

    The bridgehead was firmly established by 2200 hours and Companies were dug in for the night. Sappers were building a bridge over the canal, the armour was in leaguers and plans for the following day were being made. A large increase in the number of wrist watches possessed by H Company was noticed…”

    Some individual acts of valour had been noted including the award of the MM to RIFLEMAN HJ THRUSH, 2 LIR (original citation attached).

    "During the attack over the Conselice Canal south of Lavenzola on 13 Apr '45, Rfn Thrush's Platoon came under heavy small arms fire before crossing the canal. Spotting an enemy machine gun which covered the canal crossings from the other bank he doubled to a fire position engaging it with such accuracy that the platoon was able to cross on their second attempt. He was wounded in the buttock, whilst the butt of his Bren Gun was also hit by a bullet. He remained in action for over an hour after his incident before reporting to the RAP. He refused to be evacuated and was eventually sent to A Echelon. He returned repeatedly with the ration truck trying to obtain permission to rejoin his Platoon. This was granted after his third request and he was very soon in action again. This rifleman's courage and determination has set a magnificent example to his Platoon."

    A day of forward movement concluded:

    "..On the left, 36 Brigade was still engaged in stiff fighting. Little material progress had been made in Conselice during the day, where the enemy was firmly ensconced. As a result of the rapid advance of the Irish Brigade on the right, a gap had appeared in the Division’s front between the two brigades, 6 RWK was fully deployed in the area of Conselice and one company of the 5th Buffs was, therefore, brought up to fill the gap. This was complete by 1630 hours.

    At about this time, the enemy mounted a strong counter attack upon 6 RWK from out of Conselice and fierce fighting raged for an hour or more. The headquarter buildings of two forward platoons were hit by enemy shells and set on fire but the attack was eventually beaten off just before sundown.

    The general indications on this left flank seemed to show the enemy as determined to hold his ground: a firmness of intention in his defence was apparent for the first time. It was therefore decided that a coordinated attack by the whole Brigade would be necessary and the remainder of 5 Buffs was ordered to move to San Patrizio at once.

    As final light fell, there was a temporary halt on the whole of the Divisional front; the day’s gains were being consolidated on the right, whilst 36 Brigade prepared to clear up Conselice and the surrounding area on the left by a deliberate attack...…The 13th had indeed been an unlucky day – for the enemy."

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Apr 13, 2020
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  11. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    SCAN1200 - Copy.JPG
    On 14th April 1945, 5th Army launched their delayed offensive operations, 'Craftsman' and the day also saw continuing movement forward on the 78th Division front as they neared the River Reno.

    "Taking stock on the morning of April 14th, there was good ground for solid satisfaction. To the right, north of the Reno, the 56th (London) Division was coming into view moving due westwards towards Bastia and Argenta. Between this thrust and the northward drive of the Irish, the ‘Cremona’ Combat Group had crossed the Santerno without opposition and was moving forward on Route 16, also towards Bastia. The 8th Indian Division, across whose front the Irish Brigade had moved, was now out of the fighting and being concentrated in the Corps reserve.

    On the left, the New Zealanders were still pressing vigorously forward and had established a small bridgehead over the Sillaro. Between them and 36 Brigade was a wide expanse of marshy land where minor operations by 56 Recce Regiment and other troops of both divisions continued until the whole area was clear.

    Before first light on the 14th, patrols of 2 LIR, under 2 Armoured Brigade’s command, were feeling their way forward towards Lavezzola and the Reno. At dawn, they were followed by the armour in two columns, one working due north on the axis of the main road, the other sweeping round to the right of Lavezzola, which was known to be heavily mined. Both columns were directed on the approaches to the Bastia bridges. The column, moving through Lavezzola, found mines in profusion and houses in the northern part of the village booby trapped. Fortunately, the enemy’s departure had been so hasty that he had been unable to remove the warning notices from the danger areas and not a single casualty was caused either to armour or to infantry. The ‘Flail’ tanks of 51 Royal Tanks had a great morning exploding everything they could find. In addition to mines and booby traps, the sweep yielded about 30 prisoners, 8 of whom were taken in the act of mine laying.

    At 0940 hours, the Reno was reached. Both road and railway bridges were found demolished but sufficient rubble remained at the site of the latter to enable the infantry to get across dryshod. Reconnaissance was carried out and a plan evolved for two platoons of 2 LIR to cross the river and form a small bridgehead. This was later to be increased in strength to the extent of two companies.

    At 1230 hours, the operation began and the two platoons crossed under cover of smoke without difficulty. Advancing north from the far bank, however, the leading platoon was counter attacked strongly by the enemy and most of it was overrun. No assistance could be given to this party by the tanks on the south bank of the river owing to the height of the floodbanks and, until a bridge was built, it was impossible to move the armour across. The two platoons were, therefore, withdrawn across the river, positions were taken up on the ‘near’ bank, patrols were sent out east and west, and reconnaissance was carried out with a view to making a deliberate assault...."

    The Irish Rifles in 'Kangaroos' had continued their offensive operations (photo below of E Coy, 2 LIR, courtesy of my father's comrade Nicholas Mosley).

    "Early on the 14th, before dawn, patrols from E Company were feeling their way up through Lavezzola towards the River Reno. At first light, they were followed by the armour in two columns, one due north along the axis of the main road and the other sweeping round to the right to avoid the minefield that were known to exist in the Lavezzola area.... The 'Flails' had a great morning exploding mines.

    The Reno was reached at 0940 hours, about 30 prisoners having been taken.... Reconnaissance was carried out and a plan evolved for two platoons of E Company to cross and form a small bridgehead. This took place at 1230 hours, without resistance and under cover of smoke, but while the platoons were advancing north from the river they were heavily counter attacked and most of them overrun. No assistance could be given by the tanks owing to the high floodbanks and the absence of a bridge. Positions were now taken up on the next bank and further reconnaissance carried out with a view to making a deliberate crossing.

    At this time, 56th Division, who had landed on the southern shores of Lake Comacchio, were still several thousand yards east of this attempted bridgehead and the enemy was therefore very sensitive to a threat from their southern flank. It was however, decided to hold positions on the southern bank of the river for the night and eventually the battalion was ordered to maintain their static positions for the next two days.

    A point of special interest which arose at this time was that the 1st Battalion, London Irish Rifles, on the left flank of 56 Division, was, for the first time in this war, sharing a common piece of the front with its battalion (2nd Battalion, London Irish) and, on the first night, one of their patrols crossed the Reno and contacted G Company.”

    The 78th Division's continued forward movement on the afternoon of the 14th as they started to work towards their ultimate breakthrough goal, the dry pathway northwards near the village of Argenta:

    "In addition to reaching the Reno, 9 Lancers had patrolled early in the morning towards Route 16, where it approached the Bastia area from the south east. Here, they had made contact with the Cremoma Group at 0930 hours, thus filling in a piece of the wider picture.

    A similar move was made by 48 Royal Tanks with 36 Brigade, a patrol of Honey tanks being sent north from Conselice along the road to Lavezzola. This, they found heavily mined but it was cleared during the day with Engineer assistance and contact was made with the Irish Brigade in Lavezzola at 1730 hours.

    Further to the left, 56 Recce Regiment fanned out during the day to close with the enemy all along the front on the line of the Sillaro. Contact was made in the area of the river, where the enemy infantry was established in well dug in positions and a great number of mines were encountered. B and C Squadrons were ordered to establish defensive positions to cover this river flank during the afternoon and, shortly afterwards, A Squadron reverted to command from 38 Brigade and moved to rejoin the Regiment.

    By nightfall, “tidying up”, “mopping up” and consolidation were the orders of the day. The Santerno was far behind and had ceased to have a “bridgehead”. All along the front, there was a general loosening of the enemy’s resistance, as he readjusted his positions and fell back on his main line of defence based on Argenta. Again, therefore, there was that urgent need for maintenance of the impetus; somehow, the whole weight of the Corps had to be brought to bear without delay on the defences before Argenta and, to do this, there must be a bridge and the Reno must be crossed.

    It was now exactly five days since the offensive began. The operations had progressed with a steady tenor of success and very largely on lines, which had been foreseen; in short, everything was going “according to plan”. The sum of the achievement was that the enemy had been forced back from his winter line on the Senio with such weight and drive in the attack that he had never been in a position to reform a second line. The whole area had been cleared from the Senio to the Santerno and from the Santerno to the Reno and Sillaro. Argenta was but a mile or two ahead and already one foot of the attack was well established north of the Reno where the 56th Division was on the point of linking up with the leading elements of the Irish Brigade at Bastia.

    Away, on the left, the Fifth Army’s offensive was just beginning and Bologna was almost in sight. Another phase was ended and it was hard to foresee the form that subsequent operations would take."
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2020
  12. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    15th April 1945 was a quieter day for the 78th Division - a lull before the oncoming storm.

    "The focal point of interest was now the narrow strip of land known as the Argenta Gap. Its tactical importance can be seen from a glance at the map...

    The enemy’s defence south of the Po ran from the coast into the mountains, south of Bologna. Initially, they had been secured on his left by the Comacchio Lake, but the operations of 56th Division and 2 Commando Brigade had forced him to pull back in this sector and his line was thus cut adrift at one end. The advance from the Senio and across the Santerno had caused the wholesale withdrawal of his front and, in order to stave off a major and strategic disaster, it was essential for him to find a firm pivot on which his whole line In the eastern sector of the plain could turn. This was the most urgent at this time, as the forces of the Polish Corps, south of Bologna and of the Fifth Army further to the west, were loosening his hold on the mountains. Even if the whole front around Bologna should start to crumble, as indeed he felt it might, he still required that firmness between the mountains and the Adriatic so that an escape route might be kept open.

    The main threat of the Eighth Army from the opening of the offensive onwards was directed on Ferrara and the crossings of the Po to the north of this town. Once these were lost, there was great likelihood that all the enemy forces in the plain south of the river would be lost. Where, then, was he to halt our thrust on Ferrara?

    The threat was developing from the south east. Route 16, or subsidiary roads in alignment with it, was the likely axis and, on this line, an ideal piece of country had been selected for defensive works. To the east was flooded land stretching away to the northern part of the Comacchio Lake, with no main roads and few minor ones that were passable for heavy traffic. To the south west, a further tract of flooded waste stretched almost to Bologna. The natural obstacles in both areas had been increased by artificial flooding and demolitions. All this had been done by the enemy months before, causing no inconvenience to his lines of communication and requiring little labour.

    The stretch of land, which remained, was between two and three miles wide and four miles in depth: a narrow funnel between the marshes. Careful thought was put into the organisation of defences for this strip of land, the Argenta Gap. Mines were laid thickly and in depth: houses were fortified, every bridge was prepared for demolition: an extensive network of trenches and wire linked together the native dykes, canals and ditches, to make a corrugated passageway incapable of being rushed by tanks or infantry.

    Given the men to occupy the defences and the time to get them there, the enemy was confident that the block would hold and, in the worst possible case, a temporary halt would be achieved before we could turn his flanks with a ponderous semi amphibious plunge on either side.

    His appreciation was a fair one; the position was strong: there was only one “but”, could he organise his forces in time?

    It had been evident to the Corps Commander earlier in the day that to wait for a bridge to be built over the Reno, before the 78th Division could add its weight to that of the 56th in assaulting the gap, would create a danger of losing the speed and momentum, which was so vital. Accordingly, orders had been issued for one brigade of the 78th Division to move at once through Alfonsine to the north side of the Reno and take over the left sector of the 56th Division’s front.

    Later in the evening, 11 Brigade moved north. That night, it concentrated north west of Alfonsine with one battalion over the Reno. In order further to liberate the Division in the sector between Bastia and the New Zealand Division’s right flank, 2 Commando Brigade was placed under command and began to take over the commitments of 36 Brigade, which was still on the left flank..

    ..The 15th and 16th were days of vast activity in regrouping and movement. 11 Brigade was moving through 167 Brigade in the area north of the Reno, remote from the rest of the Division by reason of the lack of a bridge. 167 Brigade, less two battalions, came under temporary command of 78th Division on the 15th and reverted to command of the 56th Division the next morning. The 2nd Commando Brigade completed the relief of 36 Brigade but remained under command of 78th Division. The Recce Regiment passed to under direct command of 5 Corps and returned again to the Division’s command soon afterwards."

    Brigadier Pat Scott confirmed the growing levels of anticipation for the coming defining battle:
    "On the 15th, the Faughs sent patrols to clear up the marsh lands up to the Sillaro river. The enemy was holding the far bank in some places and had strong points in houses. That evening, this clearing up job was taken over by 36 Brigade and the Faughs concentrated.

    56th Division, in the meanwhile, had come up level with us on the north of the Reno and had passed across our front towards Bastia and Argenta so were able to start bridging operations across the River Reno. It was estimated that the bridge would be ready for our further advance by midday the following day and we were accordingly placed at four hours notice to continue the advance the next morning. Not only had our part of the battle gone according to plan – which is a very rare thing to happen – but the whole of the Army Group was moving according to schedule too.

    Everything was looking very promising, but the big battle of the Argenta Gap, on which the whole success of the 5 Corps advance depended, still lay above us. Some regrouping took place at this stage and we lost a good deal of our force. The Bays were to join 11 Brigade and the 9th Lancers were to be with us. The 2nd Armoured Brigade from now on remained directly under Division. The ‘Crocodiles’, ‘Flails’ and Assault REs also left us as all those sort of things would be playing a big part in the dense minefields of the Argenta Gap..."
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  13. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    The evening of 16th April 1945 saw 11 Brigade continue the advance.

    "By the evening of the 16th, solid achievements emerged. 11 Brigade, with the Queen’s Bays and ‘Crocodiles and ‘Flails’ from 51 Royal Tanks under command, had passed through 167 Brigade, with 1 Surreys leading on the right and 5 Northamptons on the left. 2 Lancashire Fusiliers followed in Brigade reserve. The advance had been made astride the railway and positions had been reached just short of the Fossa Marina, a canal, which ran across the full width of the gap and was considered as a likely main line of the enemy’s resistance.

    Meanwhile, the 214 Field Company had succeeded in the not inconsiderable task of bridging the Reno; 38 Brigade had crossed to concentrate south east of the gap; 2 Armoured Brigade had also crossed and Divisional Headquarters followed. 11 Brigade’s advance had been rapid and only lightly opposed but extensive minefields had been encountered throughout, gradually thickening as the Fossa Marina was approached. On reaching the outskirts of Argenta and the line of this canal, enemy resistance became firm and a full scale assault was going to be required.

    The plan evolved was that, after dark, the East Surreys would move forward on the right and secure a firm base from which Lancashire Fusiliers would assault the canal and press through to outflank the town. The preliminary advance was successful and the Fusiliers began their assault on the strongly held enemy line. Fierce resistance was encountered at once and a long and bitter struggle ensued before any concrete gain was made. By midnight, however, the Battalion had succeeded in gaining a hold on the far bank of the canal with forward positions up to 200 yards beyond it.

    No sooner was the bridgehead established than the enemy began to pound it with all that he had. Heavy shell and mortar fire came down on the area of the crossing and along the banks of the canal. Several counter attacks were thrown in but all to no avail. The Lancashire Fusiliers stood their ground and the bridgehead, still only a tiny one, remained firm. The achievement was the first decisive step in the breaking of the gap..."

    11 Brigade's description of the attack over the Fossa Marina:
    The line of the canal was held by II and III battalions of 71 Panzer Grenadier Regiment of 29th Panzer Grenadier Division – two of the hardest fighting then at the disposal of the German Commander in Italy. For support, they had approximately twenty to thirty self propelled and tank destroyer equipment and the usual artillery and mortar sub units from Regiment and Divisional resources. To attack them was the single infantry battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, backed up by the supporting arms already enumerated. 2100 hours was set as ‘H’ Hour and, exactly on the dot, the barrage opened with a soul shattering roar that seemed to shake the very atmosphere itself and lit up the flat surrounding farmland as if it were day. The vital consequences of the barrage were only discovered after the battle, when it was proved that the enemy had been surprised in the middle of a relief and many troops, who were moving up to the trenches, were caught in the open without cover and, as a result, suffered disastrous casualties, which affected subsequent operations.

    As the barrage opened, the Surreys’ leading companies moved nearer to the canal banks and, from their firmly established bases, the Lancashire Fusiliers sprang forward at the main defence. Within twenty minutes, the Fusiliers were engaged in fierce hand to hand fighting with the fanatically resisting enemy – the fury of the struggle continued unabated for nearly forty minutes. By 2200 hours, however, it became evident that the terrific vigour of the attack was beginning to take effect and, shortly after, the news came through that one infantry company was across complete and in the process of beating off a series of hastily organised counter attacks. A second company forced its way over the waterway within another hour and soon the familiar signs of disintegration among the enemy ranks began to show themselves. Over forty PW had been taken and more coming in every minute – hundreds of dead were counted on the far banks and floating in the blood soaked waters of the canal itself.

    Three of the Bays tanks had, by this time, also succeeded in crossing the canal by means of superhuman efforts on the part of an ‘Ark’ tank and the supporting Royal Engineers, who had established a serviceable bridge immediately behind the first infantry company to cross the canal, approximately 2 km north east of Argenta town.

    The bridgehead won by midnight then was two companies strong and in depth measured nearly three hundred yards constituting a menacing salient right into the crust of the enemy fortress. Three strong counter attacks had been successfully beaten off and not an inch ceded to the enemy. At this stage, however, the bridgehead troops were pinned to the ground by an accurate and devastating counter barrage, which the enemy kept up for the remainder of that night. The Battalion Commander, Lt Col MC Pulford MC had, unfortunately, been wounded in the initial stages of the attack and Major JAH Saunders 2.i.c. took over for the rest of the battle – fighting the battalion with great courage and skill, which later won for him the award of the DSO..."

    (attachment - citation for the award of the MC to Lt Roland Smith, 2 LF).

    Attached Files:

  14. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    P1110863 - Copy.JPG On 17th April, the Irish Brigade took up the running from 11 Brigade.

    "At first light on the morning of the 17th, the Surreys were ordered to move one company to protect the left flank of the Lancashire Fusiliers bridgehead. After some determined resistance had been overcome this company succeeded in establishing itself in the north east outskirts of Argenta.

    5 Northamptons, meanwhile, was holding a line on the edge of the town and acting as a pivot for the main weight of the division’s attack on the right.

    The enemy’s position was beginning to look poor. He had failed to hold us on ground on his own choosing and he had every reason to believe that the main weight of the thrust was still to come. His forces consisted of elements of the battered 42nd Jager and 362nd Infantry Divisions, bolstered up at the last moment by the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, which had been rushed down from the north. The arrival of this formation was greeted by our own intelligence staff as a good omen. Evidently, the enemy was feeling the draught in a big way. Not only at Argenta, nor merely in the eastern sector of the front, were things beginning to crumble away but, in the whole Italian theatre, the entire floor of the German military machine, cracks were beginning to appear, which could not be plugged up. The 29th Panzer Grenadier Division was the last major field formation in the Army Group reserve.

    At Argenta then, as had been expected, the enemy was going to make a desperate stand. The crust of his defence had been cracked by the Lancashire Fusiliers and now, on the morning of April 17th, no time was to be lost in pressing the advantage, which that crack had given us.

    The subsequent operations were of the highest consequence.

    Firstly, the Irish Brigade was passed through. With 1 RIrF leading and 2 Innisks following, they passed into the bridgehead of 11 Brigade shortly before dawn and pressed determinedly on throughout the day gaining, by nightfall, about 1,000 yards to the north and west respectively. In the area of Scolo Arenare, the Irish Fusiliers met exceptionally strong resistance and this was not finally cleared until later. Towards evening, 11 Brigade began to set about clearing the town of Argenta itself. For this purpose, 5 Northamptons were employed, with the assistance of ‘Crocodile’ flamethrowers of 51 Royal Tanks.

    The operation was successfully completed by 2030 hours, at which time it was reported that the town was clear... "

    2 Innisks' account goes into further detail (MM citation of Fusilier Nicholls attached):

    "Zero hour was to be first light on 17 April. Each Battalion had its Squadron of Tanks (Queen’s Bays) and normal supporting arms. The whole move was designed to outflank the town of Argenta on the east and then cut Route 16 north of it. The plan, if successful, would seal off the town and open a way through the gap.

    The CO issued his orders. The Battalion would advance on a two company front, C and D Companies forward. A Company following C, and B Company following D. Each Company had its own troop of tanks and the leading Companies each had an Artillery FOO. Due to difficulty experienced by the Lancashire Fusiliers in crossing the Fossa Marina, our advance was postponed until 1200 hours at which time a firm bridgehead across the obstacle had been formed. Our 7 hours in the assembly area had been enlivened by a grandstand view of the MAAF bombing of the town of Argenta only 1,000 yards away on our left front.

    Punctually, at 1200 hrs, C and D Companies moved forward.

    D Company’s first objective was a group of houses on the right flank, which was being held by the enemy as strong points. These houses were taken by 17 Platoon, without loss to themselves, in spite of considerable MG fire and sniping from the left. Immediately after this, a very heavy mortar ‘stonk’ was put down by the enemy, which completely pinned the remainder of the Company to the ground.

    D Company’s own description of this is given below:
    'The Platoon Commander led one section into a ditch, the section crowded and the Section Leader, sensing an approach of a slight panic, climbed out of the ditch with his Caubeen at a rakish angle., lit a cigarette, glared down at his men and, with supreme contempt in his voice, said, ‘You Bloody fool, for Jesus sake, learn how to behave.’ The shells did not seem to worry him at all, nor his men, after that....The two leading Sections were making great progress and had managed to get within about 100 yards of the house without being spotted. When they were, the enemy fired everything he had at them and the right hand section was completely pinned down and any movement attracted fire. A shell landed right amongst the left hand section wounding every one of them. A smoke screen was put down and the platoon was withdrawn, having suffered 1 killed a 15 wounded.'

    ....C Company, meanwhile, had continued their advance without very much incident. At 1445 hours, however, A Company, who were following C, were subjected to a very heavy concentration of shells from A/Tk and SP Guns.

    A Company’s account of this states:
    'Our leading tank was knocked out and, 5 minutes later, the No 2 Tank was set ablaze by A/Tk Gun fire. Things were looking very bad indeed but it never put us off the job we had to do. In simple words, it made us want to get to grips with the Bosche himself. 7 Platoon was moved up the road leading to the level crossing. A Tiger Tank commenced firing AP Shells at the Platoon causing 25 casualties.

    C Company was ordered to attack these Guns from the North West. They were eventually dealt with and the advance continued. C Company Commander (Major John Duane) reported that Route 16 was under observation by his leading troops but they would not get on to the floodbank immediately west of the road because of heavy enemy small arms fire. They had met considerable resistance from Tanks and SP guns and the close of the day’s fighting found two enemy tanks destroyed and two 15 cm SP guns abandoned.

    During the night, patrols from both C’and D’Companies discovered the enemy were holding the floodbank in great strength, but it was considered by both Company Commanders that a full scale attack under a barrage would carry the objective. All night long, a vigilant watch was kept by All Ranks: the enemy occupied the houses in Argenta to our left rear as well as being in strength to our immediate front. ..'

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Apr 17, 2020
  15. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    18th April 1945 was a defining day of the battle for the Argenta Gap.

    “...The Divisional Commander decided on series of rapid punches, each to follow the other in quick succession, from the right of the town, by passing the enemy, who were still holding on near San Antonio.

    At 0215 hours, 6 RWK passed through the lines of the Royal Irish Fusiliers and struck straight across country for the village of Boccaleone, lying on the main road through the gap and some three thousand yards past Argenta. No sooner were the infantry through the Irish Brigade’s lines than a confusion of fighting began. It was difficult in the dark to know exactly where the rest of the Irishmen were and even more difficult to keep direction, whilst moving across the cultivated country, everywhere intersected with ditches, fences, wire and minefields. Some enemy tanks were about and, further south, the Northamptons were being counter attacked in the town. After one and a half hours had passed and, with the fog of war particularly dense that morning, the Argylls launched out in the wake of 6 RWK and set their course for Consandolo, the next village beyond Boccaleone. This was the second thrust of the round…

    ..In order to clear this blockage from Route 16, which was to be the main line of communication for the whole Corps later on, 56 Recce Regiment was placed under command 36 Brigade and ordered to pass through Argenta and clear from San Antonio, which was now on the brigade’s left flank. Unfortunately, the move proved hopeless and the Regiment was unable to make any progress astride the road by reason of demolitions and impossible going for vehicles.

    By half past nine in the morning, 6 RWK had done much mopping up in and around Boccaleone, having taken 38 more prisoners and a self propelled gun complete. The Argylls, however, were running into rougher water; having initially turned in towards Route 16 too early, thus nearly clashing with their neighbours, they had been redirected northwards and soon met the fiercest resistance they had so far encountered in the offensive. Four of their supporting tanks were knocked out in quick succession. The enemy infantry were daring to come to close quarters and bayonets were used. The whole battalion area was subjected to heavy fire from artillery and mortars. Due to the closeness of the fighting, it was impossible for our own guns to bring any weight of fire to bear on the enemy without danger to our own troops.

    36 Brigade was not, however, alone in its own offensive that morning. Following in the wake of the Argylls, the ‘Kangaroo’ Force of 2 Armoured Brigade had set out at dawn. By 1000 hours, this fantastic private army was out in the open engaging enemy tanks and SP guns beyond the Irish Fusiliers and on the right of the Argylls. By 1100 hours, the whole front was ablaze with activity. The Armoured Brigade, aiming at the twin canals Fossa di Porto and Scolo Bologonese, was forcing its way out into the open with the railway on the right and an unprotected flank on the left. Further west, the Argylls were held up just short of Consandolo by determined enemy in strong points and, to the left again, was an open flank down Route 16, until 6 RWK were met in Boccaleone, mopping up some difficult enemy pockets. Further south, the RAF, at the request of 36 Brigade, was attacking San Antonio and, shortly afterwards, 56 Recce Regiment made a little progress up Route 16 towards this troublesome block.

    Soon after midday, the Argylls, still stuck short of Consandolo, called for assistance from the air and this was laid on in a big way. Most of the village was razed to the ground and, beneath the piles of dust and rubbish, many bodies of Germans soldiers and Italian citizens were buried. Still, however, Consandolo held out; the Brigade Commander ordered a halt ad a planned assault. A quick barrage was laid down and carried the infantry in astride the road; at 1600 hours, Consandolo was almost ours.

    As evening came, it was possible to sum up the day’s achievements. Boccaleone and the ruined Consandolo were in our hands, although there was still some clearing up to be done. These two small villages on Route 16, well up the neck of the gap, were prizes well worth having and formed the substance of the day’s achievement; the capture of Consandolo had, particular, been a fine performance. To the right, the ground had been invested up as far as the Fossa Benvignante and, on the left, all the area of Argenta had been cleared except for the San Antonio pocket.”

    The Irish Rifles’ account of their advance that day with the ‘Kangaroo Army’:
    “At first light on the 18th, the force moved forward into battle. This was an unforgettable move.

    Through the orchards north of Argenta, in the narrow gap between lake and canal, moved a mass of armour, all passing over one bridge that had been constructed over the main water obstacle. Wrecked vehicles, equipment and enemy dead strewed the route, whilst machine gun fire from a position in Argenta, already surrounded, cracked away on the left flank.

    The usual difficulty was experienced in breaking through our own FDLs but, by 1000 hrs, we were in the open and the tanks were engaging SPs and Mk IVs. A ‘Kangaroo’ was hit by an AP shot and some trouble was experienced from Boccaleone and Consandolo on the left, neither of which had been captured but the weight of armour and mobile Infantry was beginning to make itself felt and the advance continued with prisoners streaming in.

    At about 1700 hrs, the tanks, which had been trying to solve the jig saw puzzle of finding a way across the maze of ditches, discovered an intact crossing of the Fosso Benvignante and very soon they and the infantry were over and investing the area which lay between this and the next obstacle. As it was now late in the evening, this took the enemy completely by surprise and an Officers Mess, a battery of 15 cm guns, a battery of 88 mm guns and numerous smaller AA and A/Tk pieces together with approximately 200 prisoners were overrun. This, all in spite of the enemy’s attempts to hold us by close range firing over open sights. By the light of numerous burning houses and, with a sense of complete victory, the battalion moved to its final area for the night in the vicinity of Palazzo and Coltra, having already three intact bridges over the next canal in its hands.”

    78th Division continued their advance through the night
    “The evening’s work, then, fell into two parts: first, the exploitation of the advance beyond the Benvignante canal; second, the clearance of the pocket, which still remained on Route 16…

    ..On the left, the time had come for final clearance of the enemy from Route 16. It was imperative that this road should be cleared for the following day, so that the 6th Armoured Division could be passed right through our left flank, to strike directly at Ferrara.

    The task of coordinating the clearance of the enemy from a pocket south of Boccaleone was given to the Irish Brigade and involved much detailed consideration. Almost everyone in the neighbourhood was involved – 5 Northamptons of 11 Brigade, 6 RWK from 36 Brigade, the Inniskillings, 56 Recce Regiment with 36 Brigade and 2 Commando Brigade on the far side of the river – a thorough hotch potch. No matter how, an attack was planned and begun at midnight. The Commando Brigade went in from the south under a heavy barrage and was followed an hour and half later by 2 Innisks. In vicious fighting which lasted until dawn, the houses and floodbank were cleared and, by the arrival a little later of 6 RWK from the north, the operations were eventually completed. This was a vital step achieved and a surprisingly difficult one it had proved.

    At the same time in 36 Brigade’s sector, another plot was afoot. 5 Buffs, having followed up behind the Argylls as far as Consandolo, were launched out just after dark and began a memorable night’s march to the north west. They met only slight resistance and, by dawn, had pressed on a distance of 8 miles to the village of Benvignante, away and beyond the leading elements of the armoured forces. This substantial advance, the longest on foot that was done by any battalion of the brigade in the entire operation, brought the division right out into the open and decisively through the gap.

    In the space of approximately 60 hours, by operations involving every battalion and armoured regiment of the Division, on ground of the enemy’s own choosing and, with the invaluable support of the air forces throughout, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, together with elements from four other enemy divisions (the 26th Panzer, the 42nd Jager, the 98th Infantry and the 362nd Infantry), had been driven from their positions and thrown back into the plain before the Po.

    The 78th Division was out in the open and the 6th Armoured Division was about to strike out to the west; the Argenta Gap was broken and the enemy lay, straggled out along the southern bank of the Po, vulnerable at a hundred points. “
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  16. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    19th April 1945 was a relatively quiet day for 78th Division:

    “During the night 18/19 April, general activity continued over the whole front. On the extreme right, 1 RIrF moved forward on the east side of the railway and occupied the triangle of ground, bounded by waterways around Casa Biscie. This move secured for the Division a firm right flank beyond the railway. Further west, at 0400 hours, the London Irish patrolled forward from the Foss Sabbiosolla, on the west of the railway, and reached the twin canals

    Bolognese and di Porto, just to the west of Portomaggiore. Here, a mile or so from the town, they found both bridges blown. In conjunction with 9 Lancers’ tanks, which joined the infantry at first light, positions were established on the near bank of the double canal.

    Between the London Irish and the Royal Irish Fusiliers, B Squadron of 56 Recce Regiment, with some of the Sherman tanks of the 4th Hussars, was having a confused struggle to cross the two canals in the village of Portomaggiore itself. One of these canals was at the entry to, and the other at the exit from, the town. The crux of the position was an enemy strong point at Croatia, just north of and overlooking the town, which was holding out with such obstinacy that no progress was possible beyond the second canal and the squadron was confined to the difficult, rubble strewn area of the town’s western outskirts.

    In 36 Brigade’s sector, all round advances had been made overnight. 56 Recce Regiment, less B Squadron, was still under command and had passed through the Argylls, only a short time behind the Buffs. From Consandalo, the regiment had swung to the west and, at first, had met little enemy resistance in a rapid advance. A Squadron patrolled westwards during the early morning towards the Po Morto di Primaro and the Fossa Molino (two waterways, which run south from San Nicolo Ferarese towards the flooded lands by Budrio). These patrols met firm enemy resistance on a line approximately 2 miles east of the canals but it seemed certain that the enemy forces there were merely intended to cover the road northwards on the west side of Route 16 and were not, therefore, a direct menace to the Division’s main line of advance, which ran north from Consandolo.

    On the extreme left flank, Route 16 had been opened for normal traffic and interest in the area west and south of the road waned into obscurity.

    During the course of the day, repeated attempts were made by B Squadron of the Recce Regiment, assisted for a time by F Company of 2 LIR, to clear a way through Portomaggiore, but these were of no avail. In the afternoon, 2 Armoured Brigade was ordered to establish a small infantry bridgehead in the area west of the town, where it had originally hoped to seize the two bridges.

    The London Irish Rifles, to whom F Company was, by this time, returning, succeeded in establishing two small bridgeheads over the canals by 1530 hours, to a great accompaniment of smoke, high explosive and flame from ‘Wasps’.

    As a result of this successful small operation, it was decided that the main axis of the Division would follow through the bridgehead and would not be led round through Portomaggiore.

    This decision taken, it was essential to exploit the foothold rapidly and get some bridging work in progress. Accordingly, 11 Brigade, which was entirely in Divisional reserve near Argenta, was ordered to pass into the bridgehead, enlarge it to cover bridging operations and press on astride the railway to cross the next canal, the Nicolo. For the purpose of this operation, the London Irish Rifles, already in the bridgehead, were placed under command of 11 Brigade and the Bays passed, at the same time, to 11 Brigade’s command.

    By 2300 hours on the 19th, 2 LIR, with great assistance from the Divisional Artillery, had successfully enlarged the two small bridgeheads and merged them into one, which covered the whole triangular area between the canals Belriguardo and Bolognese and a line north east from Porto Rotta. The sappers started work at once on a crossing of the two canals to enable tanks to get over and 11 Brigade prepared to cross with the Lancashire Fusiliers leading, followed by the Surreys. Each battalion was accompanied by a squadron of tanks from the Bays..”.

    During the day, 2 Lancashire Fusiliers prepared themselves for battle:
    “By April 18th, Argenta had been cleared and the enemy was on the run. By their crossing of the Fossa Marina, 2 LF had played a large part in clearing a way for the armoured striking force and the Battalion now hoped to have a day or two’s rest. Companies had concentrated on the 18th, and mobile baths were arranged for the following day. However, late in the afternoon, orders were received to be ready to move at midnight. The Battalion was to move from the Argenta area, to Stazione di Consandolo with the proviso, “If you can’t there, get as near to it as you can “. 2nd Armoured Brigade and LIR were driving for the intact bridges across the Fossa di Porto, west of Portomaggiore; if the bridges were secured, the Battalion was to reinforce was to reinforce the LIR, if not, the Battalion was to remain under command 11 Brigade.

    An advance party was sent ahead, under Major K Hill MC, to arrange a concentration area in the new location. The Battalion left Argenta at midnight, no longer a Battalion, but a Battalion group. Apart from the TCVs, there were the Bttn HQ vehicles, S Company, a Platoon of Kensington MMGs, a Platoon of their 4.2” Mortars and a troop of M10. Information regarding the roads was slight and, all that was known was that an armoured formation had covered the area. It was a strange journey, with fires blazing along the route and the sound of battle to the left rear, between Argenta and Consandalo on Route 16. Eventually, possibilities of flanking moves were explored. Only way round was found and this was blocked by a 3 tonner, which had collapsed through a bridge. The CO went to see OC, 2nd Armoured Brigade and instructed to have the Battalion ready for action by dawn. As it was impossible to reach the original location, another area was found where it was possible to get off the road. Breakfast was immediately prepared and consumed by dawn.

    At first light, it was possible to recce a new route to the original concentration area at Consandolo St and the Battalion arrived there at 0600 hours. After a hasty night move, a battle was to be expected soon but it did not take place. All day, the Battalion remained on the alert and the CO was called to 11 Brigade HQ, to whose command, the Battalion had reverted. Several tentative plans were made: at one time, the Battalion was to cross the Fossa di Porto, at another it was to go through Portomaggiore. The day was perhaps the most exasperating, of many exasperating occasions. A sudden move in the night was followed by a seemingly endless period of waiting. In the late afternoon, the CO received orders to pass through a small bridgehead formed by the LIR across the Fossa di Porto. The Battalion was then to advance westwards along the bank, turning north along the road through il Quartiere and finally westwards again to the bridge over the Canale San Nicolo. The canal was to be crossed and the advance continued. No enemy worth mentioning were expected – possibly the odd chap. Such statements had been made before, in the history of the Battalion….

    …The Battalion moved to the assembly area at dusk on the 19th, with squadron of tanks that had joined it in the morning. Owing to the lack of time, the O Group was held in the assembly area. The only light was found in the room occupied by the REs and they were somewhat disconcerted by the influx of people. By midnight, the Battalion was ready to move ad waited only for the signal from Brigade to cross the bridge. A bridge had been made by bulldozing in the banks of the river, which is divided into two separate branches. During the bulldozing, the area attracted considerable harassing fire and there was some anxiety lest enemy activity should impede the crossing. The Companies crossed without difficulty, but some congestion was caused by the transport. Until the bridgehead could be expanded by the leading Companies, there was little room for the transport and tanks, which accompanied the Battalion and which were not likely to be needed before dawn. 1 Surreys were following immediately behind the Battalion and hence it was necessary for the Battalion to get clear of the bridge area as soon as possible…”
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2020
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  17. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    20th April 1945 showed continuing forward progress for 78th Division.

    "At 0145 hours, 2 Lanacashire Fusiliers 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."

    During the day, The East Surreys had continued their advance toward Lungurella:
    "At 0245 hours on the 20th April, the Battalion left their concentration area by march route but, due to the difficulties encountered by the 2 Lancashire Fusiliers, were two hours late in crossing the Fossa di Porto…When dawn broke, Tac HQ and C Company were established over the canal but the rifle companies found themselves a little to the north and feeling extremely naked.

    That morning was memorable for B Company, for shortly after first light, having taken up a position round a cluster of farm buildings about 100 yards in the rear of A Company, a heavy mortar bomb exploded on the roof of the barn, where breakfast was being served. Fortunately, most of the Company had already eaten their breakfast and there was only one casualty. The Battalion was unable to continue its advance as 2 LF were encountering stiff resistance from the area il Quartiere in the form of sniper and MG fire.

    Lt Col HMA Hunter MBE, who was commanding the Battalion, then formulated the plan of attacking in a northerly direction, thereby by passing the resistance to the east.

    C Company was to secure a bridgehead over the railway running north west from Portomaggiore and D Company was to move up from the right and secure the road junction on the Runco – Portomaggiore road. This attack was to be preceded by the ‘Wasps’ in attacking a group of houses, just to the north of the start line, where it was suspected that there might be an enemy strongpoint. At 1015 hours, the ‘Wasps’ reported their objective cleared and, immediately afterwards, C and D Companies commenced their advance. C Company, under the command of Major EH Giles MC, moving forward in open formation, secured their bridgehead and were soon joined by D Company. During the advance, both Companies were being continually harassed by snipers and AP shells that were being directed at the supporting tanks, but no casualties were inflicted.

    Whilst exploiting forward from the bridgehead, 13 Platoon was ordered to attack a house on the right of the Company’s axis of advance from which heavy fire was coming. 14 Platoon were working round to a position to give them covering fire when all three Bren gunners were killed and Sgt Charlton seriously wounded. However, he led 14 Platoon on to a position from which they could support 13 Platoon and objective was captured…

    ..At about 1500 hours, C Company was forced to cede some of the ground it had gained during the morning, due to a heavy enemy DF that was brought down in the area of their leading troops and, as they were withdrawing to take cover in a ditch some fifty yards to their rear, were enfiladed by small arms fire, which inflicted several casualties. They were then counter attacked under cover of the enemy barrage and were again forced back to the ditch immediately to their rear. It was during this counter attack that Lieut JF Louis, the platoon commander with the longest record of service with the Battalion having joined the Battalion in North Africa in December 1942, was killed by a burst of Spandau Fire. Lieut Louis was unfortunately not the only casualty and L/Cpl Morrish found that he was the only NCO present that still survived. He immediately assumed command of the platoon, although himself wounded, and rallying the platoon led a counter attack, which completely caught the enemy unawares and enabled the company to continue their advance and capture Gobbia, their objective….

    …During the day, C and D Companies had taken sixty five prisoners, quite apart from the many that have been killed. They were a strangely assorted collection, including many new identifications from 155 Division – a training and garrison division – never before committed in battle and only recently brought south of the Po to bolster up the morale of the seriously mauled Panzer Grenadiers. One prisoner was even dressed in civilian clothes, explaining himself by saying that he had been hiding for five days and was too frightened to attempt to escape in uniform.

    At 2030 hours, A and B Companies relieved D and C Companies and by 2130 hours, they had attacked and captured Gobbietta and some farm buildings two to three hundred yards east of it..."
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  18. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    geogehegan - Copy.jpg
    On 21st April 1945, the Irish Brigade and the 'Kangaroo Army' came into their own once again.​

    “The attack went in as planned on the morning of 21st April, with 1 RIrF on the left and 2 Innisks on the right. On the north side of the railway, 5 Northamptons gave protection to the right flank and, beyond the twin canals in the south, 5 Buffs conformed with the advance. Both Irish battalions moved forward quickly behind the gunners’ barrage and, by 0220 hours, two companies from each were across the canal, having used the rubble of the demolished bridge as stepping stones.

    Opposition was far lighter than had been expected, many enemy having probably withdrawn as the barrage approached. By 0500 hours, the bridgehead was 800 yards deep, taking in the village of Montesanto and 30 prisoners had been taken, mostly from the 26th Panzer Division. Under cover of the bridgehead, 237 Field Company of the Divisional Engineers succeeded in bulldozing a crossing of the canal, which allowed 10 Hussars to begin moving across at about 0800 hours. This regiment of 2 Armoured Brigade had been under 56th Division’s command until a few days previously and had only just returned to its parent formation. The Bays, having already been deployed with 11 Brigade and the 9th Lancers, being held on the leash to go through with the ‘Kangaroo' force, 10 Hussars were now allotted the role of armoured support for the Irish Brigade. By mid morning, most of the two squadrons had joined the infantry around Montesanto. Meanwhile, B Squadron of the Recce Regiment, with the tanks of 4 Hussars and the company of Northamptons, succeeded in clearing Croatia and so removed a constricting pressure from the right flank. The Surreys, at about the same time, occupied Runco, to the north of the railway and almost up to the Nicolo canal.

    In order to obtain a major breakthrough, however, it was necessary to unleash the ‘Kangaroo' force as soon as possible. Before this could be done, a larger bridgehead over the Nicolo canal was essential and 38 Brigade was ordered, therefore, to exploits gains with all speed.

    In spite of continuing opposition and some very heavy shelling, the two Irish battalions succeeded in making a considerable enlargement of the whole bridgehead area by midday, and there was room, at last, for the ‘Kangaroo Force’ to form up over the canal. This time, the orders to the Armoured Brigade were to seize Quartesana and Cona and the bridges over the canals at these two places. The distance involved was about 5 miles from the bridgehead and it was getting late. After an unpleasant spell in an assembly area, the force began to rattle on its way at about 1500 hrs, creeping out in the open through the positions of the Inniskillings. As usual, difficulty was experienced in getting clear of our own forward positions and before the force was finally out in the open, it was late in afternoon.”

    The Irish Brigade's description of their advance on the morning of the 21st:
    “It was an achievement of the highest order on the part of both the Skins and the Faughs that they were in a position to launch this attack by 0130 hours. The General had told me that he considered it was about the highest test in the military art that he had yet asked us to undertake. It was a test in which both battalions once again proved their ability. Everyone who has handled a battalion in these circumstances knows only too well the number of things that can go wrong unless the CO and his team foresee the possibilities for a muddle accurately and forestall them. It reflected the greatest credit on everyone concerned in handling those battalions…

    .. It was most unfortunate that one medium gun in the barrage was firing short and several times fell in the middle of C Company of the Skins, who had to choose between losing the barrage altogether or keeping up with it and enduring the inevitable casualties. They kept up with it – but at a price. Johnny Duane, the Company Commander and Mike Murray were wounded and a number of other casualties inflicted. The CSM took command of the remainder of the company but, by the time they had reached the canal, they were too reduced to be effective for the next phase.

    These barrage incidents are always far more upsetting to people’s morale than a higher number of casualties inflicted by the enemy and, in view of what happened the next day, must give the greatest credit to those fellows for the magnificent way they kept the fight up. ..

    ..The troops were able to cross over the remains of blown bridges more or less dry shod and, by 0500 hours, both battalions were firm with a bridgehead about 800 yards deep and the REs were bulldozing a tank crossing. This crossing eventually took wheels as well. We had taken about thirty prisoners from 26th Panzer Division. It was the first time that we had met this Division, hurriedly brought across from the south west, who hoped, together with 98th Division, to stem the serious thrust that was now developing against the Germans.

    It was unquestionably the time to take risks. Open flanks and things of that kind were just too bad. The point was that a deep penetration was far more upsetting to the Germans at this phase than the open flank was to us. They were already too disorganised to profit by such things.

    The ‘Kangaroo Army’ was to pass through our bridgehead as soon as possible and strike in a north easterly direction. In order to do this, we would have to extend our bridgehead towards the north east. The ground was unpleasantly open for this sort of thing and there was a very considerable amount of stuff flying about. It meant that the Skins would have to swing north east and gain control of, at least, two crossings over the Condetta Motto and the Faughs would have to push forward a bit further and cover our left flank.

    By midday, I was in a position to give the OK to the ‘Kangaroo Army’ and very glad I was to be able to get this strong force through this hotly contested battlefield. It appeared that we had defeated most of the Bosche on the ground but the battalions were suffering a good deal from well observed shelling. Out on each flank, observing both the battalions, were high towers in village and the situation would not alter until we could overrun the Bosche OPs so the sooner that was done, the better…”

    (Note: 17 Skins and 4 Faughs were killed during the advance on the morning of 21st April 1945 including John Geoghegan MM, from Ashford, Co Wicklow and who is pictured below).

    The London Irish Rifles described their part in the day’s events:

    “The force moved through the Inniskillings going due north over very open country to the west of Voghenza. As before, some difficulty was experienced in discovering the exact locations of our own FDLs.

    Continual opposition was met from well sited SPs and tanks, often situated behind ground of farm buildings and the companies were called upon several times to de-bus and mop up enemy Bazooka men and Spandau posts. The RAF, as always, was putting in magnificent work, the “cab ranks” flushing or destroying several SPs and tanks ahead of the leading squadrons.

    As evening approached, the resistance stiffened more and more. Fire from enemy tanks increased and F Company dealt with several pockets of enemy troops, some of whom were sited up trees. Some ‘Uncle’ targets were put down by our guns on points of resistance but the force was now rapidly running out of the supporting range of the artillery. A definite feeling that we were out on our own with no friendly troops on either flank became very noticeable. Reports of “lots of Krauts on our right” or “can see Ted transport moving out of range on the left” began to come in. Light now began to fail. A quick conference was held and it was decided to carry on to the final objectives. These objectives were the bridge at Cona and Quartasena,

    A most unorthodox battle followed. By the light of the moon and burning farmhouses, the tanks, escorted by E and F Companies, attacked Quartasena and Cona respectively. Both columns were soon involved in a most chaotic battle in which tracer flew in every direction. Quartasena, the approaches to which were continually being mortared, contained three enemy tanks and several strong parties of Bazooka men and machine gunners. After two of our tanks had been knocked out, the enemy withdrew and escaped in the darkness over the bridge. This bridge, our objective, was captured intact.

    In Cona, an even more complex battle developed. The enemy had a 15 cm gun sited 100 yards over the bridge, firing with open sights back onto the bridge and down the village. It was backed up by the usual groups of machine gunners and Bazooka men. At the second attempt, F Company rushed the bridge, having been nobly backed up by the tanks, who were having a most uncomfortable time nosing their war round in the dark. A firm bridgehead was captured and H Company was rushed up in their 'Kangaroos' to reinforce F Company.

    By 0100 hours on the 22nd, the situation at both bridges was satisfactory. Almost 60 PW were taken during the operation besides quite a few enemy killed. Several trucks and a 15 cm gun fell into our hands, while an enemy lorry laden with artillery ammunition was hit at short range, while trying to escape by one of our tanks.

    By now, the battalion was extremely tired, at least half of it, having been on the go for over 72 hours. At 0600 hours on the 22nd, the Lancashire Fusiliers arrived up and relieved us. During that day, we all just slept.”
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2020
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  19. Bernard85

    Bernard85 WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    good day bexley84.very senior member,09 april2015.10:38pm.re:eek:peration"buckland"april 1945,sgt jim obrien died tuesdy(7th april)age 95.may he rest in peace.regards bernard85. :poppy: :poppy:
  20. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Thank you..I shall be attending Jim's funeral on 8th May,


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