Operation 'Buckland' - April 1945.

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

  1. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    22nd April 1945 sees 56 Recce and 11 Brigade take up the running in the advance to the Po di Volano.

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

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

    At the east end of the Diversivo di Volano, which at the time was beyond the Divisional boundary, 167 Brigade of the 56th Division had had a battle in the middle of the day and little progress had been made from there to the north. Further east, however, in Sabbioncello, the 1st Buffs from 24 Guards Brigade had crossed the river and found the bridge in an easily reparable state. The main effort of the 56th Division was, therefore, directed on this route.
    As a result of this fortunate find, the inter-divisional boundary was changed by 5 Corps late on the evening of the 22nd and the main axis of the 78th Division was turned north east. 11 Brigade was ordered to take advantage of the presence of the 56th Division on the far side of the river and to establish a bridgehead in the area south of Fossalta. A considerable enemy pocket still remained south of the river but it had, by evening, been almost entirely compressed into the river bend or ‘bulge’.

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

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

    But the line of the Po di Volano had not held, someone had made a tragic bloomer and failed effectively to blow the Sabbioncello bridge; even the limited hope of achieving a “Dunkirk” faded in that second of time..."
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  2. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    P1110889 - Copy.JPG

    As 5th Army were crossing the Po to the west, on 23rd April 1945, 78th Division were preparing for their "final assault".

    “The morning of April 23rd showed us little major change on our own front, with the Division now closed up to the line of the Po di Valano and the Diversivo di Volano round the Fossalta pocket. 5 Northamptons had a firm bridgehead over the river and the sappers began work on the bridge site at first light.

    During the day, the Northamptons carried out operations to extend their bridgeheads and were supported in this by tanks of the Bays, which were passed round through the 56th Division’s bridgehead in Sabbioncello and thence west along the north bank of the river. At the same time, the Lancashire Fusiliers were engaged in trying to wipe out the enemy pocket south of the river by Baura.

    By mid morning, the Northamptons succeeded in clearing Fossalta and 11 Brigade was in the process of passing the Surreys across the river by boat and raft. Progress everywhere was slow due to the very open country where wide fields of fire were available to the enemy from any of the innumerable little groups of farm buildings dotted over the plain.

    On the right, meanwhile, 56th Division had made great strides forward and had cleared Copparo by first light. On the left, 8th Indian Division was pushing northwards from the area of Ferrara and, further west, a race to the river was in progress. Tanks of the North Irish Horse (21 Tank Brigade), with the infantry of 8th Indian Division started to advance at 0600 hours with the intention of reaching the banks of the river. At 1045 hours, they arrived, having taken large numbers of prisoners and by-passed the town of Ferrara altogether. At 1055 hours, 6 Armoured Division’s leading tanks reached the Po further to the west and, very shortly afterwards, troops of the 5th Army were reported as being on the each bank at San Benedetto.

    On our own front, the enemy continued to hold out stubbornly and, at the time, it was hard to understand why so little progress was being made towards the river crossings near Polesella. By evening, 1 Surreys was across the river and had joined 5 Northamptons, whilst 56 Recce Regiment, with 2 LF, was trying to make progress into the area of the “bulge” and to the west of it. At last light, the Northamptons reached Giacomo at the head of the bulge and the Surreys were beginning to pass through. The bridge was expected to be complete at any time and the Irish Brigade, with 10 Hussars, was ready to cross over and push on.

    At 2300 hours, the bridge was ready and 2 Innisks started to cross. The Royal Irish Fusiliers were to follow and each battalion was supported by tanks of 10 Hussars.

    The plan was as follows. The Brigade would pass through the bridgehead with as little delay as possible and, with the Inniskillings leading, would seize the village of Saletta. This was chosen as the first Brigade objective because the small village of Tamara between Fossalta and Saletta, had been occupied during the day by 1 London Irish Rifles of 56th Division. Once in Saletta, the Inniskillings were to press north directed on the river crossings at Zocca and Ro, whilst the Royal Irish Fusiliers were to strike north westwards towards Ruina and the banks of the river west of Zocca.”

    The Irish Brigade described their own build up for offensive action.
    “On 23rd April, 11 Brigade succeeded in forcing a crossing over the Po di Volano and established a bridgehead, which enabled a bridge to be built about 500 yards south of Fossalta. 36 Brigade were warned to plan an assault crossing over the Po using swimming tanks, fantails etc.

    At 0900 hrs, we were warned to be ready to go through 11 Brigade that night and carry out a final rush on the Po. At midday, we received definite orders for this. The Brigade was to move at 1700 hrs in TCVs to a suitable assembly area, south of the bridge. I went to Division at 1630 hrs to get the latest form and ordered an O Group at my new Headquarters near the assembly area at 1800 hrs. Our objective was the Po. The enemy resistance was undoubtedly stiff and would probably become stiffer. He was defending the various canal barriers as much as possible in order to complete the withdrawal of the bulk of his forces and transport which lay east of Ferrara. If ever, it was necessary for the Bosche to stand and fight, it was now.

    1 London Irish, with 56th Division, were now in Tamara and 11 Brigade were striking out towards Corlo and Baura. The plan was for the Skins to pass over first near Saletta and advance towards Zocca while the Faughs were to follow them, turn left and advance towards Ruina and the Po on their front. A Squadron of 10th Hussars was with each leading battalion and we had some assault REs to deal with the canals….

    …Bridge trouble was going on again but, by a bit of good luck, we had estimated the delays correctly and the Skins started to arrive at the bridge just after it was completed at about 2345 hours.”
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2020
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  3. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    24th April 1945 saw the climax of the battle as 78th Division pushed through the last vestiges of German defensive lines south of the River Po.

    "The plan for the day was as follows: The Brigade would pass through the bridgehead with as little delay as possible and, with the Inniskillings leading, would seize the village of Saletta. This was chosen as the first Brigade objective because the small village of Tamara between Fossalta and Saletta, had been occupied during the day by 1 London Irish Rifles of 56th Division. Once in Saletta, the Inniskillings were to press north directed on the river crossings at Zocca and Ro, whilst the Royal Irish Fusiliers were to strike north westwards towards Ruina and the banks of the river west of Zocca.

    Having crossed the river, the Inniskillings moved north as planned and all went well until they began to approach Saletta at about 0200 hours. Here, in the narrow approaches to the village, they began to run into serious trouble. The enemy’s determination to stand was not one atom diminished from its earlier intensity and a fierce battle at close quarters ensued.

    At this stage, it became glaringly apparent why the approaches to the Po just east of Ferrara were proving so troublesome. 76 Panzer Corps, containing 26th Panzer and 29th Panzer-Grenadier Divisions, which had been given the task of covering the withdrawal of all the other forces, had chosen as its own line of withdrawal the crossings over the Po in the area of Polesella. Thanks to the work of the RAF, the bulk of this Corps was still waiting to cross.

    At 0500 hours on the 24th, the fighting in Saletta was over and the Inniskillings were breaking through the town and pushing north. As soon as they were clear of the village, the Irish Fusiliers followed and turned towards Ruina. As morning broke, both battalions were pushing on slowly, but surely, towards the Po.

    On the left, 11 Brigade, with the Bays, had also made progress. The Northamptons, advancing north west from Giacomo, were nearing Correggio at dawn, and the Surreys on the right, were preparing to attack a strong enemy position at Corlo, covering the bridge over the canal north west of the village.
    During the evening, a break began to appear. The Northamptons attacked and captured Corregio, the Surreys forced their way through Corlo and seized the bridge intact – a notable achievement and, one of the first importance at this stage: the RAF struck at very strong enemy positions on the line of the Canale Fossetta, in front of which the Irish Brigade was held up; the ‘Kangaroo Force’ was passed over the river and prepared to strike out on its last taste of destruction.

    Amidst all this activity, a further great work was at hand; plans were being made for crossing the Po and the next stage of the pursuit. In this connection, 78th Division had been ordered to cross the river with one Brigade Group as soon as could be done after reaching the south bank. At the same time, a Brigade of 56th Division was to assault on the right.

    The Divisional Commander had chosen 36 Brigade to lead the Division over the river and, accordingly, operations were in progress during the evening of the 23rd and the morning of the 24th to relieve the Brigade of its existing commitments south east of Ferrara. By 1045 hours on the 24th, this relief was complete and 56 Recce Regiment had taken over the Brigade’s positions. At midday, a big planning conference was in progress at Brigade Headquarters: ‘Fantails’ and amphibious tanks were being discussed; the launching and landing beaches were being chosen; a thousand questions, not previously thought of, were popping up to puzzle; but at 1300 hours, the operation was cancelled. 6th Armoured, 2nd New Zealand and 8th Indian Division were all up to the Po farther to the west and were meeting no opposition on the banks; it was obviously a waste of time for building operations to be delayed until the 78th Division reached the river, through an area still strongly held by the enemy.

    Soon after midday, 2 Armoured Brigade’s private army was launched. It was ordered to pass between the two infantry brigades and sweep westwards towards the Ferrara – Pontelagoscuro canal moving between the Canale Fossetta and the Fossa Lavezoola. At the same time, 11 Brigade was to do a similar sweep westwards and clear the ground between the Canale Fossetta and the Po di Volano. The Irish Brigade was to continue on its original axis, directed on Zocca and Ruina.

    “Mobile battle” and “fluid situations” reigned during the afternoon but, as evening approached, a distinct stiffening of resistance was noticeable on the Armoured Brigade’s front. At 1800 hours, there were reports of many enemy tanks in the area just north of Ferrara and, shortly afterwards, as the light was failing, 9 Lancers fought an exciting action in which 7 enemy Mark IV tanks, moving north east towards the ferries, were knocked out for the loss of only one of their own.

    By this time, a peculiar state of affairs had been reached. Having swept right across 11 Brigade’s front, the ‘Kangaroo Force’ was strung out for some 4,000 yards with an open right flank and, with tank actions in progress over the whole area; night was drawing on; the infantry, in their ‘Kangaroos’, were a wonderful target for lurking enemy tanks in the general confusion and semi darkness. To exploit the enemy’s distress, however, it was decided that the battle would be pressed on by moonlight. The landscape was ablaze with burning houses and vehicles: further north, the RAF was dropping flares and bombing the roads and railways beyond the Po: in addition to the fires caused by bombing, shelling and mortaring, a new destruction had begun – the enemy was setting light to everything he had.

    At 2030 hours, 5 Corps telephoned to say there were strong indications that the enemy had lost control of the situation. Intelligence channels had intercepted messages from the German command, that the situation was desperate and that each man must fend for himself.

    As a result of this information, the Divisional Commander ordered 2 Armoured Brigade to swing round the north, cross the Fossa Lavezzola and make for the “disorderly enemy”. This was not, however, to be done before the engagement already in progress was brought to an end.

    At 2235 hours, the Armoured Brigade, having had some four hours of intense and swift fighting, reported that things were beginning to quieten down. There had been a great deal of hostile fire from enemy tanks and self propelled guns throughout the Brigade battle zone and the force had become widely dispersed, each portion, including Brigade Headquarters, having had its own battle to fight. The intention was now to collect the bits and pieces together and move on towards the river, as soon as possible.

    In order to carry out this new task and switch the axis through more than ninety degrees, a deliberate advance was decided upon and a fire plan was arranged. By 0130 hours, the infantry, with F and G Companies up, began to feel their way north, the tanks following some distance behind, ready to press through if opposition was met.

    In the past few hours, however, the whole complexion of the front had changed. At sunset on the 24th, there had been strong groups of enemy tanks and self propelled guns mingled with numerous small detachments of infantry equipped with machine guns and bazookas. These forces – although scattered and disorganised, had known their job and were determined to do it. They were to delay our advances by every means at their disposals and, especially in front of the crossings at Polesella, Zocca and Francolino. They were to fight until all their main elements had crossed the river."

    From 9 Lancers' account.
    "At 1415 hours on the 24th, the Regimental Group, which consisted of 156 tracked vehicles and some 50 A Echelon soft skinned vehicles, moved off from the concentration area and, at 1500 hours, the two leading Squadrons began passing through the Infantry FDLS. Almost immediately, both Squadrons reported that they were engaged with the enemy and bring troubled by snipers, Bazookas, Spandau fire and the odd SP gun.

    For the first two and a half hours, the advance was once again extremely slow and Squadrons were only doing one thousand yards an hour. Once more, it was evident that we would have to fight in order to reach the objective. However, from now on, the advance proceeded apace and it was evident that the enemy crust was broken. Both Squadrons reported that they were pushing on fast but there were constant reports of AP shot coming from the front and both flanks. A Squadron, on the right, were picking up prisoners all the time and, once again, feeling embarrassed by the number. They eventually decided to leave one rifleman guarding over 50, including 3 Officers at a farmhouse and some of S Company were dispatched to collect them.

    B Squadron reported that they were running into more and more AP and then announced that they had knocked out one Mark IV and one SP 75 mm in the Boara area and a patrol from Recce Troop reported that the bridge over the Scolo Conca and Canale Bianco at Ponte del Diavolo were intact. They had great difficulty in getting up to the second one owing to heavy stonking. On this information, B Squadron 4th Hussars and F Company were brought forward: they went past very quickly and got into positions between A and B Squadrons. From now on, we advanced three Squadrons up with RHQ behind B Squadron 9th Lancers and C Squadron and H Company bringing up the rear. There was only now one hour of daylight left ad all Squadrons reported that they were being engaged by AP shot from all directions – C Squadron, behind, reporting that AP was coming in to them from their right rear. The odd AP shot was also landing in RHQ.

    B Squadron’s leading troops had now reached Malborghetto and reported three Mark IVs moving fast down the road northwards, 900 yards away. Shortly afterwards, they reported that two of them were brewing and the third had got away but was hit and had smoke coming out of its tail. The third one was afterwards found holed and abandoned about two hundred yards off the road with two of the crew dead. Sgt Edmunds had scored a right and a left with two shots right through the turrets and Cpl Nicholls had disposed of the third. A magnificent piece of shooting. Several of the crew were dead and Sgt Riley from his Recce Troop Honey had a good Browning shoot at the others bailing out. A Squadron, on the right, now reported that 3rd Troop had brewed two Mark IVs and that AP was coming at them fast and furiously from every direction and they were heavily engaged. B Squadron was also heavily engaged to their front and left front and there were two Mark IVs knocked out. For the last hour of daylight, both A and B Squadrons were very heavily engaged. Both Squadrons were pinned by AP fire and they were constantly reporting knocking out German tanks and SP guns. AP shot was flying in every direction.

    Once more, the 9th Lancers were engaged in a major tank versus tank battle. At last light, both Squadrons were still pinned. B Squadron had knocked out seven Mark IVs and two SPs and A Squadron, three Mark IVs and two SPs. A Squadron had one tank holed through the turret, killing the gunner and slightly wounding the Troop Leader.

    We were now ordered not to go on to our objectives but to concentrate where we were and be prepared to go off either north east to two crossings over the Po, where there were supposed to be two pontoon bridges, possibly still intact, or to go south west to Ferrara and contact 8th Indian Division. Two slightly different roles. The Regiment was therefore ordered to concentrate in, and north of, Malborghetto. This was an extremely difficult operation for A Squadron and B Squadron to perform. Both Squadrons were still pinned. Even though it was now night, there was a full moon and the whole countryside was lit up by burning farmhouses and Mark IV tanks. Any tank movement brought a hail of AP shot and our tanks, when they moved, were silhouetted against the burning farmhouses. However, by moving one tank at a time, all Squadrons managed to get concentrated by midnight and all sounds of battle had died down. At this time, A Squadron captured intact a Mark IV tank in a farm, 200 yards from their concentration area. The engine was still warm and it was doubtless one of the tanks, which had been firing at them. Once again, 9 Lancers group was sitting surrounded by a ring of fire and destroyed German equipment.

    We now got definite orders to proceed to the River Po at Francolino and Borgo, where it was suspected that the German positions were still in operation. It was now after midnight and this was a tall order as the Regiment had already advanced 10,000 yards against heavy opposition since 1500 hours and this entailed a further advance of 5,000 yards, retracing our steps part of the way. There was no information about the enemy except what we knew ourselves. ie that there were still a considerable number of tanks and SP guns to our north and it was suspected we might meet heavy opposition. We ordered, therefore, a patrol forward to the two objectives with a platoon of infantry leading in each case backed up by a troop of tanks and the rest of the squadron and company backing them about 500 yards behind. A careful fire plan was laid on with the Divisional Artillery including mediums covering the whole of both routes. This could be called on when required.

    At 0200 hours, A Squadron and C Company advanced north towards Francolino and B Squadron 4th Hussars and F Company north east towards Borgo. This advance proceeded smoothly, but slowly, with the infantry walking the whole way and, by first light, both companies were established on their objectives having met only light opposition on the way and having taken a number of prisoners. There was no sign of a pontoon at either place.

    On checking up in the morning, we found the whole area between Ferrara and Francolino littered with German tanks, SP guns and equipment of all sorts.

    Apparently, 26th Panzers were taken completely by surprise by the arrival of the ‘Kangaroo Force’. They had started to withdraw in front of us and eventually decided to stand and fight but, after losing ten of their tanks by our accurate fire, the remaining crews became so demoralised that they deserted their tanks and vehicles and self destroyed them between 2000 hours and midnight. This was confirmed by the civilians on the spot.

    Not since Alamein, have 9 Lancers so beaten up a German Tank Regiment. Almost the entire tank strength of 26th Panzers must have been destroyed. Ten of their tanks were knocked out by our AP, the remainder became so frightened that the crews of two of them bailed out and gave themselves up and eleven bailed out and destroyed their own tanks.

    During the day and night, we had advanced 15,000 yards; destroyed, captured or overrun much equipment.
    This amounted to:10 Mark IV tanks destroyed. 2 Mark IV tanks captured intact. 4 SP guns destroyed. 11 Mark IV tanks (found abandoned and destroyed by the enemy on the southern banks of the River Po at Francolino). 1 SP gun. 2 Large Mortars destroyed. 1 20 mm gun overrun. 230 prisoners taken (including 2 Officers including 1 MO)."

    From the Irish Brigade's narrative.
    "By 0245 hours, the Skins had reached Saletta and found it very much occupied, It was not captured until 0500 hours after a very stiff hand to hand fight. The enemy was fighting tooth and nail. About twenty of them were killed and four taken prisoner by the Skins. They then pushed on about 400 yards north of the village. The Faughs commenced to deploy on the left of the Skins about 0700 hours and began advancing up the road towards Ruina. The enemy resistance was increasing markedly and we were finally stuck on Canale Fossetta. The bridges were the main points of resistance where anti tank guns, self propelled guns of various types and a fair number of tanks were holding up all our attempts to push on or by-pass them. The enemy were bombed and strafed by aircraft and shelled continuously by everything we had throughout the afternoon but they still held on, keeping open the enemy’s escape route to the Po.

    We moved Brigade Headquarters up to Tamara in the afternoon.

    The ‘Kangaroo Army’ was again to be employed. They were to go up on the left of the Faughs across the Canale Fossetta and the Fossa Lavozzola, swing left and catch all the Krauts, who we anticipated were making for the main crossing place, which was on the Skins’ front towards Zocca and Guarda. The London Irish had crossed over the Po di Volano in their 'Kangaroos' after the Faughs and were in an assembly area west of Fossetta, ready to be used either in an infantry or ‘Kangaroo’ role.

    By 11 o’clock in the morning, the General decided on the ‘Kangaroo’ role and 9 Lancers were called up to join them. Their operation was a complex one entailing a wheel of more than 90 degrees after they had started and getting over the various canal obstacles. It went very well but, for some reason or other, they turned westwards before crossing Fossa Lavozzola.

    'At 1330 hours, the ‘Kangaroo Army’ moved forward in two columns through the rest of the Irish Brigade in a movement designed to sweep the area between the River Po and the numerous canals running east from Ferrara and the Po immediately north of it. We moved forward through a maze of ditches and canals, the leading squadrons, aided it is true by air reports as to where bridges were or were not blown, doing a splendid job of work in finding a way through and, at the same time, keeping a sharp look out for the enemy.

    By 1600 hours, opposition started to crop up and both G and E Companies (of 2 LIR) did jobs of clearing enemy rear guards covered by our own tanks. Prisoners were now being taken in large numbers. At 1800 hours, reports came in over the air stating that enemy tanks could be seen in larger numbers than before. Between then and darkness, an exciting action was fought during which 7 Mark IVs were knocked out by 9 Lancers for the loss of only one of their own. The advance had gone so quickly that S Company carriers started to come under enemy AP fire from the right flank – a most undesirable situation.

    As darkness fell, the tank action continued over a wide area, while the Companies in their conspicuous ‘Kangaroos’ tried their best to keep out of the armoured battle. Every farm for miles seemed to be burning and confusion seemed to reign. A decision to continue the advance by moonlight was again taken but, at 2200 hours, orders were received that the general direction of the advance was to be changed a full hundred degrees. We were now, when just short of our original objective, ordered to make straight for the Po at a point NE of Ferrara, where the Germans were reported to be evacuating their rearguards by pontoons.

    A fire plan was laid on and, by 0130 hours, G and F Companies were feeling their way northwards with their respective tanks moving well behind. This complete change of direction during the hours of darkness was accomplished with very little difficulty in spite of the fact that we were still on contact with the enemy. As G and F Companies moved forward, the mass of armoured vehicles belonging to the combined armoured-infantry HW leaguered in a field only a mile or so north of Ferrara and waited for the two Company columns to report their progress. They met with only minor opposition and, by dawn, were on the banks of the Po in the midst of an extraordinary collection of abandoned and burning vehicles left behind by the enemy.

    They included six more Mark IV tanks and a large number of lorries. Many Germans, who had either left it too or could not swim, were rounded up.

    Thus ended the fourth and longest advance made by the ‘Kangaroo Army’. The force settles down into billets in farms on its final battlefield south of the Po and perhaps its final battlefield of the war.'

    The ‘Kangaroo Army’ had taken about one hundred and fifty prisoners of war.

    These exploits, of course, had a direct bearing on the situation in front of the rest of the Brigade. That night, there was to be an all out effort to get right up to the Po and finish the job."
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  4. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    The morning of 25th April 1945 saw final and complete victory for 78th Division.,, their fighting had come to an end.

    "As dawn approached on the 25th... Organised resistance was at an end.

    A plan made overnight for the swift and thorough clearance of the whole divisional area was put into effect at first light. One squadron of the Recce Regiment passed to under command of each of the 11, 38 and 2 Brigades and these three formations were each given an area stretching south from a sector of the river bank.

    On the right, the Irish Brigade entered Zocca and Ruina to find an incredible scene of devastation. Packed in the fields, queued up in lanes, cast in ditches, in farmyards and woods, everywhere – even to the river itself – lay the remains of the transport ad equipment of 76 Panzer Corps. Practically everything was destroyed: anything that had not been riddled with cannon – shell or torn by bomb splinters from the air forces, had been burnt by the enemy as he fled. The only large quantity of serviceable things seemed to be horses, these, abandoned, roamed everywhere amongst the devastation.

    To the west of Ruina, 11 Brigade was given a sector up to the river and, here, similar conditions prevailed, although there was less equipment than in the Irish Brigade’s area. Having cleared up to the bank by midday, the task of watching the river was handed over to the Recce Squadron and the battalions concentrated in Baura (2 LF), Corlo (1 Surreys) and Correggio (5 Northamptons).

    On the left of the divisional sector, 2 Armoured Brigade did similar sweeping up and also handed over the river line to the Recce Squadron by evening.

    The story is over: the intention of the Allied Armies in Italy was carried through to the end; on the ground before us was evidence enough of how much our enemy had lost. Despite all, however, few realised how near this was to the end, not of a phase in the war but of the whole odious epoch.

    One of those, who knew, was General Graf von Schwerin, commander of 76 Panzer Corps who, with his personal staff, surrendered to 27 Lancers on the morning of April 25th.

    On being asked the disposition of his Corps at that time, he is said to have replied –

    “You will find it south of the River Po”.

    Irish Brigade Commander, Pat Scott, described the last few hours of their advance:
    "That night, there was to be an all out effort to get right up to the Po and finish the job....The advance was to continue at 0200 hours and by 0300 hours, B Company of the Skins had crossed the Canale Fossetta and, an hour later, C Company had reached the Fossa Lavezzola.

    About this time, it was beginning to become evident that something had happened to the Bosche. We had no knowledge about our own troops on our right to help us but, whatever had happened, we could not afford to let up yet. This advance was continued as planned and the Skins captured the villages of Ro and Zocca without finding any Bosche in them. The Faughs reached Ruina at about 1000 hours and pushed on to the Po.

    The next thing to do was a quick round up throughout the area. C Squadron, 56 Reconnaissance Regiment came under my command and I pushed them out on the right of the Skins. A real field day was had by all. Three officers and three hundred and ten other ranks, who had missed the last boat, were rounded up. The amount of equipment that was found strewn along the river bank was nobody’s business. There was mile after mile of wreckage and rubbish intermingled with thousands of horse. It was an unbelievable sight! No wonder our last battle had been such a stiff one with all that stuff at stake.
    He had enough guns there to blow us off the earth, to say nothing of all the tanks and other things there were.

    Whatever else had happened, there seemed to be little room for doubt that 76 Panzer Corps had been well and truly defeated. This was evidently realised by their Commander, who had given himself up to 56[SIZE=11.6666669845581px]th[/SIZE] Division on our right on the previous day. The battle of Argenta Gap, he said, had been his downfall. Whatever was left of his Corps was in a completely useless state. The Brigade, alone, counting the ‘Kangaroo Force’ had passed back to Prisoner of War cages 22 officers and 2,099 Other Ranks since we started this campaign. Casualties inflicted had been far greater."

    Leaflets were dropped to the remnants of the German 76 Panzer Corps.

    “Divisional Commander, Officers, NCOs and Soldiers of 76 Panzer Corps.

    Today, the 25th April 1945, Lt General Graf von Schwerin, accompanied by his ADCs. Lt Huss and Lt Reiners, surrendered to 27 Lancers.

    Your General declared:

    ‘I know the situation. For German soldiers in Italy, it is hopeless.

    My Corps has had it.

    Under these circumstances, I cannot give further commands.

    In full knowledge of the situation, I have chosen the only way open to a soldier, who had been honourably, but decisively, defeated.

    It is now the duty of very officer, of every NCO and of every soldier bravely to look facts in the face and to realise that it is criminal to throw away more human lives.’
    Last edited: Apr 25, 2020
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  5. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    As a coda to the main narrative...by 4pm on the afternoon of the 25th April, along with his comrades from E Company, my father had encamped just to the south of the River Po..(current day map position attached)

    My father would later recall that first day of "peace" - it had certainly been a long road for him and his pals from Algiers where they had arrived on 22nd November 1942.

    "We had arrived at the Po. During the last days of the offensive, we had passed a most distressing sight. Beautiful draught horses had been shot dead and lay bloated and stinking. The Germans had killed them rather than let them live and remain for us. Most had been commandeered from the unfortunate Italians. They had lost so much. Their beautiful country had been destroyed from Sicily to the Po and occupied by aliens from all over the world.

    The south bank of the Po was an extraordinary scene. The Germans, trapped by the river, had abandoned everything. Many had even tried to swim the Po to escape and many died as a result. The carnage of war continued relentlessly as if it were now on a form of autopilot.

    The company rested near the banks of the Po while the Royal Engineers set about bridging its mile width. I arranged a campfire and laid on some Canadian beer and hot rum toddy. Corporal Howarth was, as usual, master of ceremonies. When directed, each person had to sing.... "

    Grazie mille a mio padre

    Go raibh míle maith agat go mór.

    Attached Files:

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  6. Oldman

    Oldman Very Senior Member

    Bexley 84

    Many thanks for the series of posts taking us day by day through the battle
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  7. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    Thank you very much.

  8. ropey

    ropey Member

    Hear, hear.
    bexley84 likes this.
  9. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Thank you again.

  10. gpo son

    gpo son Senior Member

    Wow Richard that is a tremendous offering and tribute.
  11. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    Thank you - fortunately, there are a number of excellent official and personal accounts to draw upon and, of course, quite a number of men still around, who can still vividly recall those last few days of final advance of the war in Italy.

    best wishes
  12. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    75 years ago today... the final D Day for my Dad and hs mates.... and so many others... so much had happened in their journey from Algiers to the Po..

    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.
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2020
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  13. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    P1050207 - Copy.JPG

    The attack was on...

    9th April 1945:

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

    "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..."
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2020
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  14. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    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..."
    Last edited: Apr 11, 2020
  15. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member


    "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..."
    Last edited: Apr 12, 2020
  16. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    "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...."
  17. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    large_NA_024038_1 (2).jpg large_NA_024040_1 (2).jpg large_NA_024044_1 (2).jpg large_NA_024048_1 (2).jpg

    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..."
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  18. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    large_NA_024080_1 (2).jpg

    The London Irish Rifles in 'Kangaroos' had continued their offensive operations.

    "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....
  19. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

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

    My father, CQMS Edmund O'Sullivan recalled:

    "The speed of the advance was phenomenal and casualties were light. Having reached our objective, the Conselice Canal, the battalion dug in for the night. I followed in a jeep, laden with a cooked meal, in the tracks left by the armour. It was comparatively peaceful as I crossed the Senio, now Bailey-bridged, on my way north behind the battalion and saw the double-banked Churchills of the early crossings. I served the meal for the company. As I finished, a corporal from a troop of recovery tanks approached. ‘Any overs left for my chaps, Dickie?,’ he asked. It was McVeigh from the Corpus Christi Football team.

    Each day, the battalion fought and advanced rapidly while I had to return for cooked meals, haversack rations and, of course, the hot cakes. This meant I seldom had time for sleep. We crossed the canal and went on to the rivers Santerno and the Reno. At each obstacle, we would halt and stay overnight. This would give me the opportunity to catch up on a little sleep..."
  20. bexley84

    bexley84 Well-Known Member

    "...On the morning of the 16th, 11 Brigade passed through 56th Division towards Argenta, having made a detour to the east and passed over 56th Division’s bridges. At 1400 hours, we got a telephone message to say that we were to move at 1700 hours and pass through 11 Brigade after they had made a bridgehead over the Fosso Marina. The Bays were to cross back under our command on our arrival and the Kangaroo Army of 9 Lancers, 4 Hussars and London Irish were to be reformed under command 2 Armoured Brigade. This sudden change in the armour caused some confusion, as preparations had already been made with 9 Lancers with regard to carrying ammunition in their tanks, netting their wireless sets and fixing in additional sets.

    Our bridge was ready and we duly started off but there was the most terrible congestion on the road and bridge over the Reno. Something had gone a bit funny with the bridge at the last moment – it was a very long one..."


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