The second part of the history of 44 Recce is carried on pages 165 to 172 of this issue. The first part had covered events till the end of January 1944 but curiously this part starts several months later. 44 Recce had actually been withdrawn to Egypt earlier in the year and when they returned to Italy in July it was with the 8th Army and they did see some action before the events described in this issue.
Reconnaissance Journal Vol. 3 No. 4 pp165–172
WITH THE 44th IN ITALY
AFTER the long and satisfactory rest and refit at Treia, in the Macerata area, the Regiment returned to active operations on the 17th November, 1944. Except for two short breaks, operations were continuous until 13th February, 1945.
The general situation was that the Eighth Army was established on the Lombardy Plain but owing to the nature of the country, which is well suited to defence with its many high banks, rivers and close cultivation, progress forward was slow and necessitated the mounting of heavy infantry attacks to achieve any advances at all. The original army intentions were to secure Route 9 and open the way to Bologna but the enemy contested this strongly with the result that a definite winter line was established along the line of the Senio river and held with the minimum of troops necessary. The wet weather and heavy snows during the period also considerably hampered any active operations.
With little likelihood of there being any chance of a reconnaissance or mobile role, the Regiment throughout this period had been employed as an infantry battalion. By being used this way and sometimes holding fronts of 2,000 yards or more, it had been possible to relieve infantry battalions for rest or other more active operations.
The infantry holding role is not spectacular, but nevertheless many problems arose and were dealt with efficiently and to the dissatisfaction of the enemy. Such points on how to remove the Bosche from isolated defended houses and how to defend houses and remain in them oneself, were constantly occurring.
The period to 13th February is divided into six separate phases which are described below.
Crossing the Cosina
A small sector of the line along the Cosina river, from incl Route 9 to excl junction of Montone and Cosina rivers, was held by 1 L.I.R. from whom the Regiment took over on the night of 17-18th November.
The Regiment was to hold a sector of the line in order to deceive the enemy into believing that 56 (London) Division had returned to active operations after its rest.
The take over from the L.I.R. was not completed until about 0500 hours as sorne of the positions which were to be occupied were not yet definitely in our hands. However, by daylight the situation had cleared itself with "C" Squadron right, "A" Squadron left and "B" Squadron in reserve on Route 9. The enemy still held positions on our sìde of the river and it was the intention that these should be cleared and the line brought forward to that of the river.
This was not easy, but with some good fighting patrols and the generous assistance of the 75 mm. S.P. Battery, most of these posts were eliminated. One particular post C.Tradi was eventually liquidated by a company of the Beds. and Herts. Regiment after "A" Squadron had had some very spirited clashes with the enemy in that area.
During the night 20-21st November, 10th Brigade attacked through the Regiment to gain crossings over the Cosina but were not successful. Considerable enemy D.F. brought down on forward Squadrons during night. On 21st a company of D.C.L.I. took over "A" Squadron psotions in front of Tradi whilst "A" then came down on to Route 9. Later in the day "D" Company 2-6 Surveys placed under command and relieved the D.C.L.I. Company, whilst "B" and "A" Squadrons were relieved by the Beds. and Herts. "C" Squadron remained in the same positions with “A” Squadron coming in on its right and "B" Squadron held in reserve ready to cross the river if necessary.
On the nIght 23-24th an attack by 46 Division on the left caused the enemy to start withdrawing on the Regimental front, enabling "B" and "C" Squadrons to establish small bridgeheads over the river.
On 24th the Regiment came into reserve but were placed under command 139 Brigade, 46 Division, with orders to move on the 25th.
The Lamone River Line
On evening 25th November, the Regiment, less "A" Squadron, relieved 5th Battalion Forresters and took up positions along line of Lamone River in front of Faenza from incl. Route 9 to excl. railway-river crossing north of Faenza. This was a quiet sector and only occupied for about twenty-four hours before being relieved by 26th N.Z. Battalion. During the afternoon of 26th a disturbing aerial attack by an unidentified plane took place. All Allied air forces disclaimed any responsibility for the dive-bombing and machine-gunning. It was therefore presumed the plane was not friendly in more than one sense.
Immediately on relief by the New Zealanders the Regiment crossed to the south of Route 9 taking over from a Battalion of D.L.I. "A" Squadron was still in reserve and resting behind the Cosina river whilst "B" Squadron occupied the forward positions with "C" Squadron in immediate reserve.
On 1st December the Regiment was relieved by 2-6th Queens and moved back to Cesena area for a short rest until 5th December.
A sudden order from 169th Brigade brought the Regiment, less "B" Squadron, back into the line on the left of the last positions and along the Lamone to south-west of Faenza. Two days later "B" Squadron took over their old positions from 2-6th Queens. This now made a total frontage of over 3,000 yards.
After a short two-day respite in the Cesena area the regiment took over from 12th Lancers and came under command of the 43rd Gurkha Lorried Infantry Brigade in area 3829 along the Lamone north-west of Faenza. The positions in this sector were well dug in along the high eastern banks of the river, whilst each troop was based on a house. The enemy held the opposite bank and had well-prepared defences. Considerable use was made of 2-in mortars and the obsolescent grenade cup-discharger. Both these weapons were very useful for hitting the enemy behind his own bank.
The sector was held with all three Squadrons up. "B" Squadron right, "A" centre and "C" left. On the 13th 169th Brigade took over the sector. Several river recce’s were made for suitable crossings in anticipation of the enemy’s eventual withdrawal, but this did not appear likely until about 20-21st when troops from 9th R.F. worked up from the south on the western side of the river. On 21st the front was further extended to include the two right companies of 2-6th Queens on "C" Squadron’s left. By 23rd the enemy had been levered off the far bank so that the Regiment was able to be relieved in time to spend Christmas in Forli.
On the Banks of the Senid
With "C" Squadron right, "A" left and "B" in reserve, the Regiment took over a portion of the line along the Naviglio Canal between 6th Cheshires and 1st L.S. on the right and left respectively. The canal banks were low and forward posts were in close contact with the enemy who were in positions on the western bank. During the night 3-4th January the P.P.C.L.I. attaçked through "C" Squadron to gain crossings and left hook to capture Granarolo. The attack was very successful and many P.W, taken by the Canadians were passed through "C" Squadron. On the morning of the 4th, the Canadian success was followed up by the 56th Division operation “Cygnet” which cleared the enemy pockets between the Naviglio Canal and Senio River.
On 10th January, 169th Brigade took over the sector and the Regiment relieved 1st L.S. along the line of the Senio River. "B" Squadron on the right with "A" on the left. "C" Squadron was in reserve, resting in the echelon area.
The Senio River has banks up to thirty feet in height. The rìver course has been straightened in the past leaving loops or bends which are empty of water but still retain their high banks. There were three of the loops on the Regimental front.
The enemy had prepared his positions in some detail on the western banks and to a lesser degree on the eastern. Most of the houses near the eastern bank had been demolished and fields of fire had been cleared to a depth in places of some hundreds of yards eastwards from the banks.
At three places along the river bank the enemy had also prepared cuttings, possibly with a view to flooding the surrounding countryside when the river rose.
Unfortunately operation Cygnet had not quite cleared up to the river banks so that the positions taken over from the London Scottish consisted of a defensive layout based on houses ranging from about 200 yards to well over 500 yards from the river bank. The enemy had the advantage of being well dug in on the banks and dominating the for ward troops both by observtion and fire.
On arrival in this area it was understood that the Regiment would remain in these static positions for some weeks as it had now been decided to hold the Senio line until such time as a big offensive could be mounted later in the year.
The original intention was to secure thie eastern bank and dig in but the enemy were already there and without a full-scale operation it was not possible to do this.
A great deal of work was spent on wiring and digging around the existing positions to make them as strong as possible against an enemy attack.
Another feature of this period was the very heavy rationing of ammunition in order to conserve stocks. The allotments of 75 mm. ammunition were in the region of 150 rounds per week and 3-in. mortar approximately 300 rounds, whilst the field gunners had little to spare for H.F. after carrying out their counter mortar tasks. After being able to use almost any quantity of ammunition it was very difficult at first to keep within the limits and the value of each round was certainly assessed before it left the barrel.
During this period each squadron was relieved in turn for a rest in the echelon area to the east of the Lamone. Squadrons were approximately two weeks in the line for each week of rest.
167th Brigade took command of the sector on 3rd February and the Regiment was relieved by 1st L.S. on night 13-14th February.
Since leaving Trela on 17th November, 1944, the following casualties had been sustained :— 6 Oflìcers wounded; 17 O.R.‘s killed or died of woùnds; 77 O.R.’s wounded; 1 O.R. missing believed wounded P.O.W.
After leaving the Senio River positions on February 13th, the Regiment returned to its billeting area just behind the LamoneRiver on the Divisional axis near "Long" Bridge.
Until 3rd March the chief occupation was a general clean up and a sort out after so many weeks of activity. Leave was stepped up and most troops managed to enjoy a fair amount of recreation.
On the 19th February the Divisional Commander (Major-General J. Y. Whitfield, D.S.O.) visited the Regiment.
On 3rd March a new sector of the Senio line ws taken over from 2-5th Queens in the area south-west of Cotignola.
The total frontage was about 1,000 yards with "B" Squadron
right, "C" Squadron centre and "A" left. The general layout beng a little different from previous experience of this river. Each Squadron had positions actually dug in the home side river-bank, and with tunnels dug through so that enemy movment on the river could be observed and sniped. Cotignola was a nuisance as it afforded good enemy O.P.’s and snipers posts which overlooked the greater part of the forward area.
The positions were manned until 10th March when 56th Recce took over. Generally speaking the period was quiet but there were occasional Nebel stonks at night. The snipers had a good time and claim a number of certainties.
There was good reason to believe from the 7th onwards that theenemy were planning a raid or attack, possibly on "C" Squadron front, but by putting down heavy concentrations no attack materialised. 56th Recce, however, a day after taking over, did receive quite a substantial raid and unfortunately suffered some casuaIties.
On the 11th the Regiment concentrated round the Cesena area for rest and refit. On 16th March the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel C. R. Spencer, left for U.K. on the Air L.I.A.P. Scheme. Captain Rawson also was lucky enough to secure a vacancy and left for the U.K. on 18th March. During the Commanding Officer’s absence, Major O. G. Longley, M.C., assumed command.
On the 23rd the Regiment took over positions along the Old Lamone River in the Northern sector of 8th Army front. The takeover was from the 1-22nd Battalion I.C.G. (Italian Cremona Division) and on completion we came under command of 12th Royal Lancers, forming "Recforce" conmanded by Lieutenant-Colonel K. E. Savill, 12th Lancers.
As usual the front was long, extending from right boundary exclusive Bonifica Canat and left to the junction of the NaviglioCanal and Fosso Vecchio; this was later extended to include the Strada Molinaza.
The line of F.D.L.’s was generally based on the old Lamone River bed with defensive positions forward facing the Scolo Pignatta (or Naviglio Canal) where the enemy had his outpost defences. The main enemy line being the Senio and Reno rivers.
Our own positions were good, consisting of well-constructed section-posts connected by crawl trenches. All posts were surrounded by wire and mines. The latter caused seven casualties to ourselves as they had been laid by numerous units in past weeks and their original markings were difficult to define.
The country was flat but fairly close, with the usual rows of vines. Fairly good observation could be obtained from the road along the old Lamone floodhanks but the best O.P. was "C" SquadronHeadquarters at La Cilla.
Enemy activity was slight with practicilly no shelling nor mortaring and only moderate small arms fire, mostly at night.
On 15th April the 12th Lancers on the right were relieved by 6th Battalion Cheshire Regiment and Lieuienant-Colonel J. Birch assumed command of the sector, now known as "Checkforce."
On our left at first was the 2-22nd Battalion I.C.G., later replaced by 5th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment.
On three nights the enemyy amused us with a few broadcast gramophone records and a little rather puzzling propaganda.
On the 5th, 167 Brigade attacked across the Reno on the right. This attack was supported by staging a "Chinese Attack" on our front with 500 rounds 75 mm., 300 3-in, mortar and 16 belts per Vickers gun. We made a glorious hour of noise and succeeded in drawing a certain amount of D.F. away from 167th Brigade.
On the 6th "B" Company of 6th Cheshires came under command and was placed on the left where a portion of the 5th Northants front was taken over.
By the 12th the enemy had withdrawn along "Checkforce" front so that the force was disbanded at 1400 hours that day.
Lieutenant-Colonel Spencer returned from the U.K. on the 7th and resumed command of the Regiment. .
Beyond the Senio
Opposition on the Senio having been broken, the battle became more fluid with 56 (Lon.) Division moving rapidly north-westwards along Lake Commachio to outflank Argenta and, with 78th Division on the left forcing the bottleneck between the marshes.
After the breakthrough from the Argenta Gap the regiment was originally intended to move forward and protect the Divisional right flank up to the P.O. However, this was not to be and the 27th Lancers undertook the operation instead.
It was necessary owing to the rapid nature of the operations touse all available manpower and vehicles to bring forward ammunition, bridging and supplies. Considerable disappointment was felt amongst most that after a winter of static roles that the Regiment should be called upon to undertake those vital but unspectacular jobs. They were done efficiently and with good spirit.
On the 13th some armoured cars from "A" and "B" Squadrons were sent to operate with the Divisional Provost for traffic control duties.
The 15th saw the Régiment concentrated near Longestina and for the next few days men were supplied for P.O.W. duties, whilst on the 17th Captain Oldiand took a party of 80 men from "A," "B" and "C" Squadrons to act as a boat carrying party to assist the 1st London Scottish in a river crossing. The enemy retired so the operation wasn’t necessary.
On 20th the Regiment again moved forward to East of Portomaggiore and in the afternoon a hurried re-organisation of "A" and "B" Squadrons on to an infantry basis was ordered. By 1500 hours these two Squadrons relieved the 1st Buffs along the Scolo Bolognese. The takeover was without incident. Both Squadrons patrolled forward and "B" Squadron patrols by the morning had advanced about 5 to 6 miles up the Convogliatone Canal without meeting opposition. Six deserters from 29 P.G. Division were taken. "A" Squadron suffered one casualty, Trooper Robinson, who lost a foot on a Schu-mine. Quite a number of civilians also suffered from scattered mines.
On the 22nd the Regiment again moved forward and concentrated north-east of Portomaggiore. Again vehicles and men were required to assist in supplying the Division.
Tally-ho for Venice
On the 25th the Regiment moved forward to concentrate north-west of Copparo. The following day R.H.Q. and "C" Squadron moved to Ferrara and waited until 19.30 hours before a bridge was available to cross the Po. A long rainy night march then followed eastwards along the north bank of the Po and about midnight the force harboured in area 3402. Early on the 27th "C" Squadron patrolled the area of 169th Brigade’s right flank between the Po and Adige Rivers. They had a very pleasant day in brilliant sunshine and with only scattered and slight opposition collected a total of sixty-two P.W.’s. After the Cremona group had been contacted to the right the whole Regiment concentrated south of Rovigo.
The Regiment, less "C" Squadron, at 19.00 hours 29th crossed the Adige River with the task of making all possible speed to capture Venice. Since the bridge over the Adige had taken longer to complete than originally planned we were too far behind and just failed to beat 169th Brigade, who reached Venice first.
The war for us had now finished in Italy and the Regiment concentrated outside Venice at Mestre until being called up to the Isonso River area on the 4th May for internal security duties.
Since 3rd March up till the termination of the Italian campaign the Regiment sustained the following casualties :—
Killed—Tpr. Sanders, Tpr. Kelley.
Wounded—Lt. F. E. Romer, Tpr. Walker, Tpr. Collins, Tpr. Ward, Cpl. Thompson, Tpr. Coton, Tor. Saunders, Cpl. Smith, Tpr. Ainley, L-S. Walters, W-S. White, Tpr. Lucas, Cpl. Frankhum Tpr. Calvert, Tpr. Salter, Tpr. Mitchell, L-S. Buck, Cpl. Tasker, Tpr. Johnson, Tpr. Robinson.
Missing—Tpr. Elwell, Tpr. Harrison.