- Operation Roast
This was the first major action in the Allied 15th Army Group's big spring offensive to push the Germans back to and across the River Po and out of Italy. The breakthrough on the British 8th Army's front was to be made through the Argenta Gap, crossing the Rivers Senio and Santerno towards the Po at Ferrara and releasing armour to swing left and race across country to meet the advancing U.S. 5th Army completing the encirclement of the German divisions defending Bologna.
Geography & Topology
The Comacchio lagoon was a vast area of shallow, brackish water stretching from the River Reno in the south to above Comacchio town in the north and past Argenta in the west. This lagoon (much smaller today due to land reclamation in the 1980s) is separated from the Adriatic Sea in the east by a narrow strip of land, or spit, no more than 2 ½ kilometres wide with three canals linking the two bodies of water.
The Germans had approximately 1,200 men entrenched there and the Commandos were to clear the spit and thus secure the flank of the 8th Army and foster the idea the main offensive would be along the coast and not though the Argenta Gap.
No.40 Commando (RM) conducted a feint attack to the south, crossing the River Reno and clearing and holding its north bank. No.40 was supported by the 28th Garibaldi Brigade (Partisans), Royal Artillery and the armour of the North Irish Horse. No.43 Commando (RM) was to attack up a tongue of land to the extreme east which forms the south bank of the Reno estuary, and when cleared, cross the mouth of the Reno and turn back south west and clear the Reno’s north bank, back towards one end of No.40’s line. No.2 and No.9 were to cross the lagoon from the south west to points around the middle of the spit. No.2 was to land above the Bellocchio Canal and thereafter head south and capture the two bridges across it and prevent German reinforcements crossing. No.9 were to land south of the canal then head south along the lagoon’s shore and down the centre of the Spit to clear all positions towards the new line held by No.40.
The operation started on the evening of 1 April with engagement to start shortly after midnight. The lagoon crossing (marked in advance though not too successfully by Combined Operations Pilotage Party 2 and M Squadron SBS), took far longer than planned due to the exceptionally low water lever and exceptionally muddy lagoon bottom – as deep as chest high. The Commandos struggled through the muddy waste all night, manhandling their boats, and eventually reached the Spit at first light, over 4 hours behind schedule. Exhausted and covered in glutinous slime they pressed home their attacks. Nos.2, 40 and 43 Commandos all made their objectives relatively as expected though Germans succeeded in blowing one bridge before it was captured by No.2. No.9 initially progressed likewise until 5 and 6 Troops (especially 5 Troop), became seriously pinned down across a killing ground while attempting to capture enemy position 'Leviticus', (all physical references were given biblical names in this operation). 1 and 2 Troops made good progress down the centre of the Spit and when advised of the situation of 5 and 6 Troops, bypassed Leviticus in order to turn about, lay smoke, and put in a bayonet charge from south east of it. The position was overrun despite the smoke clearing too quickly exposing the last 150 metres. Routed defenders who fled north fell into the waiting Bren guns of 6 Troop. The bayonet charge was accompanied by 1 Troop’s piper playing ‘’The Road to the Isles’’, No.9 Commando, (known as the Black Hackles from the black feathers they wore in their berets), being a Scottish Commando along with No.11 Commando.
No.2 Commando captured 115 POWs that day and No.9 232. No.9 Commando had 9 killed and 39 wounded of which 8 dead and 27 wounded were of 5 Troop, over half their number. Ground gained, 7 miles.
That evening No.9 and No.43 moved up to the bridges on the Bellocchio Canal held by No.2. The following day, 3 April, the Royal Engineers made serviceable the blown bridge and the Commandos moved over the canal, supported by tanks of the North Irish Horse. No.2 advance north on the lagoon side (west) and No.43 along the Adriatic side (east), No.9 being placed in reserve with a plan to execute an attack on Port Garibaldi after the next canal (the Valetta Canal) was taken. The north bank of the Valetta was found to be very heavily defended, requiring a full dress attack which was later conducted by the 24th Brigade of Guards. The respective Commandos cleared all positions up to the Valletta Canal where, on the eastern flank, Cpl Tom Hunter of No.43 Commando (RM) earned a posthumous Victoria Cross for conspicuous Gallantry in single handedly clearing a farmstead housing three MG 42s after charging across 200 metres of open ground firing his Bren gun from the hip, then moving to an exposed position to draw fire away from his comrades by engaging more MG 42 positions that were entrenched on the far side of the canal.
The 2nd Commando Brigade had succeeded in taking and clearing the entire spit and securing the east flank for the 8th Army. 946 Prisoners were taken and it was afterwards discovered that German losses were so heavy as to have wiped out 3 Battalions, 2 troops of artillery and a company of machine guners. 20 Field guns and a number of mortars and rocket launchers were also captured, and in the words of General Sir Richard McCreery’s message to Brigadier Ronnie Tod, "[you have] captured or destroyed the whole enemy garrison south of Port Garibaldi".
- Combined Operations Pilotage Parties - Roll of honour, awards and images.
British Commando raids of the Second World War A B C D EExporter F G H I J K L M N P R S T British Commandos · List of Commando raids on the Atlantic wall
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