Operation Cavalcade

This was the Canadian advance to and capture of Ravenna in north-eastern Italy as part of the northward movement of Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery’s 8th Army during ‘Chuckle’ (2/4 December 1944).

In his order of 29 November, McCreery stated that his intention was that the 8th Army make every effort to aid Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army in its planned capture of Bologna, and also to capture Ravenna. There was no change in the planned deployment of the 8th Army’s primary formations: Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s Canadian I Corps on the right, Lieutenant General C. F. Keightley’s British V Corps in the centre, and Lieutenant General Władisław Anders’s Polish II Corps on the left.

As ‘Cavalcade’ proper, the Canadian I Corps was tasked to capture Russi, cut the Via Adriatica (Highway 16) to the north-west of Ravenna and take this city, and cross the Santerno river near Massa Lombarda with a view to advancing to either the north or the west. At the same time the V Corps was to continue its drive along the Via Emilia (Highway 9) to seize bridgeheads over the Lamone, Senio and Santerno rivers; and the Polish II Corps was to protect the left flank of the 8th Army by advancing through the foothills of the Apennine parallel with Highway 9 and cutting of German forces falling back in front of Lieutenant General S. C. Kirkman’s British XIII Corps on the right of the 5th Army’s advance.

The 8th Army faced considerable terrain problems, as the Romagna area is flat but broken by a host of waterways in the area of the 8th Army’s right and centre, and by river-filled ravines in the foothills on the army’s left. Major logistical problems also resulted in the rationing of artillery ammunition. The difficulty of operations in the Romagna’s flat but water-intersected terrain was also reflected in the adoption of pack transport on a corps basis on 4 December. The V Corps and the Polish II Corps were maintained from Cesena, and the Canadian I Corps from Rimini. As the offensive got under way, pack transport by mule proved itself invaluable.

The plan developed by Foulkes for his Canadian I Corps was for Major General H. W. Foster’s Canadian 1st Division to develop the main westward thrust from Russi to Massa Lombarda as Major General B. M. Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division drove to the north between the Montone and Lamone rivers with the object of cutting the Via Adriatica near the Lamone and then taking Ravenna.

The V Corps’ plan was changed significantly from Keightley’s original concept of divisional crossings of the Lamone on a wide front on each side of Faenza.

During the pause in Allied offensive operations imposed by bad weather, detailed reconnaissance of the Lamone had revealed no easy crossings downstream of Quartolo in the foothills south of Faenza. The flood banks, which were low in the area of Quartolo, increased in height to 15 ft (4.6 m) as the Lamone left the foothills and steadily increased in both width and depth. On the other hand, upstream of Quartolo the high ground on the northern side of the river became extremely steep and was cut up by escarpments which would be a major impediment to manoeuvre. There was a narrow sector around Quartolo where the river could be crossed easily and the hills on the far side climbed without too much difficulty by infantry and tanks. Moreover, the ground near the river would dry more quickly at Quartolo than in the plain, where the water meadows below the flood banks were apt to be soft throughout the winter regardless of weather conditions.

There were, however, two imponderable factors associated with the Quartolo area, namely the strength of the opposition found by General Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin’s XIV Panzerkorps of General Joachim Lemelsen’s 10th Army, and the feasibility of constructing adequate approach roads and tracks to the river crossings. So far as the former was concerned, Generalmajor Eduard Crasemann’s 26th Panzerdivision was apparently concentrated in a narrow sector around Faenza, with Generalleutnant Harry Hoppe’s 278th Division to the north of the city in strong positions behind the lower Lamone, and Generalmajor Friedrich von Schellwitz’s 305th Division was deployed across a wide front facing the Polish II Corps. However, there was now evidence that the 26th Panzerdivision was extending its front southward to include Quartolo. Information about the roads and tracks was obtained by aerial reconnaissance, whose photographs showed a bridge or crossing of sorts over the river, although only by approaches that were both long and difficult.

Despite these uncertainties, Keightley decided to cross here and to outflank Faenza’s defence by an advance through the foothills. Keightley gave Major General C. E. Weir’s 46th Division the tasks of crossing at Quartolo, seizing the high ground around Pideura and swinging to the north to cut the Via Emilia behind Faenza. Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg’s New Zealand 2nd Division and Major General D. W. Reid’s Indian 10th Division were to prepare to cross the river in their own sectors, and also to make their preparations sufficiently obvious that the Germans would focus their attentions on Faenza and to the north. If resistance slackened in their sectors, these two divisions were to cross there, but if not they were to follow through in the wake of the 46th Division and extend themselves across a wider front in the area beyond Faenza for the subsequent advance to the line of the Senio river.

The problem of adequate approach roads into the sector was to be solved by grouping all of the V Corps’ engineers for the construction and maintenance of a 7-mile (11.25-km) two-way road from the Via Emilia over the Marzeno river and the hills between it and the Lamone river and from here into 46th Division’s bridgehead. In the assault Sherman dozer tanks, ARK bridging tanks and fascine-carrying AVRE engineer assault vehicles would be used by the assault engineers.

For the initial maintenance across the Lamone battalions organised large parties of porters, and to protect the leading troops against German armour, local oxen were commandeered to tow Littlejohn squeeze-bore adaptations of the 2-pdr anti-tank gun up the steep slopes.

The artillery and air plans were closely integrated with the army’s plan. The full resources of Air Vice Marshal R. M. Foster’s Desert Air Force and 24 medium bomber squadrons of Major General John K. Cannon’s Mediterranean Allied Tactical Air Force were made available; and the corps artillery was augmented to a strength of 252 field, medium and heavy guns.

To the left of the V Corps, the Polish II Corps was to drive due west through the higher hills from Brisighella to Monte San Rinaldo with a view to a Polish debouchment behind the Germans strong natural positions facing the XIII Corps on the escarpment extending between Monte Mauro via the Monte della Volpe to Vena del Gesso, and then wheel to the north-east down the watershed between the Senio and Santerno river valleys to threaten Imola from the south.

The XIII Corps was to support the Polish operation with Major General D. Russell’s Indian 8th Division operating astride the Senio river valley and Major General H. Murray’s British 6th Armoured Division astride the Santerno river valley. The 78th Division would increase pressure in its sector, but the Canadian 1st Division’s actions in the Monte Grande sector would depend upon the operations of Major General Geoffrey T. Keyes’s US II Corps to its left.

Opposed primarily by General Anton Dostler’s LXXIII Corps of Lemelsen’s 10th Army, with Generalmajor Hans-Joachim Ehlert’s 114th Jägerdivision and Oberst Kleinhenz’s 356th Division, the Canadian II Corps began the 8th Army’s December offensive on the night 2/3 December with operations that proceeded more smoothly than anyone had expected in the conditions of the Romagna. The Canadian 1st Division took Russi early on 3 December and advanced to the north-west in the direction of the Lamone river. Its initial attempts to seize bridgeheads failed, and resulted in heavy casualties, but the division closed up to the river in preparation to force a crossing as soon as was feasible.

Detecting signs of a German withdrawal in the area beside the Adriatic coast, the tanks of Canadian 5th Armoured Division pressed forward and, swinging from the north-west, entered Ravenna at 16.00 on 4 December, when it met the armoured cars of Lieutenant Colonel H. Porter’s ‘Porter’ Force, an extemporised grouping (based on the 27th Lancers, Popski’s Private Army and artillery) which had advanced from the south along Highway 16.