Operation Battle of Bologna

The 'Battle of Bologna' was fought between Allied and German forces for the northern Italian city of Bologna within the context of the Allies' offensive (9/21 April 1945).

In March 1945 the Allies were preparing 'Buckland' as a major offensive in northern Italy, and the capture of Bologna, an important regional communication hub, was included as a part of that offensive. The Allied forces tasked with this objective were Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott’s US 5th Army using Major General Geoffrey Keyes’s US II Corps together with Major General W. H. E. Poole’s South African 6th Armoured Division, and Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery’s British 8th Army which, in that part of the theatre, comprised Lieutenant General C. F. Keightley’s British V Corps and Generał dywizji Władysław Anders’s Polish II Corps, the latter under the temporary command of Generał brygady Zygmunt Bohusz-Szyszko. The German formations of General Traugott Herr’s10th Army defending the area comprised Generalmajor Alfred Kuhnert’s (from 19 April Generalleutnant Viktor Linnarz’s) 26th Panzerdivision of General Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin’s XIV Panzerkorps, and Generalmajor Karl-Lothar Schulz’s 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision and Generalleutnant Heinrich Trettner’s 4th Fallschirmjägerdivision of Generalleutnant Hellmuth Böhlke’s I Fallschirmkorps. All the German defences in that region were elements of Generaloberst Gottfried-Heinrich von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s Heeresgruppe 'C'.

By this time the morale of the Polish forces had been adversely affected by the outcome of the 'Argonaut' conference in Yalta, which ended on 11 February after the attainment of several decisions including one by which the UK and USA, without consultation with the Poles, had agreed to give a major part of the territories of 1921/39 Poland to the USSR. One of the three divisions in the Polish II Corps, Generał brygady Nikodem Sulik-Sarnowski’s 5th Kresowa Division, was named after the Kresy region, which was now given to the Soviets in its entirety. When Anders asked for his formation to be withdrawn from the front line, Prime Minister Winston Churchill told him that 'you [the Poles] are no longer needed', but the US and British front-line commanders, Generals McCreery and Mark W. Clark and Field Marshal the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander, requested Anders that the Polish units remain in their positions as they had no troops to replace them. Anders eventually decided to keep the Polish formations engaged.

The Allied offensive on Bologna started at 04.00 on 9 April with a major air and artillery bombardment of 400 guns firing on German positions, followed by an advance of ground forces the same evening. Friendly fire caused casualties as US bombers killed 38 Polish troops as they advanced on that day; must of the Allied air support was undertaken by Brazilian-flown aircraft operating as part of the US 62nd Fighter Wing. The US and British formations engaged the German flanks, while the Polish formations broke through to the city. On 10 April, the Polish forces pushed the Germans away from the Senio river, and on 12/14 April the Polish forces fought the Germans on the Santerno river and captured Imola. On 15/16 April, the Poles fought at the Sillaro river and the Medicina canal. On 17 April, McCreery ordered the Polish forces to continue their push toward Bologna from the east. The city was to be taken initially by US troops of the 5th Army advancing from the south.

On 21 April the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Brigade of Generał brygady Bolesław Bronisław Duch’s Polish 3rd Carpathian Division entered the city, where only isolated German units were still fighting. (Another source attributes the entrance to the Polish 5th Kresowa Division). By 06.15 the Poles had secured the city, flying Polish flags from the town hall and the Torre Asinelli tower, the highest elevation in the city. The local Italian population welcomed the Poles as their liberators. At 08.00, South African tanks arrived in the city, followed by Italian partisans and the Divisione 'Friuli' of the Italian Co-Belligerent Army, which lost 84 men killed, 159 men wounded and 15 men missing.

The 'Battle of Bologna' was the Polish II Corps' last battle, for the corps was taken out of the front line on 22 April. US and British troops completed their encirclement of the German forces to the north of the Reno river, the Indian 8th Division crossed the Po river and the German forces in Italy capitulated on 29 April. In the 'Battle of Bologna', the Polish II Corps suffered the loss of 234 men killed and 1,228 wounded out of a front-line strength of 55,780 men.

The German divisions in the region were left in disarray, and as the end of the war neared many splintered into small groups in order to retreat across the Po river and attempt to reach the passes into Germany. The 65th Division lost its commander, Generalmajor Hellmuth Pfeifer, in the last days of the war as he tried to make his way north with the remnants of divisional headquarters.