Operation Battle of Rimini

The 'Battle of Rimini' was fought between Allied and German forces in the course of the 'Olive' (iii) operation against the 'Gotisch-Linie' defences in northern Italy (13/21 September 1944).

Lying on the north-eastern Italy’s Adriatic Sea coast, Rimini was the eastern end of the 'Rimini-Linie', which was a German defensive line that constituted the third element of the 'Gotisch-Linie' defences. Previously hit by 373 air raids, Rimini had 1.47 million rounds fired against it by the Allied land forces and, by the end of the battle, had a mere 2% of all its buildings still undamaged.

The 'Battle of Rimini' was one of the hardest battles fought by the British 8th Army, and its fighting was comparable to those of El Alamein, the Ligne Mareth and Monte Cassino in the 'Gustav-Linie'.

It was on 23 August 1944 that Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese’s 8th Army launched 'Olive', attacking on a three-corps front up the eastern flank of Italy into the 'Gotisch-Linie' defences. By the first week in September the offensive had broken through this line’s forward defences and the defensive positions of what the Allies had designated as the Green I line, and Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army entered the offensive in central Italy with an offensive toward Bologna.

In the 8th Army’s centre, Lieutenant General E. L. M. Burns’s Canadian I Corps had broken through Green II line on the right of its front as it advanced to pinch out Generał dywizji Władysław Anders’s Polish II Corps on the very right of the army and thus making it possible for the latter to be withdrawn into army reserve, but inland in the hills the Canadian I Corps' advance had been checked by the stubborn German defence at Coriano and Lieutenant General C. F. Keightley’s British V Corps on the army’s left flank had been halted at Croce and Gemmano. A new attack to clear the Green II positions in the hills and destroy the 'Rimini-Linie' running from the port of Rimini inland to San Marino was scheduled to start on 12 September.

Just to the south of Rimini and attached to Major General C. Vokes’s Canadian 1st Division, was the Free Greek 3rd Mountain Brigade, a unit of mountain infantry formed on 1 July 1944 by the Greek government-in-exile in Lebanon under the command of Syntagmatarchis Thrasyvoulos Tsakalotos. Near the village of Cattolica the Greeks pushed back two strong German attacks on 8 and 10 September and the, on 13 September and supported by the combined New Zealand armour and infantry of B Squadron, 20th Armoured Regiment and the 22nd Motor Battalion of Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg’s New Zealand 2nd Division, launched a counterattack to take Rimini. Also supporting the brigade were infantry, mortars and machine guns from the Canadian Saskatoon Light Infantry and New Zealand 33rd Anti-Tank Battery fielding 17-pdr anti-tank guns.

The initial attack on 13 September saw the Greeks attacking two small farm settlements on the Marano road. These settlements were Monaldini and Monticelli, which were defended by the 1st Fallschirmjägerregiment of Generalmajor Hans Korte’s 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision and some Osttruppen described as Turkomen and most probably a Turkestani Ostlegion battalion of Generalleutnant Ralph von Heygendorff’s 162nd (Turk) Division. The Germans were well prepared and held off the Greeks.

On the following day, Nos 7 and 8 Troops of the B Squadron, 20th Armoured Regiment were added to the attack on Monaldini, and soon after this a platoon of the 22nd Motor Battalion aided the attack on Monticelli with the support of the Sherman medium tanks of Nos 5 and 6 Troops. By 20.00 hours the Monaldini farm had been taken, with only light casualties, and the focus of the fighting then veered to Monticelli, where the Greeks and New Zealanders once again attacked. The German defenders evacuated the position as soon as the attackers approached, and the farm was in Allied hands a short time later.

On 15 September the Greeks launched an assault on Rimini’s airfield. The Greek 1st Battalion crossed the Marano river, which was only a stream with a gentle flow of water) at 10.00, and immediately came under intense fire from German positions around the airfield. The Greeks halted to regroup for an attack. C Squadron, New Zealand 18th Armoured Regiment, relieved B Squadron, 20th Armoured Regiment, in the line supporting the Greeks. Air support was requested and Allied fighter-bombers accordingly attacked the western side of the airfield, and the Greeks attacked shortly after this.

The Greek 1st Battalion attacked the airfield itself, the Greek 2nd Battalion then attacked up Highway 16 and the 3rd Battalion attacked the small village of Casalecchio.

The Greek 1st Battalion once more ran into stiff resistance from the airfield’s defenders, whose fire inflicted heavy casualties on the advancing Greeks. Support from the New Zealand tanks and infantry was now better co-ordinated, however, as one of the New Zealand officers spoke Greek. The tanks were able to fire on each house lining the south of the airfield to ensure they were not occupied. As the Greeks and New Zealanders approached the defensive positions they came under fire from infantry, Panzerschreck anti-tank rockets, self-propelled guns and the emplaced turrets of PzKpfw V Panther battle tanks. The heavy fire pinned the Allied advance just short of the airfield. Meanwhile, the New Zealand tanks edged round a hedgerow to avoid the anti-tank fire, but soon found themselves at the forefront of the attack. A German self-propelled gun knocked out a Sherman, but the New Zealanders continued forward and knocked out German positions with high explosives and grenades, forcing the Germans to withdraw from their positions. The crew of a Panther turret abandoned it during the night.

The Greek 2nd Battalion, on the right of the brigade, attacked up Highway 16, but became separated from its supporting New Zealand tanks. The Greeks were halted by mines and heavy defensive fire from the eastern side of the airfield and also from nearby houses. The Greek 3rd Battalion attacked the village of Casalecchio on the left flank, supported by New Zealand tanks and infantry. The little village stood on a crossroads with a few houses and a church. The Greek infantry quickly cleared the houses, but the paratroops in the church proved harder to shift. The church was finally cleared when a combined attack by Greek and New Zealand infantry and tanks drove out the paratroopers. Heavy machine gun and mortar fire from the airfield halted any farther advance, however. On the following day, 16 September, the Greeks continued to mop up around the airfield, of which they now held most, although one Panther turret was still in operation. The Greek 3rd Battalion advanced up the left through the hedges and ditches beyond Casalecchio until it came level with the Greek 1st Battalion in the centre. The Greek task was made difficult as the infantry had occasionally to clear minefields and were under constant fire. The Greek 2nd Battalion advanced up the right flank of the airfield. Anti-tank fire was lighter than it had been on the previous day.

On the next day, 17 September, the three battalions continued their advance. Several attempts were made to knock out the remaining Panther turret with aircraft and artillery, but it finally fell to one of the New Zealand Sherman tanks, which had worked its way round the German flank. The Sherman then fired several anti-tank rounds into the turret before the crew eventually evacuated.

Once the airfield had been taken, the Greek 3rd Mountain Brigade turned its attention toward Rimini itself. On 18 September the 2nd and 3rd Battalions pushed forward to Rimini, and most specifically the town’s coastal suburbs. The Greeks met heavy resistance once again from the German paratroops, but with New Zealand and Canadian support were finally able to push into the outskirts of the town on 20 September. They pushed into Rimini from the south, only to find the city abandoned by the Germans, who had been forced to withdraw by the outflanking threat created by the fall of San Fortunato to the Canadian 1st Division.

On the morning of 21 September, the Greek 2nd Battalion reached the city centre via the Ausa river and raised the Greek flag on the balcony of the municipal building. Later in the day, the mayor of Rimini unconditionally surrendered the city to the Greek 3rd Mountain Brigade with an official protocol written in Greek, English and Italian.