During the winter of 1944-45, the Italian campaign was a stalemate due to the winter weather. The country was sodden from winter rains and the mud made armored operations impossible. The Allies spent the winter in highly inhospitable conditions. Bologna is the capital and largest city of the Emilia-Romagna region in Northern Italy and is the seventh most populous city in Italy. The city was an important regional communication and transportation hub and was the gateway to the Po Valley and northern Italy. During the winter lull, the Germans constructed a new defensive line which protected Bologna, the Ghengis Khan Line.
The Allies spring 1945 offensive in Italy was code named Operation Grapeshot and was the final Allied assault of the Italian campaign with the objective of breaking the Ghengis Khan Line. The II Corps of the US 5th Army and the Polish II Corps of the British 8th Army were separately tasked with taking Bologna. In the end, it turned into a race of who would reach the city first.
Polish II Corps
On 9 April 1945, the British 8th Army launched Operation Buckland or the battle of the Argenta Gap (April 12-19) as part of the Allied Spring Offensive. At 0400 hours, a major air and artillery bombardment of 400 guns fired on German positions along the front line followed by an advance of ground forces the same evening.
The Polish II Corps advanced north along the Via Emilia (Highway 9) corridor towards Castel San Pietro and Medicina. The attack was spearheaded by Task Force Rud or Rudforce (named after its commanding officer General Klemens Rudnicki). It was formed in the Spring of 1945 and consisted primarily of the 3rd Carpthian Rifle Brigade of the 3rd Carpthian Infantry Division and the 4th Wolyn Infantry Brigade of the 5th Kresowa Infantry Division. On the first day, the USAAF mistakenly bombed the Polish units (‘Friendly Fire’) which took heavy casualties, however the Poles achieved their first objective in capturing the heights above the river Senio. On April 10, the open ground between the river Senio and Santerno was broken through after a night attack using Crocodiles (probably C Squadron, 51st Royal Tank Regiment), to punch through a gap between the German 98. Infantrie-Division and the 26. Panzer -Division. The German units put up a tenacious defense and mounted counter attacks before the Poles finally dislodged them and captured Imola on April 14. Over the next few days, the Polish units gave chase through Sillaro, over the Medicina Canal and engaged the 4. Fallschirmjäger-Regiment which were forced to withdraw. In pursuit, the Poles crossed the heavily defended river Gaiano and engaged the rest of the 1. Fallschirmjäger-Division. The Polish attack was so successful that the German division was disintegrated. The 5th British Infantry Division swung further north and took the Ferrara-Bologna road which cut off the remaining German units escape route. On April 17, the British 8th Army high command ordered the Polish forces to continue their push northwest along Highway 9 to take Bologna. Meanwhile, American units of the US 5th Army were slowly advancing towards Bologna from the south. The race to Bologna had begun.
On 17 April 1945, a Semovente 105/25 “Bassotto” (105mm L/25 gun with 48 rounds) destroyed near Medicina (east of Bologna). After the Italians surrender in September 1943, the Germans captured and renamed them the Sturmgeschütz M43 mit 105/25 853(i).
These two photos are from “Italian Armour in German Service 1943–1945” by Daniele Guglielmi. This is another view of the same destroyed M43. Note the abandoned crocodile fuel trailers in the background.
US II Corps
The US 34th Infantry “Red Bull” Division supported by the US 752nd Tank Battalion and the US 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion was assigned to attack north up Highway 65 towards Bologna. The US 91st infantry Division was on the left flank and the Legnano Brigade of the Italian Liberation Corps (“Corpo Italiano di Liberazione”, or CIL) was on the right flank.
On 16 April 1945 at 0300 (h-hour), the US II Corps launched the spring offensive in their sector. At 0230 hours, tanks and tank destroyers in direct fire positions opened up with a preparatory barrage at predetermined targets in conjunction with artillery concentrations. Under cover of the barrage, B and C companies of the 752nd and C company of the 805th moved into assault positions along the ridges near Hill 368. At h-hour, tanks and their respective Infantry Battalions pushed off in the assault. The remaining tanks and tank destroyers supported the attack by providing direct fire on targets of opportunity or have been identified. Enemy demolition at the road junction leading to Hill 367 stopped the armor temporarily. A reconnaissance was made down the Zena Valley (Southeast of Pianoro) with one tank platoon. A crossing was found on the Zena River and the platoon worked their way across but were unable to proceed any further. During the night, the engineers repaired the road and the 3rd Platoon was able to reach the road junction. During the day, all tanks supported the Infantry attacks on Hill 367 by fire. 752nd Company C supporting 2nd Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment was halted by a crater in the road. An attempt was made to go by the road along Monte Belmonte but it was blocked by a knocked out tank. While attempting to by-pass the vehicle, a track was thrown and the crew was forced to abandon the tank. The bulldozer tank was called to push the knocked out tank over the enbankment and cleared the road. Heavy mortar, artillery and self propelled (SP) gun fire was constantly received and the Infantry who were preparing to move under the cover of darkness took heavy casualties. One officer was KIA, one officer and two (2) enlisted men were WIA.
On April 17, the 752nd and the 805th Tank destroyer battalions were attached to the Infantry regiments providing close support. Mines and terrain unfavorable to tank employment made the mission very difficult. Heavy SP, machine gun, mortar and artillery fire was received during this period. 3rd Platoon, B Company, 752nd Tank Battalion commenced the assault on Hill 367 and lost the lead tank on a mine. The flail tank was used but due to the grade was not successful in detonating the remaining mines. The remainder of B Company, 752nd Tank Battalion proceeded forward and 3rd Platoon started around Hill 367. The lead tank hit a stack of Riegel mines and the tremendous explosion buckled the floor of the tank and set it on fire.
The Riegel mine 43 or (Sprengriegel/R.Mi. 43) was a German steel cased anti-tank bar mine which was a long thin rectangle. It consisted of a lower and upper metal tray with an internal metal-cased explosive block and usually had anti-handle devices. The fuse mechanisms quickly became corroded which made them highly unstable and difficult to clear. A variant, the Riegel mine 44 was also produced with a different fuse.
The approach was impossible to use. By late afternoon, the tanks were moving successfully up from the Zena River valley and the accompanying infantry consolidated the taken ground. At 0300 hours, it was decided to employ one tank and use the high windy mountain road leading to the objective. The attempt was almost successful until the tank fell over the enbankment when the road shoulder collapsed. The other tanks of 752nd Tank Battalion company B and C, and 805th Tank Destroyers supported the operation by fire and aided the 363rd infantry Regiment, 91st Infantry Division on the left flank. An assault was made on Hill 394 progressing over a very difficult route and was finally successful in getting back on the road below the hill when the lead tank hit a mine. The other tanks covered the crew as they dismounted and fought as infantry holding the position until the infantry who had gone around to the west of Monte Belmonte came up and consolidated the position. One enlisted man was KIA and two were WIA. The enemy lost heavily in KIAs and WIAs.
On April 18, advances were made despite of mines and unfavorable terrain. The enemy was still able to deliver heavy concentrations of fire ranging from small arms to heavy caliber artillery. In this type of terrain where movement was slow, the rocket tanks were used to an advantage. The rocket tanks were equipped with T34 “Calliope” 4.5 inch (110mm) 60-tube rocket launchers. 752nd Company B moved through heavy minefields and assisted the infantry in holding positions which were not completely occupied because of heavy enemy fire. The 3rd platoon of 752nd Company C gave supporting fire for the 363rd Infantry Regiment. The T-2 recovery tank retrieved an M4A3 tank while under direct observation and receiving small arms and mortar fire of great accuracy. Two (2) M4A1 tanks were knocked out by mines. One (1) enlisted man was KIA and six (6) enlisted men were WIA. The enemy sustained a known fifteen (15) KIAs and eleven (11) POWs were taken.
During the night of April 19, the 3rd platoon of 752nd Company C moved to directly support the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment who relieved the 361st Infantry Regiment at midnight. The 2nd Platoon of the company moved to Mt. Arnige and over watched the movement of 3rd Platoon. The 1st Platoon remained on Hill 394 and supported both the advance of the 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment and the 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment. The road was cratered and reconnaissance was initiated to find a route and prepare to support further advances of the Infantry. 752nd Company B with 1st and 2nd Platoons continued to advance occupying Hill 376 and completed the clearing of the surrounding areas. The 1st Platoon moved beyond Hill 394 to Hill 386 where further advances were interrupted. The work of the 109th Engineers, US 34th Infantry Division made advances possible in many instances where it was impossible to by pass craters in the road. 752nd Company D remained in Battalion reserve. The 3rd Platoon of 752nd Company A relieved 1st and 2nd Platoons, 752nd Company B between 1830 and 2300 hours. Elements of the Legnano Group relieved 3rd Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment. The rocket tanks fired 177 rounds and prepared to move to new positions, however operations increased in tempo and the unwieldy weapons could not be used. Seventeen (17) POWs were captured by 752nd Company B.
On April 20, the 168th Infantry Regiment was squeezed out and the 752nd Tank Battalion was placed in it’s entirety in support of the 133rd Infantry Regiment. The 2nd Platoon of 752nd Company C supported the 2nd Battalion on the left end and the 3rd Platoon supported the 1st Battalion on the right flank. Infantrymen were loaded on the rear decks of the tanks and moved forward to the objectives. An enemy minefield and heavy fire slowed the attack. Tanks and tank destroyers were deployed along the crest of Hill 286 where the Infantry was dismounted. The 752nd Battalion Commander called for the cub observation plane (Piper J-3 Cub, in the military was the L-4 Grasshopper) and had a battery of support artillery alerted. The tanks moved over the crest of the hill by sections drawing fire from three (3) SP guns. The guns were spotted by the air observers who directed artillery fire upon the enemy vehicles, destroying two (2) and forcing the remaining enemy tank to withdraw. Without harassing fire, the tanks were then able to pick their way around and through the mine fields and pressed on with the attack. This was one of the several
instances that prove the value of having three (3) cub planes assigned to the armor by Division Artillery. The 2nd Platoon of 752nd Company C supporting the 2nd Battalion was held up by a fire fight while trying to put the Infantry on their objective. 752nd Company B was called to re-enforce the 2nd Platoon. One tank was lost in a minefield but the objectives were taken. At this time, orders were received to contact the 1st Battalion during the night and to proceed towards Bologna. Seven (7) POWs were taken and ten (10) of the enemy were KIA. Three (3) enlisted men were WIA.
During the evening of April 20, US artillery shelled Polish units in the open countryside mistaking them as retreating German units. In the early morning of April 21, elements of the 9th Battalion, 3rd Brigade, 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division, Polish II Corps entered the city of Bologna and they only encountered isolated pockets of Germans. One source stated the Polish 5th Kresowa Division entered the city first. By 0615 hours, the Poles had secured the city and Polish flags were flown from the town hall and the Torre Asinelli tower, the highest tower in the city. The Italian civilians welcomed the Poles as their liberators. There were Polish vehicles in the central city but none of the Polish Sherman tanks entered the city that day.
A Polish Universal Carrier followed by Jeeps traveling west along Via Rizzoli (one of Bologna’s main streets).
This Staghound Armoured Car named “Kirholm” belonged to the 1st Squadron, Carpathian Lancers, Polish II Corps.
A Staghound Armoured Car traveling along Bologna’s Via Rizzoli. Note the armoured car is still covered with foliage camouflage.
Italian civilians are swarming around this Staghound Armoured Car. Note the bicycle on the rear deck.
This is a Polish Humber MK III Armoured Car surrounded by civilians.
Behind this Universal Carrier is a M3A3 Stuart Recce tank. The jeep probably belonged to the 133rd Infantry regiment, US 34th Infantry Division.
At time segment 7:16, a Valentine Scissors Bridge Layer is seen.
Meanwhile, 752nd Company B and Company C with 805th Tank Destroyer Company A plus one (1) platoon moved out in the attack north along Highway 65 but was forced to halt due to mines in the road. Sixty five (65) Riegel mines were removed before the element reached the pick-up point on April 21 at 0430 hours. A SP gun waiting at a road junction fired one shot at the advancing column and hurriedly withdrew. Mines prevented a rapid pursuit and the enemy vehicle escaped. The pick-up point was reached but instead of the 1st Battalion, the 3rd battalion was waiting along the road. It was decided that the 3rd Battalion would go along. The advance progressed rapidly until the outskirts of Bologna was reached. At that point, the enemy had blown up a bridge and defended the demolition with infantry. In the ensuing fire fight, an estimated one hundred (100) POWs were taken and an unknown number were KIA. A by-pass was located and the river was forded. The American tank-infantry force reached the center of Bologna at approximately 0700 hours. Other Allied troops who also entered the city were the Legnano Combat Group Friuli (Ex-Italian Army) and the Italian Partisan Brigade “Majella” both attached to the Polish II Corps.
This is a 752nd Tank Battalion M4A3 driving along Bologna’s Via Rizzoli. Note the gunner or loader is drinking from a bottle.
Mounted on the side of the M4A3 turrets are not spare tracks but are track grousers. Note a crewman has removed his helmet and is smoking a cigarette.
This is a close up of “THE PERSUADER” showing the track grouser rack on the side of the turret. Note the crewman has the leather ear flaps folded up on his M-1938 tanker helmet.
The C84981 track grousers were attached to the joints between two track blocks. Track grousers provided improved traction over muddy or snow/icy terrain.
Most, but not all, of the 752nd Tank Battalion stopped in Bologna and got a chance to experience the city (wine and women). One medium tank company and most of the support elements proceeded directly through Bologna’s streets to positions just north of the city in hot pursuit of the retreating German units. This is another 752nd Tank Battalion M4A3 driving along Bologna’s Via Rizzoli.
This is a M4A3(105) from the assault gun platoon or one of the company HQ Sections. Note the track grousers carried on the turret side. Following it is a bulldozer tank.
Piazza Emanuele was originally named after medieval King of Italy Vittorio Emanuele II. Soon after 1945, it was renamed to Piazza Maggiore which is still named to this today. Piazza Del Nettuno is connected to Piazza Emanuele. “Fontana del Nettuno” translates to “Fountain of Neptune” which Piazza Del Nettuno was named after. A clock tower is located at the southwest corner of Piazza Maggiore. This is a Google satellite view of the the two Piazzas today. The center of Piazza Maggiore has rows of chairs for a large outdoor cinema.
This a view of the tanks and tank destroyers parked in Piazza Emanuele. The large building in the background on the left is the Basilica di San Petronio which is a Gothic Church with 22 chapels and is located on the south side of the Piazza. A curved wall was built in front of the main arched doorway to protect it from bomb damage.
This is the view of the Basilica di San Petronio today.
Two M18 Hellcat Tank Destroyers armed with 76mm guns in Piazza Emanuele. The one on the left has tactical number “2 – 1” in black on a white background and the right has number “2 – 2”. Note the canvas covers on the turret .50 Cal MGs. At the right edge of the photo are the fronts of three M8 armored cars.
The Signal Corps photographers who took these photos positioned themselves at various locations in the city and in tall buildings for the high angle shots of the Piazzas. This is a shot of the Piazza Emanuele looking to the west. Two early M4 tanks can be seen among the late M4A3 76mm tanks. The time on the clock tower appears to be around 10:05 AM.
Piazza Maggiore looks much the same as it did in 1945. To the left of the woman sitting in the foreground can be seen a section of broken stonework that was probably the result of the tanks as they pulled off the slightly raised portion of the square where they were parked. This Google scan was in August 2017 before the rows of chairs and the large cinema screen was erected.
This is another view of the tanks and tank destroyers parked in Piazza Emanuele. The large crowds in the two main piazzas were displaced partly because there was a steady stream of tanks coming in over time. But the main reason was that it was one huge celebration all over the whole city as Allied units filtered in and the civilians kept moving about.
This is a close up of the civilians and GIs beside the tank destroyers in front of the church.
This is the view of the church today for comparsion.
This is the view of the north side of Piazza Emanuele. Piazza Del Nettuno is in the background around the corner to the right.
Another view of the north side of Piazza Emanuele later in the day.
This is not a good quality photo of the east side of Piazza Emanuele. It might have been foggy or hazy that day.
This is the view of the northeast corner of Piazza Emanuele.
This is a well known photo of the US 752nd Tank Battalion and 805 Tank Destroyer Battalion vehicles parked in Piazza Emanuele. In the front row, the fourth from the right is a M4 Sherman. Note the time on the clock tower is around 12:40 PM.
This is my close up of the front row of the above photo. The Sherman is an early M4 with Direct Vision (DV) slots in front of the hull hatches and it has applique armor on the 75mm turret with a M34 Mantlet. Barely seen are the unit codes numbers on top of the transmission cover. Note the late M4A3 76mm Sherman to the left of it has a muzzle break and a single track grouser mounted on its left track.
This photo was taken at the ground level and note the soldier on the right edge of the photo. He probably belonged to either the 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division or the Legnano Combat Group. Both of these units belonged to the British 8th Army and were supplied with British equipment and uniforms. Note the time on the clock tower to be around 2:20 PM.
This is a close up of the command jeep and the CO of the 752nd is standing behind it. The driver must have been exhausted from being in action for the previous 5 days. Note the radio which probably is a SCR-506 in the rear mounted in an sheet metal cabinet.
This is a close up of the Hellcats in Piazza Emanuele. In the background is the M31 (T-2) Recovery Tank based on the M3 Lee Medium Tank chassis belonging to 752nd Company B and was named “Boom Town”. Note M18 Hellcat number “3 – 4” in the foreground.
This is a photo of Piazza Del Nettuno. Note the flail tank at the right center and the two M4A1s in the foreground. Via Rizzoli street is in the background.
This is my close up of the nearest M4A1 in the Piazza. The 752nd had lost most of their M4/M4A1 tanks by February 1945. As replacements, the 752nd had received a full complement of (used) M4A3 76mm tanks. Intelligence (G-2) reported that the roads and fields along the approach to Bologna were very heavily mined so the 752nd was allowed to draw a number of old M4/M4A1 tanks as excess inventory. These obsolete tanks were used as sacrificial lambs when crossing minefields or traveling on mined roads instead of risk losing the newer tanks. As the lead tanks of the columns, they carried no ammunition and crewed only with a driver and a tank commander. Five of these tanks were lost to mines during the advance to Bologna.
This photo was taken from the flail tank looking foreward towards the rear of the two M4A1s. In front of the two M4A1s is the Fountain of Neptune encased in the wooden structure to protect it from bomb damge. In the background, the clock tower in Piazza Emanuele can barely be seen.
This is another shot of the Piazza Del Nettuno with more vehicles and the flail tank is seen on the right. Two M18 Hellcats have arrived in the center. In the rear is a M3 Scout car and a Bedford WMD truck behind it both probably belonged to the Polish 3rd Carpathian Rifle Division.
The flail tank had been specially requisitioned for the push to Bologna. One of the old M4A1 “mine field” tanks was exchanged for this vehicle. It was was added to the inventory on April 15 and was listed in the reports as the “M4A4 Tank With Crab II”. Two weeks later it was abandoned. The 752nd CO wrote a special section in the “Lessons Learned” section of the After Action Report which basically stated the Crab was unsatisfactory on hilly terrain and was in another sector when it was needed most of the time. Barely visible on the M18 Hellcat in the foreground is the tactical number “3 – 3”.
In the late afternoon, the 752nd Tank Battalion and the 805th Tank Destroyer Battalion had moved out of Bologna. There was no time or need to stay in Bologna any longer than necessary. It was a quick stop required for roads to be cleared north of the city, for resupply to be coordinated, for refueling and for a brief rest for the drivers. This is a 752nd Tank Battalion M4A3 76mm leaving the Piazzas.
M18 Hellcat number “3 – 4” advancing west along Via Rizzoli leaving the Piazzas and is turning at the street corner onto Via dell’Indipendenza heading north out of the city.
This is the street today. The bus on the left edge of the photos is turning to the same side street.
No German vehicles were found in Bologna but here is an abandoned PAK 40 75mm A/T gun. Note the gun breech is covered with a canvas indicating it was probably not fired.
Robert J. Holt, Historian
752nd Tank Battalion Website