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Bridging the Po Valley
5th Army & 85th Infantry Division
21 – 26 1945
The Po Valley Campaign began in early
April with the attacks by the British 8th Army and the US 5th Army to
capture the last remaining mountain peaks before reaching the plains of
the Po Valley. When Bologna and Hiway No. 9 was reached,
the Germans could not form a defensive line as they had been able to do
in the mountains. The only natural defensive position was the Po
River. The Allies had to reach it and cross it before the Germans
could organize a new defensive position.
The maps on this page represent
the advance of the IV Corps based on my interpretation of my
references. My main focus is on the 85th Infantry Division and
their zone. The 10th Mountain Division played a major role in
leading the way. The text and maps attempts to show the role of
both divisions. There will be some who will not agree on how the
units are depicted.
The material contained herein is considered public domain but the compilation of material is copyright protected.
General Info -
5th Army - American units in Maroon
8th Army - British units in Blue
Green - German units in Green
Bold - Towns and rivers
April 21 - 25, 1945
While the IV Corps used the 1st Armored Division to cover the western flank of the advance across the floor of the Po Valley, it sent the 10th Mountain Division on the left and the 85th Division on the right generally northward across the Panaro to the Po River. The enemy tried to save for the use of his own retreating forces two bridges across the Panaro River northeast of Modena, at the towns of Bomporto and Camposanto, about six miles apart. The 10th Mountain Division seized the Bomporto bridge intact on 21 April, using a mobile advance force called Task Force Duff. The main body reached the area south of the bridge before midnight and kept on across the river, heading for San Benedetto di Po, 24 miles farther north, which it occupied at 1800, 22 April.
The 85th Divison, reinforced by small units of tanks and tank destroyers and preceded by the 85th Recon Trop, had headed for Camposanto. When the first elements arrived at the Camposanto bridge in the early morning of 22 April, and looked across to the town on the northern bank, they found, as elements of the 6 South African Armored Division had found the day before, that the bridge had not yet been demolished but that the enemy was ready to defend it. Cpl. Anthony J. Augustine of B Co., 310th Engineer Battalion, 85th Infantry Division swam across the river and cut the wires by which it might have blown the bridge. However, the town was so strongly held, that the crossing could not be made before nightfall.The 10th Mountain Division meanwhile let one mobile battalion of the 85th Division cross over the Bomporto bridge, so that during the night of 22-23 April, units of both divisions were advancing northward toward the Po. Next morning, the advance force of the 85th Division reached the Po River at Quingentole, between the mouth of the Secchia River and the Po River bridge at Ostiglia farther east.
The Po River was wide, with sandy banks. Little was known about the tactical situation on the northern bank, as the 10th Mountain Division prepared to cross it in assault boas. The enemy remained quiet until the assault forces were concentrated, then fired heavily into the assembly area. The 1st Battalion, 87th Mountain Infantry Regiment, followed by the remainder of the regiment, led the assault. On the northern bank, they built up a bridgehead during the afternoon of 23 April despite artillery, mortar, and the rifle fire. The other two regiments crossed before morning, assisted by a battalion of amphibian trucks (DUKWs).
IV Corps engineers had a cable ferry operating by the next afternoon, and pushed the construction of pontoon and the treadway bridges for use soon afterward. Here, then was the first Allied crossing in a single day of a barrier supposed to hold up all pursuit for several days, at least. But it was only the first of many. At Quingentole, in the IV Corps zone, the 85th Division forced a second crossing a few hours later, on 24 April.
II Corps struck northward to the
Po from the vicinity of Bologna on
April. The enemy was able to pull back from Eighth Army’s attack
the east before an encirclement northeast of Bologna could be
effected. Elements of II Corps were delayed by the determined
resistance of covering forces on the west flank of German Tenth Army,
but the 88th Division, farthest west, found the enemy in its path more
disorganized. This division made a speedier advance to the
crossed it on a small, partly demolished bridge east of Camposanto (at
the same time that the 85th Division was crossing via the Camposanto
bridge), and in rubber assault boats and other improvised ferrying
facilities. On 23 April, as Fifth Army shifted the boundary
and IV Corps somewhat to the west, the 88th Division on the western
flank of II Corps seized control of Hiway 12 and the Revere-Ostiglia
The 88th Division’s advance to reach the Po on 23 April had been swift. Its elements next fanned out along the south bank to round up enemy stragglers. The Germans were trying to assemble their many disorganized units in this area for escape to the far side of the Po, so that the 88th Division in 48 hours collected hordes of prisoners, estimated to total 11,000. The same story was true of the 91st Division farther east. By nightfall, 24 April, 60 miles of the southern bank of the Po was held by II and IV Corps, while considerable forces had already crossed. The enemy south of it had surrendered so many men and abandoned such quantities of equipment, that, along with what had been destroyed, any prolonged and effective resistance north of the Po seemed no longer possible.
Not all the enemy south of
the Po had been rounded up, but those that
remained were often in disorganized small units of groups of stragglers
whom Italian partisans flushed from hiding and turned over to Allied
troops. Some die-hard elements had to be subdued, but many of the
enemy were ready to quit. Those Germans who got across the Po
intent on reaching the routes of escape from Italy into German-held
territory. The operations, which ensued from 24 Aril to 2 May,
therefore, was largely a contest in mobility, a race to the exits, and
then a large-scale mopping up.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ End ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Bridge over the PANARO River near BOMPORTO.
By 1600 on 21 April, a task force secured this bridge before the German could set the demolition charges.
Maps are arranged from North to South so the movement can be traced.
Map 3 - Advance beyone the Po River and converging on Vicienza & Verona.
Map 2 - 85th Division crosses the Panaro River and advances to the Po River.
> SOUTH <
Treadway Bridge across the Po River at San Benedetto.
The 915-foot bridge was opened on afternoon of 25 April.
Engineers add final planking to bridge across the Po River.
Four hours later, this ponton bridge was built to carry the heavy equipment.
Partially demolished Railroad Bridge at Ostiglia .
The Germans opposed the crossing with machine guns and 20-mm automatic weapons.
The infantry was moving so rapidly, that the Germans had to surrender to artillerymen.
"328th FA Bn, Battery C, believes it chalked up a record for the highest number of PWs captured in a day by any one firing battery. 89 prisoners in 24 hours isn’t a bad haul for artillerymen. The prisoners were brought in by Sgt Charlie Glidden, T/4 James Hill, T/5 John Kleckner, Pfc Charles Shipley, Pfc A. J. Wyatt, Pfc Pete Ingoglia, Pvt Lester Strawn and Pvt George Bush."
Another story from a jeep driver.
"Five handkerchief waving Tedeschis (i.e. Germans) at first startled Pfc Ira Hale, 337th Message Center jeep driver, as he breezed down the highway. Recovering, however, Hale slammed on his brakes and looked over the frightened Jerries.
Jeep Regulations didn't cover this. He scratched his head - - "Ah-um-mm- Can only carry three; against regulations, you know." Boldness overcame him, "Aw jump in anyway." And so, on to the POW cage, under the speed limit, of course."
Both quoted from Custer Combateer,
1, No. 3, May 1945
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