Extracts from 'Only The Enemy In Front'. This page covers the regiment's second spell in Italy with 56th (London) Division under the 8th Army till they were disbanded in 1946.

44 Recce > Only The Enemy In Front > Italy with the 8th Army 1944-1946.

44 Recce returned to Italy with 56th Division as part of the 8th Army under 5th Corps. The regiment spent much of the end of the year operating as infantry.

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) p224.

Similar infantry rôles were the lot of 44 and 56 Recce at the end of 1944. The former had returned from Egypt in July and moved to Sassaferreto at the end of August. C Squadron was first in action with 7 Armoured Brigade and in a series of actions throughout September the regiment suffered nine killed including Lieutenant N.A. Smith who was mistaken for a German by a soldier of 2nd/7th Queen's; another twenty were wounded.

October brought a similar pattern of recce patrols, listening posts and OPs. On 5 October the CO, Lieutenant-Colonel M.A.A. Little, was visiting A Squadron when a shell hit the house where he was standing. Seriously wounded, Colonel Little died In the field ambulance 30 minutes later. Major Langley took over command. Several other casualties were sustained from shelling before the Canadian Hastings and Essex Regiments took over on 11 October and 44 Recce moved back to Treia.

The regiment remained at Treia until mid-November although a small composite force, Senforce, under Captain L.R. Symonds was called on for active operations for several days and a signals detachment went to 56th Division. In mid-November 44 Recce moved to Forli and, from then until the end of the month, the regiment was heavily engaged on patrolling with numerous skirmishes with the Germans. A further relief at the beginning of December took them to Cesena from where they went back into action at Faenza. Now under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel C.R. Spencer, the regiment spent much of the month as infantry although they were able to celebrate Christmas out of the line at Forli. The end of the year once more saw them in action along the Naviglio canal under command of 56th (London) Division.

'Sassaferreto' in the text above is presumably Sassoferrato.

During September 1944 56th Division was involved in Operation Olive and suffered heavy losses in the fierce fighting for Croce (167th and 168th infantry brigades) and at the Battle of Gemmano (7th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and 169th infantry brigade), a battle known to some as the 'Cassino of the Adriatic'. One source has 44 Recce leading the first assault on Gemmano along with tanks.

1945 saw 44 Recce largely being employed as infantry, starting the year with a particularly unpleasant spell along the Senio. When the breakthrough came in April the regiment found itself doing support duties and, being hampered by the number of blown bridges, missed out on being the first unit into Venice.

Only The Enemy In Front (2008) pp230–235.

Also there at the end in Italy were 44 Recce. Their division – the 56th – had gone through the final phase of fighting alongside 78th Division so that the two regiments were never far apart, although 44 Recce saw nowhere near as much action as 56 in those last days of war. The men of 44 Recce had begun 1945 carrying out infantry duties on the eastern side of the Apennines along the Senio:

We were kept very busy, sitting most of the time along the Spandau and rocket infested Senio River. From Christmas until our Army was unleashed for its final battle in April, our job was that of an infantry battalion. We held long stretches of the winter line through the dreary Italian months of rain and snow. At times the Regiment spent as much as five weeks in the line, with each Squadron more than two weeks up and one in reserve…

The enemy did not give us a quiet time and tried all combinations of raids, rockets, Spandaus and shells to drive us from our positions. We stayed all right, replying in hearty fashion with spirited patrol clashes and by throwing back as much ammunition as we were permitted to expend.

At the beginning of January the regiment was on the Naviglio canal between 6th Cheshires and 1st London Scottish with C Squadron to the right, A to the left and B in reserve. As the canal banks were quite low and the forward positions close to the enemy, the area was lively. During the night of 3/4 January, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry attacked through C Squadron's positions to cross the canal and hook left to take Granarola. The operation vas successful and many prisoners were taken; this was followed by 56th Division's Operation CYGNET which cleared pockets of Germans between the Naviglio and the Senio.

On 10 January the regiment moved into positions on the Senio itself, relieving 1st London Scottish:

The Senio River had banks up to thirty feet in height. The river course has straightened in the past leaving loops or bends which are empty of water but still retain their high banks. There were three of the loops on the Regimental front. 

The enemy had prepared his positions in some detail on the western banks and to a lesser degree on the eastern. Most of the houses near the eastern bank had been demolished and fields of fire had been cleared to a depth in places of some hundreds of yards eastwards from the banks.

Some German positions on the Allied side of the Senio had not been mopped up in Operation CYGNET. These gave the Germans the ability to dominate 44 Recce's forward positions by observation and fire and the Regiment spent much time preparing defences against a possible attack. Until 13/14 February 44 Recce was responsible for the section taken over from the London Scottish. In that time fighting patrols engaged the Germans on several occasions, inflicting many casualties while the regiment's positions suffered heavy shelling and mortaring. On 20 January there was unusually heavy shelling all day while, eight days later, an A Squadron troop position at San Severo crossroads was hit by rocketfire, wounding the squadron leader, Major Hammond, and five others; the position had to be abandoned.

On 5 February a small German force, of about 20 men; attacked 44 Recce''s forward positions:

About 10 enemy seen approaching from the left. Bren gunner opened up scattered enemy. Enemy positions on river bank gave good covering fire to the attacking force. Enemy then approached from the right killing the sentry in the right hand position. The officer who was leading the enemy patrol then approached the house shouting 'Come out Tommy, you've had it'. The reply was a long burst of TMG which killed the German officer. Some further troops then approached the house and threw grenades into the room and fired Schmeisser on the men inside. Sgt Watts took the [brunt] of the attack and was killed. L/Cpl Chapman and Tpr Eddy fired TMG at the enemy approaching the house (who] subsequently withdrew. Afterwards they put down a heavy mortar stonk which demolished half the house, killing one and wounding two other men. A patrol from the troop at Maneresi was sent forward to contact the section. It was decided to abandon the fact [sic] and after digging out the men who had been buried and burying the four dead Germans (this] was carried out.

Relieved by 1st London Scottish on the night of 13/14 February, 44 Recce moved back across the Lamone river to its billeting area where the soldiers had the opportunity for some rest, as well as 'a general (regimental] clean up and a sort out after so many weeks of activity.' Then, on 3 March, it was back to the line, to relieve 2nd/5th Queens south-west of Cotignola.

This was a new area for the regiment which now had responsibility for a frontage of about 1,000 yards into which all three squadrons put troops:

Each Squadron had positions actually dug in the home side river-bank, and with tunnels dug through so that enemy movement on the river could be observed and sniped. Cotignola was a nuisance as it afforded good enemy Ops and snipers' posts which overlooked the greater part of the forward area.

This section was held for a week until 56 Recce took over. Apart from some Nebelwerfer stonks the regiment had a quiet time in the sector with its snipers claiming a number of victims. The final night, as the advance party of 56 Recce arrived, was described as ''the quietest night so far.' Although an attack had been expected on the centre of the regiment's front, held by C Squadron, this did not materialise, probably due to heavy concentrations of fire on the Germans. An attack was, however, launched on 56 Recce almost as soon as they moved in, as we have already seen.

On the 11th 44 Recce concentrated near Cesena to rest and refit and while this was happening the CO, Colonel Spencer, left for the UK on leave; command devolved on Major O.G.Longley, MC. The regiment's next task was to relieve 1/22nd Battalion of the Italian Cremona Division, along the Old Lamone river in the northern sector of Eighth Army's front. In doing so 44 Recce came under command of 12th Royal Lancers, which coincidentally was Colonel Spencer's parent regiment. The two regiments formed Recforce, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel K.E. Savill, 12th Lancers.

The new front was long with a line of forward defended localities on the Old Lamone riverbed; there were also forward defensive positions facing Scolo Pignatta where the Germans had outposts forward of their main line along the Senìo and Reno rivers. Although there were seven casualties in the early days in the new positions these were caused by Allied mines laid by variety of units over several weeks and whose original markings were difficult to distinguish. The defensive positions were good 'consisting of well-constructed section posts connected by crawl trenches [and] all posts were surrounded by wire and mines.' There was but slight enemy activity that was almost restricted to moderate small arms fire at night. Virtually no shelling or mortaring took place and, in general, it was the 'quietest front the Regiment had had for some time.'

The Germans were not entirely inactive for they subjected 44 Recce and 12th Lancers to some propaganda attacks early in April. On the night of 2/3 April a German radio broadcast was aimed at the two regiments:

You landlubbers of 12th Lancers and 44th Recce, you'll get no Easter eggs and Hot Cross buns this year. There's none for you. Perhaps this time next year you won't be able to eat them. Now get down in your foxholes and weapon pits and listen to this record. Keep away from the River Po. Prisoners taken this month say it is collosal. They say they are bloody glad they haven't got to cross it.  Some of them crossing in German transports have been very sick. Can you imagine the terrain between here and the River Po. Canals and rivers they are many. Now you can see why we fought so hard for the Apennine passes. We wanted time and we got time. We Germans fight for what we get. The line of the River Po is impregnable. There are two sides to every question. Why not hear both side. You can hear them on the German radio with the 47 metre band.

That was followed by another broadcast aimed at Recce on the 4th. After a record, described as an old favourite, the presenter came in:

Hello 12th Lancers, Recce. Headlines make news, news makes money; do you remember the casualties at Arnhem; the 1st Airborne Div… Remember the 1st Canadian Div at the River Lamone and River Reno [figures quoted]. Die quicker pals... [music] Dividends of munitions on Wall Street are soaring because of more casualties so hurry up and die. How nice to be at home in a nice soft bed.. [music]… Someone out of uniform at home is taking your job; they are not longing for your return so die quicker pal.

A number of British shells finished that second broadcast. At least one other was noted; all three were described as 'a little rather puzzling propaganda.'

Recforce became Checkforce on 5 April when 6th Cheshires relieved 12th Lancers and Lieutenant Colonel Birch assumed command of the sector. That same day 167 Brigade attacked across the Reno to the right of Checkforce and 44 Recce mounted a Chinese attack on their front. In the space of an hour 500 rounds of 75mm ammunition, 300 mortar rounds and 16 belts per Vickers machine gun were loosed off and drew a considerable proportion of German defensive fire away from 167 Brigade. In subsequent days 44 Recce carried out extensive patrolling. By 12 April the Germans had withdrawn from Checkforce's front and the force was accordingly disbanded that day.

Operation BUCKLAND was now in full swing with the Germans pushed back from the Senio. The battle became more fluid with 56th Division moving quickly north-westwards along Lake Comacchio to out flank Argenta as 78th Division forced the bottleneck of the Argenta Gap. After the breakthrough from the Argenta Gap it had been intended that 44 Recce would protect 56th Division's right flank up to the Po but the task went instead to 27th Lancers. Because of the speed of operations 44 Recce was assigned to support duties, bringing up ammunition, bridging and supplies, as well as providing armoured cars to carry out traffic control duties.

On 15 April the regiment concentrated near Longestina from where, for several days, men were supplied for prisoner-of-war duties while, on the 17th, a party of eighty under Captain Oldland went to assist 1st London Scottish as a boat-carrying party in a river crossing. As the Germans had retreated the operation proved unnecessary. Then, on the 20th, 44 Recce moved east of Portomaggiore and, that afternoon, A and B Squadrons re-organised on an infantry basis to relieve 1st Buffs along the Scolo Bolognese. Both squadrons patrolled forward from their new positions, with B Squadron patrols advancing, unopposed, about five or six miles along the Convoglíatone canal; six deserters from 29th PanzerGrenadier Division were captured. A Squadron patrols suffered one casualty when Trooper Robinson lost a foot to an S-mine, several of which also caused civilian casualties.

The regiment moved forward again on 22 April to concentrate north-east of Portomaggiore; once again men and vehicles deployed to assist in supplying the division while a carrying party for boats for the Po crossing was also provided. Three days later came another move, to the Copparo area from where, on the 26th, RHQ and C Squadron moved to Ferrara but had to wait until evening before a bridge was available to cross the Po. After a long, rainy night march, RHQ and C Squadron finally harboured at about midnight.

On 27 April C Squadron advanced to protect 169 Brigade's right flank between the Po and Adige rivers. There was slight German opposition at one point and 62 prisoners were taken. After a 'very pleasant day in brilliant sunshine' C Squadron made contact with the Cremona Group to the right and the regIment came together south of Rovigo.

Less C Squadron, 44 Recce crossed the Adige at 7.00pm on 29 April to recce towards Venice. That task was carried out at speed as the regiment wanted to be first in Venice but it was not to be, as 169 Brigade beat them to the city. As the war diary notes 'had the bridge over the Adige been completed at 1400 as planned the Regiment would have been first in Venice.' The disappointment of missing that distinction was therefore added to the frustration of not seeing as much action as the regiment would have liked in the final operations in Italy:

For us the break-through was disappointing, as the great number of blown bridges slowed us down so much that infantry often did the job faster, and consequently we were not employed as much as we should have liked.

The war had ended for 44 Recce, which concentrated at Mestre near Venice on 30 April where it remained until called forward to the Isonso river area on 4 May for internal security duties.

The regiment were replaced by the 4th (Queen's Own) Hussars as 56th Division's reconnaissance regiment in October 1945. 175 'Other Ranks' ('ORs') transferred to the 1st Derbyshire Yeomanry on 6th November (those having an age and service number of 32 or higher with less than two years service overseas). 174 ORs transferred to the 4th Hussars on 7th November (those with age and service numbers between 28 and 31). On the 14th November 120 ORs were posted to the RAC Training Depot at Rieti but remained on the strength, and the remaining 158 ORs moved to Opicina.

Sources vary as to exactly when the Regiment was disbanded. A suggestion on WW2Talk from Gyles Longley is that it was disbanded in Trieste towards the end of December 1945 following a march past taken by Major-General J Y Whitfield CB DSO OBE commanding 56 (London) Division. Other sources seem to have it lingering in to 1946. As the last commanding officer of 44 Recce was one Lt. Col. Oliver Gyles Longley, known as Gyles, that might perhaps a little weight to the first suggestion. The War Diaries indicate the march past actually took place on October 29th rather than December, and they seem to end on 14th November.