Eighth Army Boundaries and Plan for Operation BUCKLAND
Battered the Germans may have been but they were still determined to oppose the Allied advance. The first water obstacle met by the advancing armour was the Po morto di Primaro, along which were ensconced elements of 26th Panzer Division. At San Nicolo they showed the Lothians/2nd Rifle Brigade Group that they had lost none of their vigour and did likewise to 16th/5th Lancers/1 KRRC at Traghetto. This was only a temporary setback as the KRRC crossed the river that night to establish a bridgehead into which the Lancers crossed via a Bailey bridge next morning. While the Rifles secured the bridgehead the Lancers probed out to the right, with 17th/21st Lancers on their left. Although advancing over territory suited to anti-tank operations they pushed ahead some four miles beyond Traghetto. The 17th/21st found better going as they were closer to the Reno and by day’s end had drawn ahead of 16th/5th, along whose path many ditches and thickets concealed Panzerfauste parties and some anti-tank guns. Five tanks were knocked out by enemy action. Val ffrench-Blake, CO of the 17th/21st Group, noted that an ‘Air OP plane was ahead of us, and spotted a tank which was destroyed by the “cab-rank” of Rover David – a specially trained Mustang squadron’.
No amount of opposition was to be allowed to slow the advance and McCreery kept close watch on developments, ensuring that the problems of the Gothic Line would not be repeated. Of the army commander, Keightley commented admiringly that McCreery was usually closer to the battle than he was himself. From McCreery ‘pungent and pertinent criticism descended, based on his assessments of the grouping demanded by the terrain’. Thus 1 Guards Brigade entered the battle through 16th/5th Lancers, and the 17th/21st Lancers/7th Rifle Brigade Group resumed their advance at 4.00am on 21 April. By daylight the group had covered another four miles and entered Segni to encounter stout opposition. Although German troops, with some tanks, held the Fossa Cembalina where it meets the Reno they were flushed out by air attacks, and a battlegroup attack allowed sappers to bridge the Fossa with an Ark. (Look at a map of the region and it appears to be flat, perfect country for tanks, but it is crossed by ancient drainage ditches that made excellent anti-tank obstacles. Many roads were raised above the level of the surrounding countryside, making tanks frighteningly conspicuous.)
With Segni consolidated the advance continued. McCreery had decreed that the enemy should be allowed no rest and as the 17th/21st Lancers Group advanced from Segni they fired into buildings to prompt the surrender of many German soldiers. The group seized the bridge near Gallo within ninety minutes of leaving Segni, cutting Highway 64, the Bologna-Ferrara road. Orders then came from HQ 26 Armoured Brigade: