The German army in Italy surrenders to the Allies.
The spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot, was the final Allied attack during the Italian Campaign in the final stages of the Second World War. The attack into the Lombardy Plain by the 15th Allied Army Group started on 6 April 1945, ending on 2 May with the formal surrender of German forces in Italy.
In the first week of April, diversionary attacks were launched on the extreme right and left of the Allied front to draw German reserves away from the main assaults to come. This included Operation Roast, an assault by British 2nd Commando Brigade and armour to capture the seaward isthmus of land bordering Lake Comacchio and seize Port Garibaldi on the lake’s north side. Meanwhile, damage to other transport infrastructure having forced Axis forces to use sea, canal and river routes for re-supply, Axis shipping was being attacked in bombing raids such as Operation Bowler.
Men of the Jewish Brigade ride on a Churchill tank in the Mezzano-Alfonsine sector, 14 March 1945.
The build-up to the main assault started on 6 April with a heavy artillery bombardment of the Senio defenses. In the early afternoon of 9 April, 825 heavy bombers dropped fragmentation bombs on the support zone behind the Senio followed by medium and fighter bombers. From 15:20 to 19:10, five heavy artillery barrages were fired, each lasting 30 minutes, interspersed with fighter bomber attacks. In support of the New Zealand operations, 28 Churchill Crocodiles and 127 Wasp flamethrower vehicles were deployed along the front. The 8th Indian Division, 2nd New Zealand Division and 3rd Carpathian Division attacked at dusk. In fighting in which there were two Victoria Crosses won by 8th Indian Division members, they had reached the river Santerno, 5.6 km beyond, by dawn on 11 April. The New Zealanders had reached the Santerno at nightfall on 10 April and succeeded in making a crossing at dawn on 11 April. The Poles had closed on the Santerno by the night of 11 April.
By late morning of 12 April, after an all night assault, the 8th Indian Division was established on the far side of the Santerno and the British 78th Division started to pass through to make the assault on Argenta. In the meantime the British 24th Guards Brigade, part of 56th Infantry Division, had launched an amphibious flanking attack from the water and mud to the right of the Argenta Gap. Although they gained a foothold, they were still held up at positions on the Fossa Marina on the night of 14 April. 78th Battleaxe Division was also held up on the same day on the Reno River at Bastia.
5th Army offensive, April 1945
The U.S. 5th Army began its assault on 14 April after a bombardment by 2,000 heavy bombers and 2,000 artillery pieces, with attacks by the troops of U.S. IV Corps 1st Brazilian, 10th Mountain, and 1st Armored Divisions on the left. This was followed on the night of 15 April by U.S. II Corps striking with 6th South African Armoured and 88th Infantry Divisions advancing towards Bologna between Highway 64 and 65, and 91st and 34th Infantry Divisions along Highway 65. Progress against a determined German defence was slow but ultimately superior Allied firepower and lack of German reserves told and by 20 April both corps had broken through the mountain defences and reached the plains of the Po valley. 10th Mountain Division were directed to bypass Bologna on their right and push north leaving U.S. II Corps to deal with Bologna along with Eighth Army units advancing from their right.
By 19 April, on the Eighth Army front, the Argenta Gap had been forced, and British 6th Armoured Division was released through the left wing of the advancing 78th Division to swing left to race north west along the line of the river Reno to Bondeno and link up with the US 5th Army to complete the encirclement of the German armies defending Bologna. On the same day, the Italian National Liberation Committee for Northern Italy, in command of the Italian resistance movement, ordered a general insurrection; in the following days, fighting between Italian partisan and German and RSI forces broke out in Turin and Genoa as well as in many other towns across Northern Italy, while German forces prepared to withdraw from Milan. On all fronts the German defense continued to be determined and effective, but Bondeno was captured on 23 April. The 6th Armoured Division linked with US IV Corps’ 10th Mountain Division the next day at Finale some 5 miles upstream along the river Panaro from Bondeno. Bologna was entered in the morning of 21 April by the Eighth Army’s Polish II Corps’ 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division and the “Friuli” Combat Group of the Italian Co-belligerent Army advancing up the line of Route 9, followed two hours later by US II Corps from the south. On 24 April, Parma and Reggio Emilia were liberated by the partisans.
U.S. IV Corps had continued their northwards advance and reached the river Po at San Benedetto on 22 April. The river was crossed the next day, and they advanced north to Verona which they entered on 26 April. To the right of Fifth Army on Eighth Army’s left wing, British XIII Corps crossed the Po at Ficarolo on 22 April, while V Corps were crossing the Po by 25 April, heading towards the Venetian Line, a defensive line built behind the line of the river Adige. As Allied forces pushed across the Po, on the left flank the Brazilian, 34th Infantry and 1st Armored Divisions of IV Corps were pushed west and northwest along the line of Highway 9 towards Piacenza and across the Po to seal possible escape routes into Austria and Switzerland via Lake Garda. On 27 April, the 1st Armored Division entered Milan, liberated by the partisans on 25 April, and IV Corps commander Crittenberger entered the city on 30 April. Turin was also liberated by partisan forces on 25 April, after five days of clashes, and on 27 April General Günther Meinhold surrendered his 14,000 troops to the partisans in Genoa. To the south of Milan, at Collecchio-Fornovo, the Brazilian Division bottled up the remaining effectives of two German divisions along with the last units of fascist army, taking on 28 April 13,500 prisoners.
On the Allied far right flank, British V Corps, met by lessening resistance, traversed the Venetian Line and entered Padua in the early hours of 29 April, to find that partisans had locked up the German garrison of 5,000.
Secret surrender negotiations between representatives of the Germans and Western Allies had taken place in Switzerland in March but had resulted only in protests from the Russians that the Western Allies were attempting to negotiate a separate peace.
On 28 April, von Vietinghoff sent emissaries to Allied Army headquarters. On 29 April, they signed an instrument of surrender to the effect that hostilities would formally end on 2 May. Confirmation from von Vietinghoff of the arrangements did not reach Allied 15th Army Group headquarters until the morning of 2 May. It emerged that Kesselring had had his authority as Commander of the West extended to include Italy and had replaced von Vietinghoff with General Friedrich Schulz from Army Group G on hearing of the plans. However, after a period of confusion during which the news of Hitler’s death arrived, Schulz obtained Kesselring’s agreement to the surrender and von Vietinghoff was reinstated to see it through.