Unit/ Formation: 43 Cdo RM
Location: Lake Commachio
Period/ Conflict: World War II
Date/s: 02 April 1945
It was shortly before 05:00 on 2 April and Operation ‘Roast’, though hours behind schedule, was under way.
Commandos passing Churchill tanks with specially fitted contraptions designed to protect their exhausts for the crossing of the Reno. Stars were still visible and a mist obscured the horizon when the sky to the south suddenly erupted in a devastating display of firepower.
The marines, who had been waiting in their forming up positions for 11 sleepless hours, were momentarily spellbound by the “fierce intervention”. The air, wrote C Troop’s Lieutenant McConville, “was sundered by a continuous succession of flickering flashes, approaching sibilant whisperings in the sky developed into increasingly high decibel shrieks, and there was the mighty rolling, drumming sound, as more than 100 guns of the Royal Artillery engaged targets ahead of 43”. It was time to go.
A and B Troops swiftly advanced 1,000 yards to the first enemy position. The unit war diary noted: “They were rocketed on their start line, and were constantly under murderous machine gun and mortar fire. The enemy posts were winkled out one by one.” Unorthodox Initiative At one point, when the advance faltered in front of wire barring the way to a position codenamed ‘Joshua’, resistance was broken by a charge of Kangaroo armoured personnel carriers, festooned with boats and crammed with the marines of C Troop.
The man behind the “unorthodox initiative” was Captain D L ‘Shorty’ Roberts, the small and pugnacious troop commander. His orders were to await the position’s capture before unleashing his men across the Reno and establishing a ferry by which the rest of 43 could cross. But seeing the difficulty he decided to act.
His intervention was decisive. McConville, who was travelling in the same Kangaroo as Roberts, recalled how the armoured force “roared” past the astonished marines of D, A and B Troops, “and carried on until they flattened the German wire and arrived noisily… throwing up clouds of sand in the middle of Joshua.” Looking surprised, the German defenders, “came resignedly out of their weapon pits with their hands raised”.
There was little time to celebrate. As the prisoners marched away to join the marines’ 80-strong ‘bag’ from the ‘Tongue’, C Troop pushed on towards their crossing point.