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Operation Herring (1945)

Members of the Nembo Regiment

On March 26th, 1945, Gen MacCreery, commander of the VIII British Army asked the “FOLGORE” combat group to pick 5 officers and 100 paratroops from the “NEMBO” Regiment who would volunteer for an important airborne operation. A similar request was also forwarded to the “F” Recon Squadron.

The “NEMBO” formed a century divided into 4 platoons of 3 squads each, commanded by Tenente Guerrino Ceiner; the first 3 platoons got the number of their original battalions while the fourth was formed with volunteers from the artillery Coy, mortars Coy, Engineers and Carabinieri. In total the unit was composed by 5 officers, 13 NCOs and 93 paratroops.

The “F” Squadron formed a century, led by Cap. Gay, Sqdn. Commander, ordered in 12 patrols with an overall number of 9 officers, 14 NCOs and 90 paratroops. At the beginning of April, the paratroopers were subjected by an intense special training under the care of Maj. Ramsey from the Parachute Regiment. Particular attention was dedicated to the training to night fighting and sabotage.

Given the importance of the mission, Italian paratroops tested all automatic weapons used by the Allied troops, but the choice fell upon the more reliable M.A.B. 38/A, the “mitra Beretta”, while pistols, daggers and explosives came from the standard equipment of British Special Forces. The training was concluded with drops made with British jump gear and American aircraft at Gioia del Colle.

On April 19th, Maj. Ramsey briefed the commanders of the airborne patrols who were to take part in the operation called “Herring”, which consisted of a jump behind enemy lines south of the Po river. The “NEMBO” century was assigned the DZ among Poggio Rusco (Mantova) and Revere-Ostiglia on the Po, while to the “F” Squadron century was assigned an area more southwards, among Mirandola, Medolla, S. Felice Sul Panaro and Finale Emilia.

The goal of the mission was to attack withdrawing enemy troops, sabotaging of telephone lines, creation of obstacles on the withdrawal path of the enemy and, last but not least, the saving of bridges and other structures that might be useful to the progression of the Allied advance.

Between 8.45 and 9.15 pm, 14 C-47 aircraft took off from Rosignano-Solvay airport (near Leghorn). Before they left, Gen. McCreery sent the paratroops a wireless with good wishes that was underlined with the importance of the mission in the context of the final offensive on the Italian front. At drop-time, the aircraft’s were hailed by intense flak, and in spite of the difficult conditions, the jumps took place regularly, at a height between 3000 and 1000 feet.

The 8 planned DZs weren’t clearly individuated and some patrols even landed 40 kilometers far from the expected landing point. The enemy’s reaction was very violent but the paratroops, acting by initiative, scattered in groups of 2, 3, or 4 men, fighting bravely even without any link. The enemy was attacked everywhere, sabotaging, ambushing motor-convoys, barring or mining withdrawal paths, destroying vital logistic centers, emplacements, HQs, defusing mines and explosives placed by the Germans to slow down the Allied advance.

This action, which lasted 36 hours, was carried on in the following days as well and ended with important achievements. The ascertained German losses were:

  • 481 dead and 1083 prisoners
  • 44 means of transport destroyed or immobilized
  • 150 captured including 6 armored cars, two tanks and five guns
  • 77 telephone lines destroyed and 3 bridges saved

In spite of the importance of the mission and of its achievements, the paratroops’ losses were limited to the loss of 19 men belonging to the “NEMBO” century and 12 from the “F” Squadron century, circa ten were wounded. Among the many acts of bravery that stand out are those of Sottotenente Franco Bagna and Private Amelio De Juliis, to the memory of whom was assigned the Golden Medal (MOVM). Among those who were killed was a British Sergeant by the name of Job. Some civilians were also shot by the Germans, as were a few Italian soldiers finished off by their foes after surrender, all of which were executed in reprisal to the killing of some German prisoners operated by a group of paras.

Written By: Gianmaria Spagnoletti.