Operation Roast
Operation Roast was a military operation
Military operation
Military operation is the coordinated military actions of a state in response to a developing situation. These actions are designed as a military plan to resolve the situation in the state's favor. Operations may be of combat or non-combat types, and are referred to by a code name for the purpose...

 by British Commandos
British Commandos
The British Commandos were formed during the Second World War in June 1940, following a request from the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, for a force that could carry out raids against German-occupied Europe...

 at Comacchio
Comacchio is a town and comune of Emilia Romagna, Italy, in the province of Ferrara, 48 km from the provincial capital Ferrara.-Geography:...

A lagoon is a body of shallow sea water or brackish water separated from the sea by some form of barrier. The EU's habitat directive defines lagoons as "expanses of shallow coastal salt water, of varying salinity or water volume, wholly or partially separated from the sea by sand banks or shingle,...

 in north east Italy during the Spring 1945 offensive in Italy
Spring 1945 offensive in Italy
The Spring 1945 offensive in Italy, codenamed Operation Grapeshot, was the Allied attack by Fifth United States Army and British 8th Army into the Lombardy Plain which started on 6 April 1945 and ended on 2 May with the surrender of German forces in Italy....

 in World War II.


This was the first major action in the Allied 15th Army Group's big spring offensive
Gothic Line
The Gothic Line formed Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's last major line of defence in the final stages of World War II along the summits of the Apennines during the fighting retreat of German forces in Italy against the Allied Armies in Italy commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander.Adolf Hitler...

 to push the Germans back to and across the River Po and out of Italy. The breakthrough on the British 8th Army's front was to be made through the Argenta
Argenta, Italy
Argenta is a town and comune in the province of Ferrara, Emilia–Romagna, north east Italy. It is located about 30 km southeast of Ferrara, and midway between Ferrara and Ravenna.-Geography:...

 Gap, crossing the Rivers Senio and Santerno towards the Po at Ferrara
Ferrara is a city and comune in Emilia-Romagna, northern Italy, capital city of the Province of Ferrara. It is situated 50 km north-northeast of Bologna, on the Po di Volano, a branch channel of the main stream of the Po River, located 5 km north...

 and releasing armour to swing left and race across country to meet the advancing U.S. 5th Army completing the encirclement of the German divisions defending Bologna
Bologna is the capital city of Emilia-Romagna, in the Po Valley of Northern Italy. The city lies between the Po River and the Apennine Mountains, more specifically, between the Reno River and the Savena River. Bologna is a lively and cosmopolitan Italian college city, with spectacular history,...


On 1 April 1945 the whole of 2nd Commando Brigade, No. 2
No. 2 Commando
No. 2 Commando was a battalion-sized British Commando unit of the British Army during the Second World War. The No. 2 Commando unit was reformed three times during the Second World War. The original No. 2 Commando, unlike the other commando units, was formed from volunteers from across the United...

, No. 9
No. 9 Commando
No. 9 Commando was a battalion-sized commando raised by the British Army during the Second World War. They took art in raids across the English Channel and in the Mediterranean ending the was in Italy as part of the 2nd Special Service Brigade...

, No. 40 (RM) and No. 43 (RM) Commandos, under Brigadier Ronnie Tod
Ronnie Tod
Brigadier Ronald John Frederick "Ronnie" Tod CBE, DSO & Bar was a British Army officer who was instrumental in the development of the British Commandos during the Second World War.-Early life and career:...

 were engaged in the operation.

Geography & Topology

The Comacchio lagoon was a vast area of shallow, brackish water stretching from the River Reno in the south to above Comacchio
Comacchio is a town and comune of Emilia Romagna, Italy, in the province of Ferrara, 48 km from the provincial capital Ferrara.-Geography:...

 town in the north and past Argenta in the west. This lagoon (much smaller today due to land reclamation
Land reclamation
Land reclamation, usually known as reclamation, is the process to create new land from sea or riverbeds. The land reclaimed is known as reclamation ground or landfill.- Habitation :...

 in the 1980s) is separated from the Adriatic Sea
Adriatic Sea
The Adriatic Sea is a body of water separating the Italian Peninsula from the Balkan peninsula, and the system of the Apennine Mountains from that of the Dinaric Alps and adjacent ranges...

 in the east by a narrow strip of land, or spit
Spit (landform)
A spit or sandspit is a deposition landform found off coasts. At one end, spits connect to land, and extend into the sea. A spit is a type of bar or beach that develops where a re-entrant occurs, such as at cove's headlands, by the process of longshore drift...

, no more than 2 ½ kilometres wide with three canal
Canals are man-made channels for water. There are two types of canal:#Waterways: navigable transportation canals used for carrying ships and boats shipping goods and conveying people, further subdivided into two kinds:...

s linking the two bodies of water.

The Germans had approximately 1,200 men entrenched there and the Commandos were to clear the spit and thus secure the flank of the 8th Army and foster the idea the main offensive would be along the coast and not though the Argenta Gap.

No.40 Commando (RM) conducted a feint
Feint is a French term that entered English from the discipline of fencing. Feints are maneuvers designed to distract or mislead, done by giving the impression that a certain maneuver will take place, while in fact another, or even none, will...

 attack to the south, crossing the River Reno and clearing and holding its north bank. No.40 was supported by the 28th Garibaldi Brigade (Partisans
Italian resistance movement
The Italian resistance is the umbrella term for the various partisan forces formed by pro-Allied Italians during World War II...

), Royal Artillery
Royal Artillery
The Royal Regiment of Artillery, commonly referred to as the Royal Artillery , is the artillery arm of the British Army. Despite its name, it comprises a number of regiments.-History:...

 and the armour of the North Irish Horse
North Irish Horse
The North Irish Horse is a yeomanry unit of the British Territorial Army raised in the northern counties of Ireland in the aftermath of the Second Boer War...

. No.43 Commando (RM) was to attack up a tongue of land to the extreme east which forms the south bank of the Reno estuary, and when cleared, cross the mouth of the Reno and turn back south west and clear the Reno’s north bank, back towards one end of No.40’s line. No.2 and No.9 were to cross the lagoon from the south west to points around the middle of the spit. No.2 was to land above the Bellocchio Canal and thereafter head south and capture the two bridges across it and prevent German reinforcements crossing. No.9 were to land south of the canal then head south along the lagoon’s shore and down the centre of the Spit to clear all positions towards the new line held by No.40.

The engagement

The operation started on the evening of 1 April with engagement to start shortly after midnight. The lagoon crossing (marked in advance though not too successfully by Combined Operations Pilotage Party 2 and M Squadron SBS
Special Boat Service
The Special Boat Service is the special forces unit of the British Royal Navy. Together with the Special Air Service, Special Reconnaissance Regiment and the Special Forces Support Group they form the United Kingdom Special Forces and come under joint control of the same Director Special...

), took far longer than planned due to the exceptionally low water lever and exceptionally muddy lagoon bottom – as deep as chest high. The Commandos struggled through the muddy waste all night, manhandling their boats, and eventually reached the Spit at first light, over 4 hours behind schedule. Exhausted and covered in glutinous slime they pressed home their attacks. Nos.2, 40 and 43 Commandos all made their objectives relatively as expected though Germans succeeded in blowing one bridge before it was captured by No.2. No.9 initially progressed likewise until 5 and 6 Troops (especially 5 Troop), became seriously pinned down across a killing ground while attempting to capture enemy position 'Leviticus', (all physical references were given biblical names in this operation). 1 and 2 Troops made good progress down the centre of the Spit and when advised of the situation of 5 and 6 Troops, bypassed Leviticus in order to turn about, lay smoke, and put in a bayonet
A bayonet is a knife, dagger, sword, or spike-shaped weapon designed to fit in, on, over or underneath the muzzle of a rifle, musket or similar weapon, effectively turning the gun into a spear...

 charge from south east of it. The position was overrun despite the smoke clearing too quickly exposing the last 150 metres. Routed defenders who fled north fell into the waiting Bren guns of 6 Troop. The bayonet charge was accompanied by 1 Troop’s piper playing ‘’The Road to the Isles
The Road to the Isles
"The Road to the Isles" is a famous Scottish traditional song. It is part of the Kennedy-Fraser collection and it appeared in a book entitled 'Songs of the Hebrides' published in 1917, with the eponymous title by the Celtic poet Kenneth Macleod. The poem is headed by the statement 'Written for the...

’’, No.9 Commando, (known as the Black Hackle
Black Hackle
The Black Hackle originated as a Scottish tradition to wear a black feather in your hat to signify you have an ongoing quarrel with someone....

s from the black feathers they wore in their berets), being a Scottish Commando along with No.11 Commando.

No.2 Commando captured 115 POWs that day and No.9 232. No.9 Commando had 9 killed and 39 wounded of which 8 dead and 27 wounded were of 5 Troop, over half their number. Ground gained, 7 miles.

That evening No.9 and No.43 moved up to the bridges on the Bellocchio Canal held by No.2. The following day, 3 April, the Royal Engineers
Royal Engineers
The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers , and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army....

 made serviceable the blown bridge and the Commandos moved over the canal, supported by tank
A tank is a tracked, armoured fighting vehicle designed for front-line combat which combines operational mobility, tactical offensive, and defensive capabilities...

s of the North Irish Horse. No.2 advance north on the lagoon side (west) and No.43 along the Adriatic side (east), No.9 being placed in reserve with a plan to execute an attack on Port Garibaldi after the next canal (the Valetta Canal) was taken. The north bank of the Valetta was found to be very heavily defended, requiring a full dress attack which was later conducted by the 24th Brigade of Guards
British 24th Infantry Brigade (Guards)
The 24th Infantry Brigade was a British Army formation from the First World War to the late 1990s.- 1914 - 1918 :The Brigade was first formed as part of the 8th Infantry Division by battalions returning from overseas stations to reinforce British forces on the Western Front in France...

. The respective Commandos cleared all positions up to the Valletta Canal where, on the eastern flank, Cpl Tom Hunter
Thomas Peck Hunter
Thomas Peck Hunter VC was a Scottish recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.-Details:...

 of No.43 Commando (RM) earned a posthumous Victoria Cross
Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour "in the face of the enemy" to members of the armed forces of various Commonwealth countries, and previous British Empire territories....

 for conspicuous Gallantry in single handedly clearing a farmstead housing three MG 42s after charging across 200 metres of open ground firing his Bren gun from the hip, then moving to an exposed position to draw fire away from his comrades by engaging more MG 42 positions that were entrenched on the far side of the canal.


The 2nd Commando Brigade had succeeded in taking and clearing the entire spit and securing the east flank for the 8th Army. 946 Prisoners were taken and it was afterwards discovered that German losses were so heavy as to have wiped out 3 Battalions, 2 troops of artillery
Originally applied to any group of infantry primarily armed with projectile weapons, artillery has over time become limited in meaning to refer only to those engines of war that operate by projection of munitions far beyond the range of effect of personal weapons...

 and a company of machine guners. 20 Field guns and a number of mortars and rocket launchers were also captured, and in the words of General Sir Richard McCreery
Richard McCreery
General Sir Richard Loudon McCreery GCB, KBE, DSO, MC , was a British career soldier, who was Chief of Staff to Field Marshal Harold Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Tunis, at the time of the Second Battle of El Alamein and later commanded the British Eighth Army in Northern Italy during...

’s message to Brigadier Ronnie Tod
Ronnie Tod
Brigadier Ronald John Frederick "Ronnie" Tod CBE, DSO & Bar was a British Army officer who was instrumental in the development of the British Commandos during the Second World War.-Early life and career:...

, "[you have] captured or destroyed the whole enemy garrison south of Port Garibaldi".

External links

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