10th Royal Hussars - December 1944

In December 1944, during the latter stages of the Allied campaign in north-east Italy in World War II, the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own) came under the command of the 56th Infantry Division on the left flank of V Corps which formed part of the Eighth Army.  With the onset of winter, the Allies went on the defensive to build up strength for the spring offensive.  The harsh winter weather, the stiff enemy resistance, and the nature of the land with its rivers, canals and waterlogged ground made progress difficult for armour and infantry.  Tank movement was also severely restricted due to mines and demolitions.

In spite of these difficulties the campaign continued throughout the winter months and the Tenth Hussars were involved in various battles.  At last Spring arrived and it was on 15th April 1945, when B Squadron was supporting 167 Infantry Brigade, that an unusual incident occurred to a tank in B Squadron.  During the advance to Ferrara, Sergeant Beale was commanding his Sherman tank which was patrolling with some infantry through a treacle factory.  The containers of the factory had been damaged by shelling, causing the treacle to escape and to cover the ground to a depth of about a foot.  The area had also been bombed and the craters which were full of treacle were therefore invisible.  Sergeant Beale’s tank suddenly plunged into one of these treacly craters and the crew had to abandon their vehicle to save themselves from a sticky suffocation.  The tank was never recovered but the infantrymen in the vicinity were greatly entertained by the tank crew’s difficulties.

Photograph by permission of the Imperial War Museum. Negative Number NA24123

The image shows the Sherman tank stranded in treacle.  The crew comprised: Sergeant Beale (commander), Lance Corporal Cristhwaite (driver), Lance Corporal Higgs (operator) and Trooper Sewell (gunner).

Read more about what happened to the Tenth Hussars in Italy in 1945 before and after the incident of the tank in treacle.

For most of the Italian campaign, the Tenth Hussars were equipped with Sherman tanks but on 16 January 1945, the Regiment withdrew to re-join the 2nd Armoured Brigade and were then given little more than one week to organise themselves as infantry into three dismounted squadrons and a machine gun troop. The tanks were left behind and on 1 February the Regiment deployed to the front line to allow the exhausted infantry a chance to recuperate.  The whole area had become so waterlogged that dug-outs were useless and fighting had nearly been brought to a standstill, but patrolling took place by day and night, some prisoners being taken and some casualties suffered.  The ground floors of houses, strengthened with timber and sand bags, offered scant shelter to either side because they were constantly shelled.

In early March, the Tenth were relieved by 1st Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and training began again with the 56th Infantry Division for an armoured advance with the infantry in Kangaroos (variants of tanks or tracked howitzers which were converted to carry infantry).  In early April 1945, the Tenth moved to an assembly point about five miles north-west of Ravenna.

As a subsidiary to the main Divisional attack, a water borne attack supporting Commandos and 24th Guards Brigade followed at Lake Comacchio, and despite casualties, the Regiment continued to advance on pontoons across flood waters.  After the Regiment had successfully crossed the River Reno, the main Divisional attack began with a heavy air offensive and artillery bombardment on 9 April, and on 11 April the Regiment advanced with squadrons attached to infantry brigades.

There was further bitter fighting, but the 10th Royal Hussars (Prince of Wales’s Own) continued the advance and after a hard-fought battle in the Argenta Gap, the Regiment reached the River Po.  By 27 April, the German front had broken, and the main part of the German forces was effectively trapped against the south bank of the River Po.  The final end of hostilities in Italy came with Field Marshal Kesselring’s surrender on 2 May 1945.