The battle of Rimini (13-21 September 1944) saw the Eighth Army attempt to break though the last hilly barriers before the Romagna Plains, part of an attempt to break out into the Po valley, but the advance took longer than expected, and by the time the army reached the Romagna winter rains had turned it into ideal defensive territory.
The initial stage of Operation Olive went well, and the Germans were pushed out of the Arno Line on the Metauro and the built-up defences of the Gothic Line on the Foglia, but the British advance was then held up by the defenders of the Gemmano Ridge, on the left flank of their advance, and the Coriano Ridge, further to the north. The advance was held up until 13 September, when a concentrated attack by the 56th Division, 1st Armoured Division and Canadian 11th Infantry Brigade finally cleared the Coriano ridge. On the following day the Germans also evacuated the Gemmano Ridge, leaving the Allies in possession of the area south of the Marano River.
This had been phase one of a three phased Allied plan. Phase two was for an attack by the 1st Armoured Division and 4th Infantry Division, across the Coriano ridge towards the Marano, but this had to be postponed for a day, partly because of heavy rain that slowed down the armour and partly because the 4th Infantry was caught in an artillery bombardment.
As a result the attack was postponed to the following day, 14 September. Unfortunately this gave the Germans just enough time to feed reinforcements from the 356th Division, coming from Bologna, onto the Mulazzano Ridge, on the north bank of the Marano.
The Eighth Army advanced with the 5th Corps on the left and the 1st Canadian Corps on the right. The 5th Corps had its 46th Division on the left, 56th Division in the centre and 1st Armoured Division on the right. The Canadians had the British 4th Division on the left and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division and 1st Canadian Infantry Division on the right. The Eighth Army had two barriers to cross to reach Rimini - first the Morano River and then the Auso River.
14 September saw the Eighth Army focus on mopping up German resistance south of the Morano, although the leading troops were able to get across the Marano at Ospedaletto, their target during the battle of Gemmano. On 15 September the army advanced across the Marano on a wide front.
On the night of 16-17 September the 28th Brigade, 4th Division, attacked west, cutting across the front of the 1st Armoured Division, and took the Cerasolo Ridge, putting them to the north of the last German positions on the Marano.
On 17 September the 128th (Hampshire) Brigade of the 46th Division, on the left of the Allied advance, took Point 475 from the 5th Mountain Division
Om their right the 167th Brigade, 56th Division, crossed the Marano and captured the Mulazzano Ridge. The same division’s 168th Brigade then passed through to keep up with the 4th Division, but came under heavy fire from the west.
Further to the right the Canadians attacked along the ridge that runs from San Lorenzo near the Marano to San Martino near the Auso. They were able to take San Lorenzo, but the German paratroops managed to hold on to San Martino.
Finally the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade advanced along the coast.
General Burns, the commander of the 1st Canadian Corps, prepared to carry out a two division strong attack across the Auso. The attack began on the night of 17-18 September. The West Kents, part of the 12th Brigade, 4th Division, attacked on the left, and captured Sant’ Antimo, close to the border with San Marino. On their right the 2nd Beds and Herts, 10th Brigade, 4th Division, also managed to get across the Auso. However both units came under heavy fire and were forced to stay put for the rest of the day. To their right the Canadians got stuck on the low ground around San Fortunato, across the Auso, and spent the day under heavy fire. They were finally able to make progress when the 2nd Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry managed to advance past Sant’ Antimo on the night of 18-19 September, allowing the 10th Brigade to threaten the western end of the ridge above San Fortunato.
In the centre the Yorkshire Dragoons of the 1st Armoured Division managed to get across the Auso and took Monte Arboreta, but they were then pushed partly off the feature by German tanks.
On their left the 168th Brigade, 56th Division, managed to get across the Auso, but then had to fight off a series of counterattacks.
Further to the left the 8th Royal Tank Regiment attacked the Ceriano ridge, north of San Marino. They had to call for reinforcements, but even with the help of the 2nd Royal Tanks still struggled. Finally two companies from the Ox and Bucks joined the attack and the ridge was taken.
On the night of 19-20 September the Canadians, supported by Churchill tanks from the 21st and 25th Tank Brigades held on to the ridge above San Fortunato, while further to the west the Yorkshire Dragoons retook the lost parts of Monte Arboreta.
With the line of the Auso finally broke, the Germans evacuated Rimini on the night of 20-21 September and fell back to the River Marecchia. The advance had cost the Eighth Army 14,000 men killed, wounded or missing. The Germans lost 8,000 men captured alone. By 25 September the divisions on the Eighth Army front reported having 92 infantry battalions, but only 10 had more than 400 men and 38 had 200 or less. On both sides the fall of Rimini was seen as having the potential to break the deadlock, but this would prove not to be the case.
The Eighth Army’s armoured forces had seen the area west of Rimini, the Romagna Plain, as ideal tank country, and it had been their target throughout the hard fighting through the Gothic Line. However when the Eighth Army launched its offensive into that area (Operation Cavalcade), it turned out to be a muddy wetland, crossed by flooded rivers and skilfully defended by the Germans. The Eighth Army’s breakout turned into yet another slog, the ‘battle of the Rivers’, which forced General Alexander to launch the Fifth Army’s assault on Bologna earlier than he wanted. Both armies would end up falling just short of their objectives, and the Italian campaign would drag on into 1945.