Pretoria Regiment Sherman tanks in Italy – Operation Olive

Great ‘colourised’ image of Sherman Firefly tanks of ‘C’ Squadron, Pretoria Regiment somewhere in Italy in 1944 during Operation Olive. The Pretoria Regiment fought as part of 11th South African Armoured Brigade, 6th South African Armoured Division.

Operation Olive has been described as the biggest battle of materials ever fought in Italy. Over 1,200,000 men participated in the battle. The battle took the form of a pincer manoeuvre carried out by the British Eighth Army and the U.S Fifth Army against the German 10th Army (10. Armee) and German 14th Army (14. Armee).

In mid 1944 two Allied brigades took the Chianti highlands, Radda, Maione. The Guards took it by night, supported by the tanks of the Pretoria Regiment. By 20 July, General Kirkman insisted that the 6th South African Armoured Division lead the crossing of the Arno river but lost some tanks on the gravel due to heavy mining when supporting the 4th Infantry Division. Its flanks were guarded by the 8th Indian Infantry Division. Eventually, it crossed the river and captured Mercatale, defended by the German 356th Infantry Division who were supported by Tiger tanks.

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South African 6th Armoured Division crossing the River Arno

Despite delaying actions by the German Parachute Division, the South Africans reached the Paula line on 28 July. Eventually, by Alexander’s decision, Florence was to be bypassed by the spearhead which constituted the South African and New Zealand Divisions. The Imperial Light Horse/Kimberley Regiment was the first to enter the city. Afterwards, the 6th South African Armoured Division was withdrawn into Eighth Army reserve near Siena. There it was resupplied, completed, and waited for a possible reinforcement of the U.S. Seventh Army for the assault of southern France in August, but was replaced at the last minute by the British 6th Armoured Division and resumed its operations in Italy.

The war was certainly not over for the South African 6th Armoured Division. It took part in the consolidation of the Arno bridgehead in September and prepared to assault the Gothic line. In the process, the Division was ordered to advance along Route 64 leading to Vertago and Bologna and to capture the twin peaks of Sole and Capara. Meanwhile, the Guard brigade met heavy resistance from the well dug-in German Lehr Brigade and two battalions of the German 362nd Infantry Division.

The 11th Armored Brigade was forced to fight dismounted due to the terrain. Finally, the German forces retreated to the Green line, and Operation Olive officially ended on 21 September 1944.


Caption courtesy WW2 Colourised Images and Wikipedia. Colourised Image copyright “Color by Doug”

7 thoughts on “Pretoria Regiment Sherman tanks in Italy – Operation Olive

  1. My Dad was one of them. Captain Lawrence Charles Weinrich. Very proud of Dad and all the men in the South African divisions WWII.

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  2. Pingback: The little known South African connection with The Household Division (The Guards) | The Observation Post

  3. My uncle – my father’s only sibling – was also there with the Pretoria Regiment. Sadly, Cpl ‘Paddy’ Steele (109429V) was killed in action on 25 June 1944. I am very proud of him.

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  4. My father also fought in the Italian Campaign during WW11. He was a radio officer on one of the tanks and could not stop talking about those days. I would love to know more about his tank and crew, but he sadly passed away from cancer in 1995!? His name was Mansel Coventry and was with the Pretoria Regiment. So proud!!

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  5. My Grandfather, Colin Marshall, is the man seated on the left of the tank in the forefront that just crossed the River Arno. We have an original copy of this photo which we put up in the East London World War Museum, South Africa. My mother travelled to Italy in 2018 and retraced the SA regiments journey.

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  6. My Dad’s youngest brother Jean Coetzee 612624v joined Imperial Light Horse/Kimberley Regiment as a reporter and photographer for the “Volkstem” newspaper.
    In the northern Apennine mountains, the last Gothic Line, was breached by the Allies during the 1944 Autumn campaign and the front inched forward as far as Ravenna in the Adriatic sector, but with divisions transferred to support the new offensive in France, and with the Germans dug in to a number of key defensive
    positions, the advance stalled as winter set in. My uncle gave his life near a town called Castiglione dei Pepoli in the Province of Bologna about 60 kilometres
    north of Florence and about 60 kilometres south of Bologna. It is situated in mountainous country near the highest point of the road connecting Prato and
    Bologna. Here, during an advance up the mountain slope, young Private Jean Coetzee Service No: 612624v of the
    Imperial Light Horse/Kimberley Regiment S.A.Forces was shot and killed, aged 19, on the 13th January
    1945, my Ouma and Oupa’s youngest child.
    Castiglione South African Cemetery was started in November 1944 by the 6th South African Armoured Division, which had entered Castiglione at the end of September and remained in the neighbourhood until the following April.
    Many of the burials were made direct from the battlefields of the Apennines, where during that
    winter South African troops held positions some 8 kilometres north of Castiglione.
    The majority of those buried in this cemetery were South Africans, the remainder belonging mostly
    to the 24th Guards Brigade, which was under command of the 6th South African Armoured Division.
    In the cemetery there is a memorial building originally erected by South African troops, which
    contains two tablets unveiled by Field-Marshal Smuts; they bear the inscription in English and Afrikaans:
    • TO SAVE MANKIND YOURSELVES YOU SCORNED TO SAVE
    • OM DIE MENSDOM TE DIEN HET JUL VEILIGHEID VERSMAAD
    The cemetery is on the west side of the road a little to the north of the town, and when I last visited it in 1977 was kept in pristine conditions by the local citizens. There I was told back then that deep in the heart of Italy’s Apennine mountains between Bologna and the Po valley, in the communities of Castiglione dei Pepoli, Monte Stanco, Grizzana Morandi and the surrounding area, local people gather annually to celebrate their towns emancipation from Nazi forces in the autumn of 1944 by the 6th South African Armoured Division,
    and even to raise the South African flag in ceremony.
    If i knew how to attach an image i would add a photo of the cemetery and a clipping from the “Volkstem” in 1945 reporting the names (including my Oom Jean) of SA reporters amongst the 420 in a roll of honour maintained in the Press Club in London

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