CELLENO, ITALY, JUNE 10th, 1944: On June 10th, 1944, the 6th South African Armoured Division deployed their entire 11th South African Armoured Brigade in the advance towards Florence. This would prove the first and also last opportunity during the entire Italian campaign in which the entire 11th SA Armoured Brigade could be deployed in unison. In a daring move, Major-General W.H.E Poole deployed the 11th SA Armoured Brigade without the necessary support from the Divisional Artillery.
Brigadier J.P.A Furstenburg realised that the German 356. Infantrie-Division would withdraw northwards. The German opposition encountered, comprised of the 356. Infanterie-Division’s left flank. Furstenburg’s intention was to turn the German left flank by ordering the Special Service Battalion (Armoured) to advance on the right.
The advance on the German flank started at first light on the morning of June 10th, 1944. The Imperial Light Horse/Kimberly Regiment (Motorised Infantry) and SSB immediately moved forward to establish contact with the German defensive line north of the town of Aqua Rossa. The advance was intended to secure a bridgehead around Aqua Rossa, but the South African advance was soon halted by heavy enemy mortar fire. The Natal Mounted Rifles (Divisional Reconnaissance), moved forward early in the morning to scout the enemy dispositions around Aqua Rossa. The NMR almost immediately drew heavy fire from the German anti-tank screen, losing two tanks early in the morning. The SSB was ordered forward to come to the rescue of the NMR. The heavy resistance was coming from the 356th Infanterie Division, which had recently arrived from Genoa under General-Major Hans von Rohr. The freshly committed German division was supported by elements of 4. Fallschirmjäger Division, 3. Panzer-Grenadier-Division, 362. Infanterie-Division & 26. Panzer-Division.
The SSB advanced barely a single kilometer along the road when they met stiff enemy resistance in the form of guns of all calibers from 20 to 88mm, backed by some 50 to 60 Spandau machine-guns sited in houses and trees and from a number of Nebelwerfers. Having committed to the attack without the necessary Divisional Artillery support, the leading elements of the 11th S.A Armoured Brigade were now in a rather perilous position. Lieutenant-Colonel C.E.G. Brits, the Commanding Officer of the SSB, decided to advance against the enemy in a two-up formation, with his “A” Squadron forming a fire support base on the high ground whilst “B” & “C” Squadrons advanced further forward. Under the covering fire from the SSB tanks, the NMR were able to extricate themselves from danger.