Irish Brigade fighting on the Senio River

Thursday, 15 March, 1945
2-inch mortar Senio London Irish 2 LIR
A 2-inch mortar team of 2 LIR in action during an attack on a German strongpoint on the River Senio. ©IWM

Prior to the Allied offensive in April 1945 to drive the Germans north to the River Po, 38 (Irish) Brigade was deployed on the Senio River. The fighting along the floodbanks reminded many of the trench fighting of the First World War. There were fierce exchanges using hand-held weapons, both direct and indirect, between opponents at close range. The weapons of choice were rifle-launched Mills grenades, with fuses selected for air burst or impact, 2-inch mortars engaging the enemy further out and the anti-tank PIAT, when fired at a high angle, improvising as a ‘bunker buster’. Although these engagements intensified by night, it was the daytime sniper that was the most unforgiving.

On the 15 March 1945, the battle procedure for the relief of the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Fusiliers by the 2nd Battalion The London Irish Rifles was under way. A serjeant from the London Irish, wearing his caubeen with cap badge and hackle, was observing enemy positions through a periscope. Perhaps the hackle protruding above the parapet betrayed his intentions and as he straightened up from his observations, a German sniper shot him through the head - killing him instantly.

Serjeant Norman Albert Johnston, aged 23, was from Bloomfield, Belfast and was buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Faenza near Ravenna.