The Italian Campaign
Canada’s longest Second World War army campaign was in Italy.
Canada’s longest Second World War army campaign was in
On 11 July the Canadians were delayed, not as much by enemy opposition than by thousands of Italian troops wanting to surrender. The Canadians followed an inland route that guarded the British Eight Army’s left flank up the eastern coastline toward
With the Italian army’s rapid collapse, several German divisions hurriedly established a series of defensive lines. Canadian troops encountered such a line on 15 July near Grammichele. Enemy anti-tank guns knocked out one tank, three carriers, and several trucks before the Canadians rallied and carried the town. Having inflicted 25 Canadian casualties, the Germans withdrew.
German tactics in
Canada's "Mountain Boys"
On 18 July the Canadians met their heaviest resistance to date at Valguarnera. Fighting before the town and on adjacent ridges resulted in 145 casualties, including 40 killed. But the Germans lost 250 men captured and an estimated 180 to 240 killed or wounded. Field marshal Albert Kesselring reported that his men were fighting highly-trained mountain troops. “They are called ‘Mountain Boys,’ he said, “and probably belong to the 1st Canadian Division.” German respect for the Canadian soldier was beginning.
For the next 17 days, the Canadians were hotly engaged. At Leonforte, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade spent a night of house-to-house fighting. Meanwhile, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment carried out a nighttime ascent of the 904-metre high Monte Assoro to surprise the German defenders.
By the first week of August, the Germans were caught in a closing vise of American, British, and Canadian units. On 17 August, the Germans evacuated
Long Mainland March
After a brief rest, the Canadians were placed in the British Eighth Army’s vanguard for the invasion of mainland
Again, opposition came mostly in the form of Italian soldiers surrendering by the hundreds. On 8 September, the Italian government itself surrendered to the Allies. In the surrender’s wake, German troops raced to intercept the Allied advance.
Assault on The Gully
Winter rains had turned the landscape into a quagmire. On 6 December, Canadians assaulted the
Repeated frontal assaults by multiple battalions were cut to pieces. Then on the night of 14-15 December, the Royal 22e Regiment outflanked The Gully. Eighty-one men of Captain Paul Triquet’s ‘C’ Company and seven Ontario Regiment tanks headed for a farmhouse called Casa Berardi. When the company’s dwindling ranks wavered, Triquet shouted, “The safest place for us is the objective.” At 2:30 p.m., Casa Berardi was taken. Triquet became the first Canadian in
On 20 December, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, supported by tanks from the Three Rivers Regiment, became embroiled in vicious house-to-house fighting in Ortona with the German 1st Parachute Division. Finding that advancing along the streets was impossible, the Canadians blasted their way through the interlinked walls of the town’s buildings — a technique called mouse holing. There was no pause in the fighting for Christmas Day, but the Seaforth’s quartermaster and headquarters staff organized a sumptuous dinner. One by one, Seaforth companies withdrew to a church on Ortona’s outskirts, were served dinner, and then returned to battle. The Edmontons and most tankers had no such reprieve.
Not until the night of 28 December did the Battle of Ortona end with a German withdrawal. The December fighting cost 2,605 Canadian casualties, including 502 killed. There were also 3,956 evacuations for battle exhaustion and 1,617 for sickness, out of a total Canadian strength at the beginning of December of about 20,000. The 1st Canadian Infantry Division, however, had mauled two German divisions and achieved its objective.
The New Year found an expanded Canadian force facing the Germans across the
Breaking the Gustav Line
Despite local victories, overall Allied attempts to break free of the Gustav Line remained frustrated throughout the winter, leading to a decision to concentrate forces for a joint offensive by the Eighth Army and the US Fifth Army at Monte Cassino. Accordingly, the Canadians moved there in late April.
On 11 May, the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade supported an 8th Indian Division attack. The Calgary Tank Regiment established a tenuous bridgehead across the Gari River that enabled the Indians to break the Gustav Line and open the way — along with breakthroughs by other Allied units — for an advance against the next defensive position, known as the Hitler Line. Like the Gustav Line, this defensive system bristled with pillboxes, tank turrets mounted on concrete emplacements, and vast concentrations of barbed wire and minefields.
Cracking the Hitler Line fell to I Canadian Corps, which moved toward it on 18 May. Attempting to avoid the heavy casualties inherent in set-piece attacks, the 1st Division’s commander, Major-General Chris Vokes attempted to pierce the line with individual battalion thrusts. When these failed he implemented Operation Chesterfield, a two-brigade wide assault on 23 May.
The three battalions of 2nd Brigade were shredded by enemy fire on the division’s right flank and suffered 162 men killed, 306 wounded, and 75 taken prisoner — the single highest loss rate suffered by any brigade in a day’s fighting in
The Eighth Army continued up the
The capture of Ceprano on 27 May cracked the German resistance before
The Allies marched northward to the Gothic Line in August, which the Canadians were tasked with breaking at
After spending November in reserve, the Canadians returned to attack
After a short stand down, I Canadian Corps started withdrawing from
Total Canadian casualties in
Mark Zuehlke, Operation Husky: The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10-August 7, 1943 (2007) and The Gothic Line: Canada's Month of Hell in World War II Italy (2003) and The Liri Valley, Canada's World War II Breakthrough to Rome (2001) and Ortona: Canada's Epic World War II Battle (1999). Dan Dancocks, The D-Day Dodgers: The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945 (1992).