The Epic Battle of Ortona
December of 1943 was witness to the WW II's most critical clash in the Italian campaign when the Canadian regiment won the Battle of Ortona. As part of the Winter Line defense system, Ortona was considered of high strategic importance as it was needed for docking allied ships, thereby shortening the German army's lines of supply. As the Allied offensive in Italy came to a standstill on the Western Front, the British Eighth Army, inclusive of the 1st Canadian Division, kept advancing on the Eastern Front. The Canadians received orders to go ahead and liberate the port town of Ortona, now considered an important site to visit in the Liberation tours for Canadian battlefields. The Battle of Ortona is known for the deadliness of its close-quarters combat through the scattered rubble of the town and the several booby traps used by both sides.
The Advent: The battle-hardened soldiers of the renowned German 1st Parachute Division were ordered by Adolf Hitler to defend Ortona at any cost thus making the town impenetrable to any attacking force. The hostile terrain plus the German defense with concealed machine guns and anti-tank emplacements made any movement with armor and infantry increasingly hard. From December 6 to December 8, the Canadian regiments crossed the Moro River and just a few kilometers away from the road to Ortona, encountered a huge gully running parallel to the road where the units suffered extensive casualties in repeated attempts of crossing it. However, on December 19 the capture of a strategic crossroads by the Royal Canadian Regiment laid the way for the entry into Ortona.
The Attack: The Canadians first struck the town on 20th of December as the 2nd Brigade took along some of their Seaforth Highlanders under command, and got support from the tanks of the Régiment de Trois-Rivières. Meanwhile, in an attempt to cut off the towns rear communications, the division's 3rd Infantry Brigade launched a northerly attack towards the west of Ortona. The close combat fighting was vicious, and the Canadians made use of "mouse-holing," a new tactic involving weapons to breach the walls of a building. The method enabled the soldiers to pierce through walls into adjoining rooms, catching the enemy troops by surprise. When the Canadians finally took Ortona on December 28, the town of Ortona was in ruins and was later dubbed "Little Stalingrad." After eight days, the depleted German troops finally withdrew from Ortona. The Canadians suffered 1,375 casualties during the Moro River battles, part of which was Ortona, representing almost a quarter of all Canadians killed during the entire Italian Campaign. Canadian troops left the Adriatic front at the end of April and moved south of Cassino in preparation for the Liri Valley offensive.
The author is a well-traveled historian and takes particular interest in the various Canadian battlefields from the World War II era. He prefers taking the Liberation tours to visit all the Canadian based military history tours in Europe.