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Battle of the Moro River, 4 December 1943-4 January 1944
The battle of the Moro River (4-26 December 1943) was part of the Eighth Army attack on the Gustav Line, the main German defensive position south of Rome, and came after the British had broken through the main Gustav line position in the east of Italy, behind the Sangro River.
In the aftermath of the battle of Salerno the Eighth Army had been sent to the Adriatic coast, where it faced the eastern end of a series of German defensive lines. They forced their way across the Biferno (1-7 October) and the Trigno (27 October-4 November 1943), and then advanced to the Sangro. The Germans had very few troops to defend the Sangro - only the 65th Infantry Division on the lower Sangro and the 1st Parachute Division further inland. The 16th Panzer Division, which had been involved in the earlier battles against the Eighth Army, had to be withdrawn to recover from its losses. The Eighth Army attack on the Sangro was delayed by bad weather which caused the river to rise, but the main assault began on the night of 27-28 November, and by 4 December the Germans had been forced back to their next position, on the Sangro.
By the time he had been pushed back to the Moro, General Herr’s 76th Corps had been reinforced. The 90th Panzer Grenadier Division (Baade) had been pulled off Corsica and now replaced the badly damaged 65th Division. The 334th Infantry Division had been moved to the Adriatic from Genoa, and the 15th Panzer Grenadier and 26th Panzer Divisions had been moved across Italy. The 29th Panzer Division was also moved east during the Sangro battles, launching a counterattack on the leading troops of the 8th Indian Division, on the left of the British advance across the Sangro. The 1st Parachute Division, which had been facing the far left of Montgomery’s army in the mountains, was moved to the coast and replaced by two mountain battalions.
Although the Moro is a much smaller river than the Sangro, the Germans had a strong defensive position along ridges on the far side of the river. The first was very close to the river, and topped by a series of villages, from San Donato near the coast, through Villa San Leonardo and Villa Rogatti and on to Poggiofiorito. Behind this first ridge a road ran from the coastal town of Ortona to the hilltop town of Orsogna. The 90th Panzer Grenadier Division held the first ridgeline with the 1 Parachute Division behind them. The 26th Panzer Division (von Luttwitz) was on the German right around Orsogna. This was a particularly strong position. The Moro ran from west to east to the south of Orsogna, on the high Brecciarola ridge, which ran east from the village. The lower Pascuccio ridge ran north-east from the village, carrying the first part of the road to Ortona. A little further north was the Sfasciata Ridge, just to the south of Poggiofiorito. Just to the north of that village the Ortona road left the main ridge and crossed lower ground to reach the port.
Montgomery attacked at both ends of the Moro line. On the left, facing Orsogna, the task was given to the 2nd New Zealand Division. On the right the attack was led by the 1st Canadian Division, which had been moved out of the central mountains. The 8th Indian Division was in the centre of the line.
The fighting began Orsogna, where the 2nd New Zealand Division attacked the 26th Panzer Division on the night of 2 December, taking advantage of a temporary gap in the German lines to the south of the village. The 6th New Zealand Brigade managed to get into the eastern outskirts, but was forced out by a counterattack on the following morning. On 4 December the New Zealanders attacked with two brigades. Once again they were repulsed at Orsogna, although the 6th Brigade did manage to briefly get into the town. The 5th Brigade made progress on the two ridges further to the north, and were able to hold onto ground on Sfasciata near Poggiofiorito, but had to pull back from Pascuccio, as their positions there were too vulnerable to German attack from higher ground.
The third attack on Orsogna involved the New Zealanders and the 17th Brigade, British 5th Division, with the 78th Division in reserve. The attack went in on 15 December, and was directed at Melone, on the ridge to the south-west of Orsogna. The hope was to isolate the village, but this attack also failed. Some progress was made around Melone, and two armoured units were able to attack towards Orsogna, but had to retreat after twenty five tanks were lost. A German counterattack on the night of 15-16 September failed, as did an attack by 20th Armoured and the Maoris on 16 September.
The fourth and final attack on Orsogna in this battle began on 23 December. It was supported by the entire artillery of 13 Corps and five artillery regiments from 5 Corps. This time the New Zealanders were able get past the German positions to the north-east of the town, while the British 5th Division captured Arielli, three miles to the north/ north-east. However Orsogna remained in German hands.
On the right the Canadian’s first task was to get across the Moro and reach the crossroads between the coastal Highway 16 and the Ortona to Orsogna road, just to the south of the town.
The first Canadian attack was only a limited success. On the night of 5/6 December they waded the Moro and captured Villa Rogatti on the left and a bridgehead near the coast without much trouble, but needed five hours to capture San Leonardo. The Germans then counterattacked and forced back the troops at Villa Rogatti and San Leonardo.
The Canadians attacked again on 8 December, this time aiming to pass through San Leonardo to reach the crossroads. The attack began at 4.30pm, and the Canadians were half way to San Leonardo when they were hit by a German counterattack. This was fought off with the help of a heavy artillery bombardment. San Leonardo was finally taken for a second time late on 9 December and the Germans were forced to retreat. On 10 December the advancing Canadians found the next German defensive position, along yet another valley and ridge line, which became known to the Canadians as ‘The Gully’. The Canadians launched a series of frontal assaults on the new German position, without any success. However on 13 December two Canadian patrols found a track that ran west from San Leonardo to the Ortona-Orsogna road, outflanking the gully on the German right. On 14 December a small force captured Casa Berardi, a cluster of farm buildings two and a half miles to the south/ south-west of Ortona. Captain Paul Triquet was awarded the Victoria Cross for leading the successful defence of this outpost against a determined German counterattack. Another attack on the main Gully position failed on 15 December, and General Vokes, commander of the 1st Canadian Division, then paused until 18 December, when he launched a successful three phased attack from the west of Casa Berardi, which finally forced the Germans to retreat. However they only pulled back into the town, forcing the Canadians to fight a costly urban battle, which lasted until 28 December. The Germans were slowly forced back through the town, and had to retreat after the Allies began to push north along the next ridge to the west of the town, threatening to isolate the garrison.
In the centre of the line the 8th Indian Division attacked the right flank of the paratroops at Villa Grande, just under three miles to the south-west of Orsogna. After heavy fighting the Indians got around the village, and forced the Germans to retreat on 28 December. The Indians were then able to take Tollo, another hilltop village two and a half miles to the north-west.
The battle continued for a few days after the fall of Ortona. The Canadians advanced north from Casa Berardi along a ridge that ran alongside the Riccio River, and reached the coast at Torra Mucchia, to the east of the river mouth, on 4 January. Further inland Orsogna remained in German hands.
After the fall of Ortona and the failure to take Orsogna, Montgomery halted the Eighth Army offensive. On 31 December 1943 he turned over command of the Eighth Army to General Sir Olivier Leese, and prepared to return to Britain to take command of the 21st Army Group and the land forces for Operation Overlord. His last offensive in Italy had made limited progress in difficult circumstances, but his plans for an advance to Pescara had failed. The Eighth Army’s next major contribution to the war in Italy would be on the west coast, where it would take part in the fourth and final battle of Cassino.
The Allies didn’t start to advance on the Adriatic until the summer of 1944. The German retreat began on 7 June, with the 1st Canadian and 8th Indian Divisions in pursuit. These troops were replaced by the 2nd Polish Corps, which took part in the advance through the eastern ends of the German Trasimene and Arezzo Lines, fighting an independent battle at Ancona (17-81 July 1944).
Clearing The Gully: Army, Part 68
Canadians and their vehicles advance towards the Moro River in Italy on Dec. 10, 1943.
Historians have tended to treat the battle for the Moro River–fought in Italy between Dec. 6 and 10, 1943–as a prelude to the better known struggle in the streets of Ortona. However, at the time, the battle for the Moro was seen as an important victory opening the way to 8th Army’s real objective: Pescara.
When the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division reported it could no longer contain the Canadians in the bridgehead, the German commanders ordered a rigorous defence of the approaches to Tollo, a village west of Ortona. If the Canadians reached Tollo they would bypass Ortona and continue north to Pescara without becoming involved in a house-to-house battle.
The Germans had suffered heavy losses in a series of counter-attacks against the Canadian bridgehead, including a last desperate attempt on the evening of Dec. 9. Allied artillery had frequently failed to provide accurate fire support during offensive operations due to inaccurate maps and dubious meteorological reports on wind speed and direction. But when the Germans attacked, Forward Observation Officers (FOOs) corrected the fire, thus bringing the guns of 1st Canadian, 8th Indian and a medium artillery regiment to bear on the exposed attackers.
December 9 had been a historic day. The diarist at the Canadian Division’s headquarters wrote that it “…will be remembered by the 1st Canadians for a long, long time. We had our first real battle on a divisional level with the Germans–the battle of the Moro River. The Germans counter-attacked very heavily and were thrown back.” Montgomery sent his “hearty congratulations” but renewed his orders, Lieutenant-General Charles Allfrey’s 5th Corps was to press the advance to Tollo with 1st Canadian and 8th Indian divisions maintaining pressure until 8th Army was reorganized and ready to carry out Operation Semblance, a four-division advance designed to reach the Pescara-Rome highway which was further north.
Thus began the struggle for what Canadian soldiers called The Gully, a feature formed by the Fosso Saraceni, a small creek that had worn a U-shaped valley into the landscape. The Gully was barely noticeable on the scale maps of the area and had failed to draw the attention of intelligence officers or air photo interpreters, but the 200-metre-deep ravine provided the enemy with ample opportunity to fight effectively from terrain that gave the defender every advantage.
The Loyal Edmonton Regiment, with a squadron of Calgary Tanks and a platoon of medium machine-guns from the Saskatoon Light Infantry, began the push north on the morning of Dec. 10. The battle group included two FOOs from 3rd Field Regt. and one from the corps medium regiment. Their goal was Cider Crossroads, the point where the San Leonardo-Tollo road met the Ortona-Orsogna highway. If all went well the 2nd Brigade would turn east towards Ortona to outflank the defenders south of the city while 3rd Canadian Infantry Bde. would join an Indian brigade in the advance north to Tollo. The occupation of the village, with its network of minor roads to the north and east, would force the enemy to abandon Ortona, leaving it intact for the Allies to utilize as a base.
The road the Loyal Eddies followed skirts a creek defile before turning east. Today the A13 Autostrada, elevated above The Gully, dominates the battlefield, but in 1943 the narrow road ran through an apparently empty countryside. Accounts of the day’s events vary widely, but everyone agrees that all attempts to advance to The Gully–never mind the crossroads–were met with concentrated machine-gun and mortar fire which neither the artillery nor the mortars could suppress. A vague message sent to brigade at 1:30 p.m. reported coys (companies) on objective are consolidating.” This signal must have been intended to refer to the first-stage objective, not Cider Crossroads. But Brigadier Bert Hoffmeister misunderstood and ordered the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry to join the advance, securing the high ground the Patricias would call Vino Ridge. They came under heavy, observed fire and were forced to stop and dig in just east of San Leonardo.
The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada had kept pace with the Loyal Eddies, protecting their left flank. But they, too, suffered from accurate enemy fire. Lieutenant-Colonel J.D. Forin was among the wounded and he provided this graphic description of his evacuation to the regimental aid post (RAP). “The Advance RAP is in a house 50 yards behind the gully. It is full of wounded and shocked men…. An RAP Jeep arrives…King (Forin’s runner who was also wounded) and I are loaded on it. King is unconscious, but breathing. The Jeep creeps cautiously down the shell-pocked road to San Leonardo. I think that if I were driving I would go all out. Shells blossom on the road on both sides but the driver has critically wounded aboard and to hit a shell hole at high speed might kill them…. The RAP is a dark room in a battered house. Lights from car batteries hung over blood-stained stretchers… fresh casualties keep arriving. The MO (medical officer) is desperately tired, but he never stops working or loses patience with the shock cases.”
Fortunately, the enemy was not content with stopping the Canadians. The 90th Div. was told to regain the ground above the Moro. The first wave of German attacks began on the afternoon of Dec. 10. The next day three separate attempts to overwhelm the Canadians produced heavy casualties on both sides. General Traugott Herr, the German corps commander, complained that these attacks “had been committed too late in the day and had been half-hearted.” He removed the divisional and regimental commanders, placing the division under the command of Col. Ernst-Günther Baade of 3rd Para Regt. Baade was an experienced commander who was prepared to do whatever it took to slow the Canadian advance at least until the balance of 1st Para Div. arrived.
The 8th Indian Div. had enjoyed slightly greater success on its axis, reaching Villa Caldari just south of the Ortona-Orsogna road. The Gully did not extend this far inland and there were good prospects for a further advance, but the Indian battalions were understrength and near exhaustion so they were allowed to pause and regroup. When the advance was renewed, the enemy was well dug in and able to hold positions in front of the lateral road for more than three days.
Montgomery proposed to begin Operation Semblance on Dec. 15, but Allfrey and Major-General Chris Vokes–the Canadian divisional commander–wanted the Canadians to secure Cider Crossroads and the highway before joining in the promised corps advance. Vokes decided to commit his reserve, the 3rd Canadian Infantry Bde., to accomplish this. The West Nova Scotia Regt. made the first attempt at dusk on Dec. 11, but could make no progress. The next morning, the West Nova Scotia Regt. was ordered to try again, despite a driving rain. When this attack failed, Vokes employed all available three-inch and 4.2-inch mortars with their high-trajectory fire on the reverse slope, while the artillery suppressed other enemy positions. The Carleton and York Regt. led the new advance supported by flank attacks. After some early success, “murderous machine-gun and mortar fire” from within and beyond The Gully overwhelmed the battalion, which suffered 52 casualties as well as the loss of 28 men who were taken prisoner when a platoon was cut off.
As another frontal attack collapsed under the German fire, a battle group formed by a company of the West Nova Scotia Regt., a tank squadron from the Ontario Regt., combat engineers and a troop of self-propelled guns, found and destroyed a German battle group deployed to defend the shallow western end of The Gully.
A platoon of West Novas, with a troop of tanks from the Ontario Regt., charged the enemy position, destroying two German tanks and capturing the others. A second troop of four Ontario Regt. tanks, working closely with a Seaforth Highlander company, swung further to the left, circling around the enemy defences before probing east towards Casa Berardi. This brilliant stroke, which might have ended German resistance at The Gully, could not be supported as Vokes had no reserves immediately available. With the tanks low on fuel and ammunition, the best the battle group could do was to defend their position near the Ortona-Orsogna road.
These probing attacks on the left flank of the Canadian sector were assisted by a renewed effort from 8th Indian Div., which committed an armoured-infantry battle group to a night attack towards Villa Grande. The Germans were forced to send local reserves to seal off this penetration, helping the Canadians to exploit a temporary seam in the enemy defences.
The decision by Vokes to commit 3rd Bde. to a frontal attack on The Gully had left the division with just one uncommitted infantry battalion, the Royal 22nd Regt. The Van Doos, as their comrades called them, were told to assemble with a squadron of Ontario Regt. tanks during the night of Dec. 13-14 and to use a divisional artillery program to advance northeast towards Cider Crossroads. The attack, which was to begin at first light on Dec. 14, would have to overcome a powerful enemy. While no great “fighting value” could any longer be ascribed to 90th Div., two battalions of 1st Para Div., whose strength “had been increased by the arrival of young reinforcements,” were now in position to block the Canadian advance.
Brigadier Bruce Matthews–the divisional artillery commander–was determined to improve the effectiveness of his guns. The base maps used to plan the unobserved or predicted fire in previous attacks had proven to be quite inaccurate so the artillery FOOs had worked hard to register the guns on a series of target areas that were given code names. And so rather than relying on a moving barrage, the hope was that FOOs with the forward troops could call for concentrations of fire on specific positions.
On the morning of Dec. 14, the Van Doos discovered just how valuable this flexibility was. Their first task was to recover control of the lateral road, not advance along it, so the 60-minute-long opening barrage was of little help. The infantry stalked a German tank hidden in a house before destroying it with a PIAT (Projector, Infantry, Anti-Tank) gun. Soon afterwards two companies, each supported by a troop of tanks, began an advance across “a wasteland of trees with split limbs, burnt-out vehicles, dead animals and cracked shells of houses.” The parachute battalions, assisted by tanks or self-propelled guns, were dug in among the ruins and craters ready to call upon artillery and mortars as well as their own fire to wreak havoc among the Canadians.
The right flank Van Doo company, turning to avoid such fire, ended up lost in The Gully before withdrawing to the start line. Major Paul Triquet’s “C” Company worked its way forward with the help of the Ontario Regt. Shermans. Matthews’s registered artillery concentrations and tank fire deserved much of the credit for the advance, but the raw courage of Triquet’s men was quite extraordinary.
With less than 20 men and five tanks left in his battle group, Triquet and Major H.A. Smith of the Ontario Regt. decided to seize and then defend the villa and farm buildings of Casa Berardi. Their determination to hold the Casa, expressed in Triquet’s phrase “mot d’ordre, ils ne passeront pas”, has become famous in the annals of Canadian history. The VC Triquet earned was well deserved, but the role of the Ontario Regt. tanks and the night march of D Co. of the Van Doos, which reached the Casa shortly before midnight, should also be remembered.
The successful defence of Casa Berardi did not mean the end of the battle for The Gully. The enemy continued to use this natural obstacle to block the advance of 1st and 2nd brigades. Unfortunately, Vokes was an exceptionally stubborn man and he ordered the Carleton and York Regt. to make yet another frontal assault on Cider Crossroads. According to his own account–written well after the battle–“the attack was not pressed home and again failed in the face of determined opposition.”
Allfrey was later to claim that “he had a long talk with Vokes… and told him he was tiring out his division and producing nothing because of the lack of co-ordination.” Since Allfrey’s “diary” was written after the event, it is difficult to rely upon but if the “long talk” occurred on Dec. 14 it did not persuade Vokes to cancel the Carleton and York attack.
Finally, on the afternoon of Dec.15, Vokes decided on a 48-hour pause to organize a proper set-piece attack from the Casa Berardi position. The 48th Highlanders of Canada and the Royal Canadian Regt. were to move in behind the Van Doos and prepare to follow an extensive artillery program designed to shoot them onto objectives around Cider Crossroads.
The guns of nine field and three medium regiments would fire two artillery programs, Morning Glory–in support of the 48th Highlanders–and Orange Blossom for the Royal Canadian Regt. The 48th Highlanders were able to follow the “terrifying and effective” artillery fire in a deliberate advance carried out “at a rate of only 100 yards every five minutes.” They reached their objective north of Cider Crossroads just as the RCRs began their advance. Orange Blossom turned out as disastrous as Morning Glory was successful. For reasons that have not been explained, a large number of short rounds fell among Canadian troops, and Matthews cancelled or changed much of the fire plan. The RCRs ran into a number of untouched enemy positions and suffered heavy losses in what they described as a “death trap.”
Despite these losses the battalion was ready to resume the battle the next day. This time the artillery fire was both accurate and effective. The crossroads was secured and the battle for The Gully finally over.
Lester Schauer, Elmer Schauer brother, unfortunately did not surivive the war. There is no specific information on how he died. Elmer Schauer told his daughter Brenda that Lester was crossing a bridge that blew up. But we cannot back that up with anything documented.
The Moro River Campaign
an important battle of the Italian Campaign during the Second World War, fought between elements of the British Eighth Army and LXXVI Panzer Corps (LXXVI Panzerkorps) of the German 10th Army (10. Armee). Lasting from 4 December 1943 to 4 January 1944, the campaign occurred primarily in the vicinity of the Moro River in eastern Italy. The campaign was designed as part of an offensive launched by General Sir Harold Alexander's Allied 15th Army Group, with the intention of breaching the German Army's Winter Line defensive system and advancing to Pescara—and eventually Rome.
Beginning on 4 December, four infantry divisions one British, one Canadian, one Indian and one New Zealand (which included an armoured brigade) and two armoured brigades (one British and one Canadian) of V Corps and XIII Corps attacked heavily defended German positions along the Moro River, achieving several exploitable bridgeheads by 8 December. Throughout the next week, nearly continuous combat operations by both sides—designed to keep one another pinned down created stagnated defensive positions near Orsogna and a narrow pit known as "The Gully". After being held at the Gully for 10 days, the Canadians succeeded in outflanking German defences, and forcing a German withdrawal to the Ortona–Orsogna Line. On 20 December, the line was attacked by both corps.
Taking the Moro
On 8 December 1943, Major General Vokes devised a new plan for taking the Moro River. While the 48th Highlanders of Canada and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry resumed the assault on San Leonardo from the southwest side of the town, the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) would break out of the bridgehead created by the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, then move southwest towards San Leonardo to link up with the 48th and PPCLI. The operation was scheduled to start on the afternoon of 8 December.
The attack began with a massive artillery barrage which pounded German positions continuously for two hours. At 16:00, the Saskatoon Light Infantry support battalion joined in, hitting German positions with bursts of machine gun fire. The moment the heavy bombardment lifted, the 48th Highlanders and the RCR both initiated their attacks. D Company of the 48th Highlanders was able to quickly cross the Moro, taking minimal casualties. However, B Company was subjected to heavy fire from German mortars and 88 mm (3.46 in) artillery positions. Eventually, however, both companies managed to establish strong positions on the western ridge overlooking San Leonardo. During the night of 8/9 December, units of the Royal Canadian Engineers (RCE) constructed a bridge over the Moro, to allow armour and equipment to move into San Leonardo the following day.
As the 48th Highlanders secured their positions west of San Leonardo, the Royal Canadian Regiment was involved in intense fighting southwest of San Donato. Two companies had advanced against strong and well prepared German defences of the 200th Panzergrenadier Regiment. A Company was quickly tied down by German mortar fire, while B Company flanked German positions to the north of San Donato. By nightfall, all four companies held tenuous positions in the thick of German defences. On the night of 8/9 December, the RCR was subjected to counterattacks by the 200th Panzergrenadier Regiment which were repulsed with the support of continuous Canadian artillery shelling.
By the morning of 9 December, the RCE had completed the bridge across the Moro River, enabling the tanks of the 14th Armoured Regiment (The Calgary Regiment) to transport two companies of Seaforth Highlanders across the river into San Leonardo. By mid morning, San Leonardo had been cleared of German defenders, although strong positions still existed outside of the town. Within an hour, the Calgarys' tanks had broken through German positions near Sterlen Castle and two companies had linked up with the 48th Highlanders and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry within San Leonardo, finally establishing firm Canadian positions across the Moro River. Near the end of 9 December, German forces of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division fell back to their second defensive line: a formidable obstacle known as "The Gully".
Story provided by Elmers' daughter Brenda
The 1st Canadian Division is an operational command and control formation of the Canadian Joint Operations Command, based at CFB Kingston. Formed during the First World War in August 1914, the 1st Canadian Division was a formation of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The division was initially made up from provisional battalions that were named after their province of origin but these titles were dropped before the division arrived in Britain on 14 October 1914. Following the war, the division was stood down only to be re mobilized as a formation on 1 September 1939 as the 1st Canadian Infantry Division for service in the Second World War. The division was also reactivated twice during the Cold War.
The enemy had chosen well. The Gully . bears, and needs, no other designation to distinguish it from a thousand other ravines which lay athwart the Canadians' path in Italy formed a complete tank obstacle, and German weapon-pits constructed in its steep bank were practically immune from damage by our shellfire, which fell harmlessly on the level ground to the front and rear. Experience was to show that the mortar was the only weapon with which the Canadian attackers could successfully reach into this narrow cleft. 9
Confirmation of the failure to take CIDER did not reach the appropriate channels in time to stop PPCLI from attempting to exploit what was believed to be a success at the crossroads. What happened next was an indecisive action in the wake of the Edmontons' assault east of the Gully, and the Patricias were caught in a heavy German barrage brought down as support for their own counter-attack. Three Patricia company commanders were casualties, and they withdrew and dug-in behind the Edmontons. Supported by "A" Squadron of the Calgary Tanks, the Seaforth Highlanders had managed to occupy high ground west of San Leonardo during the day, and they moved into positions on the left flank of the Edmontons, their commanding officer being wounded by shellfire in the process.
Even prior to victory in the North African Campaign, there was disagreement between the Allies on the best strategy to defeat the Axis.
The British, especially Winston Churchill, advocated their traditional naval-based peripheral strategy. Even with a large army, but greater naval power, the traditional British answer against a continental enemy was to fight as part of a coalition and mount small peripheral operations designed to gradually weaken the enemy. The United States, with an even larger army, favoured a more direct method of fighting the main force of the German Army in Northern Europe. The ability to launch such a campaign depended on first winning the Battle of the Atlantic. [ citation needed ]
The strategic disagreement was fierce, with the US service chiefs arguing for an invasion of France as early as possible, while their British counterparts advocated a policy centred on operations in the Mediterranean. There was even pressure from some Latin American countries to stage an invasion of Spain, which under Francisco Franco was friendly to the Axis nations, although not a participant in the war. ⎗] The American staff believed that a full-scale invasion of France at the earliest possible time was required to end the war in Europe, and that no operations should be undertaken that might delay that effort. The British argued that the presence of large numbers of troops trained for amphibious landings in the Mediterranean made a limited-scale invasion possible and useful. [ citation needed ]
Eventually the US and British political leadership made the decision to commit to an invasion of France in early 1944, but with a lower-priority Italian campaign reflecting Roosevelt's desire to keep US troops active in the European theatre during 1943 and his attraction to the idea of eliminating Italy from the war. ⎘] It was hoped that an invasion would knock them out of the conflict, or provide at least a major propaganda blow. The elimination of Italy as an enemy would also enable Allied naval forces, principally the Royal Navy, to completely dominate the Mediterranean Sea, massively improving communications with Egypt, the Far East, the Middle East and India. In addition, it would mean that the Germans would have to transfer troops from the Eastern Front to defend Italy and the entire southern coast of France, thus aiding the Soviets. The Italians would also withdraw their troops from the Soviet Union to defend Italy. [ citation needed ]
After Ortona, the entire 1st Division went into winter positions on the south side of the Arielli River Valley, and a three month programme of patrolling began, as reinforcements were absorbed and the armies on both sides waited for spring, and campaigning weather. The Division had been badly hurt during the month of December as a whole, the division lost 695 killed, and with wounded, sick and missing, casualties equalled 4,206.
Two German divisions were seriously mauled in the Moro campaign 90th Light and 1st Paratroop. By the time the 90th Light Division was relieved, its insistence on mounting unnecessary counterattacks had depleted it badly. Months were needed to rebuild the division one battalion of the 361st Panzergrenadier Regiment had only 12 men left. Some 400 Germans from this division were in Canadian PW cages in addition to hundreds more killed and wounded.
As Canadian reinforcements made their way north to join their new units (though even on the last day of December the Division remained 1,050 men below authorized strength), they passed a small sign left behind at the entrance of the city by proud Vancouverites and Edmontonians: THIS IS ORTONA. A WEST CANADIAN TOWN.
Canada and the Italian Campaign
Canada’s longest Second World War army campaign was in Italy. Canadian forces served in the heat, snow and mud of the grinding, nearly two-year Allied battle across Sicily and up the Italian peninsula—prying the country from Germany's grip, at a cost of more than 26,000 Canadian casualties.
General Vokes led 1st Canadian Division through the brutal house-to-house fighting and north to the Hitler Line. Snipers of the Royal 22e Régiment in the Liri Valley, Italy. (L-R) Private Amalie Dionne, Lance-Corporal Paul Fortin, Privates Henri Thibault, Guste Bernier, Harry Gilman, Robert Riral. Royal Canadian Artillery firing at enemy positions, Sicily, 1943.
Canada's Italian campaign started on 10 July, 1943 when the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade began Operation Husky — the seaborne invasion of the island of Sicily. The Italian defenders were quickly overwhelmed and the Canadians advanced on Pachino and its strategic airport. Nightfall saw most of the Canadian units either on or past every initial objective. Seven men died and 25 others were wounded.
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 Catania and the ultimate objective of the Strait of Messina, which divides Sicily from the Italian mainland.
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 Sicily were a precursor for those applied throughout the Italian campaign. This entailed heavily entrenched fortifications set on ideal defensive terrain of ridges, mountains, and rivers. When one line was breached the Germans quickly withdrew to another.
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 Sicily. By then, the Canadians had marched 210 kilometres and suffered 2,310 casualties, including 562 dead.
Long Mainland March
After a brief rest, the Canadians were placed in the British Eighth Army’s vanguard for the invasion of mainland Italy. A long, arduous march up Italy’s boot began when the West Nova Scotia and Carleton and York regiments of 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade landed immediately north of Reggio Calabria on 3 September.
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. Southern Italy’s rugged country was ideally suited for defence. It took the Canadians two weeks in October to advance just 40 kilometres from Lucera to Campobasso. This stubborn fighting withdrawal by the Germans bought them time to create a fortified system of defensive lines well south of Rome. Dubbed the Gustav Line, the system hinged on the high point of Monte Cassino in the west and the Sangro River in the east. On 28 November, British troops assaulted the Sangro River. After nearly a week of heavy fighting, the Germans pulled back from this river to a new line behind the Moro River.
Assault on The Gully
Winter rains had turned the landscape into a quagmire. On 6 December, Canadians assaulted the Moro River defences. Only the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry made headway, capturing Villa Rogatti before ordered to withdraw. A firm bridgehead was finally established across the Moro on 9 December, but further advance was blocked by a deep, narrow pass nicknamed The Gully.
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 Italy to win a Victoria Cross for valour. After four more days of fighting to gain a vital crossroads, the Germans withdrew from The Gully into the town of Ortona.
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.
Graves of personnel of the Edmonton Regiment killed in the Battle of Ortona.
The New Year found an expanded Canadian force facing the Germans across the Arielli River, just north of Ortona. In early November, I Canadian Corps was formed by the addition of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division to Italy. Its baptism of fire, however, came on 17 January 1944 with an attempt to cross the Arielli that was repulsed at a cost of 185 casualties.
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 Italy. To the left, however, the 3rd Brigade’s Carleton & York Regiment pierced the line. The remaining two battalions and the Three Rivers Regiment tanks soon widened this narrow gap to enable the 5th Canadian Armoured Division’s advance past the Hitler Line.
Capture of Rome
The Eighth Army continued up the Liri Valley towards Rome against fierce resistance. The advance stalled briefly at the Melfa River in a costly battle involving the 5th Division’s Westminster Regiment. For leading the successful defence of a small bridgehead across the river, Major Jack Mahony was awarded a Victoria Cross.
The capture of Ceprano on 27 May cracked the German resistance before Rome, and the city was liberated on 4 June. Three weeks of action for I Canadian Corps resulted in about 800 dead, 2,500 wounded, 4,000 sick, and 400 battle exhaustion cases. Meanwhile, attention was shifting to France. When the Allies invaded Normandy on 6 June, Italy became a largely forgotten theatre of war. Derided as D-Day Dodgers, the rank-and-file soldiers fighting in Italy transformed the epithet into a mark of pride.
The Allies marched northward to the Gothic Line in August, which the Canadians were tasked with breaking at Pesaro on the Adriatic coast. Striking on 25 August, the 1st Infantry Division sought to open a breach through which the 5th Armoured Division could pass. Encountering line after line of heavy defences, the Gothic Line was not fully overcome until 21 September, at a cost of 4,511 Canadian casualties that included 1,016 dead — among other Allied losses. It took until 20 October to capture the city of Cesena just 20 kilometres from the next offensive’s starting point. Cesena stood alongside the Savio River, and here the following day, Private Ernest Alvia Smith earned a Victoria Cross by staving off a German armoured column.
After spending November in reserve, the Canadians returned to attack Ravenna. The city fell on 4 December, but heavy fighting raged through the rest of the month with few gains.
After a short stand down, I Canadian Corps started withdrawing from Italy in February 1945 to rejoin the First Canadian Army in northwest Europe. The Italian campaign ended in the spring of 1945, with Germany's eventual surrender. The Canadians who had slogged their way through Italy from south to north since 1943 would not see victory there, participating instead in the liberation of the Netherlands, and the eventual invasion and defeat of Germany itself.
Total Canadian casualties in Italy were 408 officers and 4,991 non-commissioned men killed. A further 1,218 officers and 18,268 men were wounded and 62 officers and 942 men were captured. Another 365 died of other causes. Of the 92,757 Canadians who served in Italy, 26,254 became casualties there.
“There Is Only One Safe Place—That Is On the Objective”
At 6:30 am on December 14, a heavy Canadian artillery barrage began pounding the Germans. The Royal 22nd Regiment was ordered to launch an attack on a two-company front. Captain Paul Triquet’s Company C of the regiment was to lead the attack on the left, and Captain Ovila Garceau’s Company D of the regiment was to lead the attack on the right. Major Herschell Smith’s C Squadron of the Ontario Tanks, which had seven tanks, was to support Triquet, whose company was expected to experience greater resistance. At 7:10 am, the two companies advanced into the teeth of German machine-gun, mortar, and tank fire.
A Panzer Mark IV, which had been concealed behind a house, rolled into the open and blasted the Canadians. With Smith’s tanks mired in the mud, the Canadian infantry had to take immediate action to knock out the German tank. Sergeant J.P. Rousseau rushed forward and fired a PIAT antitank weapon at point-blank range. The round struck the Mark IV’s turret, and the turret exploded.
Smith finally caught up with Triquet after losing a Sherman to a German tank that subsequently was silenced. As they advanced, the Canadian tanks knocked out three more German tanks that were shelling Triquet’s company. The German tank crews also racked up their own kills, putting two more of Smith’s tanks out of action. But the surviving Canadian tanks knocked out three more German tanks.
“There are enemy in front of us, behind us, and on our flanks,” Triquet shouted to his men. “There is only one safe place—that is on the objective.” Triquet was down to 14 men, but it was enough to drive out the German paratroopers and capture Casa Berardi. After knocking out another German tank, Smith brought up his four remaining tanks and the small band of Canadians held onto their objective. By nightfall on December 14 the rest of the Royal 22nd Regiment arrived, strengthening Triquet’s hold on his objective. Triquet later received the Victoria Cross for his actions.
Other Canadian attacks that day made little headway. Vokes worked on another plan as it was crucial that help reach the Royal 22nd Regiment. On December 15, the Carleton and York Regiment was ordered to attempt another breakthrough of The Gully. The new attack failed.
Vokes decided on a more indirect attack on Cider. His three-stage plan was to have the 48th Highlanders attack north with the aim of cutting the Villa Grande road about 2,000 yards from Cider. The RCR was given the task of capturing Cider. After that objective was achieved, the 2nd Brigade would launch an attack designed to capture Ortona.
Operation Morning Glory, as the first phase of the attack was called, began at 8 am on December 18. Canadian artillery batteries lay down a creeping barrage that advanced 100 yards every five minutes. Twenty minutes after the opening barrage, the 48th Highlanders advanced behind the shell curtain. They were supported by Squadron B of the 12th Canadian Armoured Regiment. The advance went well and the Highlanders quickly silenced enemy resistance. By 10:30 am they had captured their objective.
See also main article on The Gully
See also main article on The Moro
The immediate goal of the 1st Division in December 1943 was to cross three rivers: The Feltrino, the Moro, and the Arielli. By December 10th, the Division was across the Moro after a difficult attempt to cross in three separate locations, and had managed to bridge it for vehicular traffic, but it found an equally troublesome obstacle in its way. The feature would come to be known only as "The Gully":
The enemy had chosen well. The Gully . bears, and needs, no other designation to distinguish it from a thousand other ravines which lay athwart the Canadians' path in Italy formed a complete tank obstacle, and German weapon-pits constructed in its steep bank were practically immune from damage by our shellfire, which fell harmlessly on the level ground to the front and rear. Experience was to show that the mortar was the only weapon with which the Canadian attackers could successfully reach into this narrow cleft. 2
The Gully was not the only challenging terrain in the region. A prime objective of the division was a crossroads code-named CIDER, at with the Orsogna-Ortona lateral connected with a secondary road from San Leonardo. The terrain in the area has been described as follows:
Two main routes lead to Ortona from the south. The most direct is the coastal Highway 16. Inland a secondary road via San Leonardo links with the Orsogna-Ortona lateral. Between the Moro and Ortona four 500 foot high east-west ridges intersect the approaches. The region is studded with hamlets, farms, olive groves and wire-laced vineyards interspersed with sunken farm roads and blind switches - a difficult place for a weekend hike let alone an advance into the teeth of a skilled and determined enemy. 3
On 10 December the 2nd Brigade was ordered to secure CIDER, but a battlegroup of tanks, infantry, artillery and machine-guns was driven back by heavy fire. The 90th Panzergrenadier Division, defeated on the Moro along the coast road, had redeployed into the gully, paralleling the Orsogna-Ortona lateral road.
Current Events December 7, 1943
Two Years of War (see two year timeline below)
The Portsmouth Herald
PORTSMOUTH, N. H., TUESDAY EVENING, DECEMBER 7, 1943
TURKEY MAY JOIN
FIGHT- HINT INONU
SEES TWO LEADERS
To Be in Parley
With FDR, Inonu
London, Dec. 7 (AP) —
The Berlin radio said today that President Ismet Inonu of Turkey had returned to Ankara from a conference at Cairo with President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill and that the Turkish cabinet would meet in a special session'
German spokesmen meanwhile told Swedish correspondents that "the Allies are exerting heavy pressure to force Turkey to join the war."
There has been no Allied confirmation of such a conference. Cairo dispatches yesterday stated that the
whereabouts of President Roosevelt had not been disclosed since he attended the three-power parley in
Iran, although it was revealed that Churchill had attended combined British-American military parleys in Cairo subsequent to the Teheran meeting.
Fight in Blizzard
Fighting in a howling blizzard that piled snow drifts in the central Ukraine, Russia's advancing armies battered the outer defenses of Znamenka and struck within six-mile artillery range of Smela in the Dnieper bend after severing the double track railroad between those junctions and by-passing Cherkasy.
Moreover, the Russians pressed with 23 miles of the stronghold of Kirovograd.
The British Eighth army pushed armor across the Moro river today on the approaches to the Adriatic port of Pescara. In western Italy, the American Fifth army advanced a mile in the Venafro area and captured several key heights guarding the road to Rome,
The Americans took a ' ridge southwest of virtually encircled Mignano and British troops yielded a height to a Nazi counterattack.
Steady pressure was maintained on the Adriatic front against German defenses from coastal Ortono, 11 miles below Pescara, through Orsogna and Guardiagrele. Heavy rains still plagued the Allied offensives.
Page TWO The Portsmouth New Hampshire Herald
Two Years of War
It is two years since Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor plunged America into
war. Out of those dark days of defeat which followed in the early months of
1942 we have emerged to take the offensive with our Allies on every battlefront.
around the world. Thanks to our fighting men—and our heroic dead—
who.have.carried.thebattle.to the enemy by land, by sea, and by air, our out.
look for victory,is bright and shining and our hopes for peace not far distant.
ON EVERY FRONT TODAY the outlook is desperately grim for the enemy and filled with promise of victory for America and her Allies. These maps show how the Axis h.as been gradually pushed back and territory regained in Allied offensives since Dec. 7, 1941. On the long road to Tokyo in the Pacific theater of war, we now hold all of the long-fought- for islands in the Solomons the important islands in the Gilbert group including Tarawa and Makin, Japan's "front door" defenses almost one-third of New Guinea, including what were once Japan's largest bases and Attu and Kiska in the Aleutians. Hitler's "Fortress Europe," shown in inset, is virtually encircled with the Allies striking death blows on all sides. Germany has lost all of her holdings in Africa and a part of the territory she conquered as a result of her war on Russia. Italy, her one-time ally, is now a battleground with the Allies slowly pushing forward from the entire southern half which they now hold. From England, wave after wave of American area' R. A, F. bombing planes are carrying out devastating and almost constant raids on industrial cities and enemy military installations. (International)
U. S. HIGHLIGHTS
OF WORLD WAR II
Dee. 7—Japan attacks Pearl Harbor
Dec. 8—U. S. declares war on Japan
Dec, 8-22-Battle of Wake Island
Dec. 11—U. S. declares war on Germany and Italy
Jan. 2—Manila falls .
Jan. 11—Japs invade Dutch East Indies
Jan. 26-First A, E. F. of World War 11 lands in Ireland
Jan. 28—Naval battle of Macassar Straits ends
Feb. 15—Singapore surrenders
Feb. 21—Battle of Java Sea
March 9—Java falls to Japs
March 12—Japs invade New Guinea
March 13—Japs invade Solomons
April 9—Bataan falls
April 18—U. S. flyers bomb Tokyo, Yokohama, Kobe, Nagoya
April 25—U. S. troops land in New Caledonia
May 6—Corregidor surrenders
May 10—Battle of Coral Sea ends
June 2—Japs bomb Dutch Harbor
Juna 4-5—Battle of Midway
June 7—Japs land on Kiska end Attu
July 4—U. S. bombers make their-first assault on western Euro:
Aug. 7—Marines invade Guadalcanal
Aug. IS—U. S. troops take part in Dieppe raid on French coast
Nov. 8—U. S. troops invade North Africa
Dec. 4—Buna, New Guinea,recaptured
March V2—Battle- of Bismarck-Sea
April 7—American and British-forces join-in Tunisia
April 21—President Roosevelt announces execution of Tokyo raiders
April 23-U. S. occupation of Funafuti in Ellice islands is announced
May 4—U. S. occupies Russell islands
May 7—U. S. occupies Amchitka, Adak Islands
May 11—U. S. troops open Attu battle
May 12—Tunisian campaign ends in Allied victory
May 30—Attu recaptured after bitter resistance
June 30—U. S. forces land on Rendova island
July 6—Naval battle of Kula gulf
July 10—Allies invade Sicily
Aug. 17—Sicily surrenders
Aug. 21-U. S. and Canadian-forces-occupy Kiska Japs flee island
Aug. 25—Japs flee New Georgia island
Aug. 30—U. S. troops occupy Arundel-island
Sept. 3—Allies invade Italy
Sept. 8—Italian surrender announced armistice signed Sept. 3
Sept. 11—Jap airdrome of Salamaua, New Guinea, captured
Sept. 16—Jap base at lae, New Guinea, captured
Oct. 1—Allies take Naples, open march on Rome
Oct. 6—U. S. troops occupy Kolombangara island
Oct. 13—Italy declares war on Germany
Oct. 26—U. S. troops occupy Treasury island
Nov. 1—U. S. troops invade Bougainville island
Nov. 21—Marines invade Makin and Tarawa in Gilbert islands
Nov. 22,000 R. A. F. bombers make heaviest raid of war on Berlin
Nov. 25—U. S. conquest of all the Gilbert islands announced