Articles

Battle of Ortona, 20-27 December 1943

Battle of Ortona, 20-27 December 1943


We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Battle of Ortona, 20-27 December 1943

The battle of Ortona (20-27 December 1943) saw the Canadians capture a key part of the Adriatic section of the Gustav Line in the first major urban battle of the Italian campaign, but by the time it ended the Eighth Army was in no condition to carry out further offensive operations.

At the start of December the Eighth Army attacked the German positions on the Moro River, and soon had a foothold across the river. However the advancing Canadians were then help up at ‘the Gully’, a ravine and ridgeline that ran inland from the coast just to the south of Ortona. The Canadians were held up at the Gully until 18 December, when they finally managed to outflank the right of the German position. The defence of the gully gave the Germans time to turn Ortona into a fortress, making it part of the Gustav Line, the main line of German defences across southern Italy. It was defended by part of the elite 1st Parachute Division, which had spent the week before the battle fortifying the town. They demolished houses to form massive barricades across the streets, and buried tanks up to their turrets in the rubble. Every street was guarded by gun positions, making movement in the open lethal to the infantry. The Paratroops also had a defensive position south of the town, between Berardi and the coast, but they were soon forced out of this after the start of the renewed Allied offensive on 18 December, and forced back into Ortona. Montgomery had hoped to use Ortona as a port, and so the town hadn’t been subjected to Allied air attack before the battle.

The town was attacked by the 1st Canadian Division. The first footholds were gained on 20 December, and the main attack began on 21 December, when the Edmontons and some tanks from the Three Rivers regiment advanced along a 500 yard wide front, attempting to advance down the main streets of the town. By 23 September the Seaforth battalion had also been committed to the battle.

The German plan was to funnel the Canadian infantry into a killing zone in the Piazza Municipale, but they didn’t fall for the trap. The Canadians soon developed a series of techniques for dealing with the defences. Most of Ortona was made up of built up blocks, where neighbouring houses shared walls. The Canadians would clear the first building in a block, move to the upper floor, and blow a hole through the wall into the next house, which they would then clear from top to bottom. They would repeat this ‘mouseholing’ technique until the entire block had been cleared. In order situations entire houses were demolished onto their defenders. Their tanks used the main routes into town, while the infantry stayed on minor routes and in the buildings.

On 24 December the town was subjected to a heavy artillery bombardment, but this just created more rubble to be defended. By 27 December the Canadians were threatening to cut off the defenders, and that night the surviving Germans withdrew to avoid being trapped. On the morning of 28 December the Canadians finally completed the conquest of Ortona, reaching the northern end of the town. The battle had cost them 650 casualties, and had given the Allies invaluable experience of urban warfare in Italy. By now the Eighth Army was exhausted. Its supply lines ran all the way back to Bari, and the winter weather threatened to ground its crucial air support. Montgomery realised that there was little chance of reaching his target of Pescara, and asked for permission to cancel the offensive. Alexander agreed, but ordered Montgomery to keep carrying out offensive patrols to prevent the Germans moving reinforcements from the Adriatic front to the Mignano front.


History: Dec 21, 1943, Canada and the bloody battle for Ortona

It was not supposed to be a major battle. In the end, it was one of the bloodiest battles in the Italian campaign.

In December of 1943, a small town, Ortona, became the scene of a bitter siege as both Canadians and Germans fought for the ancient seaport.

Lt. I. Macdonald (binoculars) and Canadians of the 48th Highlanders- at San Leonardo di Ortona, 10 December getting ready to advance through a breached wall during the deadly fighting leading into Ortona. A variety of weapons from the Bren LMG, to a Thompson submachine gun to the standard bolt action Lee Enfield. Tragically the man holding the Thompson would be killed a few days later fighting in Ortona itself © Library and Archives Canada PA-163411

It became known as Canada’s “little Stalingrad”, a reference to the desperate and bitter battle in that Russian city.

It was on December 21, 1943, the Canadians began their attack on the town.

The Germans had been putting up fierce resistance in retreat as the allies pushed slowly up the boot of Italy when in December the Canadians were ordered to cross the Moro River and move on to the town of Ortona. After heavy and bitter fighting up through the Moro valley, it was thought that the Germans would not put up a stiff defence in the town as it wasn’t of considerable strategic importance and the Germans would have a better defensive position across another river further outside the town.

For some reason Hitler ordered the town be held at all costs, and a battle hardened elite parachute division was sent in.

The Germans had ordered civilians out of the town and established all their firing sight lines and laid mines and booby traps throughout the town. The also collapsed some buildings to block streets preventing tanks from entering, directing them to other defended areas where they’d be victims of either sticky bombs dropped from upper floors, or anti-tank weapons.

What transpired was bitter house to house combat a deadly struggle for each blasted building, and each pile of rubble across each narrow winding street.

Dec. 23, 1943- A Canadian 15cwt CMP truck and a jeep burn after a hit by German mortars. The Germans had carefully established firing lines making the battle extremely fierce and deadly. Another Canadian designed vehicle- Universal carrier (aka bren carrier) is in the foreground © Public Archives Canada PA 170291

As it became impossible to safely fight in the streets, the Canadians developed a strategy called “mouse-holing”.

As one building was fought for, and cleared, the Canadians would blast a hole through the walls in the next building and fight to clear that one.

CBC newsman Matthew Halton in one report said, “It wasn’t hell. It was the courtyard of hell. It was a maelstrom of noise and hot, splitting steel…the rattling of machine guns never stops … wounded men refuse to leave, and the men don’t want to be relieved after seven days and seven nights… the battlefield is still an appalling thing to see, in its mud, ruin, dead, and its blight and desolation.

In one of Ortona’s more famous photos, the Seaforth Highlanders enjoy their Christmas dinner, in the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, Ortona, Italy, 25 December 1943. The dinner was made from foods scrounged, and troops were rotated away from the fighting just a couple of streets away, before being sent back to the fighting and then sent back to make room for others to enjoy a brief respite. For some, it would be their last meal. The battle resulted in a heavy death and casualty toll for the Canadians, the Germans, and for any townspeople who hadn’t left © Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National Defence -Library and Archives Canada PA-152839

The vicious fighting went on day and night for a week, the Germans giving up ground inch by inch and only after heavy casualties on both sides.

Finally on 28 December, the remaining Germans pulled out, and Ortona was taken by the Canadians. The cost was high with over 1,300 Canadians killed in “bloody December”. About one-quarter of all Canadian casualties of the Italian campaign occurred in this one month alone.

It is unfortunate that this most fierce of battles displaying amazing courage and stamina by the Canadian attackers, and it must be said, also by the Germans, is largely forgotten.


The Battle Of Ortona

of th'e Moro, leading the-8th'Army to the
further bank, where a new and still dangerous
task awaited them.
'The Germans are masters of trick and
treachery. It, is a commonplace with I
!them to feign defeat and then, when -a
generous

foe advances, to shoot him
down.

In this way a Canadian platoon
vvas wiped out. Every pass through the
¢nountains is .mined and, worse, by mines `
tivhieh are . non-metallic and cannot be .
detected' Every vantage point conceals a
triaehzne-gun nest or- a sniper. Cautiously
and courageously the Canadians have to
mnake their way through defiles and scale
the steeps, dealing with each hidden
enemy .in turn. But more and more of -

ae anrntntain fps axe coming into 'their. _
hands. They look down upon Ortona
and debouch upon the road to Guardia
grele, where, on more level surface, enemy
tanks strive in vain to drive them from
the bitterly won positions. The opposition
the First Division faces is said to be
the sternest yet encountered. .
The - determination of the Germans
testifies to the importance given by the
- enemy to the- holding of the Italian line.
The advantages are with the Hitlerites,
but the Allies continue their steady
pressure, slow - defeat to the enemy as
slow paralysis creeps over the cities of
the Reich. The thing of evil is dying. by
inches, and in its destruction Canadians
have a noble part, in the air aver Europe,
and among the mountains, and rivers of
Italy.
The success of th.e 8th Army's
present thrust depends upon the capture

of Ortona, and the Canadians will not
fail. Dominion regiments are adding
lustre to names already bright with
triumphs won in the, face, of death. Well
may General Sir Bernard L. Montgomery,
commander of the British 8th Army,
say, "There - is no need to ask how the
Canadians are fighting, because they
always fight well." Hamiltonians will'be
proud that soldiers fxom their city are
taking part in the present glorious engagement


Local History & Genealogy

Some Canadians and Torontonians are familiar with the Battle of Ortona that took place in southern Italy in late 1943. Brendan Kennedy, writing in the Toronto Star on December 17, 2018, provided a crucial link between Toronto and that battle by interviewing three Canadian veterans (who had a connection to Ortona) on December 16, 2018 at Sunnybrook Hospital: Donald Stewart (94 years old) A.E. “Al” Stapleton (99 years old) and, Ed Stafford (97 years old). The three veterans had been stationed at the Canadian headquarters and were not directly involved in the heavy fighting that took place. Al Stapleton aptly made the comment: “Which is, of course, one of the reasons why I’m still here.”

In another connection to Toronto and as a thank you to Canadian soldiers, the Italian-Canadian community commissioned the creation of a three dimensional bronze monument by Canadian artist Ken Lum through the auspices of the Peace Through Valour committee. This monument depicts a 7-foot by 7-foot topographical map of Ortona showing the aftermath of the fierce fighting there with ruins and destruction everywhere. The monument is located at the northwest corner of Nathan Phillips Square’s Sculpture Court. At the June 2016 unveiling of the monument, retired Sergeant Herb Pike, who fought in Ortona with the 48 th Highlanders of Canada, thanked the Italian people for welcoming Canadian troops at the time.

Infantry of the Edmonton Regiment supported by Sherman tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, Ortona, Italy. December 23, 1943.

On December 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Battle of Ortona that occurred from December 20-28, 1943 on the Adriatic front in Italy between troops of the 1st Canadian Division under the command of Major-General Christopher Vokes and paratroops (Fallschirmjäger) of the German 1st Parachute Division under Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich. This battle, which resulted in a victory for Canadian troops, has been compared to the larger-scale Battle of Stalingrad by being referred to as “Little Stalingrad” or the “Italian Stalingrad” due to similar close combat fighting amidst destroyed buildings and rubble.

The initial Canadian attack on the occupied seaside town of Ortona began on December 20, 1943 with the Canadian 2nd Brigade’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) and a portion of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. They faced German paratroops who had received orders to defend Ortona at any cost. The 3rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division had engaged in a northerly thrust to the west of Ortona in an attempt to outflank the German troops and cut off communications but faced stiff resistance from the German defenders as well as challenges from the difficult topography in the area.

In Ortona, German forces concealed machine gun and anti-tank emplacements throughout the town to deter rapid movement by Canadian tanks and troops. For their part, Canadian troops employed a new technique called “mouseholing” that now has become a mainstay in urban warfare situations.  Canadian troops would improvise with No. 75 Hawkins Grenades, an example of pressure detonated anti-tank mines, by attaching them to wooden sticks secured together with tape, and rigged with primacord and safety fuses. Often, four or five of these weapons could be detonated simultaneously, resulting in holes in building walls through which soldiers could easily pass. The Canadians fought house-by-house, often fighting for control from the top floor downwards.

Photo: Members of the Seaforth Highlanders sit down for their Christmas dinner.
Photo Credit: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-152839

On December 25, 1943, Canadian troops “celebrated” Christmas in Ortona. Soldiers of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada went in shifts to the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli (that was several blocks away from the fighting) for Christmas dinner. However, the fighting beckoned and many of these soldiers were killed. The following day, December 26, 1943, demonstrated a ferocious nature to the fighting: German paratroops destroyed a house containing a Canadian platoon, killing 23 soldiers and burying 1 soldier alive for three days Canadian troops retaliated by destroying a house with up to 50 German soldiers inside. By December 27, 1943, German forces were trapped in between the destroyed San Tommaso cathedral and a castle. Heavy artillery fire and naval gunfire off the coast helped to diminish the German paratroops’ resistance. The German battalion commander was ordered to save his remaining troops. The Canadians had warned German troops and the civilian population that carpet bombing of Ortona was scheduled for the morning of December 28, 1943. German forces withdrew from Ortona on the evening of December 27, 1943 to the north and Canadian troops entered the town the following morning.

Related Materials

Toronto Public Library owns several books that discuss the Battle of Ortona.

View Canada’s World War Two battlefields in Italy through three-dimensional satellite maps that clearly delineated populated towns and the local topographic features.

Historian Mark Zuelhke filled a gap in Canada’s war history by producing a detailed, gripping account of the Battle of Ortona told from the soldier’s point of view and the important role that Canadian troops played in dislodging experienced German paratroopers from the town of Ortona, albeit at a high cost of 2,339 Canadian soldiers wounded or killed. Follow the efforts of infantry soldiers of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada with the support of tankers from the Three Rivers Regiment as they engaged in harsh house-to-house combat with German paratroops amongst heavy shelling.

Also available in eBook format.  

Documentaries

Volume 2 of the Canada at War series produced by Donald Brittain, Peter Jones, and Stanley Clish included 4 episodes from the 13-part series, viz.: 5. Ebbtide -- 6. Turn of the tide -- 7. Road to Ortona -- 8. New directions.

Join (recently deceased) war veteran and War Amps spokesperson Cliff Chadderton as he discussed the challenges faced by the Canadian Army in Italy and Sicily during the Second World War and the clever techniques that Canadian troops developed to fight experienced troops on the opposing side within the context of harsh terrain.  

Map: The Battle for Ortona (Small) and the Adriatic Sector. Nov. 28, 1943-Jan. 4, 1944. – Source: Map 11 – The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945 by Gerald W. L. Nicholson –  Available as a PDF. 

Credit:  Department of National Defence

Comments

Some Canadians and Torontonians are familiar with the Battle of Ortona that took place in southern Italy in late 1943. Brendan Kennedy, writing in the Toronto Star on December 17, 2018, provided a crucial link between Toronto and that battle by interviewing three Canadian veterans (who had a connection to Ortona) on December 16, 2018 at Sunnybrook Hospital: Donald Stewart (94 years old) A.E. “Al” Stapleton (99 years old) and, Ed Stafford (97 years old). The three veterans had been stationed at the Canadian headquarters and were not directly involved in the heavy fighting that took place. Al Stapleton aptly made the comment: “Which is, of course, one of the reasons why I’m still here.”

In another connection to Toronto and as a thank you to Canadian soldiers, the Italian-Canadian community commissioned the creation of a three dimensional bronze monument by Canadian artist Ken Lum through the auspices of the Peace Through Valour committee. This monument depicts a 7-foot by 7-foot topographical map of Ortona showing the aftermath of the fierce fighting there with ruins and destruction everywhere. The monument is located at the northwest corner of Nathan Phillips Square’s Sculpture Court. At the June 2016 unveiling of the monument, retired Sergeant Herb Pike, who fought in Ortona with the 48 th Highlanders of Canada, thanked the Italian people for welcoming Canadian troops at the time.

Infantry of the Edmonton Regiment supported by Sherman tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, Ortona, Italy. December 23, 1943.

On December 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Battle of Ortona that occurred from December 20-28, 1943 on the Adriatic front in Italy between troops of the 1st Canadian Division under the command of Major-General Christopher Vokes and paratroops (Fallschirmjäger) of the German 1st Parachute Division under Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich. This battle, which resulted in a victory for Canadian troops, has been compared to the larger-scale Battle of Stalingrad by being referred to as “Little Stalingrad” or the “Italian Stalingrad” due to similar close combat fighting amidst destroyed buildings and rubble.

The initial Canadian attack on the occupied seaside town of Ortona began on December 20, 1943 with the Canadian 2nd Brigade’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) and a portion of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. They faced German paratroops who had received orders to defend Ortona at any cost. The 3rd Infantry Brigade of the 1st Canadian Division had engaged in a northerly thrust to the west of Ortona in an attempt to outflank the German troops and cut off communications but faced stiff resistance from the German defenders as well as challenges from the difficult topography in the area.

In Ortona, German forces concealed machine gun and anti-tank emplacements throughout the town to deter rapid movement by Canadian tanks and troops. For their part, Canadian troops employed a new technique called “mouseholing” that now has become a mainstay in urban warfare situations.  Canadian troops would improvise with No. 75 Hawkins Grenades, an example of pressure detonated anti-tank mines, by attaching them to wooden sticks secured together with tape, and rigged with primacord and safety fuses. Often, four or five of these weapons could be detonated simultaneously, resulting in holes in building walls through which soldiers could easily pass. The Canadians fought house-by-house, often fighting for control from the top floor downwards.

Photo: Members of the Seaforth Highlanders sit down for their Christmas dinner.
Photo Credit: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-152839

On December 25, 1943, Canadian troops “celebrated” Christmas in Ortona. Soldiers of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada went in shifts to the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli (that was several blocks away from the fighting) for Christmas dinner. However, the fighting beckoned and many of these soldiers were killed. The following day, December 26, 1943, demonstrated a ferocious nature to the fighting: German paratroops destroyed a house containing a Canadian platoon, killing 23 soldiers and burying 1 soldier alive for three days Canadian troops retaliated by destroying a house with up to 50 German soldiers inside. By December 27, 1943, German forces were trapped in between the destroyed San Tommaso cathedral and a castle. Heavy artillery fire and naval gunfire off the coast helped to diminish the German paratroops’ resistance. The German battalion commander was ordered to save his remaining troops. The Canadians had warned German troops and the civilian population that carpet bombing of Ortona was scheduled for the morning of December 28, 1943. German forces withdrew from Ortona on the evening of December 27, 1943 to the north and Canadian troops entered the town the following morning.

Related Materials

Toronto Public Library owns several books that discuss the Battle of Ortona.

View Canada’s World War Two battlefields in Italy through three-dimensional satellite maps that clearly delineated populated towns and the local topographic features.

Historian Mark Zuelhke filled a gap in Canada’s war history by producing a detailed, gripping account of the Battle of Ortona told from the soldier’s point of view and the important role that Canadian troops played in dislodging experienced German paratroopers from the town of Ortona, albeit at a high cost of 2,339 Canadian soldiers wounded or killed. Follow the efforts of infantry soldiers of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada with the support of tankers from the Three Rivers Regiment as they engaged in harsh house-to-house combat with German paratroops amongst heavy shelling.

Also available in eBook format.  

Documentaries

Volume 2 of the Canada at War series produced by Donald Brittain, Peter Jones, and Stanley Clish included 4 episodes from the 13-part series, viz.: 5. Ebbtide -- 6. Turn of the tide -- 7. Road to Ortona -- 8. New directions.

Join (recently deceased) war veteran and War Amps spokesperson Cliff Chadderton as he discussed the challenges faced by the Canadian Army in Italy and Sicily during the Second World War and the clever techniques that Canadian troops developed to fight experienced troops on the opposing side within the context of harsh terrain.  

Map: The Battle for Ortona (Small) and the Adriatic Sector. Nov. 28, 1943-Jan. 4, 1944. – Source: Map 11 – The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945 by Gerald W. L. Nicholson –  Available as a PDF. 

Credit:  Department of National Defence


The 78th infantry Division (also known as the Battleaxe division )was British, the 2nd New Zealand Division (see Battle of Casino) was the only NZ division to serve in North Africa & Italy.
I enjoy your podcast.

Ah shoot! Thanks for pointing that out. I will make sure to amend this in one of our instagram/Facebook posts coming up. Thanks for listening and hope you continue to enjoy CCH!

Thanks, Dave. What a horrible carnage for both sides to have suffered through. Unfortunately the Germans thought it necessary to prop up the failing Italian Fascists and a lot of Canadians died because of that decision. Back in 2000 we attended a wedding of a friend in Isola del Liri and stayed in Sora. After the weeding we drove up the Adriatic coast and passed through Ortona but I was totally ignorant of the pivotal battle fought there. Such a sad but important battle. By the way, I saw an interview with Harry Rankin (who I believe was a Vancouver City Councillor at the time) of the Seaforth Highlanders in which he mentioned the horrors he had experienced as a raw recruit.


Snapshots in History: December 20: Remembering Canada at the Battle of Ortona

(Credits: CBC Digital Archives - Return to Ortona Medium: Television Program: The National Broadcast Date: Feb. 1, 1999 Guest: Ted Griffiths, Samuel Lanko, John Matteson, Mel McFie, Bill Warton Host: Peter Mansbridge Reporter: David Halton Duration: 25:49)

(Credit: Infantry of the Edmonton Regiment supported by Sherman tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, Ortona, Italy. December 23, 1943. Photo: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National
Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-114030)

On December 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Battle of Ortona that occurred from December 20-28, 1943 on the Adriatic front in Italy between troops of the 1 st Canadian Division under the command of Major-General Christopher Vokes and paratroops (Fallschirmjäger) of the German 1 st Parachute Division under Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich. This battle, which resulted in a victory for Canadian troops, has been compared to the larger-scale Battle of Stalingrad by being referred to as “Little Stalingrad” or the “Italian Stalingrad” due to similar close combat fighting amidst destroyed buildings and rubble.

The initial Canadian attack on the occupied seaside town of Ortona began on December 20, 1943 with the Canadian 2 nd Brigade’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) and a portion of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. They faced German paratroops who had received orders to defend Ortona at any cost. The 3 rd Infantry Brigade of the 1 st Canadian Division had engaged in a northerly thrust to the west of Ortona in an attempt to outflank the German troops and cut off communications but faced stiff resistance from the German defenders as well as challenges from the difficult topography in the area.

In Ortona, German forces concealed machine gun and anti-tank emplacements throughout the town to deter rapid movement by Canadian tanks and troops. For their part, Canadian troops employed a new technique called “mouseholing” that now has become a mainstay in urban warfare situations.  Canadian troops would improvise with No. 75 Hawkins Grenades, an example of pressure detonated anti-tank mines, by attaching them to wooden sticks secured together with tape, and rigged with primacord and safety fuses. Often, four or five of these weapons could be detonated simultaneously, resulting in holes in building walls through which soldiers could easily pass. The Canadians fought house-by-house, often fighting for control from the top floor downwards.

(Credit: Members of the Seaforth Highlanders sit down for their Christmas dinner.
Photo: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-152839)

On December 25, 1943, Canadian troops “celebrated” Christmas in Ortona. Soldiers of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada went in shifts to the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli (that was several blocks away from the fighting) for Christmas dinner. However, the fighting beckoned and many of these soldiers were killed. The following day, December 26, 1943, demonstrated a ferocious nature to the fighting: German paratroops destroyed a house containing a Canadian platoon, killing 23 soldiers and burying 1 soldier alive for three days Canadian troops retaliated by destroying a house with up to 50 German soldiers inside. By December 27, 1943, German forces were trapped in between the destroyed San Tommaso cathedral and a castle. Heavy artillery fire and naval gunfire off the coast helped to diminish the German paratroops’ resistance. The German battalion commander was ordered to save his remaining troops. The Canadians had warned German troops and the civilian population that carpet bombing of Ortona was scheduled for the morning of December 28, 1943. German forces withdrew from Ortona on the evening of December 27, 1943 to the north and Canadian troops entered the town the following morning.

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

View Canada’s World War Two battlefields in Italy through three-dimensional satellite maps that clearly delineated populated towns and the local topographic features.

Ortona: Canada's epic World War II battle / Mark Zuelhke, 1999. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 ZUE

Historian Mark Zuelhke filled a gap in Canada’s war history by producing a detailed, gripping account of the Battle of Ortona told from the soldier’s point of view and the important role that Canadian troops played in dislodging experienced German paratroopers from the town of Ortona, albeit at a high cost of 2,339 Canadian soldiers wounded or killed. Follow the efforts of infantry soldiers of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada with the support of tankers from the Three Rivers Regiment as they engaged in harsh house-to-house combat with German paratroops amongst heavy shelling.

Also available in eBook format.  

Ortona street fight [Rapid Reads] / Mark Zuelhke, 2011. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 ZUE

Historian Mark Zuelhke also penned this “Rapid reads” title that is suitable for ages 13 and up (Grade 8 reading level and above) on the Battle of Ortona in December 1943 that is realistic and readable. Eight pages of photographs are included. No bibliography is included so the intent is to support recreational rather than research or scholastic-based reading. (Those readers interested in a more in-depth account of the Battle of Ortona should stick with Zuelhke’s 1999 book.)

Want to watch documentaries that deal with Canada’s contribution at the Battle of Ortona? Try the following DVDs for loan from Toronto Public Library collections:

Canada at war. Volume 2 [1 videodisc] / Donald Brittain et al. National Film Board of Canada, 2000. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.5371 CAN V. 2 (Includes: 7. Road to Ortona)

Volume 2 of the Canada at War series produced by Donald Brittain, Peter Jones, and Stanley Clish included 4 episodes from the 13-part series, viz.: 5. Ebbtide -- 6. Turn of the tide -- 7. Road to Ortona -- 8. New directions.

A war of their own the Canadians in Sicily and Italy [2 videodiscs] / H. Clifford Chadderton War Amps (War Amputations of Canada), 2000. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 WAR DISC 1-2 (Includes: pt. I. Sicily to Ortona -- pt. II. The D-Day dodgers.)

Join (recently deceased) war veteran and War Amps spokesperson Cliff Chadderton as he discussed the challenges faced by the Canadian Army in Italy and Sicily during the Second World War and the clever techniques that Canadian troops developed to fight experienced troops on the opposing side within the context of harsh terrain.  

(URL: http://www.canadaatwar.ca/maps/adriatic_sector_ww2.jpg - Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence – Map: The Battle for Ortona (Small) and the Adriatic Sector. Nov. 28, 1943-Jan. 4, 1944. – See URL: http://www.canadaatwar.ca/page44.html )

Comments

 

(Credit: Battle of Ortona - Canadian Army Newsreel)

(Credits: CBC Digital Archives - Return to Ortona Medium: Television Program: The National Broadcast Date: Feb. 1, 1999 Guest: Ted Griffiths, Samuel Lanko, John Matteson, Mel McFie, Bill Warton Host: Peter Mansbridge Reporter: David Halton Duration: 25:49)

(Credit: Infantry of the Edmonton Regiment supported by Sherman tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, Ortona, Italy. December 23, 1943. Photo: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National
Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-114030)

On December 20 and beyond, take a moment to remember the Battle of Ortona that occurred from December 20-28, 1943 on the Adriatic front in Italy between troops of the 1 st Canadian Division under the command of Major-General Christopher Vokes and paratroops (Fallschirmjäger) of the German 1 st Parachute Division under Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich. This battle, which resulted in a victory for Canadian troops, has been compared to the larger-scale Battle of Stalingrad by being referred to as “Little Stalingrad” or the “Italian Stalingrad” due to similar close combat fighting amidst destroyed buildings and rubble.

The initial Canadian attack on the occupied seaside town of Ortona began on December 20, 1943 with the Canadian 2 nd Brigade’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment (4th Battalion, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry) and a portion of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada. They faced German paratroops who had received orders to defend Ortona at any cost. The 3 rd Infantry Brigade of the 1 st Canadian Division had engaged in a northerly thrust to the west of Ortona in an attempt to outflank the German troops and cut off communications but faced stiff resistance from the German defenders as well as challenges from the difficult topography in the area.

In Ortona, German forces concealed machine gun and anti-tank emplacements throughout the town to deter rapid movement by Canadian tanks and troops. For their part, Canadian troops employed a new technique called “mouseholing” that now has become a mainstay in urban warfare situations.  Canadian troops would improvise with No. 75 Hawkins Grenades, an example of pressure detonated anti-tank mines, by attaching them to wooden sticks secured together with tape, and rigged with primacord and safety fuses. Often, four or five of these weapons could be detonated simultaneously, resulting in holes in building walls through which soldiers could easily pass. The Canadians fought house-by-house, often fighting for control from the top floor downwards.

(Credit: Members of the Seaforth Highlanders sit down for their Christmas dinner.
Photo: Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-152839)

On December 25, 1943, Canadian troops “celebrated” Christmas in Ortona. Soldiers of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada went in shifts to the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli (that was several blocks away from the fighting) for Christmas dinner. However, the fighting beckoned and many of these soldiers were killed. The following day, December 26, 1943, demonstrated a ferocious nature to the fighting: German paratroops destroyed a house containing a Canadian platoon, killing 23 soldiers and burying 1 soldier alive for three days Canadian troops retaliated by destroying a house with up to 50 German soldiers inside. By December 27, 1943, German forces were trapped in between the destroyed San Tommaso cathedral and a castle. Heavy artillery fire and naval gunfire off the coast helped to diminish the German paratroops’ resistance. The German battalion commander was ordered to save his remaining troops. The Canadians had warned German troops and the civilian population that carpet bombing of Ortona was scheduled for the morning of December 28, 1943. German forces withdrew from Ortona on the evening of December 27, 1943 to the north and Canadian troops entered the town the following morning.

Consider the following titles for borrowing from Toronto Public Library collections:

View Canada’s World War Two battlefields in Italy through three-dimensional satellite maps that clearly delineated populated towns and the local topographic features.

Ortona: Canada's epic World War II battle / Mark Zuelhke, 1999. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 ZUE

Historian Mark Zuelhke filled a gap in Canada’s war history by producing a detailed, gripping account of the Battle of Ortona told from the soldier’s point of view and the important role that Canadian troops played in dislodging experienced German paratroopers from the town of Ortona, albeit at a high cost of 2,339 Canadian soldiers wounded or killed. Follow the efforts of infantry soldiers of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada with the support of tankers from the Three Rivers Regiment as they engaged in harsh house-to-house combat with German paratroops amongst heavy shelling.

Also available in eBook format.  

Ortona street fight [Rapid Reads] / Mark Zuelhke, 2011. Book. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 ZUE

Historian Mark Zuelhke also penned this “Rapid reads” title that is suitable for ages 13 and up (Grade 8 reading level and above) on the Battle of Ortona in December 1943 that is realistic and readable. Eight pages of photographs are included. No bibliography is included so the intent is to support recreational rather than research or scholastic-based reading. (Those readers interested in a more in-depth account of the Battle of Ortona should stick with Zuelhke’s 1999 book.)

Want to watch documentaries that deal with Canada’s contribution at the Battle of Ortona? Try the following DVDs for loan from Toronto Public Library collections:

Canada at war. Volume 2 [1 videodisc] / Donald Brittain et al. National Film Board of Canada, 2000. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.5371 CAN V. 2 (Includes: 7. Road to Ortona)

Volume 2 of the Canada at War series produced by Donald Brittain, Peter Jones, and Stanley Clish included 4 episodes from the 13-part series, viz.: 5. Ebbtide -- 6. Turn of the tide -- 7. Road to Ortona -- 8. New directions.

A war of their own the Canadians in Sicily and Italy [2 videodiscs] / H. Clifford Chadderton War Amps (War Amputations of Canada), 2000. DVD. Documentary. Adult Non-Fiction. 940.54215 WAR DISC 1-2 (Includes: pt. I. Sicily to Ortona -- pt. II. The D-Day dodgers.)

Join (recently deceased) war veteran and War Amps spokesperson Cliff Chadderton as he discussed the challenges faced by the Canadian Army in Italy and Sicily during the Second World War and the clever techniques that Canadian troops developed to fight experienced troops on the opposing side within the context of harsh terrain.  

(URL: http://www.canadaatwar.ca/maps/adriatic_sector_ww2.jpg - Credit: Canada. Department of National Defence – Map: The Battle for Ortona (Small) and the Adriatic Sector. Nov. 28, 1943-Jan. 4, 1944. – See URL: http://www.canadaatwar.ca/page44.html )

The Albert Campbell District Blog is an online resource and place where you can access information related to the Albert Campbell, Eglinton Square, McGregor Park, and Kennedy Eglinton branches. It will feature reading recommendations, information on new titles and resources in the branches, special events and programs, as well as other information of interest to you. We encourage you to make this blog an interactive space by replying and commenting on posts and by subscribing to the RSS feature which allows you to receive blog updates without having to search for them.


Christmas in Ortona

By December of 1943, the Allies had reached the historic seaport of Ortona on Italy's Adriatic coast. The town was held by Hitler's elite paratroopers, whom he had personally ordered to defend it at all costs. The Canadian troops were mostly young volunteers in their twenties who revelled in liberating town after town as they quickly advanced up the eastern side of Italy. The Canadian troops met the Germans at the Moro River, less than seven kilometres away from Ortona. It was hoped there would be a day or so of fighting. Instead, the Canadians fought their way into the town for eight bloody days.

The battle of Ortona began on December 20. That December was the wettest on record. The Moro River had risen more than eight feet and the surrounding fields became seas of mud that clung to soldiers as they tried to advance against sniper fire, mortar, artillery and tanks. The Germans counterattacked repeatedly and often the fighting was hand-to-hand as the Canadians edged forward to Ortona. What the Canadians didn't know is that they were about to crash into a German defence line that the Germans called their “winter liene,” or winter line.

The streets of Ortona were narrow and lined with stone houses. The Germans had blocked off the side streets thus forcing the Canadians onto the only street wide enough for tanks, a highway running through the center of Ortona. Buildings had been blown up, creating piles of rubble which acted as road blocks for the tanks. It was a trap. As Canadian Sherman tanks proceeded down the streets, they were blown up. A tangle of land mines and booby traps were placed in the rubble, and snipers and machine gunners were positioned at strategic locations throughout the town. It was a battle for every single building on every street, for every block in every corner of the town.

The enemy used every trick and every weapon. Heavy artillery was placed in the ruins of buildings to provide cover for the German infantrymen. Basements were packed with explosives which could be remotely detonated by German engineers. The Germans blew up a building packed with Canadians and the only surviving Loyal Edmonton Regiment soldier was pulled from the building three days later.

Details

Infantry of the Edmonton Regiment supported by Sherman tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, Ortona, Italy. December 23, 1943.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-114030

The streets were killing zones. To protect themselves from sniper fire, the Canadians utilized a technique called “mouseholing” with great success. A demolition charge was moulded out of plastic explosive. The charge was placed against the interior wall of a house and soldiers would blast a hole through the wall, enabling them to advance through the adjoining buildings without being exposed on the street. The Canadians used mouseholing to attack house to house, clearing the enemy one room at a time. Sometimes, they cleared entire blocks without ever setting foot in the streets. The technique, which was so successful at Ortona, is still employed today in urban warfare.

Details

Members of the Seaforth Highlanders sit down for their Christmas dinner.
Photo: Library and Archives Canada PA-152839

On December 25, 1943, it was Christmas in Ortona. In a bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, members of the Seaforth Highlanders gathered in shifts for a Christmas dinner a few blocks from the fighting. They had scrounged the essentials for this special meal—table cloths, chinaware, beer, wine, roast pork, applesauce, cauliflower, mashed potatoes, gravy, chocolate, oranges, nuts, and cigarettes. An organist played “Silent Night” and for a few moments there was a semblance of normality as the soldiers were able to sing these words amongst the raging war. But they had to return to the fighting. For some, it would be their last meal.

The Germans withdrew two days after Christmas. The Canadians achieved their objective, but at great cost. Ortona had been liberated, ending the month that would go down in history as "Bloody December.” It was the bloodiest month of war in the Italian Campaign with 213 Canadians dead during that Christmas week alone. The Canadians paid a terrible price during that Christmas in hell. The losses suffered by the Canadians at Ortona were nearly one quarter of their total casualties in the entire Italian Campaign.


The Battle Of Ortona

The battle of Ortona is legendary in Canada’s military’s history it was one of Canada’s greatest victories during World War II. A total of 1375 men were killed and 964 were injured, of those 1375 men, 650 were Canadians. For Canadian’s the battle was the bloodiest battle of the Italian campaign with numerous causalities in just a short amount of time.

Canada’s role in the battle of Ortona was to take control over the town from Germany so that we could advance towards the coastline. Canadians made a long trek crossing rivers and ridgelines until they made it to Ortona to lead the attack. We fought in a short but brutal battle that lasted through Christmas in the freezing temperatures. The battle took place in the streets where all occupants evacuated , Germany and Canada would then lure each other into buildings and bomb each other. The battle was extremely tough so Canada developed a technique called mouse holing. Mouse holing was when soldiers would create access to rooms by blasting through a wall, by doing this Canadians were able to avoid Germans in the open streets and weren’t easily targeted by snipers and machine guns. If Canada hadn’t used the technique we wouldn’t have been as successful in the battle as we were.

The battle was one of Canada’s well-known battles because of its horrors and because of the nature of it. This battle built a strong reputation for Canada and proved the courage of our soldiers to our allies. Without Canada’s help overtaking Ortona, Germany would have been in control and the battle wouldn’t have gone down in Canada’s military’s history.


The Battle of Ortona – When 2,600 Canadian Men Were Sacrificed for a General’s Pride

In December 1943, a group of largely untested Canadians went up against German forces in the Italian town of Ortona. The result was a bloodbath so intense that the media called it the “Italian Stalingrad.” Sadly, it could have been either avoided or mitigated had two Allied generals just cooperated with more good will.

On 10 July 1943, the Canadian 1 st Infantry Division (under Major General Chris Vokes) were headed for Sicily. A volunteer group, none had seen combat, yet they were about to land on Axis territory. They were there as part of Operation Husky – an attack on Italy which began on the evening of July 9.

The Americans (under General George Smith Patton, Jr.) were to land on the west, the British (under Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery) to the east, and the Canadians (who were also under Montgomery) in the middle. It didn’t turn out well.

German U-boats sank three Canadian ships, killing 60 men. With those ships went 500 vehicles, including several ambulances and 40 cannons. As they attacked the island, however, their luck changed as the landing site was only lightly defended. The Italians troops position there had no stomach for the war, and allowed the Canadians to take over 500 of them as Prisoners of War.

Troops of the British 51st Highland Division on the shores of Sicily on 10 July 1943.

They were greeted as liberators in the nearest towns, lulling them into a false sense of security. It wouldn’t last. Hitler had ordered Italy to be held at all costs. Worse, the rivalry between the Americans and the British had begun.

Patton and Montgomery hated each other and were in a competition to reach Messina first. Located on the northern tip of Sicily, it was the gateway to the Italian mainland. Patton got there first, infuriating Montgomery, but it was the Canadians who would pay the price.

General George Smith Patton, Jr.

In Rome, the government was in a full-blown panic. The Allies had been bombing the Italian mainland, including Rome, causing shortages of food and material. Fed up, they ousted and imprisoned Mussolini on July 25. Then they began negotiating with the Allies as the latter took Messina in early September, crossed the Strait of Messina, and landed at Reggio on the mainland. On September 8, the government surrendered, then fled as Hitler ordered Rome taken.

The Germans held their line to the south of Rome, from Cassino to the southwest, to Ortona to the northeast. But instead of joining the American attack on Cassino (which was closer to Rome), Montgomery headed for Ortona. From there, he planned to head west to reach Rome before Patton.

Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery.

What he failed to consider were the heavy rains. Tanks and heavy equipment were bogged down in the thick mud, delaying the British troops. This forced the Canadian regiment to lead the attack across the Moro River. They reached it at midnight on December 5, where they were picked off by elite German troops of the 1 st parachute division – men who had seen combat in Africa.

Ortona was just across the river, but the Canadians first had to cross vineyards strung with barbed wire. Dotted throughout were stone farm houses from which the Germans picked them off. It took the Canadians three days and heavy losses to cross the Moro, but worse was to come.

Area of the Sangro and Moro Campaigns, Italy November and December 1943. Kirrages – CC BY-SA 3.0

Between the river and Ortona was a ravine some 200 yards deep and 200 yards wide, which they called the “gully.” On the other side were more German troops. To cross would be suicide, but Montgomery didn’t care. After three days and even more losses, they made no headway.

On December 11, the Royal 22 nd Regiment and a battalion of the Armored Regiment targeted Casa Berardi – a large 3-story farmhouse near the gully’s end and close to the main road leading to Ortona.

A Canadian sniper takes aim in Ortona.

As they neared the house, however, they were met by a panzer division. Using smoke for cover, they managed to take the Germans out with anti-tank weapons. Captain Paul Triquet’s C Company took Berardi on the afternoon of December 14, but they were so decimated, they could go no further. Of the 35 to 40 who began the attack, only 17 were left.

Vokes wanted a new strategy, but Montgomery refused, since he considered the Canadians expendable. He ordered four rifle companies with 320 men to take the crossroads north of the gully. They secured it on December 18, but at a cost of 162 dead.

A Canadian rifleman taking aim in Ortona.

Montgomery believed that the Germans would finally retreat. What he didn’t know was that they were ordering all of the residents to leave. Then they began destroying buildings to block tanks and funnel the Canadians into streets they had secured.

Masters of mines, explosives, tripwires, and booby traps, they made the Canadians pay for every door they opened, every threshold they crossed, and even furniture and bricks they picked up. Since the buildings of Ortona shared walls, the Canadians developed a technique called “mouse-holing” to deal with fighting at such close quarters. They’d blast holes in walls, then fire at Germans on the other side.

On December 28, stunned Canadians walk through a silent Ortona.

By December 24, there was still no lull in the fighting, so the media called Ortona the “Little Stalingrad.” On Christmas day, both sides fought in shifts so that some could enjoy mass and a meal before diving back into battle. German media also focused on the event, so Ortona became a matter of prestige.

On December 27, 24 men of the Edmonton Regiment were lured into a building which was detonated. Only 4 survived. In retaliation, they shelled a building housing 40 or 50 Germans. Some suggested pulling out, but Vokes felt that far too many Canadians had died, so he ordered the fighting to continue.

Ortona Cemetery. Ra Boe – CC BY-SA 2.5

Although Hitler gave the order to hold Ortona at all costs, the Germans had had enough. Late that night, they began retreating in small, orderly groups. The following morning, the Canadians were met with silence. It took them a while to realize that the Germans had left.

By then some 2,600 Canadians and over 800 Germans had lost their lives. While most of the residents had obeyed the evacuation order, about 1,300 chose to stay and paid with their lives.

On 25 December 1998, German and Canadian survivors of the battle reunited at Ortona to bury the past and forgive what could not be forgotten.


This Day in History: December 28, 1943 by Simonov

On December 28, 1943, the Battle of Ortona ends in an Allied victory. The battle saw troops of the Canadian 1st Infantry Division facing off against paratroopers of the German 1. Fallschirm-Jäger-Division. Beginning on December 20, the Battle of Ortona quickly developed into fierce urban combat as both sides fought for control of the Italian port city. The Canadian troops began utilizing the tactic of mouse-holing in order to continue their advance without having to constantly expose themselves to enemy fire out on the streets. This tactic entailed blasting a hole in the walls between two adjoining buildings through the use of explosives, such as Teller mines or the PIAT anti-tank launcher. The soldiers would then advance through the whole, clearing the next building as they advanced. After eight days of intense fighting, the German forces were finally driven out by the Canadians and thus securing a victory for the Allies.

In 2000, a memorial plaque was placed in Ortona's Piazza Plebiscito by the Canadian government in recognition of the bravery and sacrifice of the Canadian soldiers who had fought there and for the battle's significance in Canadian history.


Ortona: Canada’s Epic World War II Battle

In one blood-soaked, furious week of fighting, from December 20 to December 27, 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division took Ortona, Italy, from elite German paratroopers ordered to hold the medieval port town at all costs. Infantrymen serving in the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders, supported by tankers of the Three Rivers Regiment, moved from house to house in hand-to-hand combat amid heavy shelling and wrested the town from the grip of the fierce German defenders. When the vicious battle was over, 2,339 Canadians were dead or wounded. But the town that had become known as “Little Stalingrad” was now in Allied hands.

Ortona brings Canada’s first major triumph of the war to life in dramatic, suspenseful narrative, weaving reminiscences of the Canadians, Germans, and Italians who were there together with a blow-by-blow account of the fighting that raged throughout December 1943 from the Moro River Valley past the infamous Gully and finally into the streets of Ortona itself. It is a masterful work a story told from the soldier’s-eye view.

Published by Douglas & McIntyre, 1999: 443 pages.

The Globe and Mail

Esprit de Corps Magazine

“This reviewer was astonished at the way Zuehlke’s pen has grasped the realities of the battle.. brings the battle for Ortona and the men who fought it back to life.”

The Globe And Mail

“Mark Zuehlke conveys the apocalyptic feel of the battle in agonizing detail and recounts the exploits and sacrifice of 1st CID with extraordinary thoroughness.”

Book-Of-The-Month-Club

“Destined to become a Canadian military history classic.”

Toronto Star

“Mark Zuehlke’s grindingly researched book is a heart-stopping, intimate look at all the brutal excesses of war.. Infantry and tank warfare comes alive in Zuehlke’s hands.”


Watch the video: Which Minor Country had the DEADLIEST u0026 BRAVEST Soldiers of WW2 (May 2022).