Here, along the line of the Moro River, some of the most bitter fighting of the war took place. The Germans counter-attacked repeatedly and often the fighting was hand-to-hand as the Canadians edged forward to Ortona on the coast. The mediaeval town of Ortona, with its castle and stone buildings, was situated on a ledge overlooking the Adriatic Sea. Its steep, rubble-filled streets limited the use of tanks and artillery and thus made this an infantryman's struggle. During several days of vicious street fighting, the Canadians smashed their way through walls and buildings—"mouseholing" as they called it.
This was Christmas Meanwhile, a subsidiary attack had been launched to the northwest and the Germans, in danger of being cut off, withdrew from Ortona. The city officially fell on December Further offensives ground to a halt due to atrocious winter weather.
Burns succeeded him. In March, Burns took over the 1st Canadian corps from Lieut. By now the Canadian Army in Italy had reached its peak theatre strength of nearly 76, Total casualties in the Corps had climbed to 9, in all ranks, of which 2, had been fatal. In the spring of , the Germans still held the line of defence north of Ortona, as well as the mighty bastion of Monte Cassino which blocked the Liri corridor to the Italian capital.
Determined to maintain their hold on Rome, the Germans constructed two formidable lines of fortifications, the Gustav Line, and Army in the struggle for Rome. Here under the dominating peak of Cassino, the Allied armies hurled themselves against the enemy position.
After four days of hard fighting, the German defences were broken from Cassino to the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Germans moved back their second line of defence. On May 18, Polish troops took the Cassino position and the battered monastery at the summit. On May 16, the 1st Canadian Corps received orders to advance on the Hitler Line ten kilometres farther up the valley. Early on May 23, the attack on the Hitler Line went in. Under heavy enemy mortar and machine-gun fire, the Canadians breached the defences and the tanks of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division poured through toward the next obstacle, the Melfa River.
Desperate fighting took place in the forming of a bridgehead across the Melfa. Once the Canadians were over the river, however, the major fighting for the Liri valley was over.
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The operation developed into a pursuit as the Germans moved back quickly to avoid being trapped in the valley by the American thrust farther west. On May 31, the Canadians occupied Frosinone and their campaign in this area came to an end as they went into reserve.
Rome fell to the Americans on June 4. Less than 48 hours later, the long-awaited D-Day invasion of Northwest Europe began on the Normandy beaches. It remained essential, therefore, for the Allied forces in Italy to continue to pin down German troops.
The Canadians were now withdrawn for well-earned rest and re-organization, except for the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade which accompanied the British in the Allied action as the Germans moved northward to their final line of defence. Autumn and winter saw the Canadians back on the Adriatic coast with the objective of breaking through the Gothic Line. This line, running roughly between Pisa and Pesaro, was the last major German defence line separating the Allies from the Po Valley and the great Lombardy Plain in northern Italy. Since many factories producing vital supplies were located in the north, the Germans would fight hard to prevent a breakthrough.
The line was formidable, composed of machine-gun posts, anti-tank guns, mortar- and assault-gun positions and tank turrets set in concrete, as well as mines, wire obstacles and anti-tank ditches.
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The Allied plan called for a surprise attack upon the east flank, followed by a swing toward Bologna. To deceive the Germans into believing the attack would come in the west, the 1st Canadian Division was concentrated near Florence, then secretly moved northward to the Adriatic. In the last week of August , the entire Canadian Corps began its attack on the Gothic Line with the objective of capturing Rimini.
On August 25, the Canadians crossed the Metauro River, the first of six rivers lying across the path of the advance. They moved on to the Foglia River to find that the Germans had concentrated their forces here. It required days of bitter fighting and softening of the line by Allied air forces to reach it. Five kilometres south of the Conca, the forward troops came under fire from the German 1st Parachute Division, while heavy fighting was developing on the Coriano Ridge to the west.
By hard fighting, the Canadians captured the ridge and it appeared that the Gothic Line was finally about to collapse. The Canadians battled for three more weeks, however, to take the hill position of San Fortunato which block the approach to the Po Valley. On September 21, the Allies entered a deserted Rimini.
But the rains came. Streams turned into raging torrents, mud replaced the powdery dust and the tanks bogged down in the swamp lands of the Romagna. The Germans still resisted. September waned and with it the hopes of quickly advancing into the valley of the Po.
On October 11, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division returned to the line and the 5th Division went into corps reserve. For three weeks, the Canadians fought in the water-logged Romagna. The formidable defences of the Savio River were breached, but the Germans counter-attacked to try to throw the Canadians back. Meanwhile, the Americans were progressing toward Bologna, and to halt their advance, the Germans took two crack divisions from the Adriatic front.
The Canadians were thus able to move up to the banks of the Ronco, some ten kilometres farther on. The Canadian Corps was now withdrawn into Army Reserve to recuperate from the ten weeks of continuous fighting and train for the battles which lay ahead. The 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade, meanwhile, continued to operate with the Americans and British in the area north of Florence.
They would end their campaign in Italy in the snow-covered peaks in February Settle, November 1, Interview with William Goutley, July 27, Interview with Thomas Bartley, June 29, Interview with Leonard A. Clarkson, July 22, Interview with Benjamin Butler, November 17, Interview with Byrian Wentz,. Interview with Doyle T.
Bibliography | The Globe at War
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