In December 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division reached the coastal town of Ortona. The battle lasted a week, during which the enemy was dislodged in house to house combat. "C" Company, Royal 22e Régiment freed the road to Ortona. In thanks, the community gave the regiment the "Freedom of the City" on April 14, 1993.More information:
During the great battle for Rome, Canadians had to cross the Fortore River to reach Gambatesa. The Royal 22e Régiment led the 1st Canadian Infantry Division in the attack. The road was under the control of the German artillery and the Thirteen Arches bridge had been destroyed. The regiment had to advance on cliffs alongside the road while enemy fire prevented it from crossing the Fortore. On October 8, 1944, Gambatesa fell after twenty-four hours of bitter combat. From the 5th to the 7th, forty men of the Royal 22e Régiment were wounded or killed in action.
Supporting the Canadian infantry and armoured formations fighting in Italy at all times were the gunners of the Royal Canadian Artillery. One of those units, the 1st Survey Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery, fought throughout the Sicilian and Italian campaigns. This battle dress blouse was worn by a member of the regiment severely wounded during this period of fighting. Because of the loss of his leg, the blouse was modified on the right side to accommodate the use of a crutch.
This painting, "Reinforcements Moving Up in the Ortona Salient", was created by a Canadian war artist, Lawren Phillips Harris. It shows the devastation of the area in which the Canadian Army was fighting at the end of 1943.Enlarge Image
On September 3, 1943, The Royal Canadian Regiment landed at Reggio, a small Italian city on the toe of Italy just across from Sicily. This landing was a success with no casualties suffered by the regiment. Other encounters with the enemy would prove more costly.
From September to the end of December 1943, The Royal Canadian Regiment moved further inland and along the Adriatic coast. Every town and village became a fortress and was regarded by German forces as an excellent defensive strong point and anti-tank position. Constricted streets and tall, strongly built houses provided superb cover against advancing forces. Every house provided a possible ambush location, and in essence became a death trap.
Prior to reaching Ortona, The Royal Canadian Regiment was engaged in fighting in a valley west of San Leonardo. Code-named Operation Orange Blossom, the regiment was to attack on the morning of December 18, 1943. The battle opened with the tremendous roar of firepower, and continued well into the day. During this assault, however, confusion reigned – many maps were very inaccurate, the artillery barrage was unfocused, and soon cancelled altogether. As a result, enemy gunners sprang up behind the line of infantry and swept it with machine guns. "The advancing RCR suddenly found themselves faced with a strong group of paratroopers whom the lifting of the barrage had left unscathed.Enlarge Image
From these and from the east side of The Gully, where the modification of the artillery plan had given the enemy unexpected freedom of action, a murderous cross-fire laced the Canadians. Men dropped like flies. The two leading companies were smashed to pieces, all officers becoming casualties; 'Never before' wrote a surviving officer, 'either during the Sicilian or Italian campaign, had The Regiment run into such a death trap.'
One week later, on Christmas Day, The Royal Canadian Regiment was fighting for Ortona in one of the regiment's more famous efforts.
At Ortona, the Canadians developed a technique called 'mouse-holing' and it was this method that established the standard for town-clearing operations in Italy.
'Mouse-holing' meant blasting your way through walls and buildings to move from one house to the next and then clear the enemy out, with assistance from tanks and anti-tank guns. Troops would blow an opening through the connecting wall from one dwelling to the next with a small explosive charge, then pour through with grenades and submachine guns. Mouse-holing parties sometimes fought their way down whole blocks, without ever seeing open air.Enlarge Image
In Ortona, the Canadians became the acknowledged masters of house-to-house fighting. As 1944 began, Major Galloway of The Royal Canadian Regiment wrote, "Of the 41 officers who had landed at Pachino less than six months before, only nine remained with the Battalion and these six already had been wounded. The Battalion had landed 756 strong; by now over 550 of the 'originals' were numbered among the killed, wounded, missing and prisoners of war, or had fallen victim to the scourges of malaria, jaundice and other ailments….
To those who remained, who day by day fought the enemy, moved into the teeth of his machine guns, maintained their positions under the hammering of the mortars, no tribute could be great enough. Bleeding, soaking wet, hungry and terrified, they did as they were bidden. No more could be asked of any mortal."
Leaving Ortona, the 1st Canadian Division went into a holding pattern on the Adriatic coast for four months then, in May 1944, moved up the coast to the Liri Valley area of central Italy, which culminated in the breaching of the Hitler Line on May 24, 1944.More information:
After the Hitler Line, the formidable Gothic Line in Northern Italy awaited the Allied soldiers. It was built by Italian forced labour and consisted of machine gun posts, concrete gun positions, deep dugouts, steel shelters, tank turrets, miles of barbed wire and thousands of mines. Although it was a costly battle, by September 19, 1944 the Germans had abandoned their positions. Of all its Second World War casualties, The Royal Canadian Regiment suffered over eighty percent of them in Italy, and earned nineteen of its battle honours there.