Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War


Volume II
The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945

By

Lt.-Col. G.W.L. Nicholson

Deputy Director, Historical Section, General Staff

Maps drawn by
Major C.C.J. Bond

Published by Authority of the Minister of National Defence


Edmond Cloutier, C.M.G., O.A., D.S.P., Ottawa, 1956
Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationery
©Crown Copyrights reserved


 

NOTE

In the writing of this volume the author has been given full access to relevant official documents in possession of the Department of National Defence; but the inferences drawn and the opinions expressed are those of the author himself, and the Department is in no way responsible for his reading or presentation of the facts as stated.

 


Painting: Ortona
Ortona
From a painting by Major C. F. Comfort
Troops of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade fight forward through a rubble-filled street towards the Church of San Tommaso, December 1943.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter   Page
Foreword xii
Author's Preface xiii
I. THE ALLIED DECISION TO INVADE SICILY  
    The Invitation for Canadian Participation in the Mediterranean Theatre 3
    The Casablanca Conference 4
    Early Planning for Operation "Husky" 9
    The Second Outline Plan 15
    Further Revision of the Plan 16
    The Final Plan of Attack 19
    The Background to Canadian Participation 20
   
II. THE 1st DIVISION GOES TO THE MEDITERRANEAN  
    After Long Waiting 27
    The 1st Division "Takes Over" 28
    Canadian Planning Begins 29
    Training for the Assault 32
    Administrative Preparations 34
    The Convoy Programme 39
    Embarkation and Sailing 41
    The Voyage to Sicily 43
    In Mediterranean Waters 45
III. THE INVASION OF SICILY, 10 JULY 1943  
    Sicily and its People 50
    The Defences of the Island 53
    The German Garrison 58
    The Allied Pattern of Assault 62
    The Role of the 1st Canadian Division 65
    The Canadian Landings and the Capture of the First Objectives 67
    How Canada Learned the News 73
    Early Allied Successes 75
    The Advance Inland 78
IV. THE FIRST FIGHTING IN THE SICILIAN HILLS, 14-22 JULY 1943  
    Plans for Further Action 85
    The First Encounter with the Germans-Grammichele, 15 July 88
    Piazza Armerina, 16 July 93
    The Fighting at Grottacalda and Valguarnera, 17-18 July 96
    The By-Passing of Enna 100
    The 1st Brigade Takes Assoro, 20-22 July 103
    The Capture of Leonforte by the 2nd Brigade, 21-22 July 107
V. THE BEGINNING OF THE EASTWARD DRIVE, 23-31 JULY 1943  
    The Conquest of Western Sicily 113
    Reinforcing the German Garrison 115
    The Eighth Army's Change of Plan 118
    The Opening of the Struggle for Agira, 23 July 120
    The Reverse at Nissoria, 24-25 July 122
    The Winning of "Lion" and "Tiger" Ridges, 26 July 127
    The Capture of "Grizzly" and the Entry into Agira, 27-28 July 131
    The 3rd Brigade in the Dittaino Valley 137
    Preliminaries to Operation "Hardgate"—
    The Catenanuova Bridgehead, 29-30 July 139
VI. FINAL STAGES OF THE SICILIAN CAMPAIGN, 31 JULY-17 AUGUST 1943  
    31 JULY-17 AUGUST 1943
    The Capture of Regalbuto, 31 July-2 August 146
    The Fighting North of the Salso-Hill 736, 2-5 August 153
    The Thrust Eastward from the Troina, 5 August 157
    Mount Revisotto and Mount Seggio, 5-6 August 162
    The Halt at the Simeto 164
    The Army Tank Brigade's Part in "Husky" 166
    The German Retreat from Sicily 168
    A Respite from Combat 176
VII. THE INVASION OF THE ITALIAN MAINLAND, 3 SEPTEMBER 1943  
    Early Proposals for Post-Sicilian Operations 180
    The Decision to Mount Operation "Baytown" 186
    Planning for "Baytown" 189
    Enemy Dispositions in Italy 192
    Prelude to Invasion 198
    The Assault Across the Strait, 3 September 202
    Over the Aspromonte, 4-8 September 206
VIII. FROM CALABRIA TO THE FOGGIA PLAIN, SEPTEMBER 1943  
    The Capitulation of Italy 213
    The Battle of Salerno, 9-16 September 217
    The Canadian Advance up the East Coast 220
    The Drive to Potenza, 17-20 September 224
    Patrols to the Ofanto 229
IX. THE FORTORE AND BIFERNO RIVERS, OCTOBER 1943  
    The Canadians Move Westward from Foggia 234
    The 1st Brigade's Advance from Motta to the Fortore, 2-6 October 238
    The Capture of Gambatesa by the 3rd Brigade, 7-8 October 241
    The 2nd Brigade's Fighting on the Left Flank, 6-12 October 244
    The Occupation of Campobasso, 13-14 October 247
    The Three Rivers Regiment at Termoli, 5-6 October 251
    Clearing the Right Bank of the Upper Biferno, 15-24 October 255
    The Fighting West of the Biferno 258
    The German Plans for the Winter Campaign 264
X. THE UPPER SANGRO DIVERSION AND THE BATTLE OF THE MORO RIVER, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 1943  
    MORO RIVER, NOVEMBER-DECEMBER 1943
    The Allied Decision to Take Rome 270
    The Allied Armies Reach 'the Winter Line 274
    The 3rd Brigade's Demonstration on the
    Upper Sangro, 16-30 November 277
    The Fighting for Point 1069, 23-24 November 282
    The Eighth Army Breaks the Bernhard Line 288
    The 1st Canadian Division at the Moro River 289
    The First Crossings and the Capture of Villa Rogatti, 6 December 292
    The Battle for San Leonardo, 8-9 December 298
XI. ORTONA, DECEMBER 1943  
    The Advance from the Moro, 10-11 December 304
    The Fight for the Gully 306
    Casa Berardi, 13-15 December 310
    The Capture of "Cider" Crossroads, 18-19 December 315
    The Approach to Ortona, 20 December 321
    The 2nd Brigade's Struggle in the Streets 324
    Christmas Day-and the End of the Battle 329
    Clearing to the Riccio, 22 December-4 January 333
    The Offensive is Abandoned 338
XII. THE ORTONA SALIENT, JANUARY-APRIL 1944  
    The Background of Operation "Timberwolf" 340
    Planning for the Movement 344
    The 1st Canadian Corps Arrives in Italy 351
    Equipping the 5th Armoured Division 355
    Vehicles and Guns for the Corps Troops 359
    The "Arielli Show", 17 January 362
    The Anzio Landings and the German Reaction 372
    The Attack Along the Villa Grande-Tollo Road, 30-31 January 375
    "The Adriatic Barricade" 379
XIII. THE BATTLE FOR ROME BEGINS, MAY 1944  
    Allied Plans for the Spring Offensive 387
    Outwitting the Enemy 391
    The German Defences South of Rome 394
    The Assault of the Gustav Line, 11 May 399
    The Advance to the Hitler Line, 16-19 May 407
    Preliminaries to Operation "Chesterfield" 411
    The Launching of the Assault, 23 May 417
    The Hitler Line is Breached 420
XIV. THE END OF THE BATTLE FOR ROME, 24 MAY-4 JUNE 1944  
    The Exploitation by the 5th Canadian Armoured Division 427
    The Battle at the Melfa, 24-25 May 430
    The Enemy's Plans for Retreat 436
    Bridgeheads Over the Liri, 26-28 May 439
    Up the Sacco Valley to Frosinone, 29-31 May 442
    The Final Phase 447
    The First Special Service Force in Italy 453
XV. THE ADVANCE TO FLORENCE, JUNE-AUGUST 1944  
    Enemy Intentions After the Fall of Rome 458
    "Anvil" is Given Priority 462
    Canadian Tanks at the Trasimene Line, 21-28 June 465
    The Advance to the Arezzo Line, 29 June-16 July 470
    The Pursuit to the Arno, 16 July-5 August 473
    The Organization of the 12th Brigade 478
    The Red Patch at Florence, 5-6 August 481
    Canadian Armour Across the Arno 485
XVI. THE BREAKING OF THE GOTHIC LINE, 25 AUGUST-2 SEPTEMBER 1944  
    25 AUGUST-2 SEPTEMBER 1944
    The Enemy Bewildered 487
    The Allied Change of Plan 491
    The Gothic Line Defences 494
    Preparations for the Attack 498
    The Enemy Surprised 503
    The Advance from the Metauro Bridgehead, 26-27 August 505
    The Fighting at the Arzilla River Line, 28-29 August 508
    The Assault on the Gothic Line, 30-31 August 510
    The Capture of Point 253 and Tomba di Pesaro, 1 September 518
    To the Conca and the Sea 521
XVII. THE BATTLE OF THE RIMINI LINE, 3-22 SEPTEMBER 1944  
    The Offensive is Checked 526
    The Capture of Coriano Ridge, 13 September 532
    First Crossings Over the Marano, 14 September 537
    The 3rd Brigade Takes San Lorenzo in Correggiano, 15 September 540
    The Reverse at San Martino in Monte l'Abate, 16-18 September 544
    The Fighting at the River Ausa, 17-19 September 546
    The Assault of San Fortunato Ridge, 19-20 September 551
    Bridgeheads Over the Marecchia 557
    The Greeks Occupy Rimini, 21 September 559
    "A Great, Hard-Fought Victory" 561
XVIII. INTO THE LOMBARD PLAIN, SEPTEMBER-OCTOBER 1944  
    The 5th Armoured Division's Advance from the Marecchia 565
    The German Decision Not to Withdraw 570
    The Halt at the Fiumicino, 28 September-10 October 574
    The Crossing of the Pisciatello and the Advance to Cesena, 11-19 October 577
    Cumberland Force on the Coastal Flank 583
    The Savio Bridgeheads, 20-23 October 585
    The Pursuit to the Ronco 593
    Allied Plans for the Winter Campaign 594
    The Armoured Brigade in the Apennines 597
XIX. THE BATTLE OF THE RIVERS, DECEMBER 1944  
    The Canadian Corps in Reserve 606
    The Operations of Porterforce, 28 October-30 November 608
    The Planning of Operation "Chuckle" 611
    The 1st Division's Repulse at the Lamone, 2-5 December 613
    The Capture of Ravenna, 4 December 619
    The Corps Assault Across the Lamone, 10-11 December 622
    The Naviglio Bridgeheads, 12-15 December 628
    The 1st Brigade's Fight South of Bagnacavallo, 16-18 December 633
    The Advance to the Senior, 19-21 December 635
    The Offensive Abandoned 641
XX. THE END OF THE CAMPAIGN, JANUARY-FEBRUARY 1945  
    Clearing the Granarolo Salient, 3-5 January 644
    The 5th Armoured Division's Advance to the Valli di Comacchio,
    2-6 January 646
    Holding the Winter Line 651
    The Case for Reuniting the First Canadian Army 656
    Operation "Goldflake", the Move to North-West Europe 660
    The 1st Special Service Battalion on the Riviera 666
    The Final Allied Offensive in Italy, 9 April-2 May 671
    From Pachino to the Senio-The Balance Sheet 678

APPENDICES

"A" Allied Order of Battle-Allied Armies in Italy, 25 August 1944 685
"B" Enemy Order of Battle-Army Group "C", 12 August 1944 686
"C" Canadian Army Units in Italy (19 August 1944) 687
"D" Persons Holding Principal Appointments in the Canadian Army in the Italian Theatre, 1943-1945 690
ABBREVIATIONS 693
THE PRONUNCIATION OF ITALIAN GEOGRAPHICAL NAMES 697
REFERENCES [Footnotes are included with each chapter] 699
INDEX 767

MAPS
(in Colour)

  Following page
  Southern Italy, 10 July 1943 - 9 June 1944 (front end-paper)
1. Sicily, 10 July-17 August 1943 64
2. South-Eastern Sicily, 10-12 July 1943 82
3. Giarratana to Valguarnera, 14-18 July 1943 100
4. The Fighting for Agira, 24-28 July 1943 128
5. Valguarnera to the Simeto, 19 July-7 August 1943 164
6. The Landings in Southern Italy, 3-5 September 1943 190
7. Out of the Aspromonte, 6-8 September 1943 210
8. The Advance to the Foggia Plain, 8 September-1 October 1943 232
9. The Fighting on the Upper Fortore and Biferno, 1 October - 6 November 1943 264
10. The Upper Sangro, 5-26 November 1943 278
11. The Adriatic Sector, 28 November 1943 -4 January 1944 338
12. The Italian Front, 11 May 1944 398
13. The Breaking of the Gustav and Hitler Lines, 11-23 May 1944 424
14. The Breakout from the Hitler Line, 24-28 May 1944 442
15. The Battle for Rome, 11 May - 4 June 1944 450
16. Operations of First Special Service Force, 2 December 1943 - 17 January 1944 454
17. The Advance to the Arno, 21 June-5 August 1944 478
18. The Advance to the Gothic Line, 26-29 August 1944 524
19. The Breaking of the Gothic Line, 30 August - 3 September 1944 524
20. The Advance to Rimini, 3-22 September 1944 560
21. Into the Romagna, 22 September-20 October 1944 584
22. The Crossing of the Savio, 21-28 October 1944 588
23. The Advance Towards Bologna, September 1944-January 1945 598
24. Operations of Porterforce, 28 October-28 November 1944 608
25. From the Montone to the Senio, 2 December 1944 - 5 January 1945 652
  Northern Italy, 10 June 1944 - 25 February 1945 (back end-paper)


SKETCHES
(in Black and White)

  Page
1. Operation "HUSKY", The Progress of Planning 13
2. The Capture of Regalbuto, 30 July-2 August 1943 148
3. The Fighting at Termoli, 6 October 1943 252
4. The Adriatic Front, 26 December 1943 322
5. The Attack Towards the Arielli, 17 January 1944 365
6. Villa Grande-Tollo Road, 30-31 January 1944 377
7. German Dispositions, Hitler Line, 23 May 1944 415
8. Operations, Florence Area, 6 August - 1 September 1944 483
9. Plans for Attack on the Gothic Line 489
10. The Italian Front, 8 October 1944 581
11. 1st Brigade's Attack at the Lamone, 5 December 1944 618
12. The Italian Front, 31 December 1944 642
13. First Special Service Force on the Riviera, 15 August - 9 September 1944 668
14. Final Offensive in Italy, 9 April - 2 May 1945 673


ILLUSTRATIONS

Facing Page
Ortona, by Major C. F. Comfort (in colour) Frontispiece
Off to Sicily 80
The Pachino Beaches 80
The Approach to Leonforte 80
Canadian Artillery in Sicily 80
Agira from the West 112
Nissoria from the South-West 112
The Ruins of Regalbuto 112
A Mule Train in Sicily 112
The Canadian Army Commander in Sicily 208
Embarkation for Operation "Baytown" 208
Canadian Armour Lands in Italy 208
Canadian Sappers Assist the Advance 208
Potenza from across the Basento Valley 240
Overlooking the Fortore Valley 240
The Approach to Campobasso 240
The Clearing of Campochiaro 256
The Pipes Play in "Maple Leaf City„ 256
The Biferno Valley from Oratino 256
San Pietro, 26 November 1943 272
"Rail-Rooting", November 1943 272
Visit of the Minister of National Defence 272
G.O.C.'s Orders 272
The Moro Valley looking North-West 304
The C.I.G.S. Visits the 1st Canadian Division 304
Ortona 304
Entry into Ortona 336
Fighting in an Ortona Alley 336
Canadian Tanks in Ortona 336
A Hit by German Mortars 336
A Company Headquarters in the Ortona Salient 368
With the Canadian Provost Corps in Italy 368
Tanks in an Artillery Role 368
Change of Command, 1st Canadian Corps 368
Canadian Artillery at Castelfrentano 400
Visit by the Eighth Army Commander 400
Junction of the Liri and the Rapido 400
Canadian Troops Relieve Indians in the Liri Valley 416
Supplies to the Front 416
The Liri Valley from Piedimonte 416
A German Anti-Tank Position in the Hitler Line 416
Canadian Gunners View a German Weapon 416
Pontecorvo, 24 May 1944 416
Patrol in Blackface on the Anzio Beachhead 416
Arrival of C.W.A.C. in Italy 544
San Fortunato Ridge from San Lorenzo in Correggiano 544
Canadian Armour at the Uso 624
Action at Cesena, 20 October 1944 624
German Anti-Tank Defences along the Adriatic 624
The Lamone River 624
Distinguished Visitors at Corps Headquarters 656
Commanders Discuss the Move to France 656
improvised Winter Quarters in the Apennines 656
Operation "Goldflake" 656

--xi--

Foreword

THIS volume, written by Lt.-Col. G. W. L. Nicholson, Deputy Director, Historical Section, General Staff, is the second volume of the Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. The first, written by the Director, covered the Army's organization, training and operations in Canada, Britain and the Pacific during the whole period of the war. The third, dealing with the campaign in North-West Europe in 1944-45, is in preparation.

The present volume describes in some detail the Canadian Army's part in the Italian campaign-the operations which began with the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and, developing into an arduous advance up the Italian peninsula, ended with the German capitulation in May 1945. In this campaign soldiers from Canada fought a series of hard and bloody battles over some of the most historic ground in Europe. This account of it is more exhaustive, and based upon more complete investigation, than that included in the preliminary Official Historical Summary, The Canadian Army 1939-1945, which was published in May 1948.

The general principles upon which this History has been planned are stated in the Preface to Volume I. It is directed primarily to the general reader, and particularly to the Canadian reader who wishes to know what the Canadian Army accomplished and why its operations took the course they did. The practice with respect to documentation, and the reasons for it, are likewise described in Volume I. Since many of the documents cited in references are still "classified", the fact that they are so cited does not necessarily imply that they are available for public examination. Officers and men are designated in the text by the ranks they held at the time of the events described. Decorations have not been appended to personal names in the text, but "final" ranks and decorations are given with the names of individuals in the Index.

In the event of readers observing errors or important omissions in this volume, they are asked to write to the Director, Historical Section, General Staff, Army Headquarters, Ottawa.

C. P. STACEY, Colonel,
Director Historical Section.

--xii--

Author's Preface

THIS is the story of the Canadian Army's share in the Allied campaign in Italy during Tthe Second World War. It is primarily an account of field operations and the planning and preparations which preceded them. Questions of organization and administration of the Army as a whole were discussed in Volume I, and in general are only introduced here in so far as they present problems peculiar to the Italian theatre. While the activities of the Canadian forces in Italy form the main theme, these are presented at all times against the background of the whole Allied effort in the campaign. The author has attempted wherever possible to round out his story by showing the enemy side of the picture.

This History is primarily based upon the Canadian contemporary records of the campaign-the war diaries of participating formations and units, planning papers, orders, reports of operations, departmental and headquarters files and a multiplicity of other documents of various kinds. The task of assembling and organizing this voluminous material was begun by the Canadian Army's Historical Section while the war was still in progress. Valuable work in securing and recording first hand information in the, theatre of operations was done by the Field Historical Sections; an Historical Officer served with each Canadian division engaged in the campaign. The author has also consulted British and Allied records extensively.

During and after the Second World War a vast quantity of German military records, written mostly within hours or days of the events, fell into Allied hands. In the preparation of the present volume full use has been made of this fortunate circumstance. While the available source material, which consists in the main of the war diaries of the enemy's army and corps headquarters, is by no means complete-the greatest shortages exist with respect to the Sicilian phase, Ortona, and the period from November 1944 to the termination of the Canadian operations in Italy--it covers well the battles for the Gustav, Hitler and Gothic defence lines. Narratives written after the war by German senior commanders have also proved useful in providing an insight into the background of enemy operations.

In the autumn of 1948 the writer spent ten weeks in Italy studying the ground over which the Canadians fought. He travelled the entire route of the Canadian forces from the Pachino beaches in south-eastern Sicily to the Senio River in Northern Italy, visiting the scene of every action in which Canadian soldiers were engaged, and taking upwards of 2000 photographs.

--xiii--

With the general reader in mind the author has attempted to avoid detailed treatment of such specialized subjects as the activities of the technical arms and the services. The reader will understand that in a history of this scope considerations of space and proportion place restrictions on the amount of attention that can be devoted to operations at the unit level; for fuller treatment of these he must consult the various regimental histories.

The author wishes to acknowledge the generous assistance given by numerous organizations and individuals in making their records available and helping in other ways. He has had unrestricted access to documents in the hands of the Government of Canada, and has had the privilege of consulting the private papers of General A. G. L. McNaughton and General H. D. G. Crerar. As was the case with the preceding volume of the Official History, this book has benefited from the constant and indispensable aid accorded by the Historical Branch of the Cabinet Office in London and by the Air Historical Branch of the Air Ministry and the Historical Section of the Admiralty. Official historians in New Zealand, South Africa and India and Pakistan have given their help freely. The author would especially acknowledge his indebtedness to the Office of the Chief of Military History and to the Captured Records Section in the United States Department of the Army. In Canada grateful acknowledgement is made to the Director of War Service Records, Department of Veterans Affairs, whose office provided most of the Canadian Army statistics included in this volume. Finally the writer would express his sincere thanks to the many participants in the events described who have read the volume in draft, in whole or in part, and have given him the benefit of their comments.

Space does not allow the author to thank adequately all the personnel, past and present, of the Canadian Army's Historical Section who have contributed directly or indirectly to the production of this book. The Director, Colonel C. P. Stacey, has unsparingly given most helpful and sympathetic guidance at all stages. Lt.-Col. C. J. Lynn-Grant, Executive Officer, has assisted greatly with publication arrangements. The writer is indebted to Lt.-Col. W. E. C. Harrison (who served in Italy as Historical Officer, 1st Canadian Corps), Major D. H. Cunningham, Captain F. R. McGuire and Captain J. A. Porter (all veterans of the campaign) for the preliminary drafts of Chapters VII-X and XVI-XIX. These were subsequently revised by the writer, who drafted all the remaining chapters. He takes full responsibility for the entire volume as now presented. The expert assistance given by Mr. A. G. Steiger in his study of German documents has been invaluable. Thanks are due also to Captain J. R. Madden and Captain F. R. McGuire for their work as research assistants. The volume owes much to the maps

--xiv--

drawn by Captain C. C. J. Bond and his staff. Finally, a word of gratitude to Q.M.S. (W.O. 2) M. R. Lemay and Staff Sergeants J. W. Taylor and W. H. Woollam for their patience and efficiency in typing the many successive drafts.

G.W.L.N.
Historical Section (G.S.),
Army Headquarters,
Ottawa, Canada.

--xv--



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