The Italian Campaign: The Battles of the Winter Line,
December 1943-April 1944
The Battle of Sangro
The object of the Allied Armies in Italy continued to be to contain as large a German force as possible; their objective, in the winter campaign of 1943, was Rome. The actual capture of the city would naturally be the task of the Fifth Army, operating on the western flank. The function of the Eighth was to assist by breaking through the Winter Line on the east, advancing to the great lateral road running across the peninsula from Pescara through Avezzano to Rome, establishing a bridgehead across the Pescara River and if possible getting troops into the Avezzano area to threaten the flank of the defenders of the capital.1
As we have seen, General Montgomery had decided to strike his main blow against the Bernhard Line on the coast rather than in the interior, where the Canadians still were. The 5th British Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General C. W. Allfrey, was to deliver it, with the 78th British and 8th Indian Divisions and the 4th British Armoured Brigade under command in the first phase. In midNovember the 78th established a bridgehead across the lower reaches of the Sangro; this foothold was limited to the broad flat valley floor, but it was to form a springboard for the attack against the bold escarpment lining the valley on the north. The weather now broke, and persistent rain obliged Montgomery to make successive postponements of the assault and also to abandon his conception of a single great break-through operation carrying the Eighth Army straight to the Pescara Lateral. He now planned a more gradual advance and limited objectives. The main attack--the "colossal crack" referred to in his message to the Army--finally went in on the night of 28-29 November, with the 2nd New Zealand Division taking part on the left flank. By dark on the 30th, after most violent fighting, the whole commanding ridge above the Sangro was firmly in British hands. But though the Eighth was now through the Winter Line proper, its troubles were far from ended.
In this Adriatic sector the country presents almost unlimited
difficulties to an army attacking up the peninsula. The so-called "coastal plain", some fifteen miles in width, lying between the great Maiella Range and the sea, is in fact no plain at all, but a plateau whose flat normal surface is carved into a succession of deep steep-sided valleys by the numerous streams and rivers which run north-eastward on parallel courses into the Adriatic. The loss of the Sangro Ridge was thus not particularly damaging to the Germans; they had behind them a long series of almost equally formidable obstacles on which to continue their defence. Between the Sangro and Pescara the main river lines are those of the Feltrino, the Moro, the Arielli and the Foro; but smaller streams also lay across the attackers' path. No sooner had the men of the Eighth Army evicted the enemy from the ridge overlooking one of these than they immediately found themselves obliged to begin the process over again, attacking across another exposed valley bottom against an enemy strongly posted on another ridge. It was an intensely discouraging form of warfare, rendered very much the worse by the cold rains of early winter and the all-pervading mud.
The gallant 78th Division, which had borne much of the brunt of the fight for the Sangro Ridge, and had largely destroyed the 65th German Division in the course of it, had itself lost heavily and now required relief. To take its place, General Montgomery brought the 1st Canadian Division down from the mountains. The Canadians moved from the Campobasso area on 29 November; their leading elements crossed the Sangro on 1 December and passed temporarily under command of the 78th. Relieving the latter, brigade for brigade, while in close and heavy contact with the enemy was an extraordinarily ticklish process. On 2 December command of the battle on the right flank above the Sangro passed to General Vokes, who retained under his direction for the moment the 78th's Irish Brigade and the 4th Armoured Brigade; and on the evening of the 3rd the Irish took the lofty little town of San Vito Chietino, on the coast above the Feltrino valley, and pushed on across the valley to the opposite ridge. Next day the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade relieved them there. The Canadians had now taken over the whole right flank of the 5th Corps battle, except that the British armour remained in the line until the 6th, when the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade (the old Army Tank Brigade, now rechristened) began to move in.
The forward battalions, on the 4th of December, stood on the ridge forming the south side of the deep and formidable valley of the little River Moro. The similar ridge facing them on the north side was known to be strongly held by the enemy. Vokes' immediate task was to force the Moro line and possess himself of the port of Ortona, about two miles beyond it. Achieving these objects cost three weeks hard fighting, the bitterest and costliest the 1st Division had yet experienced; as bitter fighting, indeed, as any to be found in the long grim chronicle of this war.
The Crossing of the Moro
There were two main roads across the Moro on the Division's front: one on the coast, crossing the river near its mouth; and one roughly a mile and a half further inland, which wound up the further ridge to the village of San Leonardo and thence onwards to intersect the main lateral road from Ortona to Orsogna at a point half a mile or so east of a prominent house known as Casa Berardi. A third and lesser road crossed on the extreme left of the Canadian front. All bridges, of course, had been demolished. General Vokes resolved to make his main effort astride the centre road, but to feint on either flank. The attack began on the evening and night of 5 December, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment crossing the river near its mouth while Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry slipped across some four miles inland and assailed the commanding hamlet of Villa Roatti, which sits on the northern ridge overlooking the valley. At the same time the Seaforth attacked astride the road to San Leonardo.
The Hastings' attack, intended as a mere diversion, met heavy opposition and the companies were withdrawn according to plan. The next day, however, the decision was taken to establish a permanent bridgehead on the coastal flank, and the Hastings crossed again early in the afternoon and made their lodgement good in spite of fierce fire. As for the Patricias, they had had hot work. Their night attack took the Germans in Roatti by surprise, and they seized the place without very great trouble; but they had to fight hard to hold it against the violent counter-attacks with infantry and tanks which the enemy threw in during the 6th. A major factor in the successful defence was the resolution of British tank men (a squadron of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment) who showed infinite resource and determination in getting eight Shermans up a steep mule-track from the river to aid the Patricias in the village.2
The main attack had made very little progress. The Seaforth met violent opposition immediately after crossing the river below San Leonardo, and daylight of the 6th found them with only three companies over, holding a shallow bridgehead overlooked by the enemy entrenched on the heights. Tanks had failed to get across at this point, and were limited to supporting the infantry by fire from the south escarpment. The appearance of enemy armour in San Leonardo prevented advance during the 6th, and that evening the Seaforth companies were withdrawn to the south bank. General Vokes was now disposed to shift his main effort to the Roatti bridgehead, where things had gone so well; but the
Corps Commander, deciding that the Canadian front was too extended, ordered the 8th Indian Division to take over the Roatti area. The Patricias handed the town to a battalion of that division on the night of 7-8 December; their withdrawal to the south shore left only one Canadian unit--the Hastings in the coastal sector--across the Moro. Planning continued for a renewal of the attack in the vicinity of San Leonardo. The first two days had shown beyond all doubt that the Germans' 90th Panzer Grenadier Division, the fresh and formidable formation which had replaced the decimated 65th, intended to fight for the Moro line tooth and nail.
The new plan called for the 1st Brigade to take San Leonardo, and the 2nd to exploit thence to the lateral road. The ist's attack, on the afternoon of 8 December, would be double; the 48th Highlanders were to attack directly across the Moro and establish a bridgehead, while the Royal Canadian Regiment broke out of the existing bridgehead on the coast road and moved south-west to occupy San Leonardo. Heavy shelling by our artillery prepared the way. The 48th attack went well and took all its objectives. The R.C.R. had no such good luck. At the very outset their movement was struck by a vicious enemy counter-attack, intended for the Hastings' bridgehead, which considerably disorganized it and began a period of bitter and confused fighting along the edge of the ridge above the Moro. The gap thus left between the 48th and the R.C.R. constituted a grave danger to the possibility of constructing a vehicle crossing near the demolished bridge below San Leonardo. The Engineers nevertheless went to work, and laboured under fire throughout the night. Thanks to their efforts, tanks and anti-tank guns were able to cross into the bridgehead in the morning; the 2nd Brigade went forward, and the Seaforth and tanks of the Calgary Regiment fought their way into San Leonardo, beating down desperate resistance which cost us many men.
The enemy still apparently believed that our main effort was being made astride the coast road, and it was here, in consequence, that he counter-attacked most fiercely. On the afternoon of the 9th the Royal Canadian Regiment, trying to complete its movement to San Leonardo, bore the brunt of a particularly heavy and determined attack. An incident on this unit's left tells something of the bitterness of the fighting. One of its platoons held a farmhouse on the edge of the escarpment against a succession of violent assaults. "An Oberleutnant was shot in the act of forcing a stick grenade through the bars of one window and a soldier wearing the ribbon of the Iron Cross was killed within four feet of the same window while giving the Oberleutnant covering fire." When the fight was over, thirty Germans lay dead around the walls of the platoon's improvised fortress The Hastings also had very heavy fighting this day; but the enemy gained nothing from his attacks but casualties. Our bridgeheads held above the Moro.
The Ortona Area
December 1943-April 1944
The Fight For the Gully
With the consolidation of the 1st Division's bridgehead the first phase of its December battle ended. The next centred about what might have appeared a minor impediment: a gully, carrying a tiny watercourse, which ran across the front just south of the lateral road from Ortona to Orsogna. This "feature", scarcely visible on the map, was turned by German resistance into a military obstacle as formidable as the Moro Valley itself; and there were ten days of singularly bloody fighting before the Division fought its way across it and captured the crossroads just beyond. The enemy had dug deep shelters in the nearer bank of the gully, and in these he was largely safe from the bombardments with which our artillery smothered the area.
Repeated attacks by the battalions of the 2nd Brigade having failed to evict the Panzer Grenadiers from these positions, the 3rd Brigade was brought up for a new attempt. The whole grim countryside was now deep in mud; vineyards and olive groves still further hampered the attacking infantry; and the soggy ground was thick with mines. Frontal attacks having had little success, efforts were made to get forward on the left flank. After both the Carleton and York Regiment and the West Nova Scotia Regiment had suffered heavily, Brigadier Gibson on 14 December committed the Royal 22e Régiment to an attack on this inland flank directed towards Casa Berardi, which stood on the far side of the gully. The French Canadians fought their way across the gully high up, and after desperate encounters, in which both sides lost many men, captured Casa Berardi and held it.
In this gallant action "C" Company of the Royal 22e, commanded by Capt. Paul Triquet, and their partners of "C" Squadron of the Ontario Regiment (Tank) were particularly conspicuous. Throughout the struggle in and about the head of the gully Triquet set his men an example of reckless gallantry, himself accounting for numbers of the enemy. When the company reached the vicinity of the farmhouse, Triquet was the only officer left on his feet, and only two sergeants and fifteen men remained; while the squadron was down to four tanks. With this remnant Triquet took up the best defensive position available and when German tanks and infantry counter-attacked they were beaten off, not once but repeatedly. During the night the main body of the unit made contact with Triquet's party and reinforced it; next day, further fierce counter-attacks were repulsed. In the fighting of the 14th and 15th, the regiment added new lustre to its laurels of the First Great War. "Le vieil esprit de Vimy et de Courcelette avait soufflé sur le 22e." The Victoria Cross which Capt. Triquet subsequently received was the first won by a Canadian in the Mediterranean campaign.
Although the Canadians now had a foothold beyond the gully and
were able to threaten the flank and rear of the enemy holding the lower sections of it, the Germans in those positions showed even more than their customary tenacity. No mere threat would make them budge. The 90th Panzer Grenadier Division had in its turn been reduced to a shadow in the fighting above the Moro; the survivors were withdrawn and it was Heidrich's Parachute Division--fresh, skilful and fanatical--who now faced the tired Canadians. By the evening of the 15th, the 3rd Brigade was so exhausted and had suffered so many casualties that it was necessary to suspend major operations for two days. This time was devoted to preparing a new effort, to be supported by every element of power which could be brought to bear. The fire of thirteen artillery regiments was to open the ball. Thus covered, the 1st Brigade would attack on the left flank and drive through to the crossroads.
MORNING GLORY was the code designation of the bombardment which struck the Germans at eight a.m. on 18 December, "filling the air with the screams and sighing of passing shells and laying down a wall of bursting H.E. 1000 yards long by over 300 yards deep". Close behind the barrage the 48th Highlanders advanced in close concert with tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment. The terrific shellfire had momentarily stunned the enemy; the Highlanders took their objectives and many prisoners with them; and the Royal Canadian Regiment moved in to continue the advance. Complaints that shells were falling among our own men3 now caused the cancellation of part of the artillery programme, and this unfortunately led to the R.C.R. meeting increased opposition. They suffered very heavy losses and did not attain the crossroads. On the 19th, however, the battalion put in a second attack; artillery and tank support was flawless, and this time the infantrymen reached the objective with only three casualties. The enemy had at last pulled out of the gully.
Christmas in Ortona
The second phase of the battle was over; the third, the struggle for the town of Ortona, began at once. On 20 December the Loyal Edmonton Regiment moved up the lateral road from the crossroads towards the town. On the right, a Seaforth company gave them effective aid by a diversionary attack along the coast, over very steep ground and in the face of fierce resistance. By nightfall the Canadians were in Ortona's western outskirts. But the paratroopers who held the place, it soon appeared, were determined to fight for it street by street, house by house and room by room.
At first light on 21 December the Edmontons and the Seaforth company began the reduction of Ortona. It was clearly to be a difficult task, for the narrow Old Town on its bluff above the sea could be approached only from the south-west, and its constricted streets and tall strongly-built houses provided excellent cover for the enemy. Ortona had not been bombed, for the Navyy wished if possible to obtain the harbour undamaged; and the combatants were locked too closely together to permit us to make much use of artillery. Thus the struggle which now began was primarily an infantry fight. It proved to be one of unexampled bitterness. Heidrich's men were past masters of the art of defensive warfare, and they possessed great numbers of automatic weapons admirably suited to street fighting. They had prepared the town for defence by blowing houses into the street and covering the resulting rubble-piles with fire from machine-guns carefully sited in the neighbouring buildings. They also made free and skilful use of mines. Their scheme was to shepherd our troops along the main street to the central square (the Piazza Municipale) which they aimed to use as a "killing ground".4
The methods developed during the next few days became "the form" for town-clearing operations in Italy. The Canadian infantrymen soon found that movement in the streets, in the face of such an enemy, was not a paying proposition; and accordingly they took to "mouseholing"--using explosive charges to blast their way through the connecting walls from one house to the next. Thus the Edmonton Regiment clawed forward, suffering and inflicting many casualties. During the first day the balance of the Seaforth Highlanders was brought in to assist. The two Commanding Officers partitioned the town between them, dividing it into sections which they set about clearing systematically. The tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment gave invaluable support, their 75-millimetre guns blowing the paratroopers out of their positions in the houses. They were largely responsible for enabling the infantry to gain and clear the Piazza Municipale without the enemy being able to turn it to the grim purpose which he had intended.
High explosive was the master weapon in this battle. Not only did it open the way from house to house, but it was used repeatedly to destroy whole buildings and their occupants. During the night of 26-27 December an officer and 23 men of the Edmontons were buried when a house in which they were distributing ammunition was blown up. Only five men were saved from the ruins, including one who was rescued after 72 hours. But the Edmontons shortly took a grim revenge, blowing up simultaneously two houses full of the enemy.
CANADIAN FIELD GUNS NEAR ORTONA
From a painting by Major C.F. Comfort.
A 25-pounder of the 2PndP Field Regiment, Royal Canadian Artillery (1PstP Canadian Division)
in action in the Ortona Salient during the dismal winter of 1943-44
Artillery, as we have said, could play only a limited part; but a British heavy battery was brought up so that its 7.2-inch howitzers might deal with the massive walls of the ancient castle which stood at the seaward end of the Old Town, and the Canadian Division's 17-pounder anti-tank guns were used to good advantage against the enemy in the houses on the seafront. In the town itself, both sides used infantry anti-tank guns, the Germans siting theirs in the cross-streets to snipe our advancing tanks from the flank; even so, the Three Rivers lost only three tanks in Ortona. Our own 6-pounders proved excellent weapons for dealing with the enemy in buildings.
So the struggle went on, day after day, for a full week, at the season which Christians normally dedicate to peace and goodwill. It was a bloody Christmas in Ortona. The Edmonton War Diary remarked on 25 December, "Today is our fifth Christmas on Active Service and the fiercest fighting so far encountered continued throughout the day". Yet both Canadian battalions contrived to provide real Christmas dinners for the fighting men of their rifle companies. The Seaforth had lately captured a church which they now used for their observance of the day. Tables were actually laid with white cloths, and the four rifle companies were relieved in succession, each for two hours, for the festivities. The Pipe Major made music while the meal was served, and carols were sung to the accompaniment of the church organ, played by the Signal Officer.
While Edmontons and Seaforth fought onward through the town, the 1st Brigade, now commanded by Lt.-Col. Spry, was ordered to push forward to the west of it with a view to cutting the coast road and the enemy's communications. This move began on 23 December. It was hampered by rain, mud and mines, yet in the first phase good progress was made; the Hastings and Prince Edward reached their objectives, and the 48th Highlanders took over the advance. They too reached their goal, the high ground just northwest of Ortona. There, however, they were wholly cut off. They maintained their position over Christmas Day, going hungry because supplies could not be got forward; while the mud prevented tanks from coming up in support. That night a carrying party of the Saskatoon Light Infantry got up to them with rations and carried their wounded back. The Saskatoons' commander received a warm note of thanks from his opposite number of the 48th. "It was a hazardous, wearisome job to perform on Christmas Night", wrote Lt.-Col. Johns-ton, "but you may be assured this unit and in particular the casualties you carried out will be forever grateful." The next day three Ontario Regiment tanks got through, and they and the Highlanders proceeded to kill large numbers of Germans.
This threat to his communications, reinforcing the effect of his very heavy losses, doubtless helped to convince the enemy that he must give up such parts of Ortona as still remained to him. The 27th was the final
day of fighting in the town. The Patricias were brought forward to relieve the Edmontons, but they were not required; during the night of 27-28 December the paratroopers relinquished their last footholds and retreated along the coast road, leaving about one hundred of their dead comrades lying unburied in Ortona.5
Winter in the Salient
The offensive beginning with the crossing of the Sangro had been a battle against time as well as against the enemy; for pretty clearly if Rome was to be taken it would have to be before winter set in in earnest. This fight against the calendar had now been lost. The Allied Force Headquarters summary of operations covering the last two days of 1943 and the first two of 1944 begins, "Adverse weather continued to hamper all operations". Ground conditions were appalling all across the front; and in the mountains roads were blocked by snow.6
Moreover, the Eighth Army's formations were thoroughly exhausted. The 1st Canadian Division was much the worse for the continuous desperate fighting of December. On 3 January General Vokes reported to the commander of the 5th Corps that during the month his Division had suffered battle casualties amounting to 176 officers and 2163 other ranks, including 35 and 467 known to have been killed, while casualties from sickness had totalled more than 1600. Battle casualties had been particularly heavy in the rifle companies of infantry battalions.7 Beginning late in December the Division had received reinforcements amounting to 150 officers and 2258 other ranks. These required to be effectively absorbed before the units could regain their old efficiency, and General Vokes considered that his infantry would not be fit for further offensive operations until the battalions had had a period of rest to allow them to carry out intensive training.
Such being the condition of things, the advance in the Adriatic sector simply could not go on; it was necessary to renounce the plan to
push on up the coast and take Pescara. The Canadians' last gains before the offensive finally languished were the hamlets of San Nicola and San Tommaso, just west of Ortona, which fell to the 48th Highlanders on 31 December, and the height known as Point 59, overlooking the sea about two miles above the city. This latter position was a hard nut to crack. After two attempts had failed, and a particularly vicious enemy counterattack on the last night of the Old Year had caused us more than 50 casualties, it was finally taken from the entrenched paratroopers by the Carleton and York Regiment on 4 January, the assault going in after an intense and complicated artillery programme which served to bewilder the defenders. Forty Germans were buried on the hill.
Here, then, the Eighth Army's offensive finally ground to a stop. The Canadians now held a long salient, their front running from the sea at Point 59 along the little stream called the Riccio, taking in San Nicola and San Tommaso, and on to Villa Grande, north-west of Casa Berardi. This line they were to maintain for three miserable winter months, in circumstances of cold, rain and mud which those who experienced them will never forget. Even Divisional Headquarters, located in a muddy orange-grove on the hill-side above the coast road just north of San Vito, was extremely uncomfortable; and the forward infantry battalions, always in contact with the enemy, existed under the most wretched conditions imaginable.
Before offensive operations were wholly abandoned an attempt was made to keep the front moving with the aid of the fresh Canadian troops who had lately arrived in Italy. As we have seen, the 5th Canadian Armoured Division had landed early in November. Its infantry component (Brigadier G. Kitching's 11th Canadian Infantry Brigade) was now considered ready for action. It was accordingly brought forward from the Division's concentration area (about Altamura, not far from Bari); and on the night of 13-14 January it relieved the 3rd Brigade in the right sector of the Ortona salient, passing under the 1st Division's command. On the morning of the 17th the 11th Brigade put in a limited attack with the object of pushing the enemy's line back to the valley of the Arielli, which runs into the Adriatic a mile or so beyond the Riccio.
This enterprise was unsuccessful. The Perth Regiment made some progress in the beginning, but was then struck by extremely heavy fire, lost heavily and could get no further. The Cape Breton Highlanders were subsequently sent in, but they too accomplished little. The two units were withdrawn that night, and in accordance with plans made before the operation the 2nd Brigade relieved the 11th. The latter brigade had suffered about 200 casualties in its first operation. The front line positions remained unchanged.
A final and still more limited offensive effort was made on the left of the Canadian front by the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment on
30 and 31 January. The battalion, attacking along the road leading to Tollo, met the same sort of opposition from the paratroops that had stopped the 11th Brigade, and after losing many men killed and wounded was obliged to fall back to its original positions. From this time onward the tasks of the forward battalions were limited to patrolling. Just what this involved was explained at the time by an officer of the Division:
The laconic announcement of "patrolling" in sitreps and commu-niques has become so usual that this work is generally regarded as synonymous with inactivity. Nevertheless, a good proportion of an infantry company in forward positions is committed nightly, and frequently during the day, to a form of warfare which requires a soldier to crawl on his belly for considerable distances through the mud, and to run the gauntlet of "S" mines, flares, machine-gun and mortar fire in order to take prisoners or to recce an enemy position.8
The weather continued to be malicious. The same officer wrote, "With very little respite the weather in February remained bad. The heavy clay of the coastal sector, in which we have tried to fight, has been converted into a morass, and the condition of our forward slit-trenches can be imagined more easily than described. It was not until 27 February that the sun made more than a fitful appearance." And the improvement at the end of February was only temporary, for during the early days of March "the elements raged with unexampled fury".
It was under such conditions that General Crerar's 1st Canadian Corps was introduced to operations. His Corps Headquarters relieved the 5th British Corps in the coastal area on the night of 31 January--1 February. In the first instance it had under command the 1st Canadian and 8th Indian Divisions. Simultaneously the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, now commanded by Major-General E.L.M. Burns, who had succeeded General Simonds on the latter's departure for England to assume command of the 2nd Canadian Corps, relieved the 4th Indian Division in the Orsogna area further to the left. It thus entered the line as a division 85 days after its arrival in Italy. On 9 February Burns' Division exchanged with the 8th Indian Division, and from this time Crerar had under his command the two Canadian Divisions as well as the 1st Army Group Royal Canadian Artillery. The 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade was with the 13th Corps.
The Canadian Corps remained in the line in the Ortona sector for five weeks. During this time there were no offensive operations of any moment, although planning continued, and the general situation reminded the Corps Commander of the position warfare with which he had been well acquainted on the Western Front in 1914-18. On 7 March
the sector reverted to the 5th Corps, and the Canadian Corps Headquarters moved south to Larino to plan for operations beyond the Apennines. At the same time General Burns took over the Corps from General Crerar, who returned to England to take command of the First Canadian Army for the approaching campaign in France. The 5th Canadian Armoured Division, which was now taken over by Major-General B. M. Hoffmeister, was likewise withdrawn for training and planning; the 1st Division remained in its all-too-familiar positions in the Ortona salient until 21 April, when it too moved southward.
At this period the Canadian force in the Mediterranean theatre had reached its peak of strength. On 31 March 1944 Canadian Army personnel there numbered 4676 officers and 71,148 other ranks. With a larger force engaged, casualties had continued to mount throughout the winter, even in the absence of large-scale operations; and by 11 May, when the next phase of the Italian campaign began, the cumulative Canadian total for the theatre (including "ordinary deaths" as well as battle casualties) was 9934 all ranks. Of these casualties, 2119 had been fatal.
In the spring of 1944 all eyes were turned towards North-West Europe. The coming invasion there was probably the best-advertised operation in military history: only the really essential points--notably the actual time and place Ñ remained secret. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had left the Mediterranean to assume the supreme command of the Allied Expeditionary Force assembling in Britain for the invasion of France; General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson succeeded him as Supreme Commander in the Mediterranean, with General Sir Harold Alexander as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Armies in Italy. On the last day of 1943 General Sir Bernard Montgomery handed over the Eighth Army to Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese, and flew back to England to take command of the 21st Army Group. Within the Canadian force, the departures of Generals Crerar and Simonds have already been noted. These events emphasized the fact that henceforth Italy would be a secondary theatre. "The scene changes and vastly expands", wrote Mr. Churchill in General Montgomery's autograph book on New Year's Day. "A great task accomplished gives place to a greater..." Canadian officers from the United Kingdom who visited Italy in the early months of 1944 found their compatriots there looking rather wistfully towards Egland, where the First Canadian Army was readying for battle; they felt themselves condemned to participation in what seemed to have become a "sideshow", conducted in a country which most of them disliked. But a year was to pass, and many bloody actions were to be fought, before the two segments of the army were reunited; and Canada's greatest Italian battles still lay ahead.
Operations in Southern Italy,
September 1943-January 1944
Table of Contents
Previous Chapter (7) * Next Chapter (9)