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Posted on Mar 6, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

Canadians in Italy, Part 1, The Battle of Ortona

By Danny Bouchard

“Little Stalingrad” 20-27 December 1943

After the fall of “Cider,” Montgomery expected that the Germans would fall back to the next natural obstacle, the Arielli River, a small stream about 3 miles north of Ortona. (*5) In fact, HQ had stated it would reach the Arielli by the 24th of December. Ortona was to be a rest and maintenance area and used to provide the Canadians with winter quarters.

Ortona, a medieval town of about 10,000 with narrow streets and tall narrow houses packed wall to wall was a defensive paradise. A coastal town on the Adriatic Sea, with a harbor and ravines to the west, north, and south allowed for only one approach from the south by which the Canadians were only now attempting to force. (*6) This road, known as the Corso Vittorio Emanuele lead to the Piazza Municipale, the centre town where the cathedral of San Tommaso stood. The Germans had forced the able bodied men to do work for them north of town and the others who were also of age to be “drafted” fled the town to hide in the mountains.

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Ortona004.jpg
German POWs (NAC, PA-107934)

The Germans had prepared superbly for the Canadians. Engineers had performed demolitions like experts. Houses were destroyed and the rubble piled up, at some places, up to 12 feet high, in the streets. These piles of rubble prevented the tanks supporting the infantry to advance to contact. In fact, the Germans wanted to channel the Canadians along only one road and to slaughter them in a fatal funnel killing field. Houses were booby trapped and rigged for demolition. Machine gun posts were placed in the rubble piles, on the sides and in houses so to allow each post to support each other. Snipers were everywhere covering the machine guns and taking their aim at Canadian infantry.

On the 20th, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment supported by a squadron of tanks from the Three Rivers Regiment moved forward towards Ortona using the Ortona-Orsogna lateral road. In spite of having engineers sweep the road, some tanks were disabled by mines and booby traps. By the afternoon, The Edmontons were in the southern part of town. They were reinforced in the evening by a company from the Seaforth regiment, who approached from the coastal highway and entered the town from the south-east. In the early daylight hours of the 21st the Canadians began to move forward into the town. Quickly they met stern resistance.

Ortona006.jpg
Sherman tank of the Three Rivers Regiment during street
fighting in Ortona (NAC, PA-201354)

[continued on next page]

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