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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

When the morning of the 25th arrived, it was another day of battle, except it was Christmas. Christmas in Ortona appeared to be just another day of fighting and dying. But it was decided that the troops in Ortona would get a Christmas meal after all. Arrangements were made and a “banquet hall” was hastily set up in the abandoned church of Santa Maria di Constantinopoli. Throughout the day, officers and men left the frontlines in small groups to attend their meal. For the first time in a long while, a full meal was served and one bottle of beer per man was served as well. But all good things must come to an end and after about an hour, the men returned to the frontlines so as to allow another small group to attend Christmas dinner. And the desperate fighting continued…

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On the 27th, a platoon was busy distributing ammunition when the Germans blew up the building on top of them. Out of 24 men inside, only 4 were dug out alive. The Canadians were looking for revenge and got it quickly. Under cover of smoke, demolition charges were placed in buildings and when the Germans moved into them, they were detonated. It was estimated that two whole German platoons were destroyed. (*13) These incidents are indicative of the fierceness of the fighting. Both sides were desperately trying to hold onto the ground. The Canadians were finally receiving reinforcements and Brigadier Hoffmeister committed his third Battalion, the PPCLI which he had kept in reserve until now. On this same date, Hitler ordered that Ortona was to be held at all costs. But the Paratroopers disregarded that order and in the night pulled out of Ortona. On the morning of the 28th, the streets of Ortona were finally quiet. The battle for Ortona was over.

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Medical staff checking a wounded soldier before his transfer to a
Field Surgical Unit (NAC, PA-144979)

The Canadians won the battle but some will argue that the Germans didn’t lose it. Canadian casualties mounted to 650 during the 8-day battle. By German accounts, the battalions of the 1st Parachute Division reported 455 casualties. (*14) Canadians remained in Ortona for the better part of the winter until the spring 1944 offensives. On June 4th 1944, Rome was captured by the Americans and the Italian Campaign faded into obscurity. This obscurity didn’t negate the fact that Allied soldiers were still dying for the fight to liberate Italy. D-Day was now capturing the world’s attention.

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Graves of personnel of the Edmonton Regiment killed in
battle of Ortona (NAC, PA-115151)

Recommended readings

Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War Volume 2 The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945 – Lt Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson 1956. (This book is long out of print but copies are still around and could be seen for sale on the internet or at militaria shows)

Ortona: Canada’s Epic World War II Battle – Mark Zuehlke 1999

Internet sources

http://www.canadiansoldiers.com/
http://www.junobeach.org/e/2/can-eve-rod-ita-e.htm
http://www.vac-acc.gc.ca/general/sub.cfm?source=history/secondwar
http://www.collectionscanada.ca/military/025002-7000-e.html

*1 Lt Colonel G.W.L. Nicholson Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume II The Canadians In Italy 1943-1945 Page 290
*2 Ibid, page 295
*3 Ibid, page 304
*4 Ibid, page 312
*5 Ibid, page 321
*6 Ibid, page 325
*7 Ibid, page 325
*8 Ibid, page 326
*9 Ibid, page 327
*10 Ibid, page 328
*11 Ibid, page 328
*12 Ibid, page 328
*13 Ibid, page 331
*14 Ibid, page 333

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