Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945
Italy, Southern Europe
Canadians in Italy
Above: German and Canadian soldiers fight amid the wreckage of tanks and other weapons. Tank battles were prominent in most European theatres during the war.
The Italian Campaign of World War Two began with the invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and ended, for Canada, in February 1945 when the 1st Canadian Division was redeployed from Italy to the Western Front to assist with the advance across Western Europe to Germany. The Italian Campaign was Canada’s first major ground participation in the Second World War in Europe and would cost 25,264 casualties, 5,900 of them fatal, over its course which, at its highest peak, saw over 76,000 Canadians serving in Italy.
Cemetery - Number of Canadian Graves
Agira Canadian War Cemetery (Sicily) - 490, Assisi War Cemetery - 50, Bari War Cemetery - 210, The Moro River Canadian War Cemetery - 1,375, Sangro River War Cemetery - 18, Caserta War Cemetery - 98, Cassino War Cemetery - 855, Cassino Memorial (Soldiers with no known grave) - 192, Beach Head War Cemetery (Anzio) - 68, Rome War Cemetery - 22, Florence War Cemetery - 50, Ancona War Cemetery - 161, Montecchio War Cemetery - 289, Gradara War Cemetery - 369, Coriano Ridge War Cemetery - 427, Ravenna War Cemetery - 438, Casena War Cemetery - 307, Villanova Canadian War Cemetery - 206, Argenta Gap War Cemetery - 75.
The detail of the Italian campaign were discussed and decided at the August 1943 Quebec Conference. Its initial goals were the capture of Naples and of the Foggia and Rome airfields. Actually the Allies' objective was not so much to conquer Italy as to force Germany to divert some of its forces to a southern front. By dividing Nazi forces between several separate fronts, the Allies would prevent Hitler from striking a deadly blow at the USSR or from concentrating an invincible army along the coast of Normandy.
The fighting in Italy, as in Sicily, was to be bitter. Taking advantage of the mountain peaks and swift rivers, the Germans made every Allied advance difficult and costly, they would make the Allies pay for every foot of ground gained.
The assault across the Strait of Messine began on September 3, 1943. The Canadians, directed on Reggio Calabria, met little resistance since the Germans had withdrawn to establish their line of defence across the narrow, mountainous central part of the peninsula. The Canadians captured Reggio, and advanced across the Aspromonte Mountains and along the Gulf of taranto to Catanzaro. In spite of rain, poor mountain roads, and German rearguard actions, they were 75 miles inland from Reggio by September 10.
The Fifth Army meanwhile met stiff German resistance as it assaulted the beaches of Salerno. It was therefore vital for the Eighth Army to advance toward the rear of the German defence and assist in the U.S. breakout from the bridgehead. With this in view, a Canadian brigade was diverted from the main Canadian line of advance to seize Potenza, an important road centre east of Salerno. Potenza was taken on September 20. The breakout was accomplished, and on October 1, the Fifth Army entered Naples. In the meantime, the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade proceeded eastward, joined the Airborne Division in the Taranto region, and then pushed boldly inland to the north and northwest. The 5th British Corps seized the Foggia airfield.
By the end of September, the German hold on northern and central Italy was still unshaken, but the Allies had overrun a vast and valuable tract of southern Italy, and their armies stood on a line running across Italy from sea to sea. The next objective was Rome.
As the Allies drove north from Naples and Foggia, the Canadians found themselves pushing into the central mountain range. Now the enemy resisted with full force. On October 1 at Motta, the Canadians fought their first battle with Germans in Italy, and there followed a series of brief, but bloody actions. On October 14 the Canadians took Campobasso, the next day they took Vinchiaturo, and the advance continued across the Biferno River. During the same period, one unit of the Canadian Army Tank Brigade played a distinguished role on the Adriatic coast, where they supported a British assault at Termoli and its advance to the Sangro River.
In the 63 days since landing, the Eighth Army had covered 450 miles. However, the "pursuit from Reggio" was now over. The Germans, their strength now almost equal to that of the Allies and having the advantage of defence, meant to make a stand from the coast south of Cassino on the Naples-Rome highway, to Ortona on the Adriatic shore. The winning of Rome would not be easy.
Meanwhile, the decision had been taken to strengthen the Canadian forces in the Mediterranean. On November 5 the Headquarters of the 1st Canadian Corps under Lieut.-General H.D.G. Crerar; and the 5th Canadian Armoured Division arrived. General G.G. Simonds took over command of this division and was replaced in the 1st Division by Major-General C. Vokes. General McNaughton, who had objected to the division of the Canadian army retired soon afterwards.
As the first snow of winter began to fall, the Eighth Army struck hard at the German line along the Sangro River on the Adriatic Coast. The aim was to break the stalemate that had developed and to relieve the pressure on the Fifth Army in the drive to take Rome. The task was not easy for the Adriatic shoreline was cut by a series of deep river valleys. As the British and Canadians succeeded in driving the Germans from the Sangro, they were faced with the same task a few miles further north. Here, along the line of the Moro River, occurred some of the bitterest fighting of the war. The Germans counter-attacked repeatedly and often the fighting was hand-to-hand as the Canadians edged forward to Ortona on the coast.
The medieval town of Ortona, with its castle and stone buildings, was situated on a ledge over looking the Adriatic. Its steep, rubble-filled streets limited the use of tanks and artillery and thus made this an infantryman's struggle. During several days of vicious street fighting the Canadians smashed their way through walls and buildings - "mouseholing" they called it. This was Christmas 1943. Meanwhile, a subsidiary attack had been launched to the northwest and the Germans, in danger of being cut off, withdrew from Ortona. The city officially fell on December 28.
Further offensives ground to a halt during the atrocious winter weather. During the lull, Simonds left for England and Major-General E.L.M. Burns succeeded him. In March Burns took over the 1st Canadian Corps from Lieut.-General Crerar, who returned to command the First Canadian Army in England. The 5th Canadian Armoured Division was taken over by Maj.-General B.M. Hoffmeister.
- Landing in Sicily, July9-12
- Grammichele, July 15
- Piazza Arminera, July 16-17
- Valguarnera, July 15-20
- Assoro, July 20-22
- Leonforte, July 21-22
- Agira, July 24-28
- Adrano, July 29- Aug. 7
- Catenanuova, July 29-30
- Regalbuto, July 29-Aug. 3
- Centuripe, July 31- Aug. 3
- Troina Valley, Aug. 2-6
- Pursuit to Messina, Aug. 2-17
- Landing at Reggio - Sep. 3
- Potenza, Sep. 19-20
- Motta Montecorvino, Oct. 1-3
- Termoli, Oct. 3-6
- Monte San Marco, Oct. 6-7
- Gambatesa, Oct. 7-8
- Campobasso, Oct. 11-14
- Baranello, Oct. 17-18
- Colle d'Anchise, Oct. 22-24
- Torella. Oct. 24-27
- Monte Camino, Nov. 5-Dec. 9
- Monte la Difensa, Monte la Remetanea, Dec. 2-8
- The Sangro, Nov. 19-Dec. 3
- Castel di Sangro, Nov. 23-24
- The Moro, Dec. 5-7
- San Leonardo, Dec. 8-9
- The Gully, Dec. 10-19
- Casa Berardi, Dec. 14-15
- Ortona, Dec. 20-29
- San Nicola, San Tommaso, Dec. 31
- Point 59, Dec. 29-Jan. 4
- Torre-Mucchia, Dec. 29-Jan. 4
- Monte Majo, Jan. 3-8
- Anzio, Jan. 22-May 22
- Cassino II, May 11-18
- Gustav Line, May 11-18
- St Angelo in Teodice, May 13
- Pignataro, May 13-15
- Liri Valley, May 18-30
- Hitler Line, May 18-24
- Aquino, May 18-24
- Melfa Crossing, May 24-25
- Ceprano, May 26-27
- Torrice Crossroads, May 30
- Rome, May 22-June 4
- Advance to the Tiber, May 22-June 4
- Trasimene Line, June 20-30
- Sanfatucchio, June 20-21
- Arezzo, July 4-17
- Advance to Florence, July 17-Aug. 10
- Cerrone, Aug. 25-31
- Gothic Line, Aug. 25-Sep. 22
- Monteciccardo, Aug. 27-28
- Montecchio, Aug. 30-31
- Point 204, Aug. 31
- Pozzo Alto Ridge, Aug. 31
- Monte Luro, Sep. 1
- Borgo Santa Maria, Sep. 1
- Tomba di Pesaro, Sep. 1-2
- Coriano, Sep. 3-15
- Rimini Line, Sep. 14-21
- San Martino, San Lorenzo, Sep. 14-18
- San Fortunato, Sep. 18-20
- Casale, Sep. 23-25
- Sant'Angelo in Salute, Oct. 11-15
- Bulgaria Village, Oct. 13-14
- Cesena, Oct. 15-20
- Pisciatello, Oct. 16-19
- Savio Bridgehead, Oct. 20-23
- Monte la Pieve, Oct. 13-19
- Monte Spaduro, Oct. 19-24
- Lamone Crossing, Dec. 2-13
- Capture of Ravenna, Dec. 3-4
- Naviglio Canal, Dec. 12-15
- Fosso Vecchio, Dec. 16-18
- Fosso Munio, Dec. 19-21
- Conventello-Comacchio, Jan. 2-6
- Granarolo, Jan. 3-5
Canadian soldiers inspect a captured German MG34 machine gun. With a rate of fire of up to 900 rounds per minute it was somewhat faster firing than its Canadian army counterpart, the Bren gun.
Private L.G. Kenny, Royal Canadian Regiment. October 23, 1943, Castropignano, Italy.
Private J.E. McPhee of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, who is armed with a sniper rifle, under German mortar fire, Foiano, Italy, 6 October 1943.
Although Canadian casualties were compartively light in the initial advance into Italy, they did occur. Here comrades carry a wounded soldier back on a stretcher.
Corporal E.H. Pruner of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, who carries both a PIAT anti-tank weapon and a Thompson sub-machine gun, Motta, Italy, 2 October 1943.
Sgt. Ronnie Leather, Toronto, ON, of the Three Rivers Regiment, on stretcher after being hit in tank he commanded. October 5, 1943, Termoli, Italy.
German prisoners place their personal belongings on the ground prior to interrogation and processing by their Canadian captors.
Soldiers searching for a German sniper, 27 July, 1944.
Canadian soldiers from the 10th Field Battery, 4th Canadian Division help a field artillery tractor plow through a muddy field during the Allied advance near Torella. October 30, 1943.
Canadian Troops enter a village where a week earlier German soldiers had massacred the entire Male population. San Pancrazio, Italy, July 16, 1944.
Tereti, Italy, September 3, 1943. Privates W.H. Rose and R.M. Stuart walking with a muel loaded with mortars.
Tereti, Italy, September 3, 1943. Privates W.H. Rose and R.M. Stuart walking with a muel loaded with mortars.
Captain A.W. Hardy, Medical Officer with the West Nova Scotia Regiment, who was wounded in the foot, with Private W.E. Dexter, who was wounded in the head. Sept. 1943, Santa-Cristina, Italy.
Soldiers of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade run into snipers and machine gun fire. October 23, 1943, Campochiaro, Italy.
Tank of 27th RCTR (Sherbrooke Fusiliers) hauls Perth AT gun out of the mud. 17th January 1944.
The Canadian artillery's ability to quickly bring down intense fire on German defensive positions was a key factor in the relative ease of the advance.
At Colle d'Anchise, west of Campobasso, Private Maurice White of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment keeps watch.
Private D.B. MacDonald, Royal Canadian Regiment, carrying a Bren gun. Oct 1943, Campobasso, Italy.
Private B.D. Flynn of the Regimental Aid Party, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, giving a drink of water to a badly-wounded German prisoner inside a church, Catona, Italy, 21 December 1943.
A Calgary Regiment Sherman tank enters San Pancrazio, Italy, July 1944.
Orsogna, Italy January 29, 1944. Canadian Soldier, Pte. Jack Bailey (Stratford, Ontairo) of Perth Regt., in hiding, aims towards the town of Orsogna.
The commander of the Italian garrison surrenders to Capt. G.R. Coderre of Sherbrooke, Quebec.
A January 1944 picture showing Private N.L. Shauer (right) of the Devil's Brigade bringing in a German prisoner near Vanafro, italy.
Company Sergeant-Major Irene Roy distributing rum ration to infantrymen of the Royal 22e Régiment, who are in weapon pits along the main road between Gildone and Campobasso. October, 1943.
Infantrymen of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment advancing through Motta. October 2, 1943, Motta, Italy.
A company sergeant-major of the Royal 22e Régiment searching German prisoners-of-war.
A Canadian Regimental Aid Party carrying a wounded soldier, Italy, October 1943.
A Sherman tank of "A" Squadron, Ontario Regiment, crossing a stream near Colle d'Anchise. October 26, 1943, Colle d'Anchise, Italy.
Perth Regt. moving into the line 17 January 1944.
Canadian mortar troops fire in the vicinity of the Sangro River as part of Montgomery's renewed offensive.
Sherman tanks of the 12th Armoured Regiment (Three Rivers Regiment) are inspected at Lucera in southern Italy in September 1943.
Canadians advance between Hitler and Gustov lines, Liri Valley, Italy. May 24, 1944.
Princess Patricias Canadian Light Infantry and 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade leave a landing ship at Reggio, Italy. Sept 3 1943.
Gunner V.C. Northey, 5th Battery, 2nd Light Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Regiment of Canadian Artillery (R.C.A.). October 29, 1943, Campobasso, Italy.
Three men of the Canadian Infantry Brigade preparing to send a hand grenade into a sniper's hideout in the Maltese Mountains, Campochiaro, Italy, 23
Assault landing craft coming a long side HMCS 'Prince Henry' during preperations for Operation 'Dragoon', Bay of Naples, Italy, August 1944.October 1943.
Private J.A. Robb of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment looking through a shell hole in the foundation of a building, Colle d’Anchise, Italy, 27 October 1943.
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