The Liri Valley
Central Italy - South of Rome
The Hitler Line
Above: The Hitler Line by Charles Comfort. Copyright: Canadian War Museum.
Map: The Italian front on May 11, 1944.
The Adolf Hitler line was a German fallback position a few kilometres north of the Gustav line. Its strong points were at Aquino and Piedimonte. If attackers got through the minefields and barbed wire, they faced fortified pillbox machine gun emplacements and crossfire from tanks, artillery and mortars.The Adolf Hitler line was a German fallback position a few kilometres north of the Gustav line. Its strong points were at Aquino and Piedimonte. If attackers got through the minefields and barbed wire, they faced fortified pillbox machine gun emplacements and crossfire from tanks, artillery and mortars.
In the spring of 1944, the Germans still held the line of defence north of Ortona, as well as the mighty bastion of Monte Cassino which blocked the Liri corridor to the Italian capital. Determined to maintain their hold on Rome, the Germans constructed two formidable lines of fortifications, the Gustav Line, and 14.5 kilometres behind it, the Adolf Hitler Line.
During April and May of 1944, the Eighth British Army, including the 1st Canadian Corps, was secretly moved across Italy to join the Fifth U.S. Army in the struggle for Rome. Here under the dominating peak of Cassino, the Allied armies hurled themselves against the enemy position. Tanks of the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade (formerly 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade) supported the Allied attack. After four days of hard fighting, the German defences were broken from Cassino to the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Germans moved back their second line of defence. On May 18, Polish troops took the Cassino position and the battered monastery at the summit.
On May 16, the 1st Canadian Corps received orders to advance on the Hitler Line ten kilometres farther up the valley. Early on May 23, the attack on the Hitler Line went in. Under heavy enemy mortar and machine-gun fire, the Canadians breached the defences and the tanks of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division poured through toward the next obstacle, the Melfa River. Desperate fighting took place in the forming of a bridgehead across the Melfa. Once the Canadians were over the river, however, the major fighting for the Liri valley was over.
The operation developed into a pursuit as the Germans moved back quickly to avoid being trapped in the valley by the American thrust farther west. The 5th Armoured Division carried the Canadian pursuit to Ceprano where the 1st Canadian Infantry Division took over the task. On May 31, the Canadians occupied Frosinone and their campaign in this area came to an end as they went into reserve. Rome fell to the Americans on June 4. Less than 48 hours later, the long-awaited D-Day invasion of Northwest Europe began on the Normandy beaches. It remained essential, therefore, for the Allied forces in Italy to continue to pin down German troops.
The Canadians were now withdrawn for well-earned rest and re-organization, except for the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade which accompanied the British in the Allied action as the Germans moved northwards to their final line of defence.
Breaking the Hitler Line, May 23, 1944
Allied troops continue their march toward Rome. They have successfully broken the Gustav line. Now they must breach the Hitler line, a final obstacle lying between the Allies and the Italian capital. Today it will be assaulted. Canadian troops have been given the toughest part to crack; a barricade of steel, concrete and barbed wire 20 feet thick. The roar of 800 Allied guns has lasted more than an hour. Peering through a shell hole in an old farmhouse, Peter Stursberg describes the battle scene.
Canadian troops advancing towards Melfa. 23 May, 1944.
A Canadian infantryman examining an earth-emplaced German 88mm. anti-tank gun in the Hitler Line near Aquino. May 25, 1944, Aquino, Italy.
Prisoners of war captured between Gustav and Hitler Lines. 26 May 1944, Liri Valley, Italy.
L/Bdr. T. Hallam and Signalman A.H. Wharf, both of Headquarters, Royal Canadian Artillery (R.C.A.), 5th Canadian Armoured Division, examining a knocked out German Mark IV tank. May 26, 1944, Pontecorvo, Italy (Vicinity).
Private J.O. Hayman examining a heap of Italian-made mortar bombs abandoned by a German Panzer Grenadier unit near Aquino. May 22, 1944, Aquino, Italy (Vicinity).
Major-General B.M. Hoffmeister, General Officer Commanding 5th Canadian Armoured Division, in the turret of the Sherman tank "Vancouver" near Castrocielo. May 23, 1944, Castrocielo, Italy (Vicinity).
Personnel of the Westminster Regiment, 5th Canadian Armoured Brigade, examining a Self-Propelled Field Howitzer "Hummel" knocked out by PIAT gun. May 26, 1944, Pontecorvo, Italy (Vicinity).
Canadian forces advancing from the Gustav Line to the Hitler Line. 24 May 1944, Liri Valley, Italy.
Major-General B.M. Hoffmeister, General Officer Commanding 5th Canadian Armoured Division, in the Sherman tank Vancouver. May 26, 1944, Castrocielo, Italy (Vicinity).
L/Cpl J.A. Thrasher, Westminster Regiment of the 5 Canadian Armoured Brigade, with PIAT gun and self-propelled 88 gun which he knocked out with it. 26 May 1944, Pontecorvo (vicinity), Italy.
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