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The Liberation of Southern Italy

The 1st Canadian Division landed near Reggio di Calabria on September 3rd, 1943, and met no opposition whatsoever. Italian garrisons deserted their positions and fled to the hills; the only German unit in the area, part of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division had retreated in the mountains two days earlier. For a couple of days, Canadian soldiers slowly made their way through the rugged Aspromonte region, their progression often slowed down by the collapse of bridges the Germans had sabotaged as they withdrew.

On September 9th, an Anglo-American force under the Fifth US Army, landed in Salerno. It met strong resistance from the German division, which tried to drive it back before the Eighth Army could intervene. Violent fighting took place around Salerno until September 14th.

Further south, the 1st Canadian Division was moving at good speed along the coast towards the Gulf of Tarento; it then turned up north to make its junction with the Fifth Army. Under Lieutenant-Colonel M.P. Bogert of the West Nova Scotia Regiment, a special force was put together to capture Potenza. The operation was a real obstacle race among mines and blown up bridges, extremely demanding on the engineers. On September 20th, the "Boforce", as it had been nicknamed after its commanding officer, entered Potenza where enemy resistance collapsed immediately. On September 21st, the Fifth US army and the Eighth British Army formed an uninterrupted front line that reached all across the Italian peninsula, from Salerno in the west to Bari in the east.

In October, Canadian troops harassed the enemy throughout an area that stretched from north of Potenza to the Fortore and Biferno rivers, near the Adriatic Sea. Campobasso fell on October 14th. Enemy casualties were heavy and the Germans learned to respect the soldiers of the 1st Canadian Division.

Until then the progression of the Canadian army had been rather trouble-free; since September the German strategy was simply to delay that progression as much as possible. Their commanders had orders to retreat until they could take solid positions between the Bernhard Line that cut across the Italian Peninsula from Gaeta in the west to Ortona in the east. That line protected Rome and the Germans had clear orders: They shall not pass!

Sources: Juno Beach Center

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