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CANADIAN ARMY'S CAMPAIGN IN ITALY 1943-44

In the late summer of 1944 the Allied armies in Italy, including the 1st Canadian Corps fought to break the next of a series of defence lines emplaced by German forces as they desperately sought to stop the allied advance and liberation of Italy. The Canadian Corps including the "Red Patch Devils" of the 1st Canadian Infantry and the "Mighty Maroon Machine" of the 5th Canadian Armoured Divisions - named after the colour of the divisional patches worn on their uniforms - had fought as part of the British 8th Army from the beaches of Sicily were they landed in July 1943, through the battles of Cassino , Ortona (known as Canada's Stalingrad) and the Liri Valley where they had thrown themselves in bitter fighting against the Hitler Line.

ADVANCE TO THE GOTHIC LINE

Now in August 1944 both divisions had just completed a clandestine move east across the Italian peninsula hidden from the German forces to the north in order to join in the next major allied offensive. On their right flank, advancing along the Adriatic coast was the II Polish Corps while to their left, in the rugged terrain forming the mountainous central spine of Italy, the British Army's V Corps positioned itself for the advance. The allied offensive's first objective was an assault across the Metauro River and followed by an advance advance to the Foglia River where on the ridges overlooking the northern bank the German army had build the Gothic Line. This formidable defensive position was fronted by extensive minefields, barbed wire and anti-tank ditches. These defences were covered by machine guns, anti-tank guns, artillery and mortars in hardened emplacements.

Canadians Landings in Sicily
A Canadian Sherman advances through the ruins of an Italian village.
Canadian infantry prepare for an assault in an Italian village Canadian armour and infantry advance along an Italian country road.

Lastly, German panzer, or tank, forces provided mobile defences in support of German infantry including the vaunted Fallschirmjager (parachute) troops of the 1st Parachute Division. German paratroops had earned a well-deserved repution for their tenacity and ferocity in earlier battles such as Ortona.

There was one weakness however and that was that these impressive defences had not been manned as German forces fell back from the initial assault by the allies across the Metauro River. The allied advance had caught the Germans by surprise and in the advance they had chased the retreating German forces relentlessly, not stopping to consolidate defensive positions during the advance in teh hope that the Germans could be kept off balance as the reeled back fom the Allied onslaught. In this way it was hoped that the 8th Army could "bounce" the Gothic Line defence line before retreating and reinforcing German forces could establish themselves in it.

German Heavy Tiger tank

BREAKTHROUGH AT THE GOTHIC LINE

Upon reaching the Foglia the commander of the 5th Canadian Armoured Division, Major General Bert Hoffmiester surmised from observations of the lack of activity the German defences on the northern bank of the river that the defences had not been manned yet. He immediately prepared for an assault across the river and convinced the 1 Canadian Corps commander, Lieutenant General Tommy Burns and the I Canadian Infantry Division commander Major General Chris Vokes that a unique opportunity presented itself for the allies to breakthrough the defences and completely outflank the entire German defensive position.

The Canadians launched themselves across the Foglia on 30 August with an infantry assault by the Cape Breton Highlanders (CBH) on the extreme left flank towards Montecchio with the Perth Regiment immediately to their right headed to point 111, a hill overlooking Montecchio. To the right of the Perths were the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI)supported by the 48th Royal Tank Regiment(RTR) with their heavy Churchill Infantry support tanks with the town of Osteria Nuova in their sights. On the extreme right of the Canadian assault across the Foglia, the West Nova Scotia Regiment (WNSR) advanced against point 133, the heights to the right of Osteria Nuova. The CBH and the WNSR on either flank of the attack encountered stiff resistance that held against their attacks, but in the centre between Montecchio and Osteria Nuova the Perths, PPCLI and 48th RTR a breach in the defences was opened.

The BCD Regiment was ordered to advance through this breach with close infantry support provided by the Perths. This set the stage for the next phase of the battle and the historic action taken by the BCD.

Map 1: Gothic Line Breakthrough 30 Aug - 1 Sep.
Legend: BCD - British Columbia Dragoons, IRC -Irish Regt of Canada, LdSH - Lord Stathcona's Horse (Royal Canadians), NBH - New Brunswick Horse, PLDG - Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, PPCLI- Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

 

 

 


 

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