Canadian 6-pounder anti-tank gun engages in direct fire in Ortona 21 December 1943

Canadian 6-pounder anti-tank gun engages in direct fire in Ortona 21 December 1943
Photo Credit: Canadian army newsreel

History: Dec 21, 1943, Canada and the bloody battle for Ortona

It was not supposed to be a major battle.  In the end, it was one of the bloodiest battles in the Italian campaign.

Canadian soldiers in Ortona in December getting ready to advance through a breached wall during the vicious house to house fighting. A variety of weapons from the Bren LMG, to a Thampson submachine gun to the standard bolt action Lee Enfield.
Canadian soldiers 48th Highlanders- at S. Leonardo di Ortona, 10 December getting ready to advance through a breached wall during the deadly fighting leading into Ortona. A variety of weapons from the Bren LMG, to a Thampson submachine gun to the standard bolt action Lee Enfield. Tragically the man holding the Thompson would be killed a few days later fighting at Ortona ©  Library and Archives Canada PA-163411

 

Canadian rifleman in Ortona December 1943. As fighting in the street became too deatly with Germans well sighted in, Canadians developed a tactic called -mouseholing- blowing holes through walls to get to the next house in vicious house to house fighting.
Canadian rifleman in Ortona December 1943. As fighting in the street became too deatly with Germans well sighted in, Canadians developed a tactic called -mouseholing- blowing holes through walls to get to the next house in vicious house to house fighting. © Library Archives Canada

In December of 1943, a small town, Ortona, became the scene of a bitter siege as both Canadians and Germans fought for the ancient seaport.

It became known as Canada’s “little Stalingrad”, a reference to the desperate bitter battle in that Russian city.

On December 21, 1943, the Canadians began their attack on the town.

The Germans had been putting up fierce resistance in retreat as the allies pushed slowly up the boot of Italy when in December the Canadians were ordered to cross the Moro River and move on to the town of Ortona.  After heavy and bitter fighting up through the Moro valley, it was thought that the Germans would not put up a stiff defence in the town as it wasn’t of real strategic importance and the Germans would have a better defensive position across another river further outside the town.

For some reason Hitler ordered the town be held at all costs, and a battle hardened elite parachute division was sent in.

The Germans had established all their firing sight lines and laid mines and booby traps throughtout the town.

What transpired was bitter house to house combat; a deadly struggle for each blasted building, and each pile of rubble across each narrow winding street.

A Canadian 15cwt CMP truck and a jeep burn after a hit by a German mortar. The Germans had carefully established firing lines making the battle extremely fierce and deadly. Another Canadian designed vehicle- Universal carrier (aka bren carrier) is in the foreground
Dec. 23, 1943- A Canadian 15cwt CMP truck and a jeep burn after a hit by a German mortar. The Germans had carefully established firing lines making the battle extremely fierce and deadly. Another Canadian designed vehicle- Universal carrier (aka bren carrier) is in the foreground ©  Public Archive Canada PA 170291

As it became impossible to safely fight in the streets, the Canadians developed a strategy called “mouse-holing”.

As one building was fought for, and cleared, the Canadians would blast a hole through the walls in the next building and fight to clear that one.

CBC newsman Matthew Halton in one report said, “It wasn’t hell. It was the courtyard of hell. It was a maelstrom of noise and hot, splitting steel…the rattling of machine guns never stops … wounded men refuse to leave, and the men don’t want to be relieved after seven days and seven nights… the battlefield is still an appalling thing to see, in its mud, ruin, dead, and its blight and desolation.

The Seaforth Highlanders enjoy their Christmas dinner, in the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, Ortona, Italy, 25 December 1943.
In one of Ortona’s more famous photos, the Seaforth Highlanders enjoy their Christmas dinner, in the bombed-out church at Santa Maria di Constantinopoli, Ortona, Italy, 25 December 1943. The dinner was made from foods scrounged, and troops were rotated away from the fighting just a couple of streets away, and then sent back to make roomfor others to enjoy a brief respite. For some, it would be their last meal. © Terry F. Rowe / Canada. Department of National Defence – Library and Archives Canada =PA-152839,

The vicious fighting went on for a week, the Germans giving up ground inch by inch and only after heavy casualties on both sides.

Finally on 28 December, the Germans pulled out, and Ortona was taken by the Canadians.
The cost was high with over 1,300 Canadians killed in “bloody December”.  About on-quarter of all Canadian casualties of the Italian campaign occurred in this one month.

It is unfortunate that this most fierce of battles displaying amazing courage  and stamina by the Canadian attackers, and it must be said, also by the Germans, is largely forgotten.

additional info-sources

One of several Youtube videos on the Ortona battle

Tagged with: , , , , , ,
Posted in History, International, Military

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1. RCInet.ca’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. RCInet.ca reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3. RCInet.ca’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.

*