Chiesa di San Tomasso, Ortona, Italy, by Dr. Charles Fraser Comfort.
Copyright Canadian War Museum (CN 12261).

Chiesa di San Tomasso, Ortona, Italy, by Dr. Charles Fraser Comfort.

The battle for Ortona, 20-28 December 1943, was fought at the cost of more than 2,300 Canadian casualties. Many of the soldiers that survived were plagued by battle exhaustion and, well after the fact, by memories of those two and a half terrible weeks. As General Vokes commented, the fighting before Ortona was child's play in comparison.
Personnel of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment during Street Fighting, San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10 December 1943.
National Archives of Canada (PA-114487, photo by Frederick G. Whitcombe).

Personnel of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment during Street Fighting, San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10 December 1943.

 

In late 1943, the Allied campaign to recapture Europe began in earnest with the invasion of Italy, Germany's ally. Canadians would distinguish themselves time and time again during this campaign. Sicily fell first as Canadian and Allied troops followed up an amphibious landing by quickly sweeping the enemy from the island. Using Sicily as a base, the Allies then invaded the Italian mainland. The poorly equipped and demoralized Italian troops were soon overwhelmed by the fierce Allied assault, and Italy quickly withdrew from the war. Canadian soldiers would now face some of Hitler's most battle-hardened, elite combat units. From the invasion of Sicily, to the battles in the interior of the Italian mainland, to the taking of Rome itself, Canadian soldiers faced a wide array of conditions and brutal fighting.

All too often in historical works and Hollywood films, this critical phase of the war has been overshadowed by the D-Day invasion of France. Yet the invasion of Italy was an important key to the final Allied victory. The following screen details the Battle of Ortona, which took place in the days around Christmas in 1943. Unlike most battles of the war, Ortona was fought in the city itself, building-by-building and street-by-street, making it a bloody and costly victory.

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Ortona (opens in new window)
 

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