Generals Montgomery and Simonds Take Refuge from the Heat, Italy, n.d.).
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-215, Box 8).

Generals Montgomery and Simonds Take Refuge from the Heat, Italy, n.d.).

General Guy Simonds commanded the Canadian First Division into battle at Leonforte against the Germans. Leonforte was the lynchpin of German defences along a line that ran east to Catania and the Ionian Sea. The First Division took up this task on behalf of General Bernard Montgomery and the British Eight Army.

After securing Leonforte, the Division turned east to attack down Rte 121. The town of Agira was taken on 28 July after hard fighting by 2nd Brigade, culminating in an uphill assault by B Company of the Edmonton Regiment that saw bayonets used for the first time in the war. The American 1st Division was now on the left of the regiment, moving down the parallel Rte 120. The two forces shared responsibility for clearing out the broken country between the two roads. After a week of hard going with mules (the only source of supplies) and vicious small unit fights against the determined resistance of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, the Americans captured Troina to the north and the British took Adrano to the south, opening the way for the final push to Messina. On 8 August the Canadians moved out of the fighting and into reserve. The fighting in Sicily, which lasted less than a month, had provided a severe test for the well-trained but unblooded battalion. In spite of the intense heat, constant choking dust, loss of vehicles, and malaria and dysentery, the unit had more than held its own against battle-hardened German troops. Montgomery visited the 2nd Brigade on 20 August and told them that he considered them fully the equals of the 8th Army units that had fought all the way from Egypt. The statement might be considered just another morale-building exercise, but Montgomery said much the same thing in his private diary. (12)

Canadian Artillery Personnel Italy, 1943.
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-215, Box 8).

Canadian Artillery Personnel Italy, 1943.

Canadian troops generally and the Edmonton Regiment in specific acquitted themselves well during the Sicilian campaign. They battled stiffening German resistance, stifling heat, and choking dust throughout the campaign. Nevertheless, they showed their considerable abilities on the battlefield.

On 11 August the regiment moved to the town of Militello for three weeks well-deserved rest. There was plenty of fresh produce to be had from the local farmers, and the camp was close enough to the coast that one company a day could be bussed to the beaches for swimming. Sports and the occasional movie at a nearby American air base rounded out the recreational activities. The Italians had by this time overthrown Mussolini's government and were negotiating a deal with the Allies in the vain hope of keeping the Germans from occupying their country and continuing the war. Rumours began to circulate in late August that the Allies would move across the mainland in an effort to encourage the Italians and forestall the Germans.

Canadians Playing Baseball, Sicily, n.d.
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A96-215, Box 8).

Canadians Playing Baseball, Sicily, n.d.

Canadian soldiers earned some well-deserved rest and recreation during the latter half of August 1943.

The plan was for 8th Army to cross directly to Reggio di Calabria on 3 September in the hope that they would draw as much attention as possible away from the landing area of the US 5th Army at Salerno a few days later. Unfortunately for the Americans the Germans were not taken in by the plan. As a result, the Edmonton Regiment and the rest of the Canadians had only light and scattered opposition as they made their way up the toe of the Italian boot. The going was initially slow, however, because the Division was assigned the road that followed the central mountain spine of the peninsula to protect the flank of the British 5th Division on the coast road. The Germans had mined the roads and demolished all bridges. On 8 September, there was a brief fire fight with some Italian paratroopers who surrendered after taking some casualties. Later that day the regiment reached the town of Cittanova, where they paused several days for rest.

The lack of opposition and the capture of Taranto unopposed after the Italian surrender brought an end to the cautious advance through the mountains. The Canadians were ordered north to take the city of Potenza, which was accomplished by elements of the 3rd Brigade on 20 September. The Edmonton Regiment arrived the following day and, with the rest of 2nd Brigade, began pushing north-westward through the coastal plain around Foggia with its large complex of air bases. The Germans at this point had two choices about how to pursue the defence of Italy. They could make a stand south of Rome or conduct a fighting withdrawal to the Pisa- Rimini line in the north. Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, now in command of northern Italy, favoured the latter, but Hitler came down on the side of Field Marshall Albert Kesselring who favoured holding the Bernhard/Gustav Line, which ran along the Garigliano River south of Cassino on the west side of the peninsula and the Sangro River on the Adriatic side. The allied command at the end of September agreed with Rommel's assessment and expected no determined opposition. Montgomery planned a quick advance up the coast to Pescara, after which the 8th Army would turn left, cross the mountains on Route 5 and meet the Americans in Rome. In the event, however, the Edmonton Regiment and the rest of the 8th Army faced half a year of bitter fighting at both ends of the German line before it was broken.

Campobasso, Italy, 1943.
Historical Section of the General Staff, Canadian Military Headquarters in Great Britain, From Pachino to Ortona: The Canadian Campaign in Sicily and Italy, 1943 (Ottawa: King's Printer, [1945]).

Campobasso, Italy, 1943.

The 1st Brigade of the Canadian First Division took Campobasso without much opposition. The town was important because it was positioned along major lines of communication.

In October, everything seemed to be going according to plan. The Canadians advanced steadily toward their next objective, the town of Campobasso, with the Edmonton Regiment playing their now familiar role of left flank guard of the 8th Army, moving through the mountains with occasional sharp encounters with German rear guards. Campobasso, the provincial capital, was located at the junction of two important roads, highways 17 and 87. It was taken by 1st Brigade on 14 October without serious opposition, which enabled the undamaged town to be quickly converted into a maintenance and recreation centre for Canadian soldiers. The Loyal Edmonton Regiment (the name change came through on 11 October, although the original order dated from 7 July) (13) moved through the town of Vinchiaturo in preparation for crossing the Biferno River. The river valley was a major German defence line, and Montgomery intended to rest the Canadians and use the 5th Division to break through.

In preparation for the British attack, the LER was given the task of moving across the Biferno and capturing the village of Colle d'Anchise, held by the 67th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which dominated the upper reaches of the Biferno. There was tank, artillery, and anti-tank support for the attack, but, since a vehicle river crossing would have to be built, the infantry would have to go in first and rely on surprise. At 0400 on 23 October, the LER troops waded through icy waist-deep water to cross the river and then started up a steep 700 foot escarpment to the village. Aided by a heavy fog, the attackers took the Germans completely by surprise. The LER cleared most of the village in vicious hand-to-hand fighting. Corporal J.G. Milnes took out one German machine gun position by himself. Sergeant R.D. Whiteside, not to be outdone, single-handedly silenced two, killing and wounding eleven Germans with just his rifle, for which he received the DCM.

Edmonton Regiment Soldier, Colle d'Anchise, Italy, October, 1943.
Historical Section of the General Staff, Canadian Military Headquarters in Great Britain, From Pachino to Ortona: The Canadian Campaign in Sicily and Italy, 1943 (Ottawa: King's Printer, [1945]).

Edmonton Regiment Soldier, Colle d'Anchise, Italy, October, 1943..

A soldier of the Edmonton Regiment surveys the Biferno Valley from a point near Colle d'Anchise. Members of the LER had to climb a 700 foot escarpment to make their attack on the German held town of Colle d'Anchise.

The situation now began to resemble the Leonforte attack. As day broke, the Germans brought up reinforcements and armour to counter-attack while the LER lost radio contact with brigade. By about 0830, the river crossing was complete, and half a dozen Shermans from the Ontario Armoured Regiment got across. The guides who were supposed to take them to the LER were absent, apparently dispersed by enemy fire. Unable to establish contact with regimental HQ, the tanks finally began to move up the hill to where they believed the LER to be. They immediately ran into a German ambush, losing three tanks and halting the rest. By mid-afternoon the German counter-attack had pushed the LER, who had no artillery support because of radio failure and only their PIATs to oppose the panzers, back out of most of the village. The regiment was running very short of ammunition but holding grimly on at the end of the day, when the Germans suddenly withdrew because of advances by the PPCLI and 1st Brigade farther downstream. The LER lost 30 men (5 dead) in the fight, but German casualties were about a hundred, including 29 prisoners.

  • 12. D'Este, Bitter Victory, Appendix L, "Montgomery and the Canadians", 619.
  • 13. Lt. -Col. G.W.L. Nicholson, Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War, Volume II, The Canadians in Italy 1943-45 (Ottawa, Queen's Printer, 1966), 246.
 

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