Canadian Troops Disembark their Landing Craft, Normandy, France, 6 June, 1944.
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection, A98-96 LER A. Baker).

Canadian Troops Disembark their Landing Craft, Normandy, France, 6 June, 1944.

Staring in the late spring 1944, Canadian forces in Italy tended to be under strength because most replacement troops following D-Day invasion went to northern France.

Two weeks later the LER was moving back into line as the 8th Army attack approached a series of ridges that barred the approach to Rimini. The battalion was now a very seasoned unit, entirely comfortable with the art of working with tanks and other supporting arms and familiar with the defensive tactics of the Germans. On the debit side, like all Canadian units in Italy, they were under strength because the army in Normandy had first call on the declining pool of replacements. The Seaforths were assigned to the 3rd Brigade and given the task of breaking through the German line at the village of San Martino. The Edmontons were in reserve in case the initial assault came up short. In the event, that was what happened, and, late on 18 September, the battalion launched an attack on a group of stone houses occupied by the Germans. A and C Companies suffered 20 dead and 37 wounded in the attack and at first light remained pinned down by the Germans. They were ordered to stay in position while B and D Companies worked their way around to the left. By nightfall, they had reached the Ausa River and the Canadians were ready to renew the attack.

On 20 September, the LER attacked in the centre of the 2nd and 3rd Brigades against San Fortunato Ridge. D Company led off with an initial objective of a crossroad codenamed BOVEY. They got there after taking casualties and losing radio contact about the same time as a German force that included a number of massive Tiger tanks. B Company managed to get through, reinforce the position, and re-establish radio contact. The two companies held their ground, taking out a Tiger tank with grenades and PIAT fire and killing its infantry escort. C Company under Captain A. Dougan moved up to join their comrades and in the process killed a large number of Germans and captured 50. Dougan took command of the position and called down artillery fire that broke up several German counter-attacks. Major Stone brought up a couple of the battalion's six-pounder anti-tank guns, which held off the German armour until the British tanks reached the position early in the morning. The LER then moved forward another 1000 meters and occupied the village of San Lorenzo in Monte. It was, as the Canadian official history puts it, a 'spectacular triumph.' Captain Dougan earned a bar to his Military Cross and Major Stone got the D.S.O. At a cost of 11 dead and 33 wounded, the LER had punched completely through the heavily defended German position and captured more than 300 prisoners.

PIAT and Bren Guns, n.d.PIAT and Bren Guns, n.d.
City of Edmonton Archives (Loyal Edmonton Regiment Collection)

PIAT and Bren Guns, n.d.

PIAT and Bren guns were employed by tank-hunting units that The Loyal Edmonton and other Canadian regiments created during the latter stages of the Italian campaign.

Now winter was rapidly approaching and the possibility of an early victory in Italy was as rapidly diminishing. The LER moved out of line and back to Cattolica for a few weeks' well-earned rest. Their success against Tiger tanks at San Fortunato led the LER to form a permanent tank-hunting platoon with four PIATs, anti-tank mines, and Bren gunners. This innovation was quickly copied by the other battalions in 2nd Brigade and promptly proved its worth when the Seaforths' tank hunters accounted for three Panthers, a half-track, a scout car, and two self-propelled guns in a single action that resulted in a Victoria Cross for Private Alva Smith. At the beginning of October, Lieutenant-Colonel Bell-Irving left the regiment and Major Stone took over as CO. The LER had fought well under Colonels Coleman and Bell-Irving, but there can be no doubt that all ranks were happy to be once again under the command of one of their own. In mid-October, the LER was ordered back to the line, which had now moved well beyond Rimini and was approaching Ravenna. On 17 October, the battalion crossed the Pisciatello River in a night attack and took the village of Ponte della Pietra after some hard fighting. During the attack Corporal G.E. Kingston led a charge across 50 metres of open ground that took out a German machine gun position, in the process killing four of the enemy and taking 21 prisoners. For this exploit, he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

The Patricias passed through and pursued the Germans to the next river line, the Savio, some three kilometres on. One of their platoons got a foothold across the river, and, on 22 October, A Company of the LER crossed 1000 metres upstream to help them out. The company commander, Major W.G. Longhurst, was killed almost immediately and resistance was so fierce that part of A Company was forced to withdraw. About ten men under the command of CSM W.G. Davies dug in and held on until B Company joined them just before midnight. C Company made it over around 0400, just as the river rose suddenly due to heavy rains in the hills. Outflanked by British advances farther inland, the Germans retreated after night fell on the 23rd. The operation had cost the battalion nine dead and 40 wounded.

After the crossing of the Savio, the rains began in earnest and the destruction of the drainage system by the Germans threatened to turn the Romagna Plain into a vast swamp. The whole Canadian Corps was pulled back into reserve, which for the LER meant the town of Riccione near Rimini. Rumours were already starting to circulate that 1 Canadian Corps was to be pulled out of Italy, but there would months of hard fighting before that happened. By the end of November, the allied forces were closing in on Bologna. The Americans were fighting their way out of the mountains, while the 8th Army continued its struggle through the endless river lines of the coastal plain. The series of obstacles facing the 1st Canadian Division were a defender's dream and an attacker's nightmare. To get through the place where Lake Commachio narrows the space between water and mountains to about thirty kilometers meant crossing a succession of closely spaced rivers and canals. Running parallel to each other were the Lamone River, the Fosse Vetra, Fosse Vecchio and Naviglio canals, and the Senio River. The distance from the Lamone to the Senio was only about 3000 meters in most places, and all the waterways had high banks to keep in the rising waters from the winter rains.

In early December, the Canadians were given the job of breaking through the river and canal lines. 1st Brigade drew the short straw and attacked on 10 December, forcing the Germans back beyond the Naviglio Canal. The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment got a foothold across the Naviglio and hung on. On the 12th, the LER was assigned to 1st Brigade to help out. On the afternoon of the 13th, C and D Companies moved up with some tanks from the British Columbia Dragoons. After surviving fourteen counter-attacks, the remnants of the Hasty Ps were huddled in a couple of shattered farmhouses, expecting to be overrun by German tanks at any moment. One of their sergeants recorded their reaction to the relief column that suddenly appeared:

Someone ran to the window and yelled and the rest of us crowded up and looked out too. And then we knew how the boys had felt at the siege of Lucknow when they heard the skirl of the pipes. Coming up the road was a squadron of British Columbia Dragoon tanks swinging their 17-pounder guns from side to side as if they meant business. And what was just as welcome a sight was the marching infantry of the Loyal Edmontons - the only outfit in the Army that we ever considered might be as good, or better, than ourselves.

No battalion ever received a higher compliment.

After two more days, the Germans gave up and retreated to the Senio River line under pressure of an attack by all three battalions of 2nd Brigade. The LER pulled back for a few days rest, then renewed the pressure farther south near the village of Bagnacavallo. By Christmas, the high command had decided that no further efforts would be made to break through the German lines for the rest of the winter. The Germans were well aware of situation and kept up an aggressive program of raiding and patrolling through January and February. The LER responded in kind during the stretches they were in line, and there were a number of small but deadly encounters.

The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Prepare to Cross the Ijssel River, near Zutphen, Netherlands, 11 April 1945.
National Archives of Canada (PA-140693, photo by G. Barry Gilroy, courtesy DND).

The Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry (PPCLI) Prepare to Cross the Ijssel River, near Zutphen, Netherlands, 11 April 1945.

By early April 1945, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment had made its way from Northern Italy to the front in Northwestern Europe. The regiment's soldiers took part in the crossing of the Ijssel River, near Amsterdam.
Canadians in Potsdam Place, Berlin, Germany, 9 July 1945.
National Archives of Canada (PA-140126, photo by Michael M. Dean, courtesy of DND).

Canadians in Potsdam Place, Berlin, Germany, 9 July 1945.

A and B companies of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment were ordered to join other Canadian troops in Berlin to take part in victory ceremonies.

On 25 February, the rumours about leaving Italy to join the rest of the Canadian Army in the North-western Europe came true. On that day the battalion left the Senio line for the last time. They moved south along the Adriatic coast, then crossed Italy through Tuscany to the port of Livorno. Here they boarded landing craft for the short trip to Marseilles. By the middle of March, along with the rest of 1 Canadian Corps, the LER were aboard truck convoys driving north through France and into Belgium. There was a brief pause at a camp near Antwerp; then, on 3 April, the LER moved up to the front which in the Canadian sector had reached the River Ijssel, east of Amsterdam. River crossings were more than familiar to the LER, and the Ijssel on the night of 12 April provided no serious problems. German resistance was starting to crumble by this time, and it was mostly a matter of rounding up prisoners and dealing with a few last pockets of resistance. In one of these skirmishes, on 25 April, Private G. Feschuk became the last member of the regiment killed in the war. Three days later the fighting stopped. The LER lost 10 killed and 74 wounded in its brief experience of fighting in the Netherlands. This time around at least some of the battalion got to Germany. A and B Companies were sent to Berlin in July as part of a Canadian composite battalion to participate in the victory ceremonies. The rest were happy to bask in the hospitality of the liberated Dutch and think about going home. Getting back to Canada was handled more smoothly this time around. Those members of the regiment who did not wish to take their discharge in Edmonton were shifted to other units, but more than 500 boarded the liner Ile de France on 26 September headed for home. They reached Halifax on 2 October and pulled into Edmonton four days later. The scene of 1919 was repeated with a short break to greet relatives, a parade down Jasper Avenue, greetings from Premier Manning and other dignitaries, and then dismissal. General Griesbach, alas, was not among the greeters, having died in January.

Graves of Loyal Edmonton Regiment Soldiers Killed in Battle of Ortona, Italy, 7 January 1944.
National Archives of Canada (PA-115151, photo by Alexander Mackenzie Stirton).

Graves of Loyal Edmonton Regiment Soldiers Killed in Battle of Ortona, Italy, 7 January 1944.

Soldiers of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment fought battles such as the one at Ortona with great ability and courage. The regiment certainly made its mark on the Second World War, just as it done in the First World War. Hundreds of men, however, such as the ones who lay beneath these markers, never made it home.

In this war, more than 5000 men served in the battalion overseas as compared to about 4000 in the previous conflict. The greater number is partly explained by the fact that the regiment was on active service for a much longer period; six years as opposed to three and a half. Only nine men who left Edmonton in December of 1939 returned in the fall of 1945. On the other hand, the periods of combat service were closer; thirty-six months in the First World War compared to twenty-two in the Second World War. The numbers of dead in the Second World War were just over a third of those in the First World War (334 as opposed to 977). It was a very different kind of war, much more technologically complex than the earlier one for an infantry battalion. In it, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment showed the same qualities of courage, endurance, and resourcefulness as it had a generation earlier.

 

Copyright © 2015 The Loyal Edmonton Regiment Museum
Prince of Wales Armouries Heritage Centre
10440 - 108 Ave, Edmonton