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Ortona “Little Stalingrad”

 

The Battle of Ortona took place during the heart of the Italian offencive by the Allied forces in December of 1943. Ortona is a costal town located on the Southwest coast of Italy. The attack on Ortona lacked in operational sense, but due to the winter season making mountain movement impossible and the fact that the Germans reinforced the city with the 1st Paratroop Division, the Allied planners went ahead with the plan to assault Ortona. Here is a chronology of the battle:

Dec.20th
first day of the assault, Loyal Edmonton Regiment advances 3000 yards
buildings on outskirts of town taken and held
engineers move into town under artillery support
all first day objective achieved

Dec. 21st
street fighting develops
o note that after the battle all allied forces studied Canadian street fighting tactics
o Ortona is a costal town, designed for costal defence, it consists of high houses (4 stories) and narrow streets which made manoeuvring for tanks extremely difficult. So the could only advance down main roads, leaving little support for the infantry in most cases.
o fierce street fighting during the battle would give it the nickname “Little Stalingrad”
Canadians only make it as far as Pizzo Vittoria (1/3 of the way into the town)

Dec. 22nd
Germans create only one centre for Canadian tanks to advance through the city by blowing up houses and filling narrow streets with rubble, optimizing their defencive
Canadians instead develop “mouseholing” technique and advance house to house, this is how the procedure worked:

“Unit pioneers set a “beehive” demolition charge in position against the intervening wall on the top floor and exploded it while the attacking section sheltered at ground level. Before the smoke and dust had subsided the infantry were up the stairs and through the gap to oust the enemy from the adjoining building. In this manner the Canadians cleared whole rows of houses without once appearing in the street” (Nicholson, Canadians in Italy, pg.327)

- after two days Canadians have advanced only 600 yards

Dec. 23rd
fighting intensifies as Germans tighten up their defencive
the following is an extract from the Loyal Edmonton RegimentÂ’s War Diary:
Ortona, ITALY. 22 Dec 43
Street and house to house fighting continues. The enemy is showing a desperate resistance. Our 6 Pdr guns are engaging barricades and strong points to clear a passage for tanks. Since the Hun has blown down buildings to block off all the streets, it has been decided to concentrate on the clearing of the main axis through the city to enable our tanks to advance. 'D' Coy, flanked by 'B' Coy on the right the city to enable our tanks to advance. 'D' Coy, flanked by 'B' Coy on the right and 'A' Coy on the left, clear the main street to the second city square where concentrated MMG fire and strong opposition is encountered. Clearing of the large buildings adjacent to this street, particularly towards the Esplanade, necessitates continuous fighting by these three Coys. Meanwhile to harass the enemy on the left and to minimize the effectiveness of his fire, 'C' Coy raid a Hun locality on a slope to the NW of the city. They then take up a position in the Sports ground to protect the left and rear of the regiment.
Dec. 24th
Germans trap Canadians in collapsed buildings by luring them into the top floor of the building and then blowing it up with planted explosives on the lower level, trapping the Canadians in the rubble (25 trapped only 2 surviors)
Canadians retaliate killing two dozen German Paratroopers in the same fashion

Dec. 25th
Christmas Day – no break in the fighting
Company rotation for Christmas dinner – many troops refuse to leave their post, many die going to and from the dinner
Impact made on the regiments involved

Dec. 28/29th
German garrison final pulls out
Canadians finally take Ortona

Ortona would mark one of the bloodiest battle in the war for Canada. Casualty rates were high – exemplified by the Loyal Edmontons who had 173 Cas. (63 fatal) making up one third of the regiment of 600. Even more alarming were the rates of battle exhaustion (shell shock) for those involved, which were around 20-30% bringing about a morale crisis and causing both regiments to rotate back to reserve status for basically the remainder of the Italian Campaign. Ortona also marked the final “public” battle on the Italian front for Canadians, as Normandy was only 6 short months away. What must be remembered about those who fought in Ortona and the Italian Campaign is how difficult the fighting was that they endured in a place where they were not necessarily considered liberators, and how they have become the “forgotten” front in the war. Without the Italian front, the Germans could have shifted valuable resources to the Western and Eastern fronts which would have certainly made a difference in the Allied offensives in both regions.


Published on: 2004-08-05 (27537 reads)

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