The Moro River Campaign


The Moro River Campaign

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Moro River Campaign
partof=Italian Campaign (World War II)


caption=Riflemen of the 48th Highlanders of Canada take cover during German counterattack north of San Leonardo, December 101943
date=December 1943
place=Moro River, Eastern Italy
territory=
result=Tactical Stalemate
Strategic Allied Victory
combatant1=flag|United Kingdom
flag|Canada|1921
flagicon|India|British India
flagicon|New Zealand New Zealand
combatant2=flagicon|Germany|Nazi Germany
commander1=flagicon|United Kingdom Harold Alexander
flagicon|United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
flagicon|United Kingdom Charles Allfrey
flagicon|United Kingdom Miles Dempsey
commander2=flagicon|Germany|Nazi Albert Kesselring
flagicon|Germany|Nazi Heinrich von Vietinghoff
flagicon|Germany|Nazi Traugott Herr
strength1=4 Infantry Divisions
2 Armoured Brigades
strength2=1 Panzer Division
1 Parachute Division
2 Panzergrenadier Divisions
casualties1= 2,339 casualties [Berton, p. 440]
flagicon|New Zealand 1,600 casualties From November 9 to December 31. (Phillips, p. 173)]
Total: 3,939+ casualties
casualties2=Unknown
notes=

The Moro River Campaign was a campaign fought by the British Eighth Army across the Moro River in eastern Italy in December 1943 against divisions of the German Tenth Army's LXXVI Panzer Corps. The campaign was part of the British Eighth Army's drive to reach and breach the eastern part of the German Winter Line defensive system, a series of prepared defensive lines where the Germans skillfully employed the Italian terrain which naturally favoured defense. The campaign lasted throughout December, 1943, and was characterized by nearly-continual combat operations by both sides, attempting to keep one another pinned down. The offensive culminated in the intense fighting of Canadian infantry and armour against elements of the German 1st Parachute Division at the Battle of Ortona, dubbed "Little Stalingrad" by both sides.

Background

In late 1943 Allied armies under General Harold Alexander were fighting their way northward in Italy against determined German opposition skillfully directed by Albert Kesselring whose forces had prepared a succession of defensive lines. East of the Apennine Mountain spine was the British Eighth Army under General Bernard Montgomery. In October Eighth Army had crossed the Bifurno river and pushed the German defenders from the Volturno / Viktor Line defences. Delayed by logistical problems, they were not able to attack the next line of defences (the Barbara Line) behind the Trigno river until 2 November. However, by 9 November forward elements of Eighth Army were in contact with the forward defenses of the German Winter Line which had been set on the high ground north of the Sangro River.

The main attack across the Sangro by V Corps (Lieutenant-General Charles Allfrey), comprising 78th Infantry Division (Major-General Vyvyan Evelegh) and Indian 8th Infantry Division (Major-General Dudley Russell) with supporting and diversionary attacks further inland by 2nd New Zealand Division (Lieutenant-General Bernard Freyberg) and XIII Corps (Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey) was delayed by bad weather until late November. After several days of hard fighting the Germans withdrew to the defenses they had prepared on the high ground to the north of the Moro river. [Hoyt (2007), pp. 112-114]

Plans and orders of battle

The Moro River runs from the central mountain spine of Italy hitting the Adriatic coast south of Ortona. The German defenses on the Moro were a centerpiece of the Winter Line, which to the east of the Apennines guarded the way to Pescara from where Route 5 traversed the country to Rome on the west coast. Montgomery hoped to punch through the Winter Line, capture Ortona and Pescara and advance to Rome. 78th Division, which had been spearheading V Corps since the Volturno Line actions and had sustained over 7,000 casualties in less than six months,Anon (1946), p. 23] was relieved by the fresh 1st Canadian Infantry Division (Major-General Chris Vokes) ready to renew the offensive on 5 December1943. [Hoyt (2007), p. 115] 78th Infantry Division were sent into the mountains on the relatively quiet left wing of the army, joining British 5th Infantry Division (Major-General Gerard Bucknall) under XIII Corps.

Montgomery's plan was for the Canadian Division to attack across the Moro in the coastal lowlands to take first Ortona and then Pescara. Inland, in the jagged hills above the headwaters of the Moro, the relatively fresh 2nd New Zealand Division would attack towards Orsogna while between these two 8th Indian Infantry Division would hold the center of the front in a relatively static role.

Facing V Corps was 1st Parachute Division (Major-General Richard Heidrich) on the coast, to their right stood 90th Panzergrenadier Division (Major-General Carl-Hans Lungershausen succeeded by Major-General Ernst-Günther Baade on 20 December) and further inland of them was 26th Panzer Division (Major-General Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz) with their right flank on Orsogna. Further inland, facing XIII Corps was 65th Infantry Division (Major-General Hellmuth Pfeiffer) supported by elements of 1st Parachute and 5th Mountain Divisions (Major-General Julius Ringel). [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n107 p. 107] ] Together, these units formed Traugott Herr's LXXVI Panzer Corps, the part of Joachim Lemelsen's Tenth Army responsible for the front line to the east of the Apennines.

Canadians cross the Moro

Beginning on December 61943, Canadian forces began a series of large-scale assaults on major crossing-points along the Moro River, with the objective of securing a large bridgehead along the defensive line.Zuehlke (2001), p. 158] Three primary points of attack were chosen: Villa Rogatti, along the western edge of the Canadian sector; San Leonardo, 5km south of Ortona; and San Donato, a small town near the Italian coast. Five primary infantry battalions were selected to assault these positions, with the objective of crossing the Moro River. The offensives were scheduled to start on the morning of December 6.

Villa Rogatti

The task of taking Villa Rogatti, the westernmost crossing point, was given to the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. Having conducted significant reconnaissance on their objective during the night of December 51943,Zuehlke (1999), p. 76] a thorough attack plan was devised by the battalion's commander, Lieutenant-Colonel Cameron Bethel Ware, detailing the objectives of all four rifle-companies. Once the objectives had been secured by the early morning of December 6, Anglo-Canadian reinforcements were to be moved into Villa Rogatti, with the intention of repulsing potentially strong German counterattacks. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 77]

At 24.00 on December 5 two companies of the PPCLI crossed the Moro River, moving towards Villa Rogatti. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 78] Within an hour, vicious fighting had erupted throughout Villa Rogatti, as the two companies of Canadian infantry struggled to break the German defensive lines.Zuehlke (1999), p. 79] As B Company broke through the German defenses, A Company moved through the northeastern areas of the town, continuing to eliminate German resistance.

Although two Infantry Companies had occupied Villa Rogatti, German Panzergrenadier forces still had substantial defenses outside of the town. However, C Company continued steadily to advance along the eastern side of the town, encountering significant German resistance. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 80] . After approximately an hour of fighting by C Company and D Company, Villa Rogatti had been occupied by Canadian forces shortly before dawn.Zuehlke (1999), pp. 84-85]

By mid-morning, German counterattacks on PPCLI positions in the town had begun, involving tanks, field guns and substantial infantry forces. Throughout the afternoon, two infantry companies of the PPCLI fought off several attacks by German forces, eventually managing to push them back to the vineyards on the northern edge of the town. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 88] Shortly after, Panzergrenadier forces retreated from the town entirely, while the PPCLI had taken 68 casualties, while German casualties were estimated at 120.Zuehlke (1999), p. 91] However, German forces now surrounded their positions at Villa Rogatti, rendering further exploitation of the bridgehead difficult. Colonel Ware was advised to be ready to withdraw across the Moro River, should German forces counterattack. In order to allow the Canadian Division a greater concentration of force, on the night of December 7/8, Indian 21st Infantry Brigade from Indian 8th Infantry Division took over the left hand end of the Canadian frontAnon (1946), p. 24] in Villa Rogatti. [Bercuson, p. 173] It was not intended for the Indian Brigade to enter the battle but to demonstrate and employ deception to draw reserves from the Canadian and New Zealand fronts. As a result of the withdrawal, Canadian efforts would focus on achieving a bridgehead at San Leonardo.

San Leonardo

The Canadian attack on San Leonardo, primarily initiated by the Seaforth Highlanders, had begun late on December 51943, with A Company establishing a small bridgehead across the Moro, despite taking heavy casualties. In the early morning of December 6, A Company was withdrawn and two additional Seaforth Companies resumed the offensive. As the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry secured and held their bridgehead over the Moro River, the Seaforth Highlanders were struggling to enter San Leonardo throughout the morning.Zuehlke (1999), p. 92] By 0715, B Company had achieved its objective on the left flank of the town, but were taking significant German machine-gun fire. At the same time, small arms fire prevented C Company from moving up the road from the Moro to San Leonardo, while D Company remained on the southern banks of the Moro throughout the early-morning. Had a significant crossing point been available, British and Canadian tank forces could have quickly reinforced the Seaforth Highlanders' positions in San Leonardo. However, no such crossing point was located.Zuehlke (1999), p. 93] By noon, however, Colonel Doug Forin had devised an attack plan for taking the remainder of San Leonardo. B Company would move southeast, diverting pressure from C Company. Simultaneously, A Company and D Company would cross the Moro, linking up with C Company, at which point a solid drive for San Leonardo would be initiated.Zuehlke (1999), p. 94]

By 1340hrs, 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade had initiated an artillery barrage against German positions near San Leonardo, while the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment sent two companies to the aid of the Seaforth Highlanders, while Seaforth B Company hit multiple German positions west of San Leonardo, inflicting 129 casualties on German forces in the area. However, the attack on San Leonardo by three Seaforth Companies stalled rapidly, as German tanks moved into the area.Zuehlke (1999), p. 96] As a result, Forin was ordered to prepare for a withdrawal from the San Leonardo bridgehead.

San Donato

As attempts were made to cross the Moro at San Leonardo and Villa Rogatti, the The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment launched an attack on the Moro River defenses at the small coastal hamlet of San Donato at 1340 on December 6.Zuehlke (1999), pp. 98-99] [Zuehlke (2001), p. 159] However, the single rifle company making the attack achieved little territorial gain. Lieutenant-Colonel Kennedy ordered a withdrawal at 15:40. Attempts to exploit the position throughout the day, including assaults by tanks and artillery, failed to take San Donato. By nightfall, two companies had a tenuous hold on the northern bank of the Moro River.

Taking the Moro

On December 81943, Major General Vokes devised a new plan for taking the Moro River. While the 48th Highlanders of Canada and the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry resumed the assault on San Leonardo from the southwest side of the town, the Royal Canadian Regiment would break out of the bridgehead created by the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, then move southwest towards San Leonardo to link up with the 48th and PPCLI.Bercuson, p. 174] The operation was scheduled to start on the afternoon of December 8.

The attack began with a massive artillery barrage, which pounded German positions continuously for two hours.Zuehlke (1999), pp. 122-123] At 1600, the Saskatoon Light Infantry support battalion joined in, hitting German positions with bursts of machine gun fire. The moment the heavy bombardment lifted, the 48th Highlanders and the RCR both initiated their attacks. D Company of the 48th Highlanders was able quickly to cross the Moro, taking minimal casualties. However, B Company was subjected to heavy fire from German mortars and 88mm artillery positions.Copp (November 2006)] Eventually, however, both companies managed to establish strong positions on the western ridge overlooking San Leonardo. During the night of December 8/9, units of the Royal Canadian Engineers constructed a bridge over the Moro, to allow armour and equipment to move into San Leonardo the following day.

As the 48th Highlanders secured their positions west of San Leonardo, the Royal Canadian Regiment was involved in intense fighting southwest of San Donato. Two companies had advanced against strong and well prepared German defenses of the 200th Panzergrenadier Regiment.Zuehlke (1999), p. 130] A Company was quickly tied down by German mortar fire, while B Company flanked German positions to the north of San Donato. By nightfall, all four companies held tenuous positions in the thick of German defenses. Throughout the night of December 8/9, the RCR was subjected to counterattacks by the 200th Panzergrenadier Regiment, which were repulsed with the support of continuous Canadian artillery shelling.

By morning of 9 December, the RCE had completed the bridge across the Moro River, enabling the Calgary Tanks to transport two companies of Seaforth Highlanders across the river into San Leonardo. By mid morning, San Leonardo had been cleared of German defenders, although strong positions still existed outside of the town. Within an hour, the Royal Canadian Regiment's tanks had broken through German positions near Sterlen Castle and two companies had linked up with the 48th Highlanders and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry within San Leonardo, finally establishing firm Canadian positions across the Moro River. Near the end of December 91943, German forces of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division fell back to their second defensive line: a formidable obstacle known as "The Gully". [Zuehlke (2001), p. 159]

New Zealand Division attacks Orsogna

Meanwhile, after a period of patrolling and probing to identify the location of the German defenses of 26th Panzer Division and the right flank of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division, the New Zealand Division, with British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade under command and anchoring their left flank, [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-1.html#n105 p. 105] ] launched "Operation Torso", a two brigade attack against Orsogna at 1430 on 7 December accompanied by heavy concentrations of artillery and air support. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n109 p. 109] ] Surprise was achieved as Traugott Herr, the commander of LXXVI Panzer Corps, had been persuaded that the New Zealanders would not be in a position to launch a major attack until 8 December. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n110 p. 110] ]

Initially the New Zealand attack went well [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n111 p. 111] ] but the German defenders regained their composure and the attack lost momentum against skillfully designed defensive positions. By 2100 NZ 24th Infantry Battalion had fought its way in painfully slow house to house fighting to the centre of the town but were pinned down with no prospect of further progress without armoured support. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n114 p. 114] ] However, a combination of cleverly located minefields and German armour well dug in in commanding positions made the task of the Allied tanks impossible. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n116 p. 116] ] In the early hours of 8 December the New Zealand commander Bernard Freyberg ordered a withdrawal from the town with a view to renewing the attack after further softening up from artillery and bombers. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n115 p. 115] ]

8th Indian Infantry Division joins the attack

With both the Canadian and New Zealand Divisions finding progress difficult, it was decided to bring Indian 21st Infantry Brigade into the attack with orders to seize Caldari. With no river crossing available, the Indian engineers rushed to build a bridge across the Moro which was completed on 9 December and allowed infantry and supporting armour to cross to expand the bridgehead on the far bank. The bridge was named the "Impossible Bridge" because the local geography required for it to be built backwards from the enemy bank of the river.Anon (1946), p. 24]

Canadian Division attacks the Gully

Initial Attacks

Following the loss of San Leonardo and the Moro River, the 90th Panzergrenadier Division withdrew to a primary defensive line Convert|5|km|mi north of San Leonardo. The line centred around a natural ravine known as "The Gully", with an average depth of convert|200|ft|m.Zuehlke (1999), p. 166] General Vokes' initial plan to take the position (as well as achieve a foothold on the roads towards Ortona) consisted of a frontal assault by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade, which would seize Vino Ridge, capture The Gully and gain positions on the Ortona to Orsogna road.Berton, p. 437] However, German defenses were adequately prepared, including gun–pits, bunkers, shelters.

On December 101943, three Canadian battalions made their first attempt to cross The Gully. Although they succeeded in capturing Vino Ridge, directly south of The Gully, attempts to neutralize German positions in The Gully were unsuccessful.Copp (January 2007)] On December 11, the three battalions made another attempt, with the Loyal Edmonton Regiment suffering heavy casualties in their attempts to take German positions in The Gully. [Zuehlke (2001), p. 159] Although a badly–mauled A Company was able to gain a foothold on the reverse slope of The Gully, forming German counterattack units forced the company's remaining 45 men to withdraw. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 177]

On December 121943, General Vokes sent the three battalions of the Third Canadian Infantry Brigade against The Gully's defenses.Berton, p. 438] The assault started poorly, when Canadian artillery plans were captured by soldiers of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 186] When The West Nova Scotia Regiment attacked The Gully, they were subject to Panzergrenadier counterattacks at approximately 1030. By 1400, the regiment had called off its attacks on The Gully — primarily as a result of the chaos caused by the German counterattack — and had taken heavy casualties. To the west, the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry fared little better, with C Company taking heavy casualties in their assault on The Gully. Attempts were again made on December 13, by two battalions of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade, and again the attacks were driven back by tenacious German resistance.

During the evening of December 13 the heavily depleted 90th Panzergrenadier Division were relieved from their positions in The Gully by units of the 1st Parachute Division. [Berton, pp. 438-439]

Casa Berardi

By December 14, Vokes had devised a new assault plan for taking The Gully. A small force from the Royal 22e Regiment would move to Casa Berardi, a small set of farmhouses west of The Gully, before outflanking German positions with infantry and armour, thereby forcing the 1st Parachute Division to withdraw. The attack was to begin at dawn, with two companies of the Royal 22e Regiment attacking Casa Berardi with artillery support. By 0750, both companies had control of the lateral highway leading to Casa Berardi. C Company, under Captain Paul Triquet, pushed on towards Casa Berardi with support from The Ontario Regiment, while D Company found itself involved in firefights southwest of Casa Berardi. At 0830, C Company began their assault towards the manor house in Casa Berardi, some convert|2000|yd|m away. Strong German defenses caused heavy casualties to the attackers; only 21 men and 5 tanks made it to within convert|200|yd|m of the objective. Despite the arrival of several Panzer IVs, Triquet's remaining forces captured the manor house at 1430. However, only 14 men of C Company remained fit to continue fighting. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 210] For his efforts to capture Casa Berardi, Captain Paul Triquet was awarded the Victoria Cross.Bercuson, p. 175]

Eighth Army reorganises to intensify the attack

With the Indian Division committed, Montgomery decided to raise the stakes further by bringing British 5th Infantry Division from the relatively tranquil XIII Corps front in the high mountains on the left wing of the Eighth Army and insert them between the New Zealand and Indian Divisions. This would allow the Indian division to narrow and concentrate their attack and gave Montgomery four divisions to continue the attack between Orsogna and the sea. By 12 December British 17th Infantry Brigade, the first of 5th Division's brigades, was in place and under New Zealand command. Once 5th Division headquarters and its other brigades had arrived these two left hand divisions were to be organised under the command of XIII Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c5-2.html#n119 p. 119] ] while the other XIII Corps formations in defensive positions further inland would revert to direct control by Eighth Army headquarters in order to allow XIII Corps to focus on the attack.

To the left of the Canadian division Indian 21st Brigade had by 13 December established a solid bridgehead around the "Impossible Bridge". That night a second 8th Indian Division brigade, 17th Indian Infantry Brigade, passed through and attacked towards Caldari. 1st battalion Royal Fusiliers stormed the village in a wild night's fighting while 1st battalion 5th Gurkha Rifles seized Point 198 nearby, holding it against determined counterattacks including from tanks on the afternoon of the of 14 December. That evening 1st battalion 12th Frontier Force Regiment attacked on the left of the Gurkhas and established positions on the lateral road between Ortona and Orsogna running parallel to the Moro some convert|1000|yd|m north of the "Impossible Bridge". On the evening of 15 December 1st/5th battalion Essex Regiment from the Indian Division's 19th Indian Infantry Brigade, which had been held in reserve, was committed on the left flank of the Frontier Force Regiment to advance in the direction of Crecchio and overran a number of German positions. By the end of 16 December, after further attacks by 3rd battalion 15th Punjab Regiment from 21st Brigade which secured further positions on the lateral road, the Indian Division was firmly embedded in the heart of the main German defenses. [Anon (1946), p. 26]

Meanwhile, at 0100 on 15 December the New Zealand Division, electing not to make a further frontal assault on Orsogna, launched their 5th Brigade in "Operation Florence", a new flanking attack to the right of the village. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-1.html#n121 p. 121] ] By that afternoon 5th Brigade were well established on the Orsogna to Ortona lateral road and had driven a shallow salient into the German forward defensive line. Although they had exhausted nearly all their reserves [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-1.html#n127 p. 127] ] divisional HQ was optimistic for the prospects for the next day, given the heavy casualties they had inflicted that day. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-1.html#n128 p. 128] ]

However, the Germans launched a counterattack at 0315 on 16 December throwing in men from the 6th Parachute Regiment, sent by Herr to 26th Panzer Division to relieve the exhausted 9th Panzergrenadier Regiment. These troops had only arrived, after a long journey, late that evening. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-1.html#n128 p. 128] ] Supported by tanks they attacked the right hand New Zealand positions held by 21st NZ Battalion but were held off and had retired by daylight. Meanwhile, even before the German counterattack had been repelled, on the left of the New Zealand salient, 20th Regiment had attacked towards Orsogna with two squadrons of tanks. Under intense artillery and anti-tank fire the tanks and infantry became separated and the tanks became a target rather than a threat. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-1.html#n131 p. 131] ]

"Operation Florence" had come to an end. While the German line had been pushed back and they had sustained casualties they could ill afford, they still firmly held Orsogna. Furthermore, the New Zealand Division was for the time being fought out and needed a period of consolidation and reorganisation. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-1.html#n133] ]

By 16 December British 5th Division had completed its move into the line between the New Zealand and the Indian divisions. There followed a period of hostile patrolling and skirmishing on the XIII Corps front while the main burden of the fighting was assumed by V Corps as the Canadians pushed for Ortona with the Indian Division on their left flank attacking towards Villa Grande and Tollo. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-1.html#n133 pp. 133–139] ]

Taking The Gully

In preparation for what he hoped would be the final attack on The Gully, Vokes shifted the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade to occupy positions formerly belonging to the 1st Brigade. Vokes planned for an attack by The Carleton and York Regiment to be the last of the frontal assaults against The Gully. Should this attack fail, the 1st Brigade's Seaforth Highlanders and the Royal Canadian Regiment would move through Casa Berardi and outflank German defenses, forcing a withdrawal from The Gully.

On December 15 at 0730, two companies of the Carleton and York Regiment attacked. After little more than an hour of fighting, however, the Canadians were forced to call the attack off. In the afternoon, the two heavily–depleted companies of the Royal 22e Regiment fought off a large German counterattack on Casa Berardi, with the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery firing 5,398 rounds in support of Canadian forces. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 219]

On December 18, Vokes planned what would be the largest assault on The Gully during the campaign. Beginning at 0800, Canadian artillery would bombard a convert|900|m|ft front, to a depth of Convert|300|m|ft. Every five minutes, the barrage would move convert|100|m|ft forward, continuing to pound German defenses in the bombardment area. Less than 100m behind this barrage, the 48th Highlanders would advance across the Ortona–Orsogna Lateral Road. At the same time, the 8th Indian Division would attack northward towards Crecchio, preventing German reinforcements from reaching The Gully. When the 48th Highlanders reached the Cider Crossroads, the Royal Canadian Regiment would move north, overrunning Cider itself, then advance up the Ortona–Orsogna road. Both battalions would have the support of The Three Rivers Regiment. At first, the attack went extremely well. However, when the artillery shifted their barrage, the German defenses quickly recovered and their machin–gun fire devastated the advancing forces. In C Company of the Royal Canadian Regiment, every platoon commander was killed or wounded. The attack was quickly abandoned.

On December 20, Canadian forces tried again, with the Royal Canadian Regiment to attack Cider Crossroads at noon. This time, Vokes was determined that the operation would be successful, with armoured forces of the Three Rivers Regiment moving to the start lines well before 0700. [Zuehlke (1999), p. 235] Due to shortages of fuel and poor weather, H-Hour was postponed until 1415. When H-Hour came, a powerful creeping barrage supported two companies of the Royal Canadian Regiment eastward. By evening, B Company controlled the Cider Crossroads, having met virtually no resistance in their advance to the objective. However, German forces had already evacuated The Gully, falling back to prepare for a strong defense of Ortona, with elements of the powerful 1st Parachute Division firmly entrenched in the town. [Zuehlke (2001), p. 160]

Villa Grande

In order to keep up pressure on the whole front Indian 19th Brigade were ordered to attack Villa Grande and exploit any gains as far as the Arielli river which ran from the mountains through Tollo to the Adriatic.Anon (1946), p. 27] The attack went in at 0530 on 22 December but failed in desperate fighting. The 1st/5th Essex Regiment renewed their attack the following morning with more success. After a counterattack by German paratroops had been repulsed at midday, the Essex advanced to mop up the remainder of the village. However, deadly small scale house to house battles continued throughout the rest of 23 December and for the next two days as the determined parachute soldiers clung on. To the south of Villa Grande the 3rd/15th Punjabis had taken Vezzano on 23 December and a continuous brigade line had been established. [Anon (1946), p. 28]

On 25 December reinforcements in the form of 3rd battalion 8th Punjabis were brought forward and after a softening up barrage were launched at the east side of Villa Grande. With four battalions now involved (the 5th battalion Royal West Kent Regiment had by now been tasked on the south east side of the village) supported by tanks Villa Grande was finally cleared by the end of 26 December. [Anon (1946), pp. 29–30] The troops of the Indian Division entered the village to find a shambles. One correspondent described the scene "as though a giant had trodden on a child's box of blocks". [Anon (1946), p. 30]

XIII Corps attacks Orsogna

On 23 December XIII Corps launched a new attack to push back the German line from Orsogna. In the afternoon British 5th Infantry Division attacked on the right wing of the Corps front towards the Arielli stream to secure the flank of the New Zealand Division who were in turn to attack northwest and west from the salient in order to roll up the Orsogna defenses from the north.Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-2.html#n140 p. 140] ]

5th Infantry Division having achieved its objectives, New Zealand 5th Infantry Brigade attacked at 0400 on 24 December. Despite intensive artillery support (272 guns on a convert|3500|yd|m front) the tired and understrength New Zealand battalions struggled to make progress. By the afternoon it had become clear to the New Zealand commander Bernard Freyberg that the stubborn defenses of 26th Panzer Division would not be broached. He is reported to have remarked "It is not a question of further advance, it is a question of holding on to what we have got". [Phillips )1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c6-2.html#n145 p. 145] ] The XIII Corps front was effectively deadlocked and settled into a posture of active defence and patrolling. [Phillips (1957), [http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita-c7-1.html#n149 p. 149] ]

Ortona

Throughout the week of December 11—18, a battalion of the 1st Parachute Division with supporting units had prepared strong defenses within the Italian coastal town of Ortona. Paratroop engineers and infantry had destroyed much of Ortona itself, turning the streets into a debris-filled maze.Zuehlke (1999), p. 239] Major streets were mined, with demolition charges throughout the main piazza, and booby-traps littered the town.. German forces had also buried tanks in the rubble, leaving only the turret exposed.

On December 20, 1943 the under-strength Loyal Edmonton Regiment moved towards Ortona, with the Seaforth Highlanders covering their eastern flank. Throughout the day, they encountered heavy machine-gun fire in their attempts to enter Ortona. By nightfall, both battalions held a toehold on the western edge of Ortona, yet had encountered heavy resistance in their attempts to secure it. The following day, D Company of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment launched attacks eastward towards the city centre but accurate German sniper-fire rapidly stalled the advance. [Zuehlke (1999), pp. 259–260]

Throughout the remainder of the week, the Battle of Ortona degenerated into a small-scale version of the Battle of Stalingrad, with vicious house-to-house fighting through the narrow streets and debris of Ortona.Copp (May 2007)] Over the course of the battle, Canadian forces developed innovative "mouse-holing" tactics, moving between houses to avoid German sniper-fire in the open streets.Bercuson, p. 176] German counterattacks on December 24 and 26 caused significant casualties to Canadian forces in the town,. In danger of being outflanked by Allied advances west of Ortona, the 1st Parachute Regiment abandoned the town the following day, leaving Ortona to Canadian forces. Canadian casualties in the fighting for the town approached 650 killed or wounded. [Zuehlke (2001), p. 161]

Eighth Army grinds to a halt

With Ortona and Villa Grande captured it looked as if it would require Eighth Army only to regather itself and strike one more concentrated blow at Orsogna to complete the breaching of the Gustav Line's main Adriatic strongpoints. However, on 31 December, as V Corps probed along the coastal plain towards Pescara, a blizzard enveloped the battlefield. Drifting snow, sleet and biting winds paralysed movement and communications on the ground while cloud ceiling and visibility fell to nil and grounded the airforce. [Anon (1946), p. 30] Montgomery, realising his Army no longer had the strength or conditions to force its way to Pescara and the Via Valeria to Rome, recommended to Alexander that the Eighth Army offensive should be halted. Alexander agreed but ordered him to maintain aggressive patrolling in order to pin the units of the LXXVI Panzer Corps in the Adriatic sector and prevent Kesselring moving them to reinforce the XIV Panzer Corps front opposite 5th Army where the Allied offense would continue. [Carver (2002), p. 103]

See also

*Bernhardt Line
*Battle of Ortona

Notes

;Footnotes

;Citations

References


*cite book | author=Anon | title=The Tiger Triumphs: The Story of Three Great Divisions in Italy| publisher=HMSO | year=1946 | id=
*cite book|last=Bercuson| first= David|origdate=1996| date=2001| title=Maple leaf Against the Axis| publisher=Red Deer Press| isbn=0-88995-305-8
*Berton, Pierre (2001). "Marching As to War". Anchor Canada. ISBN 0-385-25819-4
*cite book | authorlink=Michael Carver, Baron Carver|first=Field Marshall Lord |last=Carver| title=The Imperial War Museum Book of the War in Italy 1943-1945| publisher=Sidgwick & Jackson|location=London | year=2001 | id=ISBN 0 330 48230 0
*cite journal |last= Copp|first= Terry|authorlink= Terry Copp|coauthors= |year=2006 |month=November |title=Overcoming the Moro |journal=Legion Magazine |issue=November 2006 |url=http://www.legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2006/11/overcoming-the-moro/ |accessdate=2008-06-18 |quote=
*cite journal |last= Copp|first= Terry|authorlink= Terry Copp |year=2007 |month=January |title=Clearing The Gully |journal=Legion Magazine |issue=January 2007 |id= |url=http://www.legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2007/01/clearing-the-gully/ |accessdate=2008-06-18
*cite journal |last= Copp|first= Terry|authorlink= Terry Copp|year= 2007 |month=March |title=Into Ortona |journal=Legion Magazine |volume= |issue=March 2007 |url=http://www.legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2007/03/into-ortona/ |accessdate=2008-06-18
*cite journal |last= Copp|first= Terry|authorlink= Terry Copp|year= 2007|month= May|title= Winning The Streets of Ortona|journal= Legion Magazine|volume= |issue= May 2007|url=http://www.legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2007/05/winning-the-streets-of-ortona/ |accessdate=2008-06-18 |quote=
*cite book|first=Edwin P.| last=Hoyt| title=Backwater War: The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-45| publisher=Stackpole Books| location=Mechanicsburg, PA| date=2007| origdate=2002| isbn=978 0 8117 9982 3
*cite book|url=http://www.nzetc.org/tm/scholarly/tei-WH2-1Ita.html
series=The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–1945| title=Italy Volume I: The Sangro to Cassino |accessdate=2008-06-13|accessdaymonth=|accessmonthday=|accessyear=|author= |last=Phillips|first=N.C.|authorlink= |coauthors=|date=|year=1957|month=|format=|work=|publisher=Historical Publications Branch| location=Wellington |pages=|language=|doi=|archiveurl=|archivedate=|quote=

*cite book| last=Zuehlke| first=Mark| date=2001| title=The Canadian Military Atlas| publisher=Stoddart| isbn=0-77373-289-6
*cite book|last=Zuehlke| first=Mark |date=1999|title=Ortona; Canada's Epic WWII Battle|location=Vancouver| publisher=Douglas & McIntyre| isbn=1-55054-557-4

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