FIGHTING ON THE ITALIAN MAINLAND
Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was overthrown in July 1943 and Italy teetered on the brink of surrender. The Germans occupied the country and prepared a series of stout defensive lines, taking advantage of dominating high ground and numerous river
lines, to stall Allied progression up the boot of Italy. On 3 September, the British Eighth Army, including the Canadians, crossed from Sicily and landed in the toe of Italy while the U.S. Fifth Army invaded further north at Salerno. The 1st Canadian
Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade landed near Reggio di Calabria, their progress slowed by difficult terrain and determined German delaying tactics. By October the Canadians had progressed one-third the length of Italy and reached Campobasso,
south of the German's peninsula-wide Gustav Line a dense network of linked fixed defences designed to slow the Allied advance.
In early December, the Canadians assaulted German defences at the Moro River, south of Ortona. The 1st Division crossed the river and seized San Leonardo after a desperate fight. Progress was slow and casualties high as the Canadians moved on Ortona,
protected from the south by a deep ravine. After some failed attempts to cross this gully, Canadian troops from the Royal 22e Regiment, supported by tanks of the Ontario Regiment, captured Casa Berardi and held it in the face of fierce German counter-attacks;
Captain Paul Triquet of the Royal 22e Regiment would earn the Victoria Cross for his inspiring leadership here.
On 21 December, the Canadians began their assault against Ortona. The city would only be fully captured on 28 December, mainly by the Seaforth Highlanders and the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, following gruelling and harrowing days of fighting block by block,
street by street, and house to house. The 1st Division was left shattered and seriously depleted, having suffered more than 2,300 casualties since arriving at the Moro, exclusive of a further 1,600 men suffering illness or battle exhaustion.