Canada in WW2 – The Battle of Ortona
The battle of Ortona was called “Little Stalingrad” by Winston Churchill, and it’s still remembered with bullet holes and flowers at the war monument as a major battlefield for Canada in WW2.
The small coastal town Ortona is typical for this part of the Adriatic with a harbor, a medieval castle, a railroad and some houses squeezed in between the mountains and the sea. Of course there are many relatively new buildings in what is supposed to be a very old town centre, the main street is too square to be charming, there is only a renovated ruin left of the castello overlooking the sea and ancient walls in narrow alleys are pockmarked with bullet holes or corrosion. Not so very unusual, unless you happen to have heard of the Battle of Ortona.
The battle took place just around Christmas in 1943, when Canadian forces attacked German paratroops. As one of Italy’s few deep water ports on the east coast, Ortona was of high strategic importance. By docking ships in Ortona, the Allied forces could shorten their supply lines considerably compared to the ports in Bari and Taranto, so soldiers from the 1st Canadian Infantry Division were ordered to force their way through built up areas where the Germans had designed a defence system of interlocking positions as part of the Winter Line running all the way across Italy to Monte Cassino.
The result was a brutal and fierce battle, where both sides fought from house to house. At the end the Canadians invented a new mouse-holing tactic using artillery to pierce through walls instead of fighting in the streets. Both sides suffered heavy casualties, but after eight days without reinforcements the Germans withdrew.
The total losses are unknown, but almost a quarter of all Canadians killed during the Italian Campaign lost their lives in Ortona.
Today most visitors come to Ortona for a combined beach and mountain holiday. And perhaps see the MUBA museum of the battle.
Other sights near Ortona
Sights around Teramo in Abruzzo
Interesting. I knew Canada sent troops to Europe during the war, but I’d never heard of any of their battles before. Not surprising, I suppose, since I was educated in Germany and in the US. Either way, thanks for bringing this to my attention, now it’s off to wikipedia to learn more…
My dad was wounded in the battle of Ortona. The Canadian entered the war before USA
I was really surprised to find so many Canadians buried here, and had to find out why.
Great write up! When I go to Canada later this year, I will be really interested to see how much the people there remember and honor battles like Ortona.
My father in law fought in the battle of Ortona. He was a member of the Cape Breton Highlanders. Over 1300 died in that short but horrific battle.
Loads of respect for your father-in-law. It must have been absolutely dreadful to be stationed in Ortona at the time.
My dad was wounded in the battle of Ortona
He is in the video of battle of Ortona removing bodies from a building
Makes me think of Hemingway. And I grew up hearing about New Zealanders fighting in Italy during WWII, including my grandfather, especially at Monte Casino. So much of Europe has this sort of relatively recent tragic history just under the surface.
Interesting stuff…Never heard this story before…
Very interesting bit of history here. Reminds me a little of finding Norwegian WWII graves in Nova Scotia – not nearly as many, but still, so unexpected.
I love visiting places like this to try and imagine what life was like during the turbulent times. Every place has its history, it is just that some publicise it more than others.
I had no idea this place existed. Fascinating.
So interesting. I’m Canadian but have never heard about this.
My father, Henry Mack of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, participated in the invasion of Sicily.
While guarding a Mine Field he was wounded when a flock of sheep wandered into the field causing a few of the mines to detonate. After recovery he rejoined his regiment and fought
in the Battle at Ortona. My father shared many of his war experiences with me, he passed at
the age of 89.
Lest we Forget
What important testimony. The sacrifices of your father and his fellow soldiers are incomprehensible. Thanks for sharing his memory and making this sad period in 20th century history come alive.
Lest we forget. Thank you for sharing and your father was a great man whom, among so many veterans and soldiers, we are and will always remain indebted to!!
my father was wounded on christmas morning in ortona he was only 21.nasty fight