History

Wars & Campaigns

Boer War
First World War

►►Western Front

►►►Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

►►Allied Offensive: 1916

►►►Allied Offensives: 1917

►►►German Offensive: 1918

►►►Advance to Victory: 1918

►►Siberia
Second World War
►►War Against Japan

►►Italian Campaign

►►►Sicily

►►►Southern Italy

►►►The Sangro and Moro

►►►Battles of the FSSF

►►►Cassino

►►►Liri Valley

►►►Advance to Florence

►►►Gothic Line

►►►Winter Lines
►►North-West Europe

►►►Normandy
►►►Southern France
►►►Channel Ports

►►►Scheldt
►►►Nijmegen Salient

►►►Rhineland

►►►Final Phase
Korean War
Cold War
Gulf War

Operations 

GAUNTLET Aug 1941

(Spitsbergen)

HUSKY Jul 1943

 (Sicily)

COTTAGE Aug 1943

 (Kiska)

TIMBERWOLF Oct 1943

(Italy)

OVERLORD Jun 1944

(Normandy)

MARKET-GARDEN Sep 44

(Arnhem)

BERLIN Nov 1944

(Nijmegen)

VERITABLE Feb 1945

(Rhineland)

Battle Honours

Boer War

►Paardeberg

18 Feb 00

First World War
Western Front
Trench Warfare: 1914-1916

Ypres, 1915

22 Apr-25 May 15

Gravenstafel

22-23 Apr 15

St. Julien

24 Apr-4 May 15

Frezenberg

8-13 May 15

Bellewaarde

24-25 May 15

Festubert, 1915

15-25 May 15

Mount Sorrel

2-13 Jun 16

Allied Offensive: 1916

►Somme, 1916

1 Jul-18 Nov 16

►Albert

.1-13 Jul 16

►Bazentin

.14-17 Jul 16

►Pozieres

.23 Jul-3 Sep 16

►Guillemont

.3-6 Sep 16

►Ginchy

.9 Sep 16

Flers-Courcelette

15-22 Sep 16

Thiepval

26-29 Sep 16

►Le Transloy

. 1-18 Oct 16

Ancre Heights

1 Oct-11 Nov 16

Ancre, 1916

13-18 Nov 16

Allied Offensives: 1917

►Arras 1917

8 Apr-4 May 17

Vimy, 1917

.9-14 Apr 17

Arleux

28-29 Apr 17

►Scarpe, 1917

.3-4 May17

►Hill 70

.15-25 Aug 17

►Messines, 1917

.7-14 Jun 17

►Ypres, 1917

..31 Jul-10 Nov 17

►Pilckem

31 Jul-2 Aug 17

►Langemarck, 1917

.16-18 Aug 17

►Menin Road

.20-25 Sep 17

►Polygon Wood

26 Sep-3 Oct 17

►Broodseinde

.4 Oct 17

►Poelcapelle

.9 Oct 17

►Passchendaele

.12 Oct 17

►Cambrai, 1917

20 Nov-3 Dec 17

German Offensive: 1918

►Somme, 1918

.21 Mar-5 Apr 18

►St. Quentin

.21-23 Mar 18

►Bapaume, 1918

.24-25 Mar 18

►Rosieres

.26-27 Mar 18

►Avre

.4 Apr 18

►Lys

.9-29 Apr 18

►Estaires

.9-11 Apr 18

►Messines, 1918

.10-11 Apr 18

►Bailleul

.13-15 Apr 18

►Kemmel

.17-19 Apr 18

Advance to Victory: 1918

Amiens

8-11 Aug 18

►Arras, 1918

.26 Aug-3 Sep 18

►Scarpe, 1918

26-30 Aug 18.

►Drocourt-Queant

.2-3 Sep 18

►Hindenburg Line

.12 Sep-9 Oct 18

►Canal du Nord

.27 Sep-2 Oct 18

►St. Quentin Canal .29 Sep-2 Oct 18
►Epehy

3-5 Oct 18

►Cambrai, 1918

.8-9 Oct 18

►Valenciennes

.1-2 Nov 18

►Sambre

.4 Nov 18

►Pursuit to Mons .28 Sep-11Nov

Second World War

War Against Japan

South-East Asia

Hong Kong

 8-25 Dec 41

Italian Campaign

Battle of Sicily

Landing in Sicily 

   9-12 Jul 43

Grammichele 

15 Jul 43

Piazza Armerina

16-17 Jul 43

Valguarnera

17-19 Jul 43

Assoro 

  20-22 Jul 43

Leonforte

 21-22 Jul 43

Agira

24-28 Jul 43

Adrano 

29 Jul-7 Aug 43

Catenanuova

29-30 Jul 43

Regalbuto

29 Jul-3 Aug 43

Centuripe

  31 Jul-3 Aug 43

Troina Valley

 2-6 Aug 43

Pursuit to Messina

 2-17 Aug 43

 Southern Italy

Landing at Reggio

 3 Sep 43

Potenza 19-20 Sep 43
Motta Montecorvino 1-3 Oct 43
Termoli 3-6 Oct 43
Monte San Marco 6-7 Oct 43
Gambatesa 7-8 Oct 43
Campobasso 11-14 Oct 43
Baranello 17-18 Oct 43
Colle d'Anchise 22-24 Oct 43
Torella 24-27 Oct 43

The Sangro and Moro

The Sangro

19 Nov-3 Dec 43

Castel di Sangro

.23-24 Nov 43

The Moro

5-7 Dec 43

San Leonardo

8-9 Dec 43

The Gully

..10-19 Dec 43

Casa Berardi

 ..14-15 Dec 43

Ortona

20-28 Dec 43

San Nicola-San

.31 Dec 43

Tommaso

.
Point 59/ 29 Dec 43-

Torre Mucchia

4 Jan 44

Battles of the FSSF
Monte Camino

.5 Nov-9 Dec 43

Monte la Difensa-

2-8 Dec 43

 Monte la Remetanea

.
Hill 720

25 Dec 43

Monte Majo

3-8 Jan 44.

Radicosa

4 Jan 44

Monte Vischiataro

8 Jan 44

Anzio

22 Jan-22 May 44

Rome

.22 May-4 Jun 44

Advance

.22 May-22 Jun 44

to the Tiber

.
►Monte Arrestino

25 May 44

►Rocca Massima

27 May 44

►Colle Ferro

2 Jun 44

Cassino
►Cassino II

11-18 May 44

►Gustav Line

11-18 May 44

►Sant' Angelo in

13 May 44

Teodice

.
►Pignataro

14-15 May 44

Liri Valley
Liri Valley

18-30 May 44

►Hitler Line

18-24 May 44

►Aquino

18-24 May 44

►Melfa Crossing

24-25 May 44

►Ceprano

26-27 May 44

►Torrice Crossroads

30 May 44

Advance to Florence
Advance

17 Jul-10 Aug 44

to Florence

.
Trasimene Line

20-30 Jun 44

Sanfatucchio

20-21 Jun 44

Arezzo

4-17 Jul 44

Cerrone

25 - 31 Aug 44

Gothic Line
►Gothic Line

25 Aug-22 Sep 44

►Monteciccardo

27-28 Aug 44

►Montecchio

30-31 Aug 44

►Point 204 (Pozzo Alto)

31 Aug 44

►Monte Luro

1 Sep 44

►Borgo Santa Maria

1 Sep 44

►Tomba di Pesaro

1-2 Sep 44

►Coriano

3-15 Sep 44

►Lamone Crossing

2-13 Sep 44

Winter Lines
►Rimini Line

14-21 Sep 44

►San Martino-

14-18 Sep 44

San Lorenzo

.
►San Fortunato

18-20 Sep 44

►Casale

23-25 Sep 44

►Sant' Angelo

11-15 Sep 44

 in Salute

.
►Bulgaria Village

13-14 Sep 44

►Cesena

15-20 Sep 44

►Pisciatello

16-19 Sep 44

►Savio Bridgehead

20-23 Sep 44

►Monte La Pieve

13-19 Oct 44

►Monte Spaduro

19-24 Oct 44

►Monte San Bartolo

11-14 Nov 44

►Capture of Ravenna

3-4 Dec 44

►Naviglio Canal

12-15 Dec 44

►Fosso Vecchio

16-18 Dec 44

►Fosso Munio

19-21 Dec 44

►Conventello-

2-6 Jan 45

Comacchio

.
►Granarolo

3-5 Jan 44

Northwest Europe
Dieppe

19 Aug 42

Battle of Normandy
Normandy Landing

6 Jun 44

Authie

7 Jun 44

Putot-en-Bessin

8 Jun 44

Bretteville

8-9 Jun 44

       -l'Orgueilleuse .
Le Mesnil-Patry

11 Jun 44

Carpiquet

4-5 Jul 44

Caen

4-18 Jul 44

The Orne (Buron)

8-9 Jul 44

Bourguébus Ridge

18-23 Jul 44

Faubourg-de-

18-19 Jul 44

       Vaucelles .
St. André-sur-Orne

19-23 Jul 44

Maltôt

22-23 Jul 44

Verrières Ridge-Tilly--

25 Jul 44

         la-Campagne .
Falaise

7-22 Aug 44

►Falaise Road

7-9 Aug 44

►Quesnay Road

10-11 Aug 44

Clair Tizon

11-13 Aug 44

►The Laison

14-17 Aug 44

►Chambois

18-22 Aug 44

►St. Lambert-sur-

19-22 Aug 44

       Dives

.

Dives Crossing

17-20 Aug 44

Forêt de la Londe

27-29 Aug 44

The Seine, 1944

25-28 Aug 44

Southern France
Southern France

15-28 Aug 44

Channel Ports
Dunkirk, 1944

8-15 Sep 44

Le Havre

1-12 Sep 44

Moerbrugge

8-10 Sep 44

Moerkerke

13-14 Sep 44

Boulogne, 1944

17-22 Sep 44

Calais, 1944

25 Sep-1 Oct 44

Wyneghem

21-22 Sep 44

Antwerp-Turnhout

   24-29 Sep 44

Canal

.

The Scheldt

The Scheldt

1 Oct-8 Nov 44

Leopold Canal

6-16 Oct-44

►Woensdrecht

1-27 Oct 44

Savojaards Platt

9-10 Oct 44

Breskens Pocket

11 Oct -3 Nov 44

►The Lower Maas

20 Oct -7 Nov 44

►South Beveland

 24-31 Oct 44

Walcheren

31 Oct -4 Nov 44

Causeway

.

Nijmegen Salient
Ardennes

Dec 44-Jan 45

Kapelsche Veer

31 Dec 44-

.

21Jan 45

The Roer

16-31 Jan 45

Rhineland
The Rhineland

8 Feb-10 Mar 45

►The Reichswald

8-13 Feb 45

►Waal Flats

8-15 Feb 45

►Moyland Wood

14-21 Feb 45

►Goch-Calcar Road

19-21 Feb 45

►The Hochwald

26 Feb-

.

4 Mar 45

►Veen

6-10 Mar 45

►Xanten

8-9 Mar 45

Final Phase
The Rhine

23 Mar-1 Apr 45

►Emmerich-Hoch

28 Mar-1 Apr 45

Elten

.
►Twente Canal

2-4 Apr 45

Zutphen

6-8 Apr 45

Deventer

8-11 Apr 45

Arnhem, 1945

12-14 Apr 45

Apeldoorn

11-17 Apr 45

Groningen

13-16 Apr 45

Friesoythe

14 Apr 45

►Ijselmeer

15-18 Apr 45

Küsten Canal

17-24 Apr 45

Wagenborgen

21-23 Apr 45

Delfzijl Pocket

23 Apr-2 May 45

Leer

28-29 Apr 45

Bad Zwischenahn

23 Apr-4 May 45

Oldenburg

27 Apr-5 May 45

Korean War
Kapyong

21-25 Apr 51

Domestic Missions

FLQ Crisis

International Missions

ICCS            Vietnam 1973

MFO                 Sinai 1986-

Peacekeeping

UNMOGIP

India 1948-1979

UNTSO

 Israel 1948-    ....

UNEF

Egypt 1956-1967

UNOGIL

Lebanon 1958    ....

ONUC

 Congo 1960-1964

UNYOM

Yemen 1963-1964

UNTEA

W. N. Guinea 1963-1964

UNIFCYP

 Cyprus 1964-    ....

DOMREP

D. Republic 1965-1966

UNIPOM

Kashmir 1965-1966

UNEFME

Egypt 1973-1979

UNDOF

Golan 1974-    ....

UNIFIL

 Lebanon 1978    ....

UNGOMAP

Afghanistan 1988-90

UNIIMOG

Iran-Iraq 1988-1991

UNTAG

Namibia 1989-1990

ONUCA

C. America 1989-1992

UNIKOM

Kuwait 1991    ....

MINURSO

W. Sahara 1991    ....

ONUSAL

El Salvador 1991    ....

UNAMIC

Cambodia 1991-1992

UNAVEM II

Angola 1991-1997

UNPROFOR

Yugosla. 1992-1995

UNTAC

Cambodia 1992-1993

UNOSOM

Somalia 1992-1993

ONUMOZ

Mozambiq. 1993-1994

UNOMUR

 Rwanda 1993    ....

UNAMIR

Rwanda 1993-1996

UNMIH

Haiti 1993-1996

UNMIBH

Bosnia/Herz.1993-1996

UNMOP

Prevlaka 1996-2001

UNSMIH

Haiti 1996-1997

MINUGUA

Guatemala 1994-1997

UNTMIH

Haiti 1997    ....

MIPONUH

 Haiti 1997    ....

MINURCA

C.Afr.Rep. 1998-1999

INTERFET

E. Timor 1999-2000

UNAMSIL

Sie. Leone 1999-2005

UNTAET

E. Timor 1999-2000

Exercises

 

The Moro

The Moro was a Battle Honour granted to Canadian units participating in actions fought in the area of the Moro River and the city of Ortona in December 1943 as part of the fighting of the Italian Campaign during the Second World War.

Background

Following the Allied invasion of southern Italy in September 1943, it was made apparent that the Germans were going to defend the peninsula in the south. By late October, Allied intelligence gathered from ULTRA, the super-secret signals obtained by reading German codes, indicated the enemy's intent to defend the Winter Line to the south of Rome, while continuing a build-up both in Italy and the Balkans. With just Allied 11 divisions in Italy, the German 10th Army's ten divisions would be difficult to overwhelm, and further divisions were located in the north, though slight consolation was that a total of 16 divisions plus 13 in the Balkans were thus diverted from the fighting on the Eastern Front, where the Red Army continued offensive operations in the wake of Germany's failed Kursk offensive.1

With the balance of forces in the Germans' favour, the theatre commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the commander of the Allied 15th Army Group, General Harold Alexander, decided on a co-ordinated offensive on Rome as the best way to mitigate the threat posed to the two Allied armies in Italy (U.S. 5th and British 8th). It was felt that the initiative could be retained until spring, and that at that time, the more enemy divisions were used in counter-offensives against the Allies, the better it would be for the Allied invasion of France, drawing German resources away from that theatre.

This well-reasoned analysis of strategic imperatives was not communicated to the troops who would have to “retain the initiative” in the cold, rainy conditions of an Italian winter. Their corps and divisional commanders were also in the dark. Originally, Alexander proposed strengthening Gen. Mark Clark’s 5th Army with divisions from 8th Army, allowing for an all-out offensive on Rome to be coupled with an amphibious landing at Anzio, southwest of Rome. This would have left Gen. Bernard Montgomery’s diminished forces with a minor holding role. However, Monty, who had previously argued that he lacked the logistical support and the necessary infantry replacements to mount a major offensive, insisted on retaining all his divisions so his army could “capture the high ground north of Pescara” and outflank the defenders of Rome before 5th Army launched its main attack.2

Despite protests by his own chief of staff, citing the poor road network and the favourable defensive terrain, including several river lines, Montgomery pushed ahead, convinced that the British 78th Infantry Division, 8th Indian Division, and 2nd New Zealand Division would be able to reach Pescara in one mass attack, supported by 400 tanks. All that was needed was good weather and the air power that went with it.

The weather in Italy is normally rainy in winter and 1943-44 was no exception. Minor rivers surged and soil turned to mud. Fierce fighting for the Sangro, swollen to a 100-metre wide stream, produced only a shallow bridgehead. By 1 December the three divisions were all committed, and the 1st Canadian Division's 3rd Brigade was tasked on the Upper Sangro with diversionary attacks that were not fooling the enemy. The 8th Army commander changed his plans; with German reserves from the 26th Panzer Division and 90th Panzer Grenadier Division entering the battle area, the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade moved up to support the Indian Division and the 1st Canadian Division moved to relieve the British 78th. The desired effected was for the 2nd New Zealand Division and the 1st Canadian to race to Pescara.3

Planning

The Valerian Way was the lateral route from Pescara to Rome, and this was the goal of the 8th Army as it planned operations in late November 1943. However, the most direct route, from Isernia, faced the potential hazard of snow-blocked passes in the Appenines, so the decision was made to attack along the Adriatic coast. Meteorologists at 8th Army headquarters were not unaware of the typical weather in Italy - on average, seven inches of rain during November and December - and the Army knew that overcast meant limited air support while heavy rain meant treacherous supply routes. The Army paused while the two brigades of the 1st Canadian Division relieved the battered British 78th, with the immediate objective being the Ortona-Orsogna lateral, the first step before a co-ordinated offensive aimed at the Valerian Way.4

After the 1st Canadian Division moved to the Adriatic sector following its actions on the Sangro River, they faced a series of gullies and ridges across their new axis of advance, breaking up the coastal plateau east of the Maiella. Three main rivers also barred easy movement, in turn being the Feltrino, the Moro and the Arielli, entering the sea some 7, 9, and 14 miles from the mouth of the Sangro respectively. The area was well-farmed and olive-groves and vineyards laced the terrain, with scattered villages and hamlets connected only by narrow and poorly surfaced roads, Highway No. 16 running in general on top of the plateau. A newer stretch of highway ran from San Vito, overlooking the mouth of the Feltrino, following the coast north over the Moro River.

The old road (the only one shown on available maps) climbed the plateau again after crossing the Feltrino, and turned inland to Sant' Apollinare, a farming village overlooking the Moro two miles from the sea. Bending sharply to the north it made a long, gradual descent into the river valley here about 500 yards across (the Moro itself was a mere trickle)-and mounted the far bank into San Leonardo. Thence it struck north-westward, on gently rising ground, and traversed a pronounced gully just before it joined the lateral road running north-eastward from Guardiagrele through Orsogna to Ortona. The newer road (which subsequently became Highway No. 16) kept to the beach until about half a mile from Ortona, where it mounted the high ground to join the Orsogna lateral. The road through Sant' Apollinare and San Leonardo had been selected as the Canadian main axis.5

Major-General Chris Vokes, on assuming command of the coastal sector, ordered the Irish Brigade and 4th British Armoured Brigade to keep moving forward after securing San Vito, and by night of 4 December were on the ridge between the Feltrino and Moro Rivers. To their left, troops of the 8th Indian Division captured Lanciano on 3 December and had reached Frisa, three miles inland from Sant' Apollinare. These operations were being supported by tanks of the 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Calgary Regiment), under control of the division from 1 December. On the night of 2-3 December the Calgary Tanks carried Sikhs of the 21st Indian Brigade to the outskirts of Lanciano as part of a "noisy demonstration" towards the coast, in which they were joined by the 5th Battalion, Royal West Kents (also of 21 Indian Brigade), all of which was designed to assist 78th Infantry Division in the capture of San Vito. On 4 December, the Calgary Tanks formed part of a flying column which then occupied Frisa. Meanwhile, the 2nd Canadian Brigade was ordered to occupy positions between Sant' Apollinare and the Indians, facing the Moro, while 1st Brigade concentrated on the San Vito plateau. On 5 December, the 3rd Canadian Brigade, south of the Sangro, was ordered to cross the river.

Canadian Logistics

Fair weather, to that point permitting air cover to operate in favour of the Allies, also began to melt the snow in the mountains, deepening and widening rivers and adding to the logistical burdens. On the night of 4 December the Sangro River rose six feet, and every bridge serving the 5th Corps (to which the 1st Canadian Division was subordinate) was either washed away or submerged. Engineers struggled to complete an all-weather bridge as traffic came to a standstill; luckily a supply dump had been established near Fossacesia and DUKWs (amphibious trucks) were able to ferry supplies around the river's mouth. The Royal Canadian Army Service Corps was able to effectively re-establish a supply line with these vehicles; on 7 December, for example, orders for supplies included 50,000 rounds of artillery ammunition, 10,000 gallons of petrol and 40,000 rations. The 3rd Brigade, however, was unable to fulfill its orders to rejoin the division for two days, and even as it moved again on 6 December, had to leave 200 heavy vehicles south of the Sangro.

German Intentions

Allied intelligence staffs correctly assessed the enemy's intention to stop further Allied advances on the Moro, after having been evicted from the Bernhard Line. The 76th Panzer Corps determined on 1 December that it would hold a line as far as Melone (two miles east of Guardiagrele) and develop also a new line Melone-Ortona, and stop any attacks in the area of their outposts by "obstinate delaying actions." The German 65th Division had been smashed during the Bernhard Line fighting, its remnants ordered north to join the 14th Army, and the 90th Panzergrenadier Division moved south hastily from the Venice area, taking over the coastal sector on 3 December. To its right, the 26th Panzer Division had relieved the 16th Panzer Division, the latter urgently needed on the Eastern Front.

The inter-divisional boundary paralleling the coast, ran through Lanciano, about seven miles inland. Although the 5th Corps Intelligence Summary of 4 December reported that "recent air photographs reveal no large-scale preparation south of Pescara", it soon became known that the enemy was busy digging in on the reverse slopes of the gullies. They had good reason. Recorded telephone conversations between the German commanders disclose the crushing blow which air attacks had dealt to enemy morale during the few good flying days at the end of November. Colonel Baade (whose efficient command of the defences of the Strait of Messina will be recalled) was temporarily replacing the wounded commander of the 65th Division,and he had declared that not even in Africa had he seen anything like the Allied air offensive. "With Montgomery you could count on that", commented Kesselring. The enemy might well expect a repetition of the concentrated air and artillery bombardment which had hit him on the Sangro ridge, and in ordering the preparation of a new defence line in front of the Ortona-Orsogna lateral road the commander of the 76th Corps gave as the "watchword for one and all: `Into the Ground'." Thus as Canadians and Irish looked across the Moro at the patchwork of vineyard and olive grove which rose gradually to the horizon from the top of the far bank, they saw nothing to indicate the presence of a division of fresh troops warily lying in wait for the next Allied blow.6

On 4 December, with the 8th Indian Division in Frisa with tank support and the New Zealanders struggling at Orsogna and Guardiagrele, General Allfrey pressured the Canadians to cross the Moro "as soon as possible." General Vokes directed both the Irish and 2nd Canadian Brigades to push infantry patrols and engineers ahead during the night to scout possible crossing sites. There were three:

  • the new coast road on the right flank

  • the old highway leading to San Leonardo

  • a narrower road crossing south of Villa Rogatti, a small village atop the left bank, two miles upstream from San Leonardo, and referred to by the Allied troops as Villa Roatti due to typographical errors on their maps. (The Germans called the place Villa Ruatti).

Behind San Leonardo and Villa Rogatti lay a long slope, with hamlets (La Torre, Villa Jubatti, Villa Caldari) separated by deep gullies cutting back severely from the Moro Valley. The gullies were viewed as possible routes up onto the top of the plateau. The Patricias scouted below Villa Rogatti and found a ford that could also bear the weight of tanks, though the far bank was steep. Two hundred yards beyond the west bank, enemy halftracks and motorcycles could be heard. Vokes, on hearing reports from the 38th Brigade that the river was wider and deeper farther downstream, resolved to continue the advance up Highway No. 16 and establish one of the Canadian brigades at the junction with the Guardiagrele-Ortona lateral road, exploit to Tollo across the Arielli, and then move to the coast and Ortona. The engineers were tasked with readying a crossing below San Leonardo; with the central route selected for the main crossing, two other sites were also to be established by the infantry, near the coast and at Villa Rogatti, either to divert enemy attention away, or to be used in earnest if need be.

Opening Moves - Night of 5-6 December

The 1st Division's plan was for an attack by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade south of the central axis of advance, with a diversionary attack by the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade on the right flank, the latter having relieved the Irish Brigade on the afternoon of 5 December. Two battalions would step off at midnight on 5-6 December: The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada to storm San Leonardo and create a bridgehead in order to protect the engineers working in the valley, and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, attacking near Villa Rogatti in an attempt to get inland and cut the lateral road. Tanks of the 4th Armoured Brigade were to support the endeavour, with The Loyal Edmonton Regiment in reserve on the east bank, and artillery "on call" only. Another consideration by the planners was the need to get anti-tank guns across the river quickly to face the expected German tank counter-attacks, with thought given to towing them with tanks, if no other means were possible.7

The strength of the German defences, the limitations of the fire support available to Allied troops and the determined courage of the Canadian soldiers were all evident when the Seaforths and the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry crossed the Moro…The attacks were to be made without the benefit of a preliminary barrage, an approach to battle suggested by the success of 8th Indian Div.’s silent night attacks that were said to have led to panic among German soldiers.8

Patrols on the 5th continually reconnoitred the line of the river while tank crews personally inspected the crossings. Desultory bombing from enemy aircraft did no real damage, and Allied air superiority ensured that even long lines of stopped vehicles at the downed Sangro bridges did not invite enemy air attack.

Villa Rogatti

The Patricias were able to ascertain little from their patrols, other than the village was held by a central garrison with a defensive perimeter. Only later were the defenders identified as soldiers of the 200th Panzergrenadier Regiment (a component of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division). What was known, however, was that the village was protected from the east by the sharp banks of the Moro escarpment, and two steep gullies on north and south further made an approach difficult. The village itself was divided by a ravine running into it from the east. The only level ground lay southwest of Villa Rogatti, carrying a track from Villa Caldari.

The Patricias, under Lieutenant-Colonel Cameron Ware, planned to cross the Moro with "B" Company leading. Tanks of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment were to descend a winding road one mile south of the village, ford the stream, then move down the valley in the lee of the far bank, until it could ascend a gully 500 yards north of the village, the ground there being more gradual. The company forded the river at midnight, and the leading platoon first drew fire on reading a track that linked the two parts of the village.

Assaulting from the left, the Patricias rushed and silenced two machine-gun posts before ineffective firing broke out around the perimeter. The Panzer Grenadiers, unwarned by any preliminary artillery fire, were taken by surprise; some indeed were captured in their beds. Slowly "B" Company forced its way into the central square, routing the defenders, who clung tenaciously to the houses and swept the open places with severe cross-fire. "A" Company, which had closely followed "B", swung to the right towards the northern part of the village, and began clearing the houses and caves in the intervening gully. By daylight the Canadians were established in Villa Rogatti, but still under intense mortar fire and sniping. To meet the inevitable counterattack they needed ammunition, which they had heavily expended, and the support of the armour which was struggling up a winding mule track to reach the top of the plateau.9

San Leonardo

See also article on San Leonardo

The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada simultaneously made an advance on the larger town of San Leonardo. Nestled as well against the high river bank of the Moro to the east, San Leonardo was protected to the south by a long gully, which cut for 2,000 yards down the plateau to the village of La Torre. Patrols had garnered even less information about the defences there than at Villa Rogatti, and German shelling had hindered observation and reconnaissance.

"B" Company took up positions in the gully at midnight as part of the first of two phases of the planned operation. Their mission was to block enemy reinforcements from entering the battle from La Torre. Simultaneously, "C" Company was to move up the road towards the town of San Leonardo itself, while "A" Company moved out on a right flanking half an hour later, using a covered approach. Action against La Torre would be made if possible, and tank support was to follow after daybreak.

In silence the Seaforth waded the Moro. "B" Company reached its allotted positions without interference and dug in. "C" Company, less fortunate, had progressed only 100 yards beyond the river's edge when it was stopped by a hail of bullets from machine-guns on the high ground firing through the darkness on fixed lines. On the right, "A" Company met equally strong resistance from an estimated 15 to 20 machine-guns. The company commander was wounded, and his sergeant-major killed. Communication with Battalion Headquarters failed. One of the platoon commanders, making several gallant but unsuccessful attempts to work small parties forward, was finally forced to withdraw the company to the south bank. Once again "A" Company forded the muddy stream, following "C" up a mule track 150 yards south of the road. But the effort accomplished little. After five hours' fighting the two companies had succeeded in gaining only a small bridgehead which fell far short of the original objectives and left the enemy free to dominate with his fire the main crossing where the Engineers were working. Under incessant shelling and mortar fire, the Seaforth clung to their precarious foothold in the hope that with the coming of daylight armour and artillery would be able to break the hard core of enemy resistance on the high ground.10

The Seaforth's commanding officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Forin, later wrote that the planning for the attack had been rushed, and that such circumstances almost always were a recipe for hardship. Historian Terry Copp further analyzed the initial attacks across the Moro:

(Brigadier Bert) Hoffmeister, (commander of the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade)... was developing the reputation that would lead his biographer, Royal Military College historian Doug Delaney, to title his book The Soldier’s General. During the rest period at Campobasso, brigade officers down to company commanders had been exposed to intensive training courses “designed to forge a common understanding of doctrine and procedure–the axle on which operations turned.” Hoffmeister gave the lectures himself making sure the lessons of the long pursuit were examined. He then turned everyone’s attention to the methods of a set-piece attack, 8th Army style. The ideal sequence, he noted, was “air bombardment, followed by air-strafing, followed by an artillery barrage, followed by machine-gun, mortar and anti-tank fire from Brigade Support Group, followed closely by infantry assault.”

This well-tried doctrine depended upon a high volume of fire designed to neutralize the enemy while the infantry and tanks closed with the enemy. Problems began when the enemy had sufficient time to develop an elaborate defensive position on favourable terrain, such as the heights above the Moro River.The men of 90th Panzer Grenadier Div., who had arrived in the area just before the Canadian relief of 78th Div., had been told that the “watchword for one and all is into the ground.” The Germans placed the majority of their automatic weapons on the forward slope, carefully camouflaged with alternate positions. Riflemen were posted nearby to provide flank protection. The main force was held well back in deep dugouts available to serve as counter-attack forces or reinforcements for the most threatened sectors. Light machine-guns–MG-42s–were set up to cover every approach route with interlocking bands of fire and direct fire down tracks or trails.

Operational Research teams who studied such defences noted that enemy positions could only be located by the closest observation as the “camouflage discipline and lack of daylight movement by the German troops in forward areas was excellent.” When the weather permitted photo reconnaissance, the natural appearance of the positions made them impossible to detect. The artillery and tactical air force could target strongpoints, such as San Leonardo and Villa Rogatti, but a very large and exceptionally accurate bombardment was needed to do any real damage and cause casualties. Little could be expected of the preliminary bombardment, given the shortage of munitions and the limited impact of 25-pounder shells in the wet, soft ground on the Moro.11

Air support was also a concern; weather hindered operations as noted above, but short bombing incidents on the front of the 8th Indian Division also led to the placing of restrictions before Canadian attacks across the Moro. Smoke and landmarks had to be positively identified by pilots before bombing runs could proceed. Experiments with "cab rank" proceeded, a procedure in which queues of fighter-bombers reported to controllers on the ground. RAF air controllers, working with army liaison officers, in theory could direct up to half a dozen Kittyhawks onto targets of opportunity, provided they were positively identified. In practice, the cab ranks were used to strike pre-selected targets behind German lines, given the limited time available for positive identification and target selection.12

1st Brigade

The third action of the night of 5-6 December was an attack by The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. This diversionary attack, meant to draw German attention away from the PPCLI and Seaforth crossings, was made into the teeth of a fully alerted enemy. Darkness had already fallen when the Hastings relieved The Royal Irish Fusiliers on the seaward flank of the division. "Apart from some hurried conversations with the Irish there was no time for a briefing or to carry out reconnaissance."13 Patrols reported the best spot to make their crossing of the Moro at a place 200 yards inland, with the plan being that if the leading company managed to gain a bridgehead, the rest of the battalion would follow on and consolidate.

The lead platoon, from "A" Company, forded the Moro at 22:00 on the 5th, reaching the far bank but unable to signal their success due to a faulty radio. The other platoons eventually followed, but never caught up to the lead units, and both elements of the company were caught by sweeping machine gun fire. The German guns were carefully sited to prevent just such a crossing. The lack of a radio also prevented "A" Company from calling in mortar fire, and the company instead chose to settle into a "chaotic exchange of small arms fire" with the Germans, in order to maximize their mission as a diversion to the main effort to the west. The Canadians withdrew at 01:00hrs on 6 December.14

6 December

Villa Rogatti

The Germans, as they almost always did, reacted quickly. At Villa Rogatti, they began shelling at 07:00hrs and infantry counter-attacked two hours later from the west, advancing through a thick mist lying heavy over the valley and plateau. "A" Company of the Patricias, isolated in the northern part of the village, took heavy fire from the German Grenadiers picking their way through olive groves, but a desperate stand by the forward platoon allowed Acting Major Watson, the company commander, to organize his defence. The first tanks of the 44th RTR arrived just in time to bolster the garrison.  Fighting lasted until 11:30hrs, and at the height of the action, the first mule train of ammunition made its way from the river bank into Villa Rogatti. The Patricias reinforced their positions with their reserve company, and secured the village with eight tanks in hull-down positions covering the only possible approach for enemy armour, the narrow plateau bearing a road to the south-west. Remaining tanks had been disabled by mines or bogged in the rain-soaked ground on the approach march.15

Another counterattack, from the expected direction, materialized at 14:30hrs, with a company of the 26th Panzer Regiment, including nine PzKpfw IV tanks, supporting the infantry. "B" Company of the Patricias held the main, southern, portion of the village, and three German tanks were knocked out in quick succession, one by a PPCLI anti-tank gun firing from the far side of the Moro. The attackers split up and attempted to attack both flanks of "B" Company.

For two hours the bitter struggle continued, as the action surged right up to the village outskirts. Although their tank support was failing them, and they were being heavily shelled, the Grenadiers five times re-organized and returned to the attack. Always they were met with searing fire from the Patricias' small arms and from the machine-guns of the British tanks.16

The battle cost the combined force 70 casualties and two Shermans, but the British and Canadians accounted for 100 dead enemy soldiers and five PzKpfw IV tanks, as well as 40 enemy prisoners.17 The Germans left a sizeable inventory of equipment on the field, and the PPCLI losses of 8 dead, 52 wounded and 8 captured was their highest total for a single day in the campaign thus far.

But "B" Company's determined stand saved the bridgehead. From the war diary of the 26th Panzer Division comes a tribute to "the excellent fire discipline of the enemy, who let our tanks approach to within 50 metres and then destroyed them." With the approach of night, Ware regrouped his battalion, and stretcher bearers began the two-mile trek back with the wounded.18

San Leonardo

The Seaforths were not as successful as the Patricias in getting tank support across the Moro, and attempts to increase the size of their bridgehead were largely unsuccessful. Four separate locations were sought to get the big Sherman tanks across the river, and the bed proved too soft at all of them. Instead, the tanks lined up on the escarpment on the Sant' Apollinare side, and fired at enemy machine guns in San Leonardo at long range, through the morning mist. New attack plans were drawn up with an artillery and mortar fire plan, then cancelled at the appearance of German tanks in the town early in the afternoon. At 20:00hrs, news came that the bridgehead was being abandoned in favour of exploiting the Patricias' gains at Rogatti.19

The (P.P.C.L.I. had) made good use of the darkness to reach their objective just above the river, but the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada found their axis–the San Leonardo road–well defended. Lieutenant-Colonel Doug Forin committed two companies to secure a bridgehead where the road crossed the river, hoping for the rapid construction of a Bailey bridge to carry the armour forward. A third company was to secure high ground to the south of the village, a move that would provide protection for the main advance. This flank attack, which did not challenge the main German defences, went according to plan, but nothing else did. The enemy was well prepared to defend the road and bridging site with “intense MMG (medium machine-gun) fire from high ground to the west firing along fixed lines.” Both main force companies suffered casualties and were forced to the ground a few hundred metres beyond the river.... Hoffmeister requested permission to abandon the Seaforth bridgehead and reinforce success at Villa Rogatti.20

The withdrawal of the Seaforths highlighted what "B" Company had accomplished in the initial attack. Out of contact on La Torre spur, it had come under heavy mortar and machine gun fire at daybreak on the 6th, pressed on towards the village, overran no fewer than sixteen German machine guns, and taken 40 prisoners. By late afternoon, the company commander realized the precariousness of their position, isolated deep in German territory, and upon observing La Torre being reinforced by 200 Grenadiers, skillfully withdrew his men.


Infantrymen of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada search German prisoners near the Moro River on 8 December 1943.
LAC photo

1st Brigade

The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment had not been successful in their mission on the division's right flank the previous night, but their commanding officer, Major A.A. Kennedy, had a clearer picture of enemy defences, and both he and his Brigadier, Howard Graham, field confident that a well-supported push could gain a bridgehead on the Moro. The divisional commander, Major-General Chris Vokes, gave permission to make another attempt on 6 December.21

Brig. Howard Graham and Kennedy met to consider their options. Kennedy reported that the Moro was no obstacle to infantry but “it is soft bottomed and in conjunction with the muddy condition of the whole valley it is a complete tank obstacle.” He was confident that a well organized battalion attack with observed artillery and mortar fire could win a bridgehead.

The divisional commander, Major-General Chris Vokes, was still focused on the 2nd Bde. crossing, but he told Graham to go ahead.

The Hasty Ps relied on the 4.2-inch mortars of the Saskatoon Light Infantry and the Forward Observation Officers (FOOs) of 2nd Field Regt. to suppress enemy posts. However, not all of the camouflaged machine-gun positions had been identified. The lead company came under heavy fire and went to ground. Smoke helped to obscure the battlefield allowing Dog Company–in a follow-up role–to swing left and penetrate the enemy position.22

The objective of the attack was a road junction 500 yards beyond the Moro River, where a secondary road departed the coast road, traversing the plateau to San Leonardo. The attack went in with "C" Company at 14:00hrs, following a 20-minute barrage from the 2nd Field Regiment, RCA, with covering fire from the SLI's 4.2" mortars. Germans of the 361st Panzergrenadier Regiment had the line of approach well-covered, and though the terrain was not as steep as elsewhere along the Moro, the attackers had a hard time advancing into the heavy fire. In particular, the left flank was held up and "D" Company was ordered to get across and deal with the enemy there. They too came under fire from previously unspotted positions, and the supporting mortars could not be brought to bear on them. Radio communication broke down with both companies.23

Kennedy, watching from a high knoll on the south bank, glimpsed victory ahead. But there was bad news with the good. A troop of tanks which had descended into the ravine hoping to cross the river near the demolished bridge and so support the infantry in their assault over the crest of the far bank, reported itself hopelessly bogged down. The loss of the tanks was catastrophic, for the enemy had many tanks and would assuredly use them for a counterattack against the naked infantry men if these should manage to scale the northern slopes...

From his observation knoll it appeared to him that Dog company had become too deeply involved on the left flank, and was in danger of being overwhelmed. The failure of the tanks to get across made it seem certain that any local success which might be won by the infantry would be transitory and liable to be turned into costly defeat. Charlie company, on the valley floor, was clearly unable to get forward to assist Dog, and the weight of the enemy defensive fire seemed to be increasing, rather than decreasing.

Remembering that this was not the major battle but still only a diversion, Kennedy gave in to his doubts and ordered the two companies to withdraw.24

"C" Company obeyed the order, but "D" Company was still out of communication and kept fighting, managing to win commanding positions on high ground. Their success was such that by 16:30hrs, Kennedy pushed "A" and "B" Companies across the river to exploit, and the Germans were pushed back of the escarpment, leaving the Hastings in command of a small bridgehead just short of the objective by 20:00hrs, all for the loss of 28 casualties, including five dead. Unable to advance further without tanks or anti-tank weapons, the battalion dug in for the night among tangles of grape vines.25

7 December

The success of the Patricias on the divisional left was unfortunately "negated by a mistaken engineer and command decision." Despite having given yeoman service so far in the Italian campaign, "(a)t this critical juncture, for one of the very few times, Geoff Walsh's engineers let Vokes down."26 Faulty reconnaissance indicated that bridging was not possible at Villa Rogatti or the crossing place at San Leonardo, and the Edmonton Regiment, preparing to pass through the Patricias on the night of 6-7 December, were halted in place. Early in the morning of 7 December, the corps commander directed the 8th Indian Division to take over the Rogatti area, and for the 1st Canadian Division to concentrate its forces along the coast for a more powerful blow at San Leonardo, where it was felt a bridge might be able to be erected.27

It was a significant decision,-for it meant that instead of outflanking San Leonardo from the left and then advancing along the grain of the country the Canadians were now to become involved in a series of costly frontal assaults in which advantages of topography lay with the defenders. Throughout the 7th the P.P.C.L.I. "stood to" against further attack, but the enemy was not disposed to repeat his costly ventures of the previous day, and confined his activity to shelling and mortaring. By midnight a battalion of the 21st Indian Brigade had taken over Villa Rogatti, and the Patricias were back on the east bank. "After nearly sixty hours of fighting and `standing to' ", recorded the unit diarist, "the troops are beginning to look tired; the strain and excitement has keyed them to a pitch higher than has ever been reached in any previous battle during the Italian Campaign."28

No sooner did the Indian Division take over at Rogatti than their engineers succeeded in bridging the Moro - "but it was too late for Vokes to turn back."29  The Indians completed their Bailey bridge in three days, cheekily naming it "Impossible Bridge."30

Problems with the construction of a Bailey bridge, which were later solved by Indian Div. engineers, led to sharp criticism of the Canadian sappers, but the decision to turn Villa Rogatti over to the Indians and concentrate the Canadians close to the coast was made by the corps commander, Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Alfrey in the context of the brilliant success of the Hastings and Prince Edward Regt. which had secured a bridgehead near the mouth of the Moro.31

The Hastings were in fact the only unit across the Moro River, and what was supposed to have been a diversion was becoming the main effort of the entire division.

The river barrier was too great for tanks, but two anti-tank guns were manhandled across into the bridgehead. With this slight support, and despite heavy shelling and mortaring, before the end of the day Major Kennedy had advanced one of his companies forward to the road junction. Here the Hastings hung on, while their pioneers laboured to improve the crossing, and mule trains brought forward food and ammunition. What had started as a diversionary measure on the Division's flank was assuming increasing importance. It was the retention of this bridgehead between the coast road and the sea that eventually led to the successful crossing of the Moro.32


Infantrymen of The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada search German prisoners near the Moro River. The original caption places the date of this photo at 9 December 1943, one day later than the photo above. Note the soldier in the turban, most likely from the 8th Indian Division. LAC photo

Aftermath

Before the Canadians crossed the Moro, ULTRA intelligence had suggested the enemy's 65th Infantry Division had been heavily punished, and the boundary of that formation with the 26th Panzer Division was located. The 2nd New Zealand Division was sent in to exploit what was considered a weak point in the German defences, take Orsogna and from there move north to Chieti, the capital of the province, even before the Canadians could get across the Moro. The New Zealand formation was a unique hybrid of two infantry and one armoured brigades, and while Orsogna fell on 7 December, they were forced to withdraw the next day.

When the German high command learned of the New Zealand attack, Field Marshal Kesselring ordered his corps commander “to hold at all costs” so that the troops east of Orsogna would not be enveloped. He insisted that “the ground there is so favourable that it can be held by relatively small forces.” Kesselring was right; the natural defences were too strong to be overcome by any division unless a means of outflanking the ridge could be found. It was up to the Canadians and the 8th Indian Div. to accomplish this.

The subsequent battle for Orsogna was essentially over when Brigadier Bert Hoffmeister’s 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade crossed the Moro on Dec. 5.33

After the failure of the P.P.C.L.I. and Seaforths to forge bridgeheads on the river, the new divisional plan called for a two-phase attack on San Leonardo; the remainder of the 1st Brigade was called on to make this assault on 8 December.34

Battle Honours

 

The following Canadian units were awarded the Battle Honour "The Moro" for participation in these actions:

 

Image:1gif1bde.gif 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade

  • The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment

Image:1gif2bde.gif 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade

  • Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry

  • The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada

Notes

  1. Copp, Terry "The Advance To The Moro: Army, Part 66" Legion Magazine (published online September 1, 2006 and accessed at http://legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2006/09/the-advance-to-the-moro/)

  2. Ibid

  3. Ibid

  4. Copp, Terry "Overcoming The Moro: Army, Part 67" Legion Magazine (published online November 1, 2006 and accessed at http://legionmagazine.com/en/index.php/2006/11/overcoming-the-moro/)

  5. Nicholson, Gerald. Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War. Volume II: The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945 (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1957)

  6. Ibid

  7. Ibid

  8. Copp, "The Advance to the Moro", Ibid

  9. Nicholson, Ibid

  10. Ibid

  11. Copp, Ibid

  12. Ibid

  13. Copp, "Overcoming the Moro", Ibid

  14. Nicholson, Ibid

  15. Ibid

  16. Ibid

  17. McKay, A. Donald Gaudeamus Igitur "Therefore Rejoice" (Bunker to Bunker Books, Calgary, AB, 2005) ISBN 1894255534 p.80

  18. Nicholson, Ibid

  19. Ibid

  20. Copp, "The Advance to the Moro", Ibid

  21. Nicholson, Ibid

  22. Copp, "Overcoming the Moro", Ibid

  23. Nicholson, Ibid

  24. Mowat, Farley The Regiment (McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, ON, 1955) ISBN 0771066945 (paperback edition) pp.177-178

  25. Nicholson, Ibid

  26. McKay, Ibid, p.80

  27. Nicholson, Ibid

  28. Ibid

  29. McKay, Ibid, p.81

  30. Nicholson, Ibid

  31. Copp, "The Advance to the Moro", Ibid

  32. Nicholson, Ibid

  33. Copp, "Overcoming the Moro", Ibid

  34. McKay, Ibid, p.81


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