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 Sangro

The Sangro was a Battle Honour granted to units of the 3rd Canadian Brigade participating in actions in November 1943 on the Sangro River.

Background

For detailed background see The Sangro and Moro article

Following the conquest of Sicily in August 1943, landings on the Italian mainland in September, the capitulation of Italy, and the continued hard fighting in October when it was made apparent the Germans were determined to defend the peninsula as far south of Rome as possible, Allied grand strategy changed to one of attrition, hoping to draw down German forces and pin them in Italy while Allied forces planned the invasion of western Europe.1

By mid-November, the 15th Army Group (U.S. 5th Army and British 8th Army) had drawn up to the Bernhard Line, and while the Americans had halted their offensive operations due to a number of factors, the 8th Army was determined to strike forward through the Line and towards Avezzano. To do this, a major operation was planned along the Adriatic coast using Highway No. 16 as the axis of advance. With a D-Day of 20 November, the attack would involve the 78th Infantry and 8th Indian Divisions, supported by 4th Armoured Brigade and 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade. As well, the 2nd New Zealand Division, new to 8th Army in Italy, would relieve the 5th Infantry Division on the Corps' left flank and threaten the inland road toward Guardiagrele.

In order to ensure the success of these operations, an elaborate deception plan was created to fool the Germans into believing an operation by 13th Corps was in the offing, well inland, rather than by 5th Corps on the coast. The concentration on the right of the Allied line had to be concealed, and a strong threat from the 13th Corps in the centre of the line presented, in particular against Castel di Sangro and Alfedena. These towns were located on the upper reaches of the Sangro River, commanding roads leading north-west to Avezzano. False materiel dumps were built in the maintenance area of the 13th Corps and reinforcement troops were moved towards the mountains during daylight hours, and to the coast at night. The arrival of the New Zealanders was masked by active patrolling by the Indian Division, and wireless messages sent in Urdu were intended to convey an impression that the Indian Division was to be a component of 13th Corps. To give the false impression that another landing such as happened at Termoli, the Royal Navy and 1st Airborne Division faked preparations for another landing on the coast, hoping to persuade the Germans to spread their forces to cover such a move and needlessly defend the Pescara region.

3rd Brigade on the Upper Sangro

Two battalions of the 3rd Brigade had not seen action since 13 October, and while the 1st Brigade and 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards ran patrols, with the help of mules, between the upper Biferno and Trigno Rivers, the 3rd Brigade was given two days' notice to move, their destination Carovilli.

Reconnaissance conducted on 5 November had shown that only two routes from Campobasso were possible. Both were poorly surfaced roads. The first was the main Corps axis, known as Highway No. 17, running 10 miles west of Boiano, then north past Carpinone and Sessano. The other route was the extension of a minor road that the 1st Brigade had used to cross the Biferno in late October; it zig-zagged wildly from Torella generally west, climbing to Duronia and Civitanova and joined Highway 17 three miles north of Sessano.

German engineers had attacked the routes with relish, blowing an overhanging cliff north of Carpinone to create a landslide, then blowing 150 feet of road at a sharp U-turn just past the landslide into a ravine. A hundred feet past that, a demolished bridge between steep river banks required a 60-foot Bailey bridge. From that point to Sessano, just a mile and a half, three large craters had been blown, and there were two more spots where the road had simply been blown away. Engineers of the 4th Field Company reconnoitring as far as Carovilli had to dismount 14 times on the eight-mile stretch between Sessano and Carovilli to manhandle their motorcycles over German demolitions.

The second route via Civitanova was also arduous, with heavy rainfall having threatened a 250-foot pontoon bridge below Castropignano. No less than five bridges and three culverts had been blown by the enemy between Duronia and Civitanova, and two bridges and one culvert on the other side of Civitanova. The decision was made to move the Brigade on this route on 8 November, and small detachments were sent to hold the towns and villages on the way while the engineers prepared the way. The Germans were confident in the work of their engineers to block a major advance.

The PLDG found themselves covering the whole front between the British 5th Infantry Division and the 8th Indian Division. They established a standing patrol in Carovilli on 8 November, and a week later "C" Company of The West Nova Scotia Regiment, already tasked to occupy Sessano to protect the road repair crews of 4th Field Company, joined the PLDG.

On 14 November, 13th Corps Headquarters defined the role the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade would play in the impending deception plan. The 5th Division was to simulate an attempt to link up with the U.S. 5th Army to the south-west, and attack to cut the lateral road between Castel di Sangro and Alfedena. Their attack on Alfedena was scheduled for 18 November. The Canadian brigade group was to gain control of the upper Sangro between Castel di Sangro and Ateleta twelve miles downstream, then be prepared to assault over the river on 21 November to advance a brigade group up the highway to Sulmona.

Other special preparations included requests for maximum air support, a special artillery group to support 5th Division to 20 November and 3rd Brigade thereafter, and the opening of a divisional headquarters near Carovilli to fool the Germans into thinking the entire Canadian division was moving up from Campobasso.

The success of the scheme depended on how rapidly the Engineers could repair the routes to Carovilli. On the Sessano road the break in the U-turn at Carpinone meant that no bridging material could be moved forward for the gaps beyond. The task of blasting a new road from the face of the cliff required the special drilling equipment of the detachment of No. 1 Canadian Tunnelling Company which had followed the Division to the Mediterranean. For three days the tunnellers bored into the rockface, preparing it to take a ton of explosive; but when they blew the charges in the early hours of the 12th, the result was disappointing. At the suggestion of the Chief Engineer of the 13th Corps 24 six-pounder anti-tank shells were fired into the cliff in an attempt to dislodge the rock which the blast had loosened, but with negligible effect. Nothing was left but to resort to compressors, picks and shovels, and smaller charges; it was another two days before the road was opened and all gaps bridged as far as Pescolanciano, five miles to the north.

Meanwhile, in friendly rivalry with the 4th Field Company, on the Civitanova route the 1st and 3rd Companies were leapfrogging towards the junction between Sessano and Pescolanciano, the 13th Corps Engineers having taken over the Biferno crossing in order to release all the Canadian sappers for work on the Carovilli routes. Continual heavy rain brought need of constant vigilance to ensure that the softened river banks did not give way beneath the weight of the Bailey bridges, which in some cases had to be jacked up so that bankseats might be reinforced.

By the 15th the Engineers were putting the finishing touches to the Civitanova road and the 3rd Brigade was preparing to move forward from Campobasso to Carovilli next day, when a sudden rise in the Biferno washed out the pontoon bridge below Castropignano. In this new emergency, Corps Headquarters gave permission for use of the highway through Vinchiaturo and Boiano. On 16 November Brigadier Gibson opened his headquarters in Carovilli, and Tactical Divisional Headquarters was established in Pescolanciano--an old walled town dominated by a massive square castle (which provided somewhat draughty accommodation for an officers' mess in its great hall while housing large numbers of refugees in its upper levels). Two days later the whole brigade group had completed the move.1

The Germans had found time to leave signs by their demolitions, taunting the Canadians to "Come and spend Christmas with us" and "Build your Bailey bridge so we can come back and blow it up." The move of the brigade was nonetheless considered "an engineering triumph".2

Defences

The terrain around Carovilli was a high "bleak" valley laced with small streams, with "stunted oak forests" and rocky peaks. The vine country had ended at Isernia and only poor crops could be wrought from the rocky soil by the peasants up in the higher, wind-swept elevations. There was only a single good rood, the Isernia-Vasto lateral (Highway No. 86).

Two other routes running north-westward from Carovilli to the Sangro were narrow and badly surfaced. The left-hand trail crossed the swampy pasture-land in which the Trigno had its source, and then climbed sharply through a rocky pass into Vastogirardi, a gray, fog-infested village, 3700 feet above sea-level. Then it descended, skirting the southern base of two rocky peaks, Mount Capraro and Mount Miglio, and coming by way of San Pietro to the Sangro valley. The second road, equally rough and tortuous, passed to the east of Mount Capraro to serve the lofty winter resort of Capracotta, five miles north of Vastogirardi, before zig-zagging down into the Sangro valley, where it joined a river road which linked the communities of Sant' Angelo, Castel del Giudice and Ateleta with the market town of Castel di Sangro.3

The 1st Parachute Division had been selected in early October to hold the 76th Panzer Corps' right flank in the Bernhard Line, one of just three divisions remaining for this task. The 16th Panzer Division, scheduled for transfer to the Eastern Front (and would not be able to disengage until 28 November due to Allied activity), was stationed to the left of the paratroops, and the 65th Infantry Division in the coastal sector. The corps boundary with the neighbouring 14th Panzer Corps ran from Carovilli north-west to the main line of resistance three miles south-west of Castel di Sangro.

The Battle

The first task of the 3rd Canadian Brigade was to clear enemy outposts from the area south of the Sangro. The West Nova Scotia Regiment sent patrols into the villages and hamlets past Carovilli, first making contact on 17 November. A party of Germans entering Vastogirardi was ambushed by a Canadian standing patrol and forced to retreat, leaving four men killed. The dead were identified as soldiers of the 1st Parachute Division. On 18 November the Royal 22e Régiment established its headquarters in Vastogirardi while "B" Company moved on San Pietro to establish a strong patrol base in accordance with the brigade commander's plan. The company encountered a platoon of West Novas in a firefight with a German patrol at the foot of Mount Miglio; the Germans were put to flight with the help of friendly artillery fire.

On reaching San Pietro that evening, the Royal 22e found that what had been home to 2,000 civilians had been razed. The Germans were instituting a deliberate scorched earth policy in the upper Sangro valley in a zone ten miles long and five miles wide. The zone encompassed an area along the river including Castel di Sangro up to Sant' Angelo, and was the region the enemy expected to hold the Allies during the winter. All food stocks and cattle were confiscated, in the words of the Canadian official historian, "(w)ith typical German thoroughness", and the inhabitants were evicted and their homes burned. The cruelty of the situation is magnified when one realizes both the thoroughness of the German demolitions (10 villages "deliberately and systematically destroyed, with no house left standing) and the fact that in southern Italy, as in Sicily, there were few places to live outside of the villages - there were very few other dwellings in the countryside as almost the entire population resided in the villages. The peasantry of the region was thus left homeless, and left to wander, block the roads with carts and mules, and bring the problem of caring and transporting them away directly into the 3rd Brigade's forward area.4

The battalions of the 3rd Brigade engaged in patrol activities through the woods and gullies over the next few days, sometimes engaging the enemy in sudden firefights with small parties of Germans who had remained in isolation on the near side of the Sangro, or even re-crossed on patrol missions of their own.

On 20 November, the West Novas established its Battalion Headquarters in a tunnel beneath a demolished tile factory in San Pietro, and a patrol from "D" Company went out that night to scale the high ridge to the west. They made their way down to Castel di Sangro, stayed for several hours, and only encountered the enemy on the return trip when they came under fire from the heights of Point 1009. Members of the patrol remaining in the town for another day learned that Germans in platoon strength were occupying a monastery at the summit of the heights. On 21 November, Lieutenant-Colonel Pat Bogert, commanding the West Novas, established an observation post at a feature known as Nido Del Corvo ("the Raven's Nest"), rocky heights overlooking Castel di Sangro, located about three miles distant on a long ridge beyond San Pietro.

"A" Company of The Carleton and York Regiment, located in Capracotta since the 20th, was patrolling the line of the Sangro on the Brigade's right, and was surprised to find two intact bridges, one a pontoon half a mile below Ateleta and a concrete bridge two miles downstream at Sant' Angelo. German troops were discovered in Pescopennataro two miles east, protecting a small bridgehead in Canadian territory, apparently covering German engineers still completing demolition preparations. An intercepted radio message betrayed German nervousness at their situation, likening themselves to "a housewife who has scrubbed herself into the corner", not only backed against the river by the presence of Canadian troops, but there was an understanding that their own minefields made a withdrawal hazardous. The enemy party was reinforced on the afternoon of the 21st, with machine guns added to their defences, and an attempt by the patrol of the Carleton and Yorks to seize the bridge failed. The Germans lost three or four men, but managed to blow the bridge just before midnight, and before dawn had also removed the pontoon bridge at Ateleta, and with it the last crossing of the Sangro on the Canadian front.

"C" Company of the Carleton and York Regiment, with the support of a battery of 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, arrived to reinforce the patrol on the morning of the 22nd, but unfortunately too late. The road leading to Capracotta had not been able to be repaired before that. With the road repaired, the jeeps towing the battery's guns were able to get through, and the Airborne gunners were soon shelling German outposts dug-in across the Sangro River. "C" Company lost three dead and eleven wounded as they moved to join the "A" Company platoon at Sant' Angelo, as fire from German heavy mortars and machine guns continued to come from the far bank of the river. They were not able to link up with the "A" Company platoon until after darkness. The German paratroopers at Pescopennataro risked a withdrawal through their own minefield, in a wide detour taking them north and away from the Canadians. The village, like so many others, was found to be completely destroyed when the Carleton and York patrol that had been observing them entered it after their departure.

Castel di Sangro

See also main article on Castel di Sangro

With the withdrawal of the Germans from Pescopennataro, the 3rd Brigade controlled the whole east bank of the Sangro with the exception of the pinnacle at Castel di Sangro. The Royal 22e Régiment, joining the West Novas in San Pietro, continued patrolling to the river to observe for possible German crossings, but the swift current and rising winter water (five feet deep in most areas) left them unsuccessful in these endeavours. Their observation posts on the bank let them direct the guns of the 3rd Field Regiment, newly arrived from Campobasso, adding verisimilitude to the deception plan of a simulated divisional assault. Refugees continued to arrive in Canadian lines from villages across the Sangro, with stories of German devastation of their homes and hostage-taking of women because of refusal by men to work as labour on German defensive positions. Canadian patrols across the river met German machine gun positions that were both well-entrenched and skillfully concealed.

It was important to clear the entire near bank before launching the Brigade's main attack, now postponed due to the heavy rains falling along the entire front of 8th Army. On 22 November, Brigadier Gibson, commanding the 3rd Canadian Brigade, and Lieutenant-Colonel Bogert of the West Novas observed Point 1009 from the Raven's Nest and elected to mount a one-company assault by "B" Company of the West Novas. Captain F.H. Burns was ordered to make his attack at 0100 on 23 November. Radio communication was lost with the company almost immediately and it was seven hours, after they returned, before Battalion Headquarters was able to learn what happened during their attempt to reach their objective.

After descending the west side of the San Pietro ridge the company began climbing the muddy slopes to the great rock which rose sheer out of the hilltop. It rained continually. Breathless and soaked, the leading platoon reached the summit by the only possible route, a narrow path ascending the west side. Without delay the Canadians streamed across the plateau to attack the monastery, firing their Brens and hurling grenades through the windows.

But the platoon had been lured into a trap. The defenders, some of the 1st Parachute Regiment's 3rd Battalion, had held their fire, apparently feigning weakness to avoid engagement by Allied artillery. Now machinegun posts skilfully sited around the perimeter of the plateau caught the West Novas in a severe cross-fire. A few managed to escape; the others, not hearing the dying platoon commander's orders to withdraw, were killed, wounded or captured. Efforts of the rest of the company to gain the plateau failed. One platoon, following up the first, was driven back by a murderous fire; the other, attempting a flanking movement from the right, could not scale the sheer cliff. Both were now caught in a perilous position on a shelf of rock half way up the pinnacle, as the Germans increased their fire and began to throw grenades down on them. With the approach of daylight a thick mist coming up from the valley provided a screen which aided escape, although several men of one section broke arms and legs in jumping from the high ledge. The cost had been heavy. Four men and their platoon commander had been killed and ten others wounded. Evacuation of the casualties from the plateau involved a long and arduous descent through mud and slipping rock, and several wounded had to be left behind. In all 16 of the battalion were taken prisoner.5


Castel di Sangro photographed in 2005. Wikipedia photo

The 5th Division had their own attack delayed for three days by the foul weather, but now began their part in the deception plan. Aerial bombardment and heavy artillery prefaced a feint attack, and early on 23 November, Alfedena, a town on the very outskirts of the Bernhard defences, was cleared of the enemy. There, the division was halted by heavy resistance. On the right of the 8th Army, the 78th Division prepared for the main assault on the lower Sangro by enlarging territory gained in preliminary operations.

It was time for the 3rd Brigade to play its role as the vanguard of a simulated major attack. The main effort would consist of a heavy artillery demonstration, staged by the three regiments already with the brigade and by all the guns which had been supporting the 5th Division. General Vokes ordered Point 1009 to be taken on 24 November, and Rocca Cinquemiglia on the 25th.

All day on the 24th the thunder of the guns...rolled through the valleys and echoed from the hills. During the past few days targets had been noted from the numerous observation posts on the south bank, and the entire firing programme was controlled from the Raven's Nest, the highest of them all. Five field regiments concentrated on Rocca Cinquemiglia alone. There was spirited reply from the enemy's big guns in the Bernhard Line, and two batteries of the 3rd Canadian Field Regiment in positions forward on San Pietro suffered casualties and had several guns put out of action. The 75th Medium Regiment, also hit by enemy shells, was transferred to a counter-battery role; but the German guns were so well concealed in the mountains that "sound and flash" bearings, essential to effective action, were almost impossible to obtain.

Under cover of this day-long bombardment The West Nova Scotia Regiment again tackled the pinnacle which had proved so costly to "B" Company two nights before. This time it was no stealthy foray against an enemy feigning weakness. Five thousand rounds from eight of the artillery regiments fell on the position within half an hour. The plan was for a flanking assault by "A" Company, while "C" provided fire cover from the  front. Mules carried the battalion's three-inch mortars and the medium machine-guns of a platoon of the Saskatoon Light Infantry down the muddy slopes, Lt.-Col. Bogert's headquarters moving with the attacking force to direct operations. By three in the afternoon, after the column's progress had been considerably delayed by enemy shelling, "C" Company was in position on a crest 800 yards east of the objective. An hour later, "A" Company had reached the top of the plateau without firing a shot: the enemy had withdrawn the previous night. In the cellar of the monastery the West Novas found three wounded men of their "B" Company, left behind by the Germans. Protected by walls four feet thick they had safely survived the artillery bombardment. At last the enemy had been driven north of the Sangro, and the Canadians held an excellent observation post which commanded long stretches of the river valley.

Throughout the night of the 24th and all the following day the artillery kept up harassing fire, and as a result the attack on Rocca Cinquemiglia by the Royal 22e which had been scheduled for the 25th was cancelled. A reconnaissance patrol across the river on the following morning found the enemy well dug in on the steep approaches to the town. The party fell foul of an "S" mine,* and came under severe machine-gun fire, so that before it finally rejoined the battalion every member had become a casualty.6


Soldiers identified in the original caption only as belonging to the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade
fire a mortar near the Sangro River on 1 December 1943. LAC photo

Aftermath

The preparations for the 8th Army's main drive along the Adriatic coast were complete by 27 November, and the diversionary operations in the mountains ceased. The 5th Corps had secured a six-mile long bridgehead over the Sangro up to 2,000 yards deep in "disgusting conditions" (in the words of the Army commander) and held it against numerous German counter-attacks. The readiness of the New Zealanders to begin their own assault negated the need for further deception on the left flank of the 8th Army.

On 25 November, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division received notice to move to the coast to relieve the 78th Division in its bridgehead there. All ranks were told in a personal message from General Montgomery that they were assisting the U.S. 5th Army in efforts to secure Rome, and told that "We will now hit the Germans a colossal crack." The tactical headquarters of the division returned to Campobasso, the 3rd Brigade went under direct command of 13th Corps, and the 5th Division began to relieve it in place.

The Raven's Nest observation post received two VIPs before it was handed over to the British; Colonel J.L. Ralston, Minister of National Defence, on a tour of Canadian forces in Italy, and General Crerar, having just brought I Canadian Corps Headquarters, Corps Troops and 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division to Italy.

As the infantry completed their reliefs and continued patrol activity on the Sangro, the three divisional companies of Royal Canadian Engineers belonging to the 1st Canadian Division remained hard at work six miles to the rear, trying to open the Isernia-Vasto lateral. Ten Baileys were thrown up, and one 180-foot span went up in less than 18 hours. The corps commander, General Dempsey, personally gathered the Canadian engineers around him following an inspection on 30 November to thank them personally for what he called "splendid work."

Other arms and services contributed materially to the efforts of the 3rd Brigade on the Sangro despite being 60 miles from the base at Campobasso. The 3rd Infantry Brigade Company, RCASC ceased its main role of transporting rations to become a composite company and delivered rations, petrol and ammunition (including 12,000 rounds of 25-pouner shells a day during heavy bombardments). Men of No. 4 Field Ambulance, RCAMC, had to make harrowing stretcher carries over mountain trails to evacuate the wounded out of the hills onto established tracks and roads so the jeeps could carry them away. No. 2 Canadian Field Surgical Unit had to relocate forward on 24 November to join the Advanced Dressing Station at Civitanova to provide advanced front line medical care. The constant rain and snow also demanded that the RCOC supply winter clothing to the brigade, particularly acute in the face of the German "scorched earth" policy.

The administrative problem of the large number of homeless refugees created by the German scorched earth policy required firm measures. Corps Headquarters saw to it that all carts were evicted from the narrow roads, livestock put into the fields to graze, and refugees collected at San Pietro and Carovilli, then loaded on empty RCASC transports returning to the base at Campobasso where they were screened for enemy agents and carried further back to Lucera and eventually shipped by rail to Bari. Those too sick or injured to travel were sent to an emergency civilian hospital established at Carpinone. While the Germans had efficiently used the civilian population as a weapon in France and the Low Countries in May 1940, flooding the roads with refugees to hamper the movement of Allied troops, similar effects on the Sangro were minimized by prompt and efficient Allied response.

The degree of success attained by the 13th Corps' operations in the mountains must be judged by the enemy's reactions and on the evidence of his commanders. In the early stages the effect desired by Montgomery seems to have been partially obtained: on 15 November Kesselring's headquarters reported the possibility of renewed commitment of the Canadians between the 5th British and the 8th Indian Divisions. Three days later, however, the acting Tenth Army Commander signalled Kesselring: "The concentration of Eighth Army on the Adriatic front leads 10 Army to expect an early attack on our left wing." German commanders were quick to realize the impracticability of a major offensive in the centre of the peninsula. Indeed, on 24 November, the day of the 3rd Canadian Brigade's big artillery demonstration, the 1st Parachute Division began extending its front towards the east, as though confident that the Sulmona road - now the only snow-free axis in central Italy-might be thinly held with the aid of the weather and substantial support from German guns. In the Adriatic sector the persistent rain and the consequent fluctuations in the level of the Sangro had forced Montgomery to sacrifice some of the measures taken to achieve surprise and to adopt a policy of advancing by short methodical stages. It was a pattern which the enemy could recognize, and on the 25th General Lemelsen accurately assessed Allied intentions: "By means of a thrust towards Pescara, Eighth Army are trying to force 10 Army to commit its reserves and to take troops from the right wing thereby facilitating the main thrust towards Rome."7

Through the Bernhard Line

The attack on the coast went forward on 28 November, and was successful; the "colossal crack" that Montgomery promised managed to gain the entire ridge overlooking the Sangro flats by darkness on 30 November. The back of the Winter Line was broken, counter-attacks were repulsed, and the 2nd New Zealand Division muscled their own bridgehead to the left of the 5th Corps and linked it the main penetration to the east. Canadian fighter planes were among those in the air denying the Luftwaffe the ability to blow the new bridges over the Sangro. The 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade was brought up out of reserve to support 8th Indian Division in its task of establishing a firm base on the ridge, and the 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Calgary Regiment) and 11th Canadian Armoured Regiment (Ontario Regiment) moved up on 1 and 2 December, respectively.

The Army Commander then decided to push one division up to Ortona, thence to Pescara, another division (in the event, the 2nd New Zealand) inland to Orsogna, Guardiagrele and Chieti.

The fighting promised to be difficult, and the Moro River offered excellent defensive terrain for a stand before the Pescara. The weather continued to be terrible, ensuring difficult conditions for fighting and denying air support. It was in those conditions that the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade returned to the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, called forward to relieve the weary 78th Infantry Division. The latter had suffered 10,000 battle casualties in six months of combat and had been in the lead of the 5th Corps' advance.

The 3rd Brigade was still handing over its positions on the Upper Sangro by the time the rest of the 1st Division had moved to the Adriatic coast, the 2nd Brigade leaving Campobasso on 30 November to stage north-west of Termoli and the 1st Brigade crossing the Sangro on 1 December to relieve the 11th Brigade at Fossacesia. The fighting on the Moro, consuming the month of December both at Ortona and by the New Zealanders at Orsogna, was in the event every bit as difficult as it promised to be.

Battle Honours

 

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

 

Image:1gif3bde.gif 3rd Canadian Brigade

  • Royal 22e Regiment

  • The Carleton and York Regiment

  • The West Nova Scotia Regiment

Notes

  1. Nicholson, Gerald The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945 (Queen's Printer, Ottawa, ON, 1957), p.279

  2. Dancocks, Daniel G. D-Day Dodgers: The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945 (McClelland & Stewart Inc., Toronto, ON, 1991) ISBN 0771025440 p.143

  3. Nicholson, Ibid, p.280

  4. Ibid, pp.280-281

  5. Ibid, pp.282-283

  6. The regiments according to Nicholson were: 1st Field Regt. R.C.H.A., 2nd Field Regt. R.C.A., and the 1st Airlanding Light Regt. R.A.--all with the 1st Division; the 91st, 92nd and 156th Field Regts. R.A., of the 5th Division; and the 75th Medium and 78th and 165th Field Regts. R.A., under 13th Corps command. (Ibid, p.284) However, the history of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery gives a figure of eight regiments, and mentions 3rd Field Regiment RCA rather than 2nd while excluding the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment altogether. See Nicholson, G.W.L. The Gunners of Canada: The History of the Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery Volume II 1919-1967 (Royal Canadian Artillery Association, 1972) p.165

  7. Ibid, pp.286-287

Photo of Castel di Sangro taken 10 November 2005 by Carmine Riccio, uploaded to Wikipedia under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License.


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