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

 

San Leonardo

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

Background

See also main article on The Moro

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

See main article on The Moro

The Patricias managed to get a company across the Moro, supported by tanks of the 44th Royal Tank Regiment. Swinging into the village, the defenders were evicted and the Patricias firmly established in Rogatti by daylight, albeit under heavy fire and short on ammunition.9

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 a diversionary attack by The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment meant to draw German attention away from the P.P.C.L.I. and Seaforth crossings. The Hastings relieved The Royal Irish Fusiliers on the seaward flank of the division after dark. "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. 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 Patricias beat off a heavy German counter-attack in the early morning of the 6th, and ammunition reached the garrison at the height of the fighting. Reinforcing with their reserve company and eight tanks, the Patricias then fought off a second counter-attack in the early afternoon.15

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.

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


Burial service for a Canadian soldier killed by shell-fire, San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy, 10 December 1943. LAC photo

Renewed Attack - 8 December

The new divisional plan was for a two-phase attack to secure the main axis of advance and junction with the Orsogna-Ortona lateral. The Royal Canadian Regiment was to attack west from the Hastings bridgehead, taking San Leonardo while the 48th Highlanders crossed the Moro River to La Torre, west of the town of Leonardo. After the 1st Brigade secured San Leonardo in Phase I, in Phase II, the 2nd Brigade was to continue attacking from the newly won bridgehead, seizing a road junction code-named CIDER, the division's ultimate objective.33

As the Hastings completed its action across the Moro, it manhandled, literally, two 6-pounder anti-tank guns across the river in order to be ready for the inevitable German counter-attacks. The battalion's half-dozen 3-inch mortars were dug in below the ridgeline, and two platoons ventured out onto the plateau to take advantage of the view of the highway north and the lateral road into San Leonardo.34

One platoon each from "A" and "B" Companies had been sent out to the crest, and when the enemy counter-attack came at 01:00hrs on 8 December, "designed to smash the bridgehead and sweep the (Hastings) off the north slopes", the platoon from "A" Company pulled back in a "calculated withdrawal", the Germans following into a salient between "A" and "B" Companies.

It was a deadly trap, and when the Germans were thirty yards away, the concealed weapons of the two companies caught the enemy on both his flanks. The minutes that followed brought a debacle to the panzer grenadiers and when they had withdrawn, running in panic-stricken groups with no regard for cover, they left more than two-score dead men in the vineyards, and another twenty were taken prisoners. The German retreat was turned into a shambles by the unit's three-inch mortars, firing from a range of less than 200 yards - the first of the mighty work done by the smooth bore tubes in the bridgehead fight.

Baker company followed up the enemy's defeat and Sgt. Bill Nolan, with ten men attacked and overran a house controlling the road junction, capturing eighteen German paratroopers in the process.

The capture of the paratroopers was a disquieting event. It was the first indication that the enemy's finest formation, the First Paratroop Division, was arriving upon the scene, and it meant that the fighting ahead would be of unprecedented ferocity.35

Phase I of the new plan opened at 15:30hrs on 8 December as the artillery preparation began.36 The RCR attack was to be conducted on a front just 600 yards wide, taking them laterally towards the town of San Leonardo over a distance of 2,500 yards. The plan was elaborate, involving six separate tactical bounds, the final objectives code-named NOVA SCOTIA (the north end of the town) and ONTARIO, the south end. Tank support was still not possible, and Lieutenant-Colonel Dan Spry, commanding the Royal Canadians, was told to man-handle his six-pounders over the river as the Hastings had done.

Attacking laterally through the front of a panzer grenadier regiment was a new twist on tactical doctrine because it forced the artillery to fire accurate concentrations rather than a barrage. The gunners also had to support the 48th Highlanders of Canada, who were to cross the Moro in an attack designed to secure a firm foothold. The engineers would then rebuild the approaches and bridge the river at the main road to San Leonardo.

Both battalions began their attacks in the late afternoon while there was still enough light for accurate artillery observation. This cut both ways and the RCR advance across the flat table land above the Moro valley was savaged by German artillery and mortar fire. The road from the coastal highway to San Leonardo is signed today as Royal Canadian Avenue. In amongst a group of houses barely 500 metres from the battalion start line, there remains a building known to RCR veterans as Sterlin Castle. It was here that Lieutenant Mitchell Sterlin and 11 men of 16 Platoon, A Co., RCR, held off repeated attacks and then withdrew in good order when the enemy was spent.37

The Royal Canadian Regiment

The RCR launched their attack from the Hastings and Prince Edward bridgehead, and heavy support in the form of four field regiments (1st RCHA, 2nd and 3rd RCA, 57th RA) and two medium regiments (4th and 70th RA) of artillery was available, as well as fourteen squadrons of Kittyhawk fighter-bombers.38 The British 4th Armoured Brigade was relieved by the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade at 18:00hrs that evening, though The Three Rivers Regiment was not yet available, and the 44th Royal Tank Regiment operated in its place.

The attack went in over a narrow road leaving the coast road as it topped the climb up from the river valley, west of the chapel of San Donato, striking south over the plateau and paralleling the river by half a mile, making right-angles three times before becoming the main road through San Leonardo.

It was unnamed even on large-scale maps of the area, but by Canadians who fought at the Moro River this mile and a half of lane stretching between tangled vines and crooked olive trees will always be remembered as "Royal Canadian Avenue". The Royal Canadian Regiment's "right hook" was the vital part of the 1st Brigade plan. To drive laterally across the 361st Panzer Grenadier Regiment's front was a bold measure, even given every support except tanks. The plateau offered the enemy good runs for an armoured counter-attack, and the river barred assistance to the Canadians
should one be launched. Realizing this danger, Brigadier Graham instructed Lt.-Col. Spry to start manhandling six-pounders across at dusk on the 8th, and emphasized the necessity of clearing the bridgehead area of machine-gun posts in order that the Engineers could work on the crossing. The R.C.R. start line was approximately at the coast road on the left of the Hastings' positions. The battalion plan was that the four companies should advance successively in bounds to occupy four predetermined areas between the road and the river bank. In a succeeding phase the two leading companies would leapfrog through to seize San Leonardo itself.
39

The weather permitted air support on 8 December, and sorties were flown throughout the Adriatic. In the Ortona sector, 180 fighter-bomber and light bomber missions were flown. The artillery preparation for the RCR attack lasted an hour, and was thickened in the last 30 minutes by 4.2-inch mortars and Vickers guns of the divisional M.G. battalion, The Saskatoon Light Infantry. Both the RCR and 48th Highlanders launched their attacks at 16:30hrs. By coincidence, the Germans were launching at attack on the Hastings bridgehead just as the RCR attack was jumping off, and their start line was raked by shell and mortar fire; one infantry section was killed or wounded to a man. The enemy was driven off, but the delay seriously disorganized their attack, and "A" Company did not report itself on HALIFAX, the first objective, until 19:00hrs, following a cautious advance through olive groves to the second reverse bend of the San Leonardo road only 1,000 yards beyond their start line. "B" Company had not waited to hear from "A" Company and instead swung to the right ten minutes after H-Hour to escape the German shells, and lost direction in the thick vines, strung up by wires six feet about the ground. The company found itself too far west, reorganized and managed to get onto TORONTO, the second objective, 400 yards east of HALIFAX. "C" Company was ordered to pass through "A" Company to its own objective due north of San Leonardo, but ran into heavy machine gun fire sweeping the road from two directions. Suffering heavy losses and threatened by an enemy armoured car and tank from the direction of San Leonardo, the company pulled back to the second road bend, where the survivors were reorganized and deployed into the defensive positions of "A" Company.

"D" Company, tasked to pass through "B" to positions astride the main axis between the town and the Moro, sent its lead platoon out from the start line by 21:45hrs. Under a bright moonlit sky, the platoon made good progress against little resistance, until it hit a point close to the second bend in the road, when those following were violently shelled and mortared. The other two platoon commanders were killed, along with the company signaller carrying the radio. The two platoons were left unable to contact the lead platoon, or the other companies, and another barrage fell on them, forcing them to cover in a gully. They collected their wounded in caves there while the lead platoon, under Lieutenant Mitch Sterlin was attached to "A" Company and prepared to defend a small farmhouse between the two objectives HALIFAX and TORONTO.

With the battalion's attack effectively halted halfway to San Leonardo in exposed positions without tank support or anti-tank weapons, the outlook, in the words of the Army's historian, "was not bright." German armour moved in from the north-west before the RCR could entrench, and the commanding officer was forced to call in artillery despite the possible danger to his own troops.

The risk proved justified: although a few shells landed in "A" Company's area, causing three casualties, the counter-attack was broken up. Realizing that his positions would be even more untenable by daylight Spry decided to withdraw to a reverse slope, where the plateau dropped away towards the coast road and the Moro. Only Lieutenant Sterlin's platoon remained in its battered house near the bend in Royal Canadian Avenue.40

The 48th Highlanders of Canada

The 48th Highlanders had arrived in the battle area on the night of 6-7 December, just as the first unsuccessful attempt to cross the Moro was being begun by the Seaforths and Patricias. The regiment dug-in overlooking the valley of the Moro, where German artillery caused a steady flow of losses. Their attack went in simultaneously to that of the RCR on 8 December, with two assault companies establishing themselves across the Moro, "the lack of light in the late afternoon is credited with saving ...lives. They were soon able to establish a bridgehead large enough to permit the engineers to begin work."41 The Highlanders, and their artillery support, had benefited from several days of being in position to observe the Germans across the valley. By 20:00hrs, all four companies were across the river and dug-in.42

9-10 December

The Germans were still occupying San Leonardo as the sun came up on 9 December, and still dominated the Moro River. However, Allied tanks could not cross the river. After waiting for a success signal from the infantry, sappers from the 3rd Field Company, Royal Canadian Engineers began the construction of a diversion around the blown bridge on the main axis despite shell and sniper fire, and Sapper M.C. McNaughton, a bulldozer operator, continued his work despite being exposed to machine gun, mortar and shell fire. By 06:00hrs on the 9th, the diversion was ready, and just as Canadian tanks began to move up at 07:00hrs, a barrage came down on them and the engineers, killing one and wounding 21 others. McNaughton received a Military Medal for his efforts.43

The air force was not inactive either, having flown sorties to attempt to stop the flow of German traffic to the battle area, but the enemy was intent on reinforcing what they recognized as a vital sector of the front. Bert Hoffmeister's 2nd Brigade was now ordered to advance on San Leonardo with the Seaforths and Calgary Tanks leading the way. In addition to the 3rd Field Company's vital work, the 1st Field Company was instrumental in building corduroy roads on both sides of the river, cutting and delivering 14 truckloads of timber to permit traffic to operate in the mud.44

Although the task originally conceived for the 2nd Brigade was a breakout from San Leonardo across the plateau to the lateral road, the unfavourable situation on the morning of the 9th made it obvious that San Leonardo itself must first be secured. As "D" Company of the Seaforth, under command of the Calgaries' "A" Squadron, and mounted on its tanks, began to descend the exposed road to the river, there was little doubt that they would have to join in the fight for the town. They soon ran into trouble. Two tanks failed to negotiate a sharp bend and rolled over a thirty-foot cliff. Down in the valley heavy shell and mortar fire forced the infantry to dismount and cross the river on foot. On the climb up to San Leonardo, the leading tank struck a mine and blocked the road. Major E. A. C. Amy, the squadron commander, immediately led his tanks off to one side to continue the attack through the olive groves. Finally at ten o'clock, five tanks-all that were left -broke into San Leonardo. The Seaforth company arrived with 39 effective men. A platoon commanded by Lieutenant J. F. McLean, after leading a frontal attack on the town during which it silenced a number of machine-guns and killed or captured 26 Germans, cleared the place from one end to the other, enabling the tanks to pass through. McLean won the D.S.O., one of the very few junior officers to receive this award in the Italian campaign.

But the enemy was not yet ready to relinquish his hold on San Leonardo and the Moro escarpment. Hardly had the remnants of Amy's small force worked their way into the town when twelve German tanks approached the town from the east. Amy, ordered to hold on, dealt with these in "a determined and gallant manner" (in the words of the recommendation for his M.C.), knocking out several, and driving off the rest. By noon the remainder of the Seaforth had joined the struggle which was still going on in the northern part of the town; their arrival turned the scale, and by 5:40 p.m. San Leonardo was firmly in our hands. As night fell the Calgaries strengthened the infantry's defensive positions about the town. Of the 51 battleworthy tanks with which the regiment had entered the fight that morning, only 24 remained.


Captain F.M. Ritchie of the 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Calgary Regiment) climbs out of his camouflaged Sherman tank, San Leonardo di Ortona, on 10 December 1943.

Lieutenant McLean's platoon silenced an anti-tank gun, ten German machine-guns, and killed at least eight Germans, capturing 18 more. Co-operationg between the tanks and infantry had been extremely effective, and by nightfall, the battle group reported San Leonardo firmly in Canadian hands.

The enemy's main effort of the day, however, was directed not at San Leonardo but against the Hastings' positions near the coast and The Royal Canadian Regiment in its precarious foothold on the edge of the plateau. In the early morning light the R.C.R. could see the Calgaries farther upstream.  Much of this immunity can be attributed to the protection given by a troop of Calgary tanks on the near bank. It was the beginning of a routine provision by the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade of covering parties for R.C.E. troops working in the face of the enemy.166 struggling to get their tanks into the battle. At nine o'clock they received the cheering message from Brigade Headquarters, "one sub-unit Wyman's boys are across. They should be very close ...." Fifty minutes later they were told, `Brothers No. 2 [2nd Canadian Brigade] in town . . . move over and contact." After his bitter experience on the top of the plateau the C.O. decided to reach the San Leonardo bridgehead by moving under the lee of the escarpment. His numbers were small, for "D" Company was with the Hastings, and "C" had been sent back across the Moro as a carrying party for the wounded and an escort for prisoners. Shortly after "B" Company had been dispatched towards San Leonardo, the enemy launched a counterattack which appeared to be in battalion strength. Spry sent his command group down to the river and ordered "A" Company and "D" Company's No. 16 Platoon, who were still in their positions of the previous night, to disengage. As the pressure of the counter-attack increased, "A" Company withdrew as instructed. But Lieutenant Sterlin's platoon was now isolated, and received no order to retire. There followed the fight which was to give this Abruzzi farmhouse its strange name of "Sterlin Castle".45

Sterlin Castle was an outpost to the main RCR positions. With riflemen at the doors and windows, the platoon's Bren guns were located in weapons pits outside the structure. The firefight that ensued when the enemy attack exhausted their ammunition and the light machine gunners escaped in the direction of the river, leaving eleven men of No. 16 Platoon inside the house. Six German machine guns targeted the structure, and in mid-afternoon, the Germans assaulted the building. Enemy dead were stacked up against the walls, one officer killed in the act of trying to force a grenade into a window, another just four feet away trying to give cover fire. Artillery concentrations called down around the house killed thirty Germans, and an hour later, Sterlin was able to pull out with the survivors to rejoin the Hastings. Lieutenant Mitch Sterlin was subsequently killed in the fighting for Ortona, and given a posthumous Mention in Depatches.46

Overestimating the importance of the sector to the advancing Canadians, the Germans threw in most of their divisional reserve, and the 90th Panzergrenadier Division counter-attacked into the Hastings' bridgehead on the coast road with their main force. However, the Hastings were still in their positions in well-prepared defences, with well-registered artillery and mortars, and machine guns set up to fire on fixed lines. While the enemy attacked behind heavy concentrations from self-propelled artillery and mortars, their attack went right into the teeth of the Canadian defensive zones.47

The enemy counterattacks had been almost fanatical in their attempts to smash the bridgehead. On the circumference of the pocket held by the (Hastings) there were not less than eleven separate German assaults during the thirty-six hour period that ended on December 10. Most of these attacks were in company strength, but three at least were mounted on a battalion basis. They were supported by the most concentrated artillery fire, and by the S.P. guns and tanks which were patrolling the crest. Nevertheless, the bridgehead held. The newly arrived German reinforcements that were to have driven the Canadians back across the Moro expended the bulk of their strength in a useless effort to destroy the (Hastings') foothold at the river mouth, while at San Leonardo the rest of the Division made good the crossing and was soon ready to strike north for the Ortona lateral road.

On December 10, belatedly, the enemy commander recognized the error of his concentration against the coastal bridgehead and withdrew northward towards Ortona with the Regiment hard on his heels.48

The official history mentions in detail two counter-attacks, as discussed in the Hastings' battalion war diary:

What followed, as described in the Hastings' war diary, was decisive. `A' Company on the left flank withheld their fire until the Germans had reached a vineyard some two hundred yards to their front, and then called for observed mortar fire and opened up with small arms, catching at least a company, and cutting them up completely. On `B' Company's front another company was allowed into an enfiladed ravine and then decimated by crossing machine-gun fire. The counter-attack faded with the daylight; when the enemy withdrew it was estimated that he had suffered 170 casualties in killed or wounded, besides losing 30 prisoners.49

The commitment of the 1st Parachute Division was testimony to the enemy's intention to prevent the Canadians from getting to Ortona, but the fury of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division's counter-attacks on The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment provide equal testimony to this determination. The Hastings, astride the coastal road and therefore appearing to the Germans to be the most significant threat, were attacked by elements of two separate battalions of the 90th Division. Another source described the counterattacks as such:

One such action began in the early hours of the morning and seemed to the Canadians to be “partially suicidal…without control or ascertainable objective.” A total of 30 more prisoners of war were taken and at least 60 killed. The fourth and final counter-attack with infantry–supported by self-propelled guns–was equally unsuccessful and the prisoner of war total rose to more than 100. After this attack the Hasty Ps “exploited to a depth of 1,000 yards” beyond the Moro.50


Sergeant George A. Game of the Canadian Army Film and Photo Unit operates a cine-camera near San Leonardo di Ortona on 10 December 1943. Dead German soldiers, presumably from the 90th Panzergrenadier Division, are part of the landscape. LAC photo

Aftermath

With reserves committed and counter-attacks having failed, the German 90th Panzergrenadier Division was forced to cede the line of the Moro River, and the town of San Leonardo, to the Canadians, and to look north, to its rear, to find the next defensible terrain. That feature was a deep gully lying before the Guardiagrele-Ortona lateral road. While the division did this, the 10th Army was preparing the defence of Ortona itself, sending the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Parachute Regiment into the coastal sector.

The Canadians had fought their first real divisional-level battle against the Germans during the Second World War. The Hastings had held firm during the violent counter-attacks, while The Royal Canadian Regiment had suffered the heaviest losses of all units involved in the fighting. Some 21 soldiers of the RCR had been killed, and 53 were wounded or missing.

The dead were buried at the scene of their struggle. In the little farm beside the bend in the road atop the Moro plateau the passing years would heal the splintered olive trees and bring repair to bullet-scarred walls, and not much would remain to remind an Abruzzi peasant that a battle had passed through his orchards and vineyards. Perhaps he might never know that by a few Canadians his house would be remembered as "Sterlin Castle", and the narrow road along which he journeyed to the sea, "Royal Canadian Avenue".51

Battle Honours

 

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

 

Image:1tankbde.gif 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade

  • 14th Canadian Armoured Regiment (The Calgary Regiment)

Image:1gif1bde.gif 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade

  • The Royal Canadian Regiment

  • The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment

  • The 48th Highlanders of Canada

Image:1gif2bde.gif 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade

  • 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. McKay, Ibid, p.81

  34. Copp, "Overcoming the Moro", Ibid

  35. Mowat, Ibid, pp.181-182

  36. McKay, Ibid, p.81

  37. Copp, Ibid

  38. Nicholson, Ibid. Additionally, the 98th Army Field Regiment (Self Propelled) and the divisional artillery of the 8th Indian Division were included
    in the final fire plan

  39. Ibid

  40. Ibid

  41. Copp, Ibid

  42. Nicholson, Ibid

  43. Ibid

  44. Copp, Ibid. Copp notes that The Loyal Edmonton Regiment was ordered to pass through and occupy Tollo, beyond Ortona, if it turned out the Germans were ordered to pull back beyond Ortona.

  45. Nicholson, Ibid

  46. Ibid

  47. Ibid

  48. Mowat, Ibid, pp.182-183

  49. Nicholson, Ibid

  50. Copp, Ibid

  51. Nicholson, Ibid


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