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Attacking Ortona

A full year before the D-Day landings in Normandy, there were the Allied invasions of Sicily and Italy. Canada played a major role in the Allies' first breach of Hitler's "Fortress Europe" in 1943 and 1944. Canadian soldiers defeated entrenched German forces but paid a terrible price. Seaside towns and mountain passes became places of horror: Ortona, Cassino, Rimini. But with the events of D-Day and the Allied push across Europe, the Italian Campaign became a forgotten front, a deadly sideshow that cost nearly 6,000 Canadian lives. Sixty years later, their bravery is remembered.

It is the bloodiest battle of the Italian campaign. Ortona, once a picturesque ancient village on the Adriatic Sea, is being reduced to rubble. Canadian soldiers clash daily with desperate German troops in bitter, house-to-house fighting. Snipers, land mines and booby traps exact a terrible price for every building gained. As we hear in this Christmas Eve report from Matthew Halton, Ortona has become "the courtyard of hell."
• Ortona was an ancient port city on the Adriatic coast. The town was held by German paratroopers who had dug in carefully. Snipers watched from the clock tower; roads were mined, and almost every building had been booby trapped.
• The Battle of Ortona lasted from Dec. 20 to 28, 1943. Artillery and mortars from both sides reduced the town to rubble, and troops clashed in close quarters, moving from house to house. Both sides would blow up houses to trap the enemy under the wreckage.

• Fighting was so savage and prolonged that some troops called Ortona "Little Stalingrad" after the Soviet city that battled German troops for 200 days, at a cost of over a million lives.
• The "houseclearing" tactics developed by troops in Ortona became a manual for urban warfare. "Mouseholes" were blown through walls to travel from room to room and building to building.
• Fighting continued over Christmas, but the Germans withdrew three days later.
• The people of Ortona also suffered terribly. Many stayed in homes and public buildings, hiding in cellars until the battle died down.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: Dec. 24, 1943
Guest(s): Donald McLellan
Reporter: Matthew Halton
Duration: 4:36
Photo: Frederick G. Whitcombe/Library and Archives Canada/PA-163411

Last updated: May 22, 2012

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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