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The Italian Campaign: Breaking the Hitler line

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.

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Allied troops continue their march toward Rome. They have successfully broken the Gustav line. Now they must breach the Hitler line, a final obstacle lying between the Allies and the Italian capital. Today it will be assaulted. Canadian troops have been given the toughest part to crack; a barricade of steel, concrete and barbed wire 20 feet thick. The roar of 800 Allied guns has lasted more than an hour. Peering through a shell hole in an old farmhouse, Peter Stursberg describes the battle scene. 
• The Adolf Hitler line was a German fallback position a few kilometres north of the Gustav line. Its strong points were at Aquino and Piedimonte. If attackers got through the minefields and barbed wire, they faced fortified pillbox machine gun emplacements and crossfire from tanks, artillery and mortars.

• Soldiers from Canada's Van Doos, Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, Seaforth Highlanders and Carleton and York regiment successfully attacked the line on May 23, 1944, supported by a stupendous artillery barrage. Tanks from the Canadian Fifth Armoured Division then poured through to attack the waiting German Panther tanks. The line fell, and after taking Ceprano and Forsinone the Canadian troops were given two months of rest.
Medium: Radio
Program: CBC Radio News
Broadcast Date: May 23, 1944
Reporter: Peter Stursberg
Duration: 4:26
Photo: Strathy Smith / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-140208

Last updated: August 26, 2013

Page consulted on May 15, 2014

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