CBC Digital Archives

The Italian Campaign: Invasion of mainland Italy begins

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.

After two months in Sicily, the hour is at hand to invade mainland Europe. CBC Radio's Matthew Halton is among the Canadians who cross the Straits of Messina, landing between Reggio and Catona. After launching a massive artillery barrage, the Canadians land with little opposition, as they did in Sicily. After four years at war with the Axis, the significance of this landing is monumental. "We crashed the gates of Europe," Halton declares.  
. The Allies set up a military government in Sicily on July 17, 1943. A month later, Italy declared Rome an open city - a safe, demilitarized zone. But was soon occupied by German troops.
. On Aug. 17 the remaining German and Italian troops evacuated Sicily for mainland Italy. Montgomery and Patton entered Messina and began shelling the Italian mainland from there.

. On Sept. 3, The British Eighth Army (made up of the First Canadian Division, the Fifth British Division and the First Canadian Tank Brigade) left Sicily and landed on the Italian mainland. The Germans pulled back to better-fortified defensive positions that would block the Allies from advancing. Italy announced it would not oppose the Allies.

. After landing on the mainland, the Canadians aided the U.S. Fifth Army at Potenza, fought major battles at Motta and Monte Mianoa, and captured the town of Campobasso.
. Today, crossing the Strait of Messina from Italy to Sicily is significantly easier. A ferry connects Messina (Sicily) and Calabria, and a hydrofoil runs to Reggio di Calabria. And there is a $5-billion plan to build a 3.3-kilometre single-arch bridge (the longest in the world) in 2005.
Medium: Television
Program: Canadian Army Newsreel
Production Date: July 10, 1943
Guest(s): Bernard Montgomery
Duration: 8:32
Topic photo: Alexander M. Stirton / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-128090
Canadian Army Newsreel, Issue No. 13
Photo: Frank Royal / Canada. Dept. of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada / PA-130249

Last updated: August 19, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

All Clips from this Topic

Related Content

John Diefenbaker: extra clips

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Canada's Forgotten PoW Camps

While few people remember it now, Canada was home to thousands of German and Italian prisoners...

Woodstock Remembered

They say if you can remember Woodstock, you weren't really there. Of course, that's not entire...

John Diefenbaker: Dief the Chief

His eyes blazing and his finger stabbing the air, John George Diefenbaker set 1950s Canada ali...

Barbara Frum: Pioneering Broadcaster Part 2

The sudden death of Barbara Frum on March 26, 1992 shocked Canadians. The loss of one of the c...

Leaders' Debates 1968-2011: Highlights

After months of anticipation and weeks of campaigning, it all comes down to one night. Televis...