From Salerno, British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s three British Eighth Army divisions crossed the country to the eastern, Adriatic coast to join up with troops that had landed at the port of Taranto on 9 September 1943.Sicily
Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line
The first task of Montgomery’s men was to capture the airfields of Foggia, which would provide important forward bases for bombing raids into northern Europe. A successful amphibious raid liberated Termoli at the end of the Volturno defensive line on 3 October, allowing Montgomery’s forces to continue up the Adriatic coast. His aim was to take Pescara, enabling his troops to traverse the country from east to west via Avezzano to approach Rome. This plan proved over-optimistic.
After crossing the Sangro river with relative ease, Montgomery’s advance was halted before Ortona at the Moro river, where Canadian troops were sent into action, with great loss of life trying to cross the final ravine. Ortona itself was only taken after two days of house-to-house fighting – the Germans eventually pulled out and the town was captured on 28 December 1943.
Montgomery’s progress was not helped by a surprise German bombing raid on the port of Bari on 2 December, which disabled the port for almost three months. Among the ships sunk was one loaded with mustard gas bombs that the Allies had brought to Italy in case the Germans resorted to chemical warfare. In late December, Montgomery called a halt to the campaign, to be resumed in spring. He flew back to Britain to participate in preparations for D-Day and was replaced by Lieutenant General Oliver Leese.
After the passing of winter, the Eighth Army’s advance continued up the Adriatic coast. It was weakened by the transfer of troops and materials to Cassino and to the new offensive in France. However, the port of Ancona was taken after three days of battle (16–18 June 1944) by Polish II Corps. Further north, the British came to the eastern end of the Gothic Line, which was stormed under Operation Olive on 17–21 September, during which Rimini was captured. At the end of the year, in December 1944, Ravenna also fell to the Eighth Army before it paused to overwinter at Faenza.
Ortona was almost completely destroyed in the battle that took place here between 21 and 28 December 1943.
Anyone interested in Canada’s role in the Italian campaign should visit the Museum of the Battle of Ortona on Corso Garibaldi. Its informative exhibits display memorabilia, photos and war relics, including personal effects of the soldiers. To the south of the town is the Moro River Canadian Cemetery, which contains 1615 graves of men who died during the fighting at Moro river and Ortona – and during the weeks of action that preceded and followed it. In December 1943 alone, the 1st Canadian Division suffered more than five hundred casualties.
Montecchio village, near the eastern end of the Gothic Line, was practically razed to the ground during the war and the surrounding countryside was badly damaged. One of the line’s anti-tank ditches ran through the valley immediately below Montecchio cemetery. The site, which contains 582 plots, was selected by the Canadian Corps for burials during the fighting to break through the Gothic Line in the autumn of 1944.
This indoor and outdoor museum located southwest of Rimini explores the history of military aviation, with an emphasis on World War II. A number of planes are displayed, along with anti-aircraft weapons and other flying equipment.
Top image: Relic of World War II military bunker near Polignano © Fabio Boccuzzi / Shutterstock