Canadians to Italy 75 - Part 2: Target: Rome

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Allied soldier is seen overlooking the landscape after breaking through the Gothic Line

Canada and the Allies successfully drove the Germans out of Sicily, but was this the German plan all along? The fighting for Sicily was won, but the new fight for mainland Italy would be the fight that stuck in history books.


The Crossing of the Strait

A short 4 weeks after the successful victory in Sicily the Canadians and Allies invade mainland Italy. On September 3rd, 1943, the invasion would start with a massive barrage, pummelling the landing zones in hopes to destroy all German fortifications.

The Canadian's would be landing at the beaches near Reggio Calabria directly across from the Port of Messina. The U.S. Fifth Army was sent up more north to the beaches of Salerno to start their offensive. The Allied plan is to drive north up the coast, past the city of Ortona and encircle Rome. The plan is to seize the capital by the end of the year.

Invasion Forces plan their landing zines prior to the Mainland Invasion

Upon landings, the Canadians are reminded of the landings in Sicily. Very little resistance is put up by the German defences as they retreat backward into the central mountainous ranges in the boot of Italy. Italian armies put up no resistance at all, giving themselves up as the Allies reach the beaches. It would be this day the Italians began to give themselves up, but on September 8th it would become official that the Italian government is no longer fighting in the war.

With hearing this the Germans decide that the mostly occupied country of Italy would now become a large scale battlefield. Italy is still occupied by 100's of thousands of Germans. The Germans destroy railways, as well, blow up bridges and mining roads - anything they could do to delay the allied advance.

The Canadians capture the initial objective of Reggio Calabria and begin to make the march inland. They advanced across the Aspromonte Mountains and along the Gulf of Taranto to Catanzaro. In spite of rain, poor mountain roads and German rearguard actions, they had moved 120 kilometres inland from Reggio by September 10.

Meanwhile, the American Fifth Army was facing stiffer resistance at the landing beaches of Salerno. To assist the Americans a Canadian brigade was diverted from the Canadian offensive. This brigade was to assist in the taking of Potenza, an important road centre east of Salerno. Potenza was successfully taken by September 20th. By October 1st the Fifth US Army entered Naples. While the Americans were beginning to create a winning offensive, the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade was marching eastward to intersect with the British Airborne Division in the Taranto region. The two armies, once together, pushed inland to the north/northwest.

By the end of September, the German hold on northern and central Italy was still unshaken, but the Allies had overrun a vast and valuable tract of southern Italy. Allied armies stood on a line running across Italy from sea to sea. The next objective was Rome.

A view from Reggio Calabria overlooking the Strait of Messina with Sicily in the background

The Pursuit of Reggio

As the allies march from Naples to Foggia, the Canadians push into the central mountain ranges. Once again the terrain of the Italian countryside was delaying the Canadian advance. The Germans were putting up small resistance attacks at river crossings and mountain ranges. This terrain was especially good to be on the defensive with many various vantage points. On October 1st, at Motta, the Canadians entered their first battle with the Germans. These battles continued throughout the advance, and although brief, these battles were bloody and dangerous. Having to fight through the German defences, as well as having to march the Italian countryside, It took the Canadians 2 weeks to march from Lucera to Campobasso. Only 40km in distance.

The town of Campobasso was spared of a lot of fighting, unlike the fate of many of the small towns surrounding it. Campobasso was a strategic point that was crucial to the allied advance. All roads connect to Campobasso so whoever ruled the roads, would have access to all compass points. When the Canadians marched into Campobasso they were met with cheering crowds of the newly liberated townspeople. The whole town was in celebration and this soon became a military basecamp for the Canadians. Soon to be nicknamed “Canada Town”.

Canada Town was looked at as a place to escape the horrors of battle. They turned the community centre into the “Beaver Club” where one could go to write letters home, read books, or play darts. The military brought in Hollywood movies for the troops to watch, as well there would be comedy shows and entertainment throughout the town. Although many troops wouldn’t spend as much time as they would have hoped in Canada Town, it was a nice escape nonetheless.

In the 63 days since landing, the Eighth British Army had covered 725 kilometres. The "pursuit from Reggio" was over. The Germans prepared to hold a defensive from the coast south of Cassino, to Ortona on the Adriatic shore. The German Army was almost equal numbers to that of the Allies. Also, the Germans had the greater advantage of being on the defensive. The liberation of Rome would not be easy.

Men of the 10th Royal Berkshire Regiment move up to the heights of Calvi-Risorta, 27 October 1943