- Contributed by
- Trooper Tom Canning - WW2 Site Helper
- People in story:
- Tom Canning
- Location of story:
- Background to story:
- Article ID:
- Contributed on:
- 19 August 2003
It was during the Battle for Ortona that the Cdn. 1st Infantry Division ran out of steam and were replaced by the newly arrived Cdn 5th Armed Division, who had not fired a shot in the war to date whereas the 1st Inf. Div had exceeded all expectations in the Sicily Campaign and were recognised by Gen. Montgomery to be a first class fighting unit and he thought the world of them all as he had served as a Staff Officer to the Canadians during the Great War of 1914 -18.
As the 1st Div were withdrawing they were overtaken by some units of the 5th Armed Div. who made it known to all and sundry that they would now show the 1st Cdn. how to fight. Unfortunately for the 5th Armed Div. they bounced into the German 1st Parachute Div. of whom General Sir Harold Alexander wrote to Gen Alanbrooke the C.I.G.S. that they were the finest fighting troops in the world in regard to their performance at MonteCassino. The inexperienced 5th Cdn.Armed Div. did not know this and so they were back just two days later, much the wiser.
Their education was completed when they ran into the 1st Cdn Inf Div. now fully rested after their two day respite, and a full scale fight took place between the two Cdn Divs. with the Germans, on one hill, and the British on the other hill, wondering what the heck was going on. Gen Montgomery was not too pleased when he was given the details of the fracas, and after another little Battle the 5th Cdn.Armed
Div. was banished close to the American sector !
This, of course left the Canadians without Tank support and as the two British Armed Divs, the 1st Armed ( Desert Rats of Gulf Fame) and 6th Armed were fully occupied with their own British Corps. The British 25th and the 21st Tank Brigades with their Churchill Tanks, were volunteered for the task !
Much training was then begun and various lessons learned, and we soon began to appreciate the values and integrity of these men from Canada, and so we prepared for Battle,as the Monte Cassino conflict was now in its third phase and it looked like we could be called on at anytime soon,which proved to be the case. Unfortunately for the 25th Tanks, the 21st suffered a landslide which all but buried the whole Brigade and neccessitated a wholesale clean up which lasted a whole week. The 25th were then thrown into the Battle of the Gustav Line followed in short order by the Liri Valley Battle. These have been recorded in detail elsewhere, but mention must be made of the Tank Killing Grounds of Pontecorvo and Arce.
These were spaces cleared of trees in a big rectangle with a path on the say, North side, which was being traversed by the North Irish Horse, under wireless silence. As the leading Tank came into the centre of the path through this cleared space,it came under fire from a 50mm gun in the S.E. corner. The lead tank then swung to deal with this gun and the rest of the squadron followed and when fourteen tanks were in a semi circle in this cleared space, an 88mm a/t gun opened up and knocked them all out with 35 killed and another 30 men wounded, in less than two minutes. Meanwhile about half a mile away, the 51st Tanks had come upon the same scene with the same results, so with 28 Tanks knocked out in a few minutes the Infantry were denied all Tank support and the attack fizzled out !
This was classified as a bad day, but it was not the worst as the confusion around the entrance to the Liri Valley with some ten or more Divisions all struggling to move on and so it was with a great sigh of relief that we all made it to near the Alban Hills in time for a Commando group to 'liberate' Rome. This gave us time to absorb reinforcements and have a rest as all too soon we were lead Brigade at the start of the Gothic Line Battle.
The night before we made our first move over the Metauro River to start the Battle we were advised that we would catch up with the Seaforths of Canada, a Vancouver Regiment with whom we had been training for some time but.......as we moved over the River.... all Tank Commanders and Wireless ops. should have their heads above the normal level of the Tank Turret.There were quite a few complaints about this as it was recognised as a suicide ploy usually, but we were convinced to do so... until at least we were fired upon !!!
Later we were told that we had been watched by Gen. Alexander and no less than Mr Churchill who had been very impressed with our 'devil may care' attitude. If he had only heard some of the comments.......
The Gothic Line Battles were different inasmuch as the German knew that they were well on the way to defeat and so they made every effort to hold us from gaining access to the Po Valley where we had at least five Armed Divisions waiting to spill out and force their way into meeting the Americans on the other side of the Florence area.
It took too long, and as we had been fighting hard since Aug 27th, by Sept 11th we were a sorry lot and we were driving in line ahead, obviously moving into a different sector nearer the coast we came upon a sight which was unforgettable. The beautiful azure Adriatic Sea in all it's glory with waves lapping the sandy beaches of a small town called Catolica. We just all looked until moved on by the M.P's. little did we know that we were to spend two whole days in that small town with it's beautiful beaches and clear waters.
We met again with our Inf. Platoon and MacDonald, the medic from Montreal, who always rode on my Tank at my side, invited us to dinner ! We then had a quick wash and brush up and duly presented ourselves at the Warship shaped Barracks they were in. MacDonald, on seeing us there slapped his forehead and gasped - "you guys are here for dinner - right ?", we agreed and so he borrowed my Webley, walked outside where we heard one shot ring out, a minute later MacDonald strides in with a dead chicken. After a cursory cleaning it ended up in a stew / soup whatever, which was delicious.
Three days later we were in a real ding dong fight with an 88mm a/t gun - and we lost two good men with seven wounded. I spent the next six months in various hospitals being patched up and returned to active service. The Canadians kept going until they were tranferred to Belgium early in the new year and distinguished themselves once more, with many Cities and Towns in Canada being the recipients each year of magnificent Dutch Gardens in thanksgiving for their release from occupation.
© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.