Campaigns in Sicily and Italy
Princess Pat's Light Infantry Under Fire in Sicily
In the Second World War, Canadian soldiers took a considerable time to regain their Great War reputation for steadfastness and combat effectiveness. They spent a lot of time "on the shelf" in garrison duty before participating in combat on a large scale. It was in the Mediterranean where a new generation relearned the skills and showed the determination of their fathers.
On to SicilyAt the Casablanca Conference, the Allied high command selected Sicily as the next strategic target after the fall of North Africa. The invasion would be opposed by a mixture of mostly Italian units shored up with several elite German divisions. Churchill subsequently suggested a role for Canadian forces in what was designated Operation Husky. The Canadian First Division was substituted for the British 3rd Division and the First Canadian Tank Brigade was added to the order of battle. D-Day for Husky would be July 10, 1943.
A Supply Ship from the Invasion Fleet Explodes During the Landing
Time plus Sicilian geography and climate, however, would cure the conditioning issue. Division Commander Guy Simonds soon led his charges on a successful flanking movement at Catania on Sicily's east coast in front of Mount Etna.
Shortly afterwards, Monty, who now found himself blocked from further advance on the east side of the volcano, decided to shift his axis of attack around to the west side of Etna in a left-hook maneuver. On July 28th, the Canadian First Division captured the ancient town of Agira in a well-coordinated air, artillery and infantry assault against a crack Panzer Grenadier formation. In recognition of this victory, the principal Canadian War Cemetery in Sicily would be placed here.
Monty in Sicily
ItalyCanada's forces would soon be active again when the Eighth Army crossed the Strait as the first step in the invasion of Italy. On September 3rd, first day of Operation Baytown, they captured the abandoned enemy headquarters at Reggio Calabria. On September 9th an American Army [5th] landed just south of Naples at the Salerno beaches and the linking of the two Allied armies became a priority. Part of this operation was the capture of the rail junction of Potenza -- 80 km east of Salerno -- by BoForce, a fully motorized column with tanks, artillery and anti-aircraft guns under the command of Lt. Col. Pat Bogert of the West Nova Scotia regiment. The two armies linked up on September 16th.
Canadian Tanks Slowly Advancing in Italy
Ortona at Battle's End
When Canadian forces were moved to the Western Front in February they had built up to full corps with 92,000 men having served in the Italian theatre. Almost 5,400 men had paid the highest price with 20,000 more wounded or captured. In early 1945, though, the world's focus was turned to the north where the Allies in the west and Russians in the East were ready to enter the heart of Germany. The end-game of World War II in Europe was about to be played out.
Credits: Sources consulted for this article include Bitter Victory by Carlo D'Est; Italy: The Hard Underbelly by Simon Rigge; The Battle of Sicily by Mitcham and von Stauffenberg; the websites of the Canadian Legion and Canadian Veterans Affairs Department. Photos are from the US Army Signal Corps.