Memorial Site Index
Similar stories from different perspectives
This Memorial webpage is for non-commercial
use. Documents written by others appearing here are for education
purposes. No commercial use is allowed or intended. This Memorial
page is edited by Art Mayoff
MORO RIVER CANADIAN WAR CEMETERY.(link lost)
Please click Issie's photo above or the link below to see his memorial as presented by
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission. (link lost)
Debt of Honour Register
for Issie Mayoff
The Virtual Memorial
for Issie Mayoff
A comprehensive history of the Perth Regiment of Canada during World War II is available by clicking the Perth logo above. You are encouraged to visit their exciting Homepage.
Montreal Star, Feb. 1944
alternate and clearer copy
The Five Souls
Private Issie Mayoff was a member of The Perth Regiment of Canada.The following excerpt is from their website.(link has been lost) It provided here as an alternative source should the original website be lost. You are encouraged to visit the exciting Perth Homepage (link has been lost) for the most comprehensive internet source of information on The Perths.
The Moro River Canadian War Cemetery lies on high ground in the locality of San Donato in the Commune of Ortona, (about 5 kilometres south of the town) Province of Chieti, and is sited on high ground near the sea just east of the main Adriatic coast road (SS16).
The site was chosen by the Canadian Corps in January 1944. The Canadians had crossed the Moro River against stiff opposition on 6th December, 1943, and had taken Ortona on the 28th, after a week of bitter street fighting. The Moro River Cemetery contains the graves of those who died during that fighting, and during the weeks that preceded and followed it. In December 1943 alone, the 1st Canadian Division suffered over 500 fatal battle casualties. During January they made further limited and unfruitful offensive efforts, and they remained in the line in this sector until March, their activities being limited to patrolling. Burials other than those of members of the Canadian forces are almost all in plots 12, 13 and 16. There are now over 1,600, 1939-45 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, over 50 are unidentified.
February 5th, 1944
On February 5th, Baker Company had its heart knocked out of it when a single German mortar bomb fell amoungst men queuing for their evening meal. 37 casualties where recorded, 14 immediately fatal with an additional 5 dieing later of wounds received. The men had been standing on a ledge on the reverse side of a ravine, the kitchen being located in a cave. This single mortar bomb, had it been either two feet long or short would have exploded harmlessly, either at the top or bottom of the ravine.
June 22nd., 1944
Perhaps the most poignant story of the Perth's buried at Moro River is the death of Private C. C. Sim. In June of 1944 the Perth's were withdrawn from the line to rest. During this time a party led by Major C. B. Arrell, and including Chaplain Capt. D. Crawford, Lieut. L.F. Jones and fourteen volunteers, including Private Sim, returned to the battlefield of January 17th, to recover those dead which could not previously be recovered. The battle lines had by this time moved on. In total 19 bodies where recovered and temporally interned at a cemetery located near the cross roads which had been the Perth's objective in January. Several of those interned where not identifiable and their names can be found on the Casino memorial commemorating those who have no known grave. On the 22nd of June Private C.C. Sim was killed while recovering bodies when he stepped on an s-mine. Another soldier also received wounds from this incident. Private Sim was buried with those he had helped locate and bury.
Record as it appears on The Perth
Regiment of Canada website (website has been lost):
D/137616 PTE. ISSIE MAYOFF, died Wednesday, 9th February 1944. Age 22.
Son of Sam and Libby Mayoff, of Montreal, Province of Quebec.
Grave Reference: I.G.10.
These are just some of many photos from the Perth Regiment site. Please click this link (link lost) to visit their photo gallery.
Photo credits. Above: Perths On Parade - 2 June 1941, Support Coy, Perth Regiment (Motor) on the march through Stratford, Ontario, Maj. Bert Arrell commanding. (Beacon Herald, 2 June 1941)
Above: Italy January 1944 CSM D. R. Bruce, Pte.'s F. A. Little, E. Clutterbuck, G. D. Hillis, C.R. Wheatley, T. Smith
and unidentified Indian soldier man a ration point, Orsogna, Italy. Note: all are wearing wedge caps, not berets. (National Archives of Canada - PA174474 - Lt. A. M. Stirton.)
Above: Tank of 12 RCTR (Sherbrooke Regt.) hauls Perth AT gun out of the mud. 17th January 1944. Picture by Sgt. Christie. National Archives NA 10962.
Above: Perth Regt. moving into the line 17 January 1944. Picture Sgt. Christie. National Archives NA10964.
....from the website "Stan's Corner".(link lost) It provided here as an alternative source should the original website be lost. You are encouraged to visit Stan Scislowski's website.(link lost) It is jam-packed with information and well worth visiting...
Situated on a flat plateau, the cemetery overlooks the Adriatic Sea near the mouth of the Moro River. The site is not nearly as impressive as that of Cassino War Cemetery. The land is quite flat except for the gullies and shallow river-valleys that cut their way through the farmlands. Fifty kilometres to the southwest rises the great white-crowned Monte Maiella. It was this majestic mountain that looked down on the winter front battlefields stretching from tiny Guardiagrele at its base, through Orsogna, thence northeastwards past Poggio-fiorito into the valley of the Arielli at Crecchio and on to the Adriatic near the mouth of the Riccio River. Those of us who 'did time' on this misery-saturated winter front have long remembered this mountain and the battle-ravaged countryside over which it stood sentinel.
Work on the Moro River Cemetery began shortly after the Germans pulled back from Ortona but it wasn't until the war ended that all the bodies were exhumed from the many individual regimental plots and isolated grave sites and were brought together and reburied here. Of the 1615 graves, 1375 are Canadian, due to the fact that the area in the vicinity of Ortona right through to Orsogna at the southern extremity of the Orsogna/Ortona lateral road had been largely a Canadian battlefield. As the years went by improvements were continually made till it reached its present state of unaffected loveliness
Visitors enter through an arch that is actually a part of the tiny Church of San Donato. Actually it's little more than a shrine. As at Cassino, the moment our eyes fall upon the wide spread of white headstones in perfect alignment, we are immediately moved by the memories of those who lie beneath them. White pergolas draped with wisteria and cloaked in vines catch our attention, but only for a moment, as our eyes are drawn instead to those mute stones standing in long rows, stark in the sunshine of the mid-afternoon. Flowers and small shrubs bright with colour grow at the base of each stone, while along the seaward side tall and slender Lombardy poplars serve to break the openness of the cemetery.
As it is so stated in the book, Silent Witnesses, a Canadian War Museum publication, the designers, in a stroke of thoughtfulness, include in the plan two gnarled old olive trees which grow near the entrance. How many olive trees had we slept under, or hung our underwear and other clothing on to dry? Or how many olive groves was it that we had to fight our way through? These questions come to mind. And how many of our boys last saw the light of day beneath the spreading branches of an olive tree? Too many.
An uncommonly cool wind blowing in from off the Adriatic sighed through the leaves of the polar trees bordering the Cemetery as the Service of Remembrance was about to begin. I remember much colder winds blowing through these same fields way back then when 1st Div. wallowed about in the mud here in the constant cold and gray rainy days of November and December 1943. And later when 5th Div joined their brothers-in-arms I can never forget how we all shivered and shook in the frigid snow and sleet gales of January and February. At that time, low in spirit, always cold and patrol weary to the point of dropping we couldn't but help wonder if the weather and not Jerry was the greater enemy.
The Service was a carbon-copy of the one held at Cassino except for the different Italian officials and personalities taking part. The address as given by the Hon. Daniel MacDonald, covered the feelings, I am sure, of all the Campaign veterans in the Pilgrimage who had taken part in the epic battles that began at the Moro, swept through the gullies on the approaches to Ortona, and built to a climax in the vicious house to house, street to street, block to block fighting that went on for a full week in the seaside town. His talk also evoked memories of the many, but no less fierce battalion and company-size engagements that almost daily scourged the river-valleys and the farmyards all along that winter front; of the nightly patrols and the ambushes; of the constant threat of shell and mortar fire: of standing on guard in soggy slit-trenches for hours on end; and finally, of the misery of living day to endless day in the bleak conditions of weather, land, and personal discomfort.
The Veterans Affairs Minister, who was a platoon commander with the Cape Breton Highlanders at that time, did not forget to mention the overall friendship and trust that grew between the Canadians and the Italian farmers or 'paisanos' and their families on whose land the battles were fought. It was only right that he should have, for we remembered how, more often than not, the hungry people shared what little pasta or rock-hard bread, or uovas(eggs) they had, with the Canadians who had come into their midst. They shared it with these strangers who had come to live with them for a time in the presence of death and mutual adversity. And, we Canadians likewise shared with them what we had in the way of rations. We gave them our beloved(?) bully-beef, our tasty(??) margarine, and our mouth-watering(???) mutton stew and steak & kidney pudding. Whatever we could manage to scrounge through barter or outright theft we exchanged with these impoverished people for the far more palatable eggs, or pasta, or sausage to supplement the bland mishmash of rations the company cooks tried to or were forced to palm off on us.
Once again, as the lingering, last notes of the Lament died on the brisk breeze blowing across the cemetery we began our melancholy walk along the rows of headstones. I soon came to the stone marking Joe Gallant's grave. Joe came from Prince Edward Island, and everyone of us in the platoon felt strongly that Joe should have been given a job some-where in the back areas or at least in echelon because he was too old to go into battle. He's the kind of guy you find in every outfit. and they always get hung with the moniker "Pop". I stood close by the stone, head bowed in silence as memory took me back to that grim morning of our first day in battle. Joe, was the oldest man in the platoon. On this morning he shouldered the big '19' signals set for Company H.Q. He wasn't burdened with it for very long because he was the first to die. Mortars caught us as we moved forward to the attack on a dark and cold January morning. It was the day we were baptized in battle. Long before the day passed into evening 46 others had made the supreme sacrifice. I knelt on the soft grass remembering how we waited in the pre-dawn darkness of a farmyard, each man alone with his thoughts. Each man alone with his doubts. Charlie company would lead the attack on the high ground across the Riccio stream and Dog company (my company) was to follow close on their heels. Baker and Able companies were over to our right. As we sat with our backs up against a rickety snow fence, priming grenades and making last-minute checks of our weapons I looked over at Joe and didn't like what I saw in his eyes and on his face. He definitely wasn't himself. He seemed to have withdrawn into himself, a dark, brooding sort of withdrawal. We tried to cheer him up but got nowhere. His mind was elsewhere. Joe's eyes told us that he knew something we didn't know; it's known as premonition. He knew he was going to die. That voice inside kept telling him so. And then we heard someone shouting, "Okay you guys, up, up, up, c'mon we're on our way!" And that was it. Half an hour later Joe was dead. A mortar landed almost on top of company H.Q. and it's hot fragments tore into the back of Joe's head. Other fragments smashed the #19 set he was carrying.
Additional Campaign Maps Links are at the bottom the Perth History page. (link lost)
No one who was there on the Senio River line in the north of Italy on that magical Christmas Day in 1944 would have hoped for or even expected that a Peace on Earth and a Goodwill spirit would happen on this day. It was only five days earlier that hell instead had confronted my regiment for all of a night and the greater part of the next day. Whatever hopes and prayers dwelling in the minds and hearts of the men of The Perth Regiment, a good many of them not that long out of school, as the hour for battle drew near, were swept away in the awful hours that lay ahead. Thoughts of dying on or just before Christmas were hard to shut out. Although death at any time, be it in the glorious sunshine of a summer's day or on a dark and dismal day in winter would be a terrible tragedy for their families to bear; but death at this time was unthinkable. And they tried to shake the gloomy thought from their mind as they moved out on the evening of Dec.19 in an advance to the line of the high-diked Senio River where they could expect the enemy to be waiting in defensive positions, weapons aimed their way.
At no time in the approach to battle did the men go with
a song on their lips. At no time did they go with the feeling
of patriotism and 'die for country' attitude. These anachronisms
of long ago wars they shed from their minds many confront-ations
ago. They were too smart for such high and noble feelings. When
the dread moment came, however, to hitch up their battle gear
they did so, but with the ever-present feeling of apprehension.
Though they could not know it, this was their bravest moment.
For to go forward when you know that down that road hidden in
the dark behind some barrier are other men waiting under cover
with murder in their hearts, it takes courage far beyond what
each man believed he still had.
Hope rested only in the thoughts that this advance would prove to be a cake-walk, a simple occupation of a few acres of farmland, an unopposed crossing of a narrow river line and then a pause for Christmas. But it was not to be.
It was less than a mile down that road when hell fell upon
them in a
rain of shells and mortar bombs beyond anything they had ever come under before. The dying and the hurting had begun. To describe all that had gone on during the whole of that terrible night and through most of the next day is not the purpose of this short piece. What I wanted was a portrayal of how, sometimes great good can come out of adversity and out from the hearts of men driven to war. And that great good manifested itself here on the Senio Front on a sunny but cold Christmas Day of 1944 when all hope had fled that there would be a pause in the violence and the killing. It came about like 'so':
At 8:30 on Christmas Eve with a dusting of snow on the ground, while standing alert and ready at an upstairs window of a large farmhouse, with a Bren gun, I was all keyed up in expectation of an enemy patrol attack. Towards the end of my shift I became aware that the usual sounds of a battlefield had died down, and then. . .silence. Was it the dread moment before an enemy assault? Or was it, hope upon hope, that maybe the enemy was honouring the birthday of the Prince of Peace by an unwritten truce? And with this hope, as my relief came, I made my way downstairs to find a comfortable spot on the floor close by the fire-place for some much needed sleep. I didn''t expect anything special, except more danger to wake up to in the morning.
But there was something special going on on Christmas morning, and it wasn't a battle. I took a look outside and be damned if there weren't a lot of our guys walking around between platoon pos-itions and houses as though there was nothing out there to be afraid of. It was unbelievable! Just the day before, I almost got picked off by a sniper as I was about to walk the ten paces to a stable where a cow was bawling to be milked. Life expectancy outdoors had to only be seconds at most. But now it was a miracle that a 'live and let live' spirit seemed to have come about.
Atop the far dike of the Senio River stood a half dozen German soldiers singing their hearts out that favourite of mine, 'Silent Night', I couldn't believe what my eyes were taking in. There was the hated enemy not sixty yards away, not shoot-ing at us like they had been doing only the day before, but singing and rejoicing, pausing between verses as they tipped bottles of vino to their lips. They were in great spirits and even waved to us to join them in the celebration. It was tempting, and some of our guys were all set to go across the river and join them in the singing and merriment. More logical NCO heads, however, prevailed, and our boys stayed 'put'. What a feeling it was to see all this going on! - the enemy out there in the open and our boys too in a "peace on earth good-will towards men spirit, as it should be.
In our house, or 'casa', a feast of Christmas like no other Christmas feast could have brought forth the good feelings such as the one got underway. We didn't dine on roast goose or turkey and all the usual side dishes as we did at home, but even so, it was indeed a feast never to be forgotten. We sat at the linen covered table, a grimy and unkempt dozen as we were, to an unusual fare of steaks from a cow butchered the night before. And in whatever we came across while rifling through kitchen drawers, dressers and closets, found all sorts of things we used as decorations. The house radiated Christmas. The only thing missing was a Christmas tree and gifts under-neath it.
And then to top off the festivities, who should show up in a Jeep but our company commander bearing with him all kinds of goodies, like turkey, candy, fruit, nuts, and even a quart bottle of Molson's beer for each man. And the revelry went on all that afternoon as we sang every Christmas song we knew. Though our voices were not of choir quality, they were voices filled with the spirit of Christmas, a Christmas that not one of us would ever forget, but look fondly on. And then, as the saying goes, "all good things must come to an end." And so, at 6:00 p.m. right on the dot, a lone 25 pounder artillery piece somewhere on the south side of the Lamone River to our rear, fired, and the shell whistling overhead signalled the end of the truce. The war had begun again.
December 6, 1943
In Italy, the 1st Canadian Division (Major-General Christopher Vokes in command) is on the south bank of the Moro River, beginning the push toward the Adriatic seaport of Ortona, Italy, only 6.5 km away as the crow flies, but by road, it is 11 km across the grain of four 150 m ridges. The most dangerous obstacle is the Moro itself, a muddy stream meandering through a valley 60 m deep and about 900 m across. Between midnight and dawn, bridgeheads must be established on the north bank so the rest of the division can get moving toward the first objective, a road junction code-named Cider. The crossing will be made by The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada and Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry. To avoid alerting the Germans-tough, experienced Panzergrenadiers and paratroopers who are dug in on the reverse slope of the valley-the attack will be made without artillery support.
The Hasty Ps, on the right flank near the mouth of the river, struggle for more than 18 hours, and finally achieve a little bridgehead 180 m wide and 450 m deep. The Seaforths, in the centre heading for San Leonardo, fight desperately, but their tanks cannot manoeuvre in the soft riverbed, and therefore cannot get close enough to give supporting fire. The Patricias have the only clear-cut success. Slipping across the Moro at an unguarded ford, they take the Germans in Villa Rogatti by surprise. By dawn, they hold the village and, supported by the 44th Royal Tank Regiment, they hold it through the day against fierce counterattacks by the 200th Panzergrenadier Regiment.
As MGen Vokes is finalizing plans to exploit Villa Rogatti,
his engineers tell him they cannot build an assault crossing there.
MGen Vokes turns his attention to the Hasty P's toehold, and gives
Villa Rogatti to the 8th Indian Division. Three days later, the
Indian engineers complete a Bailey crossing there, and politely
name it impossible bridge.
December 5, 1998
The Battle of Ortona 1943
|Close Quarter fighting! House by house, basement by basement, floor by floor by floor, alley by alley, street by street, block by block. Other than the trenches of the Great War there surely can be no worse scenario for the madness and horror of combat. And when I think about house to house combat my memory takes me back to 1942 when, as an 11 year old, I first heard about, and later saw the newsreel footage of the Battle of Stalingrad. One scene particularly is etched in memory. If you've read this far, you will probably remember it, too. The newsreel camera, held over the shoulder of a Russian sniper. picks up the figure of a half crouched German, rifle at the ready, stealthily making his way through the remains of a Soviet factory. Bang! The shot rings out. The German arches back, drops his rifle, and falls to the ground.Just one of 147,000 German troops killed in that horrific Battle.||
Heavy Fighting in Ortona
An intense close quarters fight which claimed the lives of a 1400 Canadian Troops.
And then my mind turns to Ortona, Italy, December 1943.
Back in 1943, I don't recall hearing much about the Battle, which doesn't surprise me when we consider how Canadians generally play down our military achievements.There were, of course, the day by day reports filed by Matthew Halton over the CBC listened to by vast numbers of Canadians but over the years since the war ended, we haven't heard much about it. But this Battle was every bit as heroic, though on a much smaller scale, as Stalingrad and now on the occasion of the 55th anniversary it is time to read about it, to remember, and to give thanks for the courage and the fighting skills of our brave Canadian soldiers who fought, with heavy casualties, in the streets of Ortona.
Celebrated in Ortona
The Book The D-Day Dodgers by Daniel Dancocks is a good summary of what took place. Another good read is Bravely Into Battle by Strome Galloway. In short, there is no excuse for any Canadian to be ignorant of what took place in that Italian Town of Ortona.
As the allied armies approached Ortona, an epic battle had not been expected. In fact, an attempt was to have been made to spare the town so that it might provide an administrative and rest area. There were no significant natural defenses for the Germans to exploit and it was anticipated that they would abandon Ortona for superior defensive positions further to the North, Hitler, however, had other plans for Ortona. He sent in two battle skilled and hardened battalions of paratroopers.
|They brilliantly turned Ortona into a potential death trap for the Canadians, blocking off side streets so that any advance would have to be made down a central street into the town square. The town square was transformed into a wolf's lair, a veritable ring of death, of machine guns, anti-tank guns (legendary 88s) and, above all else, the most fanatical, the most courageous and skillful troops in the German army.|
The Battle started on December 20th and ended December 27th.The infantry of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and the Seaforth Highlanders, supported by the tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment entered the town and then Hell and Death became a day to day reality. Matthew Halton reported that "we were in a lost world".
General Volkes later said that, "Everything before Ortona was a fairy tale".It was, in fact, a mini-Stalingrad, with booby trapped houses, some with delayed action fuses, snipers, concealed anti-tank guns, every basement and every floor of every house defended to the death. Who among those of us who were not actually in that hellish maelstrom could possibly find words to describe what took place.
In the battles through Sicily and Italy 5900 Canadians were killed. 1400 of those died in the streets of a quiet little town on the Italian Adriatic coast - the town of Ortona Now, 55 years later, veterans, both Canadian and German, will this Christmas visit this same place and sit down for what is described as a reconciliation dinner. They are being sent there by ordinary Canadians, not by a Government who apparently saw no political advantage to providing the funds. God bless these men. God bless all who fought there, not just in the town, but in the days that led to the Battle, and those who provided artillery and air support. What a story! What sacrifice! What wonderful and brave men were these! May we live for Country as well as they died for Country!
The battle of Ortona was considered one of the most important battles of Italy in 1943. It was considered so, not only because of its stronghold throughout the country and across the Ortona-Orsogna lateral, but because of its invaluable worth as a deep port. Whoever the holder of this territory, had incredible advantage, as they would be able to transport not only troops, and supplies, but also weapons, and arms.
The Allies realized how important it was to capture and hold Ortona, and decided quickly, that it had to be captured. With much planning and sorting, the Allies also quickly realized that this would not, by any means, be an easy task. Looking at the geography of Ortona and surrounding areas, what was readily seen was how many rivers and streams there would be to cross to get to Ortona. Two major feats would be crossing the Moro and the Sangro rivers. It was obvious that the Infantry would not be able to pull this one off by themselves, and that the Field Engineers would be needed. The 78th Division was tasked to work with the First Canadian Division Royal Engineers.
Between the Sangro and the Ortona Rivers, the plain is deeply cut by many small streams and rivers. Over all of these, the Germans had, destroyed the bridges. The rains had now swollen the streams and the water levels were still rising (a six foot rise in the Sangro), on the fourth of December a ten knot flow took out or damaged all the bridges behind fifth corps.
On 2 December 1943 at 1600 hrs, the 1st Canadian Division forced the crossing of both the Sangro and Moro rivers, as well as capturing the town and harbor of Ortona. The 1st Canadian Brigade crossed the Sangro before the bridges went out, the 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade was already within the bridgehead near the town of Fossacesia. The 3rd Canadian Brigade was unfortunately caught on the wrong side of the River, this consequently resulted in many casualties almost immediately. The Germans had intended for a main defensive position, and the degree to which it had been mined was almost unbelievable. As if this was not enough, many of the mines had been booby trapped. In order to clear the minefields, the 1st and 3rd Field Companies moved in and worked within the bridgehead. The 4th Company however, was tasked with something entirely different. They were to create a diversion approximately two miles away from the bridgehead, drawing attention from the Germans, thereby relieving pressure from the bridgehead itself. This strategic movement allowed for the advance of the Infantry Brigades towards the town of Ortona. That very same day, the Royal Engineers began construction of a 1126 ft high level Bailey bridge (class 30). This Bailey was constructed over the 18 piers that remained from the old bridge, which had been lost to previous floods. The construction of this bridge took eleven days and eleven nights, and was shared by the 1st Canadian Tunneling Coy Det which sank pipe piles to a firm bed on the sight of the demolished piers. In order to maintain the bridgehead, for the time being, DUKW's operated from beach to beach around the mouth of the river. During this time two of the damaged bridges were repaired and on the 7th of the month, a new floating bridge was built, when the river level fell again.
General Vokes's (Commander of the 1st R.C.E.) plan was to cross the Moro River from the winding road running inland from the San Vito Chietino to San Leonardo, thus cutting the Ortona-Orsogna Lateral, and forcing an enemy withdrawal. The staff planned a set piece attack for the 8th of December, it was to be a two-pronged drive by the 1st Brigade to San Leonardo. The Royal Canadian Engineers were given the task of preparing a crossing for tanks and wheeled vehicles, beside the demolished bridge on the main road. This was considered the only feasible site to the 3rd Field Company.
To assist the them, the 1st Field Coy, spent the day cutting trees on either side of the bridge, thereby creating an approach and an exit, each approximately 300 ft in length. The river crossing itself was estimated at 80 feet. Very careful planning was needed indeed, as the site was under constant observation, and a duplicate communications system was set up. H- hour was at 1630 hrs, the R.C.E. were to be prepared to begin work by 1700 hrs. The attack went in on schedule, but the infantry met heavy resistance, therefore slowing down the advance. At 1800 hrs, although the 3rd Field Company had not yet received the success signal, Major Fraser took fate into his own hands as he decided that he could wait no longer. He sent a D-7 Bulldozer and two sections off to the work site, since they did not come under effective enemy fire, they were able to commence work.
The near bank needed no heavy grading, so the bulldozer operator, Sapper M.C McNaughton, was sent off to find his own route across the river. Knowing full well the dangers that he was about to encounter, Sapper McNaughton, gathered his thoughts and his nerves, and began to cross the River, by moving up the draw. Although he became silhouetted against the sky at one point, and came under prompt machine gun fire, he realized the importance of his job and continued on with his task, quite bravely. At 2030 hrs, he started cutting down the far bank. This task took about seven hours. Meanwhile construction of the near approach was sufficiently advanced. By 2000 hrs, the materials for a culvert were able to be brought forward. Over the culvert, a six foot high causeway was built. The dozers finished this task by 0400 hrs. The crossing was ready for use by tanks by 0600 hrs. Despite coming under heavy Mortar, shelling and Machine gun fire at frequent intervals throughout the night, there were only three Sapper casualties, none of which were fatal. Enemy fire, however, increased greatly after 0700 hrs. During the morning, when the tanks finally began to clatter across, 3rd Field Company maintenance parties had 22 wounded and one killed. For this operation Major Fraser, was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Sergeant O.L Mellick, and Sapper McNaughton were both awarded the Military Medal. For their outstanding work, General Montgomery personally congratulated the Canadian Royal Engineers.
Although the Enemy lost the river line, he showed no immediate signs of surrender. The fighting became more grim, and the advance very slow. On the 15th of December, the 1st German Parachute Regiment had to replace the Panzer Grenadiers as they had lost so many men. The 1st German Parachute Regiment, however, were later to suffer in like fashion. Despite a heavy enemy counter-attack, supported by tanks, in the Casa Berardi area, the Canadian troops held their ground. During all of this, the Canadian Sappers had to keep the roads open under heavy rain, and heavy fire. There was a great deal of mud to scrape and clear. As well they suffered much trouble with deeply laid mines, which were hard to detect and, too frequently only revealed themselves only by blowing up an unfortunate vehicle.
By the 20th of December, the main road had been checked to the outskirts of Ortona. The last stretch being cleared that morning by the mine sweeping parties, who moved in and advanced with the Infantry. Deeply laid mines disabled four of the tanks, which followed in support. On the 21st of December, as the Loyal Edmonton Regiment began to fight their way through the streets, the 2nd Field Park Company advanced its bridging dump to San Leonardo. This had to be done in order to prepare for the construction of a number of bridges that were to be built before the final attack. Since the enemy showed no signs of retreating, the city was not taken until after a week of very bitter street fighting. In this the, Canadian Engineers' role was to help the infantry forward from house to house, and from room to room by blowing up holes through the walls, and by collapsing the buildings on the hidden defenders. Many booby traps were encountered during the process of clearing the upper levels of the buildings, therefore there was never a dull moment for the Engineers. All the while, the bridging continued, both in the town and on the routes toward it. Although many of the bridges needed were short, the Fourth Field Company worked through Christmas Eve, in order to complete a 170 foot triple single Bailey, just south of Ortona.
Christmas brought turkey and mail and, at one time or another, during the day, a good meal. On the night of the 27th/28th the battered German parachutists, withdrew their last units. At last the city was free, all hands were required to clear routes in it, and around it. Clearing the routes themselves, proved to be a long task, due to the fact that many of the booby traps and mines had been buried deeply by the blown up buildings. This added considerable occupational hazard to the Engineers task. However, the Engineers, as they seemingly always did, overcame all obstacles, and carried on with their tasks at hand.
In conclusion to this small essay, it is obvious that the
Engineers are who made this whole battle possible, and it is because
of them that Ortona was such a success, as the Infantry would
have never been able to reach the battle to fight it without the
Engineers. However, it was through the courage of all the Soldiers
involved that not only this battle, but the war was won. This,
we shall never forget, as these Soldiers gave up so much for us,
and a lot of them paid the ultimate price in order for us to live
The following story from Canadian Soldiers.com is provided here as an alternative source should the original website be lost. You are encouraged to visit their website. (link lost)
The battle at Ortona was to be the last act of the Battle
of the Moro River, which raged for much of December of 1943.
While the First Canadian Division had been one of the assault units during the invasion of Sicily, and had been in action for much of the period between July 1943 and December, it still had not had a chance to operate as a division.
The opening of the attack on the Moro River gave the Division that opportunity. The crossing of the Moro in the first 10 days of December resulted in a Canadian victory, bringing them within 15 kilometres of Ortona. The Division had performed well. A series of other obstacles were fought bitterly for, but by 20 December, two companies of the Loyal Edmonton Regiment advanced on the town of Orrtona, with a company of the Seaforth Highlanders attacking on their right as a diversion. This operation picks up the action at this point.
Date: 20-26 December 1943
Location: Ortona, Italy
Opponents: Canadian attacker (Loyal Edmonton Regiment
and Seaforth Highlanders of Canada) vs. German defender
(First Parachute Division)
Length: 20 battles
Ortona, with a peacetime population of 10,000 people, consisted of an "Old Town" to the north, coupled with more modern structures to the south. Two structures in the Old Town dominated the landscape, an ancient castle and the Church of San Tommaso. There were several open squares in the town, and while much of the old town was serpentine and crowded together, the Corso Vittorio Emmanuele had a broad boulevard, and the Corso Umberto also offered a wide avenue for strolling.
The Germans took advantage of the narrow streets of the Old Town, rubbling many homes and blocking the approach routes any tanks could take. It was hoped to funnel an enemy advance down towards the Piazza Municipale, one of several open squares. This was the first time Germans in the Mediterranean would use a built-up area as a defensive location.
The Loyal Edmontons, whom it was hoped could take the town in one day, found themselves bogged down in the dense urban terrain. Even with tank support of the Three Rivers Regiment, the Seaforth Highlanders had to be called in, and the town was split into two.
Many new approaches to fighting were adopted in the town. "Mouseholing," a technique taught in England but not yet practiced in combat by Canadian soldiers, involved the use of explosives to blow through the walls of houses, so that troops wouldn't have to move into fire-swept streets. Tanks and anti-tank guns were found to be useful; first they would fire armour-piercing shells at enemy held buildings, then follow up with high explosive. Both sides employed demolitions charges against houses, blowing up entire buildings with frightful consequences.
On the 26th of December, the Edmontons finally secured San Tommaso Cathedral; the last day of fighting in the city would be the 27th. That night, the Germans quietly slipped away, leaving 100 of their dead unburied in the streets and rubble of Ortona. The First Parachute Division as a whole, inside and outside the city, lost 455 men during the period 20 - 28 December 1943.
The Loyal Edmonton Regiment lost 172 men, 63 of them killed.
The Seaforths lost 41 killed and 62 wounded. After the
battle was over, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment, and Vancouver's
Seaforth Highlanders, erected a sign at the entrance to the city....
Ortona Battle Map
1.The history of The Corps of Royal Canadian Engineers,Vol.2 Kerry and McDill, Copyright Canada,1966. The Publications Committee, The Military Engineers Association of Canada.
2.Ortona Christmas 1943, Canadian Battle Series, Fred Griffin, Copyright 1988. Canadian War Museum, Canadian Museum of Civilization, National Museums of Canada
3.War Diary of Intelligence Summary, Royal Canadian Engineers,
First Canadian Division, Summary of events and Information 1 Dec.
The following story from the Moro River battle During II World War website is provided here as an alternative source should the original website be lost. You are encouraged to visit their website (link lost)
The Germans had given the Allies the impression that Ortona
was an objective that would be worth obtaining. In fact, Hitler
had ordered Field Marshal Kesselring to fight a delaying action
through Italy to wear down the Allies and Ortona was a diversion
designed to waste their time. Montgomery believed that in order
to take the Bernhard Line, Ortona must be captured. To his mind
it was the hinge pin of the Ortona-Gaeta line, which stretched
from east to west, and to reach it Montgomery decided to send
the troops through the narrow area between the Appenines and the
Adriatic Sea. To reach this the 1st Canadian Infantry Division,
part of the Eighth Army, had to secure a bridgehead over the Moro
River and capture San Leonardo. On the 4th of December 1943 the
Canadians took over the position which the British had been holding
along the southern bank of the Moro River which was swollen with
the winter rains. The ground around it was very soft and the enemy
had blown all bridges over the river. The village of San Leonardo
lay beyond and the road leading to it ran through the Seaforths
position). San Leonardo separated two German Divisions, the fresh
troops of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division on the east and the
26th Panzer Division on the west, which formed part of the 76
Corps . To the right of the Seaforths were the Patricias and to
the left were the Edmontons. There was a plateau beyond this section
of the Moro where tanks would be put to good use so it would be
important for both armour and infantry to attack in support of
each other. It was found that there were only three places suitable
for crossing the Moro; the extreme right along the coastal road,
where the road leading to San Leonardo met the river, and it was
also fordable at Villa Rogatti. Maj.Gen. Vokes decided that the
Seaforths would spearhead the attack on the San Leonardo crossing
point on the river. They would then make for the Ortona-Orsogna
highway beyond while diversionary attacks would be made on Villa
Rogatti by the Patricias on the left and by 1st Brigade on the
right. The CO, Lt- Col Forin, felt uneasy that not much was known
about the enemy, nothing was known about their strength or morale
because there had been no time for patrolling. Without an artillery
barrage to maintain the element of surprise, the attack commenced
at 0000 hours on the 6th of December with "A" and "C"
companies meeting with stiff opposition within 200 yards of crossing
the Moro downstream. "B" company was to cross the river
and climb up to a small plateau and capture the hamlet of La Torre
on the left flank. Due to radio communication difficulties their
movements were not clear for the next 24 hours. By dawn a very
weak bridgehead was being held and San Leonardo had not been taken.
Tanks had not been able to ford the Moro and could not give the
infantry the support they needed. During the day the Patricias
also established a bridgehead and captured Villa Rogatti to the
west and the decision to send in supporting troops to that area
was taken, so around two o'clock the attack was called off and
the Seaforths were ordered to withdraw. "B" company
had been quite successful during its attack and had found a weak
spot in the German line, the boundary between the 361 and 200
Grenadier Regiments, and had managed to get into position along
a gully that ran between La Torre and San Leonardo. By that evening
it had over-run 16 enemy positions and taken 60 prisoners. Without
the support of tanks and with the threat of an enemy counter-attack
it had been forced to withdraw. For the next 48 hours the Seaforths
were stood down and subjected to heavy shelling south of the Moro.
On morning of the 9th of December the Seaforths made towards San
Leonardo led by "D" company mounted on tanks which drew
intensive enemy fire. Shortly thereafter they joined forces with
six tanks from the Calgary Regiment on the narrow road. Almost
immediately the lead tank was blown up and blocked at the hairpin
bend in the road. With nowhere else to go the troops were ordered
up the bluffs in front of them, led by Lt. J.F McLean, followed
by the tanks. When they gained the high ground the infantry and
armour combination could not be stopped, the flat countryside
of olive groves and vineyards led straight to San Leonardo. Slit
trenches concealed Grenadiers who were keeping their heads down
and firing up into the air. Lt. McLean and his platoon over-ran
one anti-tank gun and ten machine-gun posts, killing eight enemy
and capturing eighteen. Lt. McLean made the decision to continue
toward the town and began to clear it despite strong resistance.
For their part Lt. McLean was awarded the D.S.O., a decoration
seldom given to subalterns, and Cpl. G.F. Horan the Military Medal.
By this time "D" company had been reduced to 39 all
ranks, and only three tanks remained operational. The Germans
reinforced the eastern approaches to the town with 12 mark IV
tanks and supporting infantry. The Calgary tanks engaged and blew
up the leading German tank and the others retreated. The enemy
infantry was soon dispersed and with the arrival of the R.C.R.'s
"B" company, which had had a right flank protective
role, and the remaining Seaforth companies with more tanks, the
town was cleared thoroughly. San Leonardo was reported fully captured
by 5:45 p.m. Lessons learned were that adequate patrolling to
determine the strengths and weaknesses of the enemy was of great
importance. Problems with communications had let down the first
assault, especially where "B" company had gained a toehold.
Another lesson was that once the momentum of an attack is gained
it should be exploited to the full. During the battle Seaforth
members performed courageous acts. A typical story of the day
was one from "B" company. Surrounded and cut off by
the enemy L/Cpl J.H. Teece was determined to rescue a wounded
Capt. Carter, an Artillery Forward Observation Officer from the
2nd Field Regiment of the R.C.A. Teece worked his way through
200 yards of enemy controlled ground to where Carter lay. There
he helped to organize the men to evacuate the captain to company
headquarters. For this action L/Cpl Teece was awarded the Military
Medal. The battle for the Moro River had cost the battalion 50
casualties, killed, wounded and missing. However the way to Ortona
was now open and the next Allied drive forward could continue.
1 Dec.1943- All Companies are in staging position by 1500hrs. "O"-Group to be held immediately afterward. 4th Field Company is to be on the road by 0700hrs and to move to Torina Stn. It will be under command of 78 Div R.E. and will work on the maintenance of Freddie Crossing across the Sangro. 3rd Field Company and 1st Field Company are given new tasks on Roads across the Sangro.
2 Dec.1943-Traces and Maps of all roads and minefields are done. Division Headquarters leaves 0900hrs and joins tail of convoy, passes through Vasto at 0930hrs. They are followed by 3rd Field Company. Due to delay in crossing, the convoy does not arrive on location until 1930hrs that night in Fossacesia.
3 Dec.1943- 4th Field Company is still under command of 78th Division and is maintaining Freddie Crossing. 1st Field Company continues work on checking loop from Fossacesia to Fossacesia Stn. 3rd Field Company proceeded to sweep road from Fossacesia to San Vito for mines- none found. Stretch from Sangro River to Fossacesia is very heavily mined, and is thought to be the Winter Defense Line of the Germans. 1st Field Company has two Sappers killed and 3rd Field Company has one killed by wooden box mine. Division HQ will be moving to area North of Rocca by morning.
4 Dec.1943- Division HQ moves to area North of Rocca. Mines have been checked to area North of San Vito. For crossing North of San Vito, the 78th Division are going to be working in conjunction with RCE 1 Cdn Div. Diversion is built by 78th Div, and while traffic uses that Diversion, 1st Field Company builds 90 foot Bailey bridge.
5 Dec.1943- 1st Field Company finished Bailey bridge. 3rd Field Company is still on road maintenance and maintenance of diversions. 4th Field Company is temporarily left on the other side of the Sangro and is still maintaining Freddie Crossing. Attempt is going to be made to put tanks across Sangro.
6 Dec.1943- Attempt is made to put tanks across the Sangro in support of Infantry. 3rd Field Company are to attempt diversion on blown bridge South of San Leonardo, but enemy machine gun and mortar fire pins down the platoons, and they are unable to do any work. Likewise attempt of 1st Field Company on the coast is held.
7 Dec.1943- It has been decided that an assault crossing will be made on the Moro River at Grid 338 115. This task has been given to 3rd Field Company. Preparations are made to start gathering up material for this. 1st Field Company is tasked with the cutting of trees to make round poles for Corduroy Road. Additional Recce will be made in 3rd Field Company in the evening to try and find a shorter route for the Corduroy road. Meanwhile trucks are being loaded with rubble, sommerfield track and improvised bridging material for the crossing. During the day, 4th Field Company moved from across the Sangro to Grid 366 048.
8 Dec.1943- Despite bad weather, a Divisional plan has been made. The bridgehead for the assault crossing is going to be made by 1 Bde. As soon as the bridgehead has been established, 3rd Field Company will build Corduroy Road at Grid 337 118. During the previous evening an extensive Recce has been made by Major R.B. Fraser of this crossing and it was found that the length of Corduroy Road would be shortened considerably. 4th Field Company took up all road Maintenance up to San Vito. All material has been lined up, and everything was ready for zero hour. The Infantry went across the River and started to form their bridgehead. Despite a hole which was left directly in front of the bridgehead, Major Fraser led small parties of Sappers into the Diversion at 2200hrs and commenced work. A Bulldozer got across on the far side, and although he encountered Machine gun, and Mortar Fire, he was able to clear a road on the far side. The men worked continuously, and though they had to often take cover from Mortar and Machine gun fire, the diversion was up and running by 0700.
9 Dec.1943- The crossing across the Moro river was completed and ready for tank traffic by 0700hrs. Mine sweeper parties were supplied by 1st Field Company to accompany the tanks across the diversion and their advance up to San Leonardo. 3rd Field Company withdrew from the diversion and 4th Field Company took over to improve for wheeled traffic. 3rd Field Company suffered 18 casualties.
10 Dec.1943- 3rd Field Company took over maintenance and improvement of the diversion at 0700hrs. Anti-tank guns started across the Moro crossing at 0700hrs this morning. 1st Field Company had mine sweeping parties out with the tanks as they continued their advance to San Leonardo.
11 Dec.1943- Div R.C.E. are now in support of advance through San Leonardo and beyond. 3rd Field Company is maintaining their crossing on the Moro.
12 Dec.1943- Infantry are finding it tough going and advance is slow. 1st Field Company is on road maintenance and standing by to provide sweeping party for road North of San Leonardo. 3rd Field Company are still maintaining the Moro crossing. 4th Field Company are tied up to support advance of 3 Cdn Inf Bde as they push on. "O"-Group to be held at 1800hrs to give Engineer plan for following day.
13 Dec.1943- 1st and 3rd Field Companies each have one platoon on training to confirm with CRE's orders. 4th Field Company are in support of 3 Cdn Inf Bde and are providing sweeping parties, and standing by to do possible bridging job at Grid 322 137.
14 Dec.1943- Situation is rather slow. 1st and 3rd Field Companies are still on maintenance. RCE 1 Cdn Div have had to construct their forward water point and this is built in San Vito. 4th Field Company are still standing in support of 3 C.I.B.
15 Dec.1943- Field Companies are still carrying on with road maintenance and 1st Field Company is operating two water points for the Division. 4th Field Company has Recce party with the Carleton and York Regiment for forward bridging job but situation does not permit for a close Recce. It is not yet known whether bridge at Grid 322 138 is blown yet or not. Accent of Div Engineers right now is on road maintenance. Present Divisional plan is to consolidate all present areas and Engineer stores are made available for this purpose. Field Companies all go under command of their respective Brigades for the next 48hr period.
16 Dec.1943- Brigades have all consolidated and everything is now ready for the next phase of the attack. The bridgehead will be established by 3 C.I.B. and 4th Field Company will build the bridge at Grid 320 135. Remainder of the Field Companies are on road and route maintenance. "O"-Group held at 1700hrs to coordinate engineer plan for next effort.
17 Dec.1943- 1st Field Company are teed up to provide mine sweeping parties in support of the Infantry. 4th Field Company are all ready for possible bridging operation at Grid 320 137 if it is required. As far as can be ascertained, this bridge is only damaged, and with little luck we may get away without a Bailey.
18 Dec.1943- 1st and 3rd Field Companies are still on maintenance training and operating water points. 4th Field Company is still standing by to repair damaged bridge at Grid 320135 and to sweep for mines to Rd.at Grid 322 142. 1st Field Company are then teed up to sweep from this point into possibly Ortona.
19 Dec.1943- 1st and 3rd Field Companies are still on road maintenance. 1st Field Company has a mine party working with HQ 1 Bde. 3rd Field Company has a mine sweeping party laid on to clear road up to Ortona. 4th Field Company are still standing by to Recce bridge at Grid 320 135.
20 Dec.1943- 4th Field Company were eventually able to build their 80 foot Double Single Bailey bridge at 320 135. 1st Field Company continued with their road maintenance, operation of water points and checking of minefields. 3rd Field Company supplied mine sweeping teams to move with the Infantry checking for mines along the lateral road into Ortona. They also provided a mine sweeping party along the coast from Grid 345 140 to Grid 339 155.
21 Dec.1943- 4th Field Company has drawn task of constructing a 170 foot Triple Single Bailey bridge at 338 155. This is the largest undertaking that has ever been undertaken by RCE 1 Cdn Div. Remaining two Field Companies are working on roads, checking for mines and marking minefields. 3rd Field Company has advance elements in Ortona working with 2 C.I.B. Main task of 1st Field Company will be to build a 40 foot Single Single Bailey bridge at Grid 316 141 as soon as the situation permits.
22 Dec.1943- 2 C.I.B. has forced entrance into the Southern end of Ortona and elements of 3rd Field Company are in support of them, performing Recce's and clearing mines. 4th Field Company are off loading Bailey for their 170 foot bridge and preparing backseats for an 80 foot Bailey and a 60 foot Bailey.1st Field Company are carrying on with 1 Bde working on tracks North of army Lateral and sweeping verges for mines.
23 Dec.1943- 4th Field Company completed their 170 foot Triple Single Bailey bridge to the jacking down stage and then jacked down during the night. This was a long, slow process, as the bridge was so heavy, but it was completed by 0800hrs the following day. 3rd Field Company continue in support of 2 C.I.B. in clearing up Ortona. The situation is grim there and progress is very slow. 1st Field Company are still in support of 1 C.I.B. and are standing by ready to bridge. At this point, in order to save time, a scissors bridge was laid down across the gap. As soon as conditions permit, this will be lifted and will be replaced by a 40 foot Single Single.
24 Dec.1943- During the night, 1st Field Company lifted their scissors bridge and built a 40 foot Single Single Bailey bridge in it's place. This was a difficult task, as there was intermittent shelling and Mortar fire throughout the night. In Addition, 1st Field Company supported tanks of 12 C.T.R. with mine sweeping parties. 3rd Field Company was busily engaged in support of 2 C.I.B. in the streets of Ortona. During the course of the last 24hrs, 4th Field Company built an 80 foot Double Single Bailey bridge, and made preparations to build a 60 foot Bailey, and two 30 foot Baileys. It was hoped that all these tasks would be accomplished fairly quickly, so that the troops could have a leisurely X-mas.
25 Dec.1943- Christmas Day, was spent quietly by all units of RCE 1 Cdn Div. The war still was carried on and all Engineer tasks were continued with. Due to the magnificent work of "Q" Branch, every man had an excellent X-mas Dinner. Normal duties were carried out by all units under command of R.C.E. 1 Cdn. Div.
26 Dec.1943- 1st Field Company carry on in support of 1 C.I.B. as they push North of the Lateral road into Ortona. This includes sweeping and maintaining tracks for vehicles and tanks. 3rd Field Company continued work in Ortona, sweeping and clearing mines, and checking for booby traps. 4th Field Company continue with maintenance of roads with accent on the coast roads.
27 Dec.1943- All Field Companies continue with their allotted tasks in support of their respective Bdes. 1st Field Company are mainly employed in checking roads and minefields. 3rd Field Company is clearing streets and checking for mines in Ortona. 4th Field Company built Bailey bridge 70 foot Double Single on coast road at Grid 338 157.
28 Dec.1943- All Field Companies continue with allotment
of tasks in support of their various Bdes. 1st Field Company continue
with checking roads and minefields. 3rd Field Company are busily
engaged in checking for mines in Ortona and clearing road through.
3rd Field Company carried out Recce of 3 blown bridges on main
road the other side of Ortona. During the course of this Recce,
it was found that a by-pass existed around these three blown bridges,
and all that was needed was to build a small Bailey bridge at
Grid 325 176. Preparations were made to do this and the bridging
started to move up at 1730hrs. Considerable trouble was found
throughout the night with mines and one bridging lorry, the Diamond
"T" Breakdown belonging to the 15 L.A.D. and one Seannel
Breakdown were blown up on mines. However, due to the perserverence
of the Sappers, this bridge was finally completed by 0600hrs on
the following morning.
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