'Florence' was the New Zealand first attack on Orsogna toward the upper reaches of the Moro river within the context of the campaign of General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army to break though the German defences at the eastern end of the 'Bernhardt-Linie' in Italy (4/26 December 1943).
The Moro river campaign was fought between elements of General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army and General Traugott Herr’s LXXVI Panzerkorps of General Heinrich-Gottfried von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s 10th Army, under the temporary command of General Joachim Lemelsen while von Vietinghoff-Scheel was on sick leave.
The campaign was part of a larger offensive launched by General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander’s Allied Forces in Italy command to breach the German 'Gustav-Linie' and associated defences, collectively known to the Allies as the 'Winter Line', and in the east to advance to the north in the direction of Pescara on the coast of the Adriatic Sea and thereby open an axis of advance to the west across the Apennine mountains to take Rome.
On 4 December, single British, Canadian, Indian and New Zealand infantry divisions (the last supplemented by one armoured brigade) and single British and Canadian armoured brigades) of Lieutenant General C. W. Allfrey’s British V Corps and Lieutenant General M. C. Dempsey’s British XIII Corps attacked the Germans' strong defences along the Moro river, and by 8 December had gained several useful bridgeheads. Over the following week each of the two sides undertook almost continual operations to keep the other pinned, and this led to a stagnation which was characterised by the creation of defensive positions near Orsogna and along a narrow pit known as 'The Gully'.
After being held at the Gully for 10 days, Major General H. W. Foster’s Canadian 1st Division managed to outflank the German defences and force the Germans to pull pack to their next defence line between Ortona and Orsogna. On 20 December both British corps attacked this line, but by 26 December the German defences had halted the Canadian forces in Ortona and the British and New Zealand forces in Orsogna. Although both Ortona and Villa Grande had been captured by the end of December in the Canadian 'Morning Glory', Allied exhaustion prevented the capture of Orsogna and thus the planned advance to the north-west along the Adriatic coast to Pescara. When harsh winter weather set in, it became clear to the Allied generals that no further progress would be made and Alexander called off the offensive.
At a time late in 1943 Alexander’s forces were fighting their way to the north along Italy against determined German opposition under the capable leadership of Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the Oberbefehlshaber 'Süd' (from 16 November the Oberbefehlshaber 'Südwest') and commander-in-chief of Heeresgruppe 'C', whose forces had prepared a succession of defence lines across the 'leg' of the Italian peninsula. To the east of the Apennine mountain range extending along much of this leg was the 8th Army, which in October had crossed the Bifurno river and pushed the Germans from the 'Volturno-Viktor-Linie' defences. Delayed by logistical problems, the 8th Army was unable to attack the next line of defences, the 'Barbara-Linie' behind the Trigno river until 2 November, but by 9 November the 8th Army’s forward elements had made contact with the southernmost defences of the 'Winter Line' on the high ground to the north-west of the Sangro river which, like the other river flowing from the mountains to the Adriatic Sea, extends from the south-west to the north-east.
The main attack across the Sangro river by Allfrey’s V Corps, comprising Major General V. Evelegh’s British 78th Division and Major General D. Russell’s Indian 8th Division) with supporting and diversionary attacks farther inland by Lieutenant General Sir Bernard Freyberg’s New Zealand 2nd Division and Dempsey’s XIII Corps, was delayed by adverse weather to a time late in November. After hard fighting over a period of several days, the Germans withdrew once more, this time to the defences they had prepared on the high ground behind the Moro river, some 15 miles (24 km) farther to the north-west and debouches into the sea at a point just to the south of Ortona. The German defences on the Moro river comprised one of the primary elements of the 'Winter Line', and guarded the eastern side of Italy along Highway 5.
It was Montgomery’s wish to drive straight through the 'Winter Line', take Ortona and Pescara, and then wheel left to cross Italy and take Rome.
The 78th Division, which had been spearheading the advance of the V Corps since the 'Volturno-Viktor-Linie' fighting and had suffered more than 7,000 casualties in fewer than six months, was now relieved by Vokes’s fresh Canadian 1st Division, which was ready to renew the offensive on 5 December as the 78th Division departed into the mountains on the 8th Army’s relatively quiet left wing to join Major General G. C. Bucknall’s British 5th Division in the XIII Corps.
The plan developed by Montgomery was for the Canadian 1st Division to attack across the Moro river in the coastal lowlands to take Ortona and then Pescara. Farther inland, in the jagged hills above the Moro river’s headwaters, the relatively fresh New Zealand 2nd Division was to attack toward Orsogna, while between these two the Indian 8th Division was to hold the centre of the front in a relatively static role.
Facing the V Corps was Herr’s LXXVI Panzerkorps with Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich’s 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision on the coast, Generalleutnant Carl-Hans Lungershausen’s (from 20 December Generalleutnant Ernst-Günther Baade’s) 90th Panzergrenadierdivision on its right, Generalleutnant Smilo Freiherr von Lüttwitz’s 26th Panzerdivision inland of these two formations with its right flank at Orsogna, and still farther inland, facing the XIII Corps, Generalleutnant Hellmuth Pfeiffer’s 65th Division supported by elements of the 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision and Generalleutnant Dr Julius Ringel’s 5th Gebirgsdivision.
On 6 December the Canadians started a series of major assaults on crossing points along the Moro river in order to gain at least one large bridgehead. The three main points of attack were Villa Rogatti along the western edge of the Canadian sector, Villa San Leonardo some 3 miles (4.8 km) to the south of Ortona, and the small town of San Donato near the Italian coast. These were to be attacked by five infantry battalions.
The capture of Villa Rogatti, designated as the most westerly crossing point, was allocated to Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. After a reconnaissance on the night of 4/5 December, Lieutenant Colonel Cameron B. Ware planned that the attack would be made by all four of his battalion’s infantry companies, and after the objectives had been secured by the early morning of 6 December, British and Canadian reinforcements were to be moved into Villa Rogatti and prepare to drive back the powerful counterattack that the Germans would inevitably make.
The defence of the town was the responsibility of elements of the 200th Panzergrenadierregiment, 361st Panzergrenadierregiment and 26th Panzerregiment.
At 00.02 on 5 December, two PPCLI companies crossed the Moro and moved on Villa Rogatti. Fewer than 60 minutes later there was heavy fighting right through the town as the two Canadian companies struggled to break the German defences. As B Company broke through these defences, A Company attacked to the north-east, continuing to engage the 200th Panzergrenadierregiment near Villa Rogatti. Although the two Canadian infantry companies were now in occupation of Villa Rogatti, Panzergrenadier units still maintained substantial defences on the town’s edges. C Company continued to advance steadily along the east side of the town, encountering sturdy resistance by the 361st Panzergrenadierregiment. After about one hour’s fighting by C and D Companies, Villa Rogatti had been wholly occupied by the Canadians just before dawn.
By the middle of the morning German counterattacks had started, these involving tanks of the 7th Kompanie of the 26th Panzerregiment, field artillery and substantial infantry forces. Throughout the afternoon the two Canadian companies fought off several Germans attacks, eventually managing to push them back to the vineyards on the town’s northern edge. The PPCLI had sustained 68 casualties, and the German casualties were estimated at 120. Three strong German units surrounded the Canadian positions at Villa Rogatti, however, making it unlikely that this bridgehead could be exploited effectively. Ware was advised to be ready to withdraw his units back across the river in the event of another German counterattack.
To provide the Canadian 1st Division a greater concentration of force, on the night of 7/8 December, Brigadier B. S. Mould’s Indian 21st Brigade of the Indian 8th Division incorporated the west-flank position of the Canadian 1st Division into its own lines, and after withdrawing from Villa Rogatti the Canadian formation was now to concentrate on winning a bridgehead at Villa San Leonardo. The attack on Villa San Leonardo by the Seaforth Highlanders began late on 5 December as A Company gained a bridgehead across the Moro river, but in the process took heavy casualties. Early in the morning of 6 December, A Company was withdrawn and two additional Seaforth companies took over the attack. As the PPCLI secured and held its bridgehead, the Seaforths were finding it an uphill task to enter Villa San Leonardo.
By 07.15 the Canadians had managed to seize one objective, but were generally pinned down by the defensive fire from several companies of the 361st Panzergrenadierregiment. At the same time small arms fire prevented C Company from moving up the road from the Moro river to Villa San Leonardo, while D Company remained on the southern bank of the Moro river throughout the early morning.
After the failure of this initial attempt to capture Villa San Leonardo, in the afternoon the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment was instructed to send two rifle companies to the aid of the Seaforths, as the latter’s B Company attacked positions to the west of Villa San Leonardo and in the process inflicted 129 casualties on Germans. However, the attack on Villa San Leonardo by three Seaforth companies stalled rapidly when the 26th Panzerregiment's armoured companies reinforced the sector. Lieutenant Colonel J. D. Forin was therefore ordered to prepare to withdraw his battalion from the Villa San Leonardo bridgehead.
While these efforts were being made to cross the Moro river at Villa San Leonardo and Villa Rogatti, the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment launched an attack on the Moro river defences at the small coastal hamlet of San Donato at 13.40 on 6 December. However, the single company making the attack achieved little in the way of a territorial gain and Lieutenant Colonel A. A. Kennedy ordered a withdrawal at 15.40.
Throughout 6 December the strength of the German defences on the coast prevented further efforts to advance the Canadian front despite the commitment of armour and artillery into the assault. By the fall of night the German defenders still had control of San Donato, with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment withdrawing to the Moro river’s southern bank.
On 8 December Vokes devised a new plan to seize bridgeheads across the Moro river. While the 48th Highlanders of Canada and the PPCLI resumed the assault on Villa San Leonardo from the south-west, the Royal Canadian Regiment was to break out of the bridgehead established by the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment and move to the south-west toward Villa San Leonardo and link with the 48th and PPCLI. The operation was scheduled to start during the afternoon of 8 December.
The attack began with a two-hour artillery barrage, and then at 16.00 the Saskatoon Light Infantry support battalion joined the fray, hitting German positions with bursts of machine gun fire. The moment the barrage lifted, the 48th Highlanders and the RCR attacked. The 48th Highlanders' D Company quickly crossed the Moro river, in the process suffering only light losses, but B Company took heavy fire from German mortars and 88-mm (3.465-in) gun positions. Eventually both companies managed to establish strong positions on the western ridge overlooking Villa San Leonardo.
During the night of 8/9 December, the Royal Canadian Engineers constructed a bridge over the Moro river to open the way for armour and equipment to move into Villa San Leonardo during the following day. As the 48th Highlanders secured their positions to the west of Villa San Leonardo, the RCR was embroiled in heavy fighting to the south-west of San Donato. Two companies had advanced against the 200th Panzergrenadierregiment's well-prepared defences, where A Company was quickly tied down by German mortar fire as B Company flanked the German positions to the north of San Donato. By the fall of night all four companies had gained positions, albeit fairly exposed, in the centre of the German defences. On the night of 8/9 December, the RCR was subjected to counterattacks by the 200th Panzergrenadierregiment, but these were repulsed with the aid of continuous Canadian artillery fire. By the morning of 9 December, the engineers had completed the bridge across the Moro river, making it possible for the tanks of the King’s Own Calgary Regiment to transport two Seaforth companies across the river and into Villa San Leonardo.
By the middle of the morning, Villa San Leonardo had been cleared of German defenders, who nonetheless had had strong positions outside of the town. Within an hour, the RCR’s tanks had broken through German positions near 'Sterlen Castle' and two companies had linked with the 48th Highlanders and PPCLI in Villa San Leonardo, thus establishing a real Canadian presence across the Moro river. At a time late on 9 December, the 90th Panzergrenadierdivision's units fell back to their second defensive line, which was the formidable obstacle known as 'The Gully'.
While the Canadians crossed the Moro river, the New Zealand 2nd Division launched a two-brigade attack as 'Torso' against Orsogna at 14.30 on 7 December. The division had Brigadier C. H. V. Pritchard’s British 2nd Independent Parachute Brigade under command to anchor its left flank, and benefited from the support of tactical warplanes and heavy concentrations of artillery and. Surprise was achieved as Herr, commander of the LXXVI Panzerkorps, had been persuaded that the New Zealanders would not be in a position to launch a major attack until 8 December. At first the New Zealanders' attack went well, but as the Germans regained their composure the attack began to lose momentum as it ran into heavily fortified defensive positions. By 21.00, the New Zealand 24th Battalion had fought its way into the centre of the town in slow house-to-house fighting, but was there pinned down without any prospect of further progress unless it could receive significant armoured support.
The combination of concealed minefields and well dug-in German armour made the task of the Allied tanks impossible, however, and at a time early on 8 December Freyberg ordered a withdrawal in preparation of a renewed assault after the German positions had been subjected to artillery and bomber attacks.
With the two Canadian and New Zealand divisions finding progress difficult, it was decided to bring Mould’s Indian 21st Brigade into the attack to seize Villa Caldari. With no river crossing available, the Indian engineers rushed to build a bridge across the Moro river and, completed on 9 December, this allowed infantry and supporting armour to cross and expand the bridgehead on the far bank. The bridge was named the 'Impossible Bridge' as the local geography meant that it had to be built 'backward' from the German side of the river.
After its loss of Villa San Leonardo and the line of the Moro river, the 90th Panzergrenadierdivision pulled back to its primary defences, to the north of Villa San Leonardo, centred on a natural ravine known as 'The Gully', which had an average depth of some 200 ft (60 m).
Vokes’s initial plan to take this position and also to achieve a foothold on the roads toward Ortona took the form of a frontal assault by Brigadier B. M. Hoffmeister’s Canadian 2nd Brigade, which was to seize Vino Ridge, capture the Gully and gain positions on the road linking Ortona and Orsogna. The German defences were more than adequately prepared, however, and included gun pits, bunkers and shelters.
On 10 December three Canadian battalions made their first attempt to cross the Gully. Although they succeeded in capturing Vino Ridge, directly to the south of the Gully, their attempts to neutralise the German positions in the ravine were unsuccessful. On the following day the three battalions renewed their attack, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment suffering heavy casualties in its attempts to take German positions in its sector. Although a severely reduced A Company was able to gain a foothold on the reverse slope, newly arrived German units forced the remaining men to withdraw.
On 12 December Vokes committed the three battalions of Brigadier T. G. Gibson’s Canadian 3rd Brigade against defences in the Gully. The assault started badly after men of the 200th Panzergrenadierregiment captured the Canadian artillery plan. When the West Nova Scotia Regiment attacked the Gully, it were counterattacked at about 10.30 by the 200th Panzergrenadierregiment, and by 14.00 the battalion had ended its attack after taking heavy casualties. To the west, the PPCLI had fared little better, with C Company taking heavy casualties. Attempts were again made on 13 December by two of the Canadian 3rd Brigade’s battalions, but this effort was also driven back by tenacious German resistance.
During the evening of 13 December, the hard-hit 90th Panzergrenadierdivision was replaced area of the Gully by units of the 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision.
By 14 December Vokes had devised a new assault plan: a small force of the Royal 22e Régiment would move to Casa Berardi, which was a small group of farmhouses to the west of the Gully, before outflanking the German positions with infantry and armour, thereby forcing the paratroopers to pull back. The attack was to begin at dawn, with two companies of the Royal 22e Régiment attacking Casa Berardi with artillery support.
By 07.50 the companies had control of the lateral highway leading to Casa Berardi. C Company advanced toward Casa Berardi with support from the Ontario Regiment, while D Company found itself involved in firefights to the south-west of Casa Berardi. At 08.30 C Company began the assault toward the manor house in Casa Berardi, some 2,000 yards (1830 m) distant. The strength of the defences resulted in heavy casualties among the attacking force, and just 21 men and five tanks got within 200 yards (180 m) of the objective. Despite the arrival of several PzKpfw IV battle tanks, the surviving Canadians captured the manor house at 14.30, by which time only 14 of C Company’s men remained capable of combat.
With the Indian 8th Division committed, Montgomery decided to raise the stakes further by bringing in Bucknall’s British 5th Division from the relatively quiet area of the front held by the XIII Corps in the high mountains on the 8th Army’s left wing for introduction between the New Zealand 2nd Division and Indian 8th Division. This would allow the Indian division to narrow and thus to concentrate its attack, and give Montgomery four divisions with which to continue the attack between Orsogna and the sea.
By 12 December Brigadier A. D. Ward’s British 17th Brigade, the first of 5th Division’s elements to arrive, had come under command of the New Zealand 2nd Division. Once the 5th Division’s headquarters and its other two brigades had arrived, these two left-hand divisions were to be organised under the command of XIII Corps.
To the left of the Canadian 1st Division, the Indian 21st Brigade had by 13 December established a solid bridgehead around the Impossible Bridge. On the night of 13/14 December Brigadier J. Scott-Elliott’s Indian 17th Brigade passed through the Indian 21st Brigade and attacked toward Villa Caldari. The 1/Royal Fusiliers stormed the village in hard and somewhat disorganised fighting while the 1/5th Gurkha Rifles seized the nearby Point 198, holding it against determined counterattacks, which included tanks in the afternoon of 14 December. That evening the 1/12th Frontier Force Regiment attacked on the left of the Gurkhas and established positions on the lateral road between Ortona and Orsogna running parallel with the Moro river some 1,000 yards (915 m) to the north of the Impossible Bridge. On the evening of 15 December, the 1/5th Essex Regiment of Brigadier T. S. Dobree’s Indian 19th Brigade, which had been held in reserve, was committed on the left flank of the Frontier Force Regiment to advance in the direction of Crecchio, and overran a number of German positions. By the end of 16 December, further attacks by the 3/15th Punjabis had secured positions on the lateral road, ensuring that the Indian 8th Division was firmly embedded in the main German defences.
At 01.00 on 15 December, meanwhile, the New Zealand 2nd Division, which had decided not to make another frontal assault on Orsogna, committed Brigadier H. K. Kippenberger’s 5th Brigade in 'Florence', which was a new flanking attack to the right of the village. By that afternoon the 5th Brigade was well established on the lateral road linking Orsogna and Ortona, and had driven a shallow salient into the Germans' forward defence line. Although it had exhausted nearly all its reserves, the New Zealand 2nd Division was optimistic for the following day’s prospects after inflicting so many casualties on the Germans during the current day. However, the Germans launched a counterattack at 03.15 on 16 December using men of the 6th Fallschirmjägerregiment sent by Herr to the 26th Panzerdivision to relieve the exhausted 9th Panzergrenadierregiment.
The paratroopers had arrived late in the evening after a long journey, but nonetheless, supported by tanks, attacked the new Zealanders' right-hand positions held by the 21st Battalion. This battalion checked the German assault, and the paratroopers had had been forced to withdraw by the break of day.
Meanwhile, even before the German counterattack had been repelled, the 20th Battalion had attacked toward Orsogna with the support of two squadrons of Sherman tanks. Under intense artillery and anti-tank fire, the armour and infantry became separated, and the tanks became a target for rather than a threat to the Germans. Thus 'Florence' ended. The Germans had been pushed back and had sustained casualties they could little afford, but still had a firm hold on Orsogna. Furthermore, the New Zealand 2nd Division was temporarily fought out and required rehabilitation and reorganisation.
By 16 December the British 5th Division had completed its move into the line between the New Zealand 2nd Division and Indian 8th Division, and there followed a period of aggressive patrol and skirmish actions on the XIII Corps' front. The main burden of the fighting was therefore assumed by the V Corps as the Canadian 1st Division drove on Ortona with the Indian 8th Division on its left flank attacking toward Villa Grande and Tollo.
In preparation for what he hoped would be the final attack on the Gully, Vokes shifted the Canadian 2nd Brigade to positions formerly held by the Canadian 1st Brigade. Vokes planned an attack by the Carleton and York Regiment as the final frontal assault on the Gully and, in the event that this failed, the Canadian 1st Brigade’s Seaforth and RCR battalions would move through Casa Berardi and outflank German defences, forcing them to withdraw from the Gully.
At 07.30 on 15 December, two companies of the Carleton and York Regiment attacked but, little more than one hour later, were forced to call off the attack. During the afternoon, the two heavily depleted companies of the Royal 22e Régiment fought off a large German counterattack on Casa Berardi, the Royal Canadian Horse Artillery firing 5,398 rounds in support of Canadian forces.
On 18 December Vokes planned what would be the largest assault on the Gully. From 08.00 the Canadian artillery would bombard a 1,000-yard (915-m) length of front to a depth of 1,000 ft (305 m), the barrage moving 100 yards (91.5 m) forward every five minutes, and continuing to pound German defences in the bombardment area. Less than 100 yards behind this barrage, the 48th Highlanders would advance across the lateral road linking Ortona and Orsogna. At the same time, the Indian 8th Division would attack north toward Crecchio, preventing German reinforcements from reaching the Gully. When the 48th Highlanders reached the 'Cider Crossroads', the RCR would move north, overrunning 'Cider' itself, then advance up the Ortona/Orsogna road. Both battalions would be supported by tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment.
The new attack initially went well, but as the artillery shifted its barrage, the Germans recovered very rapidly, their machine gun fire devastated the advancing units, and the attack was quickly abandoned.
On 20 December the Canadians made another attempt, and the RCR attacked 'Cider Crossroads' at 12.00. Vokes was determined that the operation would be successful, with armoured forces of the Three Rivers Regiment moving to the start lines well before 07.00. Adverse weather and a shortage of fuel then led to the postponement of the assault to 14.15. At this time a powerful creeping barrage aided two RCR companies in moving to the east. By the evening, B Company controlled the 'Cider Crossroads', having met virtually no resistance in its advance, but the Germans had already evacuated the Gully, falling back to prepare for a strong defence of Ortona, with elements of the 1st Fallschirmjägerregiment firmly entrenched in the town.
To maintain the Allied pressure along the whole front, the Indian 19th Brigade was ordered to attack Villa Grande and exploit any gains as far as the Arielli river which runs from the Apennine mountains through Tollo to the Adriatic coast. The attack was committed at 05.30 on 22 December but failed in desperate fighting. The 1/5th Essex renewed the attack on the following morning with more success. After a counterattack by German paratroops had been repulsed at 12.00, the battalion of the Essex advanced to mop up the remainder of the village. However, costly small-scale house-to-house fighting continued throughout the rest of 23 December and for the next two days as the determined paratroopers clung on.
To the south of Villa Grande, the 3/15th Punjab Regiment had taken Vezzano on 23 December and a continuous brigade line had been established. On 25 December reinforcements, in the form of 3/8th Punjab Regiment, were brought forward and after a softening up barrage were launched at the eastern side of Villa Grande. With four battalions now involved (the 5/Royal West Kent Regiment had by now been committed on the south-eastern side of the village) supported by tanks, Villa Grande had finally been cleared by the end of 26 December. The troops of the Indian 8th Division entered the village to find total destruction.
On 23 December, meanwhile, the XIII Corps had launched a new attack to drive the Germans from Orsogna. In the afternoon, the British 5th Division attacked on the corps' right wing toward the Arielli with the objective of securing the flank of the New Zealand 2nd Division, which was in turn to attack to the north-west and west from the salient in order to roll up the Orsogna defences from the north. After the 5th Infantry Division had achieved its objectives, Kippenberger’s New Zealand 5th Brigade attacked at 04.00 on 24 December, but despite major artillery support from 272 guns on a 3,500-yard (3200-m) front, the understrength New Zealand battalions struggled to make progress. By the afternoon, it had become clear to Freyberg that the 26th Panzerdivision's stubborn defences would not be breached.
The XIII Corps' front was now effectively deadlocked, and settled into a pattern of active defence and patrolling. Throughout the week 11/18 December, the 1/1st Fallschirmjägerregiment of the 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision and supporting units had developed strong defences in Ortona. Paratroop engineers and infantry had destroyed much of Ortona itself, turning the streets into a debris-filled maze. Major streets were mined, with demolition charges throughout the main piazza, and booby traps littered the town. The Germans had also buried tanks in the rubble, leaving only their turrets exposed.
On 20 December 1943, the under-strength Loyal Edmonton Regiment moved toward Ortona, with the Seaforth Highlanders covering its eastern flank. Throughout the day, the Canadians encountered heavy machine gun fire during their attempts to enter Ortona at the start of 'Morning Glory'. By the fall of night, each battalion had a toehold on the western edge of Ortona in the face of fierce resistance. On the following day the LER’s D Company attacked to the east in the direction of the centre of Ortona, but was halted by accurate German sniper fire. For the rest of the week the Battle of Ortona degenerated into a small-scale version of the Battle of Stalingrad, with vicious house-to-house fighting through the town’s narrow and debris-filled streets. The Canadian forces developed a innovative 'mouse-holing' tactic, moving between houses to avoid German sniper fire in the open streets.
German counterattacks on 24 and 26 December inflicted significant casualties to Canadian forces in the town. In danger of being outflanked by Allied advances to the west of Ortona, however, the 1st Fallschirmjägerregiment was ordered to withdraw from Ortona on the following day. The Canadian casualties in 'Morning Glory' approached 650 men killed or wounded.
With Ortona and Villa Grande captured, it seemed that the 8th Army had only to regroup and strike one more concentrated blow at Orsogna to complete the breaching of the main Adriatic strongpoints of the 'Gustav-Linie' defences. On 31 December, however, as the V Corps probed along the coastal plain towards Pescara, a blizzard enveloped the battlefield. Drifting snow, sleet and biting winds paralysed movement and communications on the ground while cloud ceiling and visibility fell to nil and grounded the airforce.
Appreciating that the 8th Army no longer had the strength or the operational and climatic conditions to force its way to Pescara and the Via Valeria to Rome, Leese, who had succeeded Montgomery as army commander on 29 December, recommended to Alexander that the 8th Army offensive should be halted. Alexander agreed but ordered Leese to maintain aggressive patrolling in order to pin the units of the LXXVI Panzerkorps on the Adriatic side of Italy and thus deny Kesselring the opportunity to move it to the west to reinforce the XIV Panzerkorps on the front opposite Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army, where the Allied offensive was to be continued.
The Moro river campaign had cost the Canadians 2,339 casualties, the Indians 3,400 and the New Zealanders 1,600, while the British and Germans losses remain unknown.