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@BattleofOrtona Blog – “26 December”

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The German paratroopers launched a major attack on the 48th Highlanders at 1430 hrs just after three Sherman tanks of the Ontario Regiment arrived. The tanks went into action immediately and the paratroopers were driven back in a panic.

It was a sharp, complete and rather an amazing victory. Nowhere in the entire series of December battles were these top German troops so decisively defeated. The Highlanders charged the defenders of the house as the tanks turned away, with such stabbing, shooting ferocity that it was all over in a matter of minutes. The house was packed with Germans. Many were killed; a few escaped to come under the fire of Charlie Company as they tried to escape across the gully; but a good bag of paratroopers threw up their hands and surrendered in time to remain alive.

The gallant fight of the Edmontons and Seaforths in Ortona had concluded the night before. It had been a hard and dramatic struggle, and it ended in deadlock. The enemy was never driven out; he still held more than one-quarter of Ortona, when the German commander saw on the 26th that his reserves were all committed, and he knew it was time to quit. He also must have seen that he was seriously threatened by the strong 48th position at his back – one that not only refused to be dislodged but which had inflicted an overwhelming defeat on the Germans sent to contain it.

Worse, as that tomb-like silence had fallen over Cemetery Hill to mark the 48th Highlanders’ complete and single-handed victory (from an infantry sense), their position must have indicated to the enemy that his supply and escape route could be cut with a single bound. This was why the Regiment’s sneak penetation and spectacular fight were important factors to win Ortona for the Canadians.



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Posted by:

caitlin.mcwilliams

2 Comments

  1. Michael Dorosh -  January 10, 2012 - 5:53 pm 314

    With regards to this: “The enemy was never driven out…when the German commander saw on the 26th that his reserves were all committed, and he knew it was time to quit. He also must have seen that he was seriously threatened by the strong 48th position at his back – one that not only refused to be dislodged but which had inflicted an overwhelming defeat on the Germans sent to contain it.”

    How is that not in direct contradiction to what was written immediately before in this very article:

    “It was a sharp, complete and rather an amazing victory. Nowhere in the entire series of December battles were these top German troops so decisively defeated.”

    On the one hand the author is saying the Canadians won a ‘complete victory’ and then a couple sentences later notes that the Germans were not “beaten” but rather withdrew of their own accord – which seems to have been the form for German forces in Italy, from the moment Canadians landed at Calabria in September.

    I’d be more interested in knowing what the Germans thought of the final result. It seems like few historians go to the bother of checking the record to ask them. Was this really a desperate stand – Little Stalingrad – or was it just another rearguard action like so many in Italy, skillfully fought, with the intent of inflicting a few casualties before pulling out to the next line of defence – in this case, the Arielli?

    The figures I have seen were 200 German paratroop casualties (the Canadians buried 100 of them), vs. 172 Loyal Eddies (60 of whom were killed) and 42 Seaforths killed and 78 wounded.

    I’m led to believe a 1:1 casualty ratio is not evidence of a crushing victory…I don’t mean to take anything away from the bravery of Canadian vets, but the myths around Vimy Ridge are finally being demolished as research into the German side comes to light. I wonder if the historical record would not benefit from some clearer analysis of what it is the Germans were really hoping to accomplish there, and what it is the Canadians managed to do. A gallant fight against a resourceful enemy it certainly was. A “complete and rather amazing victory” seems not to coincide with facts on both sides of that story.

    Reply
  2. ronmac -  January 4, 2013 - 2:40 pm 2034

    You make some good points. Ortona has been blown way out of proportion. I’ve heard claims it was a turning point in WWII.

    From what I’ve been reading of released German military HQ intelligence reports there was a debate on the importance of Ortona. Some officers on the ground were advocating a pullback across the
    Areilli River as early as Dec 18th and forget about Ortona because it wasn’t that important.

    Plus it was dangerous to defend as an attacking force can get behind and cut off supplies lines and trap the defenders.

    But Hitler had decided Ortona needed to be held at all costs. Maybe he was being influenced by allied press reports which was building Ortona as an important port on the Adriatic coast when it was nothing of the sort.

    Another sideline story was this plan being circulated among the German High Command to launch an offensive to trap the British 8th Army. It made its way up the chain of command before its was finally nixed.

    Reply

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