Turning Point – 1943

The Army Sicily and Italy

The Advance on Rome – the Hitler and Gustav Lines

Private, Canadian Women's Army Corps, Italy, 1944

Caption: Private, Canadian Women's Army Corps, Italy, 1944

Unlike Ortona, Rome held immense moral and political significance. Taking Rome would have more effect on the rest of the world than any Allied victory to date. To keep Rome, the German commander had prepared what may have been the most solid defensive position in all Italy. Two lines of fortifications were built - the Gustav and Hitler lines across the deep gorge that lay between Mount Matese and Mount Aurunci. In January 1944 the Americans came very close to breaking through the Gustav Line beneath Monte Cassino. The Indians and New Zealanders then took their turn. At last the British 13th Army Corps, made up of British and Indian divisions, managed to open a breach in the defence works. No. I Canadian Corps commanded by Lieutenant-General E.L.M. Burns entered the fray with its infantry and armour. Between Saint'Olivia and Aquino, Canadians beheld the prospect of the Liri Valley, the Hitler Line and the Forme d'Aquino River. On 23 May the attack began as troops cut a path through the dust, smoke and morning mist. Shaken by waves of artillery, mortar and small-arms fire, the battalions of the 2nd Brigade reached the enemy line, broke though, and hung on determinedly and valiantly to the positions they had taken. On the left, the Carleton and York Regiment of the 3rd Brigade made a breach in the line and, with support from the West Nova Scotia Regiment and the tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment, opened the way. In the meantime the 1st Brigade drove the enemy out of Pontecorvo. At this point the Germans still held Aquino on the flank, but as 24 May dawned the tanks of the 5th Armoured Division were able to cross the breaches opened in the Hitler Line to take advantage of the situation beyond the front. The Canadians ran into some problems at the Melfa River, Major John K. Mahoney of the Westminster Regiment earning a Victoria Cross. Once this stream had been crossed, however, the real battle for the Liri Valley was over and the operation became a pursuit. On 31 May the Loyal Edmonton Regiment occupied Frosinone and ended the whole campaign. The Canadian Army Corps was withdrawn from operations, and on 4 June the Americans entered Rome. The Canadian troops who had taken part in the bloody battles of Monte Cassino and Liri Valley were refused the honour of marching in the streets of the Eternal City, unlike many other Canadians serving in the Canadian-American Special Service Force.

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King George VI