Turning Point – 1943

The Army Sicily and Italy

The Battle for the Gothic Line

The fall and winter of 1944 brought the Canadians back to the Adriatic coast. The enemy had fallen back behind the Gothic Line, which ran roughly from Pisa to Pesaro with its barbed wire, anti-tank ditches, slit trenches and tank turrets set in reinforced concrete blockhouses. Since northern Italy's many factories were supplying the Germans with much of the materiel they needed, a fierce struggle to prevent the Allies from entering the great plain of Lombardy was anticipated.

The Allied plan was to attack on the eastern flank where the terrain was more accessible and then veer left towards Bologna. Since the operation's success relied on the element of surprise, it was deemed essential to make the Germans believe that the bulk of the attack would come from the western slopes of the Apennines. Accordingly the Americans made a show of preparations around Florence. Since the presence of the Canadians usually signalled a major offensive, the British were once again able to employ the ruse that had been so successful at Amiens in 1918: Send the 1st Canadian Division to Florence and then surreptitiously relocate it to another sector of the front. It was harder to maintain secrecy in Italy than in France, and there was no guarantee that this subterfuge had actually succeeded. Certainly the Germans offered stubborn resistance to the Canadians in the hills between the Metauro and Foglia rivers. However, two columns from the 1st and 5th divisions passed through the villages of Borgo San Maria and Montecchio. The Gothic Line, which was to have held for six months, had fallen in 24 hours. The Canadians had been lucky - a number of German units had not had time to take up their defensive positions - and audacious, advancing persistently after some shaky initial successes. Even though the line had been broken through in late August, it would take the Canadians three weeks to reach Rimini. Indeed the move from summer heat to autumn rains placed new obstacles in the way of the attackers as they watched dusty roads fill up with potholes and streams turn into rivers. But morale was good and the quality of the enemy troops mediocre, with the exception of the parachutists, whose numbers in any case had been eroded by constant fighting. Advancing relentlessly, the Canadians took Coriano and the ridge commanding it, then the hill of San Fortunato that blocked the way to the broad Po Valley from the direction of the Adriatic coast. The immensity of northern Italy now lay before the Canadians: They had had to defeat 11 German divisions to get there.