D-Day Dodgers


The 'D-Day Dodgers' in Italy:  Cassino The Forgotten Campaign

It is generally believed that it was Lady Astor MP who first called the men of the 8th Army who were fighting in the Italian Campaign 'D-Day Dodgers'

The Soldiers of 8th British Army were more than displeased to be called 'D-Day Dodgers', and with good reason. Since 1941, they'd had quite enough D-Day to last a lifetime during the North African and Italian campaigns: El Alamein, Tripoli, Mareth, Tunis, Sicily, Salerno, Cassino, Anzio and then the slog through the mountains of Italy.

The troops encountered some of the worst close-quarters fighting since the First World War. It was a particularly bad winter in Italy and they spent months crouched in trenches. The only way of supplying the troops was by mule, or on men's backs. But they were known as the D-Day Dodgers because they weren't involved in the bigger campaign in Normandy." Monte Cassino was a key part of the Germans' defensive Gustav Line and had to be taken by the Allies if they were to advance on Rome, 85 miles to the northwest, and from there push the Germans out of Italy.

But the Germans were well exceptionally well dug-in and turned the 1,700 ft-high mountain into a murderously effective defensive position, with mines, booby traps and hidden machine gun nests.

British, Indian, New Zealand and other Allied troops found themselves fighting house to house and cellar to cellar in the bombed-out ruins of the town of Cassino, in the valley beneath the monastery.

One of the harshest winters in years meant soldiers had to contend with snow, sleet and frostbite as well as bombs and bullets.

The dozens of regiments which were flung repeatedly at the sheer-sided mountain read like a roll call of the British Empire: the 13th Frontier Force Rifles, the West Novia Scotia Regiment, The Royal Natal Carbineers, the Scots Guards and The Royal Canadian Artillery. Gurkhas and Maoris fought alongside Sikhs and Poles.

"It was almost impregnable!. The town of Cassino was all bombed out and in some cases the Allies were occupying the same house as the Germans. Even the German paratroopers said it was worse than Stalingrad." Monte Cassino's commanding position meant that the Germans could observe the Allies' every move and rain down artillery and mortar fire.

They couldn't move during the day, everything had to be done at night. The Germans were sitting on top, watching  every movement, all the time. The Allies couldn't even dig trenches because the ground was so stony and hard. They had to crouch behind rocks.

Monte Cassino was finally taken by the Allies on the morning of May  18 1944, after dogged persistence forced the Germans to abandon the fortress monastery, which was so shattered it had to be totally rebuilt after the war.Its capture led to the liberation of Rome and the rest of Italy, but after almost seven decades  still there is still a great deal to learn about the forgetten  battle of Cassino!

 Cassino BBC Battlefield Tour

The Canadian Battlefields in Italy:

from Ortona to the Liri Valley

Ortona: A Testament to Canadian Heroism

The Battle of Ortona was a small but brutal battle fought between Canadian forces and German troops in December 1943. It has become a legendary battle in Canadian military history.

The Allied campaign to capture mainland Italy had pushed the Germans back to the picturesque Italian seaside town of Ortona. Artillery from both sides rained down on the town, quickly reducing it to rubble. As the Canadians advanced through the narrow streets, they were met by German snipers, firing from nearby hills.

But the brave Canadians would not retreat.

Finally, after eight days of fighting, the Canadian attack had depleted the German troops. Small groups of Canadian soldiers cleared Ortona one street at a time until the Germans, who lacked reinforcements, withdrew from the town.

The Canadians had emerged victorious, but this was clouded by a heavy cost to the Canadian forces: almost one quarter of the 5,900 Canadians killed during the Italian Campaign died in the fighting in and around Ortona, making it bloodiest battle of the Italian Campaign. The Moro River cemetery in Ortona is as an exclusive cemeteries for the Canadians who died in the area.

Canada’s role in the Italian Campaign, from 1943 to 1945, was significant. Canadian forces played a major role in this campaign, whose goal was to open a second front in order to ease the pressure on Russian forces in the east. Canada fought under British command alongside British and American units.

During the last battle of Cassino from 11th to 18th of May, the same Canadians troops who fought in Ortona were sent in Cassino to give their contribuition.

CASSINO was the last German stronghold left along the Gustav Line. Both the town and particularly its hill (Monte Cassino) provided the enemy with dominant defences against Allied assault. Attempts by American and New Zealand troops in January and February of 1944, respectively, left the town still in German hands. Air bombardment and artillery fire leading up to the latter assault destroyed the ancient monastery on Monte Cassino (it has since been resurrected). An attack in mid-March reduced the town to rubble, although most of it was now in Allied hands. However, this latest assault was abandoned and a period of stalemate ensued.

A new, grander offensive was planned to conquer the approaches to Rome. The Allies misled the Germans into believing a seaborne invasion would be conducted north of Rome. The real attack began the night of May 11. As usual, enemy resistance was determined and their defences, strong. But by the 16th, the Germans had retreated to the Senger Line, as African, Moroccan, Algerian, French and other Allied forces were breaking through the Gustav Line and advancing swiftly throughout the region. By the 17th, the Polish forces were moving in on Cassino. Initially, they had been driven back from their objective northwest of the monastery by a vicious counterattack and heavy fire, however the next morning the Polish standard was raised over the ruins of the hill.

Among the Canadian units that had participated in this offensive were the tank regiments - the Three Rivers, Calgary and Ontario regiments - which supported Indian soldiers across the Gari River. The enemy counterattacked, but within four days a bridgehead was established and the Germans had retreated to the Adolf Hitler Line. In the midst of this action, the 1st Canadian Corps, which had recently been shifted into the Liri valley, relieved the Indian Division. On the 17th, they took 200 prisoners, in difficult fighting.

More then 75,000 Canadians were now involved in the Italian campaign. The 1st Canadian Corps began their advance -- the first time a Canadian corps would attack in the war - on the Hitler Line May 23. (While the Allies were pushing against this defensive line, the Americans were breaking out of the Anzio bridgehead.) The Hitler Line was successfully breached by nightfall, despite a tremendous artillery barrage. The Canadians had delivered the main attack, which resulted in the 5th Armoured Division advancing through the gap. By noon of the 24th, the German line was clear except for Aquino. Small battles continued throughout the remainder of May as the Germans tried to escape the Liri valley and retreat to the north yet again.