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Defence at Ortona


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The_Chieftain #1 Posted Jun 20 2016 - 21:07

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It’s perhaps easy to forget, but the Canadians did actually pull their weight in WW2, overshadowed as they are in popular culture by the Americans and British. So, given as it’s coming up on Canada Day and all, I thought we’d have a look at the scene of what was probably the most vicious fighting that the Canadians undertook, the battle of Ortona.

The battle was so significant that I came across a copy of the ‘lessons learned’ document in the US's Armored Force archives, so I’ll go through it here.

First, the town. Taken from the document:

Ortona, an Italian town of 10,000 people, sits on a ledge above the Adriatic, and astride the coast road from Termoli to Pescara. It is a port, a vital communication centre, and was of consequent importance to the Germans. The buildings are of stone or brick, several storeys in height and built close together. The streets, though narrow are straighter than in most Italian towns and divide the buildings into recognizable, but irregular blocks. None of the side streets are wide enough to permit the passage of tanks. Several large squares, surrounded by the more prominent buildings form the center of the town, and the Citadel, a solid old relic of feudal days, occupies the promontory overlooking the harbor.

There is only one approach to Otrona, along a narrow ridge from the SW, for one flank is guarded by a deep ravine, the other by the sea.

One of the joys of modern technology is ‘Google Maps’, which will allow you to take a god’s eye view of the town today. The population today is over twice what it was in WW2, and some imagination is required as you go around Street View, since the town was all but utterly demolished in the attempt to capture it. That said, the castle seems to have survived relatively unscathed.

Here’s a photo of the place back then, vs today.

And this is the description of German tactics. The defending units were from the 1st Fallschirmjager Division, paratroopers. Fresh, fairly well trained, and heavily equipped with light automatic weapons as befitted their role, and this made them particularly suited for the close-quarters fighting which was to follow.

The description of the defensive techniques was as follows.

The enemy’s plan for the defence of the town followed normal German tactical lines. The fact that the town could only be attacked from one side was of great assistance to him, and he planned his defence accordingly. The outlying houses of the town, facing our attack, presented a strong line of FDLs which could withdraw, if necessary, according to the plan of the German command. The “Line of least resistance” would lead to the selected “killing ground”, the central town square and the main street.

The main defensive position was to be the Northern half of the town covering the West exit along the coast road. The approaches to both, outposts and main defensive position, were covered by mutrually supporting MG and anti-tank fire. These positions were sited along the line of a lateral road and the fields of fire improved accordingly.

No previously constructed pillboxes were encountered, but the sturdy Italian houses afforded natural strong-points. Buildings were methodically blown across streets to form barriers or provide covered approaches to exposed positions. Any buildings which overlooked the main position, or which might offer cover for the attacker, were destroyed. In the buildings opposite his position the front walls were demolished, thus exposing their interiors to fire from across the street.

It has to be said, that this is the first time I’ve seen reference to deliberately blowing the near-side walls of opposing buildings in order to deny the enemy the cover which usually results in two sides equally trading shots through windows, a situation with which we are all familiar from anything from modern training to computer games. I would be very curious to see if an infantryman would chime in to see if they are still taught this technique today: It makes a hell of a lot of sense, but we’ve become very attuned to not destroying things in training. Maybe it's well known, and I'm just a CDAT out of his element.

This photo was taken in London of a building destroyed by an aerial bomb, but displays clearly the advantage given the defender who has taken position in an intact building facing this one by destroying the near wall. Attacking forces would gain no cover from the building.

No two houses were defended alike, but the general arrangements seems to have been: Schmeisers, rifles and grenades on the main floor, shcmeisers MG42s and grenades on the 2nd, and an assortment of grenades and automatic weapons on the top floor. The occasional rifleman was encountered on roofs and in upper storeys but on the whole they were not used as fire positions. This was probably due to the continual shower of shells and mortar bombs which preceded our troops.

All roads, except those leading into the pre-selected ‘killing grounds’, were blocked by demolished houses which formed admirable barricades. These piles of rubble were in such a position that they could be covered from above and from the rear, as well as from the front. In some cases MG positions were found in the barricade itself, but this was not common. The rubble would normally be liberally sown with mines and booby traps which were very easy to conceal amongst the litter of dust and bricks.

Houses, which were not occupied, were booby trapped or had delayed charges placed in them with timed fuzes. In one instance a complete platoon was blown up in a house shortly after occupying it. Retribution was swift, a house was prepared and a small withdrawal carried out. The resulting explosion accounted for some twenty odd paratroops. Both sides had learned their lesson. [Chieftain’s note: This incident is noted on some other websites, with figures of about 50 Germans killed. This number seems high for one house]. Both sides had learned their lesson.

Another simple, but unnerving trick, was the employment of stick grenades as booby traps. Easily set up, they were most effective in imposing caution, if not casualties upon our troops and were a continual source of annoyance. Time detonators were also used on prepared charges and explosions continued several days after our occupation was completed.

The main tank approaches, naturally limited to streets, were covered by anti-tank guns sited to fire at short range. Some were placed close up to the barricades to catch the tank’s exposed underside as it lumbered over the rubble. Other guns were kept mobile and were rapidly shifted from street to street as a counter to our armored threat. A favourite trick was to catch a tank in enfilade as it passed one of the openings to the innumerable narrow alleys which criss-crossed the main streets.

For the most part the guns used were 75mm PaK – believed to be drawn from the anti-tank regiment of the 90th Light Division to reinforce the paratroops. One 28/20mm Gerlick anti-tank gun, a proper airborne weapon, was captured, as was an obsolete 3.7cm PaK. This latter gun fires a stick bomb propelled by a nitro-cellulose cartridge and was considered quite effective at short ranges. Other anti-tank weapons encountered were the hollow charge magnetic grenade (Hoft Hohllandung), the Blendkorper, a glass, chemical filled grenade, and the Panzerwurfmine.

A 28/20 . A squeeze-bore gun, in this case the /20 indicates the muzzle diameter, not the barrel length.

Another of the most annoying characteristics was his repeated and certain infiltration into weak spots. Numerous times on being driven from strong points he succeeded in re-occupying them owing to our lack of promptness in placing garrisons there. These tactics caused us a great deal of irritation and necessitated our employing a larger number of troops than was necessary for the actual operation. Every building had to be occupied as soon as it was captured and held until the whole immediate area had been cleared.

No proper enemy counter-attack was launched in the town though he infiltrated continuously and twice necessitated our re-clearing a vital part of the town. This failure to counter-attack was typical of 1 Para Division, who, due to their airborne experience and tactical teaching, conserved their reserves carefully. During the latter part of the battle, however, a counter-attack was put in against 1 Cdn Inf Bde, who were doing a flanking movement to the west around the town and it is believed that this comprised the entire divisional reserve. The paratroops fought tenaciously and did not withdraw from a position until all hope of holding it had been lost.

 

So that’s the setup. As your small tactical exercise for yourself, have a think about how you might attempt to overcome such obstacles. We’ll come back to this to see how the Canadians went about it on Friday.



Katoryx #2 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 19:18

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It would be cool if Ortona was a map in World of Tanks. 

Tracked_Attacker #3 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 19:33

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"It's perhaps easy to forget, but the Canadians did actually pull their weight in WWII...."

 

Perhaps this was just a troll to finally get me to make a forum post after nearly 5 years, but if I didn't know you were a good guy from personal experience, I'd be pretty angry about your choice of phrasing.



The_Chieftain #4 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 20:43

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Quote

Perhaps this was just a troll to finally get me to make a forum post after nearly 5 years,

 

It worked!

 

Actually, it's just my dry humour. There have been a number of posts, usually the 4th July weekend, complaining that we keep forgetting to mention the folks North of the border. Canadians also don't get much visibility in popular media.



xGraeme63x #5 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 20:55

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Jun 28 2016 - 19:43, said:

Quote

Perhaps this was just a troll to finally get me to make a forum post after nearly 5 years,

 

It worked!

 

Actually, it's just my dry humour. There have been a number of posts, usually the 4th July weekend, complaining that we keep forgetting to mention the folks North of the border. Canadians also don't get much visibility in popular media.

 

​We generally get snuffed my the media. We have a few films that were filmed by Canadian directors about Canada during the war but that's about it. It's disappointing that so few know about all of the tulips we get from the Netherlands each year.

CapturedJoe #6 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 21:21

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Yep, thanks again for liberating us!

Hanz_Gooblemienhoffen_42 #7 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 21:26

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Jun 20 2016 - 15:07, said:

 

It’s perhaps easy to forget, but the Canadians did actually pull their weight in WW2, overshadowed as they are in popular culture by the Americans and British.

 

Your phrasing was more than a bit offensive...considering Canada if anything was fighting way above its "weight".

 

Easy to forget?

 

Actually pulled our weight? 

 

That's a highly offensive way to begin an article about a nation that served on all fronts (euro and pacific, was tip of the spear in Italy, liberation of Netherlands, Allied aerodrome etc etc) 

 

 

 

 



CapturedJoe #8 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 21:33

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How is that offensive?:sceptic:

 

Also ALL fronts, you say? Like the Russian front, where most of the Axis forces were destroyed?



Tracked_Attacker #9 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 22:20

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Jun 28 2016 - 20:43, said:

Quote

Perhaps this was just a troll to finally get me to make a forum post after nearly 5 years,

 

It worked!

 

Actually, it's just my dry humour. There have been a number of posts, usually the 4th July weekend, complaining that we keep forgetting to mention the folks North of the border. Canadians also don't get much visibility in popular media.

 

Yes, it worked!  That's why I'm not angry - how could I ever be mad at you?!  I owe you a few rounds, actually.  Thanks for taking on Ortona and commemorating the Canadian war effort!



SmirkingGerbil #10 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 23:02

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Well, after Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal, and Carthage was finally invaded, the Romans attacked along the rooftops due to similar circumstances: Stout, closely packed architecture.

 

The Carthaginians defended from the buildings/fortress town, so the Roman's started attacking from the roof tops. Not sure if relevant in this scenario or in modern warfare, but it made me think of this.



rurickjames #11 Posted Jun 28 2016 - 23:20

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1) I doubt the FschJg were trained to knock down the walls of buildings opposite their positions, but rather learned this through battle experience or just savvy local leaders (ya know, a bit of the ol'common sense)

 

2) Surprised to see the report said the FschJg positioned their MG's on the second floors.  Seems almost counter-intuitive to the desire to create grazing fire.  Suspect the ranges were so close, that it this was pointless; so, survivability of the guns and possibly better FOV was deemed more important.



Rumbleghost #12 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 01:02

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View PostKatoryx, on Jun 28 2016 - 19:18, said:

It would be cool if Ortona was a map in World of Tanks.

 

It was in one of the BF1942 mods.  A good map if you could get enough players to populate it.

Rumbleghost #13 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 01:12

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View Postrurickjames, on Jun 28 2016 - 23:20, said:

1) I doubt the FschJg were trained to knock down the walls of buildings opposite their positions, but rather learned this through battle experience or just savvy local leaders (ya know, a bit of the ol'common sense)

 

2) Surprised to see the report said the FschJg positioned their MG's on the second floors.  Seems almost counter-intuitive to the desire to create grazing fire.  Suspect the ranges were so close, that it this was pointless; so, survivability of the guns and possibly better FOV was deemed more important.

 

 

In the early 1990s, Canadian army FIBUA (Fighting In Built Up Areas) doctrine still called for clearing a building from the top downwards as the ideal method, if you can arrange it.  The building exits are kill zones covered by appropriate weapons.  Doors are not doors, doors are traps.  Hallways are not passages, they are filled with furniture and barbed wire.  Holes are doors.  Windows are decoys, the snipers are shooting from elsewhere.  Anything that looks interesting is boobytrapped.  Supply lines are vital for the bottomless pit of hand grenades and body bags you are trying to fill....Nasty stuff.  Everybody learned a lot from Stalingrad.  None of it fun.



Rumbleghost #14 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 01:21

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Ortona was one of the major battles my grandfather fought through.   I'll be keeping my eye out for photos of a young PPCLI Sergeant



StrmnNrmn #15 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 04:36

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Thank you to the Chieftain for touching on the Battle of Ortona, and event that became known as "Little Stalingrad", and one that is often neglected to be mentioned amongst the pivotal battles of WWII.

The Canadian 1st Infantry Division fought hard just to reach Ortona.  They had to battle through a murderous and efficient defence at "The Gully", South of the town before even having an opportunity to probe the German defences at the edge of Ortona.  Hard fough, and hard won, the Battle of Ortona should be a very proud, yet sobering reminder of the ferocity and courage in battle that our volunteer soldiers carried out in the name of freedom.  No enough praise is bestowed upon the Canadian forces in the Second World War.  They were an elite, deadly, and effective fighting force that deserves more respect than we could ever put in to words. 



stalkervision #16 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 13:01

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View PostThe_Chieftain, on Jun 28 2016 - 14:43, said:

Quote

Perhaps this was just a troll to finally get me to make a forum post after nearly 5 years,

 

It worked!

 

Actually, it's just my dry humour. There have been a number of posts, usually the 4th July weekend, complaining that we keep forgetting to mention the folks North of the border. Canadians also don't get much visibility in popular media.

   Seriously Chief ?  ​This was a pretty minor Canadian operation in the scheme of things. Canadian troops and armor lead many a MAJOR assault in Europe and Italy. :amazed:

 

 

   Normandy landings and beyond 

 

 Rhineland .. 

 

 I could post one after another far better example then you give but then this posting would get too long.



cartires #17 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 13:48

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View PostHanz_Gooblemienhoffen_42, on Jun 28 2016 - 15:26, said:

 

Your phrasing was more than a bit offensive...considering Canada if anything was fighting way above its "weight".

 

Easy to forget?

 

Actually pulled our weight? 

 

That's a highly offensive way to begin an article about a nation that served on all fronts (euro and pacific, was tip of the spear in Italy, liberation of Netherlands, Allied aerodrome etc etc) 

 

 

 

 

 

I found that offensive as well as we were in it and ww1 from the start! Unlike..... furthermore, we are well known in the theaters where we operated...in Northern Europe, Italy...etc... 

 

Most people recognize our blood sacrifice at dieppe and many don't know about the silent war and the OSS agents we trained on the shores of Lake Ontario...I could go on but ...you know "deaf ears"...as an after thought if the same had been said about your country this post would be flamed out. 

Good day to you....



stalkervision #18 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 14:02

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View PostStrmnNrmn, on Jun 28 2016 - 22:36, said:

Thank you to the Chieftain for touching on the Battle of Ortona, and event that became known as "Little Stalingrad", and one that is often neglected to be mentioned amongst the pivotal battles of WWII.

The Canadian 1st Infantry Division fought hard just to reach Ortona.  They had to battle through a murderous and efficient defence at "The Gully", South of the town before even having an opportunity to probe the German defences at the edge of Ortona.  Hard fough, and hard won, the Battle of Ortona should be a very proud, yet sobering reminder of the ferocity and courage in battle that our volunteer soldiers carried out in the name of freedom.  No enough praise is bestowed upon the Canadian forces in the Second World War.  They were an elite, deadly, and effective fighting force that deserves more respect than we could ever put in to words. 

 

  ​You may want to look into a little minor Canadian operation about clearing the port of Antwerp dude.  :amazed:

 

  



Hanz_Gooblemienhoffen_42 #19 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 14:24

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View PostCapturedJoe, on Jun 28 2016 - 15:33, said:

How is that offensive?:sceptic:

 

Also ALL fronts, you say? Like the Russian front, where most of the Axis forces were destroyed?

 

I think my statements were pretty clear but ill repeat it for you.

 

View PostThe_Chieftain, on Jun 20 2016 - 15:07, said:

 

It’s perhaps easy to forget, but the Canadians did actually pull their weight in WW2, overshadowed as they are in popular culture by the Americans and British.

 

Its perhaps easy to forget:

 

Why would Canada's contribution be easy to forget? Its was hardly insignificant, esp considering the small population of Canada.

 

Canadians did actually pull their weight in WW2

 

Again implicit in that statement is the idea that Canada didn't pull its weight., which is pretty ridiculous. Canada was in the war from the start, trained 1000's of allied pilots, contributed men/ships/machines well out of proportion of its own needs, had third largest NAvy at end of war (primarily used to transport good to GB and war effort) Throughout the Italian campaign Cdns were the tip of the spear and Germans often knew where next attack was based on where the Cdn div was, liberation of Netherlands...etc etc....

 

Also ALL fronts, you say? Like the Russian front, where most of the Axis forces were destroyed?

 

Apparently you didn't keep reading where i specified ALL as in both Europe and Pacific, the places where the Western Allies fought?.

 

Like everyone im happy to see any attention directed towards Canada and im sure The Chieftain meant no offence, if anything hes trying to prop us up...but when you begin your article claiming Canada is easy to forget or didn't pull their weight ...thats not a particularly great way to start.

 

Could easily been phrased more like this:

 

Canada's contribution to World War 2 is often overshadowed by the larger nations such as America and Great Britain, but there is no doubt that Canada more than pulled thier wieght throughout the war.

 

Again not really pissed..just found that characterization unnecessarily negative and dimissive.



FrozenKemp #20 Posted Jun 29 2016 - 15:04

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If I'm not mistaken, Farley Mowat's book The Regiment, which is about the Hastings and Prince Edward County Regiment, includes the Battle of Ortona and is well worth reading.  Also the more personal And No Birds Sang, I think?

 


Edited by FrozenKemp, Jun 29 2016 - 15:05.





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