This year marks the 70th anniversary of the battles fought by Canadian troops on Italian soil during the Second World War. Why Italy? In 1942, the Soviets were calling for the opening up of a second front in Western Europe to provide relief from German attacks on their territory. Convinced that there were insufficient resources to invade France, the Americans backed Britain’s proposal to organize a landing on the coast of French North Africa instead, which took place on November 8, 1942 (Operation Torch) The campaign to drive the Germans out of Africa was successfully concluded in Tunisia on May 13, 1943. The offensive continued in Italy, considered to be the weakest link in the German defences in Europe.
Under the command of the British Eighth Army, the 1st Canadian Division came ashore on the beaches of Sicily on July 10, 1943. With the capture of Messina by the Americans on August 18, the conquest of Sicily was complete. On September 3, Canadian troops landed in mainland Italy. Meeting no opposition, the brigades were able to deploy rapidly. Italy capitulated on September 8, and the next day, Anglo-American landings were launched in the Gulf of Salerno.
Three critical battles will forever stand out in Canadian military history: the battle of Ortona, the breach of the Hitler Line (Liri Valley), and the breach of the Gothic Line. The Italian Campaign continued until the spring of 1945, but the Canadians would not participate in the final victory; after having engaged in vicious fighting for 18 months, Canadian troops were withdrawn from the front at the end of January 1945 and redeployed to the Netherlands.
As a result of the attention focused on the Normandy landings and the North-West Europe Campaign, there is a tendency to overlook the importance of the Italian Front and the Allied soldiers who fought there. A total of 92,757 Canadians served in Italy. Of these, 5,764 were killed, 19,486 were wounded and 1,004 were captured. Library and Archives Canada’s collection contains numerous textual, photographic and audiovisual records and published materials relating to the Italian Campaign.
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