How significant was the Battle of Ortona in the Italian front?

As a Canadian, our history books on WW2 focused a lot on a lot of what our own armies did in the war, from the fall of Hong Kong, the disaster of Dieppe, to the liberation of The Netherlands as the western allies pushed the Germans back to their fatherland. One example was the Battle of Ortona in the Italian campaign, described as a “miniature Stalingrad”. How important was this battle in that theatre? Was the outcome of the Italian campaign hanging in the balance from this particular skirmish?


Overall not very in the grand scheme of things. As a Canadian I’m always wanting to discuss our history, but I try to be realistic about it too. Ortona was honestly just another town to be taken on the way up the peninsula. The reason we mention it so much is because the battle is strictly Canadians fighting it. The press at the time (on both sides apparently) hyped it up to the point of making it about political pride. But what’s also remembered is that the fighting for the town was so brutal. (By Western standards anyway.) The Canadians had a to invent a new tactic called “mouse holing”, where they would blow holes in the walls of connected houses to move through the town because the streets were so hazardous. TLDR; Ortona was important for the Canadian war effort for national pride against 2 elite German divisions (which included Fallschrimjagers), but it was another small bump on the road to Berlin among many.


From the Canadian point of view it was very important, but in the larger scale of things, neither side had more than a single division involved in the main fighting, and it was the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division that bore the brunt of the combat within Ortona itself. The town had some strategic value as a port, but it wasn’t anything like as important as Stalingrad was on the Russian front.

I enjoyed reading Zuehlke’s Ortona, but he was able to chart the flow of the battle almost down to individual infantry platoons, which helps indicate the scale of the fighting – fierce as it was, without a doubt.

I suspect if Operation Jubilee “last” month didn’t merit more than a brief mention in the weekly episode, then the battle for Ortona may not get much more attention paid to it when that week is being discussed on the channel.

Canada’s overall contribution to the Allied war effort was very significant, but the individual combat actions Canada’s military were involved in as primary participants are generally pretty small compared to other battles where British, American, or Soviet troops predominated. We might see slightly more attention paid to the actions of the First Canadian Army in 1944, but other than that I don’t expect much more than occasional mentions-in-passing as participants in larger events.


This is the rub that many Canadians feel about WW2 particularly.

Canada made major contributions to the war effort some will argue even more so than its much larger neighbour to the South however most historians just give passing mention to Canada’s role. For instance Canadians actually liberated more than half of Italy yet the biggest mentions that are generally given to us is Orotona and General Mark Clark’s threat to kill any Canuck in uniform he saw when he was entering Rome.

Then there was the Normandy invasion if it hadn’t been for the Fiasco at Omaha we might of gotten more of a mention that Canada made all of its objectives that day (Although briefly in the case of the airstrip) and that next to Omaha the Canadians took more casualties that day.

Then there was British and American criticism over the high casualty count Canadian military had. Unlike the British or Americans who had a vast manpower pool to choose from Canada didn’t and many units spent weeks and months on the front lines without relief however the positive effect from that is that in many cases the Canadians were better trained and prepared than the British or Americans and there is plenty of evidence out there that shows the Germans dreading facing the Canadians and there are cases where the Germans retreating instead of facing the Canucks. As one German general in the Italian Campaign put it the Americans and British were an easy opponent but once they saw the Canadians moving in the Germans knew they were in for a fight.

Its always going to be a sore spot for us


I prefer to focus on the economic aspects which were significant. Mutual Aid, our version of Lend Lease, the wartime expansion of industry (makes a nice focus episode, Malton and Wichita spring to mind as North American examples of the wartime industrial boom). The convoy system and the Battle of the St. Lawrence.


You make some interesting points. Wount comment on much of what you have said but to say that one other thing that the Canadians did was Train people. My Father who was Royal Australian Air Force, was put on a boat and sent to Canada to Calgary to learn radio at the RCAF No2 Wireless School British Commonwealth Training Plan, then MoutainView RAFB (Trenton) ON, Bombing&Gunnery School.
So Canada was used as a safe training area for perhaps 1,000’s of commonwealth service people.