The Ministers of Veterans Affairs and National Defence mark 75th anniversary of the invasion of the Italian mainland
Ottawa, ON – The Honourable Seamus O’Regan, Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence, and the Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, issued the following statement today to mark the 75th anniversary of the invasion of the Italian mainland.
“Following the success of Operation Husky and the liberation of Sicily in the summer of 1943, Canadian troops joined Allied forces in launching the next operation of the Italian Campaign—the invasion of the Italian mainland.
“On 3 September 1943, Operation Baytown began. The First Canadian Division and the 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade, assigned to British Eighth Army, formed part of the initial assault formation that landed on mainland Italy. The West Nova Scotia and, Carleton and York regiments of the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade landed north of Reggio Calabria on Italy’s southern coast, followed by the Royal 22e Regiment acting as the brigade reserve. The Royal Canadian Navy supported the assault with landing craft from the 80th L.C.M. Flotilla. The successful landing marked the beginning of the long, arduous march through Italy.
“It was during the invasion of the Italian mainland that the First Special Service Force (FSSF), also known as The Devil’s Brigade, first saw action in the Second World War. The highly trained Canadian-American commando unit, and precursor to today’s Special Forces, used their specialized skills to raid strategic positions and surprise the enemy. For their heroic actions, the men of the FSSF were later awarded the US Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honour that the United States Congress can award.
“By December, 63 days after the invasion, the Canadians had travelled nearly 725 kilometres reaching Ortona, on the Adriatic coast. The fight for that town became a defining battle in the campaign as elite German parachute troops tried to prevent the equally determined Canadians from taking it. The 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade was called on to lead the attack and spearheaded by the Loyal Edmonton Regiment and Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, supported by the tanks of the Three Rivers Regiment. The brutal street fighting that characterized the battle was so intense that the fight was referred to as “little Stalingrad,” as the combat was reminiscent of the battle in the Russian city earlier that year. After a week of fighting, the town was in Canadian hands and Paul Triquet was later awarded the Victoria Cross for leading the small “C” Squadron of The Ontario Regiment through fierce resistance in the hamlet of Casa Berardi.
“December was a costly month for the Canadians, suffering 2,605 casualties, including 502 killed. The Canadian Corps remained in Italy until February 1945, when it was transferred to North-West Europe for the final drive into Germany. More than one million Canadians served during the Second World War and sacrificed greatly for the rights and freedoms of others.
“Lest we forget.”
Veterans Affairs Canada
Office of the Minister of Veterans Affairs
Office of the Minister of National Defence
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