Toward the end of December, 1943, a Canadian
infantry outfit attacked and captured the town of Ortona,
in Italy. A Canadian officer who took part in this action
gives the following account of how the Germans
planned and executed the defense of the town.
The German defense of Ortona was well planned. The defensive
layout was based on an intimate knowledge of the
town, the approaches, the streets, the alleyways, and the best
routes from street to street, building to building, and even
room to room. With this detailed knowledge, the enemy sited
his weapons and carried out a determined defense, the outstanding
feature of which was acknowledged by our [Canadian] troops
to have been "sheer guts."
The enemy had chosen a "killing-ground," and all his weapons
were sited to cover this area. Where the approaches to
the "killing-ground" could not be covered by fire, the Germans
had demolished buildings so as to create debris obstacles. The
enemy could, and did, cover these debris obstacles by fire.
Groups of machine guns were always sited so that the fire
of one supported the fire of another.
Figure 1 shows a typical German defensive position at the
intersection of a street and an alley.
|Figure 1.—Typical German Defensive Position at Intersection of Street and Alley.|
In this instance, machine gun No. 1 was sited so as to cover
the crest of the pile of debris which had been created in the
main street on the other side of the alleyway. Machine gun
No. 2 was sited high up in a building so as to fire over the top
of the debris pile—that is, so as to cover our approaches to it.
Machine guns No. 3 and No. 4 gave supporting fire and also
had the mission of intercepting any of our troops who might
contrive to get past the pile of debris and attack machine gun
No 1. (In almost every case, the piles of debris had been
booby-trapped and mined with S-mines and Tellermines.)
The enemy made use of flame throwers, although not
extensively, employing them for missions similar to those of
supporting machine guns. In the few instances in which flame
throwers were used, they were sited at ground level behind
piles of debris, so as to cover the approaches to the street
The enemy's antitank guns had been well sited so as to cover
the approaches suitable for tanks. These guns were cleverly
camouflaged, and each was provided with all-around defense
by light machine guns, heavy machine guns, and snipers.
The Germans did not use mortar fire extensively. When it
was employed, firing was not observed, but was placed on parts
of the town behind those areas where our troops were
committed. There were several instances in which the enemy
placed mortar fire on his own areas.
The enemy used snipers to support machine-gun and antitank positions.
The corner buildings of major road intersections were
invariably demolished so as to create debris obstacles, up to
12 feet high, which were to be impassable to tanks. These
obstacles also provided the enemy with good ground cover.
As the enemy was driven back, he carried out a planned
demolition of buildings. In certain instances, he had prepared
buildings for demolition and blew them after they had been
occupied by our troops.
At no time did the enemy make a determined counterattack
to retake the buildings that we had occupied. However, he
immediately reoccupied any building which had been captured
by our troops and later evacuated to permit our tanks and
antitank guns to place fire on adjoining buildings.
He surrendered none of his positions readily. They had to
be knocked out one by one, and, if our troops did not get
forward and occupy them promptly after disabling the German
holding force, the enemy would reoccupy them almost at once.
It was a grim and bitter defense, and a very costly one for
the Germans. The enemy frequently replaced personnel in
positions as often as four times before our troops were able
to occupy and consolidate the ground or the building.
Since the enemy was thoroughly familiar with the layout of
the town, he was able to use this knowledge to advantage. As
he was forced back, he chose his successive "killing-grounds"
and sited his weapons accordingly. It was only by attacking
with the greatest determination that we were able to win these
areas from the enemy and, by so doing, eventually complete
the occupation of Ortona.