The Battle in the Liri Valley

In the spring of 1944 the Germans still held the line of defence north of Ortona, as well as the mighty bastion of Monte Cassino which blocked the Liri corridor to the Italian capital. Determined to maintain their hold on Rome, the Germans constructed two formidable lines of fortifications, the Gustav Line, and nine miles behind it the Adolf Hitler Line.

During April and May 1944, the Eighth Army, including the 1st Canadian Corps, was secretly moved across Italy to join the Fifth U.S. Army in the struggle for Rome. Here under the dominating peak of Cassino, the Allied armies hurled themselves against the enemy position. Tanks of the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade (formerly 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade) supported the Allied attack. After four days of hard fighting, the German defenses were broken from Cassino to the Tyrrhenian Sea and the enemy moved back to his second line of defence. On May 18 Polish troops took the Cassino position and the battered monastery at the summit.

On May 16 the 1st Canadian Corps received orders to advance on the Hitler Line six miles farther up the valley. Early on May 23 the attack on the Hitler Line went in. Under heavy enemy mortar and machine-gun fire, the Canadians breached the defences and the tanks of the 5th Armoured Division poured through toward the next obstacle, the Melfa River. Desperate fighting took place in the forming of a bridgehead across the Melfa. However, once the Canadians were over the river, the major fighting for the Liri valley was over. The operation developed into a pursuit as the Germans moved back quickly to avoid being trapped in the valley by the American thrust farther west. The 5th Armoured Division carried the Canadian pursuit to Ceprano where the 1st Infantry Division took over the task. On May 31, the Canadians occupied Frosinone and their campaign in this area came to an end as they went into reserve. Rome fell to the Americans on June 4. Less than 48 hours later the long awaited D-Day invasion of Northwest Europe began on the Normandy beaches. It remained essential, therefore, for the Allied forces in Italy to continue to pin down German troops.

The Canadians were now withdrawn for well-earned rest and re-organization, except for the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade which accompanied the British in the Allied action as the Germans moved northward to their final line of defence.

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