The Road to Rimini

Autumn and winter 1944 saw the Canadians back on the Adriatic Coast. Their objective, the Gothic Line, was the last major German defence line separating the Allies from the Po Valley and the great plain of Lombardy. Since northern Italy contained many factories producing vital supplies, the Germans would fight hard to prevent a break-through. They made the line formidable. Running roughly between Pisa and Pesaro, the defence line was composed of machine-gun posts, anti-tank guns, mortar-and assault-gun positions, tank turrets set in concrete, plus mines, wire obstacles and anti-tank ditches.

The Allied plan called for a surprise attack upon the east flank, followed by a swing toward Bologna. As part of the plan to deceive the Germans into believing the attack would come in the west, the 1st Canadian Division was concentrated near Florence, then secretly moved northward to the Adriatic.

In the last week of August 1944, the entire Canadian Corps began its attack on the Gothic Line with the objective of capturing Rimini. Six rivers lay across the path of the advance. On August 25, the Canadians crossed the Metauro River but the next, the Foglia was more formidable. Here the Germans had concentrated their defences, and it required days of bitter fighting and softening of the line by Allied air forces to reach it. On August 30, two Canadian brigades crossed the Foglia River and fought their way through the Gothic Line. On September 2 General Burns reported that "the Gothic Line is completely broken in the Adriatic Sector and the 1st Canadian Corps is advancing to the River Conca."

The announcement was premature for the enemy recovered quickly, reinforced the Adriatic defence by moving divisions from other lines and thus, slowed the advance to Rimini to bitter, step-by-step progress. Three miles south of the Conca the forward troops came under fire from the German 1st Parachute Division, while to the west heavy fighting was developing on the Coriano Ridge. By hard fighting the Canadians captured the ridge and it appeared that the Gothic Line was finally about to collapse, but this was not to be. For three more weeks the Canadians battled to take the hill position of San Fortunato which blocked the approach to the Po Valley. On September 21, the Allies entered a deserted Rimini. That same day the 1st Division was relieved by the New Zealand Division to sweep across the plains of Lombardy to Bologna and the Po. But the rains came. Streams turned into raging torrents, mud replaced the powdery dust and the tanks bogged down in the swamp lands of the Romagna. The Germans still resisted.

September 1944 waned and with it the hopes of quickly advancing into the valley of the Po. On October 11 the 1st Canadian Infantry Division returned to the line and the 5th Division went into corps reserve. For three weeks the Canadians fought in the water-logged Romagna. The formidable defences of the Savio River were breached, but the Germans counter-attacked to try to throw the Canadians back. Meanwhile, the Americans were making progress to Bologna, and to halt their advance the Germans took two crack divisions from the Adriatic front. This allowed the Canadians to move up to the banks of the Ronco, some six miles farther on.

The Canadian Corps was now withdrawn into Army reserve where they could recuperate from the ten weeks of continuous fighting and train for the battles which lay ahead. The 1st Armoured Brigade, meanwhile, continued to operate with the Americans and British in the area north of Florence. They would end their campaign in Italy in the snow-covered peaks in February 1945.

Changes in command occurred before the Corps returned to the line. On November 5, Lieut.-General Charles Foulkes succeeded Lieut.-General Burns as commander of the 1st Canadian Corps, and Major-General Vokes left for Holland to exchange appointments with Major-General H. W. Foster.

The Canadians returned to battle on December 1 as the Eighth Army made one last attempt to break through into the Lombardy Plain. In a bloody month of river crossings which resulted in extremely heavy casualties, they fought through to the Senio River. Here the Germans, desperate in their resistance, drew reinforcements from their western flank and, aided by the weather and topography, stopped the Eighth Army. In January 1945 the Senio became stabilized as the winter line, and in appalling weather both sides employed minimum troops as they observed each other from concealed positions.

The Italian campaign continued into the spring of 1945, but the Canadians did not participate in the final victory. In February 1945 the 1st Canadian Corps began the move the Northwest Europe to be re-united with the First Canadian Army. There they would join in the drive into Germany and Holland and see the war in Europe to its conclusion.

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