This week long ago: the week a town went down

You could, perfectly reasonably, be a fully grown adult in Britain, America or perhaps maybe Yemen, and believe that the only places involved in WWII were the UK, Germany, the US, Japan, Russia and France. Most war films feature heroic Americans, plucky but polite Brits, demonic but polite Germans and the French running about in berets being alternately terribly brave resistance fighters, or women easily won with German charm. The Russians intermittently appear as grumpy people with tanks and the Japanese as manic pilots. It is almost a miracle if Poland, the starting point, makes an appearance.

It was though, named a World War for a jolly good reason, most of us might only remember the ‘big boys’ of World War II, but many many countries  were involved. The Allies could count Ethiopia, Greece, and the Philippines among their number. Whilst for example Finland and Iraq were part of the Axis-aligned forces, and in Korea and Thailand there were resistance fights building. Some of the most significant forces on the Allies behalf came from countries that were part of the former, or dying embers of the, British Empire. India, New Zealand, Australia,  and South Africa all provided forces to the war effort. As did America’s often overshadowed nearest neighbour; Canada.



December 28 1943 marked the final day in one of the shortest, but most brutal battles of World War II. Ortona is a small Italian coastal town in the Abruzzo region, as it stands today the population is around 23,000 people, before December of 1943 it had a population of 10,000. It sits at the side of a deep-water port, which for the British with their big ships was a very attractive prospect. Unfortunately, Ortona, formed part of the German fortifications of Italy known as the Winter Line. The British 78th Infantry had been fighting for a long time by December and the Canadian 1st Infantry came to relieve them.


Canadian Snipers

The German 1st parachute division were tasked with keeping control of Ortona. They were an elite, talented, and merciless group of soldiers who had been tasked with defending Ortona at any cost. The cost was 1300 Ortonians, 2 Canadian battalions and two German battalions. The close combat battle began on the 20th December, and by the 28th the Canadians had secured a costly victory. The house to house warfare technique, took out much of the town’s buildings, and by the end of the eight days it had earned the battle the nickname of  “Little Stalingrad”.

Richard Heidrich , German Parachute Commander, from the German Federal Archive

Do you like to recreate close quarter combat? Which are your preferred battles?