Home | Valente and DiRenzo Family History - Village History Background - The Canadian Army's Capture of Gambatesa, 7-8 October 1943

Preface:  In October 1943 the Carleton and York Regiment of the Canadian Army captured the valley of the upper Fortore River below the village of Gambatesa from the German Army.

Gambatesa on the map of Italy, 2 KB
Gambatesa is a village in central southern Italy.

What follows is an excerpt from Lt.-Col. G.W.L. Nicholson's The Canadians in Italy, 1943-1945 (Volume 2 of the Official History of the Canadian Army in the Second World War), Ottawa 1957, pages 241-243.  It is quoted here for its description of the geography of the area; in the Fall of 1948 its author spent ten weeks in Italy visiting the scene of every action in which Canadian soldiers were engaged (page xiii).
  It is not quoted to glorify war: 12 Canadian soldiers were killed and 16 wounded ending the German Army's occupation of Gambatesa.  Their names are not recorded in this book.  Nor is the number of German soldiers and Italian civilians who may have died or been crippled in this action, nor the number of dwelling places and the crops and livestock destroyed ...

The 3rd Infantry Brigade consisted of the Royal 22e Régiment, the Carleton and York Regiment, and the West Nova Scotia Regiment.

[Maps of Gambatesa and the Upper Fortore Valley]

The Capture of Gambatesa by the 3rd Brigade,
7-8 October [1943]

An attempt on the night of 5-6 October [1943] by a company of the Royal 22e Régiment to establish a foothold across the Fortore [River] above the demolished 13-span highway bridge [Photograph of the Ponte dei 13 Archi] was driven back by heavy and persistent fire.  The enemy -- a battalion of the 15th Panzer Grenadier [armored infantry] Regiment -- was in too good a position to yield the crossing except under greater pressure; accordingly Brigadier Penhale gave orders for a two-battalion attack to be made on the morning of the 7th.

The valley of the upper Fortore separated the Daunia hill range from the next and more massive group to the west -- the Sannio Mountains.  The valley was less than 500 yards wide at its crossing by Highway No. 17, which climbed for four twisting miles from the long Ponte dei 13 Archi to Gambatesa, a town of 4000 inhabitants mounted on an easterly spur of the Sannio [Mountains].  From this ridge the enemy's range of vision and field of fire were considerably extended by the junction with the Fortore of two major water-courses -- the Torrente Tappino, flowing eastward from the hills about Campobasso to enter the main stream half a mile north of the highway, and the Torrente la Catola, which came in just south of the bridge.  Penhale therefore ordered the attack to be made on an axis still farther to the south, with the Carleton and Yorks [The Carleton and York Regiment] on the right directed against Gambatesa, and the West Novas [The West Nova Scotia Regiment] on the left attacking the Toppo Fornelli, a wooded ridge about a mile south of the town.

At half-past seven on the morning of the 7th, after divisional artillery and the 66th Medium Regiment [Royal Artillery (British)] had fired a series of concentrations along the opposite bank and on the brigade objectives, the assault companies of both battalions pressed forward resolutely across the gravel bed of the river.  Some of the enemy's positions had apparently escaped the preliminary shelling, for the Carleton and Yorks were caught on the river line by heavy machine-gun fire.  Smoke laid by platoon 2-inch mortars assisted the crossing, and the two leading companies pushed up the long slope across ploughed fields, which driving rain was rapidly turning into heavy mud.  Progress to within half a mile of the objective was considerably aided by the constant artillery support provided through the efforts of the attached forward observation officer, Capt. N. B. Buchanan of the 1st Field Regiment [Royal Canadian Horse Artillery].  At this point, however, the attackers were held up by fire from two self-propelled guns, whose exact position could not be determined.  It was now late afternoon, and for the rest of the day and the following night the Carletons remained in their chilly, rainswept positions on the muddy slopes, pinned down by harassing shellfire, while patrols sought the troublesome guns in vain.  But the enemy was not disposed to argue further.  Two companies sent forward in the early morning by Lt.-Col. Pangman found the town abandoned.  The 24 hours' fighting had cost the Carleton and Yorks twelve killed and 16 wounded.

The West Novas, meanwhile had made better progress.  Their crossing met only scattered small-arms fire, which was effectively discouraged by "the welcome chatter of the Sask. L.I. machine-guns" [(Official) War Diary, West Nova Scotia Regt., 7 Oct 43].  The assault companies gained the far bank without a casualty, and plodded steadily uphill.  Grenadiers holding a group of farms midway between the river and the Toppo Fornelli with 20-millimetre cannon and machine-guns were flushed from their positions.  Throughout the afternoon the attack moved slowly forward, and as daylight waned the unit's 3-inch mortars successfully engaged German machine-gun posts on top of the ridge.  Two platoons of "B" Company made the final assault, and by nightfall consolidation by the battalion had secured the brigade's left flank.

The enemy's relinquishment of Gambatesa was matched by a similar withdrawal all along the left bank of the Fortore....

Although the Germans had successfully broken contact after their loss of Gambatesa, they were still shelling the highway and the Fortore crossing.  These tactics, which they continued to employ throughout the withdrawal, were a source of considerable embarrassment to the Canadians, whose own artillery was sometimes kept out of retaliatory range by road demolitions and by the mining of river crossings and potential gun deployment areas....

The URL of this Web page: https://www.roangelo.net/valente/gbcanada.html
Last revised: 3 March 2007 : 2007-03-03 by Robert [Wesley] Angelo.

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