The first large urban battle
The Battle of Ortona, fought between 20 and 28 December 1943 by the forces of the British 8th Army, represents one of the most important events of Italian campaign between July 1943 and May 1945.
By the end of 1943, Allied forces had arrived in the Abruzzo region on the Adriatic coast. Here they faced the formidable Gustav Line defences. The Gustav Line was the main Axis line of defence and stretched across the entire width of Italy. In November 1943 British forces managed to cross the Sangro river and penetrate the Gustav Line on the Adriatic coast. This was a major success but soon the Allied forces would face heavy fighting again, this time at the town of Ortona.
Ortona is located on a high ridge overlooking the Adriatic sea and the Moro river valley. The town was an important tactical junction and its capture was necessary for the continuation of the Allied advance on the eastern shore of Italy.
Taking Ortona proved to be very costly. The fighting on the approach to the city and then the Battle of Ortona itself between 20 and 28 December caused heavy casualties and led to the destruction of the city. It took bitter house to house fighting to clear the city of German forces.
The combined losses of the Allied and German forces and the civilian population are estimated to be between 4,000 and 6,000.
The Battle of Ortona was one of the most important and tragic events of the Italian campaign. Churchill himself, in his volumes on the Second World War, pointed out that “It was the first great battle in the streets of an inhabited centre, and we learned a lot from it”.