During the month of December 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division (1st Cdn Div) underwent the most severe trial yet experienced by Canadian troops in Italy, when it crossed the Moro River, engaged two German divisions in rapid succession and, after a week of vicious street fighting, took the town of Ortona. Hailed at the time as victories, these battles have since been the subject of considerable debate among soldiers and historians alike. Much of the controversy has revolved around the division’s commander, Major-General Christopher Vokes, who has been accused by some of mishandling his formation, and has been castigated by others for the heavy cost in lives that resulted.1 Are these verdicts too harsh? Was he solely to blame for the manner in which the battles of the Moro River and Ortona evolved, and for their tragic cost? In order to better understand Chris Vokes’ actions during his first divisional battle, it will be argued that he did indeed make mistakes but at the same time was forced to deal with an extremely difficult set of circumstances that largely dictated the course and outcome of the battle. These included a strategic situation that created the conditions for a war of attrition; an unrealistic Army Grouplevel plan; unfavourable terrain and weather; unexpected changes in German defensive tactics; the “fog of war”; and his own inexperience as a divisional commander. As a result Vokes faced the toughest challenge of his military career.
Case, G.C. "Trial by Fire: Major-General Christopher Vokes at the Battles of the Moro River and Ortona, December 1943." Canadian Military History 16, 3 (2007)