In late 1943, Allied forces were fighting their way up the Italian peninsula. It was tough going. Broken terrain hindered the advance and well-armed, well-led German defenders fought for nearly every river corssing, hill, and village. On 6 December, Canadian troops, operating on the far right of the Allied line, began to cross the Moro River on the Adriatic coast, battling north through a series of small towns, farms, and ravines. First Canadian Infantry Division under Major-General Chris Vokes, pushing up the coastal highway, met bitter resistance at “The Gully,” a natural feature just north of the Moro. After being driven from this objective, German troops of the 76th Panzer Corps, including two elite parachute battalions, prepared to defend the ancient coastal town of Ortona, whose stout buildings provided scores of excellent defensive positions.
The Canadians attacked nevertheless and spent the Christmas season in a bloody house-to-house struggle against determined opposition. By 27 December, with German troops retreating northward, the Canadians had prevailed, though at heavy cost. The Loyal Edmonton Regiment suffered 172 casualties at Ortona, the Seaforth Highlanders 103. Other units’ losses in and around the town, including those of the 12th Armoured Regiment Three Rivers Regiment, brought total Canadian casualties during the battle to 350.
While there are numerous Canadian accounts of the battle of Ortona, there are few accounts in English of the fighting from the German perspective. Recently the Canadian War Museum acquired a copy of the following memoir through the good offices of Alex MacQuarrie of HSN Linguistic Services, Ottawa. The narrative, translated by Mr. MacQuarrie, is written by Parachute Combat Engineer Carl Bayerlein (Service No. L25475), 3rd Platoon, 3rd Company, 1st Parachute Combat Engineer Battalion, 1 Parachute Infantry Division. It covers the period of 10–27 December 1943 and consists of two parts: a day-by-day diary account, and a somewhat longer summary, based on the diary entries, but compiled in the early 1990s. The edited version that follows is drawn from the summary account.
Bayerlein, Carl; MacQuarrie, Alex; and Oliver, Dean "Parachute Engineers in Combat, Ortona 1943: A German Perspective." Canadian Military History 8, 4 (1999)