CM . . .
. Volume XVII Number 27. . . .March 18, 2011
Ortona Street Fight. (Rapid Reads).
Victoria, BC: Raven Books/Orca, 2011.
137 pp., pbk., $9.95.
Ortona, Battle of, Ortona, Italy, 1943
Canada. Canadian Army. Canadian Infantry Division, 1st.-History
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Thomas F Chambers.
Reviewed from Advance Reading Copy.
The platoon surrounded the house. Then one section burst through the front door. Fifteen paratroopers sat around a big table in the kitchen. Their shirts were open. Weapons leaned against walls or hung from pegs. The table was cluttered with Christmas parcels and bottles of wine. The Germans stared blankly at the dripping, filthy Canadians. Then two went for their weapons and died on the point of bayonets. The others meekly raised their hands and surrendered.
Ortona Street Fight is a history of the battle Canadians fought to take the town of Ortona in Eastern Italy from the Germans during the Second World War. The struggle to gain this rather insignificant town turned out to be an epic battle between two Canadian infantry battalions, a tank regiment and the German 1st Parachute division. The battle took place in November and December 1943.
The Canadians were part of the British Eighth Army under the overall command of Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery. Montgomery had previously gained fame by defeating the German army in North Africa under the leadership of Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, the famed "Desert Fox." Montgomery's opponent in Italy was Field Marshall Albert Kesselring who, like Rommel, was one of Germany's finest military commanders. The paratroopers in Ortona were among the best soldiers in the German army, very experienced and very professional. Many of the Canadians facing them were untried with little battle experience. That the Canadians managed to take the town was a result of dogged determination and bravery.
Ortona Street Fight gives a realistic account of the battle. Since there are no sources given, however, one can only surmise that it is accurate. Because there are no sources or references for further reading, the book is recommended for recreational reading, not classroom support. It is described as adult nonfiction, but, because of the uncomplicated and straightforward text, it can easily be understood by a much younger audience.
There are eight pages of very clear black and white photographs in the centre of the book. They are excellent and help to make the story very real. The photo of a dead Seaforth Highlander illustrates the awful cost of war. A map showing Ortona's location, since the battle was part of the larger campaign to drive the German army from Italy, would have been very welcome.
The author of Ortona Street Fight, Mark Zuehlke, also wrote Ortona: Canada's Epic World War Two Battle. He also developed the "Canadian Battle Series," of which, to date, there are eight titles, including Juno Beach. His success with this series has resulted in Zuehlke being referred to as Canada's "leading popular historian." In addition to his history writing, Zuehlke created the "Elias McCann" mystery series. At present, there are three titles in this series, including Carry Tiger To Mountain.
Thomas F Chambers, a retired college teacher, lives in North Bay, Ontario.
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