Douglas Thomas Anderson

The War in Italy, 1943

Following the conclusion of the campaign in North Africa in the spring of 1943, the Allied leaders turned their attention to mainland Europe. After much high level discussion it was decided to land in Sicily. Operation Husky, the codename for the invasion of Sicily, began on July 10, 1943. British, Canadian, and American forces carried out simultaneous amphibious and airborne landings. It was not until September 3 that Allied forces landed on the ‘toe’ of mainland Italy. That same day, the Italian government signed an armistice with the Allies signifying the fall of the fascist government. The following week, the US Fifth Army landed farther north at Salerno against heavy German resistance in Operation Avalanche. By the fall of 1943, Allied leaders were hoping that with the surrender of the Italian government they would be able to liberate mainland Italy quickly, but the Germans were determined to carry out a stubborn resistance to the Allied incursion. Although the British 8th Army made strong advances early in the campaign, they began to encounter increasingly difficult terrain and a series of German defensive lines.1

On November 23, the British 8th Army penetrated the eastern end of the Gustav Line crossing the Sangro River and fought their way to the Moro River. While crossing the Moro River, the 78th British Infantry Division was relieved by the First Canadian Infantry Division. As winter was approaching, the Canadians were ordered to continue the advance. The First Canadian Infantry Division continued towards Ortona which was one of the few deep-water ports this far north on the Adriatic Sea. Potentially, the Allies would be able to move supplies through this port. On December 23, 1943, the Battle for Ortona began. During the next five days, over 1,000 Canadian soldiers would be killed in the effort to liberate Ortona, including Lieutenant Douglas Thomas Anderson of Owen Sound, Ontario.2

Lt. Douglas Anderson

Douglas Anderson was born on August 8, 1916, in Shallow Lake, Ontario. The son of John and Martha Anderson, Douglas attended the Owen Sound Collegiate and Vocational Institute in the early 1930s. In his senior year, he was a member of both the rugby and basketball teams. On July 23, 1940, Anderson enlisted with the Grey and Simcoe Foresters Regiment as part of the Non-Permanent Active Militia of Canada. By January of 1941, he moved to Coboconk, Ontario, and served with the Midland Regiment. While living in Coboconk, Anderson worked as a teller at the Bank of Commerce. On August 1, 1941, Douglas Anderson enlisted in the Permanent Forces to be trained as a clerk.3

Upon enlisting, Anderson was assigned to the Royal Canadian Artillery as a gunner. The following spring, Anderson was promoted to Sergeant and transferred to the Officers Training Centre at Gordon Head, British Columbia. In July of 1942, Douglas Anderson was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant and returned to Ontario. On July 10, Lieutenant Anderson was assigned additional command responsibilities with the Advanced Infantry Training Centre in Ottawa. Later that summer, on August 15, Anderson was promoted to 1st Lieutenant and on August 28, 1942, Lt. Anderson was attached to the Camp Borden Basic Training Centre.4

Lieutenant Anderson returned from leave on January 20, 1943, to continue infantry training at Camp Borden until March 8 when he was transferred  to Nova Scotia in anticipation of proceeding overseas as part of a reinforcement unit. Sailing from Halifax, he arrived in the United Kingdom in March of 1943, and was assigned to the 5th Canadian Infantry Reinforcement Unit (CIRU). In April, he was transferred to the 7th CIRU and began preparation for actual combat. On May 13, Lt. Anderson was subsequently transferred to the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment with which he would serve until his death. The Hasty P's were part of the 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade and arrived on the outskirts of Ortona on December 20. After 5 days of intense fighting with hand-to-hand combat in the streets of this small Italian town, the Canadians were able to secure Ortona and take up positions farther north. The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment continued the fight against German forces in Italy until the early months of 1945 when they were redeployed to northwest Europe helping liberate the Netherlands. The Italian Campaign resulted in over 300,000 Allied casualties, a little more than 25,000 of them were Canadian soldiers. The fierce battle for Ortona took the lives of 1,375 men. For his part in the conflict, and for making the supreme sacrifice, Douglas Anderson posthumously received the Italy Star, the 1939-45 Star, and the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal.5

1. Gordon Corrigan, The Second World War: A Military History
2. Lt.-Col. G. W. L. Nicholson, The Canadians In Italy: 1943-45
3, 4, 5. Collections Canada: Service Files of the Second World War