The Canadians now fought for Ortona house by house, often fighting from the top floor down. They used a "mouse-holing" technique–blasting through walls, lobbing grenades through the gaps and then using more grenades to move down the stairs. Here the Canadians wrote the book on street-fighting. After the war, former Seaforths commander Colonel S.W. Thomson recalled that the standard training film for British and Commonwealth forces, Fighting In Built-up Areas, was based on interviews with Seaforth and Edmonton veterans.
War correspondents anxious to cover the last phase of a month-long campaign arrived in Ortona and quickly revised their initial optimistic reports. Ortona became "little Stalingrad" as radio journalist Matthew Halton and reporter Ralph Allen wrote feature stories on the battle. Christopher Buckley, a British correspondent whose beautifully written 1945 book The Road To Rome should be reprinted, insisted "a painter of genius, Goya perhaps" was needed to record the poignant images of Ortona. In one "half-darkened room," he wrote, "there were five or six Canadian soldiers, there were old women and there were innumerable children. The children clambered over the Canadian soldiers and clutched them convulsively every time one of our anti- tank guns fired down the street…. Soon each of us had a squirming, terrified child in our arms."
The rifle companies had begun the operation at little better than half-strength, so the arrival of reinforcements was particularly welcome. The Edmontons got a draft of 75 men from the Cape Breton Highlanders on Christmas Eve, "tremendously good soldiers" who fitted in right away. The end was now in sight; Kesselring insisted that "we do not want to defend Ortona decisively" and authorized a withdrawal. With 90 per cent of Ortona in Canadian hands and 1st Bde. threatening to cut off any retreat, there was little choice.
Ortona was a victory for all of the Canadian troops–and all Canadians. Ordinary men, leaving civilian life behind because they were needed, had forged regimental extended families and small cohesive sub-units that fought with skill and determination. Looking back, Maj.-Gen. Brown spoke of mutual confidence between officers and men "built on the rock of accomplishment."
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