The Canadians called it the Promised Land. In late September 1944, the Emilia-Romagna plain before I Canadian Corps stretched to the far horizon—a deceptively wide-open space where the tanks could run free. Throughout British Eighth Army, hopes ran high that once it entered the plain, the Germans could be driven from Italy. As soon as the advance began, however, the plain’s true nature was revealed: the land was criss-crossed by rivers, canals and drainage ditches over which all bridges had been demolished.
With higher command urging haste, the Canadians entered a long and nightmarish series of battles to win crossings over each waterway, whose high banks provided the Germans with perfect defensive positions. Early fall rains caused rivers to spill their banks and transformed the countryside into the worst quagmire the soldiers had ever seen.
More than five months of battle followed, with weeks of hard fighting required to advance from one river to the next. Each month, conditions only worsened, and the casualty rates rose appallingly. As their comrades fell one by one, most soldiers sought merely to survive. Doing that much required every measure of stamina, courage and fighting skill they possessed.
The fifth and final Canadian Battle Series volume set in Italy, The River Battles tells the story of this campaign’s last and hardest months. In riveting detail and with his trademark “you-are-there” style, Mark Zuehlke shines a light on this forgotten chapter of Canada’s World War II experience.
About the author
Hailed by Jack Granatstein as Canadas leading popular military historian and short-listed for both the 2007 and 2013 Pierre Berton Award for popularizing Canadian history, Mark Zuehlke is the author of 26 books, including 14 devoted to military history. Tragedy at Dieppe is the latest in his bestselling Canadian Battle Series, which includes Ortona, The Liri Valley, The Gothic Line, Juno Beach Operation Husky, Holding Juno, Breakout from Juno, Terrible Victory, and On to Victory. He is also the co-author of The Canadian Military Atlas.
Zuehlke first began writing about the role Canadians played in World War II after discussing the Battle of Ortona with several veterans following a Remembrance Day ceremony in Kelowna, B.C. Discovering no book had been written on this pivotal battle, he decided to fill that gap, which resulted in the publication of Ortona: Canadas Epic Worl
“In summary, readers will find that The River Battles is an interesting account of a little-known part of the Italian Campaign, and it will be a valuable resource for future historians.”
The Ormsby Review
The Globe and Mail
“The River Battles is the important saga of the final five months of Canada’s 20-month Italian campaign from 1943-45 and the courage and skill of her 93,000 soldiers and tankers who took more ground from the enemy in Italy than any other Allied unit of British and Americans, and did it ‘while braving the worst of fighting conditions and extreme German opposition.’
These last battles are well-told by Victoria author Mark Zuehlke, a prolific, well-established veteran writer of our war history.”
Winnipeg Free Press
Other titles by Mark Zuehlke
The Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero
The River Battles
Canada’s Final Campaign in World War II Italy
Canada's World War II Breakthrough to Rome
Canada's Month of Hell in World War II Italy
First Canadian Army and the Battles for the Channel Ports
Scoundrels, Dreamers & Second Sons
British Remittance Men in the Canadian West
Through Blood and Sweat
A Remembrance Trek across Sicily’s World War II Battlegrounds
The Loxleys and Confederation
First Canadian Army and the Cruel Winter of 1944–45