Sound: Orsogna and the Italian Campaign

Private Joseph Bacos, 42209, enlisted in January 1940. Upon arrival in the Middle East, he was posted to the Divisional Ordnance and served there during his time in North Africa. When the 18, 19 and 20 Battalions were withdrawn and turned into an armoured brigade, Joseph seized the opportunity to retrain as a tank gunner. He went to Italy with the 20 Armoured Regiment in December 1943. Here he talks about his first time in action at Orsogna.


'C Squadron of the 20th were supposed to support the Maori Battalion on the attack on Orsogna. It was a mountain town. Well, our tank had to go to the workshops because our gun was not recoiling properly. It was coming back very slowly. So we went to the workshops and I renewed acquaintances with my old comrades - the Ordnance. We were there three days and went up to join the Squadron and found out they'd gone into action that afternoon. And thirteen tanks had gone in and nine had been shot up and several of the boys were killed. That was the worst night I've ever experienced in my life. I wasn't afraid so much. I felt quite sad. Fellows I'd been talking to about a week earlier. You know, stiff and dead. Never see their home country again. I don't think I slept that night.

The next day we went up to support the Maori Battalion-the attack failed. But that's when we got hit. We got a direct hit... 11 o'clock at night. And it killed the spare driver, Shorty. A young boy of 22. It landed right in front of the turret. It was high explosive. Had it been armour-piercing we would have all been killed. But he was killed. Shorty. He got shrapnel all over him and he died the next morning. That was my first tank battle. Well, it wasn't a tank battle-first time in action in a tank. '

Snow-covered tank

Snow covers a New Zealand tank near Orsogna on New Year's Day, 1944.

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Posted: 28 Jul 2021

You can still see remnants of the war in Orsogna. One Family house had pockmarks from bullets left on its front. When tilling the soil in spring (March), there is shrapnel emerging from all the shelling and bombs. A relative had kept ordinance, such as a mortar round and a couple of howitzers shells in the basement showing signs of corrosion. I warned him it was dangerous to keep, even decades later. My Grandmother told me of preparing food for the occupying Germans, since she and her children were quartered with them. As if she had a choice, and food became scarce! She told me of warplanes hovering and bombing. Since Italy declared an armistice in 1943, the Germans didn't take kindly to their former allies. The word "caput" became part of the vocabulary in Orsognese-Italian. Since Orsogna was primarily dependent on agriculture, my Grandmother told me about removal of landmines with Grandfather after hostilities ceased. Using a knife, gently to detect them in the ground. The importance of farmland was their livelihood; sowing to reap. In the Mezzogiorno (Central to Southern Italy), a long growing season produced stocks of food that were normally plenty without the need for money, especially in those days. Land was everything and in 1943-44, Orsogna was just about the tail-end of the notorious "Gustav Line." The village was positioned between the Apennines to the west and to Ortona to the east, dropping onto the Adriatic Sea. I was told that the church bell tower was the first target in Orsogna to be hit. Tactically, the best observing post of the surrounding hill country other than the birds-eye view of an aircraft. World War II was bitterly fought in the so-called "soft underbelly" of the Axis Powers, since the hilly terrain were fortifications, aiding the Germans to hold out. I remember seeing in the mid-1990s the Castello Aragonese in Ortona. Today, it is now renovated and repaired from bombs dropped well over 75 years ago.


Posted: 08 Sep 2012

My parents both came from Orsogna to America in the 1920s. When I got married in Italy in 1960 I visited Orsgona to see my relatives and grandmother there. While sitting at the belvedere, a man approaced us and told us the events of the battle of Orsgogna while he was living there at the times. He told us Rommels tank division down below the Belvedere demolished the town of Orsogna and many people had to run away and many killed. It was thought at the time from reading history, that perhaps D Day would be from the Adriatic side. My father's father, my grandfather, concerned about feeding the animas stranded in the fields went there not listening to the pleas of his family and was shot in the back by a german questioning him and when my grandfather said he had visited America and learned to speak englis was killed. He lived long enough to tell his family what happened. My brother at the time and had the same name as my grandfther was in the Navy and stationed in Newport RI was contacted by the Red Cross and he in turn came home on a very snowy dark evening to tell my father. I remember commenting to my mother, "mama, papa is crying". It was sad. Many people who emigrated to America from Orsogna afgter the war, also told their horror stories and I wondered why were the germans so brutal to this small village. My family name is very famous in Orsgona, some were mayors, etc, so I very interested in it. I was so surprised to see a book was finally written about this battle. People who did not live through a war cannot even begin to understand the pain and sorrow. I have much more to say, but all I can say, is thank you and God bless you all.