Sergeant

Service # A104433

Hubert Laurence Ditner was born on July 3rd, 1921, in St. Agatha, Ontario. He was the son of Simon and Christina Ditner of R.R.  1, Petersburg. Simon was the Warden of Waterloo County.

Ditner Family Tree

Hubert was raised on a farm and spoke fluent German and English. His German-speaking skills came in helpful during his service in Italy as an anecdote later will show.

Ditner was an Acting Sergeant in the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, R.C.I.C., part of the 12th Infantry Brigade of the 5th Canadian (Armoured) Division, I Canadian Corps which had landed on the south coast of Sicily, Italy, on July 13, 1943. The U.S. 7th Army had landed at Gela and Licata on July 10th. The Canadians, part of the British 8th Army, landed 3 days later at Cassabile and Syracuse. In subsequent months the Americans would advance northward through Italy along its west coast and the British would advance along the eastern side.

Ditner’s war originated at the May 1943 TRIDENT Conference in Washington between President Roosevelt and P.M. Churchill to plan how to defeat Germany after victory in Africa. The American brain trust wanted to move all forces from Africa to stage an attack on the Germans occupying Europe across the English Channel.

Churchill first wanted to divert some German forces away from its eastern front to ease the pressures on their allies the Soviets. To do so, he wanted to invade Italy, distract Hitler’s focus, and make the Germans defend its southern “soft underbelly”, Italy, by moving forces away from the Soviet front, and south into Italy.

The Americans refused to release any ground or naval forces for combat past Sicily.

A compromise was reached: 1) A cross Channel attack would be launched – 50 weeks after the conference – with a target date of May 1, 1944, “to secure a lodgement on the Continent from which further offensive operations can be carried out”. 2) The cross Channel operation was code-named OVERLORD and four American and three British divisions would be transferred from the Mediterranean after the Sicilian campaign to bases in Britain. 3) The Allied commander-in-chief in North Africa, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, was told to plan any operations, following the defeat of Sicily, that seemed “best calculated to eliminate Italy from the war and to contain the maximum number of German forces.” The compromise gave the Americans the caveat that they didn’t have to move past Sicily if Eisenhower could develop a plan to allow that. Churchill got the probability that Eisenhower would have to plan further movements into Italy.

Thus Sergeant Ditner’s 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards were on Sicily on July 13, 1943, two months after the Washington conference.

[Source: “World War II”, www.dk.com, page  197]

By May 1944, I Canadian Corps had reached the Liri Valley at the “Hitler Line” south of Rome, near Cassino. Operation CHESTERFIELD was the plan to break through the Hitler Line, move north and liberate Rome.

[Source: Legion Magazine, “The Fight For Italy”,  inside back cover]

See the map above: “The Liri Valley and The Hitler Line”, note the small box near Cassino is the area where Sgt. Ditner was during May 1944. Find Pontecorvo, at the Hitler Line, on the map below.

The Operation CHESTERFIELD plan to break through the Hitler Line started at 06:00hrs on May 23rd, 1944. Two Brigades (2nd and 3rd) followed a creeping barrage with the 2nd Brigade on the right and the 3rd Brigade to the left. The 2nd reached the Pontecorvo-Aquino road before being cut off. The 3rd managed to get on the road and then moved left to take the Pontecorvo-Route 6 road.

At the same time as the 3rd was moving forward, the 1st Brigade relieved the 2nd inside the Hitler Line defences near Pontecorvo. “The divisional reconnaissance regiment, the IV Princess Louise Dragoon Guards, opened a lane through a minefield to the 48th Highlanders for tanks of the 142nd Royal Tank Regiment.” The single day of fighting was the worst for casualties for the Canadian Army in the Italian Campaign. 890 Canadians were killed or wounded. But, Sgt. Ditner wasn’t one of them.

[Source: https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/battlehonours/italiancampaign/lirivalley.htm]

[Immediately below is a “slider”. Move your mouse to the right side of the page and you’ll notice a white direction arrow in the right margin. Click on it and the pages of the narrative will “slide” or change. There are 3 pages to read. To stop movement, click and hold your mouse on the rotating page until you’ve finished reading.]

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An event that includes Sgt. Hubert Ditner’s skills in German, as a young man growing up in Petersburg, occurred probably on the night of May 23rd after the day’s battle.

“During the Hitler Line battles in May 1944 Sergeant Hubert ditner, a farmer from Petersburg, Ontario, and his men took the opportunity to catch a few hours’ sleep in a roadside ditch. He awoke to find that his section was sharing a ditch with Panzer Grenadiers from 44th Hoch und Deutschmeister Division. Ditner, who spoke fluent German managed to get all ten to surrender without firing a shot. In a letter to his younger brother, Ditner confessed that he “didn’t know who was shaking more. Jerry or me.”

[Source: https://military.wikia.org/wiki/4th_Princess_Louise_Dragoon_Guards]

[Source also: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/4th_Princess_Louise_Dragoon_Guards]

By December 1944 the Allied invasion of Italy had advanced past Ortona, the Gothic Line, Rimini, and the Romagna, and is now north of Ravenna just about at the Valli di Comacchio near Sant’ Alberto.

The area has numerous canals that run into each other and drain the land for human use, similar to the Netherlands. Thus the travel routes are relatively narrow for large armies, and canal dykes provide cover for machine gun nests.

[Immediately below is a “slider”. Move your mouse to the right side of the page and you’ll notice a white direction arrow in the right margin. Click on it and the pages of the narrative will “slide” or change. There are 3 pages to read. To stop movement, click and hold your mouse on the rotating page until you’ve finished reading.]

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The campaign in Italy lasted 608 days. It cost 312,000 Allied casualties, 120,000 American casualties, and approximately 435,000 German casualties.

[Source: “The Day of Battle”, Rick Atkinson, page 581]

Was the Italian campaign “worth” it? It depends on point-of-view.  For Britain, it distracted Hitler so he had to move troops from the Soviet front, which relieved pressure on the northeastern Europe front, and gave Churchill time to get his British public ‘ready’ to accept a major attack from British shores on Europe and the stresses that involved. For the Americans, it provided an “outlet” for huge numbers of troops that would have been unable to be moved quickly from the Mediterranean as insufficient sea transport existed, and gave them “bragging rights” as they sneaked past the Allies along the Tyrrhenian Sea at Salerno to liberate Rome. To parents at home whose, sons were not coming home . . .? Simon and Christina Ditner at home in Petersburg, Ontario were 2 of those parents.

The War Diary of the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards for January 4, 1945, page 4, reads:

“From 1800 to 2000 hrs a variety of coloured flares kept rising from the enemy posts and at 2030 hrs a raiding party came in on 12Tp. At 2055 hrs 8Tp reported an enemy attacking their post and asked for help at 2112 hrs. The C.O. ordered the Arty to fire D.F. 65 along the left flank and help the P.L.F. machine guns to fire the two tasks covering our left flank. The Ld S.H. despatched a tank with two sections from B Sqn to counter-attack at 8 Tp. At 2130 hrs. B Sqn reported all quiet in their area and at 2215 8 Tp reported their situation clear and under control. Sgt Ditner is wounded and evacuated. At 2300 hrs, all was quiet again and the stand-down order was sent out from Tac HQ.”

Sgt. Hubert Laurence Ditner died of his wounds the next day, January 5, 1945. He was 23 years old.

[The above 4 images are courtesy of Stephen Ditner, Toronto, a relative of Sgt. Ditner.]

[Several pages of the War Diary can be viewed below.]

 

[Immediately below is a “slider”. Move your mouse to the right side of the page and you’ll notice a white direction arrow in the right margin. Click on it and the pages of the narrative will “slide” or change. There are 3 pages to read. To stop movement, click and hold your mouse on the rotating page until you’ve finished reading.]

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An interesting note, on the green “Graves Concentration Report Form” in the slider above, is the fact that Sgt. Ditner was buried “temporarily” immediately after his death during war action and was “reburied” in the Argenta Gap Cemetery on February 20th, 1946 after the war’s end.

The documents below are a portion of the War Diary of the 4th Princess Louise Dragoon Guards for January 1945 at about the time when Sgt. Hubert Ditner was shot and then died of his wounds in Italy.

NOTE card above: Sometime between 1800 and 2300 hrs. “Sgt. Ditner is wounded and evacuated.”