The River Battles: Canada’s Final Campaign in World War II Italy

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 surely 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 region’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 upon 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. Dreams of victory gone, 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.

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Stone & Stone: Second World War II Books

“Mark Zuehlke has produced by far the best series of books about Canada’s war on the ground in Italy and Northwest Europe. The River Battles only adds further proof… this is another excellent book. Zuehlke should be proud of it, and readers should be sure to take a look.”

Ormsby Review - Richard Lonsdale

“It is a remarkable volume filled with interesting detail about the battles…and is a worthy memorial to all those Canadians who fought in that inhospitable wetland.”

The Globe and Mail - Ken Mcgoogan

“As a Canadian military historian, Zuehlke…belongs to the elite.”

Winnipeg Free Press - Barry Craig

“These last battles are well-told by Victoria author Mark Zuehlke, a prolific, well-established veteran writer of our war history.”