BATTLE OF ORTONA
After deploying out from Blackhealth on November 7, 1943 Harry landed in Naples Italy and was given a B.S.A bike and then shortly before Christmas he was assigned a brand new Norton 16H which would be with him through to the liberation. Harry had the very dangerous job of relaying secret and top secret dispatches across the Italian peninsula during the Battle of Ortona, December 1943.
When the Canadian Army pushed its way to a showdown with German paratroops at Ortona, on the Adriatic coast, around Christmas 1943, Watts and his Norton motorcycle became a lifeline on two wheels. Every other day, it seemed, the Canadian was motoring his way along dirt paths, by bombed out towns, through mountain passes, in all kinds of inclement weather. He routinely left Naples at 8 o’clock in the morning, travelled 250 kilometres northeast, and arrived at Ortona late in the afternoon with his military messages.
On most of those cross-peninsula trips, he rode alone. But even in remote areas, there was always the danger his bike might break down, a tire might blow, or a German sniper might spot him. Once, Watts explained, he came to a washed out road with only truck and tank tracks through it. Fearlessly but cautiously, he sped through the mire only to meet a Canadian Army photographer on the other side.
“I missed your crossing,” the cameraman said. “Would you mind doing it again?”
“Sure,” Harry said. “Stay there. I’ll be going back the other way in a few hours.”
The Battle of Ortona was so intense that war correspondents nicknamed Ortona “Little Stalingrad” because the fighting resembled the definitive struggle in that Eastern Front city in Russia. At the end of Decemeber 1943 the Germans quietly pulled out of Ortona in the night – surrendering Ortona to the Canadians. December’s fighting cost 2,339 casualties, including 502 killed — although the actual number of Canadians killed inside Ortona was never determined.
CBC Footage of the Battle of Ortona. These images may be hard to watch, as it contains actual battle footage
During this hard winter in Ortona the local children did not have proper winter clothing and were often wearing shorts and no shoes. In an effort to help remedy the situation Harry and his friend Reg organized the fashioning of shoes from old bike tires and children’s clothing from discarded uniforms. Throughout his life Harry would be a champion of children’s causes such as NSD”s Autism Program and his work with local school kids of all ages.
The Armoured Corps Training at Blackheath in England
Engine – 496cc single cylinder side valve 4 stroke
Power rating – 13 bhp @ 4200 rpm
Chain drive 4 speed gearbox with foot shift
Weight – 369 lbs.
Training at Blackheath would have had a mixture of various motorcycle brands and models in 1943. Most of the Canadians did their training on the Norton 16H, B.S.A M20 and Triumph 3S. These 3 models would carry the vast majority of Canadians through the War.
The Birmingham Small Arms (B.S.A) company produced 126, 000 M20’s for the War effort, making it the most numerous produced and longest serving motorcycle of the British forces, not a bad feat considering it was initially viewed as a failure by the War Dept.
At the outbreak of World War II BSA was Britain’s largest motorcycle manufacturer with a long history of armaments supply to the armed forces. Designed by Val Page the BSA M20 started development in 1937 as a heavy-framed sidecar model with a simple 500 cc single cylinder side valve engine. It had low compression and plenty of low-end torque through a standard BSA gearbox. Early K-M20 models from 1939 were made from standard civilian parts with the addition of military fittings, such as a large 8-inch Lucas DUl42 headlight (fitted with a black out mask), a timing-gear cover with a screw-in plug for access to the magneto drive-pinion nut and special filler caps for the petrol and oil tanks. These early military M20 models were also fitted with a long spiked prop stand on the rear nearside pivoted from a lug brazed on to the rear frame tube.
NSD Whitney was placed with a Canadian Veteran, Molly, and the impact was immediate and profound. According to Molly, “NSD Whitney has made more of a difference in my life than I ever thought possible. When I am having a nightmare I toss and talk in my sleep and NSD Whitney hops up on the bed and licks my neck and she will lay over my legs and feet until I am calmed down.”
A decade ago the NSD team had the pleasure of meeting Harry through our annual Motorcycle Ride. As a member of the 1st CAV Motorcycle Unit, Harry rode in our annual fundraiser and championed our cause. Harry had a knack for bringing people together and was an engaging story teller. Somehow he was always able to shine a light on the positive side of his journey, even when faced with horrors of war.
You can read more of Harry’s stories in his book “Dispatch Rider”. All money raised from the purchase of the book goes directly to supporting Service Dogs and continuing Harry’s legacy.
This year’s Charity Ride is featuring an Online Auction with a vast selection of unique items to choose from. The Auction will be available to all of our supporters and will go on-line July 1 and run through July 5th – Check It Out!
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