Personal info

  • Name: David Vivian CURRIE
  • D.O.B: 8th Jul, 1912
  • D.O.A: 18th Aug, 1944
  • D.O.D: 24th Jun, 1986
  • Award: Victoria Cross
  • Occupation at time of action: Major, 29th Canadian Armoured Reconnaissance Regiment (The South Alberta Regiment), 4th Brigade, 4th Canadian Armoured Division
  • Book: The Complete History - Volume 3
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Sources & Acknowledgements

The Second World War 1944


After the Allies had captured German-held Sicily in August 1943, they landed on the Italian mainland in September and by the beginning of 1944 had conquered most of the Mezzogiorno. The Germans had been driven back to a series of defensive positions known as the Gustav (or Winter) Line. This ran across Italy, from Ortona on the Adriatic through Monte Cassino to the River Garigliano in the west. One of its strongest positions was at Monte Cassino on the western ridges of the Apennines which form the spine of Italy. Here four ferocious battles were to be waged between January and May 1944. The belief that the Germans would mount a stubborn resistance was the impetus behind the landings at Anzio on 22 January 1944. By outflanking the Winter Line in the west, it was hoped this would lead to its collapse while also posing a serious threat to Rome, only thirty-five miles north-west of Anzio. The enemy were taken totally by surprise and the Allies established a significant bridgehead but failed to take sufficient advantage of this bold stroke. By the end of January the Germans had brought up enough troops effectively to contain them, though desperate German attempts to destroy the bridgehead itself failed. It was only in the middle of May 1944 at the conclusion of the Fourth Battle of Monte Cassino that the Winter Line was finally breached in the west. On 25 May Allied forces fighting their way north made contact with those at Anzio and then advanced on the Italian capital. Rome fell on 4 June 1944. The Germans in Italy were, however, far from finished. To the north they had constructed a further strong defensive position, the Gothic Line. This ran from the coast at Massa in the west, then about fifteen miles north of Florence and along the ridge of the Apennines before reaching the Adriatic at Pesaro. Throughout the autumn and early winter the Allies fought their way towards this line and sought to breach it. On the Adriatic Coast Rimini was attacked and was captured on 21 September. Meanwhile, US Fifth Army prepared to cross the central Apennines, advancing up roads north of Florence towards Faenza and Bologna in the hope of breaking into the North Italian Plain. In fact, though their line was disrupted the Germans were not prepared to yield easily and by early winter it was clear that the most the Allies could hope for was to reach a line running west to east from La Spezia to Bologna and Ravenna. The campaign had developed into a war of attrition. Though Ravenna fell on 4 December, it was not until the Spring Offensive of 1945 that Allied forces finally succeeded in breaking through into the northern plain. Important as the fighting in Italy was it had always been intended as a distraction, a means to divert German resources which might be used to resist Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of German-Occupied Northwest Europe. On 6 June 1944 Allied forces landed along a 55-mile stretch of the Normandy coast from Cherbourg to Le Havre, the Americans to the west of Port en Bessin and the British and Canadians to the east. The Germans who were expecting an attack on the Pas de Calais at first believed the landings to be a feint and allowed the Allies to establish themselves. By 30 June, they had landed over 850,000 men in Normandy. Caen fell to the Allies on 9 July and while the British pushed south of it, to the west the Americans captured Avranches on 26 July, spread west into Brittany and south to Le Mans. They were thus able to swing round behind the German forces battling against the British and which were now threatened with being trapped in the Falaise pocket. Falaise was captured by the Allies on 17 August and by 21 August the pocket was closed. 50,000 troops of the German Seventh Army were trapped, about a quarter of those captured in the whole battle. The fall of Normandy sealed the fate of Paris. The Allies crossed the Seine west of the French capital on 20 August, and the city was liberated on 25 August. After the capture of Paris most of France passed rapidly into Allied hands and in the north they advanced into Belgium. Brussels was liberated on 3 September 1944 and Antwerp the next day. The Allies were now up to the German West Wall, the Siegfried Line, which stretched north as far as the Dutch border, where the Maas and the Rhine flowed towards the North Sea. The Allies in Operation Market Garden now planned to cross these rivers and by thus outflanking the Siegfried Line break through into the North German Plain before the onset of winter. On 17 September three airborne divisions attempted to seize five bridges over the Rivers Maas and Waal (one of the channels of the Rhine). The troops detailed to capture the bridge at Arnhem found themselves massively outnumbered and surrounded by German forces. By the time supporting Allied troops had fought their way north to the south bank of the river all they could do was organize the withdrawal of the survivors on the night of 25-26th September. While this bold move had been frustrated, the Allies had more success in clearing the Germans from the mouth of the Scheldt Estuary, a vital artery for supplies for the forthcoming advance into Germany. On 28 November the first supply convoy arrived in Antwerp. Such was the importance of the port that it was a major objective of the last German offensive of the war, the Battle of the Ardennes (the Battle of the Bulge), launched on 16 December 1944. Meanwhile, in the Far East, Japanese forces in New Guinea and the surrounding islands were in an increasingly desperate position and during the course of the year the tide of war also turned against them in Burma. At the beginning of 1944 the British had already begun operations in Arakan. What they did not know was that the Japanese themselves had two offensives planned. In the smaller of these, in February, their targets were British positions in Arakan around the Ngakyedauk Pass, north of Maungdaw. In the Battle of ‘The Admin Box’ the British recaptured the Pass on 23 February 1944 and by the beginning of March the Japanese threat here was contained. Far more serious, however, was a Japanese advance further north. On 8 March 1944 they launched an attack on Assam with the aim of capturing Imphal and Kohima. If successful, this would not only have pre-empted further British action in Burma but would have opened the way to the invasion of India. On 29 March the Japanese cut the road between Imphal and Kohima and by 8 April the small garrison at Kohima was itself besieged. The fighting at Imphal and Kohima was to be the turning point of the campaign. Both garrisons held out. The siege of Kohima was lifted on 20 April and that of Imphal two months later on 22 June. The Japanese were also suffering reverses elsewhere in Burma. To assist American and Chinese forces advancing towards Myitkyina on the Irrawaddy the Chindits attacked its rail link with the rest of Burma. Myitkyina eventually fell in August. In October the British began an advance along the road from Imphal to Tiddim. Their goal was Kalewa on the Chindwin, which was occupied on 2 December. At the same time their grip on Arakan was tightening.


 In Normandy on 18th August, 1944, Major Currie was in command of a small mixed force of Canadian tanks, self-propelled anti-tank guns and infantry which was ordered to cut one of the main escape routes from the Falaise pocket. This force was held up by strong enemy resistance in the village of St. Lambert sur Dives and two tanks were knocked out by 88 mm. guns. Major Currie immediately entered the village alone on foot at last light through the enemy outposts to reconnoitre the German defences and extricate the crews of the disabled tanks, which he succeeded in doing in spite of heavy mortar fire. Early the following morning, without any previous artillery bombardment, Major Currie personally led an attack on the village in the face of fierce opposition from enemy tanks, guns and infantry and by noon had succeeded in seizing and consolidating a position half-way inside the village. During the next 36 hours the Germans hurled one counter-attack after another against the Canadian force but so skilfully had Major Currie organised his defensive position that these attacks were repulsed with severe casualties to the enemy after heavy fighting. At dusk on the 20th August the Germans attempted to mount a final assault on the Canadian positions, but the attacking force was routed before it could even be deployed. Seven enemy tanks, twelve 88 mm. guns and forty vehicles were destroyed, 300 Germans were killed, 500 wounded and 2,100 captured. Major Currie then promptly ordered an attack and completed the capture of the village, thus denying the Chambois-Trun escape route to the remnants of two German armies cut off in the Falaise pocket. Throughout three days and nights of fierce fighting, Major Currie’s gallant conduct and contempt for danger set a magnificent example to all ranks of the force under his command. On one occasion he personally directed the fire of his command tank on to a Tiger tank which had been harassing his position and succeeded in knocking it out. During another attack, while the guns of his command tank were taking on other targets at longer ranges, he used a rifle from the turret to deal with individual snipers who had infiltrated to within fifty yards of his headquarters. The only time reinforcements were able to get through to his force, he himself led the forty men forward into their positions and explained the importance of their task as a part of the defence. When, during the next attack, these new reinforcements withdrew under the intense fire brought down by the enemy, he personally collected them and led them forward into position again, where, inspired by his leadership they held for the remainder of the battle. His employment of the artillery support, which became available after his original attack went in, was typical of his cool calculation of the risks involved in every situation. At one time, despite the fact that short rounds were falling within fifteen yards of his own tank, he ordered fire from medium artillery to continue because of its devastating effect upon the attacking enemy in his immediate area. Throughout the operations the casualties to Major Currie’s force were heavy. However, he never considered the possibility of failure or allowed it to enter the minds of his men. In the words of one of his non-commissioned officers, “We knew at one stage that it was going to be a fight to the finish but he was so cool about it, it was impossible for us to get excited”. Since all the officers under his command were either killed or wounded during the action, Major Currie had virtually no respite from his duties and in fact obtained only one hour’s sleep during the entire period. Nevertheless he did not permit his fatigue to become apparent to his troops and throughout the action took every opportunity to visit weapon pits and other defensive posts to talk to his men, to advise them as to the best use of their weapons and to cheer them with words of encouragement. When his force was finally relieved and he was satisfied that the turnover was complete he fell asleep on his feet and collapsed. There can be no doubt that the success of the attack on and stand against the enemy at St. Lambert sur Dives can largely be attributed to this officer’s coolness, inspired leadership and skilful use of the limited weapons at his disposal. The courage and devotion to duty shown by Major Currie during a prolonged period of heavy fighting were outstanding and had a far-reaching effect on the successful outcome of the battle 

(Supplement to The London Gazette of 24 November 1944. 27 November 1944, Numb. 36812, pp. 5433-34; see The Canada Gazette, Vol. 78, no. 49, Extra, 27 November 1944, p. 1)

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