Battle For Ortona

Death From Above: Mid War German & Italian Airborne Forces 1942-43 (FW249)

THE BATTLE FOR ORTONA 
CASA BERARDI – 15 DECEMBER 1943

By Richard Chambers

The Battle for Ortona...

Background

After breaking out of their Moro River bridgehead the 1st Canadian Infantry Division took the small hamlet of San Leonardo. Their next objective was a set of crossroads on the main Ortona – Orsogna lateral road. The ‘Cider’ crossroads as they were codenamed were only a mile and a half from San Leonardo, yet it would take the Canadians 10 days of tough fighting to reach them.

Part of the reason for this was a seemingly insignificant terrain feature, soon to be called ‘The Gully’ where the 90th Panzergrenadier Division had dug in on reverse slopes, rendering the Canadians supporting artillery somewhat ineffective.

General Vokes launched a series of piecemeal frontal attacks against the German lines there, but the Grenadiers were well supported by artillery, mortars, and heavy machine-guns, and repulsed each attack.

A new direction needed to be taken and on the night of 11/12 December 1943 the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade attempted to flank the worst section of The Gully and reach the ‘Cider’ crossroads. If they were able to do so, they would turn the German’s flank, control the main highway to Ortona and make the Panzer Grenadiers position in ‘The Gully’ untenable. 

Both the West Nova Scotia Regiment and the Carleton and York Regiment were unsuccessful in reaching the road and over the next 48 hours they engaged and were forced to beat off numerous, near suicidal counter-attacks by the Germans. 

Canadians in San Leonardo

Both sides suffered heavy casualties and the West Novas and Carleton and York Regiments were so written down as to being unable to continue offensive operations.

On 14 December the Royal 22e Regiment (the Van Doos) took over the advance with ‘C’ Company on the left and ‘D’ Company on the right.

The Van Doos were the only all French-Canadian regiment in the Canadian army and felt that they had a certain reputation to uphold. They were to advance up a small track, which led around the right of ‘The Gully’ to reach the Ortona-Orsogna road. From there they would advance through the small farm of Casa Berardi and take the ‘Cider’ crossroads. The attack would be supported by ‘C’ Squadron, 11th Canadian Armoured Regiment, The Ontario Tanks and a corps level artillery barrage.

As the two companies reached the start line they immediately came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire. German Panzer IIIs and IVs began to engage the Van Doos who sought cover amongst the olive groves and grape vines. As the Shermans supporting them were still struggling up the muddy track, individual PIAT wielding Canadian soldiers began to hunt the Panzers, until eventually a sergeant from 13 Platoon destroyed a Panzer IV Special (after the action 35 pieces of the tank were found scattered around on the ground).

Spurred on by this success, the Van Doos swept up to the roadway and then turned northeast towards Casa Berardi. Unknown to ‘C’ Company, they were now alone in the battle as ‘D’ Company had become disoriented in the action and were heading in the wrong direction engaging German forces where they found them. 

Candian Sherman supporting infantry

It was now 2000 yards to the farmhouse.  This area was as “a wasteland of trees with split limbs, burnt out houses, dead animals, and cracked shells of houses.”  Now supported by the Shermans the Van Doos advanced down the road in the face of withering fire. The company commander, Captain Paul Triquet stirred his men on telling them, “There are enemy in front of us, behind us and on our flanks, there is only one safe place – that is on the objective.” The tanks engaged and destroyed two more Panzers and then 500 yards short of the manor house, the company was caught in a devastating barrage.

Still they fought on, finally reaching Casa Berardi and even trying to move beyond it to the crossroads, but ‘C’ Company’s losses were too great and Captain Triquet and his men withdrew back to the farm house and dug in. Of his attacking company of 81 men, Triquet had 14 soldiers left.

Of the attacking tank squadron only four tanks remained. They established a circular defensive perimeter, with the infantry on the outside and one tank pointing in each direction and waited for the inevitable. 

During the night the three remaining companies of the Royal 22e Regiment slipped through the lines of the surrounding Germans and joined ‘C’ Company where they made plans to continue the attack in the morning.

However, the Van Doos second attempt to reach the crossroads ended in near disaster when ‘B’ Company was caught in its own supporting artillery fire, which allowed German tanks to manoeuvred into better positions to cover the Canadian advance.

Enemy artillery also joined in, decimating the company. ‘D’ Company was also caught in a heavy crossfire and the whole Battalion retreated back to the farm complex, which continued to be targeted by artillery.

Unknown to the Canadians, during the night of 14/15 December the tired remnants of the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division were being replaced by elements of the 1st Fallschirmjäger Division. In the Casa Berardi area, the paratroopers came from the III Battalion, 3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment.

Fallschirmjäger
At 1515 in the afternoon the Fallschirmjäger went on the offensive with assistance from the Panzer Grenadiers. Their first action in the defence of Ortona had begun. 
3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade
Le Royal 22e Regiment

III Batalion, 
3rd Fallschirmjäger Regiment 
Attached Elements of 
90th Panzer Grenadier Division

Rifle Company (Armoured Fist)
Rifle Company HQ
2x SMLE rifle team

2pts
Rifle Platoon
7x Bren Gun & SMLE team
1x 2-inch Mortar team
1x PIAT Team (Command Card)
13pts
Rifle Platoon
7x Bren Gun & SMLE team
1x 2-inch Mortar team
1x PIAT Team (Command Card)
13pts
Rifle Platoon
7x Bren Gun & SMLE team
1x 2-inch Mortar team
1x PIAT Team (Command Card)
13pts
Rifle Platoon
7x Bren Gun & SMLE team
1x 2-inch Mortar team
1x PIAT Team (Command Card)
13pts
Support Platoons  
Sherman Armoured Troop
‘4x Sherman (75mm)
36pts
25 pdr Field Troop
4x 25 pdr 
14pts
Observer SMLE Rifle Team
1x SMLE Rifle Team
1pts
Total  119pts
Fallschirmjäger Company
Fallschirmjäger Company HQ
2x MP40 TSMG Teams
1x Panzerknacker Command Card   
3pts
2pts
Fallschirmjäger Platoon
10x MG42 & K98 Rifle Team
1x Panzerknacker Comand Card   
15pts
Fallschirmjäger Platoon
10x MG42 & K98 Rifle Team
1x Panzerknacker Comand Card   
 15pts
Fallschirmjäger Platoon
7x MG42 & K98 Rifle Team
1x Panzerknacker Comand Card
11pts
Fallschirmjäger  Machine-gun Platoon
4x sMG42 HMG teams
 6pts
Iron Cross Panzer IV Tank Company
Panzer IV Tank Company HQ
1x Panzer IV (long 7.5cm)
 6pts
Panzer IV Tank Platoon
3x Panzer IV (long 7.5cm)
30pts
Panzer III Tank Platoon
3x Panzer III (short 5cm)
15pts
Support  
Panzergrenadier Platoon
5x MG34 team
7pts
Total  95pts

 

Captain Paul Triquet VC

Captain Paul Triquet VC
Captain Triquet is the Formation Commander SMLE rifle team in the Candian Rifle Company HQ.

Special Rules
Ils ne passeront pas: To keep up his men’s confidence during the siege at Casa Berardi, Triquet quoted the famous words of the French General Henri Petain at Verdun “They shall not pass”.

  • When a Unit’s Leader is within 6”/15cm and in Line of Sight of Triquet, the Unit passes Motivation tests on a roll of 3+.

Get on the objective: As ‘C’ Company advanced towards Casa Berardi they came under heavy artillery and machine gun fire. Many men became casualties and Captain Triquet could see that the attack was about to ground to a halt. He said to his men “There are enemy in front of us, behind us and on our flanks, there is only one safe place – that is on the objective,” so following him they quickened their advance to take the manor house.

  • When a Unit’s Leader is within 6”/15cm and in Line of Sight of Triquet, the Unit passes Blitz tests on a roll of 3+.

 

They can’t shoot. Never mind them! Come on!: When ‘C’ Company went into the attack they numbered 81 men. By the end of the attack there were just 14 Van Doos left. Despite everything Triquet was unharmed.

  • If Captain Triquet is Destroyed, he switches to another Team on a roll of 2+ rather than 3+

 

Captain Paul Triquet was born on 2 April 1910 in Cabano, Quebec to a French family with a long military heritage. He was well read on French military history as a child and tried to enlist as a sixteen year old and then again, successfully as a seventeen year old. (He told the recruiting officer he was nineteen).

Triquet entered the Royal 22e Regiment (the Van Doos) as a private and by the outbreak of World War Two was a sergeant major. When the Van Doos arrived in Britain he was recommended for an Officer’s Commission.

At the Battle for Ortona Captain Triquet was in command of ‘C’ Company of the Van Doos. For his actions at Casa Berardi he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first Canadian to receive one in the Italian Campaign. His citation read:

“Throughout the whole of this engagement Capt. Triquet showed magnificent courage and cheerfulness. Wherever the action was hottest he was to be seen shouting encouragement to his men and organising the defence. His disregard for danger, his cheerfulness and devotion to duty were a constant source of inspiration to them. His tactical skill and leadership enabled them, although reduced by casualties to a mere handful, to continue their advance against bitter resistance and to hold their gains against determined counter-attacks. It was due to him that Casa Berardi was captured and the way opened for the attack on the vital road junction.”

VC

Scenario
This scenario uses the Bridgehead mission. The Canadians are defending and the German forces are attacking. The German table edge is the North East edge. 

Looking at the map below, Casa Berardi is the large manor house in the centre of the table, with smaller out buildings around it. This is the area to be defended by the Canadians. Other buildings on the table are generally in ruins because of the heavy artillery that has impacted the area lately. The well should be placed outside to the Canadians deployment zone, as they were unable to get water from it during the battle.

Scenario Map

This, along with the weather, has turned all the ground on the table into thick mud. Use the Soft Ground Terrain Rules found on Terrain Chart on Page 43 of Flames Of War to represent the mud. Tanks from either side should therefore stick to the road and tracks, as they tended to historically.

Open terrain on the table is made up of scattered Olive Groves and Vineyards as the players desire and should provide a reasonable amount of cover to both attacker and defender. Terrain Rules for Olive Groves and Vineyards are also found on Page 35 and 43 of Flames Of War.

Burnt out and abandoned vehicles and tanks (Wrecked Tanks, see page 43 of Flames Of War) should also appear on the table to be used as cover on the table.

The Canadian player must start the game with two Rifle Platoons on the table along with the oversized Sherman Armoured Troop. The Observer team for the artillery battery also deploy on the table. When Reserves become available the artillery does not need to deploy on the table, but can fire from off board as per guns Across the Volga from page 59 of Iron Cross or page 63 of Enemy at the Gates.

Casa Berardi today Aftermath
The action started at 1515 and was essentially over 30 minutes later with the attack beaten off. A Royal Canadian Horse Artillery observer was on heights above Casa Berardi and had a perfect view of the German advance. In one fifteen-minute period during the engagement the RCHA landed 1,500 rounds on the Fallschirmjäger attack.

Despite that ongoing barrage, within which the farm existed like an island, the attack continued. When it was over both sides had suffered heavy casualties and the Germans withdrew leaving many dead and a knocked out Panzer IV behind.

The Van Doos, four Companies’ strong were down to a combined total of 79 men manning the defensive perimeter – less than one full Company.

There they would stay for the next 48 hours, reinforced by additional tanks and a rifle company made up of the Van Doos cooks, typists and mechanics. The Canadians had won their first encounter with the Fallschirmjäger.

Ortona ~ Operation Orange Blossom... 


Last Updated On Thursday, November 14, 2019 by Luke at Battlefront