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Let's go Canada!

Operation Orange Blossom –
18 December 1943

By Richard Chambers

The Battle For Ortona...

Casa Berardi...

With farmstead of Casa Berardi now firmly in Canadian hands General Vokes hoped that the Germans would see that their flank had at least begun to be turned and would relinquish their hold on ‘The Gully’.

He therefore initiated a final frontal attack on the Fallschirmjager in that position with the depleted West Nova Scotia Regiment. Like all the actions against the main German line in ‘The Gully’ this attack was beaten off and led to the near complete destruction of the West Novas.

It was obvious that ‘The Gully’ was still heavily defended and the only possible way of breaking this defensive position was to reinforce the Van Doos success and continue the outflanking manoeuvre. Preparations for this operation had already begun and it would involve a large, complex set-piece combined arms attack made by two battalions.

The first stage of the plan, involving the 48th Highlanders would be code-named “Morning Glory” while the second “Orange Blossom” would be the concern of the Royal Canadian Regiment. Each regiment was to be supported by a squadron from the Three Rivers Tanks and an extensive artillery program.

The plan called for the 48th Highlanders to start west of Casa Berardi and advance to the North before swinging back towards the coast and cutting the road from the ‘Cider Crossroads’ to the small hamlet of Villa Grande. Once they had achieved this, the RCR would follow advancing along a railway line, parallel to the road from the north, taking the ‘Cider Crossroads’ from the rear.

Central to the success of the plan was the overwhelming artillery support. 250 guns were available to support the attack and over the 16th and 17th of December observers carefully plotted the results of seemingly random harassing fire in the area to gain more accurate mapping information.

Unfortunately the area of the “Orange Blossom” operation was not observable so the artillery firing plan had to be developed using old, inaccurate Italian maps.

At 0800 on 18 December 1943 the “Morning Glory” artillery barrage opened “…with a deafening roar, filling the air with the screams and sighing of passing shells and laying down a wall of bursting HE 1000 yards long and 300 yards deep.”

Machine-gun Carrier

Map of Operation

Map From: http://thercr.ca/customs_traditions/ortona_toast.htm 

After twenty minutes of fire the 48th Highlanders advanced behind the barrage “with the precision of a well rehearsed exercise”.

The 48th Highlander’s after action report read:

"Forward companies advanced close to the barrage well dispersed in varying formations. Ground was difficult, covered with orchards and wired vineyards. The smoke from the barrage cut visibility down to about 200 yards or less and necessitated the use of compass. Tanks were ordered to fire only on targets indicated which was every building or haystack. There was a deal of small arms fire but in the din of the barrage it couldn’t be distinguished as enemy or our own. Troops were keen and easy to control since the rate of advance was only 100 yards every five minutes" 

The German defenders began to bring down mortar and light artillery fire behind the barrage, but the paratroopers in the trenches under bombardment were effectively suppressed and by 1030 the Highlanders were on their objective. The first phase was over with four 48th Highlanders killed and twenty wounded, most of which came from shorts from the supporting barrage or from German artillery fire.

Two tanks had been lost, one to a mine and another to anti-tank gun fire, while several others had to be left behind after the track they were following became to boggy. As one of the remaining five tanks advanced on the objective it mistook Canadian infantry for Germans and opened fire, before the situation was made clear. One tanker tried to explain the error to an irate Highlander sergeant by saying, “One of you muddied goofs looks exactly like those other muddied goofs”. 

Whereas “Morning Glory” could be marked as completely successful both in achieving the objective and in economy of manpower, within the next few minutes “Orange Blossom” would meet misfortune and heavy casualties. 

Fallschirmjager Mortars
PIAT teams

“Orange Blossom” began at 1145 and immediately ran into problems. Once the supporting 250 guns opened fire, rounds began to fall amongst the Carlton & York Regiment, who were 300 yards back from the edge of ‘The Gully’ and amongst the companies of the 48th Highlanders. Obviously the plots drawn up from the Italian maps were wrong.
As the Royal Canadian Regiment and Three Rivers Tanks began their advance, the understandable complaints from the Carlton & Yorks led to the barrage being prematurely lifted 400 yards, and the right hand wall of protective fire being cancelled all together.

The effect of this was immediate. The right flank of the RCR was exposed to fire from the paratroopers and one unit of Fallschirmjager completely escaped the barrage, which lifted completely beyond them. The two leading companies of the RCR, “C” and “D” were smashed by intense machine gun, mortar and shell fire and all the officers became casualties. Whole platoons were killed and neither company had more than 15 effectives left after the next hour of the confusing battle.

At this point the Battalion Commander ordered a retreat to a line of buildings 100 yards beyond their initial start line where the Canadians could shelter. As this was being effected he too was shot (in the arm) by a sniper. The battalion was reduced to 19 Officers and 159 Other Ranks.

18 DECEMBER 1943 

1st Canadian Infantry Brigade
“C” Company,
The Royal Canadian Regiment 

III/3. Fallschirmjager Regiment 
Attached Artillery Elements from
90th Panzer Grenadier Division

Rifle Company HQ (Armoured Fist)
2x SMLE Rifle Teams

Rifle Platoon
7x Bren Gun & SMLE rifle team
1x 2-inch Mortar
1x PIAT team (Command Card)

Rifle Platoon
7x Bren Gun & SMLE rifle team
1x 2-inch Mortar
1x PIAT team (Command Card)
Rifle Platoon
5x Bren Gun & SMLE rifle team
1x 2-inch Mortar
1x PIAT team (Command Card)

Rifle Platoon
5x Bren Gun & SMLE rifle team
1x 2-inch Mortar
1x PIAT team (Command Card)
3-inch Mortar Platoon
4x 3inch Mortar Platoon
Sherman Armoured Troop
3s Sherman (75mm)
25 pdr Field Troop 
4x 25 pdr 
Observer SMLE Rifle Team
(Use the Rifle Company HQ SMLE rifle team stats and movement with the addition of the Independent and Scout rule)
Vickers MMG Platoon
4x Vickers HMG 


Fallschirmjager Company HQ
2x MP40 SMG teams
Panzerknacker (Command Card)

Fallschirmjager Platoon
10x MG42 & K98 rifle team
Panzerknacker (Command Card)  
Fallschirmjager Platoon
7x MG42 & K98 rifle team
Panzerknacker (Command Card)   
Fallschirmjager Machine-gun Platoon 
4x sMG HMG teams HMG teams   
Fallschirmjager  8cm Mortar Platoon
4x Stummel Mortar
7.5cm Tank-hunter Platoon
2x 7.5cm guns
10.5cm Artillery Battery,
190. Artillery Regiment
4x 10.5cm Howitzer
Fallschirmjager  Observation Post
1x Observer K98 rifle team
Total 75pts

This is a No Retreat Missionses standard mission rules with the addition of the following two scenario rules:

Strongpoint (see below) and
Limited Preliminary Bombardment (see below). 

The Canadians are attacking and the German forces are defending. The German table edge is nearest to the ‘Cider Crossroads’ while the Canadians advance from the direction of Villa Grande.

Looking at the badly drawn map to the right, the road from Villa Grande to the ‘Cider Crossroads’ is on the left with a small railway running to the right of the table’s vertical centre line. The rail-line is slightly raised giving cover to those teams immediately adjacent to it.

A small indentation on the right side of the table represents the beginning of ‘The Gully’ and provides additional cover to those teams in it. The buildings on the table are generally in ruins because of the heavy artillery that has pounded the vicinity for days now and the barrage that just walked through the area. 

Scenario Map
Fallschirmjager manning the rail line

A small track lies parallel to the rail line and branches off along the edge of ‘The Gully’ and towards the road. 

The ongoing artillery 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. The Canadian tanks will therefore have stick to the road and tracks if they want to avoid bogging, 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 artillery does not need to deploy on the table, but can fire from off board as per Across the Volga from page 59 of Iron Cross or page 63 of Enemy at the Gates. The Saskatoon Light Infantry Regiment Vickers MMG Platoon should be deployed on the same side of the railway tracks as ‘The Gully’ as historically their role was to suppress the German positions there. The only vehicles available to the Canadians are the Three Rivers Tanks; all other vehicles must remain off board.

The German player must start the game with the large Fallschirmjager Platoon, the Fallschirmjager sMG42 Machine-gun Platoon and the Fallschirmjager 7.5cm Tank-hunter Platoon on the table, with one of those units in Ambush. All teams are Gone-to-Ground in Fox Holes.

The Observer team for the artillery deployed on the table with the Fallschirmjager Platoon.

No German vehicles can deploy on the board. When Reserves become available the German 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.

In addition to placing four Minefields, the German player may also place four Barbed Wire Entanglements and one Anti-tank Ditch. These must be positioned in the German half of the table, within 12”/30cm of the centre line of the table, i.e. the most forward half of the German deployment zone.

Come on Canada

Special Rules
The rules for Minefields are on page 112 of the rulebook.

Barbed Wire Entanglements
The location of a Barbed Wire Entanglement is shown by a Wire marker.

An Infantry team moving within 2"/5cm of a Wire marker must pass a Skill test (or test to Cross a Minefield if better) or immediately stop moving.

Barbed Wire Entanglements are Difficult Terrain for all Tank teams moving within 2"/5cm of a Wire marker.

An Infantry Unit Leader that is not Pinned Down may issue a Wire Gapping Order as a Movement order instead of Moving in the Movement Step. If it does so, any Infantry team within 6"/15cm of the Unit Leader may immediately remove a Wire marker within 2"/5cm (having successfully moved into the Barbed Wire Entanglement in the previous turn) instead of Moving. The team is counted as Moving, but does not Move, and cannot Move further, Shoot, or Assault.

Anti-tank Ditch
An Anti-tank Ditch is treated just like terrain. These are it effects:

  Dash Speed Cross Height Bulletproof Cover
Anti-tank Ditch Terrain Dash

No for Infantry

Impassable to others

Flat No

Limited Preliminary Bombardment
Due to miscalculations in the artillery plan, the preliminary barrage was not as successful as anticipated. The Attacking player selects half of the defending Units deployed on the table, rounding down if necessary. At the start of the game only these Units are Pinned Down.

Fallschirmjager and prisoners Aftermath

With the attack stalled the Brigade Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Spry (who had previously been the Royal Canadian Regiment’s Battalion Commander) was forced to make a terrible decision. He stated:

“I knew that as a battalion, the RCR would be worthless from the point of view of morale unless they got on their objective… For morale and tactical reasons therefore it was vital for the RCR to return to the attack”.

“C” and “D” companies were formed into one company and the plan was made to renew the advance at 1000 on 19 December. Just before the barrage commenced the accompanying tanks reported that they had neither the ammunition nor fuel to assist in the attack, and in order to make these assets available the start time was pushed back.

Finally, after a delay which “…caused considerable mental agony to the waiting troops” the intense artillery program began and the attack got underway at 1415 hours.

The action was completely successful, from the Canadian point-of-view, with near perfect artillery and tank support. By nightfall the ‘Cider Crossroads’, the 1st Canadian Division’s objective for the last ten days of near continuous fighting had been taken. The 1st Fallschirmjager Division now accepted that ‘The Gully” had been flanked and therefore was lost as a tactical feature. They began moving out of their positions there during the night of 18/19 December.

Allied intelligence, attempting to deduce the intentions of the German paratroopers stated:

Having lost control of the x-roads, the enemy is likely to fall back under pressure in the Northern sector, abandoning Ortona, and making his next stand on the line of the Arielli (river)…This is difficult country, well suited to delaying tactics and should provide a firm hinge for an eventual withdrawal in the Northern Sector

The advancing Canadians would soon see whether this intelligence was accurate or not.

Last Updated On Thursday, November 21, 2019 by Luke at Battlefront