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Afrika THE BATTLE FOR ORTONA – GAME 1
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 Panzer Grenadier 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 machineguns, and beat off 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
 
Headquarters Platoon
Company HQ
Paul Triquet (Warrior)
30pts
50pts
Combat Platoons
 
Rifle Platoon
with 3 Squads
Including Light Mortar & PIAT teams
190pts
Rifle Platoon
with 3 Squads
Including Light Mortar & PIAT teams
190pts
Rifle Platoon
with 3 Squads
Including Light Mortar & PIAT teams
190pts
Weapons Platoons
 
Rifle Platoon
with 3 Squads
Including Light Mortar & PIAT teams
190pts
Support Platoons
 
Heavy Armoured Platoon
‘C’ Squadron, The Ontario Regiment
4 Sherman V, 1 0.5” AAMG
605pts
Field Battery, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery
2 Gun Troops with 4 Gun Sections
465pts
Total  1780pts

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

Headquarters Platoon
Company HQ
2 Command Panzerknacker SMG teams   
55pts
10pts
Combat Platoons
 
Fallschirmjäger Platoon
with 3 Squads
Command Panzerknacker SMG team   
285pts
Fallschirmjäger Platoon
with 2 Squads
Command Panzerknacker SMG team 
 200pts
Weapons Platoons
 
Machine-gun Platoon
3 HMG teams
 145pts
Support Platoons
 
Panzer Platoon,190th Panzerabteilung
3 Panzer IV G (late), 1 Panzer III N
 640pts
Motorised Panzer Grenadier Platoon
2 Panzergrenadier Squads
Command Panzerknacker SMG team
165pts
Total  1500pts

 

Captain Paul Triquet VC

Captain Paul Triquet VC

Characteristics

Captain Triquet is an Infantry team, a Warrior and a Company Command team rated as Confident Trained.

Triquet is armed with a Thompson sub-machinegun and No. 36M “Mills Bomb” hand grenades. He has a range of 4”/10cm, ROF 3 whether he moves or not, Anti-tank 2, and Firepower 6.

He may join any “Van Doos” Rifle Company for +50 points. He becomes the Company Command team replacing the existing Company Command team.

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”.

Triquet and any platoon he joins pass all Motivation tests on a roll of 2+

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 Capt 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.

Triquet and any platoon he joins may attempt to move again at the end of the Movement step after all other movement. Roll a die. On a 4+ the platoon may move a further 4”/10cm. All of the normal rules apply for this movement. The platoon may still shoot after making this extra move.

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 by enemy fire or in an assault, roll a die. On a roll of 5+ his luck holds and the shot missed. On any other roll, he is hit and counts as Destroyed.

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 is a Cauldron scenario. The Canadians are defending and the German forces are attacking. The German table edge is the North East edge.

Looking at the badly drawn 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 ‘Mud’ Terrain Rules found on Page 246 of Flames Of War. 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 246 of Flames Of War.

Burnt out and abandoned vehicles and tanks should also appear on the table to be used as cover on the table.

The Canadian player must start the game with one large and one small Rifle Platoon on the table along with the oversize Sherman Platoon. The Observer teams for the artillery battery also deploy on the table, but with no vehicles. 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 225 of Flames Of War.

The German Player’s Motorised Panzer Grenadiers do not have their transports in this game.

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, June 28, 2007 by Wayne at Battlefront