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Posted on Mar 6, 2006 in Front Page Features, War College

Canadians in Italy, Part 1, The Battle of Ortona

By Danny Bouchard

The Gully and Casa Berardi

On December 10th, 2nd Brigade was back in action. Brigadier Hoffmeister, Commanding Officer, ordered the Loyal Edmonton Regiment to move forward from their position on the Moro River and proceed to their objective, a vital crossroad on Highway Number 16 called “Cider”. The Edmontons moved out supported by a squadron of the Calgary Tanks, a platoon of the Saskatoon Light Infantry and 2 Companies from the 48th Highlanders. (*3) At first, the advance was swift but the Edmontons ran into trouble upon reaching the crossroads and could not secure their objective. The defending Germans, again remnants of the 90th Panzer Division, had chosen their next line of defense wisely. “The Gully” which lay in the Canadians’ path formed a complex anti-tank obstacle and was filled with weapons pits constructed in its steep bank and was practically immune to artillery fire. In the afternoon of the 10th, a sharp German counterattack against the Edmontons was beaten back but not before several Calgary tanks were knocked out. Poor communication resulted in the PPCLI moving forward to exploit the capture of “Cider” but they also ran into German opposition and were now engaged in “The Gully”. As night came, both Battalions dug in and “Cider” was still firmly in German hands. In the morning of the 11th, more fighting occurred with little or no gains. “The Gully” was preventing the Canadians from moving forward and to march into Ortona. For several days, waves of Canadians attacked in the centre and were being subjected to endless counterattacks, mortar and artillery fire. These attacks failed and the troops were quickly becoming exhausted. It was soon clear that in order to capture the crossroads, a flanking attack had to be made.

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On the morning of the 13th, the Royal 22e Regiment was tasked with breaking through and capturing the farm at Casa Berardi. This would permit the Canadians to turn the German flank, control the main highway leading to Ortona, capture the crossroads and “The Gully”. Tasked with this was “C” Company under the command of Capt. Paul Triquet and tanks from the Ontario regiment. The attack began and the Company quickly found itself in heavy fighting. The Germans would not let them move forward and surrounded the company and the squadron of tanks. German tanks and machine guns were spraying the unit and casualties were mounting. Surrounded, low on ammunition, and with any hope of being reinforced next to nil, Triquet rallied his men by saying: “There are enemy in front of us, behind us and on our flanks. There is only one safe place – that is our objective.” (*4) The company moved forward, attacked and captured their objective: Casa Berardi. The survivors numbered less than 15 and immediately dug themselves in an anticipation of the inevitable counterattack. “Ils ne passeront pas!” was Triquet’s standing order. (They shall not pass). Darkness fell and the small force remained alert but held their ground. During the night, 2 companies of the Royal 22e Regiment made their way through and reached the beleaguered company and Triquet’s force was relieved. The German flank was sealed and Casa Berardi was firmly in Canadian hands. For his gallantry at Casa Berardi, Captain Paul Triquet was awarded the Commonwealth’s highest award: the Victoria Cross.

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Captain Paul Triquet (courtesy Ed Storey, via canadiansoldiers.com)

Now with Casa Berardi in Canadian hands, “Cider” crossroads was finally captured on the 19th. The Germans were defeated at “The Gully” and had to retreat to avoid being flanked. Ortona was now in sight. German paratroopers were moving into Ortona and preparing for its defense. After “The Gully,” the battle-weary Canadians were preparing to move to Ortona. After their ordeal at the Moro River and “The Gully”, certainly Ortona would be easier. Little did they know that the worst fighting of the campaign was yet to come. Facing them would be the crack 1st Parachute Division and they were digging in for a fight.

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The attack from the Moro to Ortona (The Canadians in Italy 1943-1945)

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