Mission #9 - A Coy/RCR Campaign, Sicily to Ortona, Italy, 1943

ChappyNS

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MISSION #9 RESULTS

This was the bloodiest battle of the campaign so far, and if it wasn’t for the heavy rains it would have been worse. The terrain wasn’t favourable for the advancing Germans who had to expose themselves repeatedly in order to exit the map.

The Germans lost 120 men (most in increments of HS), 4 leaders, and a SPG. They were able to exit 25 men off the map for their mission on the Moro River.

The Canadians lost 5 men from 1 Pl and their MMG broke and needs repair at “the shop”. The timely arrival of two 76mm mortars certainly helped immensely. Every turn there was 5 Canadian mortars launching bombs (plus ROF) at the Germans which took it’s toll for sure.

Capt Bowman gets a fanatic promotion to “9-1” but the fanatic section wasn’t able to join him.

Maj Liddell is promoted due to the results of the mission. He is now “9-2”

With the Personal Leader Option rule, Capt Chapman is promoted to “10-2”

Squad Seasoning - eliminating the hero gives a “-1” bonus. The result is that two sections gain seasoning status. 2 sect, 2 Pl is now 1st line, and 1 sext, 3 Pl is now elite.

Replacements - an elite HS was gained and combined with the other HS to make 1 sect, 1 Pl complete again

Weapons - MMG is repaired

A Coy is off to Mission #10 - the Ortona-Orsogna Crossroads!
 

ChappyNS

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If I may, I would like to add some actual regimental history to this particular mission. I visited Ortona in 2011 and the photos below are mine. Please note that I named CSM Sterlin in my campaign after Lt Mitch Sterlin who earned regimental fame on 8/9 December and which I will detail below.

On 8 December 1943, when Mission #9 takes place, the Royal Canadian Regiment (RCR) was advancing across the Moro River when A Company was heavily shelled by the Germans. B Coy flanked A Coy, and C Company had just passed through A Coy towards the town of San Leonardo when a German armoured car and heavy tank counterattacked from San Leonardo with infantry. C Company withdrew back through A Coy. Meanwhile, D Coy had just crossed its start line when it too was ravaged by artillery. The lead platoon of D Company, 16 Platoon, was led by 22 year old Lt Mitch Sterlin.

The following details are taken from the RCR Regimental History, Vol. 2:

"16 Platoon in the lead, under command of Lt M. Sterlin, escaped the shoot, and reached its allocated position, where it occupied and fortified a stone farmhouse midway between A and B Company....Throughout the night (8/9 December) Colonel Spry (CO) took advantage of the hours of darkness to improve his positions by moving to flank and occupy a reverse slope to the left of Lt Sterlin's fortified farmhouse."

The photo below is the modern day renovated stone farmhouse that Sterlin's 16 Platoon occupied, later to be known forever as "Sterlin's Castle"

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On the morning of the 9th, the Regiment advanced towards San Leonardo once again when suddenly elements of 90th Panzer Grenadier Division counterattacked from the north-west to try and eliminate the Moro bridgehead. The Regiment was caught on the march. The counterattack went across the frontage of A Coy, who fired into the flanks of the Germans, but the Germans carried on towards the river. And that is when they hit 16 Platoon. Again from the Regimental History:

"But only 16 Platoon stood in the path of the enemy advance and it gave the Regiment one of its finest hours. When the enemy struck, riflemen held all doors and windows and the platoon Bren gunners were in weapons pits outside. After a furious firefight which exhausted all of their ammunition, the Bren gunners escaped towards the river. Eleven men of 16 Platoon were left in the farmhouse which had become the target of six German machine guns. About mid afternoon the enemy assaulted the house, literally leaving their dead standing against the wall...an oberleutnant was shot in the act of forcing a stick grenade through the bars of one window and a soldier wearing the Iron Cross was killed within four feet of the same window while giving covering fire. When the artillery, which had been fully employed in breaking the attack elsewhere came to the rescue with a concentration around the house, thirty Germans had been killed and the platoon's ammunition was running low. After nightfall Sterlin and his handful withdrew, carrying their wounded, to rejoin the Regiment. Hereafter military maps showed the scene of this great stand as Sterlin's Castle."

The photo below is of the monument that stands to the left of the modern day entrance to the property of the farmhouse:

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Sadly, and with tragic irony, Lt Sterlin and the remainder his platoon were all killed during the time of the next mission, Mission #10 with the assault against the Ortona crossroads.

Major Strome Galloway, commander of B Coy and one of the few officers to survive the war with the Regiment from its start in Sicily (and who I had the distinct pleasure of serving as his aide during a visit to the 2nd Battalion), writes in his book called "Some Died at Ortona" the following passage:

"While visiting my forward platoon I saw Mitch Sterlin's body. He and his lead section are lying in perfect arrowhead formation, all dead, and within a few yards of their objective. They were advancing in perfect order. We found one badly mangled chap, his head forced into the space between twin trees. He was terribly shot up, and, despite about eighteen hours exposure, shock, pain and loss of blood, was still breathing. At first we thought he was dead and pulled him out of his strange position to identify him. He clung fiercely to the two tree trunks, completely out of his mind. He was quickly evacuated. I doubt if he will survive."

In 2011 while in this area, I visited the Moro River Canadian War Cemetery just outside the town of Ortona, near the coastline. I was both happy and saddened to find Sterlin's grave there. I planted the small Canadian flag shown in the photo and took a moment of silence.

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Thanks for reading...
 
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