By Scott Taylor
The Ontario Regiment Museum hosts Canada's largest annual military show and, this year, Esprit de Corps publisher Scott Taylor and senior writer David Pugliese were invited to attend as special guests at the two-day event.
Aquino Weekend was held on May 27–28, 2017 and attracted more than 8,000 excited history buffs to the museum site at the Oshawa Executive Airport.
The title of the show is tribute to the Ontario Regiment’s disastrous involvement in the 1944 Battle of Aquino, a key engagement in the Allied effort to break through the so-called Hitler Line south of Rome.
The battle was unique in that it saw the armoured regiment fighting German defences alone, without either artillery or infantry support. The battle began on May 19, 1944 and pitted the Ontario Regiment against firmly entrenched German forces intent on preventing the Allied push towards Rome. When the advance was stalled, the Ontario Regiment was ordered to hold its position. The Germans, attacking from three sides, struck every tank at least once, and 13 Ontario Regiment tanks were totally destroyed by the Nazis. With their vehicles crippled, members of the regiment withdrew. But the progress the Ontario Regiment’s sacrifice made that day paved the way for eventual Allied success in Italy.
A battle re-enactment of Aquino was staged on both days of the weekend event, with the museum’s collection of operational Second World War-era Allied tanks and armoured vehicles engaged by a horde of German uniformed re-enactors with an anti-tank cannon. The pyrotechnics and blank ammunition from actual weapons was provided by the Movie Armament Group out of Toronto. Their specialty is, of course, working with Hollywood producers to create action film battle scenes.
The Ontario Regiment Museum is home to Canada's largest collection of operational historical military vehicles, and they range in era from WWII till the present day. In fact, the museum recently acquired five Leopard 1 tanks from Poland. Enthusiastic attendees could pay up to $250 for a bucket-list ride aboard one of these Leopard tanks, while other vehicles provided similar rides around the muddy show grounds for a fraction of that price.
Each day also featured a Vietnam War re-enactment, wherein sneaky black-clad Viet Congs ambushed an American M113 armoured personnel carrier (APC) which was, in turn, wiped out by the American relief force, which included a U.S. Army M551 Sheridan tank.
The daily finale was a huge Gulf War mock battle wherein a plethora of allied armoured vehicles — both British and American — overwhelm a single Iraqi T-54 tank and a handful of fanatical Saddam Hussein fedayeen fighters. Of special note is the fact that many of the British vehicles were crewed by the very same soldiers who actually drove them in Kuwait in 1991.
New to the show this year was the sponsorship from World of Tanks video games. Several times each day, winners from the virtual game were given the opportunity to actually test their skills inside a pair of duelling Leopard tanks.
The poor results would indicate that there is more to the aiming of a real tank cannon than simply having quick reflexes on a joystick!
While not everyone would be interested in watching warfare portrayed as glorified (and goreless) theatre, for the thousands of fans in the stands, Aquino Weekend 2017 was a blast. In fact, hundreds of blasts!