Operation Norman (i)

This was the Allied overall designation for the seizure and/or occupation of Sardinia and Corsica (13 September/3 October 1943).

‘Norman’ (i) was based on two previously unrealised plans, promulgated after the ‘Husky’ (i) invasion and reduction of Sicily, for the capture of Sardinia by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army in ‘Brimstone’ (ii), and of Corsica by Free French forces in ‘Firebrand’ during the summer of 1943.

At ‘Quadrant’, otherwise the inter-Allied 1st Quebec Conference during August 1943, the Allied leadership had agreed that their forces should undertake the seizure of Sardinia and Corsica after the elimination of Italy from the war and the establishment of air bases in the area of Rome.

In the event it was the Germans who acted both first and decisively. Their plan for dealing with the effects on Sardinia of an Italian collapse, put into force on 8 September 1943 under the energetic leadership of Generalleutnant Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin, who had reached Sardinia only the day before, was the evacuation of all German forces and equipment in Sardinia to Corsica. Maddalena and Santa Teresa were the Sardinian ports of departure, and Porto Vecchio and Bonifacio were the Corsican ports of arrival. The Italians in control of neighbouring coastal batteries agreed not to interfere. Siebel ferries and landing craft, released after the ‘Lehrgang’ evacuation of German forces from Sicily, transported the garrison as did such barges as could be spared from carrying fuel between Livorno and the front in Italy.

Oberst Hubertus Hitschold, the Fliegerführer ‘Sardinien’, transferred his headquarters to Ghisonaccia airfield in Corsica on 10 September and thus became the Fliegerführer 2, and on 11 September the remaining 44 German aircraft in Sardinia, mostly Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters, followed. Between 8 and 15 September the Germans wrecked seven of the Sardinian airfields.

Nevertheless, on 10 September, more than 50 Italian aircraft landed on other airfields from Italy, and 22 of them later flew to Sicily and Tunisia to join the Allies. The remainder prepared to operate from Sardinia in support of the Allies, and on 16 September five Cant Z.1007 bombers attacked German evacuation shipping in the Bay of Bonifacio. For the next four days the Germans retaliated with attacks on the serviceable Sardinian airfields.

By 19 September Generalmajor Theodor Graf von Sponeck’s 90th Panzergrenadierdivision, one fortress brigade, and a number of anti-aircraft and air force units, totalling 25,800 men, 4,650 vehicles, 4,765 tons of stores and numerous guns had been carried across to Corsica, and the evacuation was complete.

The Italian garrison, which should in theory have been more than sufficient to prevent the completion of this German effort, was commanded by Generale di Corpo d’Armata Antonio Basso and comprised Generale di Corpo d’Armata Agostino Cinti’s XVI Corps and Generale di Divisione Gian Giacomo Castagna’s XXX Corps (two infantry and three coast defence divisions) as well as Generale di Divisione Giuseppe Cortese’s 47th Divisione ‘Bari’ and Generale di Brigata Francesco Ronco’s 184th Divisione paracadutista ‘Nembo’. However, the Germans were high-morale veterans of the North African campaign, were well concentrated in the middle of the island, and were led by a capable commander, Generalleutnant Carl-Hans von Lungershausen. The Germans left behind them only 50 dead, 100 wounded, and 395 prisoners.

The Allies then then occupied Sardinia in ‘Yoke’ (i). During the night of 13/14 September a detachment of US airborne forces dropped on Decimomannu airfield and established a communications link with Allied headquarters. On 18 September two British motor gun boats, carrying Brigadier General Theodore Roosevelt Jr as the representative of the Supreme Allied Commander, entered Cagliari. The Italian authorities gave him a friendly reception and Sardinia was taken over in the name of the Allies.

In Corsica the German occupying forces at the time of Italy’s collapse included SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Gesele’s Sturmbrigade ‘Reichsführer-SS’, one infantry battalion of Generalleutnant Eberhard Rodt’s 15th Panzergrenadierdivision, two batteries of coast artillery and one battery of heavy Flak artillery. On 7 September von Senger und Etterlin had arrived to become the island’s German commander, and the commander of the Italian forces, Generale di Divisione Giovanni Magli, assured him that his VII Corps would continue to fight the ‘Gaullists’ and that he would not oppose the evacuation from Sardinia. But there were an estimated 20,000 French resistance fighters and other patriots, mostly in the mountainous interior of the island whom, it was believed, many Italians would like to join.

Général d’Armée Henri Honoré Giraud, who feared that the French patriots might be overwhelmed, obtained General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s agreement to send French troops to their help. Eisenhower could offer no transport, however, as neither ships nor aircraft could be spared from the Salerno battle following ‘Avalanche’. The solution was to use French warships, and between 11 September and 1 October contingents of French troops were transported from Algiers to Ajaccio: on 11/13 September 109 men by the submarine Casabianca, on 13/14 September 500 men and 60 tons of supplies by the destroyers Fantasque and Terrible, on 14/16 September 30 men and seven tons of supplies by the submarine Perle, on 16/17 September 550 men and 60 tons of supplies by the destroyers Fantasque, Tempête and Alcyon, on 16/18 September five tons by the submarine Aréthuse, on 17/18 September a US commando unit of 400 men and 20 tons of supplies by the Italian destroyers Legionario and Alfredo Oriani, on 19/21 September 1,200 men, 110 tons of supplies, six guns and six vehicles by the cruiser Jeanne d’Arc and destroyers Fantasque, Tempête and Alcyon, on 22/23 September 1,500 men and 200 tons by the cruiser Montcalm and destroyer Fantasque, on 23/25 September 350 men, 100 tons of supplies, 21 guns and 30 vehicles by the destroyers Fortuné and Alcyon, landing ship LST-79 and minesweepers MMS 1 and MMS 116, on 25 September 850 men and 160 tons of supplies by Jeanne d’Arc, on 26 September 750 men, 100 tons of supplies, 12 guns and 10 vehicles by Montcalm and the British destroyer Pathfinder, on 28/30 September 200 men, four guns, 70 vehicles by Fortuné and LST-79 (both damaged in a German air attack and the latter sinking), and on 30 September/1 October 700 men and 170 tons of supplies by Jeanne d’Arc and Alcyon.

Unknown to the Allies, though, the situation had already changed for the Germans when on 12 September Adolf Hitler ordered that Corsica, too, was to be evacuated. Fregattenkapitän Gustav von Liebenstein, a leading light in the successful Axis evacuations of Sicily and Sardinia, was sent to Corsica to organise the sea transport which would be required. The plan was to concentrate the German forces in the north-eastern part of the island, using the port of Bastia and neighbouring airfields for evacuation to the Italian mainland, and to the island of Elba, which the Germans had occupied by this time. The lift by sea was to Livorno, Piombino and Elba.

Up to 24 September the air transports operated from Ghisonaccia airfield, mid-way up the east coast of Corsica, to mainland airfields at Pisa, Lucca, Metato and Pratica di Mare. On 24 September the German air force evacuated Ghisonaccia airfield, and the operational units returned to Italy. On the next day Bastia and a nearby airfield came into service for the air lift. By this time ‘Gaullists’, reinforced by the French army units landed at Ajaccio, were close on the Germans’ heels. On the night of 29/30 September the Bastia bridgehead was penetrated but the Germans succeeded in holding on until evacuation was complete.

The evacuation had been completed with considerable efficiency by the evening of 3 October. The air lift had carried out 21,107 men and some 350 tons of stores: 55 transport aircraft had been lost in the process, most of them on Italian airfields as a result of Allied bombing, and the remainder in combat with Bristol Beaufighter heavy fighters of the RAF’s Nos 39 and 47 Squadrons, and Supermarine Spitfire fighters of the French Groupes de Chasse I/3 and II/7 from Ajaccio, all elements of the North African Coastal Air Force. By sea, 6,240 troops, about 1,200 prisoners of war, more than 3,200 vehicles and nearly 5,000 tons of stores had been trans-shipped. Some 17,000 tons of ships and small craft were lost, chiefly to British submarines and Allied bombers including North American B-25 Mitchell heavy attack aircraft armed with a 75-mm (2.95-in) cannon, attached to Air Vice Marshal Sir Hugh Lloyd’s North-West African Coastal Air Force.