This was the Allied invasion and seizure of the Italian island of Sicily (9 July/17 August 1943).
It was at the 'Symbol' inter-Allied conference at Casablanca in January 1943 that the British and US political and military leadership teams had convened to discuss future strategy. The British Chiefs-of-Staff desired an invasion of Sicily or Sardinia, arguing that it would force Germany to disperse its forces and might knock Italy out of the war and move Turkey to join the Allies. The Americans initially opposed this concept as both opportunistic and irrelevant, but were then persuaded to agree to an invasion of Sicily, largely in response to the argument that there would be a great saving to Allied shipping tonnages and speeds that would result from the opening of the Mediterranean through the removal of the threat posed by Axis air and naval forces on Sicily.
With the decision in favour of an invasion and reduction of Sicily taken, the Combined Chiefs-of-Staffs appointed Lieutenant General (from 11 February General) Eisenhower as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force, with General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander as his deputy with responsibility for detailed planning and execution of the operation, Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham as the naval commander, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder as the air commander. The two major formations committed to 'Husky' (i) were Lieutenant General George S. Patton’s US 7th Army and General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army, which together constituted Alexander’s Allied 15th Army Group.
The outline plan given to Eisenhower by the Combined Chiefs-of-Staff was based on a number of dispersed landings by elements of divisional and brigade sizes in the south-eastern, southern and north-western areas of the island. The logic behind this plan was that it would result in the rapid capture of the island’s airfields, which in Axis hands posed a threat to the beach-heads and the invasion fleet lying off them. It would also led to the rapid capture of all the island’s main ports, except Messina, but therefore including, clockwise from Messina, Catania and Augusta on the east coast, Licata on the south-west coast, and Palermo on the north coast. The capture of these ports would facilitate a rapid Allied build-up, as well as denying their use to the Axis.
High level planning for 'Husky' (i) at the theatre level was then bedevilled by a lack of direction as the three main land commanders, Alexander, Montgomery and Patton, were fully occupied in operations in Tunisia. Effort was wasted in presenting plans that Montgomery, in particular, disliked on the grounds that the assault forces would be, in his estimation, dispersed too widely. Montgomery was finally able to put forward his objections and offer alternative proposals on 24 April. However, both Tedder and Cunningham opposed Montgomery’s plan because it would leave 13 airfields in Axis hands, posing a considerable threat to the Allied invasion fleet. Eisenhower called a high-level conference on 2 May with Montgomery, Cunningham and Tedder, and at this meeting Montgomery made new proposals to concentrate the Allied effort on the south-eastern corner of Sicily, thereby discarding the proposed landings close to Palermo and aiming initially only at the south-eastern ports. After Alexander had joined the meeting on 3 May, Montgomery’s proposals were finally accepted on the basis that it was better to take the logistical risk of having to support troops by landing supplies across beaches than to take the operational risk of a dispersed effort.
Not for the last time, Montgomery had argued a sound course of action, but had nonetheless managed to so so in a manner so high-handed that it suggested to others, and especially his US allies, that he was preoccupied with his own interests. In the event, the task of maintaining the armies by landing supplies across the beaches proved to be easier than expected, in part because of the successful introduction of large numbers of the new amphibious DUKW truck.
On 17 May, Alexander issued his Operation Instruction No. 1 for the Allied 15th Army Group, laying out his overall plan and defining the tasks of the two armies. In broad terms, Alexander’s intention was to establish these armies along a line from Catania in the east to Licata in the south-west as the first stage of a campaign which would then reduce the island. Alexander later wrote that at that stage it was not practicable to plan further ahead, but that his intentions were clear in his own mind as to the next step: the 15th Army Group would next drive to the north, ultimately toward San Stefano on the north coast, and thereby split the island in two and cut the Axis forces' east/west lateral lines of communication.
The 7th Army was to land to the west of and also in the Gulf of Gela, in south central Sicily, with Major General Lucian K. Truscott’s 3rd Division and Major General Hugh J. Gaffey’s 2nd Armored Division coming ashore to the west in the Baia della Mollarella in the Joss sector, just to the west of Licata, under army command, and with Lieutenant General Omar N. Bradley’s II Corps landing Major General Terry de la M. Allen’s 1st Division in the centre at Gela in the Dime sector, and Major General Troy H. Middleton’s 45th Division on the east at Scoglitti in the Cent sector. Major General Matthew B. Ridgway’s 82nd Airborne Division was assigned to drop behind the defences at Gela and Scoglitti. The width of the 7th Army’s beaches was more than 30 miles (48 km).
The 8th Army was to land in south-eastern Sicily. Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese’s XXX Corps was land on each side of Cape Passero, at the very south-eastern corner of Sicily, in the Bark East and Bark West sectors, and Lieutenant General M. C. Dempsey’s XIII Corps was to land in the Gulf of Noto around Avola, to the north of the XXX Corps and on the east coast in the Acid North and Acid South sectors. The width of the 8th Army’s beaches was 25 miles (40 km).
The XXX Corps was to deliver Major General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian 1st Division in the Bark West sector between Cape Passero and Pozzallo, and Major General D. N. Wimberley’s 51st Division in the Bark East sector round Cape Passero and thus to the south of Pachino. The XIII Corps was to deliver Major General S. C. Kirkman’s 50th Division in the Acid South sector near Avola, and Major General H. P. M. Berney-Fickin’s 5th Division in the Acid North sector near Cassibile.
The US and British landings were to be supported airborne operations and also, respectively, by Ranger and commando forces.
There was a 25-mile (40-km) gap between the eastern end of the 7th Army’s assault area and the western end of the 8th Army’s assault area.
As soon as the defeat of the Axis forces in Tunisia had been completed, Lieutenant General Carl A. Spaatz’s Allied North-West African Air Forces command unleashed Major General James H. Doolittle’s Allied North-West African Strategic Air Force into the start of a campaign of attacks on the principal airfields of Sardinia, Sicily and southern Italy, industrial targets in southern Italy and the ports of Naples on the mainland, Messina and Palermo in Sicily, and Cagliari in Sardinia. The attacks were carefully planned to maintain in the minds of Axis commanders a complete uncertainty about the location of the imminent 'Husky' (i) invasion, and thereby force the Axis commanders to keep aircraft in mainland Italy and Sardinia rather than redeploy them to Sicily.
Bombing attacks were also increased on targets in northern Italy by aircraft based in the UK and in Greece by aircraft based in the Middle East.
From 3 July, bombing attacks became increasingly concentrated on the airfields of Sicily and Axis lines of communications with mainland Italy, although beach defences remained unmolested in order to preserve surprise as to exactly where the landings were to take place. By 10 July, therefore, only two airfields in Sicily remained fully serviceable, and more than half of the Axis aircraft had been forced to leave the island.
In the period between the middle of May and the start of the invasion, Allied warplanes flew 42,227 sorties which destroyed 323 German and 105 Italian aircraft for the loss of 250 of their own aircraft, most of the latter to anti-aircraft fire while operating over Sicily.
Heavy air attacks were also flown during May against the small island of Pantelleria, some 70 miles (110 km) to the south-west of Sicily and 150 miles (240 km) to the north-west of Malta, in order to prevent the island’s airfield from being used in support of the evacuation of the last Axis troops from North Africa. From 6 June, the attacks were further increased up and on 11 June, after a naval bombardment and the 'Corkscrew' amphibious landing by Major General W. Clutterbuck’s British 1st Division the island’s garrison surrendered. The Pelagie islands of Lampedusa and Linosa, some 90 miles (140 km) to the west of Malta, followed in short order on 12 June in 'Guitar'.
The Allies used a network of underground tunnels and bunkers below the Lascaris Battery in Valletta, Malta, as the advanced headquarters for 'Husky' (i). In July 1943, Eisenhower, Montgomery, Cunningham and Tedder arrived here to supervise the forthcoming assault.
To distract the Axis, and if possible persuade them to divert some of their forces to other areas, the Allies engaged in several deception operations. The largest-scale of these was 'Barclay', while the most celebrated was 'Mincemeat', in which the British allowed a corpse, disguised as a British officer, to drift ashore in Spain carrying a briefcase containing fake secret documents that supposedly revealed that the Allies were planning to invade Greece and Sardinia, and had no plans to invade Sicily. German intelligence accepted the authenticity of the documents with the result that the Germans diverted much of their defensive effort from Sicily to Greece.
Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel was sent to Greece to assume overall command. The Germans also transferred a group of their Räumboote minesweepers and small minelayers from Sicily, and laid three additional minefields off the Greek coast. They also moved to Greece three Panzer divisions, one from France, and the other two from the Eastern Front, where their removal reduced the German combat strength for 'Zitadelle'.
In all, the Axis defence totalled some 365,000 Italian and 40,000 German troops with at least 47 tanks and about 200 pieces of artillery.
Two British and two US airborne operations were carried out just after 24.00 on the night of 9/10 July as the first part of 'Husky' (i). The US paratroopers comprised mostly Colonel James M. Gavin’s 505th Parachute Infantry of Ridgway’s 82nd Airborne Division, making its first combat drop.
The British landings were preceded by the 21st Independent Parachute Company (Pathfinders), which was to mark landing zones for the paratroopers who were to seize the Ponte Grande, the bridge over the Anape river, just to the south of Syracuse, and hold it in 'Marston' until the British 5th Division arrived from the beaches at Cassibile, some 7 miles (11 km) to the south. British gliderborne infantry of Brigadier P. H. W. Hicks’s 1st Airlanding Brigade were to seize landing zones farther inland in 'Ladbroke'.
Winds of up to 45 mph (72 km/h) blew the troop-carrying aircraft off course and the drop of the US force was scattered widely over south-eastern Sicily between Gela and Syracuse. By 14 July, about two-thirds of the 505th Parachute Infantry had managed to concentrate, but half of the US paratroopers failed to reach their rallying points. The British gliderborne troops fared little better, with only 12 of the 147 gliders landing on target and 69 crashing into the sea.
Even so, the scattered airborne troops maximised the opportunities available to the airborne troops, who attacked Axis patrols and created rear-area confusion wherever possible. A platoon of the South Staffordshire Regiment, which landed on its target, captured the Ponte Grande and fought off counterattacks. More men rallied to the sound of shooting, and the British were holding the bridge. A battalion of the Italian 75th Reggimento of the 54th Divisione then arrived with some artillery. The British held out until about 15.30, when they were forced to surrender to Colonnello Francesco Ronco’s 75th Reggimento only 45 minutes before the leading elements of 5th Division arrived from the south.
Despite of these mishaps, the widespread landing of airborne troops had an overall positive effect as small isolated units, acting on their own initiative, attacked vital points and created widespread panic.
The Allied amphibious assault was launched just after 24.00 on 9/10 July by formations ferried and escorted from North Africa in the armada of 2,590 ships provided by Cunningham’s Allied Naval Forces Mediterranean command, and has the aerial support of 3,630 Allied aircraft.
On the left flank Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt’s Western Naval Task Force supported Patton’s US 7th Army, which landed in the Gulf of Gela in two basic groups: on the left Truscott’s 3rd Division came ashore around Licata with support from the US Rangers and Combat Command A of Gaffey’s 2nd Armored Division, and on the right Bradley’s II Corps landed between Gela and Scoglitti with Allen’s 1st Division and Middleton’s 45th Division.
Tactical air support for the 7th Army was the responsibility of Major General Edwin J. House’s XII Air Support Command.
On the Allied right flank Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay’s Eastern Naval Task Force supported Montgomery’s British 8th Army, which came ashore around Cape Pachino (Leese’s XXX Corps with Simonds’s Canadian 1st Division, used instead of Major General W. H. C. Ramsden’s British 3rd Division, a regular division which had already trained specifically for the campaign, because of Canadian political insistence, and Wimberley’s British 51st Division supported by commandos and Brigadier R. E. Urquhart’s British 231st Independent Brigade) and in the Gulf of Syracuse (Dempsey’s XIII Corps with Berney-Ficklin’s British 5th Division and Kirkman’s British 50th Division supported by commandos).
Tactical air support for the 8th Army was the responsibility of Air Vice Marshal H. Broadhurst’s Western Desert Air Force.
The 7th Army had part of the 1st Division and 2nd Armored Division (less Combat Command A already ashore) available as floating reserves, while the 8th Army had available as reserve (but only in North Africa) Major General V. Evelegh’s British 78th Division
Rear Admiral T. H. Troubridge’s Force ‘A’ had the headquarters ship Bulolo and controlled most of the MWS.36 and MWF.36 convoys carrying the XIII Corps (3rd [Royal Marine] Commando, 5th Division and 50th Division) to land to the south of the Maddalena peninsula in the Acid North sector and to the south of Avola in the Acid South sector; its beacon submarine was Unruffled. Captain the Lord Ashbourne’s Force ‘N’ had the headquarters ship Keren and controlled the rest of the MWS.36 and MWF.36 convoys carrying the 231st Independent Brigade to land on the east coast of the Pachino peninsula in the Bark East sector; its beacon submarine was Unseen. Rear Admiral R. R. McGrigor’s Force ‘B’ had the headquarters ship Largs and controlled the SBS.1, SBM.1 and SBF.1 convoys to land the 51st Division near Cape Passero; its beacon submarine was Unison. Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian’s Force ‘V’ had the headquarters ship Hilary and controlled the KMS.18 and MKF.18 convoys to land the Canadian 1st Division on the west coast of the Pachino peninsula; its beacon submarine was Unrivalled. The troops land by Forces ‘N’, ‘B’ and ‘V’ constituted the XXX Corps.
Rear Admiral C. H. J. Harcourt’s Support Force East comprised the light cruisers Newfoundland, Uganda, Mauritius and Orion, light anti-aircraft cruisers Carlisle, Colombo and Delhi, auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Palomares, and monitors Erebus and Roberts; it also had the fleet destroyers Inconstant, Eskimo, Laforey, Lookout, Loyal, Nubian, Tartar, Arrow, Venomous, Viceroy, Wallace, Wanderer, Wishart, Woolston and Wrestler, escort destroyers Aldenham, Blencathra, Clare, Eggesford, Hursley, Hurworth, Lauderdale, Ledbury, Rockwood, Wheatland, Wilton, Atherstone, Cleveland, Hambledon, Mendip, Quantock, Tynedale, Whaddon, Dulverton, Beaufort, Exmoor, Brocklesby, Tetcott, Blankney, Lamerton, Oakley, Liddesdale, Farndale, Calpe, Easton, Belvoir, Holcombe, Haydon, Brecon, Brissenden and Puckeridge, Greek Pindos, Adrias, Kanaris, Miaoulis and Themistokles, and Polish Krakowiak and Slazak, sloops Shoreham, Chanticleer, Crane, Cygnet, Erne, Pheasant, Whimbrel and Indian Jumna and Sutlej , frigates Bann, Dart, Plym, Test, Teviot and Trent, corvettes Bluebell, Bryony, Camellia, Convolvulus, Delphinium, Dianella, Honeysuckle, Hyacinth, Hyderabad, Lotus, Oxlip, Pentstemon, Poppy, Primula, Rhododendron, Starwort, Vetch and Free Greek Sakhtouris, cutters Banff and Fishguard, and Australian minesweepers Gawler, Lismore, Ipswich, Maryborough, Geraldton, Cairns, Cessnock and Wollongong and 25 others together with the Free Dutch gunboats Flores and Soemba.
Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk’s Task Force 85 had the headquarters ship Ancon and controlled parts of the NCF.1, TF.1 and TJM.1 convoys to land the 25,800 men of the 45th Division on each side of Scoglitti in the Cent sector; its beacon submarine was the British Seraph. TG85’s support and escort group comprised the light cruiser Philadelphia, British monitor Abercrombie, and destroyers Earle, Cowie, Parker, Laub, Mackenzie, Kendrick, Doran, Boyle, Champlin, Nields, Davison, Mervine, Quick, Tillman and Beatty.
Rear Admiral John L. Hall’s Task Force 81 had the headquarters ship Samuel Chase and controlled parts of the NCF.1, TJF.1 and TJM.1 convoys to land the 19,250 men of the 1st Division near Gela in the Dime sector; its beacon submarine was the British Shakespeare. Its support and escort group comprised the light cruisers Boise and Savannah, and destroyers Cole, Shubrick, Jeffers, Nelson, McLanahan, Murphy, Glennon, Maddox, Dallas, Gherardi, Butler, Herndon and Bernadou.
Rear Admiral Richard L. Conolly’s Task Force 86 had the headquarters ship Biscayne and controlled the TJF.1, TJM.1 and TJS.1 convoys to land the 27,650 men of the 3rd Division and part of the 2nd Armored Division on each side of Licata in the Joss sector; its beacon submarine was the British Safari. Its support and escort group comprised the light cruisers Brooklyn and Birmingham, and destroyers Bristol, Buck, Ludlow, Swanson, Roe, Edison, Woolsey, Wilkes and Nicholson.
Hewitt’s Task Force 80 (flagship and reserve forces) had the headquarters ship Monrovia and the 18th Regimental Combat Team of the 1st Division and two RCTs of the 2nd Armored Division on board transports and tank landing ships, escorted by the destroyers Wainwright, Mayrant, Trippe, Rhind, Rowan, Plunkett, Niblack, Benson, Cleaves and Ordronaux.
Vice Admiral Sir Algernon Willis’s covering force, which patrolled in the Ionian Sea, comprised the battleships Nelson, Rodney, Warspite and Valiant, fleet carriers Indomitable and Formidable, light cruisers Aurora and Penelope, light anti-aircraft cruisers Cleopatra and Euryalus, and destroyers Quilliam, Queenborough, Quail, Isis, Faulknor, Echo, Intrepid, Raider, Eclipse, Fury, Inglefield, Ilex, Troubridge, Tyrian, Tumult, Offa, Free Greek Vasilissa Olga and Free Polish Piorun.
The reserve covering group, patrolling to the south of Sardinia, comprised the battleships King George V and Howe, light anti-aircraft cruisers Dido and Sirius, and destroyers Jervis, Panther, Pathfinder, Penn, Paladin and Petard.
The Allied fleets supported the landing of the 7th and 8th Armies on Sicily. On 11 July the US light cruisers Savannah and Boise, with the US destroyers Shubrick, Jeffers, Glennon, Butler, Beatty, Laub, Cowie and Tillman, used their guns to halt a German armoured counterattack near Gela. The British destroyers Blankney and Brissenden put ashore an improvised landing force at Pozzallo, which took this place on the 8th Army’s western flank. Within the British sector, the monitor Erebus and light cruisers Orion, Uganda and Mauritius supported the British ground forces with gunfire.
As a diversion, the British battleships Howe and King George V shelled Favignana, in the Aegadian islands group off Sicily’s north-western tip, during the night 11/12 July, and the light anti-aircraft cruisers Dido and Sirius shelled Marsala on the island’s west coast.
As a result of German and Italian air attacks, the Allied invasion fleet lost the US destroyer Maddox, US minesweeper Sentinel, tank landing ships LST-313 and LST-158, and eight transports totalling 54,306 tons. The monitor Erebus and other ships were also damaged by bombs. On 14 July Italian torpedo bombers just missed the light anti-aircraft cruisers Euryalus and Cleopatra, and on 16 July hit the fleet carrier Indomitable, which had to be detached for repair in the USA.
On 14 July the light cruiser Brooklyn was damaged by a mine, and the US destroyers Roe and Swanson, tank landing ships LST-345 and LST-382, and submarine-chaser PC-621 were damaged in collisions.
On 16 July German aircraft bombed shipping off Algiers and off Sicily. During the night of 16/17 July, in engagements between Korvettenkapitän Hans Trummer’s 7th Schnellboots-Flottille and British motor torpedo boats, five of the German craft were severely damaged. The passing Italian light cruiser Scipione Africano sank MTB-316 and damaged MTB-260.
The proposed massive deployment of German U-boats and Italian submarines to the south of Sicily failed because all available U-boats had been operating off the coast of Algeria since 22 June. Here, Oberleutnant Horst Deckert’s U-73 sank the 1,598-ton British Brinkburn and torpedoed sand damaged the 8,299-ton British tanker Abbeydale, and Kapitänleutnant Gerd Kelbling’s U-593 sank the US LST-333 and damaged LST-387 on 22 June, and sank the 6,054-ton British Devis (carrying two LCM landing craft) of the KMS.18B feeder convoy on 5 July. Shortly before this, Kapitänleutnant Jürgen Könenkamp’s U-375 sank the 5,634-ton British St Essylt of the same convoy. Kapitänleutnant Waldemar Mehl’s U-371 torpedoed and damaged the 6,561-ton US Gulfprince and 7,176-ton US Matthew Maury of the ET.22A convoy.
Off Cyrenaica, attacks by U-431 and U-617 were unsuccessful. In the same area, however, Kapitänleutnant Egon Reiner Freiherr von Schlippenbach’s U4-53 torpedoed and damaged the 6,894-ton British oiler Oligarch, and on 6 July sank the 5,454-ton British Shahjehan of the MWS.36 feeder convoy. During this period Oberleutnant Johann-Otto Krieg’s U 81 was operating in the eastern Mediterranean, where it sank the 3,742-ton Greek Michalios and four sailing vessels.
In the absence of the U-boats, off Sicily the task of intercepting the Allied invasion fleet devolved onto the Italian submarines. Only Dandolo or, more probably, Alagi had any success, torpedoing the light anti-aircraft cruiser Cleopatra on 16 July: after being hit by two torpedoes, the cruiser was towed to Malta, received temporary repairs, and after passage to the USA received a full repair at the Philadelphia Navy Yard between October 1943 and December 1944.
Attacks by the submarines Argo, Nereide, Beilul, Diaspro, Platino and Ambra failed, but Nichelio sank MGB-641 with gunfire. Flutto was sunk by MTB-640, MTB-651 and MTB-670 on 11 July, and Oberleutnant Fritz Henning’s U-561 was sunk by MTB-81 on 12 July in the Strait of Messina. The Italian Acciaio, Remo and Micca were sunk by the British submarines Unruly, United and Trooper respectively on 13, 15, 29 July. Oberleutnant Hanns-Ferdinand Massmann’s U-409 was sunk on 12 July by the destroyer Inconstant, Nereide on 13 July by Echo and Ilex, Ascianghi after an attack on a cruiser force on 23 July by Laforey and Eclipse, and Kapitänleutnant Jürgen Könenkamp’s U-375 on 30 July by the US PC-624.
The Italian Bronzo surfaced on 12 July off Syracuse in the middle of a British force including the minesweepers Boston, Poole, Cromarty and Seaham, and was captured.
When the U-boats arrived, Krieg’s U-81 fired torpedoes into the harbour at Syracuse on 21 July, and one day later torpedoed and damaged the 7,472-ton British Empire Moon. On 23 July Kapitänleutnant Ernst-Ulrich Brüller’s U-407 torpedoed the light cruiser Newfoundland, which required repairs at Boston Navy Yard from August 1943 to April 1944.
On 26 July a German level bomber damaged the US destroyer Mayrant off Palermo.
The assault from the sea began during the early hours of 10 July on 26 main beaches spread along 105 miles (170 km) of Sicily’s south and east coasts between Licata in the west and Cassibile in the east: this was the largest amphibious operation of World War II in terms of the size of the landing zone and the number of divisions landed on the first day.
The Italian defensive plan was not posited on any form of resistance on the beaches, so the landings themselves were something of an anti-climax. More problems resulted from the weather conditions (especially on the southern beaches) and unexpected hidden offshore sandbars than from the efforts of the Italian coastal divisions. Some troops landed in the wrong place, in the wrong order and as much as six hours behind schedule, but the weakness of the defensive response allowed the Allied force to make up lost time.
Thus it was only after the Axis higher command echelons had started to reach an appreciation of Allied intentions that the Allies began to see an initial reaction from the Axis field divisions, the Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’ and 4th Divisione. In the US 1st Division’s sector there was an Italian counterattack, in divisional strength, at exactly the point at which the dispersed 505th Parachute Infantry should have been landed. The Tiger heavy tanks of the Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’, which should have advanced with the 4th Divisione, did not appear, but on 10 July on Highways 115 and 117 the Italian tanks of the Gruppo corazzato di combattimento ‘Niscemi’ and the infantry of the 4th Divisione nonetheless pressed home their attack and nearly reached Gela on the coast before the fire of the cruiser Boise and destroyer Shubrick eliminated several tanks and dispersed the attacking infantry battalion.
By the evening of 10 July the three US, three British and one Canadian divisions were well established ashore and the port of Syracuse had been captured. Allied fears about a major Axis aerial riposte proved to be unfounded, for the preparatory bombing of the previous weeks had greatly weakened the Axis air capability and the presence of large numbers of Allied warplanes operating from Malta, Gozo and Pantelleria drove off most of the Axis air attacks. Some attacks against the invasion fleet got through, however, damaging several warships, transport vessels and landing craft, as noted above.
Alexander’s plan was firstly to establish his forces on a line between Licata in the west and Catania in the east, and secondly to launch operations to reduce the rest of the island. The key to this scheme was the capture of ports through which his forces cold be built up and nourished, and the seizure of airfields to deny their use to the Axis and allow the ready air support of his own forces.
The task of the 8th Army was thus to capture Pachino airfield on Cape Passero and take the port of Syracuse before moving north to seize the ports of Augusta and Catania. The army’s objectives also included the airfields around Gerbini, on the Catania plain.
The task of the 7th Army included capture of the port of Licata and the airfields of Ponte Olivo, Biscari and Comiso. The 7th Army was then to prevent Axis reserves from moving to the east against the left flank of the 8th Army as this latter advanced to the north. Early on 13 July elements of 5th Division on the 8th Army’s right flank defeated the delaying tactics of the Kampfgruppe ‘Schmalz’ and entered Augusta. Here an attempt by the destroyers Eskimo, Exmoor and Greek Kanaris to enter Augusta had been defeated by an Italian coastal battery under the personal command of the fortress commander, Ammiraglio di Divisione Priamo Ugo Leonardi. Only on 12 July did Troubridge, whose forces had occupied Syracuse on 11 July, enter Augusta harbour and start to land troops from landing ship Ulster Monarch.
On 13 July Erebus undertook a gunfire bombardment of Catania and on 16 July Abercrombie, another British monitor, and the US light cruisers Birmingham and Philadelphia shelled Porto Empedocle west of the 7th Army’s growing lodgement. On 17 July the British battleship Warspite shelled Catania once again, and on 18 July the cruiser Mauritius and on 19 July the cruiser Newfoundland, destroyers Laforey and Lookout, and Free Dutch gunboat Flores shelled Italian artillery positions at Catania. On 21 July Erebus and Newfoundland repeated this bombardment.
Meanwhile, on the left of the 5th Division, the 50th Division had pushed up Highway 114 toward Lentini, some 15 miles (24 km) to the north-west of Augusta, and encountered increasing resistance from tanks and then infantry of the 54th Divisione ‘Napoli’. Porcinari, the divisional commander, and his staff were captured, however, by elements of Brigadier J. C. Currie’s supporting 4th Armoured Brigade on 13 July, and it was not until 18.45 on 14 July that the town had been cleared of obstructions and lurking snipers so that the advance could be resumed.
Farther to the west, in the XXX Corps’ sector, the 51st Division had moved directly north to take Palazzolo and Vizzini, some 30 miles (48 km) to the west of Syracuse, while the Canadian 1st Division, after securing the deserted Pachino airfield, headed to the north-west to make contact with the right wing of the 7th Army’s II Corps at Ragusa after driving off the Italian 122nd Reggimento to the north of Pachino.
In the 7th Army’s sector, on 11 July Patton ordered the ‘Husky Number Two’ drop of his reserve, the 504th Parachute Infantry, to reinforce the US centre. Warning orders had been issued to the fleet and troops on 6, 7, 10 and 11 July concerning the planned route and timing of the drop so that the aircraft would not be fired on by friendly forces. However, the 144 Douglas C-47 transports arrived at the time of one of the four main Axis air raids of the day on the anchorage, and the Allied anti-aircraft gunners were at high alert for targets. The first echelon of troop-carrying aircraft dropped their loads without interference, but then the landing fleet’s anti-aircraft guns and the army’s landed AA guns opened up again. Brigadier General Harold L. Clark’s 52nd Troop Carrier Wing lost 23 aircraft shot down and 37 damaged, while eight aircraft returned to base without dropping their loads. The 504th Parachute Infantry suffered 229 casualties, including 81 dead, to this fresh bout of ‘friendly’ fire.
Despite this, the US landings were generally proceeding well and substantial supplies and transport were being landed to support the expansion of the lodgement and the planned drive to the north and north-west. Even though the airborne operation had failed, the 1st Division had taken Ponte Olivo on 12 July and continued to the north while the 45th Division on its right had conformed, taken the airfield at Comiso and entered Ragusa to link with the Canadians. On the left, the 3rd Division had advanced 25 miles (40 km) up the coast almost to Argento and 20 miles (32 km) inland to Canicatti.
As noted above, Alexander’s plan for the period after the beach-heads had been secured was to split Sicily in two by thrusting north through the Caltanissetta and Enna region and thus sever the Axis forces’ hold on the more southerly east/west central lateral road. Then another surge north to Nicosia would cut the more northerly of these lateral roads, and a final push to San Stefano on the north coast would cut the coastal road. In new orders issued on 13 July, Alexander allocated this task to the 8th Army, perhaps as a result of Montgomery’s over-optimistic situation report late on 12 July, and instructed the 7th Army to continue its holding role on the 8th Army’s left flank despite the apparent opportunity for the Americans to make a bold offensive move.
Though the primary strategic task had been allocated to the 8th Army, the real progress was now made by the 7th Army under Patton’s dynamic leadership.
On 12 July Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Süd’, had visited Sicily and come to the opinion that the German troops were fighting virtually on their own. Kesselring therefore decided that reinforcements were needed, and that western Sicily should be abandoned in order to shorten the front line. The immediate priorities were first to slow and then to halt the Allied advance by the establishment of a sturdy defensive line between San Stefano on the northern coast, through Nicosia, Agira and Cantenanuova to Catania on the east coast.
While the XIII Corps continued to push to the north along the Catania road, the XXX Corps was directed to the north along a pair of routes: the first was an inland route through Vizzini and the second followed Highway 124, which cut across the 45th Division’s front and required its return to the coast at Gela for redeployment behind the 1st Division.
Progress was slow, however. The Kampfgruppe ‘Schmalz’ continued to delay the 5th Division, allowing time for the deployment of the 3rd Fallschirmjägerregiment and 4th Fallschirmjägerregiment of Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich’s 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision, delivered by air out of reserve from the mainland to Catania. Resistance in the British sector stiffened as German units reorganised on the basis of Kesselring’s defensive plan.
On 12 July Brigadier G. W. Lathbury’s 1st Parachute Brigade had been dropped in ‘Chestnut’ to capture the Primasole bridge over the Simeto river on the southern edge of the Catania plain and hold it until the 5th Division arrived from the south. But this division was delayed by strong opposition, made contact early on 15 July but managed to secure a secure bridgehead on the river’s northern bank only two days later.
On the night of 17/18 July Montgomery renewed his attack toward Catania using two brigades of the 50th Division. The brigades encountered significant opposition, however, and by 19 July Montgomery had decided to call off the attack and instead increase the pressure on his left. The 5th Division attacked on the 50th Division’s left but met with no greater success, and on 20 July the 51st Division, farther to the west, crossed the Dittaino river at Sferro and headed for the airfields near Gerbini before being driven back by counterattacks on 21 July.
On the 8th Army’s left flank the Canadians continued their wide sweep, but by this time it was becoming clear that as German units entered their new positions in north-eastern Sicily the 8th Army now lacked the strength to carry the whole front. As a consequence, the Canadians were ordered to continue to the north toward Leonforte and then turn to the east toward Adrano on the south-eastern slopes of Monte Etna, thus abandoning the originally planned encirclement of Monte Etna using Highway 120 to Randazzo. At the same time Montgomery arranged for the despatch from North Africa of his reserve formation, Major General V. Evelegh’s 78th Division.
During this time Patton had reorganised his strength into two corps with the activation, on 15 July, of Major General Geoffrey T. Keyes’s Provisional Corps controlling the 2nd Armored Division, 3rd Division and 82nd Airborne Division. Patton was also seeking a greater role for his army, and decided to try to capture the island’s capital, Palermo. After dispatching a ‘reconnaissance’ toward the town of Agrigento, which the US force succeeded in capturing, Patton persuaded Alexander to allow him to continue his advance. Alexander changed his mind and countermanded his orders, but Patton claimed the order had been ‘garbled in transmission’, and by the time the position had been clarified Patton was at the gates of Palermo.
The fall of Palermo inspired a coup against the Italian leader, Benito Mussolini, who was deposed. Although the removal of Italy from the war had been one of the long-term objectives of the Italian campaign, the suddenness of the move against Mussolini’s regime caught the Allies by surprise.
After Patton’s capture of Palermo, with the British still bogged down to the south of Messina, Alexander ordered a two-pronged attack on the city. By 23 July Patton’s forces had cleared western Sicily and were now striking to the east along the north coast toward Messina. Patton was now obsessed with the idea of reaching Messina before the British. By 17 July Keyes’s new Provisional Corps on Patton’s left flank had captured Porto Empedocle and Agrigento, while the II Corps (1st, 9th and 45th Divisions) on his right flank had taken Caltanissetta on 18 July, just short of Highway 121, the main east/west lateral road through the centre of Sicily. The persistence of the defence offered by Colonnello Fabrizio Storti’s 10th Reggimento Bersaglieri had compelled Colonel William O. Darby’s 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions to fight their way into Agrigento, where there was house-to-house fighting before the US soldiers were able to secure the city by the late afternoon on 16 July.
As the units of Generalmajor Eberhard Rodt’s 15th Panzergrenadierdivision had managed to pass across the 7th Army’s front to join the other German formations in the east of the island, however, little real resistance was now expected in the west. On 18 July, therefore, Patton was instructed to advance units to the north through Petralia on Highway 120, the next east/west lateral to the north, and then to cut the northern coast road. He would then embark on mopping up the west of the island. The II Corps was ordered to move to the north, and the Provisional Corps to undertake the mopping-up operation.
Against this background of good progress, Alexander issued further orders to Patton to develop an eastward threat along the coast road as soon as his forces had reached and cut it. He was also ordered to take Palermo with all speed so that its port and other facilities could be used as a primary supply base to maintain further pressure to the east in the area north of Monte Etna. On 22 July the Provisional Corps entered Palermo, and on the following day the 45th Division cut the northern coast road. Despite the lack of any significant opposition, these successes netted the 7th Army some 19,000 prisoners and were considerable physical achievements for troops who had been compelled to march considerable distances in hot and humid conditions.
During the last week in July Montgomery gathered his forces to renew the offensive on 1 August. His immediate objective was Adrano, whose seizure would divide the German forces on each side of Monte Etna. During the week the Canadians and the 231st Brigade continued their eastward push from Leonforte and on 29 July had taken Agira, some 15 miles (24 km) to the west of Adrano. On the night of 29 July the 78th Division, with Brigadier M. H. S. Penhale’s Canadian 3rd Brigade under command, took Catenanueva and established a bridgehead across the Dittaino river. On the night of 1 August the division resumed its north-westward drive toward Centuripe, an isolated pinnacle of rock constituting the main southern outpost of the Adrano defences.
After heavy fighting against the Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’ and the 3rd Fallschirmjägerregiment right through to 2 August, the division finally cleared the town on the morning of 3 August. The capture of Centuripe was decisive inasmuch as the growing threat to Adrano now rendered untenable the German position covering Catania.
Off to the west, Patton had meanwhile decided that his lines of communication could support two formations (the 45th Division on the coast road and the 1st Division on Highway 120) advancing to the east. In order to maintain the pressure, Patton replaced the 45th Division with the fresher 3rd Division, and brought in Major General Manton S. Eddy’s 9th Division, from reserve in North Africa, to relieve the 1st Division.
The Axis forces were now settled on a second defensive line, the ‘Etna-Linie’ positions, extending from San Fratello on the north coast through Troina and Aderno. On 31 July the 1st Division, with elements of the arriving 9th Division under command, reached Troina. This was held by the 15th Panzergrenadierdivision and the remnants of the 28th Divisione, which had also been pulled back to Troina. For six days the Germans and Italians held the position with great tenacity, both inflicting and taking heavy casualties. During the battle the Axis forces launched 24 medium-size and many more small counterattacks. But by 7 August the 18th Infantry had captured Monte Pellegrino, which overlooked the Troina defences, and this made possible accurate direction of the Allied artillery. The defenders’ left flank was also becoming exposed as the adjacent Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’ was pushed back by the XXX Corps, and the Axis forces were therefore ordered to withdraw during the night to the defensive positions of the ‘Tortorici-Linie’.
The Allies were also finding it difficult to dislodge elements of Generalmajor Walter Fries’s 29th Panzergrenadierdivision on the coast at Sant’Agata and San Fratello. Patton therefore launched a small amphibious force to land behind the defences, and this led directly to the fall of Sant’Agata on 8 August after a six-day Axis defence.
On 3 August the XIII Corps, taking advantage of the uncertainty caused by the threat to Adrano, resumed its advance on Catania, which it had taken by 5 August. The Axis forces holding Adrano fought on, but the town fell to the 78th Division on the night of 6 August, and on this division’s right the 51st Division took Biancavilla, 2 miles (3.2 km) to the csouth-east of Adrano. After Adrano’s capture, the Canadian 1st Division was pulled back into army reserve.
During 8 August the 78th Division, moved to the north from Adrano, took Bronte while the 9th Division advanced from Troina and took Cesaro: these were both key positions in the new ‘Hube-Linie’ defences. Both divisions were converging on Randazzo, on the north-western slopes of Monte Etna. Randazzo fell on 13 August and the 78th Division was then pulled back into reserve.
As the Allied advance continued and the surviving Axis forces were further compressed into the north-eastern corner of Sicily, the front line shortened and Montgomery decided on 10 August to withdraw the headquarters of the XIII Corps and the 5th Division so that they could prepare for the planned landings on mainland Italy.
On the island’s north coast the 3rd Division continued to meet both strong Axis resistance and difficulties created by extensive demolitions of the road. Two more end-run amphibious attacks, on 11 and 15 August, and the rebuilding efforts of the engineers kept the advance moving.
Although Kesselring had already decided to evacuate the Axis forces from Sicily in ‘Lehrgang’, the Axis forces continued their delaying tactics, assisted by the favourable defensive terrain of the Messina peninsula. Finally on the night of 16 August the leading elements of 3rd Division entered Messina. By 27 July the Axis commanders had realised that the only way in which they could salvage anything from the Sicilian campaign was an evacuation of men and equipment to fight on the Italian mainland. On 29 July Kesselring reported to Adolf Hitler that an evacuation could be completed in three days, and by 1 August the initial plans had been created. But when Hube suggested on 4 August that a start should be made by transferring men and equipment not required for current operations, Guzzoni refused to authorise any such thing before receiving special approval from the Commando Supremo.
The Germans nevertheless went ahead, moving more than 12,000 men, 4,500 vehicles and 5,000 tons of equipment across the Strait of Messina between 1 and 10 August.
On 6 August Hube recommended to Guzzoni, via Generalleutnant Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin, the German commander in Sicily, that the headquarters of the 6th Army should also be transferred to Calabria on the Italian mainland. Guzzoni rejected the idea but asked if Hube had decided to evacuate Sicily. von Senger replied that Hube had not. On the following day Guzzoni learned of the German planning for evacuation and reported to Rome of his conviction of their intentions. On 7 August Guzzoni reported that without German support, any final stand would be short. On 9 August Rome ordered that Guzzoni’s authority should be extended to Calabria, into which he should transfer the forces which could usefully reinforce the area. On 10 August Guzzoni informed Hube that he was now to assume responsibility for the defence of north-eastern Sicily with Italian coastal units and the garrison of Messina under his command.
Guzzoni then crossed to the mainland with the headquarters of the 6th Army and XVI Corps, leaving Ammiraglio di Squadra Pietro Barone, commander of the Messina naval base, and Ammiraglio di Divisione Pietro Parenti to organise the evacuation of the remnants of the 4th Divisione montagna and 26th Divisione montagna as well as any other troops and equipment that could be saved.
The crux of the German plan’s success was its thorough nature and clear lines of command imposing strict discipline on the operation. Oberst Ernst-Günther Baade was the German commander of the Strait of Messina area with authority over infantry, artillery, anti-aircraft, engineer and construction, transport and administration units as well as German naval transport headquarters. On the mainland Heidrich, who had remained in Calabria with the headquarters of his 1st Fallschirmjägerdivision and the 1st Fallschirmjägerregiment when the division’s other two regiments had been sent to Sicily, was nominated as the mainland commander of the XIV Panzerkorps to take under command all German formations as they were evacuated, while Hube continued to control operations on Sicily.
‘Lehrgang’ proper lasted from 10 to 17 August. During this period Hube ordered withdrawals each night of between 5 and 15 miles (8 and 24 km), slowing the Allied pursuit with minefields, demolitions and other obstacles. As the front of the Axis beach-head narrowed, Hube was able to withdraw units for evacuation.
The Allies attempted to counter this by launching brigade-sized amphibious assaults, by the 7th Army against Barcelona on 15 August and by the 8th Army on Scaletta on 16 August, but the speed of the Axis withdrawal was such that these undertakings found the Axis forces already departed.
It was the 3rd Division which secured the honour of taking Messina in the morning of 17 August, just hours after the last Axis troops boarded ship for Italy. The German and Italian evacuation operations had been notably successful. The Allies were unable either to prevent the orderly withdrawal or to interfere in any effective manner with the movements across the narrow Strait of Messina, which was protected from air attack by 120 heavy and 112 light anti-aircraft guns. The resulting overlapping fire from each side of the strait was very heavy, and made daylight air attacks almost impossible. Night attacks were less hazardous and there were times when air attack was able to delay and even suspend traffic across the straits. However, when daylight returned the Axis forces could clear the preceding night’s backlog.
Allied naval intervention was equally impracticable. The strait varies from 2 to 6 miles (3.2 to 9.7 km) in width, and in August 1943 was covered by artillery of up to 240-mm (9.4-in) calibre: in combination with the problems of manoeuvring warships in a confined waters with a 6-kt current, this made it impossible to justify the commitment of warships. On 18 August the Germans recorded that 60,000 of their troops had been recovered, and the equivalent Italian figure was about 75,000.
The Axis casualties during the Sicilian campaign totalled 29,000 men, with another 140,000 (mostly Italians) captured. The US forces lost 2,572 men killed, 5,946 wounded and 1,012 missing or captured, the British forces 2,721 men killed and 10,122 wounded and captured, and the Canadians 2,410 casualties including 562 killed and 1,848 wounded or captured.
The recovery of so many troops and their weapon and other equipment from certain capture represented a major success for the Axis. The invasion also had an impact on the Eastern Front. One of the reasons why the Germans had to cancel the continuation of their ‘Zitadelle’ offensive near Kursk was that they decided to send units to Italy after they received news of the invasion.
The Allied command was forced to reconsider its use of airborne forces after the many misdrops and ‘friendly’ fire incidents. Increased training and some tactical changes kept the paratroopers in the war.
‘Husky’ had been the largest amphibious operation of World War II up to that time, in terms of men landed on the beaches and of frontage. Strategically, the Sicilian operation achieved the goals set out for it by Allied planners. Axis air and naval forces were driven from the island; the Mediterranean sea lanes were opened; and Mussolini had been toppled from power. It opened the way to the Allied invasion of Italy, which had not been seen as the inevitable follow-up to ‘Husky’ (i).