Operation Yoke (i)

'Yoke' (i) was Allied occupation of the Italian island of Sardinia within the context of 'Norman' (13/18 September 1943).

At their 'Quadrant' conference of 17/24 August 1943 in the Canadian city of Quebec, the Allies had agreed that their occupation of Sardinia and Corsica should follow very soon the removal of Italy from the Axis powers, allowing the establishment of air bases within striking range of targets in central and northern Italy, and also in south-eastern France. In the event it was the Germans who acted first, their 'Achse' (ii) plan for dealing with an Italian collapse, being put into effect on 8 September. This included the evacuation of all the German forces in Sardinia, where they were greatly outnumbered by the Italian garrison forces, to Corsica, which was itself to be held.

The Italian commander in Sardinia, Generale di Corpo d’Armata Antonio Basso, was unwilling to commit his forces to combat on Sardinia, even though they outnumbered the Germans by a large margin, and in this period immediately after Italy’s armistice with the Allies therefore negotiated a non-intervention agreement with the German commander, whose primary goal was extricating his formation to Corsica. Part of the Italian paratroop regiment deployed on Sardinia mutinied, joined the Germans and followed them to Corsica after killing an officer sent to quell the mutiny.

Maddalena and Santa Teresa in Sardinia were the ports from which the German travelled to Porto Vecchio and Bonifacio on Corsica, and in accord with Basso’s agreement with the Germans, the Italians in control of neighbouring coastal batteries did not attempt to interfere. Siebel ferries and landing craft released after the Sicilian evacuation transported the garrison as did such barges as could be spared from carrying fuel between the mainland port of Livorno and the front in Italy. Oberst Hubertus Hitschold, the Fliegerführer 'Sardinien', transferred his headquarters to Ghisonaccia airfield in Corsica on 10 September in his other capacity as the Kommandierenden General der deutschen Luftwaffe in Mittelitalien, and on 11 September the remaining 44 German aircraft in Sardinia (mostly Focke-Wulf Fw 190 and Messerschmitt Bf 109 fighters and fighter-bombers) followed. Between 8 and 15 September the Germans wrecked seven of the Sardinian airfields.

Nevertheless, on 10 September more than 50 Italian aircraft arrived from the mainland and landed on other airfields, 22 of them later flying to Sicily and Tunisia to join the Allies as the others prepared to operate from Sardinia in support of the Allies: on 16 September, for example, 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 Generalleutnant Carl Hans Lungershausen’s 90th Panzergrenadierdivision, Oberst Almers’s 135th Festungsbrigade, and anti-aircraft and air force units, totalling 25,800 men with 4,650 vehicles, 4,765 tons of stores and many pieces of artillery had been ferried to Corsica and evacuation was complete.

On the night of 13/14 September a US detachment parachuted onto Decimomannu airfield and established communication with Allied headquarters. On 18 September two British motor gun boats, carrying Brigadier General Elliott Roosevelt, the representative of General Dwight D. Eisenhower in his capacity as the Allied Commander-in-Chief, Allied Forces in North Africa, entered Cagliari and took over Sardinia in the name of the Allies.