Allied Invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) | World War II

Allied Invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) | World War II

Overview

The Allied invasion of Sicily, identified as Operation Husky, was a major World War II campaign in which the Allies liberated Sicily from the Axis powers (Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany). The Italian Struggle began with a vast amphibious and airborne operation, followed by a six-week land campaign.

The Allies used many deception tactics to divert some Axis soldiers to other locations, and the most renowned and influential was Operation Mincemeat. Husky initiated on the night of July 9–10, 1943, and ended on August 17th, 1943. Husky achieved the strategic objectives set out by Allied planners: the Allies drove Axis air, land, and naval troops off the island, and the Mediterranean Sea lanes were freed for the first time since 1941 to Allied trade ships. Benito Mussolini, the Italian dictator, was deposed from office, paving the door for the Allied invasion of Italy. Adolf Hitler, the German leader, "cancelled a massive offensive at Kursk after barely a week, in part to divert forces to Italy," reducing German power on the Eastern Front. The fall of Italy necessitated the replacement of Italian forces in Italy and, to a lesser extent, the Balkans, resulting in a fifth of the German army being redirected from the east to southern Europe. This part would remain until the war's end.

Background

Allies

Operation Husky planned for two Allied armies to attack Sicily, one on the south-eastern coast and the other on the central southern coast. The combined air forces supported the amphibious assaults with naval gunfire, tactical bombing, interdiction, and close air support. As a result, the mission necessitated a convoluted command organization that included ground, naval, and air forces. As Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) of all Allied forces in North Africa, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower was in charge. Sir Harold Alexander, a British general, served as his second-in-command and commander of the 15th Army Group. Eisenhower's Chief of Staff was Major General Walter Bedell Smith, an American. Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham of the United Kingdom was in charge of the entire Naval Force.

The Allied ground forces were divided into two task forces and came from the Canada, UK, and the US armies. The British Eighth Army was portion of the Eastern Task Force (also known as Task Force 545), which General Sir Bernard Montgomery directed (the 1st Canadian Infantry Division). The American Seventh Army was part of the Western Task Force (Task Force 343) headed by Lieutenant General George S. Patton. Commander of the 15th Army Group named Alexander reported to the two task force commanders.

The first three infantry divisions of the United States Seventh Army were constituted under the II Corps, which Lieutenant General Omar Bradley commanded. Major Generals Terry Allen and Lucian Truscott, overseeing the 1st and 3rd Infantry Divisions, respectively, departed from Tunisian ports. At the same time, Major General Troy H. Middleton, commanding the 45th Infantry Division, sailed from the United States via Oran, Algeria. Major General Hugh Joseph Gaffey's 2nd Armored Division, also flowing from Oran, was a floating reserve that would be fed into combat as needed. Patton split his command into two corps on July 15, establishing a new Provisional Corps headquarters under the direction of his deputy army commander, Major General Geoffrey Keyes.

Under Lieutenant-General Sir Miles Dempsey's XIII Corps and Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese's XXX Corps, the British Eighth Army had an independent infantry brigade and four infantry divisions. The 5th and 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Divisions of XIII Corps departed from Suez, Egypt, under the command of Major-Generals Horatio Berney-Ficklin and Sidney Kirkman. In addition, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division, led by Major-General Guy Simonds, sailed from the United Kingdom, the 51st (Highland) Infantry Division, led by Major-General Douglas Wimberley, sailed from Tunisia and Malta, and the 231st Independent Infantry Brigade Group sailed from Suez.

At the request of Canadian Prime Minister William Mackenzie King and the Canadian Military Headquarters in the United Kingdom, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division was included in Operation Husky. The British agreed, and the seasoned British 3rd Infantry Division was displaced. The change was finalized on April 27, 1943, when Lieutenant-General Andrew McNaughton, then commanding the Canadian First Army in the United Kingdom, determined that Operation Husky was a viable military undertaking and agreed to the detachment of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division and the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade. Leese's XXX Corps was expanded to include the "Red Patch Division," which became part of the British Eighth Army.

Airborne troops were to be hovered in to help both the Western and Eastern Task Forces in addition to the amphibious landings. Major-General George F. Hopkinson's British 1st Airborne Division seized crucial bridges and high ground to support the British Eighth Army to the east. The first plan called for the US 82nd Airborne Division, under Major General Matthew Ridgway, to be stationed in Tunisia as a tactical reserve.

Allied naval forces were divided into two task units to transport and support the invading soldiers. Admiral Bertram Ramsay headed the Eastern Naval Task Force, formed from the British Mediterranean Fleet. The Western Naval Task Force was organized around Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt's US Eighth Fleet. Admiral Cunningham, the overall Naval Forces Commander, reported to the two naval task force commanders. HMIS Sutlej and HMIS Jumna, two Royal Indian Navy sloops, also participated.

Allied aviation forces in North Africa and the Mediterranean were organized into the Mediterranean Air Command (MAC) during Operation Husky, which Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder led. The Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF), commanded by Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz and based in Tunisia, was MAC's principal sub-command. The central air support for the operation was given by the NAAF, which was made up of groups from the US 12th Air Force, US 9th Air Force, and the British Royal Air Force (RAF). Air support was also given by the 9th Air Force, led by Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton, functioning from Tunisia and Egypt, and Air H.Q. Malta, led by Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park, working from the island of Malta.

Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham's 9th Air Force medium bombers and P-40 fighters were detached to the NAAF's Northwest African Tactical Air Force and transferred to southern airfields on Sicily as soon as they were secured. Sub-command of the RAF Middle East Command the 9th Air Force, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas led it. Like NAAF and Air Headquarters Malta, Middle East Command was a sub-command of MAC under Tedder, reporting to Eisenhower for NAAF operations and the British Chiefs of Staff for Air Headquarters Malta and Middle East Command operations.

Axis: Although specifically designated Fortress Areas around the main ports (Piazze Militari Maritime) were commanded by admirals subject to Naval Headquarters and independent of the 6th Army, the island was held by two corps of the Italian 6th Army below General Alfredo Guzzoni. Early in July, the Axis forces in Sicily consisted of approximately 200,000 Italian troops, 32,000 German infantry, and 30,000 Luftwaffe ground personnel. The 15th Panzergrenadier Division and the Panzer Division Hermann Göring were the two most critical German units. The Panzer division had two battalions of 99 tanks but only three infantry battalions, whereas the 15th Panzergrenadier Division had a tank battalion of 60 tanks and three grenadier regiments. The Italian troops were divided into four front-line infantry divisions and headquarters troops, with the rest serving as support troops or weaker coastal divisions and coastal brigades. Guzzoni's defence strategy called for coastal formations to form a screen to receive the invasion while field units further back intervened.

By late July, German units had been bolstered by parts of the 1st Parachute Division, the XIV Panzer Corps headquarters and the 29th Panzergrenadier Division, bringing the total number of German troops to roughly 70,000. The two German divisions were officially under Italian tactical direction until the arrival of the corps headquarters. The panzergrenadier division was under the Italian XVI Corps, with a strengthened infantry regiment from the panzergrenadier division to recompense for its deficiency of troops. The remainder of the panzergrenadier division was under the Italian XII Corps. The German commanders in Sicily despised their allies. Generalleutnant Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin, a German liaison officer assigned to the 6th Army HQ who was subject Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the German C-in-C Army Command South. In late June, Von Senger landed in Sicily as part of a German strategy to obtain more operational control over its soldiers. Guzzoni agreed to relinquish the responsibility of all sectors with German soldiers to Hube on July 16, and he assumed command of the Sicilian front on August 2.

Planning

With the conclusion of the North African Campaign insight, the political leaders and military chiefs of Britain and United States staff gathered in Casablanca in January 1943 to consider future strategy. The British Chiefs of Staff supported an invasion of Sicily or Sardinia, claiming that it would force Germany to spread its forces, allowing Italy to withdraw from the war and Turkey to join the Allies. The Americans first rejected the proposal as opportunistic and irrelevant. However, they were eventually persuaded to agree to a Sicilian invasion because of the significant cost savings to Allied shipping that would ensue from the withdrawal of Axis air and naval forces from the island. Accordingly, General Eisenhower was named C-in-C of the Allied Expeditionary Force, and General Alexander was named Deputy C-in-C responsible for detailed planning and execution of the operation; Admiral Cunningham was named Naval Commander and Air Chief Marshal Tedder was named Air Commander by the Combined Chiefs of Staff.

The Chiefs of Staff presented Eisenhower with an outline plan that included dispersed landings by Brigade and division-sized forces in the island's southeast, south-west, and northwest sectors. The idea behind the plan was that it would result in the speedy capture of critical Axis airfields, which stood a threat to the invasion fleet anchored offshore and the beachheads. Except for Messina, it would also see the swift capture of all of the island's major ports, including Catania, Palermo, Syracuse, Licata, and Augusta. Unfortunately, because the three mainland commanders, Alexander, Montgomery, and Patton, were all occupied in Tunisia, high-level planning for the campaign lacked direction. As a result, the effort was squandered in proposing plans that Montgomery despised due to the dispersion of forces involved. On April 24, he finally articulated his reservations and presented alternate solutions. Tedder and Cunningham rejected Montgomery's plan because it would pass over 13 landing places to the Axis, posing a significant threat to the Allied invasion fleet.

Eisenhower convened a meeting with Montgomery, Cunningham, and Tedder on May 2nd. Montgomery proposed focusing the Allied effort on the southeast corner of Sicily, abandoning the planned landings near Palermo to exploit the south-eastern ports. Montgomery's recommendations were finally accepted after Alexander joined the meeting on 3 May, assuming that it was better to face an administrative risk (having to support troops by landing supplies across beaches) than an operational one (dispersion of effort). Unfortunately, Montgomery had, not for the first time, argued an excellent course of action arrogantly, giving the impression to others, notably his American supporters, that he was preoccupied with his interests. In the end, supporting the army by landing supplies across the beaches proved more straightforward than anticipated, thanks partly to the widespread use of the revolutionary amphibious DUKW vehicle. "It is hardly too much to suggest that the DUKW transformed the problem of beach management," Alexander would later write.

On the 17th of May, Alexander issued Operation Instruction No. 1, which outlined his overall strategy and assigned missions to the two armies. First, he planned to position his soldiers along a line stretching from Catania to Licata in preparation for a decisive attack to subdue the island. He subsequently said that it was not feasible to plan farther forward at the time but that his objectives were evident in his mind about the next step: he would move north, eventually to Santo Stefano on the northern coast, to split the island in half and cut off his enemy's east-west lines. The 2nd Armored Division and 3rd Infantry Division were slated to land in the Gulf of Gela in south-central Sicily, with the 1st Division in the centre at Gela and the 45th Division in the east Scoglitti. The 82nd Airborne Division was tasked with dropping behind the Gela and Scoglitti defences.

The beachfront of the Seventh Army stretched for over 50 kilometres (31 mi). The British Eighth Army was tasked with landing in Sicily's southeast corner. The XXX Corps would land on both sides of Cape Passero, while the XIII Corps would land in the Gulf of Noto, out to the north, around Avola. The beachfront of the Eighth Army spanned 40 kilometres (25 miles), and there was a 40-kilometre (25-mile) gap between the two armies.

Primary Operations: After the Axis forces were beaten in Tunisia, the Allied strategic bomber force launched strikes on Sardinia's, Sicily's, and southern Italy's main airfields, as well as industrial targets and the ports of Naples, Palermo, Messina, and Cagliari (in Sardinia). The strikes were spread out to keep the Allies guessing their next move, pin down Axis planes, and keep them away from Sicily. In addition, the bombing of northern Italy (by British aircraft) and Greece (by Middle Eastern aircraft) was increased. The bombing began on 3 July, focusing on Sicilian airfields and Axis links with Italy, while beach defences were left alone to preserve the surprise of where the landings would take place. As a result, only two airfields were functioning in Sicily on July 10th, and over half of the Axis aircraft had been compulsory to evacuate the island. Allied airmen performed 42,227 flights between mid-May and the invasion, destroying 323 German and 105 Italian aircraft and losing 250 more, mainly to anti-aircraft fire over Sicily.

Operation Pantelleria began in May to prevent the small island of Pantelleria, 70 miles (110 kilometres) south-west of Sicily and 150 miles (240 kilometres) northwest of Malta, from being used to reinforce Axis soldiers attempting to retreat from North Africa. The cruiser HMS Orion attacked the island on the 13th and 31st of May, and Allied bombardment increased on the 6th of June. The island garrison surrendered on June 11 after a naval bombardment and seaborne landing by the British 1st Infantry Division (Operation Corkscrew). On June 12, the Pelagie Islands of Lampedusa and Linosa, about 90 miles (140 kilometres) west of Malta, followed suit.

Headquarters: The Allies utilized the "Lascaris War Rooms," a network of tunnels and rooms beneath the Lascaris Battery in Valletta, Malta, as the advance headquarters for the invasion of Sicily. The war rooms were held by General Eisenhower, Admiral Cunningham, General Montgomery, and Air Marshal Tedder in July 1943. The war rooms had previously served as the British command for the defence of Malta.

Deception: The Allies participated in many deception tactics to confuse the Axis and, if feasible, transfer some of their forces to other locations. Operation Mincemeat, designed by Naval intelligence officer Ewen Montagu and RAF Squadron Leader Charles Cholmondeley, was their most successful. A body dressed as a British Royal Marines commander could drift ashore in Spain with a bag containing forged sensitive documents. The documents claimed to demonstrate that the Allies were planning "Operation Brimstone" and an invasion of Greece under "Operation Husky." The integrity of the papers was acknowledged by German intelligence. The Germans redirected much of their defensive strength from Sicily to Greece until the conquest of Pantelleria on June 11, which focused German and Italian attention on the western Mediterranean. To take leadership, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel was dispatched to Greece. The Germans constructed three further minefields off the Greek coast, who transferred a group of "R boats" (German minesweepers and minelayers) from Sicily. They also relocated three panzer divisions to Greece, one from France and two from the Eastern Front, reducing German fighting power in the Kursk salient.

Battle

Allied Landings

Airborne Landings: As part of the invasion, two airborne attacks by American and British forces were conducted shortly after midnight on the 9th and 10th of July. 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of Colonel James M. Gavin, the US 82nd Airborne Division made their first combat drop. Pathfinders from the 21st Independent Parachute Company were to mark landing zones for the troops who were to seize the Ponte Grande, a bridge over the River Anape just south of Syracuse, and grip it until the British 5th Infantry Division arrived from the beaches at Cassibile, about 7 miles (11 kilometres) to the south. The British 1st Airborne Division's 1st Airlanding Brigade, led by Brigadier Philip Hicks, secured landing zones inland with glider infantry. However, strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 kilometres per hour) pushed the troop-carrying planes off course, scattering the American force throughout southern Sicily between Gela and Syracuse. By the 14th of July, around two-thirds of the 505th had concentrated, and half of the American paratroopers had failed to reach their gathering points.

The British air-landing soldiers fared no better, with only 12 of the 147 gliders arriving on target and 69 collapsing into the sea, drowning more than 200 men. Major General George F. Hopkinson, commander of the British 1st Airborne Division, was among those who landed in the ocean and was eventually rescued by the landing craft HMS Keren after several hours of gripping a piece of wreckage. The dispersed airborne warriors attacked patrols and caused havoc everywhere they could. South Staffordshire Regiment, a platoon of the 2nd Battalion, part of the British 1st Airlanding Brigade, landed on target, took Ponte Grande, and repelled counterattacks under Lieutenant Louis Withers. The sound of gunfire roused other paratroopers, and by 08:30, 89 men had taken control of the bridge. "Napoli", a battalion of the Italian 75th Infantry Regiment from the 54th Infantry Division, landed with artillery around 11:30 a.m. The British force fought out until about 15:30 hours, when they were forced to surrender due to a lack of ammunition and the fact that they had been reduced to 18 men, 45 minutes before the leading forces of the British 5th Division arrived from the south. Despite these mistakes, the widespread landing of American and British airborne troops had a good effect, as small isolated units attacked important sites on their initiative, confusing.

Seaborne Landings: The heavy wind hampered amphibious landings, but it also provided a pleasant surprise for the defenders, who had thought that no one would attempt a landing in such bad weather. The US 3rd Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Lucian Truscott, landed at Torre di Gaffe, red beach, Mollarella and Poliscia, green beaches in the West, and Cassibile in the east, in the early hours of July 10. In terms of the size of the landing zone and the number of divisions that landed on the first day, this was World War II's largest amphibious operation. However, the landings were fairly underwhelming because the Italian defensive plan did not include pitched combat on the beaches.

Difficult weather conditions (particularly on the southern beaches) and unanticipated concealed offshore sandbars caused more problems than the coastal divisions. Some men landed in the wrong spot, in the wrong sequence, and up to six hours behind schedule, but the Allied force was able to make up for lost time due to the defensive force's inadequacy. Nonetheless, numerous Italian coastal battalions fought bravely; the 429th Coastal Battalion (commanded by Major Marco Rubellino) was charged with defending Gela and lost 45 per cent of its men, while the approaching US Army Ranger Battalion lost several men to mines, machine guns, and artillery fire. With the support of local middle-aged reservists, Gruppo Tattico Carmito (under Lieutenant-Colonel Francesco Tropea), charged with defending Malati Bridge and defeated a Royal Marines Commando Battalion on July 13th. With the support of the 372nd Coastal Defence Battalion, the Italian 53rd Motorcycle Company, and three Panzer IV medium tanks, Lieutenant-Colonel Tropea's 4th Self-Propelled Artillery Battalion attacked the Commandos. On July 11–12, the 246th Coastal Battalion foiled British attempts to take Augusta.

There was an Italian division-sized counterattack where the disseminated 505th Parachute Regimental Combat Team was meant to be in Major General Terry Allen's US 1st Infantry Division sector at Gela. But, unfortunately, the Hermann Göring Panzer Division's Tiger tanks, which were supposed to advance alongside the 4th Infantry Division "Livorno," were late.

During the 10th of July, Italian tanks from the "Niscemi" Armoured Combat Group and infantry from the Livorno Division were on their way to the Allied position at Gela when gunfire from the light cruiser USS Boise destroyer and USS Shubrick demolished several tanks and disseminated the attacking infantry battalion. The 3rd Battalion, "Livorno" Infantry Division, 34th Regiment, mounted a daylight attack on the Gela beachhead two days later but were repulsed, with infantry and armour from the Hermann Göring Panzer Division.

The Joint Task Force Operations Support System had taken the port of Licata by the morning of 10 July, at the cost of over 100 US 3rd Infantry Division killed and wounded. The Division had beaten back a counterattack from the 538th Coastal Defence Battalion. Licata was firmly in American hands at 11:30 a.m., and the US 3rd Division had lost less than a hundred troops. Shortly after midday, Truscott and his crew arrived ashore to set up headquarters at Palazzo La Lumia, which salvage parties had substantially cleared. The 538th Coastal Defense Battalion, organized as a tactical reserve, launched a counter-offensive. The seven Allied assault divisions- three American, three British, and one Canadian were solidly established ashore by the evening of 10 July, the port of Syracuse had been seized, and worries of an Axis air assault had proven false.

The Axis aviation capability had been significantly reduced by the preliminary bombing of previous weeks. The substantial Allied presence of aircraft operating from Malta, Gozo, and Pantelleria kept most of the Axis attempts at air attack at bay. Nevertheless, some strikes were successful on the first day of the invasion, and German planes sunk the landing ship LST-313 and the minesweeper USS Sentinel. Over the next few days, Italian Stukas sank the destroyer USS Maddox and the Indian hospital ship Talamba, and Axis planes damaged or sank several other transport vessels, warships, and landing craft, initial with the Allied troopship USS Barnett, which was hit and injured by an Italian bomber formation on July 11th. Stukas and Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 torpedo-bombers from Italy (dubbed Picchiatello in Italian service) coordinated attacks with German Stuka and Ju 88 bomber units. Lieutenant Colonel John Durnford-No. Slater's 3 Commando gained Malati Bridge on 13 July as part of the seaborne landings south at Agnone, only to lose it when the 4th Self-Propelled Artillery Battalion and the Italian 53rd Motorcycle Company counterattacked. The Commandos suffered 28 deaths, 66 injuries, and 59 captures or disappearances.

Exploitation

General Alexander's strategy was to first construct a line between Licata and Catania in the West and then begin operations to subdue the rest of the island in the east. Capturing ports and airfields was crucial. The British Eighth Army's mission was to conquer the Pachino airfield on Cape Passero and the port of Syracuse before pushing north to take the ports of Augusta and Catania. The landing grounds at Gerbini, on the Catania plain, were also on their list of targets. The port of Licata and the airfields at Ponte Olivo, Biscari, and Comiso were among Lieutenant General Patton's US Seventh Army targets. The goal was to keep the enemy reserves from marching eastward and attacking the left flank of the Eighth Army.

According to Axis plans, Kampfgruppe Schmalz planned to counterattack an Allied landing on the Augusta–Syracuse coast with the 54th Infantry Division "Napoli". However, Colonel Schmalz had been unable to reach the Italian Division and had proceeded alone to Syracuse on the 10th of July. Unbeknownst to Schmalz, a battalion of 18 Renault R35 tanks and supporting infantry from the Napoli Division broke through the frontward positions held by the 2nd Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment, part of Major-General Horatio Berney-British Ficklin's 5th Division's 13th Brigade, and were only halted by anti-tank and artillery fire in the Floridia suburbs and Priolo of Syracuse.

The Royal Navy attempted to capture Augusta on July 11–12, but the 246th Coastal Battalion resisted the British landing force, which was backed up by three destroyers. On the 12th of July, many Italian forces took up rearguard positions to support Kampfgruppe Schmalz and the Hermann Göring Division's withdrawal. As Kampfgruppe Schmalz retreated toward Catania, Semovente da 90/53 tank destroyers temporarily halted the American advance, the 526th Bersaglieri Battalion, and the 177th Bersaglieri Regiment from Gruppo Tattico Venturi. The 246th Coastal Battalion fled to Cozzo Telegrafo and Acquedolci, both strongholds. The Napoli Division's 76th Infantry Regiment guarded the left flank of Kampfgruppe Schmalz, which withdrew through Lentini and eventually to Palermo. To cover the Hermann Göring Division, the Livorno Division moved its right side toward Piazza Armerina, and the Hermann Göring Division withdrew from the Piano Lupo region, Caltagirone.

On the morning of July 13, troops of the British 5th Division on the right flank of the Eighth Army, which Kampfgruppe Schmalz had held back, entered Augusta. Major-General Sidney Kirkman's British 50th Division had moved up Route 114 toward Lentini, 15 miles (24 km) northwest of Augusta, but the Napoli Division was putting up an intense fight. Finally, on 13 July, Brigadier John Currie's British 4th Armoured Brigade captured the Italian division commander and his staff. It wasn't until 18:45 on 14 July that the town was cleared of impediments and snipers, and the advance proceeded. The Napoli Division's unit managed to break through the British lines and take up new positions near Augusta, but the British assault forced it to retreat again on July 14.

Major-General Douglas Wimberley's 51st Division had moved directly north to take Palazzolo and Vizzini 30 miles (48 kilometres) west of Syracuse`. At the same time, the Canadians secured the Pachino airfield. Then, they headed northwest to contact the American right-wing at Ragusa, after driving off the Italian 122 Infantry Regiment north of Pachino. The Canadians took more than 500 Italians. The 206th Coastal Division mounted a vigorous counterattack on the 2nd Special Service Brigade in the Canadian area, threatening to penetrate the Canadians' space and the Royal Marine Commandos before being repulsed.

The port of Licata had been taken in the American sector by the morning of July 10th. On the 11th of July, Patton ordered his reserve parachute troops from the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (minus the 3rd Battalion, which was already in Sicily and attached to the 505th) to drop and reinforce the centre, under Colonel Reuben Tucker of Major General Matthew Ridgway's 82nd Airborne Division. The Company 'C' of the 307th Airborne Engineer Battalion, 376th Parachute Field Artillery Battalion, and additional supporting forces will accompany the 504th. On the 6, 7, 10, and 11 July, warning orders were provided to the fleet and troops regarding the anticipated route and timing of the drop, so that friendly forces would not fire on the plane. They were supposed to drop east of Ponte Olivo, about 5 miles (8.0 km) inland from Gela, to cut off the 1st Infantry Division's bridgehead.

When an Allied naval vessel was burning on the formation, the 144 Douglas C-47 types of transport arrived simultaneously as an Axis air raid; the first echelon of troop-carrying planes had dropped their loads without interruption. All naval ships and shore soldiers immediately joined in, shooting down friendly planes and forcing paratroopers to leap far from their drop zones. The friendly fire claimed 23 of the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing's 144 C-47s, resulting in 318 casualties and 83 deaths. Thirty-seven planes were damaged, and eight of them returned to base without dropping their paratroopers. "Friendly fire" claimed the lives of 229 paratroopers, including 81 who died. The 82nd Airborne's assistant division commander (ADC), Brigadier General Charles L. Keerans, Jr., served as an unofficial observer with the 504th. Colonel Harry L. Lewis' 325th Glider Infantry Regiment, part of the 82nd Airborne Division, was waiting in North Africa and was planning to land in Sicily by glider that night, along with the rest of the division staff. Ridgway cancelled the operation after what happened to the 504th.

Despite this, the American beach landings were successful, with many supplies and transport arriving. Despite the failure of the airborne assault, the 1st Infantry Division secured Ponte Olivo on July 12. It pushed north, while Major General Troy H. Middleton's 45th Infantry Division on the right had taken Comiso's airstrip and entered Ragusa to join the Canadians. Major General Truscott's 3rd Infantry Division advanced soldiers 25 miles (40 kilometres) up the coast, almost to Argento, and 20 miles (32 kilometres) inland to Canicatti after landing at Licata.

Alexander intended to split the island in half once the beachheads were secured by thrusting north through the Caltanissetta and Enna regions, denying the defenders access to the primary east-west lateral road. The last push north to Nicosia would cut the lateral path, while a final push to Santo Stefano would cut the coastal route on the north coast. He assigned this task to Montgomery's Eighth Army in new orders issued on July 13, possibly based on a somewhat overly optimistic situation report by Montgomery late on July 12, while the Seventh Army was to continue their holding role on the Eighth Army's left flank, despite what seemed to be an opportunity for them to make a bold offensive move. However, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring visited Sicily on July 12 and concluded that German troops were fighting independently. As a result, he resolved that the German formations needed to be strengthened and that western Sicily should be abandoned to shorten the front line. At the same time, a Hauptkampflinie was constructed to obstruct and eventually stop the Allied advance from San Stefano on the northern coast, via Nicosia and Agira to Cantenanuova, and from there to the eastern coast south of Catania.

While the XIII Corps, led by Lieutenant General Miles Dempsey, continued to push north along the Catania road, the XXX Corps, led by Lieutenant General Oliver Leese, were directed north via two routes: an inland route through Vizzini, and Route 124, which cut across the US 45th Infantry Division, which had to reappearance to the coast at Gela for redeployment behind the US 1st Infantry Division. The British 5th Infantry Division was successfully delayed by Kampfgruppe Schmalz, allowing two regiments from the German 1st Parachute Division to fly to Catania to deploy. On July 12, the British 1st Parachute Brigade, under by Brigadier Gerald Lathbury, was dropped in Operation Fustian to capture the Primosole Bridge over the river Simeto on the Catania plain's southern side. The British paratroopers held the bridge against furious Axis strikes despite many fatalities. Italian reinforcements from the 10th Arditi Paratroop Regiment (Major Vito Marciano), gunners from the 29th Artillery Group fighting as infantry, and an armoured car squadron nearly overran the headquarters of the 9th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, at nightfall on the first day of the battle for Primosole Bridge. Strong opposition delayed the British 5th Division, but they made contact early on July 15th; however, a shallow position north of the river was not consolidated until July 17th.

The surviving Italian aircraft returned to the mainland on July 16. In the first week of the invasion, 160 Italian planes were lost, with 57 failing Allied fighters and anti-aircraft fire on the 10th and 12th of July alone. In addition, the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable was bombed by an Italian bomber, and the cruiser HMS Cleopatra was torpedoed by the Italian submarine Dandolo. Both ships were grounded for more than a year.

While travelling through the Strait of Messina at great speed on the night of July 17, the Italian cruiser Scipione Africano, armed with EC.3 Gufo radar, identified and involved four British Elco motor torpedo boats waiting for 5 miles (8 km) away. Between Reggio di Calabria and Pellaro, the MTB 316 was sunk, and the MTB 313 was damaged, killing twelve British sailors.

Montgomery relaunched his attack on Catania with two brigades of Major General Kirkman's 50th Division on the night of July 17–18. They were met with fierce resistance, and by the 19th of July, Montgomery had chosen to abandon the attack and focus his efforts on his left. The 5th Division attempted an attack on the 50th Division's left flank but was unsuccessful. At the same time, the 51st Division, further West, intersected the river Dittaino at Sferro and headed towards the Gerbini airfields on July 20. On July 21, they were also pushed back by counterattacks. The 1st Canadian Division was constant to advance on the left flank. However, it suited clear that the army would not have enough strength to carry the entire front as German units settled into their new positions in northeastern Sicily, so the Canadians were well-arranged to continue north to Leonforte and then turn east to Adrano on the south-western slopes of Mount Etna, rather than an encirclement of Mount Etna using Route 120 to Randazzo. Montgomery sent Major-General Vyvyan Evelegh's British 78th Infantry Division, his reserve division from North Africa, forward.

Patton had split his army up into two corps. On the left was the Provisional Corps, which included the 2nd Armored, 3rd Infantry, and 82nd Airborne Divisions and was led by Major General Geoffrey Keyes. The United States II Corps, under Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, was on the right. Provisional Corps had taken Porto Empedocle and Agrigento by the 17th of July. The II Corps captured Caltanissetta on the 18th of July, just short of Route 121, Sicily's important east-west lateral. The 207th Coastal Defence Division was stationed at Sant'Oliva Station, six miles inland from Licata, and momentarily halted the American assault toward Agrigento. Colonel Fabrizio Storti's 10th Bersaglieri Regiment forced Colonel William O. Darby's 3rd Infantry Division's 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions to combat their way into Agrigento. The city was in American hands by late afternoon on July 16th.

The German formations in the east of the island were able to join the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. On the 18th of July, Patton was given orders to move soldiers north over Petralia on Route 120, the next east-west lateral, and then cut the northern coast road. After that, he'd clean up the island's west side. Bradley's II Corps was entrusted with leading the northward push, while the Provisional Corps was in charge of cleaning up. Alexander gave Patton further orders to build an eastward threat along the coast route once cut. He was also told to conquer Palermo as soon as possible to serve as the main supply base for the army's eastward push north of Mount Etna. The Provisional Corps of the Seventh Army overran the Italian battlegroup Raggruppamento Schreiber (under General Ottorino Schreiber) on July 21, protecting the 15th Panzer Panzergrenadier Division's escape. However, Patton lost 300 soldiers in the process. The Provisional Corps arrived in Palermo on July 22, and the 45th Division severed the north coast road the next day.

Battles for Etna Positions

General Montgomery assembled his forces in the last week of July in preparation for a new attack on August 1. His immediate goal was Adrano, which would split the German forces on either side of Mount Etna if he could take it. The Brigadier Roy Urquhart's 231st Brigade Group and Canadians maintained their eastward assault from Leonforte during the week, and on July 29th, had seized Agira, about 15 miles (24 kilometres) west of Adrano. The British 78th Division, led by the 3rd Canadian Brigade, captured Catenanuova and established a bridgehead across the river Dittaino on July 29. Then, on the night of August 1, they began their onslaught to the northwest, aiming for Centuripe, an isolated rocky outcropping that served as the Adrano's major southern bastion. On the morning of August 3, after a day of severe battle against the Hermann Göring Division and the 3rd Parachute Regiment, the town was eventually cleared of defenders. Centuripe's capture was crucial since the threat to Adrano was mounting, making the position covering Catania untenable.

Patton had determined that his communications could support two divisions moving east, the 45th on the coast route and the 1st on Route 120. Accordingly, he replaced the 45th Division with the younger 3rd Division. He relieved the 1st Division with Major General Manton Eddy's 9th Infantry Division from the reserve in North Africa to keep the pressure on. The Etna Line, which ran from San Fratello on the north coast via Troina and Aderno, was the Axis' second defensive line. The 1st Division arrived in Troina on July 31st, with portions of the approaching 9th Division attached, and the Battle of Troina began. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division held this key post. The 28th Infantry Division "Aosta" had also been recalled to Troina in four battalions to participate in the defensive preparations and upcoming combat.

The Germans and Italians fought a costly defence for six days, launching 24 counterattacks and several small local strikes. Colonel George Smith's 9th Division's US 18th Infantry Regiment had secured Mount Pellegrino, which overlooked the Troina defences and allowed accurate artillery direction. As the neighbouring Hermann Göring Division was forced back by the British XXX Corps, the defenders' left flank was also exposed. They were ordered to retreat that night in phases to the Tortorici Line's defensive positions. On the coast at San Fratello and Santa Agata, elements of the 29th Panzergrenadier Division and the 26th Infantry Division "Assietta" were also proving tough to dislodge. Patton led a small amphibious force behind the defences, which led to Santa Agata's capitulation on August 8, following a six-day siege.

On the 3rd of August, the XIII Corps took advantage of the disorganization produced by the threat to Adrano and restarted their advance on Catania, capturing the city on the 5th. On August 6, the 78th Division captured Adrano, while the 51st (Highland) Division occupied Biancavilla, 2 miles (3.2 km) southeast of Adrano. The 1st Canadian Division was reserved into Army Reserve after the fall of Adrano. The 78th Division marched north from Adrano and took Bronte on August 8, while the 9th Division advanced from Troina and took Cesaro, both important positions on the New Hube Line. Both divisions met in Randazzo, on Etna's northwestern slopes. The 78th Division was placed on reserve after the fall of Randazzo on August 13th. The front line shortened as the Allied advance progressed, so Montgomery decided to withdraw the British 5th Infantry Division and XIII Corps HQ, now commanded by Major General Gerard Bucknall (replacing Major General Berney-Ficklin, who had returned to England), on 10 August to allow them to prepare for the landings on mainland Italy. The US 3rd Division faced stiff resistance on the northern shore and obstacles caused by significant road demolition. The advance was kept rolling by two more end-run amphibious attacks and the engineers' restoration efforts. Despite Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring's decision to escape, the Axis troops maintained their delaying tactics, helped by the ideal defensive topography of the Messina Peninsula; the leading elements of the 3rd Division entered Messina on the night of August 16th.

Axis Evacuation

By the 27th of July, the Axis commanders had realized that the campaign's outcome would be the evacuation of Messina. On the 29th of July, Kesselring reported to Hitler that an evacuation could be completed in three days, and preliminary written plans were drafted on the 1st of August. On the other hand, when Hube proposed on August 4 that a start be made by moving surplus soldiers and equipment, Guzzoni refused to sanction the concept without the Comando Supremo's permission. Despite this, the Germans moved nearly 12,000 men, 4,500 vehicles, and 5,000 tons of equipment from August 1 to 10. Hube recommended to Guzzoni, via von Senger, that HQ 6th Army relocate to Calabria on August 6. Guzzoni dismissed the proposal but inquired whether Hube had decided to leave Sicily. Hube had not, according to Von Senger.

Guzzoni learnt of the German evacuation plan the next day and informed Rome of his belief in their intentions. Guzzoni indicated on the 7th of August that any last-ditch effort without German backing would be futile. Guzzoni's jurisdiction was extended to Calabria on August 9, and he was ordered to move some men there to fortify the area. On the 10th of August, Guzzoni told Hube that he was in charge of the defence of northeast Sicily and Italian coastal units and the Messina garrison. Guzzoni then intersected to the mainland with 6th Army HQ and 16th Corps HQ, leaving Admiral Pietro Barone and Admiral Pietro Parenti to organize the Livorno and Assietta divisions. The German plan was meticulous, with clear lines of command enforcing strict discipline. The German Commandant of the Messina Straits, with Fortress Commander authority over infantry, artillery, engineer anti-aircraft, construction, transport and administration, and German navy transport headquarters. Generalmajor Richard Heidrich, who had stayed in Calabria with the 1st Parachute Regiment and 1st Parachute Division headquarters when the rest of the Division was sent to Sicily as reinforcements, was named XIV Panzer Corps Mainland Commander to collect evacuating formations. At the same time, Hube continued to command operations on the island.

The full-scale pullout began on August 11 and lasted until August 17. During this time, Hube ordered nightly withdrawals of between 5 and 15 miles (8.0 and 24.1 km), using mines, demolitions, and other impediments to keep the following Allied units at a safe distance. He could withdraw forces for evacuation as the peninsula shrank, shortening its front. On 15 August, the Allies countered by mounting brigade-sized amphibious assaults, one by each of the Seventh and Eighth Armies. The rapidity with which the Axis withdrew meant that these activities "went air."

The evacuation plans devised by the Germans and the Italians were both quite successful. However, the Allies could not halt an orderly departure or effectively obstruct transports over the Messina Strait. One hundred twenty heavy and 112 light anti-aircraft weapons guarded the narrow straits. Allied pilots compared the overlapping gunfire from both sides of the channel to the Ruhr, making daylight airstrikes very dangerous and typically failed. Night strikes were less complicated, and air attacks were sometimes successful in delaying or even suspending commerce across the straits. Still, when daylight returned, the Axis could clear the previous night's backlog.

Furthermore, naval interdiction was no longer a viable option. The straits were 2–6 miles (3.2–9.7 km) wide and were protected by guns with a caliber of up to 24 centimetres (9.4 in). Combined with the dangers of a 6 knot (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) current and the possibility that Italian battleships were planning a suicidal strike on the Straits of Messina, it made risking warships unconscionable.

The Oberkommando des Wehrmacht reported 60,000 troops recovered on August 18, but the Italian figure was around 75,000. According to Tomlin, the Italians evacuated 62,182 personnel, 227 vehicles and 41 guns, with the loss of the train ferry Carridi and only one motor raft when Allied troops entered Messina in 2004. In addition, about 52,000 men (including 4,444 wounded), 14,105 vehicles, 94 guns, 47 tanks, 20,700 tons of gear and nearly 1,100 tons of ammunition and supplies were evacuated by the Germans.

Casualties

The Seventh Army of the United States lost 8,781 soldiers (2,237 killed or missing, 5,946 wounded, and 598 taken), whereas the British Eighth Army lost 11,843 men (2,062 killed or missing, 2,644 captured, and 7,137 wounded). The Royal Navy suffered 314 killed or missing, 411 injured, and four captured, while the US Navy lost 546 missing or killed and 484 wounded. According to the US Air Force, 28 people were killed, 88 were missing, and 41 were injured. There were 2,310 fatalities for Canadian forces, including 562 dead, 1,664 wounded, and 84 captured.

In the book Germany and the Second World War (2007), Messerschmidt et al. estimated that German troops lost 4,325 men dead, 4,583 missings, 5,532 captured, and 13,500 wounded, resulting in a total of 27,940 casualties. According to the Italian Army, Italian military losses were 4,678 killed, 36,072 missing, 32,500 wounded, and 116,681 prisoners. Many of the missing are thought to have been slain and buried on the battlefield or in unknown locations. At the same time, another group is believed to have been locally recruited soldiers who deserted and returned home. In 2007, Mitcham and Von Stauffenberg calculated that 147,000 Italians had died due to the war. In addition, a previous Canadian assessment of the Allied invasion indicated that about 100,000 Italian and Germans were taken prisoner in Sicily.

War Crimes

US troops killed several civilians shortly after they arrived in Sicily. For example, the Vittoria massacre, in which 12 Italians were killed, the Piano Stella massacre in Agrigento, a group of peasants were murdered, and the Canicatt massacre, in which at least eight civilians, including an eleven-year-old girl, were killed.

Following the liberation of Biscari airfield on 14 July 1943, American soldiers from the 45th Division's 180th Regimental Combat Team massacred 74 Italian and two German prisoners of war in two separate massacres at Biscari airfield. As a result, Captain John T. Compton and Sergeant Horace T. West were charged with a war crime and West was sentenced and sentenced to life in prison, as well as having his rank stripped from him; however, he was released back into active service as a private in November 1944 and was honourably quitted at the end of his service. Compton was accused of murdering 40 prisoners under his command, but he was cleared and sent to another unit, where he perished in the battle in Italy in November 1943.

Rape and sexual harassment by British troops were often reported following Sicily's invasion in 1943, including the Special Investigation Branch and testimony from Belgian reporters. During the Invasion of Sicily, the Canadian Loyal Edmonton Regiment, according to Mitcham and von Stauffenberg, also murdered German prisoners of war.

Last updated: 2022-January-12
Tags: World War II
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