Allied invasion of Sicily
|Part of the Italian Campaign of World War II|
The U.S. Liberty ship Robert Rowan explodes after being hit by a German bomber off Gela, Sicily, 11 July 1943
|Commanders and leaders|
| Dwight Eisenhower
George S. Patton
| Albert Kesselring
Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin
|230,000 Italian personnel
40,000 - 60,000 German personnel
|Casualties and losses|
(5,837 killed or missing, 15,683 wounded, 3,330 captured)
131,359-147,000 killed, wounded and captured (mainly POWs)
The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major World War II campaign, in which the Allies took Sicily from the Axis Powers (Italy and Nazi Germany). It was a large scale amphibious and airborne operation, followed by six weeks of land combat. It launched the Italian Campaign.
Husky began on the night of 9–10 July 1943, and ended on 17 August. Strategically, Husky achieved the goals set out for it by Allied planners. The Allies drove Axis air, land and naval forces from the island; the Mediterranean's sea lanes were opened and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was toppled from power. It opened the way to the Allied invasion of Italy.
- 1 Background
- 2 Battle
- 3 Axis evacuation
- 4 Aftermath
- 5 Constituent operations
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 External links
The plan for Operation Husky called for the amphibious assault of the island by two armies, one landing on the South Eastern and one on the central Southern Coast. The amphibious assaults were to be supported by naval gunfire, and tactical bombing, interdiction and close air support by the combined air forces. As such, the operation required a complex command structure, incorporating land, naval and air forces. The overall commander was the American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, as Commander-in-Chief of Allied Forces North Africa. The British General Sir Harold Alexander acted as his second in command and as the Land Forces / Army Group commander. The American Major General Walter Bedell Smith was appointed as Chief of Staff. The overall Naval Force Commander was the British Admiral Andrew Cunningham.
The Allied land forces were from the American, British and Canadian armies, and were structured as two task forces. The Eastern Task Force (also known as Task Force 545) was led by General Bernard Montgomery and consisted of the British Eighth Army. (which included the 1st Canadian Infantry Division). The Western Task Force (Task Force 343) was commanded by Lieutenant General George S. Patton and consisted of the Seventh United States Army. The two task force commanders reported to Alexander as Commander of the 15th Army Group.
The Seventh U.S. Army consisted initially of three infantry divisions organized under U.S. II Corps commanded by Major General Omar Bradley. The U.S. 1st Division and U.S. 3rd Division sailed from ports in Tunisia, while the U.S. 45th Division sailed from the United States via Oran in Algeria. The U.S. 2nd Armored Division, also sailing from Oran, was to be a floating reserve and be fed into combat as required. On 15 July, Patton reorganized his command into two corps by creating a new Provisional Corps headquarters commanded by his deputy army commander Geoffrey Keyes.
The British Eighth Army had four infantry divisions and an independent infantry brigade organized under XIII Corps commanded by Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey and XXX Corps under Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese. The two divisions of XIII Corps (5th Division and 50th Division) sailed from Suez in Egypt. The formations of XXX Corps sailed from more diverse ports: the 1st Canadian Division sailed from the UK, the 51st Division from Tunisia and Malta, and the 231st Infantry Brigade from Suez.
The 1st Canadian Infantry Division was included in the Allied invasion of Sicily at the insistence of the Canadian Prime Minister, William Lyon Mackenzie King, and the Canadian Military Headquarters in the UK. This request was granted by the British, displacing the veteran British 3rd Infantry Division. The change was not finalized until 27 April 1943, when General Andrew McNaughton, the commander of the First Canadian Army, deemed Husky to be a viable military undertaking and agreed to the detachment of both 1st Canadian Infantry Division and 1st Canadian Tank Brigade. The "Red Patch Division" was added to British XXX Corps to become part of the Eighth Army.
In addition to the amphibious landings, airborne troops were to be flown in to support both the Western and Eastern Task Forces. To the east, the British 1st Airborne Division commanded by Major General George F. Hopkinson were to seize vital bridges and high ground. The initial plan dictated that the American 82nd Airborne Division commanded by Major General Matthew B Ridgway was held as a tactical reserve in Tunisia.
The Allied naval forces were also grouped into two task forces to transport and support the invading armies. The Eastern Naval Task Force was formed from the British Mediterranean Fleet and was commanded by Admiral Bertram Ramsay. The Western Naval Task Force was formed around the United States Eighth Fleet, commanded by Admiral H. Kent Hewitt. The two naval task force commanders reported to Admiral Cunningham as overall Naval Forces Commander.
At the time of Operation Husky, the Allied air forces in the North African and Mediterranean were organized into the Mediterranean Air Command (MAC) under Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder. The major sub-command of MAC was the Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF) under the command of Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz with headquarters in Tunisia. NAAF consisted primarily of groups from the United States 12th Air Force, 9th Air Force, and the British Royal Air Force (RAF) that provided the primary air support for the operation. Other groups from the 9th Air Force under Lieutenant General Lewis H. Brereton operating from Tunisia and Egypt, and Air H.Q. Malta under Air Vice-Marshal Sir Keith Park operating from the island of Malta, also provided important air support.
The US Army Air Force 9th Air Force's medium bombers and P40 fighters that were detached to NAAF's Northwest African Tactical Air Force under the command of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham moved to southern airfields on Sicily as soon they were secured. At the time, the 9th Air Force was a sub-command of RAF Middle East Command under Air Chief Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas. Middle East Command, like NAAF and Air H.Q. Malta, were sub-commands of MAC under Tedder who reported to Eisenhower for NAAF operations and to the British Chiefs of Staff for Air H.Q. Malta and Middle East Command operations.
The island was defended by the two corps of Italian 6th Army under General Alfredo Guzzoni, although specially designated Fortress Areas around the main ports (Piazze Militari Marittime), marked as Port Defensive Areas on the map below, were commanded by admirals subordinate to Naval Headquarters and independent of 6th Army. In early July, the total Axis force in Sicily was about 200,000 Italian and 32,000 German troops, and 30,000 Luftwaffe ground staff. The main German formations were the Panzer Division Hermann Göring and the 15th Panzergrenadier Division. The panzer division had 99 tanks in two battalions but was short of infantry (with only three battalions), while the panzergrenadier division had three grenadier infantry regiments and a tank battalion with 60 tanks. About half the Italian troops were formed into four front-line infantry divisions and headquarters troops; the remainder were support troops or in poor quality immobile coastal divisions and brigades. Guzzoni's defence plan was for the coastal formations to form a covering screen to take the initial impact of an invasion, and allow time for the more centrally located field divisions to intervene.
By late July, the German units had been reinforced, principally by elements of two further divisions (1st Parachute Division and 29th Panzergrenadier Division) and a corps headquarters (XIV Panzer Corps) under General der Panzertruppe Hans-Valentin Hube, bringing the number of German troops to around 70,000. Until the arrival of the corps headquarters, the two German divisions were nominally under Italian tactical control. The panzer division, with a reinforced infantry regiment from the panzergrenadier division to compensate for its own lack of infantry, was under Italian XVI Corps and the rest of the panzergrenadier division under Italian XII Corps. In reality, the German commanders in Sicily were contemptuous of their allies, and German units took their orders from the German liaison officer attached to Italian 6th Army HQ, Generalleutnant Frido von Senger und Etterlin who was subordinate to Albert Kesselring, the German Commander-in-Chief Army Command South (OB Süd). Von Senger had arrived in Sicily in late June as part of a German plan to gain greater operational control of its units. Once Hube arrived, Guzzoni agreed from 16 July to delegate to him control of all sectors where there were German units involved, and from 2 August Hube was given control of the whole Sicilian front.
At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, with the end of the North African Campaign in sight, the political leaders and the military Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. and Britain met to discuss future strategy. The British Chiefs of Staff were in favour of 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. At first, the Americans opposed the plan as opportunistic and irrelevant, but were persuaded to agree to a Sicilian invasion on the grounds of the great saving to Allied shipping which would result from the opening of the Mediterranean by the removal of Axis air and naval forces from the island.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff appointed General Eisenhower as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force, General Alexander as Deputy C-in-C with responsibility for detailed planning and execution of the operation, Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham as Naval Commander, and Air Chief Marshal Tedder as Air Commander.
The outline plan given to Eisenhower by the Chiefs of Staff involved dispersed landings by brigade and division-sized formations in the south-east, south and north-west areas of the island. The logic behind the plan was it would result in the rapid capture of key Axis airfields which posed a threat to the beachheads and the invasion fleet lying off them. It would also see the rapid capture of all the main ports on the island, except for Messina, including Catania, Palermo, Syracuse, Licata and Augusta. This would facilitate a rapid Allied build-up as well as denying their use to the Axis. High level planning for the operation lacked direction because the three main land commanders, Alexander, Montgomery and Patton, were fully occupied in operations in Tunisia. Effort was wasted in presenting plans which Montgomery, in particular, disliked because of the dispersion of forces involved. He was able finally to articulate his objections and put forward alternative proposals on 24 April. Tedder and Cunningham opposed Montgomery's plan because it would leave thirteen landing grounds in Axis hands, posing a considerable threat to the Allied invasion fleet. Finally, Eisenhower called a meeting for 2 May with Montgomery, Cunningham and Tedder where Montgomery made new proposals to concentrate the Allied effort on the south east corner of Sicily, discarding the intended landings close to Palermo and using the south-eastern ports. After Alexander joined the meeting on 3 May, Montgomery's proposals were finally accepted on the basis that it was better to take an administrative risk (having to support troops by landing supplies across beaches) than an operational one (dispersion of effort). Not for the last time, Montgomery had argued a sound course of action, yet done so in a conceited manner which suggested to others, particularly his American allies that he was preoccupied with his own interests. In the event, maintaining the armies by landing supplies across the beaches proved easier than expected, partly because of the successful introduction of the new amphibious DUKW vehicle which had been introduced in large numbers. Alexander was later to write "It is not too much to say that the DUKW revolutionised the problem of beach maintenance."
On 17 May, Alexander issued his Operation Instruction No. 1 setting out his broad plan and defining the tasks of the two armies. Broadly speaking, his intention was to establish his armies along a line from Catania to Licata preparatory to a final operations to reduce the island. He later wrote that at that stage it was not practicable to plan further ahead but that his intentions were clear in his own mind what the next step would be: he would drive north ultimately to San Stefano on the northern coast to split the island in two and cut his enemy's east-west communications.
The American Seventh Army was assigned to land in the Gulf of Gela, in south-central Sicily, with 3rd Division and 2nd Armored Division to the west at Licata, site Baia di Mollarella, 1st Division in the center at Gela, and 45th Division to the east at Scoglitti. The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division was assigned to drop behind the defences at Gela and Scoglitti. Seventh Army's beach-front stretched over 50 kilometers (31 mi).
The British Eighth Army was assigned to land in southeastern Sicily. XXX Corps would land on either side of Cape Passero, at the very southeastern corner of Sicily, while XIII Corps would land in the Gulf of Noto, around Avola, off to the north. Eighth Army's beach front also stretched 40 kilometers (25 mi), and there was a gap of some 40 kilometers (25 mi) between the two armies.
Once the Axis forces had been defeated in Tunisia, the Allied strategic bomber force commenced attacking the principal airfields of Sardinia, Sicily and southern Italy, industrial targets in southern Italy and the ports of Naples, Messina, Palermo and Cagliari (in Sardinia). The attacks were thus distributed in such a way as to maintain uncertainty as to where the next move of the Allied land forces would be, in order to pin down Axis aircraft and prevent them being ordered to Sicily. Bombing attacks were stepped up on northern Italy (by aircraft based in the UK) and Greece (by aircraft based in the Middle East). From 3 July, bombing attacks increasingly focused on Sicilian airfields and Axis communications with Italy, although beach defences were left alone to preserve surprise as to exactly where the landings were to take place. By 10 July. only two airfields in Sicily remained fully serviceable and over half the Axis aircraft had been forced to leave the island. Allied airmen flew a total of 42,227 sorties between mid-May and the invasion, destroying 323 German and 105 Italian aircraft and lost 250 aircraft, mostly to anti-aircraft fire while operating over Sicily.
Heavy air operations were also conducted in May against the small island of Pantelleria, some 70 miles (110 km) south-west of Sicily and 150 miles (240 km) north-west of Malta, to prevent the airfield there being used in support of Axis troops attempting to withdraw from North Africa. From 6 June, attacks were further stepped up and on 11 June, after a naval bombardment and seaborne landing by British 1st Infantry Division (Operation Corkscrew) the island surrendered. The Pelagie Islands of Lampedusa and Linosa, some 90 miles (140 km) west of Malta, followed in short order on 12 June.
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To distract the Axis, and if possible divert some of their forces to other areas, the Allies engaged in several deception operations. The most famous and successful of these was Operation Mincemeat. The British allowed a corpse disguised as a British officer to drift ashore in Spain, carrying a briefcase containing fake secret documents which 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. A group of "R boats" (German minesweepers and minelayers) was transferred from Sicily, and three additional minefields were laid off the Greek coast. Three panzer divisions were moved to Greece – one from France, and two from the Eastern Front. The latter was perhaps the most critical move – reducing German combat strength against the Russians in the Kursk salient. Still, there were a large number of German and Italian soldiers on Sicily when the invasion started. The Germans in particular had soldiers in Sicily that they had withdrawn from North Africa and had not yet reassigned to the Eastern Front.
Two British and two American attacks by airborne forces were carried out just after midnight on the night of 9–10 July, as part of the invasion. The American paratroopers consisted largely of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, making their first combat drop.
The British landings were preceded by the 21st Independent Parachute Company (Pathfinders) who were to mark landing zones for paratroopers who were intended to seize the Ponte Grande, the bridge over the River Anape just south of Syracuse and hold it until the British 5th Infantry Division arrived from the beaches at Cassibile, some 7 miles (11 km) to the south. British Glider infantry from the 1st Airlanding Brigade were to seize landing zones inland.
Strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) blew the troop-carrying aircraft off course and the US force was scattered widely over south-east Sicily between Gela and Syracuse. By 14 July, about two-thirds of the 505th regiment had managed to concentrate, half the US paratroopers failed to reach their rallying points. The British air-landing troops fared little better, with only 12 of the 147 gliders landing on target and 69 crashing into the sea. Nevertheless, the scattered airborne troops maximized their opportunities, attacking patrols and creating confusion wherever possible. A platoon of the South Staffordshire Regiment, who had landed on target, captured Ponte Grande and fought off counterattacks. More men rallied to the sound of shooting, and by 18:30 89 men were holding the bridge. By 11:30, a battalion of the Italian 75th Infantry Regiment from the 54 Infantry Division Napoli arrived with some artillery. The British force held out until about 1530 hours when they were forced to surrender to Colonel Francesco Ronco's 75th Infantry Regiment only 45 minutes before the leading elements of 5th Infantry Division arrived from the south.
In spite 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 strong wind also made matters difficult for the amphibious landings but also ensured the element of surprise as many of the defenders had assumed that no one would attempt a landing in such poor conditions. Landings were made in the early hours of 10 July on 26 main beaches spread along 105 miles (169 km) of the southern and eastern coasts of the island between the town of Licata Torre di Gaffe and Mollarella beach in the west, and Cassibile in the east, with British and Canadian forces in the east and Americans toward the west. This constituted the largest amphibious operation of World War II in terms of size of the landing zone and number of divisions put ashore on the first day. The Italian defensive plan did not contemplate a pitched battle on the beaches and so the landings themselves were somewhat of an anti-climax. More trouble was experienced from the difficult weather conditions (especially on the southern beaches) and unexpected hidden offshore sandbars than from the 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.
Once the Axis commanders had divined the Allies' intentions, the Allies began to see some reaction from the Axis field divisions waiting inland, the Hermann Göring and Livorno Divisions. In the US 1st Infantry Division's sector at Gela, there was a substantial Italian division-sized counterattack at exactly the point where the dispersed 505th Parachute Regiment were supposed to have been. The German Tiger tanks of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division—which had been due to advance with the 4 Infantry Division Livorno—had failed to turn up. Nevertheless on Highways 115 and 117 during 10 July Italian tanks of the "Niscemi" Armoured Combat Group and "Livorno" infantry pressed home their attack nearly reaching the Allied position at Gela, but gunfire from the destroyer USS Shubrick and the light cruiser USS Boise destroyed several tanks and dispersed the attacking infantry battalion. The 3rd Battalion, 34th Regiment, "Livorno" Infantry Division, composed mainly of conscripts, is recorded by its commanding officer as having made a valiant but ultimately equally unsuccessful daylight attack in the Gela beachhead two days later alongside infantry and armour of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division.
By the evening of 10 July, the seven Allied assault divisions—three British, three American and one Canadian—were well established ashore and the port of Syracuse had been captured. Fears of an Axis air onslaught had proved unfounded. The preparatory bombing of the previous weeks had greatly weakened the Axis air capability and the heavy Allied presence of aircraft operating from Malta, Gozo and Pantelleria kept most of the Axis attempts at air attack at bay. Some attacks on the first day of the invasion got through, and German aircraft sank the landing ship LST-313 and minesweeper USS Sentinel. Italian Stukas sank the destroyer USS Maddox. and the Indian hospital ship Talamba, and in the following days Axis aircraft damaged or sank several more warships, transport vessels and landing craft. Italian Stukas—named Picchiatello in Italian service—and Savoia-Marchetti SM.79 torpedo-bombers coordinated their attacks with the German Junkers Ju 87 and Ju 88 bomber units, and Rome reported as follows on 12 July:
|“||Italian planes torpedoed three cruisers and one smaller unit and three steamers. Two of them of 8,000 tons each sank. Enemy craft concentrations were attacked by Italian and German formations. Five steamers and several landing craft are reported sunk. Hit and set on fire were more than forty merchantmen and transports of various types. Axis fighters shot down more than thirty enemy planes. Eight more crashed after they were hit by anti-aircraft fire. From operations of the last two days thirteen of our planes and ten of the Germans failed to return.||”|
As part of the seaborne landings south at Agnone, some 400 men of Lieutenant-Colonel John Durnford-Slater's 3 Commando Brigade captured Malati Bridge on 13 July, only to lose possession of the bridge when Lieutenant-Colonel Francesco Tropea's 4th Self-Propelled Artillery Battalion and the Italian 53rd Motorcycle Company counterattacked. The Royal Marines lost 28 killed, 66 wounded and 59 captured or missing in this engagement.
Exploitation from the beachheads
Alexander's plan was to firstly establish his forces on a line between Licata in the west and Catania in the east before embarking on operations to reduce the rest of the island. Key to this was capturing ports to facilitate the build up of his forces and the capture of airfields. Eighth Army's tasks were therefore to capture the Pachino airfield on Cape Passero and the port of Syracuse before moving northwards to take the ports of Augusta and Catania. Their objectives also included the landing fields around Gerbini, on the Catania plain. The 7th Army's main objectives included capturing the port of Licata and the airfields of Ponte Olivo, Biscari and Comiso. It was then to prevent enemy reserves from moving eastward against the Eighth Army's left flank.
According to Axis plans, Schmalz Battle Group, under Colonel Wilhelm Schmalz, in conjunction with Major-General Giulio Cesare Gotti-Porcinari's 54th 'Napoli' Infantry Division, was supposed to counterattack any Allied landing on the Augusta-Syracuse coast. But on 10 July, Colonel Schmalz had been unable to contact the Italian division and had proceeded alone towards Syracuse. Unknown to Schmalz, a group of eighteen Renault R35 tanks, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Massimo d'Andretta from the 'Napoli' Division, broke through the positions held by the 2nd Battalion The Wiltshire Regiment and were only defeated by anti-tank fire after having reached the Priolo and Floridia suburbs of Syracuse.
Early on 13 July, elements of 5th Division on Eighth Army's right flank—pushing against the delaying tactics of the Schmalz Battle Group—entered Augusta, but not before having been forced to go to ground, when the Germans supported by units of the 'Napoli' Division launched determined counterattacks against the British. On their left, the 50th Division had pushed up Route 114 toward Lentini—15 miles (24 km) northwest of Augusta—and met increasing resistance from R 35 tanks and then infantry from the "Napoli" Division The Canadian Official History of the war later made the erroneous claim that the R 35s from the 'Napoli' were in fact tanks from the Hermann Göring Panzer Division. The commander of the Italian division and his staff were captured, however, by elements of the supporting 4th Armoured Brigade on the 13th and it was not until 18:45 on 14 July that the town had been cleared of obstructions and lurking snipers and the advance resumed. A battalion of the 'Napoli' managed to break through the British lines on the 13th and took up new positions at Augusta, but the continued British advance forced it to retire again on 14 July.
Further left, in the XXX Corps sector, 51st Division had moved directly north to take Palazzolo and Vizzini (30 miles (48 km) west of Syracuse), while the Canadians—having secured Pachino airfield, headed northwest to make contact with the American right wing at Ragusa after having driven off the Italian 122 Infantry Regiment north of Pachino. Canadian war correspondent Ross Munro recorded his experiences of the first few days of the attacks on the 206th Coastal Division in the area of Pachino in a newspaper article printed on 12 July:
Stubborn resistance has been put up by the Italians north and west of Pachino, and along other [Canadian] sectors of the front there were heated engagements. Big battles will probably come before long, but meanwhile large numbers of prisoners are being captured.—The Toronto Globe & Mail, 12 July 1943
The Canadians had captured more than 500 Italian soldiers. Also in the Canadian sector, in the area of Brigadier Robert Edward Laycock's Special Service Brigade, the 206th Coastal Division launched a strong counterattack that threatened to penetrate the area between the Canadians and the Royal Marine Commandos. Fortunately for the British, there was an alert Canadian heavy mortar unit nearby, that broke up the Italian attack.
In the US sector, on 11 July, Patton ordered his reserve parachute troops from the 504th PIR of the 82nd Airborne to drop and reinforce the center. 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. They were intended to drop east of Ponte Olivo (some 5 miles (8.0 km) inland from Gela) to block routes to U.S. 1st Infantry Division's bridgehead at Gela.
However, the 144 Douglas C-47 transports arrived at the time of one of the four main Axis air raids that day on the anchorage and the Allied anti-aircraft gunners were at high alert for targets. The first echelon of troop carrying planes dropped their loads without interference. However, a nervous Allied naval vessel suddenly fired upon the formation. Immediately, all other naval vessels and shore troops joined in, downing friendly aircraft and forcing planeloads of paratroopers to exit far from their intended drop zones. The 52nd Troop Carrier Wing lost 23 of 144 USAAF С-47s to friendly fire; there were 318 casualties with 83 dead. Thirty-seven planes were damaged while eight returned to base without dropping their parachutists. The 504th PIR suffered 229 casualties to "friendly fire" including 81 dead. In spite of this, the US landings were generally proceeding well and substantial supplies and transport landed to support further offensives. In spite of the failure of the airborne operation, U.S. 1st Infantry Division had taken Ponte Olivo on 12 July and continued north while U.S. 45th Infantry Division on their right had conformed to them and taken the airfield at Comiso and entered Ragusa to link with the Canadians. On the left, 3rd Infantry Division had pushed troops 25 miles (40 km) up the coast almost to Argento and 20 miles (32 km) inland to Canicatti.
Once the beachheads were secure, Alexander's plan was to split the island in half by thrusting north through the Caltanissetta and Enna region, to deny the central Sicily east-west lateral road. A further push north to Nicosia would cut the next lateral route, and a final push to San Stefano on the north coast would cut the coastal route. Somewhat surprisingly to many commentators, in new orders issued on 13 July, he gave this task to Eighth Army, perhaps based on a somewhat over-optimistic situation report by Montgomery on late on 12 July, while U.S. 7th Army were to continue their holding role on Eighth Army's left flank despite what appeared to be an opportunity for them to make a bold offensive move.
On 12 July, Albert Kesselring had visited Sicily and formed the opinion German troops were fighting virtually on their own. As a consequence, he concluded that the German formations needed to be reinforced, and that western Sicily should be abandoned in order to shorten the front line. The immediate priority was first to slow and then halt the Allied advance, to which end a defence line was to be formed running from San Stefano on the north coast, through Nicosia, Agira, Cantenanuova and from there to the eastern coast south of Catania. This line was the Hauptkampflinie.
While XIII Corps continued to push along the Catania road, XXX Corps were directed north along two routes; the first was an inland route through Vizzini, and the second following Route 124, which cut across U.S. 45th Infantry's front and necessitated its return to the coast at Gela for redeployment behind 1st Infantry Division. But progress was slow. The Schmalz battlegroup from the Hermann Göring Division continued to skilfully delay 5th Infantry Division, allowing time for the two regiments from the 1st Parachute Division flying in to Catania to deploy. Resistance in the British sector stiffened as German units reorganised on the new defensive plan. On 12 July, 1 Parachute Brigade had been dropped to capture the Primasole Bridge over the river Simeto on the southern edge of the Catania plain and hold it open until 5th Infantry Division moved north to join them. The 5th Division, delayed by strong opposition, made contact early on 15 July, but it was not until 17 July that a shallow bridgehead north of the river was consolidated.
On 16 July, the Sicilian air command ordered the evacuation back to Italy of all surviving Italian aircraft at airfields in Calabria and Puglia. About 160 Italian aircraft had been lost in the first week of the invasion, 57 of which were lost to Allied fighters and anti-aircraft fire from 10–12 July alone. That same day, the Italian submarine Dandolo torpedoed the British cruiser HMS Cleopatra and put her out of action for the remainder of the European conflict.
On the night of 17 July, the Italian light cruiser Scipione Africano, equipped with the Italian-developed EC.3 Gufo radar, detected and engaged four British Elco motor torpedo boats lurking 5 miles (8 km), while passing the Strait of Messina at high speed. She sank MTB 316 and heavily damaged MTB 313 between Reggio di Calabria and Pellaro, on the position . Twelve British seamen lost their lives in this action.
On the night of 17/18 July, Montgomery renewed his attack toward Catania using two brigades from 50th Division. They met strong opposition, and by 19 July Montgomery decided to call off the attack and instead increase the pressure on his left. The 5th Division attacked on 50th Division's left but with no greater success, and on 20 July the 51st Division, further west, crossed the river Dittaino at Sferro and made for the Gerbini airfields. They too were driven back by counterattacks on 21 July.
On Eighth Army's far left flank, the Canadians continued their wide sweep but it was becoming clear that as German units settled into their new positions in north eastern Sicily the Army would not have sufficient strength to carry the whole front. As a consequence, the Canadians were ordered to continue north to Leonforte and then turn eastward to Adrano on the southwestern slopes of Mount Etna, thus abandoning the originally planned encirclement of Mount Etna using Route 120 to Randazzo. At the same time, Montgomery called forward from North Africa his reserve division, 78th Infantry Division.
Meanwhile, Patton had reorganised his forces into two Corps. By 17 July, the Provisional Corps on his left had captured Porto Empedocle and Agrigento, and II Corps on his right took Caltanissetta on 18 July, just short of Route 121, the main east-west lateral through the center of Sicily. The 10th Bersaglieri Regiment under Colonel Fabrizio Storti had forced Colonel William Darby's 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions to fight its way into Agrigento, a city of 34,000. Resistance was stiff enough to require house-to-house combat fighting, but by late afternoon on 16 July, the city was in American hands. According to historian Samuel Eliot Morison, "The Italians fought manfully for Agrigento."
However, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division managed to scramble across 7th Army's front to join the other German formations in the east of the island and so little real resistance was now expected in the west. Patton was therefore ordered on 18 July to push troops north through Petralia on Route 120, the next east-west lateral, and then to cut the northern coast road. He would then embark on mopping up the west of the island. II Corps were given the task of making the northward move while the Provisional Corps were tasked with the mopping up operation. Against a background of good progress, Alexander issued further orders to Patton to develop an eastward threat along the coast road once he had cut it. He was also directed to capture Palermo as quickly as possible in order to create a main supply base to maintain further eastward commitment north of Mount Etna.
On 22 July, the Provisional Corps entered Palermo and the next day 45th Division cut the north coast road. These achievements—during which 7th Army took 19,000 prisoners—were considerable feats, with troops having to march considerable distances in sweltering damp heat.
Battles for Etna positions
During the last week in July, Montgomery gathered his forces to renew the attack on 1 August. His immediate objective was Adrano, the capture of which would split the German forces on either side of Mount Etna. During the week, the Canadians and 231st Brigade continued their eastward push from Leonforte, and on 29 July had taken Agira, some 15 miles (24 km) west of Adrano. On the night of 29 July, 78th Division with 3rd Canadian Brigade under command, took Catenanuova and made a bridgehead across the river Dittaino. On the night of 1 August, they resumed their attack to the northwest toward Centuripe, an isolated pinnacle of rock, which was the main southern outpost of the Adrano defences. After heavy fighting against the Hermann Göring Division and 3rd Parachute Regiment all day on 2 August, the town was finally cleared of defenders on the morning of 3 August. The capture of Centuripe proved critical, in that the growing threat to Adrano made the position covering Catania untenable.
Meanwhile, Patton had decided that his communications could support two divisions pushing east, 45th Division on the coast road and 1st Division on Route 120. In order to maintain the pressure, he relieved 45th Division with the fresher 3rd Division and called up 9th Infantry Division from reserve in North Africa to relieve 1st Division.
Axis forces were now settled on a second defensive line, the Etna Line, running from San Fratello on the north coast through Troina and Aderno. On 31 July, 1 Division with elements of arriving 9th Division attached, reached Troina and the Battle of Troina commenced. This important position was held by the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. The remnants of the 28 Infantry Division Aosta in the form of four battalions had also been pulled back to Troina to assist in the defensive preparations and forthcoming battle. For six days, the Italians and Germans stubbornly defended the position inflicting and taking heavy casualties. During the battle, they launched 24 medium-scale counterattacks and countless smaller local ones, in one of which Lieutenant-Colonel Giuseppe Gianquinto's 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment of the 'Aosta' managed to take 40 American prisoners. But by 7 August the U.S. 18th Infantry Regiment had captured Mount Pellegrino which overlooked the Troina defences, allowing accurate direction of Allied artillery. The defenders' left flank was also becoming exposed as the adjacent Hermann Göring Division was pushed back by XXX Corps, and they were as a result ordered to withdraw that night in phases to the defensive positions of the Tortorici Line.
Elements of 29th Panzergrenadier Division and 26th Assietta Infantry Division, the latter allocated the most exposed section of the Italo-German position, were also proving difficult to dislodge on the coast at Santa Agata and San Fratello. Patton sent a small amphibious force behind the defences, which led to the fall of Santa Agata on 8 August after holding out for six days.
Meanwhile, on 3 August, XIII Corps—taking advantage of the fluidity caused by the threat to Adrano—resumed their advance on Catania, and by 5 August the town was in their hands. Adrano itself continued to resist, but fell to 78th Division on the night of 6 August, while on their right, 51st Division took Biancavilla, 2 miles southeast of Adrano. After the fall of Adrano, the Canadian Division was withdrawn into Army Reserve. On 8 August, 78th Division—moving north from Adrano—took Bronte and 9th Division, advancing from Troina, took Cesaro – both key positions on the New Hube Line. Both divisions were converging on Randazzo, on the northwest slopes of Etna. Randazzo fell on 13 August and 78th Division was taken into reserve. As the Allied advance continued, their front line shortened and Montgomery decided to withdraw XIII Corps HQ and 5th Infantry Division on 10 August to allow them to prepare for the planned landings on mainland Italy.
On the northern coast, the 3rd Division continued to meet strong resistance and difficulties created by extensive demolition of the road. Two more end-run amphibious attacks, and the rebuilding efforts of the engineers, kept the advance moving. Although Kesselring had already decided to evacuate, the Axis forces continued their delaying tactics, assisted by the favorable defensive terrain of the Messina Peninsula. On the night of 16 August, the leading elements of 3rd Division finally entered Messina.
By 27 July, the Axis commanders had realised that the outcome of the campaign would be evacuation from Messina. Kesselring reported to Hitler on 29 July that an evacuation could be accomplished in three days and initial written plans were formulated dated 1 August. However, when Hube suggested on 4 August that a start should be made by transferring superfluous men and equipment, Guzzoni refused to sanction the idea without the approval of the Comando Supremo. The Germans nevertheless went ahead, transferring over 12,000 men, 4,500 vehicles and 5,000 tons of equipment from 1–10 August. On 6 August, Hube suggested to Guzzoni, via von Senger, that HQ 6th Army should move to Calabria. Guzzoni rejected the idea but asked if Hube had decided to evacuate Sicily. Von Senger replied that Hube had not. The next 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 last ditch stand would only be short. On 9 August, Rome ordered that Guzzoni's authority should be extended to Calabria and that he should transfer there forces which would usefully reinforce the area. On 10 August Guzzoni informed Hube that he was responsible for the defence of northeast Sicily and that Italian coastal units and the Messina garrison were under his command. Guzzoni then crossed to the mainland with 6th Army HQ and 16th Corps HQ, leaving Admiral Pietro Barone and Admiral Pietro Parenti to organise the evacuation of the remains of the Livorno and Assietta divisions (and any other troops and equipment that could be saved).
Key to the German plan's success was its thoroughness and clear lines of command imposing strict discipline on the operation. Colonel Ernst-Günther Baade was the German Commandant Messina Straits with Fortress Commander powers including control over infantry, artillery, anti-aircraft, engineer and construction, transport and administration units as well as German naval transport headquarters. On the mainland, Generalmajor Richard Heidrich, who had remained in Calabria with his 1st Parachute Division headquarters and 1st Parachute Regiment when the rest of the division had been sent as reinforcements to Sicily, was appointed XIV Panzer Corps Mainland Commander to receive evacuating formations while Hube continued to control the operations on the island.
Full-scale withdrawal began on 11 August and continued to 17 August. During this period Hube ordered successive withdrawals each night of between 5 and 15 miles (8.0 and 24.1 km), keeping the following Allied units at arm's length with the use of mines, demolitions and other obstacles. As the peninsula narrowed, shortening his front, he was able to withdraw units for evacuation. The Allies attempted to counter this by launching brigade-sized amphibious assaults, one each by 7th and 8th Armies, on 15 August. However, the speed of the Axis withdrawal was such that these operations "hit air".
The German and Italian evacuation schemes proved highly successful. The Allies were not able to prevent the orderly withdrawal nor effectively interfere with transports across the Strait of Messina. The narrow straits were protected by 120 heavy and 112 light anti-aircraft guns. The resulting overlapping gunfire from both sides of the strait was described by Allied pilots as worse than over the Ruhr, making daylight air attacks highly hazardous and generally unsuccessful. 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 were able to clear the backlog from the previous night. Nor was naval interdiction any more practicable. The straits varied from 2–6 miles (3.2–9.7 km) wide and were covered by artillery up to 24 centimeters (9.4 in) in caliber. This, combined with the hazards of a 6 knots (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) current, made risking warships unjustifiable. Furthermore, there were real fears, among some senior Allied naval commanders, that Italian warships were preparing to intervene and clear the Straits of Messina in a suicide run.
On 18 August, the German High Command recorded that 60,000 troops had been recovered. The equivalent Italian figure, according to the British official History of the Second World War was about 75,000. Barbara Tomlin, a naval historian, provides more accurate details and says the Italians evacuated 62,182 men, 41 guns and 227 vehicles from Sicily with the loss of only one motor raft and the train ferry Carridi which failed to escape and had to be scuttled when Allied troops entered Messina. In reality, the Germans evacuated some 52,000 troops (including 4,444 wounded), 14,105 vehicles, 47 tanks, 94 guns, 1,100 tons of ammunition, and about 20,700 tons of gear and stores.
The Sicily campaign had cost the Allies nearly 25,000 casualties. The U.S. 7th Army lost 8,781 men (2,237 killed or missing, 5,946 wounded, and 598 captured) while the British 8th Army suffered 11,843 casualties (2,062 killed or missing, 7,137 wounded and 2,644 captured). In addition, the U.S. Navy lost 546 killed or missing and 484 wounded and the Royal Navy lost 314 killed or missing, 411 wounded and four captured. The USAAF also reported 28 killed, 88 missing and 41 wounded. Canadian forces had suffered 2,310 casualties, including 562 killed, 1,664 wounded, and 84 captured.
According to historians Samuel W. Mitcham and Friedrich Von Stauffenberg, German units lost about 20,000 killed, wounded or captured, although military historian Manfred Messerschmidt [et al.] report that the German forces lost 4,678 men killed, 5,532 captured and 13,500 wounded, making up a total of 23,710 German casualties. Italian military losses are reported to be 4,325 killed, 32,500 wounded and 116,681 captured and authors widely concur with the number of Italians believed to be taken prisoner to be around 100,000. In 2007, Mitcham and Von Stauffenberg raised this estimate to 147,000. An earlier Canadian study of the Allied invasion, estimated the total number of Italian and Germans prisoners taken prisoner in Sicily to be around 100,000.
The Allied command was forced to improve interservice coordination, particularly with regard to use of airborne forces. After several misdrops and the deadly "friendly fire" incident of 11 July, increased training and some tactical changes kept the paratroopers in the war. Indeed, a few months later, the initial assessment of the Operation Overlord plan included a request for four airborne divisions.
After the capture of Biscari airfield on 14 July, American soldiers from the 180th Regimental Combat Team, 45th Division executed 74 Italian and two German prisoners of war during two separate massacres at Biscari airfield in July–August 1943. Sergeant Horace T. West and Captain John T. Compton were each charged for committing a war crime; West was convicted and sentenced to life in prison and stripped of rank but was released as a private. Compton was charged with killing 40 prisoners in his charge but was acquitted and transferred to another regiment where he died a year later in the fighting in Italy.
- Operation Barclay/Operation Mincemeat: Deception operations aimed at misleading Axis forces as to the actual date and location of the Allied landings.
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- Operation Narcissus: Commando raid on a lighthouse near the main landings on 10 July 1943.
- Operation Chestnut: Advanced air drop by 2 SAS to disrupt communications on 12 July 1943.
- Operation Fustian: Airborne landing at Primosole Bridge ahead on 13–14 July 1943.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Operation Husky.|
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- Birtle, Andrew J. Sicily 1943. The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II. United States Army Center of Military History. CMH Pub 72-26.
- World War Two Online Newspaper Archives – The Sicilian and Italian Campaigns, 1943–1945
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- German Soldiers' Cemetery, Motta S. Anastasia, Sicily (in German)
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- COHQ bulletin Y6 digest of reports on Operation 'Husky'
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