Allied invasion of Sicily

Allied invasion of Sicily
Sicilian Campaign
Part of 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
Date 9 July – 17 August 1943
Location Sicily, Italy
Result Allied victory
 United Kingdom
 United States
Commanders and leaders
United States Dwight D. Eisenhower
United Kingdom Harold Alexander
United Kingdom Bernard Montgomery
United Kingdom Arthur Tedder
United States George S. Patton
Canada Guy Simonds
Nazi Germany Albert Kesselring
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) Alfredo Guzzoni
Nazi Germany Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin
Nazi Germany Hans-Valentin Hube
Initial Strength:
160,000 personnel
14,000 vehicles
600 tanks
1,800 guns[1]
Peak Strength:
467,000 personnel[2]
230,000 Italian personnel
60,000 German personnel[2]
260 tanks
1,400 aircraft [3]
Casualties and losses
24,820 casualties
(5,837 killed, 15,683 wounded, 3,326 captured)[4]
Nazi Germany Germany:
~20,000 casualties[5]
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946) Italy:
147,000 casualties (mainly POWs)[5]

The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major World War II campaign, in which the Allies took Sicily from the Axis (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 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.




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.[6] The overall Naval Force Commander was the British Admiral Andrew Cunningham.

Land Forces

Allied leaders in the Sicilian campaign. General Eisenhower meets in North Africa with (foreground, left to right): Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, Admiral Sir Andrew B. Cunningham, and (top row): Mr. Harold Macmillan, Major General W. Bedell Smith, and unidentified British officers.

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.[7]

The Seventh U.S. Army consisted initially of three infantry divisions organised 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 reorganised his command into two corps by creating a new Provisional Corps headquarters commanded by his deputy army commander Geoffrey Keyes.[8]

The British Eighth Army had four infantry divisions and an independent infantry brigade organised 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.

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.[9]

Naval Forces

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.[7]

Air Forces

At the time of Operation Husky, the Allied air forces in the North African and Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO) 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 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[7] and to the British Chiefs of Staff for Air H.Q. Malta and Middle East Command operations.[10][11]

The defenders

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.[12] 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.[13] 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.[14]

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.[15] 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.[16] 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.[17] 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.[18]


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 US 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.[19] 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.[19]

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.[20]

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 the ports of Catania, Palermo, Syracuse, Licata and Augusta (being all the main ports on the island, except for Messina), thus facilitating a rapid Allied build-up as well as denying their use to the Axis.[21] High level planning for the operation lacked direction because all three main land commanders[clarification needed] 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.[22] 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.[23] 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,[23] discarding the intended landings close to Palermo. After Alexander joined the meeting on 3 May these proposals were finally accepted, despite Cunningham's and Tedder's remaining misgivings, 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).[24][25] Not for the last time, however, Montgomery had argued a sound course of action in a manner which suggested to others (in particular his U.S. peers) that he was entirely preoccupied with his own interests.[26] In the event, maintenance across the beaches[clarification needed] 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."[24]

Map of the Allied landings in Sicily on 10 July 1943

On 17 May Alexander issued his Operation Instruction No. 1 setting out his broad plan and defining the tasks of the two armies.[24] 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.[27]

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 kilometres (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 50 kilometers, and there was a gap of some 40 kilometres (25 mi) between the two armies.

Preparatory operations

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).[28] 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.[29] By 10 July only two airfields in Sicily remained fully serviceable and over half the Axis aircraft had been forced to leave the island.[30]

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.[30]


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. Still, there were a large number of German and Italian soldiers on Sicily when the invasion started. The Germans in particular had soldiers on Sicily that they had withdrawn from North Africa and had not yet reassigned to the Eastern Front.

Canadian participation

Canadians in Sicily: Troops of The Loyal Edmonton Regiment enter Modica.

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 30th British Corps to become part of the Eighth Army.[31]

The Canadian forces were initially commanded by Major General H. L. N. Salmon, who died in an airplane accident in the early days of planning. He was succeeded by Major General Guy Simonds, whose lack of experience was offset by an impressive career and a formidable military intellect.[31] The Canadians had served in the United Kingdom for a number of years, and before the Sicilian Campaign, considered themselves no more than "a sort of adjunct to the British Homeguard."[32] They had, with some exceptions (like the Dieppe raid by the 2nd Canadian Infantry Division), not served under fire so far. Sicily would be the first divisional-scale combat operation in World War II for the Canadian Army.[32] The Dieppe Raid had done nothing to still the voices in Canada clamouring about the inactivity of Canadian troops thus far into the war. Everyone else, even the latecoming Americans, seemed to be doing something. The Canadian participation in this campaign quieted the uproar of the Canadian home front.

The 1st Canadian Division was always categorized as a branch of the British Army, despite its differences and individuality as an independent force. The Canadians, unlike the rest of 15th Army Group, had not yet served in the Mediterranean, and had not become acclimatized to its searing temperatures. That reality, combined with a shortage of transport caused by losses at sea, resulted in 1st Canadian Division and its tank brigade being halted just days into the operation, for a much needed rest until they became used to the climate conditions.[31] The losses at sea included three supply ships carrying 500 vehicles. This left the infantrymen no alternative but to march through the shadeless, waterless, increasingly hilly terrain in temperatures above 40 °C (104 °F).[31] Despite these conditions, the Canadian casualties were low, morale was high and success came easily and swiftly.[32]

On the morning of 6 August, the Canadians' active participation in the Sicilian Campaign was brought to an end when the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry Regiment took Monte Seggio. From here the Canadians played no further part in the battle for Sicily, which went on for another ten days, and were withdrawn into reserve for a well-earned rest. The Canadians had made a contribution to the campaign out of all proportion to their numbers. Their arduous 120 miles (190 km) trek from Pachino to the Simeto had taken them further than any other British division, and they had borne the brunt of the Eighth Army’s battle in the two hard weeks of fighting from Leonforte to the doorstep of Adrano. This earned them high praise from their Eighth Army commanders and comrades. The Canadians even impressed the Germans who stated they were "good soldier material" and even reported that "Canadians [are] harder in attack than Americans. In general fair ways of fighting. In fieldcraft superior to our own troops. Very mobile at night, surprise break-ins, clever infiltrations at night with small groups between our strong points."[33] Most importantly, from a national perspective, they had also won Canada’s first victories of World War II.[31] Mcnaughton responded with "Canada will be very pleased at your achievement [in Sicily]."[32]

"Every opening phase of a Canadian operation was a complete success and the staff works a mathematical masterpiece…[but] the Canadian Army never followed up their opening successes to reach a complete victory. Every one of the Canadian attacks lost its push and determination after a few miles…[because] the British and Canadian forces executed the operations in an inflexible, time wasting, method."[33]

Overall, the Sicilian Campaign was a notably strong beginning to a string of various Canadian victories throughout the rest of World War II.


Allied landings

Airborne landings

Colonel Gavin (pictured as later Maj.Gen.) led the 505th PIR

Two British and two American attacks by airborne forces were carried out just after midnight on the night of the 9 July-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. 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.[34] Near the Sicilian coast, 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. Twenty-three of 144 USAAF transports were shot down by friendly fire and a total of 318 American troops were killed or wounded in the operation. 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.[34] British Glider infantry from the 1st Air Landing Brigade were to seize landing zones inland.[35]

Strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 km/h)[36] blew the troop-carrying aircraft off course and the U.S. 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,[37] and 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 at sea.[38] 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 6.30 a.m. 89 men were holding the bridge.[39] By 11.30 a.m. a battalion of the Italian 75th Infantry Regiment from the 54 Infantry Division Napoli arrived with some artillery.[40] The British force held out until about 1530 hours when they were forced to surrender to Colonel Francesco Ronco's 75th Infantry Regiment[41] only 45 minutes before the leading elements of 5th Infantry Division arrived from the south.[40]

In spite of these mishaps, the widespread landing of airborne troops had a positive effect as small isolated units, acting on their own initiative, attacked vital points and created widespread panic.[42]

Seaborne landings

A US crew checks their Sherman tank after landing at Red Beach 2, Sicily on 10 July

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.[42] Landings were made in the early hours of 10 July, on Licata at 02:45 on Mollarella beach, on twenty-six 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,[43][44] with British and Canadian forces in the east and Americans towards the west. This constituted the largest amphibious operation of World War II on terms of size of the landing zone and number of divisions put ashore on the first day.[45] The Italian defensive plan did not contemplate a pitched battle on the beaches and so the landings themselves were somewhat of an anti-climax.[46] 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[47] but the weakness of the defensive response allowed the Allied force to make up lost time.[42]

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.[48] 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.[49] 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 guns from the destroyer USS Shubrick and the 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.[50]

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.[51] Fears of an Axis air onslaught had proved unfounded.[52] 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 against the invasion fleet got through, however, damaging several warships, transport vessels and landing craft.[53] Italian SM.79 torpedo-bomber squadrons coordinated their attacks with the German Ju-87 and Ju-88 bomber units, and Rome reported as follows on 12 July:[54]

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.

Exploitation from the beachheads

Map of allied movements on Sicily during the month of July.

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.[55]

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. On their left 50th Division had pushed up Route 114 towards Lentini (15 miles (24 km) northwest of Augusta) and met increasing resistance from R 35 tanks and then infantry from General Giulio Porcinari's "Napoli" Infantry Division.[56] Porcinari and his staff were captured, however, by elements of the supporting 4th Armoured Brigade on the 13th[57] and it was not until 6.45pm on 14 July that the town had been cleared of obstructions and lurking snipers and the advance resumed.[58]

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 the deserted Pachino airfield, headed northwest to make contact with the American right wing at Ragusa[59] 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 attack on the Italian 122 Infantry Regiment north 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

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 centre. Warning orders had been issued to the fleet and troops on 6, 7, 10 and 11 July concerning the planned route and timing of the drop so that the aircraft would not be fired on by friendly forces.[60] However, the 144 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 but then the anti-aircraft guns on the landing fleet and ashore opened up again. 52nd Troop Carrier Wing had 23 aircraft shot down and 37 damaged while 8 returned to base without dropping their parachutists. 504th PIR suffered 229 casualties to "friendly fire"[61] including 81 dead.[60] 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.[62]

Alexander's plan, once the beachheads were secure, 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,[63] he gave this task to Eighth Army, perhaps based on a somewhat over-optimistic situation report by Montgomery on late on 12 July,[64] 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.[65]

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 thence to the eastern coast south of Catania.[66] This line was the Hauptkampflinie.[67]

While XIII Corps continued to push along the Catania road, XXX Corps were directed north along two routes: the first 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.[68] On 12 July 1st 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 north to join them. 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.[63]

On the night of 17/18 July Montgomery renewed his attack towards 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. 5th Division attacked on 50th Division's left but with no greater success and on 20 July 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.[69]

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 eastwards to Adrano on the south-eastern 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.[69]

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 centre 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,[70] but by late afternoon on 16 July, the city was in American hands.

However, 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.[69]

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.[71]

Battles for the 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 north-west towards 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.[71]

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.[71]

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 1st 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 had also been pulled back to Troina to assist in the defensive preparations.[72] For six days the Italians and Germans stubbornly defended the position inflicting and taking heavy casualties. During the battle they launched twenty-four medium-scale counterattacks and countless smaller local ones, in one of which Lieutenant-Colonel Gianquinto's 1st Battalion, 5th Regiment of the 'Aosta' managed to take 40 American prisoners.[73] 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.[74]

Elements of 29th Panzergrenadier Division 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.[71]

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,[71] while on their right, 51st Division took Biancavilla, two miles south-east of Adrano. After the fall of Adrano, the Canadian Division were withdrawn into Army Reserve.[75] 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 north-west slopes of Etna. Randazzo fell on 13 August and 78th Division was taken into reserve.[71] 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.[76]

On the northern coast, 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.[77] Although Kesselring had already decided to evacuate, the Axis forces continued their delaying tactics, assisted by the favourable defensive terrain of the Messina Peninsula. Finally on the night of 16 August the leading elements of 3rd Division entered Messina.[78]

Axis evacuation

By 27 July the Axis commanders had realised that the outcome of the campaign would be evacuation from Messina.[79] Kesselring reported to Hitler 29 July that an evacuation could be accomplished in three days and initial written plans were formulated dated 1 August.[80] 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 between 1 and 10 August.[81] 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.[82] 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 north-east 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 Barone and Admiral Parenti to organise the evacuation of the remains of the Livorno and Assietta divisions (and any other troops and equipment that could be saved).[83]

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.[84] On the mainland Major-General 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.[85]

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 km), keeping the following Allied units at arm's length with the use of mines, demolitions and other obstacles.[86] As the peninsula narrowed, shortening his front, he was able to withdraw units for evacuation.[87] 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".[88]

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.[89] The resulting overlapping gunfire from both sides of the strait was described by Allied pilots as worse than over the Ruhr,[78] 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.[90] Nor was naval interdiction any more practicable. The straits varied from 2 to 6 miles (3.2 to 9.7 km) wide and were covered by artillery up to 24 centimetres (9.4 in) in calibre. This, combined with the hazards of a 6-knot (11 km/h; 6.9 mph) current, made risking warships unjustifiable.[89]

On 18 August the German High Command recorded that 60,000 troops had been recovered. The equivalent Italian figure was about 75,000.[91]


US soldiers looking at a dead German pilot and his wrecked aircraft near Gela, Sicily on 12 July 1943

The Sicily campaign had cost the Allies nearly 25,000 casualties. US forces had lost a total of 9,968 men, including 2,899 killed or missing, 6,471 wounded and 598 captured. Total British losses were 12,568 men, including 2,376 killed or missing, 7,548 wounded and 2,644 captured. Canadian forces had suffered 2,310 casualties, including 562 killed, 1,664 wounded, and 84 captured.[4]

German units had lost about 12,000 men killed and captured, total losses including wounded probably totaled about 20,000. The Italian 6th army had lost 147,000 men, mostly prisoners.[5]

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, 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.[citation needed]

American soldiers killed 74 Italian and two German prisoners of war during two separate massacres at Biscari airfield. Two soldiers were charged for this war crime; one was convicted and sentenced to life in prison (later commuted) and another was acquitted.

Constituent operations

See also


Explanatory notes


  1. ^ Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), p. 63
  2. ^ a b Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), p. 307
  3. ^ Dickson(2001) p. 201
  4. ^ a b Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), pp. 305-306
  5. ^ a b c Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), p. 305
  6. ^ D'Este Appendix B
  7. ^ a b c D'Este Appendix A
  8. ^ Molony, p. 108.
  9. ^ Molony, pp. 26, 27.
  10. ^ Craven, Wesley F. and James L. Cate. The Army Air Forces in World War II, Volume 2, Chicago, Illinois: Chicago University Press, 1949 (Reprinted 1983, ISBN 0-912799-03-X).
  11. ^ Richards, D. and H. Saunders, The Royal Air Force 1939–1945 (Volume 2, HMSO, 1953)
  12. ^ Molony, p. 40
  13. ^ Molony, pp. 41–42
  14. ^ Alexander, p. 1010
  15. ^ Molony, p. 122
  16. ^ Molony, p. 43
  17. ^ Molony, p. 41
  18. ^ Molony, p.44
  19. ^ a b Molony, p. 2
  20. ^ Molony, p. 3
  21. ^ Molony, pp. 13–18
  22. ^ Molony, p. 21
  23. ^ a b Molony, p. 23
  24. ^ a b c Alexander, p. 1013
  25. ^ Molony, pp. 23–24
  26. ^ Molony, p. 24.
  27. ^ Alexander, p. 1014
  28. ^ Molony, p. 32
  29. ^ Molony, p. 33
  30. ^ a b Molony, p. 49
  31. ^ a b c d e Copp (2008), pp.5-42
  32. ^ a b c d Zuehlke, Mark (2008). Operation Husky: The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10-August 7, 1943. Vancouver: D&M Publishers Inc.. 
  33. ^ a b McAndrew, William J. (July 1987). "Fire or Movement?: Canadian Tactical Doctrine, Sicily-1943". Military Affairs 51 (3): 140–145. Retrieved 27 September 2011. 
  34. ^ a b Molony, p. 83
  35. ^ Hoyt (2007), p. 12
  36. ^ Hoyt (2007), p. 21
  37. ^ Molony, pp. 81–82
  38. ^ Molony, pp. 79–80
  39. ^ Molony, p. 8.
  40. ^ a b Molony, p. 81
  41. ^ Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), p. 75
  42. ^ a b c Alexander, p. 1018
  43. ^ Molony, p. 55.
  44. ^ [1]
  45. ^ Birtles, p. 24.
  46. ^ Molony, p. 52.
  47. ^ Carver, p31
  48. ^ Molony, pp. 55–64.
  49. ^ Follain (2005), p. 130
  50. ^ Gazzi, Alessandro. "Flesh vs. Iron: 3rd Battalion, 34th Regiment, "Livorno" Infantry Division in the Gela Beachhead counterattack: Sicily, 11 July-12th, 1943". Comando Supremo, Italy at War website. Retrieved 2008-05-30. 
  51. ^ Molony, p. 60.
  52. ^ Molony, p. 64.
  53. ^ Bauer, Eddy; Kilpi, Mikko (1975) (in Finnish). Toinen maailmansota : Suomalaisen laitoksen toimituskunta: Keijo Mikola, Vilho Tervasmäki, Helge Seppälä. 4. Helsinki: Werner Söderström. ISBN 951-0-05844-0. 
  54. ^ The New York Times (Tuesday, 13 July 1943): page 2
  55. ^ Molony, p. 77.
  56. ^ Rissik, David (1953). The D.L.I. at War: The History of the Durham Light Infantry, 1939–1945. Durham Light Infantry. p. 123. 
  57. ^ Carver, R.M.P. (1945). "Chapter 4: Sicily, Italy and Home – June 1943 to June 1944". History of 4th Armoured Brigade. 
  58. ^ Molony, p. 94.
  59. ^ Molony, p. 82.
  60. ^ a b Molony, pp. 86–87.
  61. ^ Hoyt (2007), p. 29
  62. ^ Molony, p. 86.
  63. ^ a b Alexander, p. 1019.
  64. ^ Molony, pp. 87–88.
  65. ^ Molony, p. 89.
  66. ^ Molony, p. 91.
  67. ^ Molony, p. 92.
  68. ^ Molony, p. 93.
  69. ^ a b c Alexander, p. 1020.
  70. ^ Tomblin (2004), p. 206
  71. ^ a b c d e f Alexander, p. 1021.
  72. ^ Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), p. 261
  73. ^ Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), p. 263
  74. ^ Mitcham & von Stauffenberg (2007), p. 264
  75. ^ Molony, p. 174.
  76. ^ Molony, p. 177.
  77. ^ Alexander, pp. 1021–1022.
  78. ^ a b Alexander, p. 1022.
  79. ^ Molony, p. 163.
  80. ^ Molony, p. 164.
  81. ^ Molony, p. 166.
  82. ^ Molony, p. 175.
  83. ^ Molony, pp. 175–176.
  84. ^ Molony, p. 165.
  85. ^ Molony, p. 112n.
  86. ^ Molony, p. 180.
  87. ^ Molony, p. 167.
  88. ^ Molony, p. 181.
  89. ^ a b Molony, p. 168.
  90. ^ Molony, p. 179.
  91. ^ Molony, 182.


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