Operation Husky - the Invasion of Sicily, 10 July- 17 August 1943

The invasion of Sicily (10 July-17 August 1943) was the first successful Allied invasion of one of the Axis partners, and helped secure Allied control of the Mediterranean as well as helping to trigger the fall of Mussolini.

Planning

The decision to invade Sicily was made at the Casablanca conference of January 1943. The campaign in Tunisia was still in progress, but it was clear that it would end some time in the spring of 1943. A decision thus had to be made on what to do next. The American military leaders wanted to focus entirely on Operation Overlord, the cross-channel invasion of France, and had no interest in getting involved in further major battles in the Mediterranean. Churchill in contrast wanted to continue to chip away at the flanks of the German empire, in order to weaken the German military and keep German troops pinned down away from France. He could also see the potential benefits of attacking Germany from the south, the unfortunately named ‘soft underbelly of Europe’, and advancing into the Balkans. He was unable to win over General Marshall or the US Chiefs of Staff, who feared that he was actually trying to undermine Overload. However even the Americans had to admit that the Allies wouldn’t be ready to carry out Overlord during 1943, so some alternative course of action had to be found. The veteran troops now present in North Africa could hardly be left idle for the rest of the year. There was also a fear that Stalin might decide to come to terms with the Germans if the western Allies were no longer involved in any land campaign against the Germans.

The British and Americans eventually agreed to invade Sicily. This operation had three aims. First, it would help secure the Mediterranean sea lanes. Second, it might force the Germans to pull some troops away from the Eastern Front. Third, it might force Italy out of the war. The invasion actually achieved all three of these objectives. Hitler officially cancelled Operation Citadel, the battle of Kursk, on 12 July, two days after the seaborne landings on Sicily, on the grounds that he might need to rush reinforcements to Italy. The presence of Allied troops on Italian soil fatally undermined Mussolini’s position, and he was overthrown by his own supporters on 25 July, while the fighting on Sicily was still underway. However there was no plan to follow up the invasion of Sicily with an attack on the Italian mainland. This decision was only made after the fall of Mussolini, and at this point the decision to invade Sicily instead of Sardinia limited Allied options, meaning that the invasion had to take place in the south, within fighter range of Sicily, eventually leading to the long, costly Italian campaign.

Alexander and Patton, Sicily 1943 Alexander and Patton, Sicily 1943

A command structure was put in place that reflected the multi-national nature of the invasion force. Eisenhower was made Supreme Commander. General Alexander was made overall commander of the land forces (15th Army Group), Air Chief Marshal Tedder commanded the air forces and Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham the naval forces. The invasion itself would be carried out by two armies - the British Eighth Army (Montgomery) and the American Seventh Army (Patton). This would be the only time that Patton and Montgomery would serve alongside each other at the same rank, and the campaign would contribute to the rivalry between the two men.

The first plan was for two widely separated landings. The Americans were to land near Palermo, in the north-west of the island, the British near Catania, on the east coast. Montgomery was strongly opposed to this idea, and on 24 April criticized it for assuming that the island would only be lightly defended. Some key American figures assumed that the Germans would soon desert the Italians, who would be unable to offer much resistance on their own. This plan would also have forced the air and sea support to be split in two, and may well have seen one or both of the isolated Allied beachheads destroyed.

The second plan gave the main role in the attack to Montgomery’s Eighth Army. This would land on the south-eastern corner of Sicily, and advance up the east coast, taking Syracuse and finally Messina. Patton’s Seventh Army was to land on the British left, and advance north and north-west towards Palermo, protecting Montgomery’s left and rear. The landings would create a single massive beachhead, covering 85 miles of the south and south-eastern coast of the island.

This plan inevitably angered Patton, who resented being given a secondary role. Montgomery’s objections to the original plan were probably valid, and the plans were being formed in the aftermath of the battle of Kasserine Pass, where American troops had initially performed rather badly. The Americans learnt quickly, and by the end of the fighting in Tunisia had proved themselves to be more than capable of taking on the Germans, but Montgomery’s caution in April 1943 is understandable, although by then the Americans had started to perform much better in North Africa.

The eventual operation was carried out on a massive scale. The airborne assault involved 4,600 men, 222 aircraft and 144 gliders. The initial assault was to be made by seven divisions. Within 48 hours of the initial landings around 80,000 troops, 600 tanks and 900 artillery guns had been landed on Sicily. In terms of the landing area and the number of troops landed on the first day, it was the largest amphibious assault of the Second World War (although the Normandy landings soon overtook it on the days after D-Day). This massive army was supported by a fleet of around 3,300 ships, including the battleships Nelson, Rodney, Warspite, Valiant, Howe and King George V. The first four were to provide direct support for the landings, the last two to guard against any sortie by the Italian fleet.

The Allied deception plan for Sicily, Operation Barclay, had a difficult task, as Sicily was the obvious next target for Allied troops. The approach taken was to try and convince the Germans that Operation Husky was the codename for an invasion of Greece, to be supported by diversionary attacks on the south of France, Corsica, Sardinia and Sicily. The most famous part of the deception plan was Operation Mincemeat, which saw a dead body in Royal Marine uniform dropped off the coast of Spain, carrying documents to support the cover stories. The body was found by the Spanish and the documents passed onto the Germans, who appear to have taken them seriously. The garrison in Greece was reinforced, and the Germans continued to worry about an invasion of Greece even after the Allied invasion of Italy.

Although the Allied deception plans had been fairly successful, Sicily was still heavily defended, at least if the Italians chose to fight. The Italians had five coastal divisions and four mobile divisions on Sicily, a total of around 230,000 men. The Germans had 30,000 infantry, split between the Hermann Goring armoured division and the 15th Panzer Grenadier mechanised infantry division. The entire force was commanded by the Italian General Alfredo Guzzoni, commander of the Italian Sixth Army. Guzzoni had commanded the Italian invasion of Albania in 1939, and had come out of retirement to take command in Sicily in May 1943, so had only recently arrived on the island at the time of the invasion. The Germans also maintained their own chain of command, and their units were administered by General Hube’s XIV Panzer Corps, which was based on the mainland.

The Germans also had a powerful air force in southern Italy, with 800 aircraft on Sicily, Sardinia and the Italian mainland. The Italian navy was also a possible factor, with four battleships, six cruisers and ten destroyers still seaworthy. Two of the battleships were modern, fast and well armed, and might have the potential to cause some damage before being sunk.

The Landings

On the afternoon of 9 July, as the Allied invasion fleet was approaching Sicily, a powerful storm developed. This was after what Cunningham had decided was the ‘point of no return’ - the time at which it would cause more damage to try and turn back the invasion that the storm could do. He was also aware that the storm would probably die away fairly quickly, and just before midnight the weather did indeed calm down. The storm did convince the Italians that no invasion was likely on 10 July, and their potentially troublesome flotillas of small ships were confined to harbour (a similar trick of the weather had the same result in Normandy almost a year later). The transport ships were guided to their beaches by seven submarines (Safari, Shakespeare, Seraph, Unrivalled, Unison, Unseen and Unruffled), but even so there were some problems during the landings, in particular when some of the larger landing craft ran into unexpected sand bars off the coast. Around 200 landing craft suffered damage on the beaches, mainly from heavy seas.

On both wings the invasion was to begin with airborne attacks. On the right this was Operation Ladbroke, a glider borne attack on the Ponte Grande, a viaduct just south of Syracuse. A total of 144 gliders set off from North Africa, but seventy were released early and dropped into the sea. About a dozen landed roughly where they had planned, and only 87 troops reached the bridge. They were able to capture it and remove the existing demolition charges, but were then forced away from the bridge by Italian counterattacks. The Italians were unable to destroy the bridge before the 50th Division arrived overland and recaptured it.

On the left the Americans planned to land 3,400 paratroops from the 82nd Airborne Division (General Ridgway) on the high ground overlooking Gela. One party was to land at the crossroads of Piano Lupo, east of Gela. Another was to take the Ponte Olivo airfield north of Gela. The third was to take the Ponte Dirillo bridge across the Acate River, towards the eastern end of the bridgehead, between the 1st and 45th Division sectors. Once again little went as planned. Not enough time had gone into training the pilots from the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing. The paratroops were scattered over much of south-eastern Sicily, with many landing in the British zone. Colonel James M. Gavin, the commander on the ground, wasn’t even sure he’d landed on Sicily at first! Even so the paratroops managed to form up into small groups and caused a great deal of confusion behind enemy lines. 

The defenders weren’t all caught by surprise. The vast invasion convoy was detected late on the afternoon of 9 July and the German troops on Sicily were ordered to stand too at 1840, ready to repel a possible invasion. The Italian coastal radar detected the incoming fleet, but it was so large that the operators assumed there was some sort of technical issue, and didn’t report their readings until dawn, when the fleet came into view.

To the east four heavily reinforced British and Canadian divisions landed around the Pachino peninsula (ending in Cape Passero), led by guides in folboats. By 0530 all of the British beaches had been taken. On the left 30th Corps attacked the peninsula. The 51st (Highland Division) landed on the south-eastern tip of the peninsula, and soon captured the town of Pachino. On the left the Canadian 1st Division and a force of Royal Marine Commandos, captured Pachino airfield, and it was ready for emergency use by noon on D-Day. On the right 13th Corps had the task of taking Syracuse. On the corps’ left the 50th Division took Avola and Noto. On the right the 5th Division advanced north towards the Ponte Grande viaduct, which had been the target of Operation Ladbroke, an airborne operation to capture the viaduct. The division rescued the survivors of Ladbroke, who had held on long enough for the viaduct to remain intact, and ended Syracuse without opposition late on D-Day.

The Americans were to land around the Gulf of Gela. The 45th Division (Middleton) was to land at the right, around Scoglitti, advance north-east to take Vittoria and then east to Ragusa, where it was to join up with the 1st Canadian Division coming from the Eighth Army sector. In the centre the 1st Division (Allan) was to land around Gela, capture the Gela-Farello and Ponte Olivo airfields and capture Niscemi, nine miles inland (these two divisions formed the 2nd Corps). On the left the 3rd Division (Truscott), supported by part of the 2nd Armored Division, was to land around Licata and protect the left flank of the beachhead against any counterattack.

On the left the 3rd Division only faced coastal units, as the Italian Assietta and Aosta Divisions and German 15 Panzer Grenadier Division were further to the west. Early opposition was overcome with the aid of naval gunfire, and by noon the division had taken Licata, its port and airfield, and a twelve mile beachhead, and had only suffered 100 casualties. One common story about this part of the invasion has US troops find an empty Italian command post near Licata. The phone rang, and Michael Chinigo of the International News Service, who had been posted in Rome pre-war, answered. An Italian officer was on the line, asking if the Americans were there. There are different versions of the conversation, although the general gist is the same in each case. In one the Italian asks ‘Are the Americans there?. Chinigio replies ‘of course not’, and the Italian says ‘fine’. In another Chinigo answers the phone with ‘pronto’. The Italian officer asks where the Americans are, and Chinigio replies ‘Not here - everything’s quiet here’

On the right the 45th Division landed across a wide front, but soon got organised and began to move north-east towards its targets. The division was reinforced by many of the scattered paratroops. Vittoria was captured as planned, and the division reached Ragusa, but found the Canadians hadn’t arrived yet and withdrew a short distance.

In the centre the 1st Division was led into Gela by US Rangers. They came under heavy fire when 500 yards offshore and  lost an entire platoon, but landed at 0335 hours and by 0800 had secured the town. By 0900 the leading units of the division had landed, the Gela-Farello airfield had been taken and contact made with the few paratroops on Pinao Lupo.

The Italians and Germans did have a counterattack planned. General Guzzoni wanted to use the Livorno mobile division and two mobile armoured groups and the Hermann Goring Division in an coordinated counterattack against the American sector. General Conrath, the commander of the Hermann Goering also had orders to counterattack, although he didn’t receive the order to coordinate with the Italians.

In the end the Axis troops made three largely unconnected attacks on the 1st Division position. First to attack was the Italian Mobile Group E. This unit attacked from Niscemi, and managed to get ten tanks into Gela town, although they were repulsed after the Ranger leader Lt. Col. William O. Darby returned to the beach to collect a 37mm gun and crew which disabled one tank and forced the others to retreat. The rest of the attack was repulsed by the paratroops. Next came a battalion from the Livorno division, which attacked from the north-west. This attack was fought off with little difficulty.

Panzer VI Ausf E/ Tiger I on Sicily Panzer VI Ausf E/ Tiger I on Sicily

Potentially the most serious was the third, by Conrath’s Hermann Goering Division. He planned to attack from Biscari, to the east of Gela, and Niscemi, to the north. His original plan was to attack at 0900, but his advance was delayed by air attacks and the scattered paratroops and didn’t get underway until 1400 hours, five hours late. Despite his best efforts the attack from Niscemi made little progress and was repulsed at Piano Lugo. The attack from Biscari, which was supported by Tiger tanks, made more progress, overrunning one battalion from the 45th Division before being fought off by a second supported by an artillery battery. Eventually the Germans broke and fled back to Biscari.

By the end of the first day the Allies were thus firmly established on Sicily. The only weak spot in the beachhead was in the US 1st Division sector, where it had proved impossible to land any tanks.

 

The Campaign

Kesselring ordered the Hermann Goering division to resume the offensive on the next day. Conrath came up with a six pronged assault, three German and three Italian. The Italian Livorno Division would attack on the right, heading towards Gela from the north-west, with the left hand column moving near Highway 117, the main road running south from Ponte Olivo towards Gela. The Hermann Goering division would attack on the left. The right hand column would also advance down Highway 117. The centre column would move south from Niscemi to Piano Lupo. The left hand column, with the Tigers, would advance from Biscari to the Ponte Dirillo. The three German columns would then unite to attack the eastern end of the American sector, before heading west along the coast. The Americans would be trapped between the German and Italian pincers. 

The two central columns ran into the US 26th Regimental Combat Team and were unable to make any more progress down the highway. The Italians attempted to get around the Americans and head for Gela, but were stopped by heavy fire. The Germans turned east to join their central column, attacking Piano Lupo from the north (with Conrath in command). Conrath split his forces, sending the tanks towards the beaches east of Gela, while the infantry attempted to force the Americans away from the road junction at Piano Lupo. Further to the east the third German column captured the Ponte Dirillo, but was then hit in the rear by Gavin’s paratroops, by now recovering from their chaotic drop. By the time this battle ended this column was out of action.

On the Axis right the central Italian column briefly threatened Gela from the north-west, but was then hit by 6in fire from the cruiser USS Savannah and almost destroyed. After the bombardment was over Darby’s raiders took 400 prisoners. The right-hand Italian column made less progress, turning back after running into a strong column from the 3rd Division.

The biggest danger came to the east of Gela, where Conrath’s tanks got to within 2,000 yards of the beach, forcing the unloading parties to join the battle. Conrath was convinced that he had won, and reported his victory to Guzzoni, but he had misinterpreted what was happening on the beaches, mistakenly thinking that the Americans were re-embarking, when it was actually reinforcements landing. Amongst these fresh troops was a field artillery battery, which opened fire as soon as it landed. Four US Medium Tanks were finally able to get ashore, and the German attack was halted. Sixteen German tanks were destroyed near the beach, forcing the Germans to withdraw. This exposed them to naval gunfire and more tanks were destroyed. At 1400 hours Conrath called off the attack.

While the Americans were fighting off a counterattack, the British 5th Division was advancing up the east coast from Syracuse. It reached Priolo, half way to Augusta, before running into tanks from Group Schmalz, moving south from Catania. This was meant to be the start of a joint counterattack with the Napoli Division, but that formation had been dispersed in the earlier fighting, leaving Group Schmalz almost alone.

The night of 11-12 July saw one of the biggest Allied disasters of the campaign. During the day the Luftwaffe had carried out a series of heavy attacks on the Seventh Army area, illuminating it with parachute flares later in the day. Then, just after 10.30, a massive Allied resupply force appeared over the fleet, 144 aircraft carrying 2,200 airborne troops into the beachhead (Operation Husky No.2). Some 5,000 anti-aircraft guns opened fire, shooting down 6 aircraft before the paratroops could jump. In the end 229 paratroops were killed, wounded or missing, 23 planes were destroyed and 37 badly damaged.

On 12 July the Hermann Goering Division made one more attack on Piano Lupo, possibly the incident in which Patton is said to have seen a young naval officer directly cruiser fire right onto German tanks. The division then withdrew towards Catania. On the same day the British 5th Division was involved in a long battle with Group Schmalz, eventually pushing the Germans back.

By the end of 12 July the Americans had reached their ‘Yellow Line’ targets on their left, and had advanced beyond them to Canicatti, in the rolling hills to the north of Licata. On the right the 45th Divisoion had reached Biscari and Chiaramonte Gulfi, where they met up with the Eighth Army. All of the airfields in the US sector had been taken, along with 18,000 prisoners. On the Eighth Army front 30th Corps had reached Modica, on the army boundary south of Ragusa. Their line then ran north to Giarratana and from there east to Palazzolo, where 13 Corps took over.

25-pdr Field Gun, Mount Etna 1943 25-pdr Field Gun, Mount Etna 1943

On the night of 12-13 July the Germans dropped part of the 1st Parachute Brigade at Catania airfield, part of a build-up that raised German strength on the island to over 50,000, a move directly ordered by Hitler to try and prop up Mussolini. Over the next few days the Germans added more of the 1st Parachute Brigade, all of the 239th Panzer Grenadier Division and General Hube’s 14th Panzer Corps HQ. Hube then took over combat command of all German troops on the island. The German plan was to defend the ‘Etna’ line. This ran west from Catania on the east coast, around the southern and western flanks of Etna and north-west to Santa Stefano di Camastra on the north coast.

On 12 July Montgomery decided to advance on a wider front. The 13th Corps would attack along the coast, heading for Catania, while the 30th Corps would move west along Highway 124 and turn north-west heading for the road junction at Enna, where it could cut off the Axis troops retreating from western Sicily. This plan had two problems. The first was that the Hermann Goering Division was about to head north-east, cutting across that route, leading to an unexpected clash between that division and the Eighth Army. The second was that it took Montgomery’s men into an area that had been allocated to Patton’s Seventh Army, leading to a disagreement between the two commanders.

Early on 13 July the 5th Division entered Augusta.  On their left the 50th Division moved towards Lentini, on the approaches to the plains south of Catania. Further to the left Leese ordered the Canadians to stop at Giarrantana, while the reinforced 51st Division attacked north towards Vizzini then west along Highway 124 towards Grammichele and Caltagirone. The American 45th Division was also heading for Vizzini, and the two units collided south of the town. Alexander judged in favour of Montgomery. The 23rd Armoured Brigade then advanced northwest from Palazzolo towards Vizzini, but ran into the Hermann Goering Division, moving north-east towards Catania. Vizzini finally fell to the 51st Division on 14 July, as did Francofonte, a few miles to the east. The Canadians were them moved to the front with orders to advance on Enna. One Canadian brigade reached Grammichele early on 15 July, where they ran into a rearguard from the Hermann Goering Division. The Germans held the Canadians up for a day before withdrawing. On 16 July they reached Caltagirone. A second Canadian brigade advanced on the left, and took Piazza Armerina, further to the north-west, on 15 July. On 16 July the Canadians ran into a rearguard from the 15th Panzer Grenadiers further north, at Valguarnera, seven miles south-east of their target of Enna. The town fell on the night of 18 July after a hard battle. The Canadians then bypassed Enna, and advanced north towards Leonforte and Agira, cutting the roads east to Catania from western Sicily.

On the British right Montgomery planned a major attack towards Lentini. This was to be supported by two Special Forces operations. On the coast the Commandos were to seize the bridge over the Malati River three miles to the north of Lentini. Further inland paratroops were to take the Primosole bridge over the Simeto River. Neither operation went entirely as planned. The Commandos landed on the night of 13-14 July, captured the bridge and removed the demolition charges, but weren’t strong enough to hold the bridge and were soon drive off. The airborne assault (Operation Fustian) ran into the same problems as the original landings. The aircraft ran into anti-aircraft fire from Allied ships and the Germans and the gliders and paratroops were widely scattered. Only 200 of the 1,900 men dispatched actually reached the bridge. Once there they discovered that they had landed almost on top of the machine gun battalion of the German 1st Parachute Division, which had arrived earlier on the same day! The British paratroops managed to take the bridge, remove the charges, and then held on for the rest of 14 July against heavy counterattacks. That night they withdrew to a nearby ridge, and were able to keep the bridge under fire. They were also joined by the leading troops from the 50th Division, sent to relieve them. Even then the German paratroops were able to hold the bridge for another day, and then restrict the British to a small bridgehead for some time, before finally being forced back on 17 July.

On the night of 17-18 July Montgomery launched a large scale attack towards Catania, but the Germans were now in a strong defensive position. Schmalz had been reinforced by the Hermann Goering Division, retreating from the American sector, and the attack made little progress. Montgomery began to realise that an attack up the coast would be too expensive, and began to plan for an outflanking movement around Etna.

The new attack involved the Canadians, who had the task of taking Leonforte and then advancing east towards Agira, Regalbuto and finally Adrano, at the western side of Etna. This move would cut the German Etna Line in half. Nearer to the coast the 51st Division was to attack Gerbini, in the western end of the Catanian plain, then move north to Paterno. Between these two units was the 231st (Malta) Brigade, which reached a point three miles to the south of Agira on 19 July and then paused to allow the Canadians to arrive from the west. 19 July saw the Canadians attack Leonforte  and Assoro, a short distance to the east. Assoro was secured by midday on 22 July, Leonforte by the end of the same day.

In the meantime the Americans turned west. The 3rd Division pushed out west and north-west towards a line from Palma di Montechiaro, ten miles west of Licata, north to Canicatti and then north-east to Caltanissetta. They ran into very little resistance, and Agrigento, and the nearby port of Porto Empedocle, to the west of the initial target line fell with little resistance on 16 July. The 1st and 45th Divisions attacked into the high ground between Caltanissetta and Enna, starting on 16 July. They were held up by German rearguard actions, protecting the armour as it pulled back to the east, but took Caltanissetta on 18 July. They were then able to move further north and cut Highway 121, the road from Palermo to Enna.

The easy success at Agrigento convinced Patton that the Germans and Italians would put up little resistance in western Sicily, and he created a Provisional Corps, under his deputy Major General Geoffrey Keyes, to head north-west across the island to Palermo. At first this consisted of the 3rd Division and 82nd Airborne, but the 2nd Armored Division was soon added to it. At first Patton kept his plans secret, but after Alexander issued an order that appeared to confirm that his army was to operate as a flank guard for Montgomery for the entire campaign, a furious Patton flew to Tunis to put his case to Alexander in person. Alexander gave him permission to take Palermo, allowing Patton to begin the first of his lightning advances.

The attack began early on 19 July, and covered 100 miles in four days, facing only token resistance. An Italian 75mm anti-tank gun briefly slowed down the armoured column, but in general the Italians were unwilling to offer serious resistance, while the Germans were retreating east. On the evening of 22 July General Giuseppe Molinero and the remaining Italian garrison of Palermo surrendered to General Keyes. The Provisional Corps then captured the nearby ports of Trapani and Marsala. On the US right flank the 2nd Corps took Enna on 20 July, then cut north to the coast, reaching Termini Imerese, twenty miles to the east of Palermo on 23 July. The dash to Palermo only cost the Americans 57 dead, 170 wounded and 45 missing. The port itself had been badly damaged by the Germans, but was back at 60% capacity within seven days, giving Patton a much better supply base for his own advance towards Messina along the north coast.

The campaign now turned into something of a race towards Messina. The Americans were advancing on two routes - the coastal road and Highway 120 a few miles inland. The Eighth Army was concentrating on the advance towards Etna, with the troops on the coastal front facing Catania ordered onto the defensive.

Neither of the routes open to Patton’s men were easy. Both were narrow and winding roads, easy for the Germans to block with simple demolitions. The Germans developed a simple but effective defensive plan. They would put up temporary road blocks, blow a bridge or culvert, and put defensive forces on the far side. The Americans would have to climb into the mountains to get behind these positions, at which point the Germans would withdraw before they could be trapped. They also made a series of more determined stands as particularly strong positions. During this period of slow progress Patton began to lose his temper, leading to one of the more notorious incidents of his career. During a visit to a field hospital he found someone who appeared to be suffering from shell shock. Asked ‘What’s wrong with you?’ the soldier answered ‘I guess I can’t take it sir’. Patton slapped him across his face with his glove and forced him out of the hospital tent. The soldier actually turned out to have a high fever caused by chronic dysentery and malaria. A week later the incident was repeated with a genuine shell shock case. This time Patton threatened to shot the soldier and struck him so hard that his helmet liner came off. The medical corps colonel in charge had to place himself between Patton and the soldier. News of these incidents eventually reached Eisenhower, who issued Patton with a formal reprimand and ordered him to make a public apology to everyone involved. Partly as a result of these incidents Patton was also not given a senior command in the invasion of mainland Italy, and they later went on to play a part in the pre D-Day deception plans, when they were used to suggest that Patton was out of favour.

Patton allocated the 2nd Corps and the recently arrived 9th Division, supported by all of his artillery, to the advance east. On the inland route Nicosia fell on 28 July after a three day long battle, but the Americans then got bogged down at the mountain town of Troina, a few miles further to the east. An initial attack with a full regiment of 3,000 men failed, and it eventually took a full division and an extra regiment to force the 15th Panzer Grenadiers to abandon the position on 6 August. The Germans retreated ten miles to Randazzo.

The main American advance came on the coast. San Stefano fell on 31 July, but the Germans then held out on the San Fratello Ridge, which ran down to the coast west of Sant’ Agata. The Germans held out here from 2-8 August, before the Americans used poart of the 3rd Division in an amphibious landing behind German lines. The Germans pulled back to the ridge that ran south from Cape Orlando past the village of Naso, ten miles to the east. Patton ordered another amphibious attack, but this time General Truscott, the 3rd Division Commander, wanted the attack delayed until the main force had advanced further to the east. Patton refused to allow any delay, and Lt Col Lyle A. Bernard’s troops landed near Brolo, four miles behind enemy lines, and took up a defensive position on Monte Cipolla, 350 yards inland. This time the landing had little impact. The main advance made slow progress, and Bernard lost 167 of his 650 men before being relieved. Patton attempted another amphibious landing at Bivio Salica, 25 miles to the west of Messina, where he landed part of the 157th Regimental Combat Team of the 45th Division, but once again the Germans escaped.

On the Eighth Army front Montgomery decided to launch a full scale assault on the Etna flank on 1 August, moving the 78th Division to reinforce 30th Corps. In the meantime the Canadians were to continue to push east. On 24 July they captured Nissoria. Agira held out from 25-28 July. The Canadians advanced east, but were stopped just short of Regalbuto. On their right the newly arrived 78th Division captured Catenanuova (six miles to the south of Regalbuto) on 30 July. On 1 August they attacked Centuripe, a heavily defended mountain top town to the north-east of Catenanuova, while the Canadians took Regalbuto. Centuripe fell on 3 August. The Canadians were now only five miles from Adrano, and cutting the Etna Line. On 6 August Biancavilla. A few miles south-east of Adrano, fell to the 51st Division. The Canadians and the 78th Division took Adrano on 7 August and advanced north to take Bronte on 8 August (this had once been the site of a dukedom granted to Nelson by the grateful Neapolitan crown, and he had estates in the area). The British and Canadian advance from Etna helped the Americans in the north, threatening to outflank the German defenders of Highway 120, which was only four miles to the north.

It was now clear to the Germans that the battle for Sicily was over, and they withdrew from their positions around Catania. On both fronts the Allied advance was held up by rearguard actions and demolitions, but the outcome was no longer in doubt - only who would reach Messina first. Patton’s troops won that race, and their first patrols entered Messina on 17 August, only to find that the Germans had already gone. Patton wasn’t far behind, and entered Messina at 10.15 on 17 August. The first British tanks arrived a few days later.

The evacuation from Messina was the most impressive German achievement of the campaign. The Italians began their evacuation on 3 August, and managed to get 70,000-7,5000 men and 75-100 guns back to the mainland, but lost 145,000  men captured or dead on Sicily. The German evacuation began on 8 August, after Kesselring ordered it to begin without asking Hitler’s permission. Colonel Ernst-Gunther Baade, in command of the evacuation, had 33 barges, a dozen Siebel ferries, 11 landing craft and 76 motorboats at his disposal. The Allies were unable to do much to disrupt his efforts. The narrow straits were defended by around 500 dual purpose AA/ ground guns, mostly on the mainland side, which made it very dangerous for Allied aircraft to operate in daylight. The straits were also heavily defended with coastal guns, so the navies couldn’t do much either. The Germans were able to evacuate 40,000 men, 9,600 vehicles, 47 tanks, 94 guns and 18,000 tons of supplies from Sicily. Most of these men would go on to play a part in the fighting at Salerno and on the defensive lines across Italy, and their escape thus helped make possible the German defence of southern Italy.

On the Allied side the Seventh Army lost 7,500 men and the Eighth Army 11,500 men. The island had fallen in only 38 days, and with much lower Allied casualties than expected, making an invasion of the mainland seem like a much more enticing prospect.

Aftermath

Perhaps the most important consequence of the Allied invasion of Sicily was the fall of Mussolini. Discontent with Mussolini’s rule had been growing for some time, as the war turned increasingly sour for Italy. By the spring of 1943 the Italian economy was in ruins, the Italian Empire overseas had been destroyed, and the Allies were clearly poised to invade Italy herself. The initial landings of 10 July weren’t enough to trigger the fall of Mussolini, but the failure to repel in the invasion slowly built up the pressure against him. The Italian political elite had another shock on 19 July when the Allies bombed marshalling yards in Rome herself, bringing the war into the Eternal City. Mussolini was now faced with two overlapping plots to remove him from power, one from within his own Fascist party and one from the Royalists and Military.

The Fascists made the first move, insisting that Mussolini called a meeting of the Fascist Grand Council on 24 July. At the end of the meeting the party passed a vote of no confidence in Mussolini, and demanded that he hand military authority back to the King. On the following day, 25 July, Mussolini attended a meeting with King Victor Emmanuel III, who announced that he had been dismissed as head of state and was to be replaced by Marshal Badoglio. Mussolini was bundled away in an ambulance and put into ‘protective custody’. On 26 July Badoglio announced that Italy would remain in the war alongside Germany, but hardly anyone believed him, and on 31 July he sent peace envoys to the Allies. The negotiations between the Italians and the Allies didn’t run smoothly, and full advantage wasn’t made of the Italian desire to change sides, but the bulk of the Italian army was removed from the war, forcing the Germans to find troops to replace them in Italy and across the Balkans. 

The Allies had already begun to consider an invasion of mainland Italy. On 16 July Eisenhower had been asked to consider a landing near Naples, and on 23 July he was ordered to prepare a plan for that as a ‘matter of urgency’. As always the Allies had different aims for the Italian campaign. Churchill would have preferred a landing as far up the peninsula as possible, to avoid a long series of battles in the south. The Americans hoped to take advantage of the fall of Mussolini, to satisfy Churchill’s desire to capture Rome, and to gain air bases for attacks on the southern half of Hitler’s empire. The invasion would have to take place somewhere in the south, as that would be within range of Allied fighters based on Sicily, but the Germans weren’t expected to try and defend the south. This belief wasn’t entirely without foundation. The original German plan was to defend a line from Pisa to Rimini, and Rommel had been given command of a new army group in the North of Italy. Kesselring, who had command south of that line, was to conduct a fighting retreat to avoid being trapped in the south. Kesselring himself opposed this plan, and was sure he could delay the Allies in the south of Italy for a considerable period, taking advantage of the mountainous terrain. He was eventually allowed to carry out this plan, leading to the costly battles around the Winter Line and most famously at Cassino. However this was all in the future when the Allies began their invasion of mainland Italy, when the British Eighth Army crossed the straits of Messina on 3 September 1943 (Operation Baytown), only a couple of weeks after the end of the campaign in Sicily.

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 April 2018), Operation Husky - the Invasion of Sicily, 10 July- 17 August 1943 , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/operation_husky_sicily.html

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