The air campaign to support the invasion of Sicily was massive and complex. It involved major components from the RAF and USAAF, used bases on Malta and in Tunisia, and after the landings on Sicily, and faced opposition from the Germans and Italians, from bases on Sicily and mainland Italy.
The author’s aim is to examine the overall air campaign in detail, looking at the aims and objectives of the campaign, how the air forces involved attempted to carry them out, and how successful they were. We get a clear explanation of how the Allied air forces were organised for Husky, where they were based, what forces they had available and the limits imposed by the available airfields combined with the range and endurance of different aircraft. The key problem here was that there was only so much space on Malta, the closest Allied territory to the key areas of southern Sicily, which limited the amount of fighter support that could be offered.
My only criticism of the book is that the author seems determined to defend the air forces against all criticisms, even those that would appear to have been somewhat justified. The two main flaws in the Allied air operations during the battle of Sicily came during the initial landings, where the close air support was seen to have not been good enough. It’s all very well to say that the aircraft were doing useful things further inland, but if there weren’t at least some aircraft visible overhead then the soldiers were going to lose some confidence in their air support. It won’t have been of much consolation for someone fighting on the beaches to hear that the strategic air forces had far more important things to do on the Italian mainland! The RAF in Britain had spent much of the war claiming that close battlefield support was impossible or a waste of airpower, and it feels like this was the last gasp of that theory, already proven to be false during the fighting in North Africa. The second flaw came during the Axis evacuation of Sicily, where once again the strategic air force heavy bombers were largely absent.
At the same time the author is able to bring to the fore some aspects of this campaign that aren’t always appreciated. He has a very good appreciation of the problems of gaining and then maintaining air superiority, seeing it as an ongoing process rather than something that can be achieved and then moved on from. At this point the Germans were still able to rush reinforcements to the threatened area, but they were unable to cope with the massive Allied forces, and suffered very heavy losses. The problems caused by poor aircraft recognition skills on the invasion fleet and their tendency to fire on any aircraft that came into range, regardless of whose side it was on are acknowledged, as are the difficulties of dealing with low level raids that didn’t appear on radar in time to be intercepted. We also look at the impact of air attacks further afield, either on the supply routes in southern Italy, or the attacks on the outskirts of Rome that helped undermine the Fascist regime.
1 - From SYMBOL to HUSKY
2 - An Air Offensive of Unprecedented Dimensions
3 - The Climax of the Air Superiority Battle: The Landings and Advance Inland
4 - Air Power for Strategic Effect: Breaking Italian Fascism and the Etna Line
5 - Of Straits and Narrows: The Allied Air Forces and the Axis Evacuation of Sicily
Author: Alexander Fitzgerald-Black