Operation HuskyOne of the truly overlooked campaigns of World War II was the invasion and conquest of Sicily. Invariably, it gets footnoted in between the defeat of Axis forces in North Africa and the invasion of Italy proper, as in, "After invading Sicily, which quickly fell, the Allies moved on to Italy." In fact, there was nothing quick or easy about the invasion of Sicily, and, truth be told, the 40-day Sicilian campaign was more important for the outcome of the war than the subsequent 17 months spent pounding against German defenses on the Italian peninsula.
|Sicily was dirty, poverty-stricken and dangerous. Here, a US medic of the 3rd Infantry Division tends to an injured soldier while four generations of a barefoot Sicilian family watches.|
|General Montgomery travels in a DUKW, 12 July 1943, during the invasion of Sicily.|
|Pantelleria has a forbidding coastline.|
|The surrender of Pantelleria was big news at the time.|
|Glyndwr Michael aka Major Martin in his final service to King and country.|
|HMS Seraph, used in "Mincemeat."|
|Still from "The Man Who Never Was."|
|The nature of the beaches at Gela required LSTs to use pontoon causeways in order to get equipment ashore. These were vulnerable to a Luftwaffe attack, so they had to move quickly.|
|Plan Husky 8 called for British forces to take the short road to Messina, while the Americans occupied the majority of the island.|
|Street scene in Gela during the invasion.|
|A US Army map showing Axis dispositions prior to the Allied invasion. The Naval Defense Areas along the East Coast are clearly marked and greatly impeded the British advance.|
|A US Army Sherman tank moves past Sicily's rugged terrain in mid-July 1943.|
D-Day for Sicily, 10 July 1943The invasion forces set out late on 9 July 1943. There was a combination of airborne troops and sea-borne landings. Taking off from near Kairouan, Tunisia, 147 tow planes and gliders carried 2,075 men and their equipment, including jeeps and artillery. Their objectives were various key points inland, such as bridges. They were to hold until relieved. Due to effective antiaircraft fire and sheer confusion in the dark night (as had, of course, been planned), only 12 of the gliders hit their landing zones. The rest (65) crashed into the sea, were shot down, or landed (59) at random spots far from their objectives.
The British sea-borne troops fared better. British 8th Army had no difficulty landing south of Syracuse, led by the 30th Corps at Avola and the 51st Highland Division and 1st Canadian Infantry Division further south at Pachino. The 5th Infantry Division further north found Syracuse almost abandoned, but finally ran into some Germans at Priolo midway between Syracuse and the real prize, Augusta. As was often the case with the Wehrmacht, this effective defense was mounted by scratch troops designated Brigade Schmalz which hurried down from Catania. Without them, the battle for the island might have taken only days rather than weeks.
The American 7th Army landing at Gela, under command of Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., also had trouble with its airborne troops, but the seaborne invasion went smoothly. The dispersal of the US airborne forces of the 505th Regimental Combat Team saw many men landed at random spots, but it had the fringe benefit of causing mass confusion behind Axis lines - something that would be repeated on D-Day in Normandy. The seaborne Western Task Force, with a full array of landing craft that would later be used in Normandy, landed the 45th Infantry Division, the 1st Infantry Division (the "Big Red One") under Terry Allen, and 3rd Infantry Division under Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. By nightfall on the 10th, all Allied objectives had been taken against very light resistance.
Axis Counter-AttacksThe Italians on Sicily obviously weren't fighting. There were reports of Italian soldiers quickly defecting, helping the Allies unload their equipment, and asking to be taken to Brooklyn. The Germans, however, had better resources. The Luftwaffe staged very effective interdictions against the LSTs (tank landing craft), causing the Americans, in particular, to be low on armor early in the campaign. Conrath in command of the Hermann Goering attacked the American right flank, hoping to prevent a link-up with the British. On the Americans' north flank, Italian Mobile Group E at Niscemi hoped to catch the Americans in a giant pincer attack. These Axis forces were not particularly strong, but they did have good equipment and good morale.
|The Luftwaffe blows up a US munitions ship off of Gela during the invasion.|
|General Conrath with his division's namesake, Hermann Goering.|
|The USS Savannah (CL-42) was instrumental in the invasion of Sicily. Here, it is hit by a German radio-controlled bomb while supporting Allied forces ashore during the Salerno operation, 11 September 1943.|
|General Patton on the beach at Gela, 11 July 1943.|
Hard BattlesAfter that, the campaign basically was decided, but there was a lot of hard fighting left to do. Hitler accepted that the invasion could not be defeated at the beaches, but he only sparingly sent in additional forces because he knew the real battle would be on the mainland (this also undercuts the ultimate value of Mincemeat). He grudgingly sent in the 3rd Regiment of the 1st Parachute (Fallschirmjäger) Division on 12 July (the same day that he called off the Kursk operation) to create a continuous defensive line. The Americans under General Patton raced to occupy western Sicily, against steady resistance Rodt's troops, while the British hammered away at the growing German defenses south of Messina. A bitter battle developed for the key town of Troina, which took almost a week to overcome. A new German commander arrived who, while technically subordinate to General Guzzoni, in fact, controlled all Axis operation.
|General Hans Hube was one of the last men out of Stalingrad, taken out at gunpoint by the SS when he refused to leave his men. He later saved the 1st Panzer Army after it was encircled in Russia by making a desperate retrograde movement.|
|British General Montgomery and US General Patton, commanders of their respective armies, did not like each other and engaged in a bitter race to capture Messina first.|
Operation LehrgangOperation Lehrgang was the German withdrawal across the Straits of Messina. It was accomplished using Siebel ferries, which were double-ended pontoon-supported motorized rafts, along with some other naval barges and a couple of Italian ferries.
|A German Siebel ferry, here at anchor carrying four 88 mm Flak 36 anti-aircraft and two 20 mm FlaK 38 anti-aircraft guns. Used in coastal waters, the Siebel ferry could carry heavy loads. It evacuated just about everything from Sicily.|
|General Patton won the race for Messina.|
In summary, the Sicily campaign was of huge importance to the course of the war even though it is given short shrift in the history books. Sicily itself was not strategically vital, but it set up some of the most far-reaching consequences of the war. Primarily and most significantly, the invasion caused the downfall of Mussolini. This was no small matter, as his downfall eventually led Italy to change sides to join the Allies, which was much more important than many people think due to economic as well as political ramifications. More subtly, but also of tremendous importance, the invasion of Sicily served as almost a dress rehearsal for the ultimately more decisive invasion of Normandy 11 months later. Aside from simply getting used to the equipment (much of which was re-used on D-Day), Allied soldiers learned to keep the British and American sectors of an invasion front connected rather than separated, had a chance to practice re-supply techniques, saw the trouble that the Luftwaffe could cause if not properly contained, suffered the consequences of not getting armored support on the beaches quickly, and learned valuable lessons about how to coordinate airborne assaults with contested beach landings. Sicily also provided an ideal launching pad for operations against the Italian mainland that began only a few weeks later.