Operation Husky - the Invasion of Sicily was the start of the Allied assault on German occupied Europe. After defeating the Axis forces in the Tunisian Campaign, the United States and Great Britain planned the invasion of occupied Europe and the final defeat of Nazi Germany. The Allies decided to attack Italy, hoping an Allied invasion would remove Benito Mussolini from power, secure the Mediterranean and divert German divisions from France and Russia.
The main Allied forces for the invasion were the US 7th Army under Lieutenant-General George S. Patton and the British 8th Army under General Sir Bernard Montgomery.
The Axis commander, General Alfredo Guzzoni, had 12 divisions - two German and 10 Italian to defend the island; five of the latter were infantry and five coastal defence divisions. The garrison was 250,000-400,000-strong (depending on the source) , but included only about 60,000 Germans and even they were not fully mechanized. Beach defences, including middle-aged reservists from the coastal divisions and blackshirts, had been heavily bombed, and the Italian High Command was forced to use commandeered French Army light tanks against the initial Allied landings. However, the rugged high ground favoured the Italian defenders. After 38 days of hard fighting, the U.S. and Britain Commonwealth forces successfully drove the remaining German and Italian units from Sicily and prepared to assault the Italian mainland.
On the night of 9/10 July, Allied airborne units began landing, while American and British ground forces from an Allied armada of 2,590 vessels came ashore three hours later at the beaches of Licata, Gela, Scoglitti, Pachino and Avola. The Allied advance initially suffered a setback, when a company from the British 1st Airborne Division was overrun at Ponte Grande.
Backed by naval gunfire, the US 1st Infantry Division beat back counterattacks on their beachhead by the Italian Livorno Division and then the German Hermann Goering Panzer Division. The British occupied Syracuse, with the Durham Light Infantry beating back a counterattack from the Italian Napoli Division.
At Gela, the US 1st and 4th Ranger Battalions, reinforced by the 1st Battalion (US 39th Engineer Combat Regiment) and naval gunfire, repulsed two Italian counterattacks, one by infantry from the Livorno Division and 155th Bersaglieri Motorcycle Company and the other by tanks from the Niscemi Armoured Combat Group. A tank squadron managed to penetrate the town before the Rangers drove them off in a confused battle.
By the end of the first day, the US 7th Army had established a beachhead two to four miles deep and fifty miles wide. In the process, US infantry had captured over 4,000 prisoners at the cost of 58 killed, 199 wounded, and 700 missing or captured. But the landings had been contested, with General Patton nearly captured and the British hospital ship HM Talamba and the United States Navy destroyer USS Maddox sunk on 10 July 1943, with only 74 survivors from destroyer when Italian Stukas from 103° Gruppo and 121° Gruppodelivered the fatal air attack.
Over the next two days the US 7th Army gradually pushed its way out of the beachheads and into the high ground. Fighting between the 1st Division and the Hermann Goering Division was stiff, but General Allen pushed his men on regardless through Niscemi and on toward the Yellow Line. On the right, Middleton's 45th Division likewise made good progress towards Highway 124, while to the left Truscott's 3rd Infantry Division, supported by the 2nd Armoured Division, moved beyond their initial Yellow Line objectives. The British matched rapid US progress, and by the 13th they had advanced as far as Vizzin in the west and Augusta in the east. Resistance in the British zone was stiffening, with British reinforcements required to fight off an Italian counterattack at Augusta, and the 50th Division encountering resistance from R35 tanks and infantry from the Napoli' Division.
Race to Messina
On 13 July, as the British 8th Army began to get bogged down, General Alexander ordered the US 7th Army to shift east and protect the British left flank. Seeking a more important role for his men, General Patton disregarded the British order and sent a strong force towards the island's capital, Palermo.
When General Alexander radioed the US 7th Army to stop their advance, General Patton ignored him, claiming the orders were "garbled in transmission". By the 16th, the 7th Army had captured the ports of Agrigento and Porto Empedocle. That day, General Hans-Valentin Hube assumed command over all sectors where German troops were fighting, replacing General Guzzoni as their commander. The 10th Bersaglieri Regiment under Colonel Fabrizio Storti, fought well in defence of Agrigento, with US historian Samuel Eliot Morison writing that: "The Italians fought manfully for Agrigento". But General Truscott's fire support and Colonel William Darby's 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions proved too much for them.
On the night of 17 July, the Italian cruiser Scipione Africano clears the Messina Straits of hidden British Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs), sinking one (MTB 316) and badly damaging another (MTB 313).
On 23 July, with Patton advancing on the north coast, Alexander ordered a two-prong assault on Messina, hoping to capture the port city before Axis forces could evacuate Sicily. Montgomery's attack had bogged down at Catania, and it was now clear that the British 8th Army was not going to be able to capture Messina on its own.
Meanwhile, the US 1st Infantry Division fought its way eastward against stiffening German opposition, capturing Nicosia on the 28th before moving on to Troina. General Patton planned to take the exhausted 1st Division out of the line once Troina fell. The mountain village, however, would prove to be the division's toughest fight, as well as one of the most protracted battles of the entire Sicilian Campaign.
On the Etna Line (that ran from the vicinity of Catania on the east coast, around the southern base of Mount Etna, north to San Fratello on the island's northern shore), the Germans under General Hube conducted a tenacious defense with the help from Italian infantryfrom the Aosta and Livorno Divisions and Italian infantry and artilleryfrom the AssiettaDivision.
The battle for Troina began on 31 July, when the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division repulsed an attack by the 39th Infantry Regiment, US 9th Infantry Division. Over the next six days, the US 1st Infantry Division and a French Moroccan battalion, supported by 165 artillery gun and numerous Allied aircraft, attacked Troina's tenacious defenders, with the Germans launching no fewer than two dozen counterattacks during the week-long battle. Lieutenant-Colonel Giuseppe Gianquinto's 1st Battalion from the Aosta launched a major effort to retake lost positions, even managing to take forty prisoners, but US infantrymen, supported by the artillery, repulsed the attackers.
During German attempts to overrun the US 26th Infantry Regiment, Private James W. Reese moved his mortar squad to a position from which they could bombard the attacking German infantry. The squad maintained a steady fire on the Germans until it began to run out of ammunition. With only three mortar bombs left, Reese ordered his men to the rear while he advanced to take out a German machine-gun with the last rounds. He then fired his rifle until killed by the return fire. Through the efforts of men like Private Reese, the 26th Infantry successfully held its position behind Troina. .The United States recognized Reese's heroism by awarding him the Medal of Honor
While the US 1st Infantry Division fought for possession of Troina, General Truscott's US 3rd Division faced equally stiff opposition at San Fratello, the northern terminus of the Etna Line. Here the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division and part of the Assietta Division had entrenched themselves on a ridge overlooking the coastal highway. The 3rd Division made repeated attempts to crack the San Fratello strongpoint beginning on 3 August, but failed to gain much ground.
Nevertheless, Allied forces pressed forward, aided by an amphibious landing at Sant'Agata (a few miles behind San Fratello Ridge) on the night of 7/8 August, involving Lieutenant-Colonel Lyle Bernard's reinforced 2nd Battalion, 30th Infantry Regiment. The amphibious landing achieved complete surprise and quickly blocked the coastal highway.
Allied pressure at Troina, San Fratello, and in the British sector had finally broken the Etna Line, but there would be no exploitation of this breakthrough. Taking maximum advantage of the mountainous terrain and armed with a seemingly inexhaustible supply of mines and explosives, General Hube withdrew his 14th Panzer Corps in good order towards Messina.
On the morning of 17August, the 7th Infantry Regiment from the US 3rd Division entered Messina, just hours after the last Axis troops had boarded evacuation ships for Italy. General Patton had won his race. The fall of Palermo helped dissidents in Rome engineer Mussolini's fall from power.
One consequence of the lack of cooperation within the Allied forces was that the Axis commanders were able to evacuate over 100,000 men and 10,000 vehicles from Sicily. An amphibious landing by an infantry regiment from the 45th Division on 16 August failed when the troops landed behind American, and not German lines as planned. The failure of Allied air and naval forces to attack Axis shipping in the Strait of Messina was due in large part to the fact that the Axis forces were evacuated under the cover of an air defence umbrella of 318 anti-aircraft guns. And rumours were ripe among the Allied naval commanders that the Italian Navy was preparing to attack in defence of the Italian mainland.
In the fighting for Sicily, the Axis forces lost 29,000 killed or wounded, and 140,000 captured.American losses totaled 2,237 killed and 6,544 wounded or captured. The British suffered 12,843 casualties, including 2,721 killed.
The campaign taught the Allied commanders valuable lessons that were utilized the following year on D-Day. Operation Husky also achieved its goal of driving Italy from the war, but resulted in the Italian Civil War. On 3 September, a new Italian government under Marshal Pietro Badoglio, signed a secret armistice with the Allied commanders.
The Allied forces continued their invasion of Italy in September with landings at Salerno and Taranto on the Italian mainland. At Casablanca the Allies had agreed only to invade Sicily, not Italy, but Germany had in the meantime occupied much of Italy.
- "Alfredo Guzzoni's Italian Sixth Army, a collection of 200,000 Italian soldiers backed by 50,000 Germans..." Men on Iron Ponies: The Death and Rebirth of the Modern U.S. Cavalry, Matthew Darlington Morton, p. 131, Northern Illinois University Press, 2009
- "At first glance, the command—numbering some 200,000 Italian troops backed up by another 32,000 German soldiers and 30,000 German Luftwaffe ground crews—should have been impressive." Operation Husky: The Canadian Invasion of Sicily, July 10 - August 7, 1943, Mark Zuehlke, p. 67, D & M Publishers, 2009
- ""Two companies of sailors attacked first but were beaten back. Gradually they were reinforced as the Italians shelled the bridge with mortars and, finally, field guns. The Italian 385th Coastal Battalion joined the battle, and at about 11:30 A.M., the 1st Battalion of the Italian 75th (Napoli) Infantry Regiment came up ... The Red Devils held on, but by 2:45 P.M. there were fifteen unwounded survivors, although several of the wounded continued to fight. Finally, at 3:30 P.M., the end came when the ammunition ran out." The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies Lost Their Chance for Total Victory, Samuel W. Mitcham, Friedrich von Stauffenberg, p. 76, Stackpole Books, 2007
- "The 6th Battalion, however, was counterattacked by the Italian Napoli Division, first with tanks and then with infantry. The tanks - some five in all careered down the road from Palazzola as the Battalion was moving forward: four where knocked out but one reached Floridia, shooting up Colonel Watson's jeep and wounding the medical officer on the way ... The infantry attack was launched after the Battalion had moved into its new positions and it was stopped by artillery fire." The D.L.I. at War: The History of the Durham Light Infantry 1939-1945, David Rissik, p. 123, Andrews UK Limited, 2012
- "Fighting was house-to-house, but by midmorning the Rangers had the town. The victory was interrupted around 10:30 A.M., when the seasoned Italian Livorno Division counterattacked and nine Italian light tanks broke the Rangers' outer defensive positions." Beyond Valor: World War II's Ranger and Airborne Veterans Reveal the Heart of Combat, Patrick K. O'Donnell, p. 38, Simon and Schuster, 2001
- WITNESS DESCRIBES HOSPITAL SHIP LOSS; Injured Paratrooper Relates How Italian Plane Bombed Fully Lighted Talamba, The New York Time, 19 July 1943
- "Therefore, when Allied forces crosssed the narrows to launch Operation Husky on 10 July 1943, the dive-bomber response was entirely in the hands of the Italians ... The Regia Aeronautica had taken delivery of a bunch of Ju87Ds earlier in the year, but rather than re-equip their existing dive-bomber units, the 'Doras' had been used to form two new gruppi: 103° and 121° ... Still working up on Sardinia, the largely inexperienced crews were dispatched at once to southern Italy and Sicily to counter the invasion ... A bomb from an unseen aircraft struck the destroyer's stern, blowing it apart 'in a gust of flame, smoke and debris'. In less than two minutes she had disappeared beneath the waves ... The surviving Doras of 121 Gruppo were to retire back to Sardina before the Sicilian campaign had run its 38-day course." Junkers Ju 87 Stukageschwader of North Africa and the Mediterranean, John Weal, Pag.81-82, Osprey Publishing, 1998
- "The first victim of the air attack was USS Maddox (DD-622), which was steaming alone on antisubmarine patrol when she was hit by a bomb dropped by an Italian Ju 87 Stuka at 0421. One of the bombs exploded Maddox's aft magazine, causing the ship to roll over and sink within two minutes, taking 210 of her crew with her. The Stuka returned, strafing the 74 survivors before departing." Bloodstained Sands: U.S. Amphibious Operations in World War II, Michael G. Walling, p. 270, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2017
- "On July 13 a battalion-sized detachment of Italians caused further delay to the British. It launched a surprise counterattack, broke through British lines, and briefly reoccupied the Italian seaplane base at Augusta. The following morning more British units came up and forced it to retire." The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies Lost Their Chance for Total Victory, Samuel W. Mitcham, Friedrich von Stauffenberg, Stackpole Books, 2007
- "During the following day, 13 July, the commander and staff of the Italian 54th 'Napoli' Division surrendered but enemy resistance began to stiffen in the area of Carlentini and Lentini, in the path of the 50th Division." The Allied forces in Italy 1943-45, Guido Rosignoli, p. 35, Ermanno Albertelli Editore, 1989
- "A further attempt to advance met strong opposition towards last light. After dark the advance was called off and the squadron withdrawn to Cancattini Bagni ... The leading tank was fired on by ten R 35 s and in reply knocked out two R 35s, 4 cars and 3 lorries. This blocked the road completely ... Further on they met and destroyed 12 vehicles, 3 R 35 s and a motor-cycle, bringing their total for the day to 8 tanks, 6 guns, 29 assorted vehicles and 3 motor-cycles ..." The History of the 4th Armoured Brigade, pp. 41-42, Merriam Press, 1997
- "The Italian defenders under Colonel de Laurentis had by now withdrawn to Agrigento, rallying around Col. Fabrizio Stortils Tenth Bersaglieri Regiment in defense of the city. They forced the First Battalion, U.S. Seventh Infantry to fight its way into Agrigento, pinning them down on the high ground above the city until the Third Battalion was brought out of reserve to reinforce them ... The combination of navy fire support and army artillery produced the desired result before Agrigento and Porto Empedocle. By late afternoon on July 16 the enemy's artillery had fallen silent and troops of the Seventh Infantry had battled their way into Agrigento from the southeast. "After some street fighting Agrigento surrendered," General Truscott recalled." History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 9: Sicily-Salerno-Anzio, January 1943 – June 1944, Samuel Eliot Morison, pp.206-207, University of Illinois Press, 2002
- "The Germans were assisted by Lieutenant Colonel Gianquinto's 1st battalion of the 5th (Aosta) Infantry Regiment ...The 1st even managed to take forty American prisoners in one successful counterattack." The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies Lost Their Chance for Total Victory, Samuel W. Mitcham, Friedrich Von Stauffenberg, p.263, Stackpole Books
- "The Axis units held their positions through several days of attack, much thanks due to Italian artillery support." The Regio Esercito: The Italian Royal Army in Mussolini's Wars, 1935-1943, Patrick Cloutier, p. 202, Lulu Press, 2013
- "Defending the collapsing bridgehead became a nightmare to the German command which, following the pattern of the North African campaign, had stationed an Italian division in the most exposed section of the line. This division, the Italian 26th division, was on the western approaches to Mount Etna." ing of Steel Thrown Around Foe In Sicily, St Petersburg Times, 4 August 1943
- "Lining either side of the Messina Straits were some 150 Italian anti-aircraft guns, and an estimated 168 of the Germans ... Some estimates put the total number of anti-aircraft guns closer to 500, and some pilots claimed the intensity of the flak was worse than that confronted by Bomber Command in raids on Germany's Ruhr region." The Decisive Campaigns of the Desert Air Force 1942-1945, Bryn Evans, p. 104, Pen and Sword, 2014.
- ""Word spread that the redoubtable Littorio and Roma Battleships, accompanied by the Scipione, together with every other surviving Italian warship, were on their way to clear the Messina Channel in a suicide run." Mussolini's War: Fascist Italy's Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45, Frank Joseph, p. 176, Casemate Publishers, 2010