** World War II campaigns -- Sicilian campaign

World War II Campaigns: Sicilian Campaign (July-August 1943)

World War II Scily American drive
Figure 1.--American conmmander Gen. Patton was frustrated by the supporting role he was given and Montgomery's subsequent demand that the British zone be widened further west. Patton on his own iniative ordered his Seventh Army to make a dash for Palermo. Here the American Army enters Palermo (July 22, 1943). This gave the Allies control of most od the island while Montgomery was still bogged down only a little north of the British beachead. Italy was still an Axis nation, but the scene looks more like the liberation than the occupatiopn of the city. The American vehicle is an amphibious DUCK. Photographer: Robert Capa.

The Axis Sicilian coastal defenses manned by the Italian Army quickly colapsed, although German armor the threatened the American lanfings for a time. The British landing force cleared the whole southeastern part of the island (July 9-12). Their western flank was protected by the Americans. The Allies than began the drive toward Messina, the ultimate objective. Any German withdrawl could only be conducted through Messina. The British were to drive north along the eastern coastal road and seize Messina. General Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander was in overall control as Allied ground commander. Patton from the start did not appreciate the supporting role he was given. The Americans were assigned to seize and secure airfields and protect the British flank as they drove north. The Americans took Niscemi and the British took Vizzini as planned. Then the campaign plan began to change. The British began to encountering siffening German resistance as they attempted to drive north along the coast--the direct route to Messina. The Germans thus focused much of their forces in this area. An important objective was the Plain of Catania with its airfields. Montgomery requested that Alexander allow the British units to move westward in an effort to encircle the Germans rather than attack them directly. This was, however, into the zone initially designated for the Americans. Alexander granted the rquest vand Enna was shifted from the American to the British zone. The Germans based their defense of the island on opposing the British drive on Messina along the coastal rode. The terrain was mountainous, ideal for defensive action. Historians vary on what occurred after the British attack north bogged down. Some reports suggest that Alexander ordered Patton to take Palermo at the northwestern tip of the island. Others say that Patton exceeded his orders in driving toward Palermo. Thus while the British were bogged down along the coastal rode north, Patton raced the 7th Army west. Guzzoni had concentrated the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division in central Sicily to protect the northern coastal road. This western Sicily was defended by Italian units who had little desire ti fight the Americans. American units entered Palermo (July 22) and within days were in possession of all of western Sicily. The fall of Palermo has been described as a largely symbolic achievenent. It was not. Once in Palermo, Patton was in position to open an American drive on Messina, from the west, along the northern coastal road. This put the the Germans in a vice and forced them to divide their limited forces. Patton to avoid German strong points, used a series of limited amphibious operations as he moved east along the northern coastal road. The Germans decided to evacuate Messina. The Americans and British finally entered Messina (August 17). They had Messina and bases for an upcoming invasion of Italy. They failed, however, to capture the German force defending the island.

Landings and Bridgehead (July 9-12)

The Axis Sicilian coastal defenses manned by the Itlian Army quickly colapsed, although German armor threatened the American landings for a time. General Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander was in overall control of the 15th Army Group as Allied ground commander. Mongomery commanded the veteran British Eighth Army. Patton commanded the newly formed American Seventh Army with many inexperienced units. Unlike D-Day, the Luftwaffe was not absent over the invasion beaches. The British landing force cleared the whole southeastern part of the island (July 9-12). The Americans ran into more opposition. The Americans used airborn troops for the first time. This was marred by tragic friendly fire incident, but the airborn troops played a major role in stopping the German armor--the German G�ring Panzer Division. This was the primary Axis force tasked to throwing the Americans back into the sea before they had a chance to become firmly established. Fortunately for the Americans, the German attacks were poorly coordinated. At Gela, the most important city long the southern coast, a ollectio of units (the 1st and 4th Ranger Battalions, assisted by the 1st Battalion of the 39th Engineer Combat Regiment, the 1st Battalion of the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment, and mortar fire from the 83d Chemical Battalion) along with naval gunfire, broke up two Italian attacks. One was a battalion of infantry and the other a column of 13 tanks. The tanks reached the city, but the Rangers drove them back. The American First Infantry Division (Big red One) wold fifgt the key battle to secure the beachhead inland at the Piano Lupo crossroads. The Germans if they seized the crossroad would have a direct route on to the landing beach. American infantry began to fortify a position at Piano Lupo expecting a counterattack. They dug in with nine Italian anti tank guns. They linked up with men from the 82nd airborne division who had managed to land in the area, but still had no tanks. General Guzzoni in overall command on the island. He orfdered the Italian Livorno Diviion with its French B1 tanks along with Fallschirmjagger Hermann Goering Panzer Division to attack the still lightly armed Americans. The Axis attack was poorly coordinated apprently as a result of a complicated chain of command. The American defense of Piano Lupo tragically impaired when American flak gunners shot down 23 transport planes. The paratroopers drove off the 20 Italian tanks. Here naval artillery support was vital along with the arrival of the 16th Regimental Combat Team. The key action proved an attack with 90 German Panzers (Mark III and IV tanks). The German attack was conducted by two armored artillery battalions, an armored reconnaissance battalion, and an engineer battalion from the Hermann G�ring Division. The americans did not yet have tanks or anti-tank guns. Fortunately Piano Lupo was close enoughto the coast that the big guns of the invasion flotilla could provide artillery support. The most serious German penetration worst event of the day occurred when seventeen German Tiger I heavy tanks of the Hermann G�ring Division (an armored artillery battalion, and two battalions of motorized infantry) overran units of the 45 Division (1st Battalion, 180th Infantry). There was an intense fight and the Germans captured the commander and many of the men. The 45th Divion had been scattered by the storm the previous day. Congestion on the beaches, in part because of the storm, seriously hampered efforts to get tanks forward. The infantrymen at the front had nothing but artillery being hastily set up and naval gunfire to support them. It was a fight to the death. Everyone, including cooks, clerks, and Navy shore personnel grabed a rifle to aid the 1st and 45th Division infantrymen, Rangers, and paratroopers throw back the Germans. A handfull of German tanks also got into Gela. Two panzer battalions got to within 2,000 yards of the congested beaches before being finally shreeded and thrown back by ground and naval gunfire. The German Tiger tanks werevpractically indistructble against naval artillery. Several miles southeast of Gela another important battle was fought at Biazzo Ridge. Colonel Gavin, the paratroop commander had langed far away from the drop zone. He pulled together some of his dispersed partroopers and joined up with 45th Division soldiers who had been dispersed by the storm. They stopped an attack by 700 infantry, a battalion of self-propelled artillery, and a company of Tiger tanks. At the end of the day, the battered Seventh Army had taken 2,300 casualties, but held. They had their narrow foothold on the island and reinforcements and heavy equipment poured in to expand that precarious foothold. Over the following next two days the Seventh Army steadily drove out of the coastal plain and into the hills beyond the American beachhead. Much of the fighting was between the 1st Division and the Hermann Goering Division. The 1st Div. commander, Gen. Allen drive his men forward through Niscemi. The Germans had expended much of their strength in the first day. The Americans in contrast were fgrowing in strength. The Allies were building up their men and supplies and getting organized. They soon began preparing for the drive north toward Messina.

Reaching the Yellow Line

The Allies as more units landed began reaching the Yellow Line. The 1st Fivision was at the center. Middleton's 45th Division on the right neared Highway 124. On the left Truscott's 3rd Division, supported by 2nd Armored Division tanks advanced beyond their initial Yellow Line objectives. The British also made good progress. They advanced as far as Vizzini in the west and Augusta in the east (by July 13). German resistance in the British zone was stiffening. The Germans took advantage of the terrain and part of the 1st Parachute Division arrived from France. Some of the few reinforments the Germans committed to Sicily. As a result, the Eighth Army's drive north toward Catania and Gerbini slowed as a result of heavy fighting.

Shifting the Line: Highway 124

Gen. Montgomery as his progressed slowed, persuaded Gen. Alexander to shift the boundary line between the American Seventh and British Eighth Armies west. Montgomery's idea was that this shidt would permit him to advance on a broader front into central Sicily and go around the the main centers of mostly German resistance. In particular he wanted Highway 124. There was no joint strategy conference. Montgomery simply convinced Alexander informed Patton of the shift. It was strange decision. An army having trouble advancing usually does not request an expanded front. If the Americans had advanced up Highway 124, that would have relieved pressure on the British. Montgomery apparently wanted the limelight. Alexander gave the orders to Patton (just before midnight on (July 13). Patton was furious when he learned that he had been stripped of Highway 124. Monthomery wanted to send 8th Army units up Highway 124 to Enna which was the the key road junction in central Sicily. Then he planned to turn northeast toward Messina. This mean that Alexander and Montgomery was essentially placing British forces between the Americans and the Germans. This would give the British control over all the southern primary approaches to Messina and essentially make the Sicily campaign a British campaign. The American Army was relegated to protecting the British flank which was not in danger because the German forces were all to the north. The weak Italian forces in the west were disintegrating. It was an absurd change. If an army bogs down, it does not cut a supporting army out of the fight. Montgomery not only wanted the limelight, but he and Alexander appear to have concluded that the Americans were a junior partner and not up to the fight. Patton understandably was furious.

Mussolini Deposed (July 24)

American bombers attacked Rome for the first time (July 19). The target wsas railroad marsalling yards to disrupt Axis transport lines. This was a target in the city and given World War II technology, bombs fell in civilian areas. Some 717 people were killed and many more were injured brining the war starkly home to Italians. Once the Allied landings suceeded on Sicily, it was clear that Sicily could not be held and an invasion of the mainland would soon follow. It was Mussolini that had led Italy into the War. And because of the War, huge military losses had been sustained, living conditions in Italy were deteriorating, and now an invasion was coming. This destroyed the reputation of both Mussolini and the Fascist movement. The Fascist Grand Council attempting to reverse the growing public rejection of Fascism, deposed Prime Minister Benito Mussolini and ordered his arrest (July 24). A provisional government was set up under Italian Army Marshal Pietro Badoglio who had opposed Italy�s alliance with NAZI Germany. He publically pledged support for the NAZI alliance and a continuation of the War. He immediately, however, began secret discussions with the Allies over an armistice. Hitler was not fooled and began preparations to occupy Italy. Deposing Mussolini did not help the Fascists. Since Mussolini seized power (1922), there had been no serious opposotion to Fascist rule. This changed with the Allied invasion of Sicily. Italian civilians and not just the Communists began to harass Fascist officials. This was especially common in the south. The northern industrial cities continued to be Fascist strongholds. There were even some assasinations. The same might have occurred in Sicily where the Fascists were never popular, but most prominant Fascists departed for the mainland when the Allied invasion began. Fascist Party offices were sacked, but they for the most part had already been abandoned.


Messina was the prize and ultimate Allied objectives. Any German withdrawl could only be conducted through Messina. Messina is an ancient port city located at the northeastern corner of Sicly. It�s known for the Norman Messina Cathedral, with its Gothic portal, 15th-century windows and an astronomical clock on the bell tower. Nearby are marble fountains decorated with mythological figures, like the Fontana di Orione, with its carved inscriptions, and the Neptune Fountain, topped by a statue of the sea god. Messina is separated from the mainland by the narrow Strait of Messina. Within days of the Husky landings it became clear that the Axis could not hold Sicily. The Italian forces were refusing to fight. Only the small German force offered any real resistance. The German forces on Sicily with limited air support and virtually no naval forces realized that they would have to evacuate and this could only be done through the narrow Strait of Messina where civilian ferry boats could be used. Of course military assessments and Hitler's orders were two different matters.

Converging Allied Drives on Messina

The Allied campign in Sicily was designed by Gen. Montgomery. He ave the primry role in the campaign to his 8th army which was to drive up the coastal road straight to Messina. Patton's 7th Army was assigned the secondary role of prorecting the Btitish flank as they drove up the coastal road. Patton was not happy with role assigned, but then was furious when after being blocked along the costal road demanded an area that had been assigned to the Americans which had roads running north. Alexander granted this request which essentially moved the American 7h Army out of the fight. This was too much for Patton. He decided to attack to the norhwest. This left the British flank vulnerable, but the Germans had all withdrawn ti the north and the Italinns had no desire to fight. Patton quickly seized Palermo and and opened a new front--the northern coastal road which also led to Messina. The struggle for Sicily became two separate Allied drives on Mesina, the Americans from the west and the British from the south. Both Patton and Montgomery took the struggle personally and desired be the first to reach Messina. For the Germans, Messinawas vital because it was the only place where they could withdraw from to reach the Italian mainline. After the Allies established theit beachhead, there was no way the Germans could win, especially because most of their Italian allies had no desire to fight. Thus the campaign became a delaying effort with the idea of withdrawong to the mainland as the Allies approached Messina.

Fall of Messina (August 17)

Messina was heavily mombed as the Americans closed in from the west and the British from the south. The Germans decided to evacuate Messina. The German and some Italian frces managed to evacuate. They ran ferries at night which the Allies failed to setect. The managed to move some 100,000 men and not just the men. They also got their vehicles, supplies and even ammunition across the Strait of Messina. The Americans and British finally entered Messina (August 17). They had expected a fight for Messina, instead they entered an empty city. Despite overwealming Allied naval and air power, the Allies failed to prevent the German evacuation nd capture the German forces defending the island. This would prove important in the comong battle for Italy. The allies would have to face the Germans on Sicily again. If the allies had preventedthe evacuation, Kesseling's forcds to hold Italy would have been weakened. The Allies had bases for the upcoming invasion of Italy. Messina faced Calabria (the toe of thevItalin boot) and itis here that Mobtgomery's Eighth Army would make the crossing to Italy.


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Created: 8:05 AM 4/25/2011
Last up dated: 9:11 PM 6/8/2017