Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Sicily, Invasion of (Operation husky, 9 July–22 August 1943)

Title: U.S. tank landing ships line up for tanks to come aboard
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Allied invasion of Sicily, to that point the largest amphibious landing in history. At the January 1943 Casablanca Conference, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston L. S. Churchill and their staffs discussed the next military objective to follow the final defeat of Axis forces in North Africa. The British favored a strike against the Axis southern flank that would avoid the strong German defenses in northern France, whereas U.S. Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall and the Americans advocated a cross-Channel invasion of France as the shorter road to victory. Ultimately, Roosevelt agreed with the British view that a southern advance would secure Allied Mediterranean shipping lanes, provide bombers bases from which to strike Axis southern Europe, and perhaps drive Italy from the war. Thus the next big offensive of the western Allies was the invasion of Sicily, code-named husky.

U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower had overall command of Allied forces in the Mediterranean. His ground commander for husky was British General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of Fifteenth Army Group. British Admiral Andrew B. Cunningham commanded the naval forces, and Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder commanded the supporting Allied air forces. British and American forces would participate in husky in almost equal numbers. The Eastern Task Force would put ashore General Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army in southeastern Sicily from just south of Syracuse to the end of the southeastern peninsula. The Eighth Army was then to advance along the coast, its final objective the port of Messina on the northeastern tip of the island. The Western Task Force would land Lieutenant General George S. Patton's U.S. Seventh Army in southeastern Sicily between Licata and Scoglitti. On securing the beachhead, Patton was to move inland to conduct supporting attacks and protect Montgomery's left flank. The newly formed Seventh Army had the supporting role, because Alexander believed that Montgomery's veteran troops were better suited for the chief offensive role. The Allies enjoyed air superiority; they had some 3,700 aircraft as opposed to 1,600 for the Axis forces.

Sicily was defended by Italian General Alfredo Guzzoni's Sixth Army (consisting of seven static coastal divisions and four maneuver divisions) and German Lieutenant General Hans Hube's XIV Panzer Corps of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division and the Hermann Göring Division. On 10 July, the Germans reinforced with the 1st Parachute Division and the 29th Panzergrenadier Division. Axis strength totaled between 300,000 and 365,000 men.

The Allied invasion was preceded by an elaborate British deception, Operation mincemeat. This was designed to convince the Germans that the Allies planned to invade Sardinia and islands in the eastern Mediterranean. The deception worked, causing Adolf Hitler to shift some resources to those locations.

The invasion of Sicily, preceded by naval and air bombardment, began with airborne landings on 9 July 1943, the first large use by the Allies of such troops in the war. Few of the 144 gliders landed on their targets, and many crashed into the sea. The paratroopers were also widely dispersed. Worse, the invasion fleet fired on the second wave of transport aircraft in the mistaken belief they were German aircraft and shot down 23 C-47s. Nonetheless, the widely dispersed airborne soldiers created confusion among the Axis defenders, disrupted communications, and, despite their light weapons, prevented some German armor units from reaching the invasion beaches.

The seaborne invasion began early on 10 July in bad weather. The second-largest landing undertaken by the Allies in the European Theater after overlord, it involved two large task forces and 2,590 vessels.Operation husky was the first Allied invasion of the war in which specially designed landing craft, including the DUKW truck, were employed.

Resistance from the Italian coastal defenses was weak, and by nightfall the Allies had secured the beachheads. At Gela, the Hermann Göring Division attacked the U.S. 1st Infantry Division but was driven off by naval gunfire. Inland, the rugged terrain and Axis resistance slowed the Allied advance, although Patton's forces reached the capital of Palermo on 22 July and, several days later, cut the island in two. The British occupied Syracuse with little resistance.

British and American forces were soon in competition to see which would be first to Messina, and a major controversy erupted when Montgomery expropriated an inland road that had been assigned to the Americans. This shift delayed the advance for two days and prolonged the campaign. Meanwhile, on 25 July, Benito Mussolini fell from power in Italy as that government moved toward leaving the war. In Sicily, Axis forces continued a tenacious defense. Allied forces pressed forward, aided by a series of small, skillfully executed amphibious operations on the north coast east of San Stefano.

On 11 August, German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring ordered the evacuation of Axis forces, the Italians having already begun their exodus across the narrow Straits of Messina to Italy. The Italians brought out 62,000 personnel and 227 vehicles; the Germans evacuated 39,569 troops and 9,605 vehicles. It was thus something of a hollow victory when, on 17 August, Patton's forces reached Messina just hours after the last Germans had evacuated to Italy. Later that day, elements of the British Eighth Army also entered the city.

The conquest of Sicily claimed 11,843 British and 8,781 Americans killed, wounded, missing, or captured. The Germans suffered some 29,000 casualties, including 4,325 killed, 6,663 captured, and an estimated 18,000 wounded. Italian losses are estimated at 2,000 killed and 137,000 captured, most of the latter taken by the Seventh Army. The Axis side also lost up to 1,850 aircraft against only 375 for the Allies.

The invasion of Sicily was one of the most important Anglo-American campaigns of the war. It was the first assault by the western Allies on Fortress Europe and another important experience in coalition planning. As such, it set important precedents. It also achieved its goal of driving Italy from the war. On 3 September, a new Italian government signed a secret armistice with the Allied powers.

Anthony L. Franklin and Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
D'Este, Carlo. Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily, 1943. New York: E. P. Dutton, 1988.; Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II. Vol. 5, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, August 1942–February 1943. Boston: Little, Brown, 1949.; Smyth, Howard McGraw, and Albert N. Garland. Sicily and the Surrender of Italy. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office, 1965.
 

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