~ OPERATION HUSKY ~
SICILY - 9/10 JULY 1943
the Invasion of Sicily, was the first major Allied assault on German occupied
Europe. Churchill described Sicily and Italy as the soft underbelly of Europe
but the Italy campaign was hard fought and only came to an end in May 1945.
the successful North Africa Operation Torch landings behind them and the gradual
clearance of Axis forces from Tunisia underway, resources were becoming
available for fresh amphibious landings in the Mediterranean. The Allies were
still not strong enough to embark upon the ambitious "Round Up" invasion of
Normandy, so the next phase of operations aimed to tie down Axis forces to
relieve pressure on the Russian front in the east and to force Italy out of the
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].
strategy was agreed at the Casablanca conference of January 1943 although, for a
while, the Americans were inclined towards increasing pressure in the Pacific
with direct attacks on Germany itself at a later stage. Plans were prepared to
invade what Churchill called the 'soft underbelly of Europe' via Sicily.
General Guzzoni had 12 divisions comprising two German and 10 Italian to defend the island, five of
the latter were infantry and five immobile coastal defence divisions. The
garrison was 350,000 strong but included only 35,000 Germans, who were not fully mobilised. Beach defences, including pillboxes and barbed wire, were less formidable than those encountered in Normandy the
following year and modern tanks were relatively few in number, however, the rugged rolling countryside, favoured the defenders.
The Allied Commander was General Eisenhower supported by
Sea Forces Commander, Admiral Cunningham. General Alexander was Land Forces Commander and Air Marshal Tedder, Air Forces Commander.
Plans & Preparations
The original Allied plan
envisaged two widely separate landings in the north west and south east of the
island. General Montgomery objected, because this approach lost the advantages of a combined, closely coordinated force.
In the final
plan, the British 8th Army would land on the south east of the island and the US 7th Army
in the south west.
[Photo; Scene in the
underground Operations Room at Malta from where Operation Husky was coordinated. Three British staff officers
plot positions on large wall charts. The Operations Room was located in one of
the caves on Malta as an air raid precaution. © IWM (NA 4094)].
2,760 ships and major
landing craft from the River Clyde in Scotland, Norfolk, Virginia in the USA
and from ports from Beirut to Algiers in the Mediterranean, converged on their
rendezvous near Malta. They totalled seven and a half Divisions together with their equipment
The operation was the most meticulously planned to date and benefited from the experiences gained at Dieppe
(Jubilee), North Africa (Torch) and other raids and landings. However, the Commanders in Chief, notably Cunningham and Tedder,
failed to set up a joint HQ to co-ordinate all land, sea and air elements, which
would have delivered all the advantages of speedy and effective communications
in the heat of battle.
officers were scattered around the Mediterranean from Malta to Bizerta. Had any unexpected event arisen that required a swift response at the
highest level, damaging delays and confusion might have arisen. In the event,
the operation went well.
and Mountbatten, who were in Malta, received confirmation that the landing had
started from a BBC news bulletin!
The disposition of the
naval task forces was as follows;
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].
Force A, ex force W,
was under the command of Rear Admiral Troutbridge on the Bulolo.
The force comprised Dempsey's 13th Corps, 5th & 50th Divisions,
which were to land between Syracuse and Avola on the south east coast.
Force B, was
under the command of Rear Admiral McGrigor on the Largs. 231 Independent
Brigade was 15 miles to the south at Marzamemi and Sir Oliver Leese's 30th Corps, including the 51st Highland Division, were
allotted the southernmost tip of the island south west of Cape Passero.
on the western side of the island, was Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian's
Force V and the 1st Canadian Division, both under Leese's 30 Corps. All three Rear Admirals came under the command of
Ramsay, who was on the Antwerp,
west and north, between Scicli and Licata, with the strategically
important airfield at Gela between them, were Divisions of the US 7th Army and US 11 Corps. They were to land on three beaches "Cent,"
"Dime" and "Joss" with a division allotted to each, plus an armoured brigade for "Joss." The
remainder of the Armoured Division, to which it belonged, was kept afloat as a reserve. The American Operation was under the
command of Lieutenant-General Patton and Vice-Admiral Hewitt.
In addition, a number of special operations were in place. The first was No 3 Commando and the
South African Squadron of the SAS to the extreme right near Syracuse. The second involved Nos 40 and 41 Royal Marine
Commando, under Laycock, to the left of the Canadians near Pachino.
The third involved a number of airborne landings, both British
and American, to speed up the capture of airfields.
There were potential
conflicts of interest between the services in the timing of the operation. One
such, concerned the parachutists who needed bright moonlight conditions to land
safely. However, it was precisely these conditions that left the ships lying off
shore most vulnerable to air attack. The matter was resolved in favour of the parachutists, since the Allies had air superiority
which would deter the enemy.
An Allied deception plan convinced the Germans that Greece or Sardinia were the most likely targets for
the invasion, so the Commander in Chief
of the Luftflotte 2, concentrated his resources on the defence of the latter.
and Lampedusa had already surrendered in mid June, after intense, sustained aerial
bombing by the Allies and the bombing of Sicilian Airfields in the 7 days prior
to Husky. This had been so successful that not a single Axis
plane harassed convoys approaching Sicily.
In the afternoon of D-1, an unseasonable, force 7 north-westerly gale blew up,
causing the smaller craft in the invasion fleet to toss about like corks. On D Day itself, the Canadians and Americans landed in very rough conditions, suffering the double discomfort of
seasickness and a drenching through to the skin.
The conditions on the leeward side of the island were better, as the landing craft moved
inshore. However, these generally unfavourable conditions caused the enemy to
relax their guard in the mistaken belief that a
landing in such conditions was most unlikely. Initial resistance was, consequently, less than expected.
troops wade ashore. © IWM (NA 4275)].
The high winds caused problems in the air too
but, this time, with dire consequences for British and American troops being flown from Kairouan
in Tunisia to Sicily in 137 gliders and 400 transport aircraft respectively. Due to poor flying and navigational
conditions, combined with inadequately trained pilots, the planes and gliders
were badly scattered.
Only a fraction of the
elite troops reached their targets but in sufficient numbers to complete their
assigned tasks. Of the gliders in the British sector, about a dozen were released
early and were lost in the sea, with many casualties. To compound the self
inflicted air losses on or around D + 3, a number of Allied supply aircraft were
shot down by friendly fire, as they strayed over the battleground. The aircraft
were certainly off their approved course but the primary cause was a failure in
aircraft recognition by the spotters and gunners on the ground.
There was also concern over the disappearance of 9 of the 13 officers and ratings
who reconnoitred the landing beaches prior to the Operation Husky. They were
part of a small elite force that gloried in the deceptive name of
Combined Operations Pilotage Parties (COPPs). Their task
was to provide vital intelligence
about tidal and beach conditions, to ensure the landing beaches were suitable for
heavy vehicles etc. Their work was undertaken in darkness to avoid detection. If they, or their clandestine
activities, were discovered, their presence would give advance warning of an impending operation,
giving the enemy time to regroup and be
reinforced. However, because Sicily was an obvious target, feints and deceptions
were deployed consistent with a planned invasion in the Balkans. These included attaching Greek interpreters to
battalions. These and other deceptions gave the Allies the
surprise needed. When the scale of the invasion of Sicily became
clear to Hitler, he immediately cancelled a planned offensive at Kursk on the Russian front and ordered the transfer of troops to the defence of
Below is a diary of events in support of the British Eighth Army,
by an unknown author. It was kindly provided by Howard Wallace-Sims, whose father served
in Combined Operations in WW2.
Fri 9th July
Stand by call to action stations.
Sat 10th July
02.25 All's well. Flashes of AA fire from the beach. Beach well in sight,
cruisers and destroyers steaming on starboard beam.
02.35 All's well. Beach lit up by star shells. AA fire. Waiting to go in.
First wave of RM Commandos in LCG3 believed gone in.
02.45 Our wave ready to go in, LCGs 9 & 10 with Canadians. LCG3 just going in.
RAF still carrying out softening process.
03.00 No action as yet. Bombing and AA fire still active.
03.15 Moving into beach on port side. A’s and M’s loaded with RM Commandos
disappear in darkness towards beach.
03.30 Standing by to fire. Steady bombing still in progress. Range approx. 2
½ miles, 4000 yards.
03.45 Still moving in, covering port side of landing.
04.00 No shelling as yet. Intensified bombing still in progress. Range
approx. 4000 yards.
04.25 All guns loaded with reduced charges. Exchange of fire between MLs and
machine gun posts. Still closing with beach. Range 3500 yards.
04.30 Prepare to fore on machine gun posts from which tracers are pouring.
Range 1000 yards. Dawn is now breaking. Troops still pouring in.
04.35 Manoeuvring for covering fire and bombardment. No sign of any action
against ships yet.
04.40 Heavy smoke screen covering island. No shots fired at us as yet.
Rocket ships fired salvos and cleared machine gun posts.
04.45 Dawn has broken. Everything is clear. Destroyer fires two salvos and
then withdraws. Battery opens up at us. A large number of ships on the
horizon. Still training guns on target but still no shelling. Shots straddle
ship and make it shake. Enemy shore batteries firing at LCGs.
04.55 Begin firing in reply to enemy guns. Enemy guns silenced. Bridge
reports ammunition dump hit. Clear daylight, action well under way.
Expecting next shot to hit us. LCG firing closer to beach. LCAs standing off
beach. Troops pouring in. Shelling growing strong.
05.20 LCG 9’s gunfire effective.
05.30 Not much reply from the enemy, must be engaged by troops. Odd shots
dropping by craft. Many of our planes visible. Enemy battery silenced by us.
Complimented by craft coming alongside. Fires starting on shore, landing
craft standing off. Troops pouring in – 8th Army.
05.40 Resistance not heavy, it appears that aircraft supported overhead.
Pongos being ferried ashore. Shelling still continued, enemy guns silenced.
05.50 No important developments. Tanks, troops and amphibians still
streaming ashore. Bursts of Bren fire on shore.
07.45 Town appears to be taken. Fighting continues but not very heavy.
Machine gun fire coming from hills. Large explosion in water, just off
08.00 No further developments. Expecting enemy naval forces. We are now
lying 800 yards of landing beach, 200 yards off rocky point. Water is only
25 feet deep, too shallow for LCIs to beach. Troops being taken ashore in
LCAs. Just said hello to some pals in an LCA passing on the starboard
quarter. It’s a small world. 51st Division still pouring in. More
troop ships than that standing by, out to sea. Monitors and Destroyers which
took part in shelling from further out, standing by, also awaiting orders
09.00 We are now at a large bay at east tip of island. The town is on our
port beam, and on port bow large fires with dense smoke have started. The
landing beach is sandy, merging into fertile countryside, with flat hill in
the distance. Artillery landed sometime before, and are now engaging enemy
positions. Circling aircraft are keeping a stout vigil.
09.30 Heavy explosions now occurring regularly on shore. Hands to cruising
10.45 Bombardment by 6" cruiser and destroyer. Enemy resistance on land.
Aircraft bomb positions. AA fire returned. Ten minutes bombardment.
Amphibians moving in to land. Tanks visible on beach. LCIs still unloading
troops. Other landings reported successful.
15.00 Aerodrome captured. Shelling not required.
15.45 Enemy being shelled in town by 15" monitor. Range accurate. Fall of
16.00 Rumble of gunfire on ridge from top of island. Heavy fighting
continues. Casualties unknown.
19.55 Bombardment by 6" cruiser to assist our troops.
21.30 Sing song in progress on B gun deck. Ammunition issued to all Marines.
21.45 Moving out of bay to edge of convoy to watch for mines and E boats.
22.00 Air attacks commencing. The sky is lit up like Blackpool
illuminations. Dive bombers attempting to destroy troopships.
22.30 A stick of bombs has just fallen 50 yards astern and ahead, and two to
port and two to starboard.
22.45 A large bomb has just dropped on starboard quarter. Bombing is getting
more accurate. Two minor casualties. The Marine Officer has been grazed on
the leg and Yorky was struck in the stomach with a small piece of shrapnel.
23.15 No ship appear to have been hit. Smoke clearing away. Two LCIs are
alongside, and cannot reach their parent ship.
Sun 11th July
01.00 Shelling by 15" Monitor. Flares on beach.
05.35 Firing with rifles at believed enemy mines and suspicious objects.
Enemy opposition on shore against tanks serious. RM Commandos did splendid
job. Silenced machine gun posts and captured 1,000 Italians.
08.00 Bright sunshine. General clean up of ships. Standing by for further
On the south-east side of
the island, Syracuse fell on July 10 and Augusta on the 13th, both to the
advancing British 8th Army and the XII Corp
which was advancing on Catania. On July 13, the leading troops were held up by an enemy rearguard at Lentini. To speed up the advance, landings were made to
capture the bridges to the north of the town. No 3 Commando landed at Agnone and prevented the destruction of the Ponte del Malati, while the 1st
Parachute Brigade and 151 Brigade, captured the Primasole Bridge over the Simeto.
This gave the British forces a route to the plain of Catania. Because of
resistance from the Hermann Goring Division, these
gains were made at considerable cost.
The Germans were firmly established on the slopes of Mount Etna, which held up the British advance. The plain, with the Gerbini airfields, was in dispute for almost three weeks.
On the south-west side of
the island, the only serious opposition encountered by the Americans was at Gela, when the 1st US Division and a tank battalion were,
after an unimpeded landing, met with a counter attack by German troops and armour. By D + 2, the invaders were back on the beaches.
At one stage,
German tanks broke through the bridgehead but were engaged by the cruiser Savannah and the destroyer Shubrick.
Order was restored as their 30 six inch guns bore down on the Germans from point
blank range. This temporary German success was attributed, in part, to delays
the swell but also to General Patton's eagerness to push inland before the
required supporting arms were in place.
The troops soon came up against the
formidable 15th Panzer Division in full array. Without the naval intervention,
there was a serious risk of the US forces being pushed back into the sea. Patton
was obliged to move back on board Hewitt's HQ ship. Later Mountbatten,
in all innocence, enquired by loud hailer from his destroyer to Hewitt "How far
has General Patton got?" Hewitt replied "He has not! The General is back on
board this ship." History does not record Patton's words when he and Mountbatten
met shortly afterwards.
[Map courtesy of Google Map Data 2017].
The Canadians near Pachino had, at their disposal, the newly introduced Landing Craft Gun (LCG). One lucky
round from them blew up an ammunition dump but, more generally, the effectiveness of the weapon would have been improved had radio communications between the
advancing troops and the LCGs been better. Six Landing Craft Tanks (Rocket) were in support of the Highland Division and they performed superbly
under the command of Lieut-Commander Hugh Mulleneux. Each of the 2,500 rockets fired,
as the "Jocks" approached the beaches, delivered a punch 25% greater than that
delivered by a 6-inch shell. The Highland Division landed with only a handful of casualties.
On July 22, the Americans under General Patton entered Palermo but, by the end of July, their advance was
slowing down as they approached Mount Etna. However, when German resistance at Adrano was overcome on Aug 6 by the British 78th Division and the capture
of Randazzo on the 13th by US forces, the German position was no longer viable.
The beach organisation was better than 'Torch' but there were still problems caused, mainly by human
error. One example was the misuse of the miraculous DUKW, a 2.5 ton American
amphibious lorry. Those carrying troops should have deposited them on or near to
the landing beaches but chose to deliver their human cargo close to the front line.
The congestion in the narrow Sicilian streets and roads was chaotic, at a time when the movement of supplies and weapons was a priority. One DUKW was loaded with 10 tons of ammunition, when the limit was a
quarter of this. To the considerable consternation of the driver, his DUKW
disappeared below the waves as he left the ramp!
Improved waterproofing of vehicles and recovery measures for stranded or broken down craft, reduced
losses to as little as 1.5% on the British beaches. On the more exposed western beaches, losses were around 12%.
The small harbour of Licata had a greater ship handling capacity than thought and this relieved pressure on supplies and communications, as well as
reducing dependence on Syracuse and Augusta.
Human errors of judgement in the management and control of men and materials,
through the landing beaches, caused delays and loss of effectiveness. This unenviable and arduous job was that of
Beachmaster. There was critical comment from
senior staff about the selection criteria, recruitment and authority of the post
holder. However, by the time of the Normandy landings, they had gained in respect
and authority. One beachmaster is reputed to have ordered a general to "Get
off my bloody beach!"
"Beachmasters and assistant beachmasters should be men of personality, experience and
adequate seniority, capable of exercising complete control in the dark." (McGrigor).
"Naval Beachmasters should be preferably bad tempered and certainly dictatorial by
"The Brick (Beach) Commander must be King of the Brick (Beach) area" (Maund).
"Some of the American Beachmasters are too junior and too polite to Generals."
(General Wedemeyer of Eisenhower's staff).
were abuses in the deployment of men and materials. One divisional
commander re-deployed men engaged on shifting supplies. Within 12 hours, they were on the front line. He later complained about delays in supplies reaching the front lines! Too many senior officers, who should have known better, regarded the Beach Groups
as a "God-sent pool of everything." Later reports from different sources criticised
this phase of the operation.
[IWM Photo © IWM (NA
4183).A British Universal Carrier Mark I comes ashore].
The Americans had a
standard operating procedure (SOP) for the landing of men and materials. This
required all the men and materials for the first battalion to go ashore, to be
carried on one ship. However, there was no ship capable of carrying all the landing craft needed,
so other landing craft were drafted in from nearby ships.
This arrangement required a high degree of training and complete immunity from enemy interference.
Potentially, as landing craft moved around in the dark, going from one vessel to another, some might get lost and others delayed. Henriques put his
concerns to Patton, who seriously considered adopting the British technique but decided that it was too near the operational date to make
last-minute changes. In the event, thorough rehearsals by the Americans and the lack of opposition from the enemy, enabled the system to work.
Under the British system,
the troops, their equipment and the landing craft they needed to reach the
beaches, were distributed amongst a number of ships
so that each was self contained and able to independently disembark their
cargoes in their own landing craft. Under
these arrangements, there was no need to use landing craft from other ships, thus avoiding the inherent difficulties mentioned earlier. Truscott's
landings, using the British method, were particularly successful. Principles for amphibious landings honed and developed over years of Combined
Operations experience, were put into practice. Henriques attributed his success to;
speed coupled with a due allowance of time for the beach group to develop the beaches
surprise in that a substantial proportion of infantry were ordered to by pass resistance and
effect, with utmost speed, a deep penetration into the high ground that commanded the prospective bridgehead and its
the mobilisation and concentration of every possible means of fire support for the initial
the provision of specially equipped and specially trained assault troops to fight in
the units in which they disembarked,
the sacrifice of normal military organisation to this end,
the retention of a very powerful floating reserve,
adequate and carefully planned rehearsal with a due allowance of time for correction of
minute detail which engendered sufficient confidence to confront
unforeseen problems with flexibility.
Henriques was also very impressed with US Navy crews. "Their coolness and discipline were quite
outstanding and could never be forgotten by any of the soldiers taking part in the operation."
Other lessons were learned from the Americans. Whereas the British basic beach group
unit was an
infantry battalion, the Americans had an Engineer Shore Unit with a high proportion of technically qualified men. Such skills were invaluable in
quickly resolving unforeseen problems in the area of the beachhead. In addition, the Americans had an efficient and effective method of loading
store ships, with groups of stores secured together for loading into DUKWs for
easier dispatch to the shore.
Husky was a great triumph and Mountbatten could not disguise his delight at the important part Combined
Operations had played in the operation. For his part, Hewitt's report included 178 recommendations and ended with the warmest praise for the
co-operation and comradeship between the Royal Navy and that of the USA. He recalled that it was barely 14 months since he had visited
Admiral King's office in Washington. They and their respective teams had shared much in the planning of the operation and the rewards were there
for all to see.
"I accompanied Admiral Ramsay on board the Antwerp on D minus 1, and saw all the convoys as they
passed on their way to their rendezvous south of Malta. I have been 27 years at sea and I have never seen a sight like it in my life. It was like
the Spithead Review multiplied by twenty. There were just forests of masts in every direction, as far as the eye could see. It was the most
imposing and inspiring site and all troops and sailors had their tails so obviously vertical that, when you went anywhere near them, they broke
Summary of Action
Allied Forces: Air - varied;
Sea - varied; Land - British 8th Army under Montgomery, US 7th Army under General Patton
Axis Forces: Air - Varied units of
German and Italian Air forces. Sea - Varied units of German and Italian navies. Land -
Two German Divisions (later reinforced by Eastern front troops) and Ten Italian Divisions.
Outcome (positive): Allied victory. With the capture of Sicily the Allies made ready for the
invasion of Italy. 37,000 German and 130,000 Italian losses mostly prisoners. Gain of naval and air bases in the Mediterranean.
Outcome (negative): 31,158 killed, wounded or missing.
There are around 300 books listed on
our 'Combined Operations Books' page. They, or any
other books you know about, can be purchased on-line from the
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Italian Star Veterans 1943 - 1944 website and
memorial appeal. Click here.
Sicily Landing Siracusa - Impavidus Cultural Association. As
president of the Association I would like to invite your readers to visit
our website to find out about our
Association. Veterans of the landings, who would like to join us, are
particularly welcome - there is a page on the website to register your interest.
For further information contact
Commandos and Rangers of World War 2
by James D. Ladd. Pub. 1978 by MacDonald & Jane's. 0 356 08432 9
Commandos 1940 - 1946 by Charles
Messenger. Pub. by William Kimber, London 1985. 0 7183 0553 1
Commando by Dunford-Slater. Pub. by Kimber 1953 - from the pen of one of the major players.
The Watery Maze by Bernard
Fergusson pub. 1961 by Collins.
us know if you have any information or book
recommendations to add to this page.
This account of Operation Husky, the invasion of
Sicily, was compiled from information
contained in the following books; Commandos 1940 - 1946 by Charles
Messenger. Pub. by William Kimber, London 1985. 0 7183 0553 1, Commando by Dunford-Slater. Pub. by Kimber 1953 - from the pen of one of the major players. The Watery Maze by Bernard
Fergusson pub. 1961 by Collins.