This day in history

1943 Western Allies invade Sicily

The armed forces of Britain, the United States and Canada have landed on the Mediterranean island of Sicily.

It is the first major landing of British troops on European soil since the fall of Crete two years ago.

Initial resistance has been surprisingly weak against British forces with little anti-aircraft fire and no enemy naval intervention. However, the US forces faced a tougher fight on their beaches.

The Times reports Allied air forces acted in close co-operation with naval and ground forces.

Late last night airborne troops in parachutes and gliders – many of whom fought in North Africa – were dropped over the island.

American paratroops were the first to land at 2110 under the command of Colonel John Cerny, who said a whole battalion had been dropped in one area alone. They were followed by British airborne troops two hours later.

There is little news about them at the moment but all the aircraft carrying them returned to base in North Africa safely.

Meanwhile hundreds of ships of all sizes sailed across from North Africa carrying thousands of troops, weapons, armoured vehicles and heavy artillery.

The invasion fleet was described by one pilot as stretching across 40 miles of water consisting of huge barges and merchant ships escorted by destroyers.

At about 0300 local time today the British and Canadian troops were brought ashore at Pachino, near Cape Passero on the south-east coast of the south-eastern tip of Sicily.

Americans arrived three hours later near Gela to the west of the British beaches.

The Canadians had to cope with fairly choppy seas in the area of their operations but the British were protected by the bay at Passero and were able to land their equipment ashore fairly easily.

They did encounter some heavy sniping from coastal defences but have made swift progress inland.

Over the past month Sicilian airfields have been attacked to weaken air power on the ground and prevent the arrival of reinforcements.

Courtesy BBC News

In context

In reality, the airborne drops faced huge problems including Allied ships shooting at Allied planes.

But once ashore the Allies advanced north and west and controlled a quarter of the island within three days.

The German General Hans Hube took charge of the Italian forces soon after the invasion, withdrew to a defensive line across the north-east of the island and organised an orderly withdrawal.

The American 7th Army under US General Patton made swift progress north-west as the Italians and Germans retreated arriving in the capital, Palermo, on 22 July.

Faced with tough German resistance in mountainous terrain, General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army – consisting of British and Canadian troops – made slow progress towards Catania midway up the east coast.

They finally arrived on 5 August.

General Patton entered Messina on 17 August, a few hours ahead of Montgomery. By this stage 70,000 Italian and 39,000 German troops had been evacuated to the Italian mainland. The campaign was in effect a draw.

The liberation of Sicily marked the first time part of the home territories of the Axis powers had been captured and precipitated the fall of Fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

He was ousted on 25 July by Italian King Victor Emmanuel in favour of Marshal Pietro Badoglio who eventually signed an armistice with the Allies on 3 September.

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