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    The Naval Experience (Part 1)
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 Operation Husky:  The Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943
Operation Husky:  The Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943
by Thomas E. Nutter

Strategic Debate
HUSKY [1] was an operation born in controversy. During the so-called Second Washington Conference in the early summer of 1942, an acrimonious debate raged between the British and their new American allies over the future strategic course of the war against the European Axis powers. General George C. Marshall, Chief of Staff of the United States Army, espoused the view that the Allies could successfully confront the European Axis only by means of an amphibious invasion of Western Europe, and that consequently no operations which might detract from this goal should be undertaken.[2] In a sharply worded memorandum to President Franklin Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill attacked Marshall's position:
No responsible British military authority has so far been able to make a plan for September, 1942 which had any chance of success unless the Germans become utterly demoralized, of which there is no likelihood. Have the American Staffs a plan? If so, what is it? What forces would be employed? At what points would they strike? What landing-craft and shipping are available? Who is the officer prepared to command the enterprise? What British forces and assistance are required? If a plan can be found which offers a reasonable prospect of success, His Majesty's Government will cordially welcome it and will share to the full with their American comrades the risks and sacrifices. This remains our settled and agreed policy . . . . But in case no plan can be made in which any responsible authority has good confidence, and consequently no engagement on a substantial scale in France is possible in September, 1942, what else are we going to do? Can we afford to stand idle in the Atlantic theatre during the whole of 1942?[3]
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Struggle for an Allied Plan
General Eisenhower attended the Casablanca Conference only briefly. On January 15, after a harrowing journey in which his B-17 lost two engines, and he ended the trip in a parachute harness, he reported on the progress of the campaign in Tunisia. The decisions of the Combined Chiefs of Staff first came to his knowledge when he received his copy of the official minutes of the conference. Eisenhower had anticipated that the Allies would pursue some further action in the Mediterranean at the end of the Tunisian campaign, so that even before the Casablanca Conference his staff had been tentatively planning an operation against Sardinia and Corsica. The main effect of this exercise was to convince Eisenhower that possession of Sicily would be of much more significance to the Allies than the seizure of Sardinia and Corsica, since control of Sicily would greatly facilitate control of the Mediterranean shipping lanes. Broadly speaking, the decision of the Combined Chiefs of Staff in favor of an operation against Sicily was taken in order to secure Allied lines of communication in the Mediterranean, move the Italians in the direction of abandoning the Axis, and assist the Russians by drawing away as many German forces as possible. It was also hoped that the invasion would persuade Turkey to enter the war on the side of the Allies. The Combined Chiefs went so far as to tentatively set the date for the invasion during the favorable period of the July moon, ultimately the period July 10 through July 14.
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Grand Strategy
On May 12, 1943, the same day on which the Allied field commanders approved the final plan of invasion for Sicily, the Combined Chiefs of Staff met at the White House with Roosevelt and Churchill. The latter began the discussion by asserting that once HUSKY had been successfully concluded, the prime objective in the Mediterranean must be to drive Italy out of the war by the best available means. He recounted a litany of beneficial developments - closer ties between the Allies and Turkey, enhanced activity on the part of Balkan guerrillas, which would in turn require either a German retreat from the region or the withdrawal of considerable German forces from Russia, and the elimination of the Italian fleet - all of which would perforce transpire once Italy were driven from the war.[14] The Prime Minister spoke of additional post-HUSKY objectives. The first of these Churchill termed "taking the weight off Russia." He pointedly reminded his audience that there were 185 German divisions on the Eastern Front. The "prodigious" effort that this required of Russia, at a time when the western Allies were not fully engaged with the German Army, was making the Allies beholden to Stalin. Churchill abhorred this condition and wanted to make an end to it. In his view, the best means of doing so was to force Italy out of the war, thereby requiring the Germans to devote a substantial numbers of troops "to hold down the Balkans."[15]
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Plans and Dispositions
On June 7, 1943 Eisenhower outlined his plan for the invasion of Sicily to the War Department. In addition to the elaborate air plan, which called upon each of the various air commands in the Mediterranean area to contribute to either the build-up or the invasion itself, Eisenhower described a series of simultaneous seaborne assaults, assisted by air landings, to capture the seaports of Licata and Syracuse and the airfields between these cities, in order to lay the groundwork for operations against the airfields at Gerbini, Catania and Augusta. Patton's Seventh Army would be aboard the ships of the Western Naval Task Force, commanded by U.S. Admiral Hewitt, while the Eastern Naval Task Force, commanded by British Admiral Bertram Ramsay, would convey Montgomery's Eighth Army. The latter was to operate in the eastern sector, and had as its objectives the port of Syracuse and the airfield at Pachino. Its XIII Corps was to land south of Cap Murro Di Porco with 5th Division on a two-brigade front, 50th Division on a one-brigade front and 3d Commando. XXX Corps would operate on three sides of Passero, where the 231st Brigade, 51st Division would advance on a one brigade front, while Canadian 1st Division would do so on a two brigade front, next to the 40th and 41st Royal Marine Commandos. XIII Corps was to move on to the port and airfield at Augusta, thence to the airfields at Catania and Gerbini. XXX Corps would effect a junction with the right flank of U.S. Seventh Army. This American force was to land at Cap Scalambri, Scoglitti, Gela and Licata. II U.S. Corps, comprising the 1st Infantry Division and 45th Infantry Division, would take the fields at Biscari, Ponte Olivo, Gela and Comiso. At the same time, 3d Infantry Division and an armored Combat Command from 2d Armored Division would capture the port and airfield at Licata, the rest of the 2d Armored Division remaining in reserve. Admiral Hewitt later reported that the placing of the 1st Infantry Division and 45th Infantry Division (corresponding to CENT and DIME landing forces respectively) under II U.S. Corps command created "many difficulties".
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Pantelleria Landings
On June 7, 1943 Eisenhower outlined his plan for the invasion of Sicily to the War Department. In addition to the elaborate air plan, which called upon each of the various air commands in the Mediterranean area to contribute to either the build-up or the invasion itself, Eisenhower described a series of simultaneous seaborne assaults, assisted by air landings, to capture the seaports of Licata and Syracuse and the airfields between these cities, in order to lay the groundwork for operations against the airfields at Gerbini, Catania and Augusta. Patton's Seventh Army would be aboard the ships of the Western Naval Task Force, commanded by U.S. Admiral Hewitt, while the Eastern Naval Task Force, commanded by British Admiral Bertram Ramsay, would convey Montgomery's Eighth Army. The latter was to operate in the eastern sector, and had as its objectives the port of Syracuse and the airfield at Pachino. Its XIII Corps was to land south of Cap Murro Di Porco with 5th Division on a two-brigade front, 50th Division on a one-brigade front and 3d Commando. XXX Corps would operate on three sides of Passero, where the 231st Brigade, 51st Division would advance on a one brigade front, while Canadian 1st Division would do so on a two brigade front, next to the 40th and 41st Royal Marine Commandos. XIII Corps was to move on to the port and airfield at Augusta, thence to the airfields at Catania and Gerbini. XXX Corps would effect a junction with the right flank of U.S. Seventh Army. This American force was to land at Cap Scalambri, Scoglitti, Gela and Licata. II U.S. Corps, comprising the 1st Infantry Division and 45th Infantry Division, would take the fields at Biscari, Ponte Olivo, Gela and Comiso. At the same time, 3d Infantry Division and an armored Combat Command from 2d Armored Division would capture the port and airfield at Licata, the rest of the 2d Armored Division remaining in reserve. Admiral Hewitt later reported that the placing of the 1st Infantry Division and 45th Infantry Division (corresponding to CENT and DIME landing forces respectively) under II U.S. Corps command created "many difficulties". He believed that it was neither desirable nor feasible to place the CENT and DIME naval forces under one command. For one thing, the CENT transports arrived in the theatre from the United States under naval command. The overlay of the Army Corps command had no naval equivalent, thus causing needless conflict. There was also trouble with the echelon of the air command for the campaign. While an air officer on the same echelon as the Naval Commander, Western Naval Task Force, and Commanding General, Seventh Army, was established, the air officer lacked authority to order aircraft into the assault area. The naval and army officers in question also lacked authority to direct the use of aircraft to support the assault force. This command arrangement was "not conducive to success".
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The Naval Experience 
The Allies spent the period between June 22 and July 4, 1943 carrying out rehearsals of the assault landing and in special training of task groups. The time was also used to install special equipment. Because of the proximity of enemy aircraft and submarines, these rehearsals were not full scale. Nevertheless, the Allies managed to conduct three complete naval rehearsals and one combined rehearsal. Unfortunately, these were not always carried out with the same craft, as other commitments, mechanical breakdowns and refittings took some boats out of service. Even so, by the time HUSKY was commenced in earnest, all craft had performed their roles at least once, and some had done so several times. In addition, all brigades conducted individual combined rehearsals, and many combined signal exercises were carried out.[117] Admiral Hewitt commanded over six hundred ships and landing craft, one hundred and thirty of which were allocated for escort, covering and fire support. On July 9 the weather was unfavorable for convoys, with the wind velocity at about 35 knots and a moderate sea. The LSTs had difficulty making 8 knots, and the LCIs and smaller craft were making heavy weather of it. The LCT convoy proceeded independently and there was considerable doubt whether the LCT tank waves would arrive at the assault beaches in time to support the infantry. The JOSS Force LSTs and LCIs, in spite of the wind and sea conditions, pushed on as hard as they could in order to meet H-hour. This resulted in some LSTs lagging behind to the extent that they lost sight of the next group ahead, so that some craft became separated from their proper groups and anchored in the wrong area of the beachhead. The Control Ships, acting as escorts during the approach, likewise became separated and were not in their proper positions in the rendezvous areas to assemble and lead the assault LCVPs to the beach. [118]
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Post Landing in Brief
While the Seventh Army encountered heavy weather and generally stiffer resistance, the degree of resistance varied from beach to beach. The landings at Scoglitti were virtually unopposed, and the beachhead was established ahead of schedule. The 1st Infantry Division encountered heavy opposition at some beaches and very little at others. 3rd Infantry Division met opposition only sporadically.[258] In less than two days, 15th Army Group landed a total of about 80,000 men, 7,000 vehicles, 300 tanks and 900 guns, along with sufficient supplies to maintain all of these men and their equipment. As to the latter, for the first time the Allies made use of the amphibious DUKW, a vehicle which, according to Eisenhower, "more than any other technical factor, solved the problem of large-scale maintenance over the beaches." The work of the DUKWs was augmented almost immediately by the capture of several small ports. The Allies seized and reopened Licata on D-Day; they also took possession of Syracuse on that day, and by D+3 that port was receiving the ships of the D+3 convoy and their 16,000 troops, who discharged in less than 4 hours. The Allies also took the port of Augusta on D+3.[259]
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Copyright © 2003 Thomas E. Nutter.

Written by Tom Nutter. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Nutter at:
tenutter@gmail.com.



Last Modified on: 03/01/2003.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
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