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Operation Husky
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 Operation Husky:  The Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943
Operation Husky:  The Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943
by Thomas E. Nutter

Aspects of the Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943

III. The Invasion of Sicily and Allied 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]

The third objective, upon which both Churchill and Roosevelt agreed, "was to apply to the greatest possible extent our vast Armies, Air Forces, and munitions to the enemy. All plans should be judged by this test." Churchill postulated that the HUSKY operation would be completed by the end of August. What, he asked rhetorically,
should these [Allied] troops do between that time and the date 7 or 8 months later, when the cross-Channel operation might first be mounted? They could not possibly stand idle, and he could not contemplate so long a period of apparent inaction. It would have a serious effect on relations with Russia, who was bearing such a disproportionate weight.[16]
Roosevelt asked the same question, but reached a different conclusion. He admitted having an aversion to the idea of invading Italy, on the theory that this could lead to an attrition of Allied forces that would favor Germany. It was nevertheless true that approximately 25 Allied divisions were now committed in the Mediterranean, a fact which raised the obvious question of how such troops could be used in 1943, as opposed to being left idle. The easy solution would be to commit these forces to an occupation of Italy, a notion that Roosevelt thought ill-considered. Instead, a survey should be conducted to determine the relative cost of such an occupation as opposed to the cost of achieving the same result by mounting an air offensive from either Sicily or the heel and toe of Italy. In any case, he pointed out, the Allies would have a surplus of manpower, and these men should be immediately committed to the build-up for the cross-Channel invasion of Europe. Roosevelt urged that the Allies now commit themselves to an operation in northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944. This approach, he said, was the best method of taking weight off Russia.[17]

On May 13, 1943, the Combined Chiefs of Staff convened at the Federal Reserve Building in Washington, D.C. in connection with the Third Washington Conference. Each of the Staffs brought with them their senior planning officers, who were to attend the general discussions on global strategy, including forthcoming operations in both Europe and the Pacific, and prepare a detailed agenda thereafter. The first topic of discussion was the invasion of Sicily.

General Marshall and General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, first considered the likely length of the Sicilian campaign. Brooke opined that if the operation were launched on 10 July, it should be completed within thirty days. Marshall advised that his planners had estimated that the revised plan just approved might take until the middle of September.[18] Portal immediately upstaged this quibbling over dates by offering his opinion that ". . . the weakness of the new plan lay in its failure to seal the island to reinforcements."[19] While Portal's analysis was astute, those present might reasonably have concluded that his comments might have been better left unsaid, particularly in view of the fact that the planning for Sicily was being coordinated by his colleague Alexander.

A more general discussion of overall strategy ensued. After a series of digressions into areas of lesser significance, the participants gradually returned to the issue which most clearly revealed the area of principal disagreement between the Allies, namely whether their strategy should concentrate ultimately on Italy and the "soft underbelly" of Europe, or the concept of a cross-channel attack. On the American side, King and Admiral William D. Leahy, Roosevelt's personal Chief of Staff, expressed their view that while "it was generally agreed that the elimination of Italy would have extremely valuable results," it might be unwise to divert to or maintain in the Mediterranean forces which could be used in a cross-channel assault or as a prelude to such an attack. If we weakened our potentialities for a cross-Channel assault by continuing to confine forces to the Mediterranean, it might preclude a major effort against Germany on the Western Front.[20]

Brooke replied that "if we did not continue operations in the Mediterranean, then no possibility of an attack into France would arise."[21] Seeing that the discussion was now "getting to the heart of the problem," Marshall interjected a passionate argument against remaining bound to a Mediterranean-centered strategy. He noted that initial estimates of requirements were always exceeded. The North African campaign, for example, "had sucked in more and more troops," the numbers of which had been ultimately limited only by the availability of shipping. The tendency of a campaign to create a vacuum into which one's forces flowed exacerbated the negative aspects of the maxim that once an operation was undertaken, it must be backed to the hilt. In this vein, Marshall expressed his deep concern that the landing of ground forces in Italy would create a vacuum which would prevent the Allies from assembling sufficient forces in the United Kingdom for a successful cross-Channel attack. If the Allies persisted in undertaking further operations in the Mediterranean then for the rest of 1943 and most of 1944 they would be committed to a Mediterranean policy. According to Marshall, this would prolong the Pacific war, and thus delay the ultimate defeat of Japan, "which the people of the U.S. would not tolerate."[22]

Brooke expressed a diametrically opposed opinion, arguing that to cease operations in the Mediterranean after the Sicilian campaign was concluded would lengthen the war. The essence of his argument was that since Russia was the only one of the Allies with substantial ground forces, the proper strategy for Britain and the United States must be to assist her as much as possible. At present, the western Allies could best do this by "continuing in the Mediterranean."[23]

In answer to a suggestion by Marshall that eleven U.S. divisions could be made available in the United Kingdom by April, 1944, Brooke launched into an even more negative assessment. He asserted that
. . . these combined forces would only be sufficient to hold a bridgehead and would not be large enough to debauch into the Continent. Now was the time when action was required to relieve the pressure on Russia. No major operations would be possible until 1945 or 1946, since it must be remembered that in previous wars there had always been some 80 French Divisions available on our side. Any advance towards the Ruhr would necessitate clearing up behind the advancing Army and would leave us with long lines of communications. Our air force in U.K. was at present largely on a static basis though it was being converted now for use with the expeditionary force. The British manpower position was weak, and to provide the necessary rearward services for continental warfare, two of our twelve divisions now in U.K. would probably have to be cannibalized.[24]
Brook's remarks prompted Marshall to inquire quite bluntly whether the British Chiefs of Staff regarded operations in the Mediterranean to be the key to an Allied victory in the European theatre of war. Portal replied that he and his colleagues believed that unless the greater portion of the German Army were tied down in Russia or the Balkans, an invasion force of twenty to twenty-five divisions would not be able to achieve important results on the Continent. He went on to argue that the capacity of the Allies to operate on the Continent in the future depended upon their present ability to aid the Russians. But unless the Allies could knock Italy out of the war in 1943, it would not be possible for them to reenter northwest Europe the following year. Marshall flatly disagreed, stating that if the Allies ever were to get sufficient forces in the United Kingdom for the invasion, they must begin at once. "Further operations in the Mediterranean would . . . create a vacuum which would constitute a drain on our available resources."[25]

The British Chiefs were not persuaded by Marshall, and continued to press home their attack. Brooke expressed his fear that a Russian collapse "would prolong the war for many years." He urged that the Russians would benefit far more if the Allies were to attack Italy immediately. Such a course was preferable to preparing for cross-Channel operations that could not be a significant consideration until the following year. In Brooke's opinion, the "problem" was how best to compel the Germans to withdraw substantial forces from the Eastern front. As between the alternative solutions under discussion, a prompt attack in the Mediterranean would promise immediate favorable results, as compared with a proposed invasion of northwestern Europe in 1944, "which might not even then be possible."[26] Marshall responded by suggesting that continuous Allied air operations in the Mediterranean would cripple the Italians and tie down large numbers of German troops, since the enemy command could not safely ignore the peninsula as a potential Allied invasion route. He returned once again to the theme that land operations in the Mediterranean would needlessly prolong the European war, thereby further delaying a decision in the Pacific. In the face of this, however, the British remained adamant. Portal said that the Italians could not be knocked out of the war through air action alone, and that in any case, "[O]ur object was to assist Russia, and we must achieve this object as early as possible."[27]

The obstinate attitude of the British Chiefs of Staff on the question of Mediterranean land operations reflected the position of the Prime Minister. In a telegram to President Franklin Roosevelt dated April 5, 1943, Churchill provided the President with a copy of a memorandum that the former had directed to the British Chief of Staffs Committee "as a channel for thought and planning." In it, Churchill assumed that the Sicilian invasion would begin no later than July 10, and that the Allies would outnumber the Axis forces by a factor of two to one. Based on these "givens," he concluded that the battle for the island would last a week, "after which one might reasonably expect that the bulk of the enemy's forces would be destroyed, captured or driven into the mountains."[28]

For the Prime Minister, the most important issue raised by this scenario involved the future deployment of Allied forces in the aftermath of this success. Churchill was ready with an answer, and expressed it vigorously in the memorandum. He began by placing the Sicilian operation in the context of his vision for the prosecution of the war:
Hitherto the capture of HUSKY-land has been regarded as an end in itself; but no one could rest content with such a modest and even petty objective for our armies in the campaign of 1943. HUSKY -land is only a stepping stone, and we must now begin to study how to exploit this local success.[29]
Although Churchill then urged consideration of every possible alternative for the employment of Allied troops, it is clear from his memorandum that such alternatives did not include preparation for a cross-Channel attack in the following year. Indeed, the only alternatives that he discussed were an operation in the Eastern Mediterranean, including an attack on the Dodecanese in an effort to bring Turkey into the war on the side of the Allies, or an assault on Italy, Sardinia and Corsica. Which of these paths the Allies should follow would be dictated by the extent to which the Germans remained engaged in Italy. In Churchill's opinion, however, even if the Italians remained in the war and were able to rely on German assistance, the Allies should attempt to gain lodgments on both the heel and toe of Italy as soon as they had concluded their operation in Sicily. Churchill concluded the memorandum, and his message to Roosevelt, by stating that "the mere capture of HUSKY -land will be an altogether inadequate result for the Campaign of 1943."[30]

The disagreement at the highest level was shared by those who would command the forces with whose anticipated idleness after the conclusion of HUSKY Roosevelt and Churchill were so concerned. On May 14, 1943, General Walter Bedell Smith, Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, presented the Combined Chiefs of Staff with a memorandum comprised of two papers both of which were directed to the question of what operations should be undertaken following HUSKY. The Operations Division of Allied Force Headquarters in Algiers had drafted the first, which represented the views of both General Eisenhower and Admiral Cunningham. Air Chief Marshall Tedder had prepared the second, intending it to be a dissenting opinion. Eisenhower expressed the view that after the conclusion of HUSKY there would be two courses of action available to the Allies, either an invasion of Italy or the seizure of Sardinia and Corsica as bases for Allied air operations. He and Cunningham favored the latter, because it would not commit the Allies to the mainland and the possibility of "a major campaign the duration and requirements of which it is not possible to foresee." Tedder said that he could not agree with either the paper or its conclusions because it exaggerated the value of Sardinia to the Allies and underestimated the difficulties which would attend its capture, while it ignored the value that Italy would have for the Allies as an airbase for heavy bomber attacks on most of the vital industrial production centers in Germany.[31]

The British Chiefs of Staff presented their own memorandum to Roosevelt and Churchill on May 14, in which they set forth their recommendations for Allied operations between the completion of HUSKY and the invasion of France. A fundamental premise of the memorandum was Churchill's argument that once Sicily had been conquered, Allied forces in southern Europe could not stand idle for nine or ten months until preparations for the invasion of France had been completed. The British Chiefs, in a surprisingly forceful statement of their strategic view, declared that the Allies must force Italy to capitulate by means of a "relentless" attack. Indeed, they stated flatly that an Italian surrender, "more than any other single event, would hasten the early defeat of Germany." The fall of Italy would require the Germans to withdraw significant forces from Russia to defend the Balkans, Greece and France, thus setting in motion a chain of events whose ultimate effect would be the collapse of the Third Reich. They therefore recommended that preparations be made for an invasion of the toe of Italy immediately after the conclusion of HUSKY, and that in addition General Eisenhower have available alternative plans for an operation against the heel of Italy, and for the capture of Sardinia. The Chiefs also spelled out a plan for occupying essential portions of Italy in the event of its collapse after HUSKY . They closed their memorandum with the statement that "[I]f we take these opportunities, we shall have every chance of breaking the Axis and of bringing the war with Germany to a successful conclusion in 1944.[32]

The conceptual battle over war fighting strategy was well articulated in a pair of memoranda prepared by the respective British and American Joint Planning Staffs. The British submitted their paper, entitled "British Plan for the Defeat of Axis Powers in Europe," to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on May 17, 1943.[33] It was a highly detailed analysis of the strategic and tactical elements that would be necessary to defeat the Axis in Europe as soon as possible. It began with a lengthy section on the proposed invasion of northwestern Europe. The cast of mind of the British planners was capsulized in paragraph 21 of the first section:
21. After a successful HUSKY the greatest aid we could give to Russia, and thereby inflict greatest injury which could be done in Germany, would be to tear Italy from the Axis.[34]
With this premise in mind, the British planners spent the remaining two substantive sections of the memorandum detailing the sequence of anticipated Allied operations in the Mediterranean after the completion of HUSKY and the bearing that these operations would have on Anglo-American preparations in the United Kingdom for the forthcoming cross-Channel attack. In their conclusion, they summarized the British plan for defeating Germany, beginning with the following commentary:
55. To concentrate our efforts after the completion of HUSKY solely upon ROUNDUP (codename for an early invasion of the continent with minimal forces) is to forego the initiative to the enemy for some months, to adopt a defensive attitude on land and to allow Germany to concentrate for the defense of France and the Low Countries against our invasion.

56. Our plan for the defeat of Germany is therefore:

  a. To eliminate Italy . . .[35]
The means enunciated to achieve this goal was a combination of air action and either an invasion of the Italian mainland or landings in both Sardinia and Corsica. The British planners gave April, 1944 as the target date for an invasion of northwestern Europe under this scenario.

The contrasting view of the American Joint Staff Planners could be seen in the very title of their memorandum, "Defeat of Germany from the United Kingdom," which they provided to the Combined Chiefs of Staff on May 18, 1943.[36] The language in which they couched the "problem" addressed by their memorandum also betrayed the fundamentally different viewpoint which the Americans brought to the issue of Allied strategy after the conclusion of the HUSKY operation:
1. To present a plan for the defeat of Germany (showing the course of operations and their feasibility) by concentrating the biggest possible invasion force in the United Kingdom as soon as possible.[37]
Likewise, among the significant assumptions made by the American planners were the notions that the Allies would conduct no amphibious operations in the Mediterranean after the close of the Sicily operation, and that Allied air operations in that theatre would be limited to the protection of shipping and the bombing of Italy.

The Americans made themselves quite explicit as to the position of Italy in their plans in their analysis of general strategic considerations for the European and Mediterranean theatres in the years 1943 and 1944. In order to achieve their objective, the American planners considered four points to be essential, namely: (a) the bomber offensive from the United Kingdom; (b) the maximum build-up of forces in England, for the purpose of invading northwestern Europe in the spring of 1944; (c) keeping Russia in the war; and (d) maintaining air operations in the Mediterranean at a minimum after HUSKY , so as not to prejudice the bomber offensive, the pre-invasion build-up and the invasion itself. These elements were at the heart of the American concept for the defeat of Germany, which was in turn based upon several premises, prominent among which were the following:
a. Defeat of the Western Axis by means of an invasion from the Mediterranean is unsound strategically and logistically.

* * *

e. We further believe: that the elimination of Italy is not a prerequisite for the creation of conditions favorable for ROUNDUP; that the elimination of Italy may possibly be brought about without need of further amphibious operations in the Mediterranean, by a successful HUSKY and an intensified bomber offensive against Italy - in fact Italian defection might precede HUSKY; that if, after HUSKY , Italy has not surrendered or collapsed, the advantages to be gained in eliminating Italy by conducting further amphibious operations are not worth the cost in forces, shipping, amphibious equipment, and time; . . .

f. Experience in TORCH and in preparation for HUSKY has shown that once an operation, even though admittedly secondary, is directed, the desire to insure its success leads to increasing demands for greater and greater forces . . . .[38]
In view of the foregoing, it is not surprising that among the conclusions reached by the American planners was that Mediterranean operations subsequent to HUSKY should be limited to the air offensive, because any other operations would drain off forces necessary for the pre-invasion build-up, "thus needlessly prolonging the war."[39]

The Combined Chiefs discussed the HUSKY operation and the problem of Italy in general at their meeting of May 18, 1943 in Washington.[40] Although technically the Chiefs had received both memoranda prepared by the respective Joint Planning Staffs, only the British memorandum was on the agenda. As a result, the Chiefs ultimately deferred action on the issues at hand until both memoranda could be studied further by the American Chiefs. In spite of this, the rift between the Western Allies over the Mediterranean question made itself apparent. General Marshall pointed out inconsistencies in the British position, noting that the British memorandum began with the assumption that an April, 1944 cross-Channel operation would be impossible, but concluded with the thesis that an April, 1944 target date could be agreed upon, provided that Mediterranean operations were undertaken in the interval. Brooke replied that it was the British view that an April, 1944 deadline could not be met unless Mediterranean operations were undertaken. The British Chiefs believed that such operations would influence the strength of German opposition to be encountered, and would in fact be essential in creating a situation in which an invasion of northwestern Europe could take place. According to Brooke, the German build-up of forces in western Europe would greatly exceed that of the Allies if Mediterranean operations were not undertaken to divert German reinforcements. In the British calculation, forcing Italy out of the war would be the key element in wasting German reserves and allowing the concentration of Allied forces for the Continent to exceed that of the enemy.[41]

Marshall was unrelenting. He said that he was "extremely doubtful" whether the contemplated Mediterranean offensive, if successful, would permit sufficient forces to be made available in the United Kingdom to exploit that success. He expressed his concern that Mediterranean operations might of necessity be of a greater magnitude than expected, with the result that the forces necessary for the cross-Channel invasion would be reduced. In that event, the Allies might only be capable of an operation that contemplated no opposition from the enemy. In reply, Brooke suggested that at most the Mediterranean operations would reduce the Allied concentration in the United Kingdom for cross-Channel operations by three and a half to four divisions. In his view, this was a "cheap price" to pay for the diversion of German strength that would be caused by knocking Italy out of the war. He said that eliminating Italy from the war was the best way of rendering aid to Russia in 1943. Finally, he challenged Marshall's thesis that an Italian operation would lead to a continuous and as yet incalculable drain on Allied resources by arguing that the operations visualized for the Mediterranean theatre were not interdependent and that the "cost value" of each such operation could be individually assessed at the appropriate time. Before voting to table the British plan in favor of further study, Marshall expressed his apprehension that the cost of the British plan "had been assessed too low since the wish might have been the father to the thought." He pointedly remarked that once the "momentum" of the contemplated Mediterranean operations was started, it "would be difficult to check.[42]

The Combined Chiefs reconvened on the following day, May 19, 1943 for three separate meetings. In the first of these, held at 10:30 in the morning, they discussed in detail the separate papers prepared by the British and American planning staffs.[43] This meeting was one of unique importance, not only regarding HUSKY , but for the entire subsequent course of the Allied war effort. It was marked by great intensity on both sides.

Admiral Leahy began the proceedings by asking for the comments of the British Chiefs on the substance of the paper submitted by the United States planners. Brooke spoke for the British Chiefs. He prefaced his remarks by saying that a consideration of the papers offered by both sides showed that there was agreement among the parties on certain basic points, but that as to certain others there were "differences of opinion which must be eliminated." After briefly discussing the target date for cross-Channel operations, during which he suggested that the previously selected date of April 1, 1944 be moved back to May 1 or June 1, he moved on to the more divisive question of Italy. He pointed out that while the American paper accepted the elimination of Italy as a possibility, it had given no appreciation to the steps necessary to either accomplish it or take advantage of it. Of far greater importance, however, was the fact that the American paper contemplated a period of six to seven months following HUSKY during which Allied forces would be essentially inactive on land. This was clearly intolerable for Brooke, since in his view 1943 was "most critical" for Russia. The western Allies, he said, must do everything in their power to help Russia, and a failure to use all available forces for this purpose could not be justified.[44]

Brooke deftly tied together the Mediterranean operation, Germany's eastern front, and the cross-Channel attack. He said that the Allies could, with the forces then available in the Mediterranean, "achieve important results," give a great deal of aid to Russia, and at the same time create a situation that would favor an invasion of northwestern Europe in 1944. In this context, he offered a sharp but subtle criticism of the American plan. He implied that the American plan was so vague as to make it "difficult . . . to visualize the shape of operations to defeat Germany." However, he said that the plan "appeared" to contemplate the capture of such European ports as would permit a build-up of forces directly from the United States. A study of this concept had shown, however, that most of the capacity of such ports would be used up in supplying the forces necessary to cover them. Using Cherbourg as an example, Brooke said that provisioning the troops necessary to cover this port would be difficult unless the Germans were very weak or could not locate reserves. To this end, active Russian operations would be imperative. On the other hand, if the Russians suffered defeats in 1943, the possibility of any landing in Europe in the following year would be sharply reduced. This could be avoided by employing limited forces in the Mediterranean for the purpose of forcing Italy out of the war, an event which would tie up an estimated 20 to 30 German divisions.[45]

Brooke's remarks provoked a prolonged discourse by General Marshall in which he offered a pointed and detailed critique of the British plan. He commented, first of all, that the British view of port capacities was pessimistic, saying that experience had shown that estimates of such capacities should in fact be doubled. Speaking more generally of the British plan, he suggested that while it magnified the intended results of Mediterranean operations, it also minimized the forces that would be required as well as the logistic difficulties that would be encountered. The British plan was overly optimistic regarding the effect that enemy resistance would have on the operation. Marshall reminded his audience that a relatively small German force had seriously delayed Allied operations in North Africa, and said that a similar German involvement in support of Italy "might make intended operations extremely difficult and time consuming."[46]

Marshall then addressed the British plan paragraph by paragraph. He said that paragraph 2a of the plan expressed the view that it would be essential for the cross-Channel invasion to be of sufficiently large scale as would allow the pace of the Allied build-up to compete with that of the Germans. In this connection, a deteriorating situation for the Germans had been taken as a given. According to Marshall, however, the initial aim of the invasion must be not the immediate defeat of the German Army, but instead the establishment of a bridgehead that would not only affect the enemy psychologically, but also cripple the U-boat campaign and provide airfields on the Continent. This, in turn, would give the Allies better bases for operations against the Germans, thus facilitating the destruction of the Luftwaffe. These were immediate and important results, said Marshall, and should be regarded as the Allies' first objective, rather than an immediate advance on the Rhine. The British plan, he suggested, did not give sufficient recognition to the devastating effect that the Allied air offensive was having on Germany's overall war-fighting capacity, as well as her ability to rapidly build up forces in western Europe.[47]

General Marshall pressed home his attack. While paragraph 7 of the British paper addressed the limitations that the shortage of landing craft would force on cross-Channel operations, it failed to point out that the contemplated Mediterranean operations would further reduce the number of these all-important vehicles. Paragraph 27 asserted that the oil fields in Ploesti could not be attacked except from bases in Italy. In fact, Marshall pointed out, the Chiefs had already discussed this issue and decided that bases already in Allied hands would be sufficient for the mounting of such an attack. Paragraph 35 overestimated the willingness of the Italian people to deal with the Allies. A more likely course of events, Marshall suggested, was that Germany would support the Italians to the fullest extent possible, Allied plans would be seriously delayed, the Mediterranean theatre would siphon off Allied resources, "and we should find ourselves completely involved in operations in that theatre to the exclusion of all else."[48]

Marshall turned to paragraph 38 of the British plan, which proposed that the Allies should secure a bridgehead at Durazzo in the event that Italy collapsed. Such an operation, in Marshall's view, would so completely commit the Allies that subsequent operations of any significance would be rendered impossible as a result of shipping and landing craft shortages. Marshall stated that the summary of troop commitments set forth in paragraph 42 of the British plan might well be an accurate estimate. It was "axiomatic," however, that all military commanders invariably asked for more troops than had originally been estimated as sufficient. The proposed Mediterranean operations would be no different, and Allied commanders would soon be "overwhelmed" by demands for more troops and equipment. The same was true of British estimates concerning the shipping requirements necessary to support the Italian economy in the event of that country's collapse. While the British had contemplated a maximum of 20 ships per month would be required for this task, it was more likely that twice this number would be needed.[49]

Marshall also complained that the British plan had underestimated the number of ships that would be required for the build-up of troops in the United Kingdom for the cross-Channel attack. If operations in the Mediterranean continued after HUSKY, the pre-invasion build-up in England would be curtailed by a lack of sufficient escorts, even if enough troop and cargo ships were available. And if the Allies mounted significant operations in the Mediterranean after HUSKY , there would be no landing craft returned to England for use in the invasion of the Continent. Marshall concluded by saying that in general the British plan was too pessimistic concerning the possibilities for successful cross-Channel operations, since it failed to take into account the success of the Allied air offensive and its relationship to the ground campaign. The British view of Mediterranean operations, on the other hand, was overly optimistic in its assessment of the forces which would be required, the strength of the enemy reaction and the magnitude of the logistic problem.[50]

At this point the discussion became so heated that Marshall suggested that it continue "off the record." As a result, all of the officers present, with the exception of the Combined Chiefs of Staff themselves, withdrew from the meeting. Brooke, though not altogether satisfied with the agreement ultimately reached during this closed-door session, later said that it was "far better than a break-up of the Conference."[51]

Unenthusiastic as the British Chiefs may have been about the end result, it was their point of view which carried the day. The contentious meetings of the Combined Chiefs produced a report, entitled "TRIDENT: Report to the President and Prime Minister of the Final Agreed Summary of Conclusions Reached by the Combined Chiefs of Staff," which they presented in final form to Roosevelt and Churchill on May 25, 1943.[52] The report enunciated the overall strategic objective of the Allies to be "the unconditional surrender of the Axis powers."[53] Among the specific operations planned for 1943-1944 to achieve this purpose were "Operations in the Mediterranean to Eliminate Italy from the War." On this point, the report stated that the Combined chiefs had resolved to direct General Eisenhower
. . . as a matter of urgency, to plan such operations in exploitation of HUSKY as are best calculated to eliminate Italy from the War and to contain the maximum number of German forces. Which of the various specific operations should be adopted, and thereafter mounted, is a decision which will be reserved to the Combined Chiefs of Staff.
The report allocated to Eisenhower 27 divisions (19 British and Allied, 4 United States and 4 French) for post-HUSKY operations in the Mediterranean. This was the entire complement of Allied forces then available in the theatre, with the exception of 4 American and 3 British divisions, which were to be withdrawn to the United Kingdom for use in cross-Channel operations, and 2 British divisions, which represented the British commitment to Turkey. In addition, the report assigned to Eisenhower's command over 3,600 aircraft, including over 1,000 bombers of all types and approximately 2,000 fighters.[54]

At the operational level, General Eisenhower and his planning staff also confronted the question of how to proceed against Italy following the conclusion of the Sicilian campaign. In late April, the A.F.H.Q. planners advocated the very scheme that was anathema to Churchill, namely the seizure of Sardinia and Corsica, followed by a bombing offensive against the Italian mainland from bases on these islands and Sicily. The purpose of this air assault would be to drive Italy from the war, or in the alternative to lay the groundwork for an amphibious invasion. The planners gave no consideration to the notion of invading Italy from Sicily without the intermediate step of conquering Sardinia and Corsica.[55]

While Eisenhower could do little else but side with his planners generally on the subject of the practical aspects of prosecuting the war in the Mediterranean, he was nevertheless convinced that the best strategy for the Allies was a cross-Channel invasion directed at Germany through northern France. Thus, although he considered with Marshall a variety of scenarios, ultimately Eisenhower favored bringing an end to further offensive action in the Mediterranean, if those operations might be expected to interfere with the build-up for the invasion of France. In this Eisenhower was in fact supported by his planners, who saw the proposed operation against Sardinia and Corsica in a favorable light because they would require limited troop commitments, and would allow the Allies the opportunity to move away from Italy if they so desired.[56]

The point of view advocated by Eisenhower and the American planners was not shared by their English colleagues. Tedder, for example, believed that the Sardinian operation would be more costly than expected, and that it would not yield the kind of air bases that would be of particular use against the Reich. Indeed, he and his associates on the British planning staff did not think in terms of the cross-Channel operation as the ultimate goal of Allied European strategy. Instead, they favored the large scale employment of air power, much of it based in central Italy, along with the steady erosion of German fighting power, to be obtained not only by bombing but also through direct and indirect application of force in the Balkans. The British saw the key to Allied victory in the removal of Italy from the war, rather than the cross-Channel invasion of Europe.[57]

The British planners recommended invading the toe of Italy if Italy did not sue for peace during HUSKY .. They did not see the successful seizure of Corsica and Sardinia as necessary prerequisites for this. Their view was that operations on the Italian mainland would be more likely to lead to the collapse of Italy in 1943, and that this would open a land front capable of attracting and holding a large number of Axis forces. For this purpose, they advocated invading the toe of Italy before completion of the Sicilian campaign. This would achieve the most immediate goal, namely the withdrawal of Italy from the war.[58]

Churchill was not comfortable with the failure of the combined Chiefs of Staff to conclude the TRIDENT conference with an explicit call for the invasion of Italy in 1943. He therefore flew to Algiers to visit Eisenhower, taking General Marshall, General Brooke and the Prime Minister's personal Chief of Staff, General Sir Hastings L. Ismay, in tow. Churchill's purpose was to persuade Eisenhower and his planners to select the Italian mainland, rather than Corsica and Sardinia, as the target of invasion.[59]

Churchill convened a formal meeting to address his concerns on May 29, 1943. The officers present included Eisenhower, Marshall and Walter Bedell Smith on the American side, and Brooke, Alexander, Cunningham and Tedder on the British. Marshall took the initiative, urging that Eisenhower establish two wholly independent and fully staffed headquarters. They would be tasked to prepare operational plans for the invasion of the Italian mainland and Corsica/Sardinia respectively. When the situation in Sicily allowed, one of these headquarters would be given the authority and the necessary resources to take action. The parties then discussed the variety of possibilities that the Sicilian operation might hold, as well as the uncertainties presented by the lack of solid information concerning the respective attitudes of the Italians and Germans about the coming fight. There was general agreement, including even by Churchill, that the Italian mainland should not be invaded in the face of strong resistance. Ultimately, Marshall's concept of dual headquarters prevailed at this conference. In effect, Churchill's anxiety for a timely invasion of Italy gave way in the face of situational logic. General Eisenhower, the man who would likely lead such an invasion, demonstrated that under the circumstances there were only three likely scenarios involving Italy, namely: (1) an immediate collapse of enemy resistance on Sicily, in which event the Allies should shift the assault to the mainland with dispatch; (2) stubborn and prolonged enemy resistance on Sicily, a development that would result in no Allied forces being available for an operation against Italy any time soon; and (3) strong enemy resistance on Sicily nevertheless overcome by the Allies with relative speed, a situation whose details were so unpredictable that no advance planning could be made. Even Churchill was compelled to recognize that of these three alternatives only the first offered the possibility of a quick Allied initiative against the Italian mainland, and that possibility was slim at best, given the presence of German units on the island.[60]

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Copyright © 2003 Thomas E. Nutter

Written by Thomas E. Nutter. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Mr. Nutter at:

About the author: Tom Nutter is in his 25th year of practicing domestic and international patent, copyright and trademark law, and is the Managing Partner of an intellectual property law practice in St. Louis, Missouri.  He holds the Masters and Doctorate degrees in diplomatic/military history from the University of Missouri.  His interests include railroad history as well as European and American military history in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries.  He lives in St. Louis with his wife, three children and two German Shepherd dogs, Caesar and Cleopatra.

Published online: 03/01/2003.
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