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Operation Husky
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    Strategic Debate
    Struggle for a Plan
    Allied Grand Strategy
    Plans and Dispositions
    Initial Landings
    The Naval Experience (Part 1)
    The Naval Experience (Part 2)
    Post-Landing Battle in Brief
 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

IV. Allied and Axis 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". 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".

There had been a plan to use the available airborne troops to neutralize the beach defenses, but this notion was abandoned in the final plan. Under the revised scheme, the British 1st Airborne Division was to drop by parachute and glider in the area south of Syracuse to seize important tactical targets, while four battalions of the U.S. 82d Airborne Division dropped in the area behind Gela. Staging for the invasion was a most complex affair; for example, British and Canadian troops were to come from the United Kingdom, the Middle East and Tunisia, while their American allies came not only from nearby North Africa, but in the case of the 45th Infantry Division, directly from the United States as well. As a result, many of the assaulting units were required to bring with them at least 21 days maintenance, with an additional 7 days maintenance in reserve. All of this, of course, placed a tremendous strain on Allied shipping.

Because the new plan abandoned the concept of seizing the port of Palermo, FORCE 343, or U.S. Seventh Army was denied a useful harbor. This meant, in turn, that this force had to plan on being supplied over the beach until at least D plus 30. Since the first convoy from the United States was not scheduled to arrive in Sicily before D plus 14, special measures had to be taken to ensure continuous supply of the fighting troops. These included an arrangement with FORCE 545 (British Eighth Army) for the partial use of Syracuse after D plus 14. In addition, 2500 service troops were detailed to Syracuse, and special depots were established near the town, all for the purpose of supplying FORCE 343 prior to the arrival of the first convoy from the United States.

The total number of vessels in the combined Allied naval forces exceeded 3200; 1700 were assigned to the Western Naval Task Force, and the remainder to its eastern counterpart. Two thousand of these boats and ships were to participate in the initial assault. In protecting this fleet, Eisenhower and his staff were concerned not only with the Axis air forces, but also with the potential threat posed by the Italian Navy. In view of the consistent failure of this force to successfully engage the Royal Navy, the Allied commanders rated it low in morale and tactical ability. Nevertheless, it could not be ignored, possessing as it did six battleships and two cruisers, and the view was that if it were ever to stand and fight, this would be the occasion. The Allied force deployed to counter the threat of the Italian Navy was a formidable one, comprising the First Battle Squadron of the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean. This consisted of two commands, FORCE H, including the battleships WARSPITE, VALIANT, NELSON and RODNEY, and the aircraft carriers IDOMITABLE and FORMIDABLE, and FORCE Z, with the battleships KING GEORGE V and HOWE. On D minus 1, FORCE H was to move into the Ionian Sea in such a way as to appear to threaten the west coast of Greece on D Day, thus serving as a means to divert the enemy's attention at the critical moment, and it was to maintain this position until D plus 2. Both FORCE H and FORCE Z were, of course, to be available to intervene against the Italian Navy should it put in an appearance, as well as to offer fire support to the invasion force, should the need arise. In the event, neither such contingency transpired. In addition to the British First Battle Squadron, the Western and Eastern Naval Task Forces boasted eight cruisers and eight destroyers for use in a fire support role, as well as seven Royal Navy submarines---SAFARI, SHAKESPEARE, SERAPH, UNRUFFLED, UNSEEN, UNISON, UNRIVALLED ---serving as beacons off the coast of Sicily.

The Allied cover plan provided for false D-day and false destinations for the assault force, and the movement of the assault convoys was designed to further this deception by being scheduled for the routes of normal through convoys. By these means did the Allies intend for the Axis to be forced to contend with at least two other threatened invasions, one in the Balkans and the other in southern France. Thus, as FORCE H maneuvered in the Ionian Sea for the apparent invasion of Greece, so also would the Allied convoys, moving in their accustomed routes, converge south of Malta to suggest a threat to Crete. Behind these deceptions lay the Allied fear of the Germans, and in particular their fear that the Germans would reinforce Sicily ahead of the scheduled invasion.

The Allied target date of July 10 was in part based on an assumption that the Tunisian campaign would be concluded by April 30. In the event, this did not occur until May 13, a circumstance which caused Eisenhower and his staff considerable concern about whether the assault would take place in a timely fashion. To some degree, this concern was caused by the fact that the Allied forces involved needed, but lacked, adequate training in combined operations. A combined training center was established at the Algerian port of Djidjelli. From here the British 51st Division and 78th Division were able to participate in combined training; three complete naval rehearsals and one combined rehearsal were carried out with these forces, the only elements in the Eastern Task Force to be involved in such full rehearsals. Other components of the Eastern Task Force were not so fortunate; the Canadian 1st Division trained in the United Kingdom, while the British 5th Division and 50th Division and the 231st Brigade trained in the Middle East, where a shortage of landing craft restricted training to the desert, with the exception of several "incomplete" landing rehearsals in the Gulf of Aqaba.

U.S. forces had the benefit of six bases in Algeria, as well as two in Tunisia. The U.S. 3d Infantry Division trained in Tunisia, while the 1st Infantry Division and the 2d Armored Division underwent amphibious training in Algeria. On June 22 the 45th Infantry Division arrived in combat loaders directly from the United States. Its elements disembarked at Oran. The 1st, 3d and 45th Infantry Divisions were able to undergo some rehearsals, but Eisenhower referred to them as dry runs on a reduced scale. They involved landing only selected units of each Regimental Combat Team on the rehearsal beaches, with the result that there was no complete unloading of even a limited number of ships and craft. As a result, these rehearsals stopped short of what Eisenhower called the "critical phase", in which beaches become crowded and disorganized through the accretion of supplies and disabled boats and other equipment. These exercises had to suffice, however, because of the immediate presence of Axis aircraft and submarines.

The Allied rehearsals were complete by July 4. Thereafter, vehicles used in them had been returned to concentration areas for rewaterproofing and reloading aboard ship. The troops were returned to their final staging areas. The 82d Airborne Division arrived in Tunisia from Casablanca. The port of Bizerte was choked with 15 days reserve supplies for 140,000 men, three and a half units of fire, and replacements for 25% of the combat vehicles, 10% of the general purpose vehicles, and 10% of the weapons.

During the period immediately before the landings in Sicily, the Allied air forces at Malta were dramatically increased in size, from 200 first line aircraft in November 1942 to over 600 in June, 1943. These were operating from enlarged and newly constructed airfields, from which Mosquitoes and Spitfires harried the enemy on Sicily during June. Added to these forces were an additional 70 aircraft based on Gozo and Pantelleria (following its liberation). There was, in fact, an excess of aircraft available to the Allies, although the same was not true with respect to the available fuel and ordinance. Indeed the air campaign against Pantelleria consumed so much in the way of necessary bombs and gasoline that only just sufficient supplies of these materials were available for the Sicilian operation.

From June 11 to July 10, 1943 the primary target for the Allied air forces was the system of Axis air bases on Sicily and Sardinia. In the previous three months the number of bases available to the enemy had increased from 19 to over 30 on Sicily alone, so that approximately 600 fighter aircraft could be accommodated. The Allied air assault on these bases began on June 12, the Sicilian bases being attacked repeatedly until June 30. The Allies also attacked the Sardinian bases, beginning on June 28. These raids were not heavily contested by the enemy, who lost a good number of fighters on the ground, and transferred still others to bases thought to be more secure, namely those in the eastern part of Sicily. During the last week before the invasion the attention of the Allied air forces turned to these bases as well. The result was that by July 10, the enemy had virtually no fully serviceable airfields on the island, and indeed most of its bases had been rendered totally useless.

Meanwhile, the Allied air forces had also been attacking the enemy's communications centers in Naples, as well as Messina, and the Sardinian ports at Olbia and Golfo Aranci. The Allies struck Naples and its neighboring rail junction four times during June. The Sardinian ports suffered a like number of air strikes during the same period. Messina received particular attention. During the weeks immediately preceding the invasion, the Allies bombed it seven times, including three raids on successive nights during which the ferry facilities on both side of the Straits were thoroughly blasted. Finally, during the night of July 9-10, the Allied air forces delivered large scale attacks on what remained of the enemy's air bases in Sicily, as well as upon the assault areas themselves.

One gains a general appreciation of the context in which HUSKY occurred by first considering the relative position of the island of Sicily in its Mediterranean setting. Sicily is generally triangular in shape. It is oriented along a roughly east/west axis, and its base extends from north to south between Messina and Cape Passero. The southern side of the island stretches from the Cape to Marsala, while the equally lengthy northern side reaches from Messina to Trapani.

An exceedingly narrow body of water, the Straits of Messina, separates Sicily from the Italian mainland. The area thus separated from Sicily is the toe of the Italian boot. The Tyrrhenian Sea to the north divides the island from Sardinia, Corsica and the principal cities of Italy, such as Rome and Naples. The Mediterranean to the south and east creates a substantial barrier between Sicily and its neighbors in North Africa, Tunisia, Tripolitania and Cyrenaica. Of particular significance for the coming battle were the islands of Pantelleria, nearly equidistant between Sicily and the northeastern coast of Tunisia, and Malta, situated almost directly south of Cape Passero by a relatively few airmiles.

Sicily enjoys rather hot summers and mild winters. In July, when the Allied invasion came, the normal temperature range is between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Rainfall is moderate at best, averaging between 10 and 20 inches from the first of May to the end of October. In July, Sicily is typically in a boundary zone between a high pressure zone that prevails over the Atlantic Ocean and a low pressure zone that covers the whole of the Eurasian land mass and North Africa. The planners of the invasion, and those who would fight in it, could therefore expect hot and dry weather, which nevertheless might be interrupted by storms of some severity.

Sicily is part of the Alpine system which predominates throughout southern Europe, northern Africa and northern Turkey. Mountainous terrain extends generally from the center of the island to the coasts. In the north, the hills virtually touch the coast, while in the south a narrow strip of flat ground lies between the sea and the mountains. The approaches to Messina are protected in the west by the Caronie Mountains. Along the eastern coast, south of Messina and immediately north of Catania, lies Mount Etna, the most dominant topographical feature on the island.

Apart from the southern coastal strip, there are three relatively flat areas on the island of sufficient breadth and depth to allow an invading force to land, deploy and move inland. The first of these, at the western end of Sicily, extends from Trapani to Mazara, thus embracing the entire tip of the island. At its midpoint, this coastal plain is approximately twenty miles deep, from Marsala at the water's edge where the mountainous terrain begins. Inviting as this potential landing ground is, however, the Allies eventually elected not to land a single soldier there. This was in part due to the fact that several enemy formations were stationed directly behind the potential landing zones. More importantly, the more substantial Axis units were located at the eastern end of Sicily. To engage these troops from the west would require traversing virtually the entire length of the island.

In the middle of the eastern end of Sicily, beginning in the foothills of Mount Etna and reaching southward along the coast to Augusta, lies the Plain of Catania. It is roughly twenty miles deep and twenty miles wide, although deeper and wider than this in certain places. To the southeast of this plain, and separated from it by a chain of hills, is another coastal plain, reaching from Licata in the west around the southeast tip of the island to Syracuse. The two deepest portions of this plain, between Gela and Scoglitti on the south coast, and at Cape Passero on the southeastern tip, are both approximately fifteen miles in depth. In the event, the main force of the Allied blow fell in these two areas.

The Axis forces committed to defend Sicily included a variety of German and Italian troops, some of whom were stationed on the island on July 10, 1943, and some of whom were shifted to the island as the battles progressed. All Axis forces on the island operated under the direction of Armed Forces Command Sicily, commanded by Generale d'Armata Alfredo Guzzoni. This headquarters had a German liaison office attached to it, under the able General Ferdinand von Senger und Etterlin, as well as German naval and Luftwaffe headquarters. Tactical control of all Axis units on Sicily, both Italian and German, resided with Sixth Italian Army, also under the command of Guzzoni. The headquarters subordinate to Sixth Italian Army included XII Corps (Italian) and XVI Corps [Italian); the anti-aircraft defense command for Sicily; the separate and independent Italian Navy and Royal Italian Air Force commands for Italy; and the XIV Panzer Korps, under General der Panzertruppen Hans Valentin Hube.[61]

The major German units to fight in Sicily were 15. Panzer-Grenadier-Division, Hermann Goering Panzer-Division, 29. Panzer-Grenadier-Division and 1. Fallschirm-jaeger-Division. When the Allied onslaught came, 15. Panzer-Grenadier- Division was a unit in transition. Indeed, this formation, commanded by Generalmajor Eberhard Rodt, actually took its final shape during the battle. Its initial parts included the remnants of 15. Panzer-Division, which the Allies had destroyed in Tunisia two months earlier and Division "Sizilien," a collection of miscellaneous units cobbled together by the Germans on the island, principally replacement units originally intended for Tunisia, along with Panzer-Abteilung 215 .[62]

The nominal order of battle of a Panzer-Grenadier Division in 1943 included two Panzer-Grenadier regiments, each of three battalions, and including a self-propelled flak company, a motorized infantry gun company and a motorized engineer company; an armored battalion, in which assault guns (a total of 42) frequently substituted for tanks; an armored reconnaissance battalion, a motorized artillery regiment, a motorized tank-destroyer battalion, an anti-aircraft battalion and an engineer battalion.[63]

The makeup of 15. Panzer-Grenadier-Division on July 10, 1943 was typical of many German formations at this stage of the war, in that it varied substantially from the prescribed establishment. Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 104 deployed three rifle battalions of three companies each, one heavy weapons company, one anti-tank company, and an infantry gun company. Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 129 and Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 115 were organized like their sister regiment. The Division also included Panzer-Grenadier-Bataillon Reggio, Panzer-Abteilung 215, Artillerie-Regiment 33, Flak-Bataillon 315, Pioneer-Abteilung 33, service troops and a panzerjaeger battalion. Panzer-Abteilung 215 was composed of three companies with a total of six Panzer Mk III and 46 Panzer Mk IV tanks.[64]

29. Panzer-Grenadier-Division also differed from the nominal establishment of such a formation. On Sicily, this division included Panzer-Grenadier-Regiments 15 and 71, each of three battalions; Panzer-Abteilung 129, which sent 43 Stug III assault guns to the island; Artillerie-Regiment 29, which possessed three battalions of self-propelled guns; and Flak-Bataillon 313 .[65]

Generalmajor Walter Fries commanded 29. Panzer-Grenadier-Division at the time of the Allied assault. The division had come into existence in 1936. It became a motorized formation in the autumn of 1937, after which it was designated 29. Infanterie-Division (Mot.) . It distinguished itself both in Poland and in France during the race for the English Channel. In June, 1941, the division began its service in Russia with Army Group Center. It fought in several major engagements in that year, at Bialystok and Minsk, at the Dnieper crossings, and at Smolensk. The following year, it served again the German campaign in South Russia, fighting at Kharkov and in the Don bend. It was part of the assault force at Stalingrad, where it was encircled and destroyed in January, 1943.[66]

The 29. Panzer-Grenadier-Division that fought in Sicily was reconstituted in southern France the following spring. Its core formation was 345. Infanterie-Division (Mot.). Generalmajor Fries was a well-decorated officer, holding the Knights Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords, and had formerly commanded Infanterie-Regiment (Mot.)15. of 29. Infanterie-Division (Mot.) during 1941-1942.[67]

In general, the establishment of a panzer division in 1943 included a panzer regiment of two battalions. In theory, the first battalion was to have four companies of 22 Panther tanks each; the second battalion was to have the same organization, but with Panzer MkIVs . The divisional establishment also had two motorized infantry regiments, each having two battalions. There were also a motorized artillery regiment, having three battalions; an armored reconnaissance battalion; a tank-destroyer battalion; an anti-aircraft battalion and an engineer battalion.[68]

Panzer-Division "Hermann Goering" that fought in Sicily under the command of Generalleutnant Paul Conrath exceeded in strength the accepted establishment for a panzer division. It was composed of Panzer-Regiment "Hermann Goering" (three battalions); Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 1 "Hermann Goering" (two battalions); Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 2 "Hermann Goering" (two battalions); Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment "Hermann Goering" (three battalions); Flak-Regiment "Hermann Goering"; Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung "Hermann Goering"; and Panzer-Pioneer-Bataillon "Hermann Goering". The establishment of the Panzer-Division "Hermann Goering" exceeded the norm in that its panzer regiment had three battalions, and it fielded an anti-aircraft regiment rather than just a battalion.[69]

On Sicily, Panzer-Regiment "Hermann Goering" fielded two tank battalions, totaling 43 Panzer MkIIIs mounting long 50mm guns, three Panzer MkIIIs with 75mm guns and 32 Panzer MkIVs with long 75mm guns, and a battalion of 29 assault guns. Its Panzer-Aufklarungs-Abteilung "Hermann Goering" and Panzer-Pioneer-Bataillon "Hermann Goering" both fought as motorized infantry. Its Panzer-Artillerie-Regiment "Hermann Goering" committed only three of its four battalions, one light battalion of two batteries, and two medium battalions, each having two medium field howitzer batteries and one battery of 100 mm. guns. In addition, its Flak-Regiment "Hermann Goering" was under strength, fielding only one mixed battalion of three medium and three light batteries. Finally, both of the division's panzergrenadier regiments fought on Sicily; however, while both battalions of Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 2 saw action, only the first battalion of Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 1 accompanied it, and all three units operated under the command of Panzer-Grenadier-Regiment 1 .[70]

1. Fallschirm-Jaeger-Division, which was to serve with great distinction in Sicily and elsewhere, was nominally composed of Fallschirm-Jaeger-Regiments 1, 3 and 4, Fallschirm-Artillerie-Regiment 1, Fallschirm-Flak-Abteilung 1, Fallschirm-Panzerjaeger-Batallion 1, Fallschirm-Pioneer-Bataillon 1 and a signal battalion. Not all of this force, however, joined in the battle. Absent were Fallschirm-Jaeger-Regiment 1, Fallschirm-Flak-Abteilung 1, all but one battalion of Fallschirm-Artillerie-Regiment and most of the anti-tank and signal battalions.[71]

The officer commanding 1 Fallschirm-Jaeger-Division in Sicily was Generalleutnant Richard Heidrich, an officer decorated with the Knight's Cross with Oak Leaves and Swords. Heidrich had previously commanded Fallschirm-Jaeger-Regiment of 7. Flieger-Division, the unit from which 1. Fallschirm-Jaeger-Division was formed in Russia in the fall of 1942. He was well-experienced, having served in the invasion of France, the airborne assault on Crete and at the siege of Leningrad. Heidrich withdrew 1 Fallschirm-Jaeger-Division from Russia in early spring, 1943, taking it to southern France to complete its fitting and training.[72]

Also present on Sicily, and assigned to Panzer-Division "Hermann Goering", was the second company of Schwere-Panzer-Abteilung 504. This unit fielded 17 Tiger tanks, each mounting the formidable 88mm gun. [73]

Several Italian Army units defended Sicily as well. Foremost among these was 4th (Livorno) Division, commanded by Generale di Divisione Domenico Chirieleison. It was composed of 33rd and 34th Infantry Regiments, a mortar battalion, XI Commando Battalion, IV Anti-Tank Battalion, 28th Artillery Regiment , three anti-aircraft battalions and an engineer battalion. Although other Italian units on Sicily were characterized as "mobile," Livorno was in fact the only such formation on the island. It was generally superior to all other Italian formations, with troops of exceptional quality and enough of its own transport to move all of its regiments at once.[74]

There were three additional "mobile" Italian formations of divisional size on Sicily. One of these was 28th (Aosta) Division, under Generale di Divisione Giacomo Romano. It fielded 5th and 6th Infantry Regiments, 171st "Blackshirt" Battalion, XXVIII Mortar Battalion, 22nd Artillery Regiment, two anti-aircraft batteries and an engineer battalion. The second was 26th (Assietta) Division, eventually commanded by General di Divisione Ottorino Schreiber. It was composed of 29th and 30th Infantry Regiments, 17th "Blackshirt" Battalion, CXXVI Mortar Battalion, 25th Artillery Regiment, two anti-aircraft batteries and an engineer battalion. The third such formation was 54th (Napoli) Division, under General di Divisione Giulio G.C. Porcinari. It included 75th and 76th Infantry Regiments, 173rd "Blackshirt" Battalion, 54th Artillery Regiment and two anti-aircraft batteries .[75]

The Italians also deployed several static coastal defense units on Sicily. XII Corps, under the command of Generale di Corpo d'Armata Mario Arisio, included 202nd, 207th and 208th Coastal Divisions, and 146th Coastal Regiment. XVI Corps, commanded by Generale di Corpo d'Armata Carlo Rossi, had 206th and 213th Coastal Divisions, as well as XVIII and XIX Coastal Brigates. These static formations were composed primarily of Sicilian conscripts in the higher age groups. The weaponry issued to these units was outdated, and consisted primarily of small arms and some low grade artillery. In addition to being poorly armed and manned, these Italian coastal defense units were assigned unreasonably large stretches of beach, so that what little strength they did have was dissipated. As a result of these deficiencies, they failed to acquit themselves well on the day of the invasion.[76]

On the eve of the invasion, the principal Axis forces on the island were roughly equally divided between the western and eastern ends, because of uncertainty about where the Allies would land. At the western end of Sicily the slightly under strength 15. Panzer-Grenadier-Division lay between 28th (Aosta) Division on the north and 26th (Assietta) Division on the south. All three units were deployed in the hills immediately behind the coastal plain. At the island's other end, from west to east, were 4th (Livorno) Division, Panzer-Division "Hermann Goering", also under strength, and 54th (Napoli) Division. "Hermann Goering" and 54th (Napoli) divisions were directly west of Syracuse, in the hills to the south of the plain of Catania. 4th (Livorno) Division was also in the hills, north of Licata and Gela. A smaller Axis force, a collection of various formations known as Group Schmalz, was positioned north of the plain of Catania, at the foot of Mount Etna. 29. Panzer-Grenadier-Division and 1. Fallschirm-Jaeger-Division were not on Sicily when the Allied assault came.[77]

The total Axis forces ultimately involved in the defense of Sicily has been variously estimated at between 270,000 and 370,000 men. Of this figure, the maximum number of German troops was about 62,000.[78] Arrayed against the island's defenders was a very considerable Allied ground force, consisting of more than two armies. While General Eisenhower led the overall operation, his ground commander was General Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander, Commander-in-Chief, 15th Army Group. Alexander's principal subordinates were General Sir Bernard Law Montgomery, commanding Eighth Army, and Lieutenant General George S. Patton, Jr., commanding Seventh United States Army.[79]

Eighth Army's XIII Corps, under the command of Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey, included three divisions. The first of these was 5th Division, under Major-General H.PM Berney-Ficklin. It was composed of 13th Infantry Brigade, 15th Infantry Brigade and 17th Infantry Brigade. 5th Division also disposed of a reconnaissance regiment, an anti-tank regiment, a light anti-aircraft regiment, three field artillery regiments and additional support units.[80]

XIII Corps' second major formation was 50th Division (Northumbrian), under Major-General Sidney C. Kirkman. This division fielded 69th Infantry Brigade, 151st Infantry Brigade and 168th Infantry Brigade. 50th Division also possessed an anti-tank regiment, a light anti-aircraft regiment and three field artillery regiments, plus additional support troops. The third division under the command of XIII Corps was 1st Airborne Division, under Major-General G.F. Hopkinson. 1st Airborne Division included 1st Parachute Brigade (three battalions), 2nd Parachute Brigade (three battalions), 4th Parachute Brigade (three battalions) and 1st Airlanding Brigade (two battalions). 1st Airborne Division fielded a reconnaissance squadron, a light artillery regiment, two anti-tank batteries, a light anti-aircraft battery and three squadrons of engineers. It also possessed a myriad signals and medical support units. Finally, XIII Corps had under its command 44th Royal Tank Regiment.[81]

The commander of XXX Corps was Lieutenant-General Sir Oliver Leese. First among his troops were those of 51st (Highland) Division, under Major-General Douglas Wimberley. 51st Division included 152nd, 153rd and 154th Infantry Brigades. It also had three regiments of field artillery, one regiment each of light anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns, and other support units. The other major formation under the control of XXX Corps was 1st Canadian Division, under Major-General G.G. Simonds. It had 1st, 2nd and 3d Infantry Brigades, a reconnaissance regiment, an anti-tank regiment, three regiments of field artillery and other troops, including combat engineers.[82]

In place of a third division, XXX Corps controlled three additional independent brigades. One of these was 231st Infantry Brigade, commanded by Brigadier R.E. Urquhart. This unit was composed of three battalions of infantry, a regiment of field artillery and a company of combat engineers. XXX corps controlled in addition 1st Canadian Army Tank Brigade and 23rd Armored Brigade, each of which fielded three regiments of tanks.[83]

15th Army Group also had available a substantial reserve. This included 78th Division (three infantry brigades) under Major-General V. Evelegh. This unit was comparable to its sister divisional formations, in that it too contained a reconnaissance regiment, an anti-tank regiment, three field artillery regiments, a light anti-aircraft regiment as well as additional troops, including three companies of Royal Engineers.[84] 15th Army Corps had at its disposal further independent units, such as three units of commandos.[85]

Seventh United States Army was, like its British counterpart, a most formidable formation. The Army's II Corps, under Lieutenant-General Omar N. Bradley, controlled two divisions. One of them was 1st Infantry Division, which began the invasion under Major General Terry de la Mesa Allen, later succeeded by Major General Clarence R. Huebner. It had three infantry regiments, each of which formed the core of a Regimental Combat Team (RCT). The division had four field artillery battalions, plus additional units, including an engineer battalion, a reconnaissance battalion, a medical battalion and other support troops. Also attached to the division for the landing on Sicily was 67th Armored Regiment, Darby's Rangers, composed of 1st and 4th Ranger Battalions, two additional battalions of engineers, and troops of a chemical battalion.[86]

45th Infantry Division, under the command of Major General Troy H. Middleton, was the second component of II Corps. It also had three regiments of infantry and four battalions of field artillery. The division also fielded a combat engineer battalion, a medical battalion, a mechanized reconnaissance troop and numerous other support units. 753rd Medium Tank Battalion was attached to 45th Infantry Division for the invasion.[87]

Seventh Army had an additional large and powerful force available for the invasion, known as JOSS Force. It included 3d Infantry Division under Major General Lucian K. Truscott, the core of which was composed of three infantry regiments and four battalions of field artillery. 3d Infantry Division also had an engineer battalion, a chemical mortar battalion, a medical battalion, a reconnaissance troop and numerous support and headquarters units. It also had as a floating reserve 66th Armored Regiment, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment and additional reconnaissance and field artillery units, all of which constituted Combat Command A of 2d Armored Division. In addition to all these units, the Division had attached to it combat engineer, Ranger, infantry and artillery units, plus additional headquarters units.[88]

JOSS Force also controlled Seventh Army's floating reserve. This comprised Combat Command B of the 2nd Armored Division, 9th Infantry Division, 82nd Airborne Division, 18th Infantry Regiment, 540th Engineer Shore Regiment and two anti-aircraft battalions.[89]

Eighth Army was to attack south of Syracuse along the Gulf of Noto, including both sides of Cape Passero. The Allied intention was that the Port of Syracuse would quickly be brought on line, and that the advance would proceed with alacrity, soon making available the harbors at Augusta and Catania. On the other hand, the Seventh Army was to land along the gulf of Gela, roughly between that city and Licata. Although both of these towns offered modest port facilities, in fact the Americans would be compelled to rely upon supplies brought ashore through the assault beaches.

Alexander's broad concept of the battle for Sicily was that Eighth Army would dash along the coast to the Straits of Messina to deny the Axis forces an avenue of retreat, while Seventh Army advanced in parallel to protect its left flank. For this purpose, Eighth Army would land four divisions and one brigade, whose first objectives were Syracuse and a neighboring airfield. The British would drop their 1st Airlanding Brigade before the main body of troops arrived ashore. Its task was to seize the Ponte Grande bridge over the Anapo River near Syracuse. Preceded by a drop of a reinforced regimental combat team of the 82d Airborne Division a few miles inland of Gela, Seventh Army would place ashore three divisions between Licata and Gela.

British XIII Corps was on the north end of the British landing zone, and was to put ashore 5th Division near Cassibile and 50th Division near Avola. It also controlled British 1st Airborne Division, which was to land just south of Syracuse. This formation, along with Commando units, was to support 5th Division in seizing the port city. XIII Corps would then advance northward on Augusta and Catania.

XXX Corps would land on either side of Cape Passero. On the right, 231st Infantry Brigade was to maintain contact with XIII Corps while 51st Division secured the town of Pachino. On the left, two Royal Marine Commando units and 1st Canadian Division were to advance and make contact with Seventh Army at Ragusa. They were also to take the airfield at Pachino. 51st Division would then also begin to move northward.

Seventh Army's invasion force had two primary elements, 3d Infantry Division and II Corps. The former would land in the region of Licata, while the latter, including 1st Infantry Division and 45th Infantry Division, would attack on about sixty miles of beach to the east. Patton's reserve was divided into four main elements, namely 2d Armored Division, reinforced with a regimental combat team from 1st Infantry Division; that portion of 82d Airborne Division not involved in the air drop; a regimental combat team from 9th Infantry Division, plus that division's artillery; and the balance of 9th Infantry Division.

The final operational plan required Patton to capture the airfields at Licata, Ponte Olivo, Biscari and Comiso. He was assigned to take and restore to operation the ports of Licata and Gela. To accomplish these tasks, Patton intended to land simultaneously at Scoglitti, Licata and Gela for the purpose of securing, by the end of D plus 2, the ports of Licata and Gela, an air landing ground at Farello, and the airfields.

Third Infantry Division constituted the left side of Patton's invasion force. This division, reinforced by Combat Command A of the 2d Armored Division and a battalion of French colonial troops, the 4th Moroccan Tabor of Goums, totaled about 45,000 men. The division was to attack on four beaches, two each on either side of Licata, to seize the city, its port and the airfield. Since the division was on the far left flank of Seventh Army, with the task of protecting that flank, its first important objective was to capture Campobello and Palma di Montechiaro. These inland cities controlled avenues of approach from the northwest, and getting at them would require the division to overcome significant natural obstacles.

In the landing zone of II Corps, 45th Infantry Division was to land on the right, and 1st Infantry Division on the left. First Infantry Division's area of operations extended from a point midway between Licata and Gela eastward to the Acate River. In addition to its small port, Gela was noteworthy for being near a coastal highway and an air landing ground, and for having behind it an open plain suitable for maneuver. The final plan assigned 1st Infantry Division two Ranger Battalions and other supporting units as reserves, as well as six beaches on a total frontage of six miles. One regiment of the division was to move inland, link up with paratroopers near Niscemi, and move on the airfield at Ponte Olivo. The second regiment was to move toward the airfield also. The Ranger battalions were to take the town of Gela.

45th Infantry Division had before it a landing zone of fifteen miles in length. Immediately inland of the beach lay a broad plain. At a distance of about ten miles were situated the towns of Biscari and Comiso. These towns, and the airfields associated with them, constituted 45th Infantry Division's primary objective. One of the division's regiments was to land east of the mouth of the Acate River and drive north to capture Biscari and its airfield, as well as Ponte Dirillo, where the coastal highway crosses the Acate. A second regiment was responsible for taking Scoglitti and Vittoria. The division's final regiment had to seize the airfield at Comiso, while also maintaining contact with Eighth Army at Ragusa.

The portion of the 82d Airborne Division which would land before the primary invasion force was to lend support to the 1st Infantry Division by taking the ground near Gela to be in a position to defend against an enemy counterstroke from the north and east. These forces would come under the command of II Corps, and had been trained to occupy road intersections, not only to hold them open for American troops advancing from the beaches, but also to obstruct efforts by the enemy to move units to the beachhead in an effort to throw the invaders out.

The Allied plan called for the paratroops to be ferried aboard 227 C-47s under the command of the 52d Troop Carrier Wing. The aircraft were to drop their loads at the appointed zones between 11:30 PM July 9 and 12:06 AM July 10, and then return to their points of origination in North Africa. Because of fear of the naval convoys and their anti-aircraft arrays, the planners eschewed a short, straight flight over Pantelleria in favor of a more circuitous route over Malta that required three sharp turns over water at night, and six hours flying time. In addition, no pathfinders were to go in ahead of the troop carriers, and hence the drop zones would not be marked. Pilots were required to commit distinguishing marks to memory and be able to discern them by moonlight. Finally, because of the enormity of the enterprise, and the demands which it placed upon Allied air forces, the paratroops were to receive no fighter protection, and would instead be forced to rely upon tactical surprise.

As might be anticipated, logistic considerations were paramount in an undertaking the size of the HUSKY operation. In the American zone of operations, 45th Infantry Division began with twenty-one days of maintenance and ten units of fire, all to be conveyed with the assault and in the first follow-up convoy on D plus 4. In the second follow-up convoy of D plus 8, this unit would receive seven more days maintenance and an additional one and one-sixth units of fire. Its partner in II Corps, 1st Infantry Division, went into action with seven days maintenance and two and one-third units of fire, and would receive from the D plus 4 follow up seven more days of maintenance and an additional one and one-sixth units of fire. The last follow up convoy, D plus 8, would bring this division fourteen more days maintenance and two and one-third units of fire. Third Infantry Division generally followed this plan except that it received about one half of the maintenance and fire units in the third follow up convoy.

In addition to the supplies specifically designated for each unit, the plan provided for sizable provisions to be placed aboard ships in North Africa and then transported to the landing zone for ready transfer ashore. Thus, almost three weeks worth of ammunition and supplies would be available from cargo vessels in the invasion area, beginning two weeks after the invasion. Yet further supplies, ammunition, weapons and equipment remained at Bizerte, ready for immediate shipment to Sicily.

A particularly noteworthy aspect of the HUSKY operation was the manner in which the Allies' logistics system had improved. This was observable primarily with regard to the Allies' amphibious equipment and its manner of use. Indeed, much new equipment was used in large numbers for the first time. The most prominent of these were four amphibious vehicles, namely the LCVP (landing craft, vehicle or personnel), the LST (landing ship, tank), the LCI (landing craft, infantry) and the LCT (landing craft, tank). All were intended to bring their cargoes to the water's edge and discharge them there with speed and efficiency. Among Allied leaders, however, there was some anxiety about their performance for the simple reason that time had not permitted testing of the vehicles under all possible conditions. In contrast, another new piece of equipment, the DUKW (known, naturally enough, as "the duck"), enjoyed a high level of confidence. This amphibious truck was capable of 50 miles per hour on land and over 5 knots at sea, and had been designed to carry up to five thousand pounds of cargo, men and their equipment, and wounded. Seventh Army expected the DUKW alone to resolve many anticipated logistics problems.

The interrelationship among the respective army, navy and air force commands in anticipation of HUSKY was a curious one. One would expect that the services would be forced to confer regarding the matter of naval gunfire in support of the landing, and such conferences naturally took place. However, the two sides held opposite views from the outset on the question of whether naval gunfire should be used to "soften" the invasion beaches prior to the landings. The navy urged that such "softening fire" be used; the army argued, successfully as it turned out, that the fire should be withheld in the interest of achieving tactical surprise, and to protect paratroopers already on the ground. Both sides agreed that naval gunfire would be necessary and forthcoming in support of the infantry once it had come ashore.

While the navy and army were able to cooperate in establishing a fire support plan, the air force command steadfastly refused to work with either of them. There does not appear to be a compelling explanation for this behavior, and it is remarkable that Eisenhower tolerated it. In brief, the Allied air forces made it clear that they would not provide ground support until they had first succeeded in neutralizing the Axis air forces. Since the Allies lacked sufficient forces to perform both tasks at once, and since Allied air commanders were committed to the concept of massed forces, and finally since destruction of the Axis air forces was regarded as the primary objective, there would be no ground support until Allied air commanders were prepared to give it. As a result, the air plan issued in June failed to provide army and navy commanders with meaningful information as to what air support they could expect to have on the day of the invasion.

In spite of the shortcomings of the air plan, in fact quite sizable air support was made available for the Sicily invasion. The Northwest African Tactical Air Force (NATAF) provided twenty fighter squadrons on Malta, an American fighter group on Pantelleria, and yet another American fighter group on the isle of Gozo, near Malta. The aircraft thus amassed totaled almost 700. Added to these were additional fighter-bombers and tactical bombers operating from bases in North Africa. Some of these aircraft were designated to move to Sicily when captured airfields became available.

The Allied air forces which took part in HUSKY were organized under the umbrella of the Mediterranean Air Command (MAC), headed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder, General Eisenhower's deputy commander for air operations in the invasion. MAC included Northwest African Air Forces (NAAF), the RAF, Middle East (RAFME) (which had the U.S. Ninth Air Force attached to it), and RAF Malta. NAAF, under the command of General Carl Spaatz, was made up principally of Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF), Maj. Gen. James H. Doolittle commanding, and Northwest African Tactical Air Force (NATAF) under Air Vice Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham. [90] NASAF included four groups of American B-17s, five groups of American medium bombers (B-25s and B-26s) and four wings of RAF Wellingtons, as well as five American fighter groups, flying P-38s and P-40s. NATAF, whose purpose was almost entirely tactical in nature, included three additional groups of American medium bombers (A-20s and B-25s), two RAF and one South African wings of tactical bombers and two tactical reconnaissance squadrons. [91]

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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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