Operation Husky – The invasion of Sicily

Craig Bowman
British Sherman tank

Many people view the Invasion of Normandy as the most famous battle of World War II. That combat in France, during which thousands of soldiers on both sides lost their lives or were badly wounded, is rightly described as the final step toward victory on May 8th, 1945 in Europe. Japan fell to the Allies a few brief months later.

But many battles occurred prior to Normandy that were, if not as famous, certainly as important, battles like Operation Husky, the code name for the invasion of Sicily in July, 1943. Not only did the Allies successfully take this island back from the Germans, it forced Hitler to divert troops from the battle on the eastern front in the Soviet Union.

U.S. and British troops landing near Gela, Sicily. 10 July 1943. [U.S. Army Photo]
U.S. and British troops landing near Gela, Sicily. 10 July 1943. [U.S. Army Photo]
Had the Allies not been victorious in Italy, the war could have unfolded very differently.  But thanks to the leadership and planning team that included General Dwight Eisenhower, the three-day campaign resulted in the Germans being forced to pull back in retreat, a reality that infuriated the Nazi leader.

The Allies had been victorious in the North Africa campaign, a battle that went on between 1942 and 1943. The British and Americans and other allies, who were the leaders in the plan to retake Europe from Hitler, then turned their attention to Italy.

Mussolini was another fascist leader in charge there, and the country initially sided with the Nazis. But On July 24th, Mussolini was ousted as leader, and soon the new government sided with the Allies in the final battles of the war.

Operation Husky was a daunting operation that involved 150,000 land and sea troops, 4,000 aircraft, 3,000 shops and 600 tanks. There was a stroke of luck on the side of the Allies, too; German officials bet that because of storms at sea, no leader would insist that an amphibian assault go forward.

They were wrong, and soon Allied troops were invading the southern shores of Sicily. The campaign to retake the island lasted a brutal three days, but ultimately proved a vital step in the taking back of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.

 

View of the dockside of Sousse Harbour, Tunisia. Landing craft are loaded with vehicles and equipped in preparation for the invasion. [© IWM (NA 3938)]
View of the dockside of Sousse Harbour, Tunisia. Landing craft are loaded with vehicles and equipped in preparation for the invasion. [© IWM (NA 3938)]
US soldiers in the vicinity of Gela. in the background destroyed German aircraft. 12 July 1943. [U.S. Army Signal Corps]
US soldiers in the vicinity of Gela. in the background destroyed German aircraft. 12 July 1943. [U.S. Army Signal Corps]
Two German soldiers with machine gun camouflaged between cactuses on Sicily. July 1943.[Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J14874 CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Two German soldiers with machine gun camouflaged between cactuses on Sicily. July 1943.[Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J14874 CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Two bombers Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 of the Regia Aeronautica flying over the southern coast of Sicily. 1943.[Archive photo of Riggio family., CC BY-SA 3.0]
Two bombers Savoia Marchetti S.M. 79 of the Regia Aeronautica flying over the southern coast of Sicily. 1943.[Archive photo of Riggio family., CC BY-SA 3.0]
Troops from 51st Highland Division unloading stores from tank landing craft on the opening day of the Allied invasion of Sicily. 10 July 1943. [© IWM (A 17916)]
Troops from 51st Highland Division unloading stores from tank landing craft on the opening day of the Allied invasion of Sicily. 10 July 1943. [© IWM (A 17916)]
The first Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire lands at an airfield, converted from a wheat field, watched by Sicilian farmers who are working on the harvested wheat. [© IWM (CNA 1098)]
The first Royal Air Force Supermarine Spitfire lands at an airfield, converted from a wheat field, watched by Sicilian farmers who are working on the harvested wheat. [© IWM (CNA 1098)]
The British Army in Sicily 1943 Men of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders advance along a road near Noto, 11 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4306)]
The British Army in Sicily 1943 Men of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders advance along a road near Noto, 11 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4306)]
Royal Air Force glider pilots and pilots of towing aircraft are briefed before the airborne invasion. [© IWM (CNA 1658)]
Royal Air Force glider pilots and pilots of towing aircraft are briefed before the airborne invasion. [© IWM (CNA 1658)]
Gunners of 66 Medium Regiment Royal Artillery in action on the slopes of Mount Etna at dawn. 11 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5854)]
Gunners of 66 Medium Regiment Royal Artillery in action on the slopes of Mount Etna at dawn. 11 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5854)]
L.S.T’s lined up and waiting for tanks to come aboard. Two days before the invasion of Sicily. [U.S. National Archives and Records Administration]
L.S.T’s lined up and waiting for tanks to come aboard. Two days before the invasion of Sicily. [U.S. National Archives and Records Administration]
Machine gun crew takes a position in a vineyard and securing standing troops. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J14917 CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Machine gun crew takes a position in a vineyard and securing standing troops. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J14917 CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Map of the Operation Husky
Map of the Operation Husky

 

Men of 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, advance past a burning fuel store on Pantelleria. Left to right Lance Sergeant A Haywood, Private C Norman and Private H Maw. [© IWM (NA 3668)]
Men of 1st Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, advance past a burning fuel store on Pantelleria. Left to right Lance Sergeant A Haywood, Private C Norman and Private H Maw. [© IWM (NA 3668)]
Men of the 6th Inniskillings, 38th Irish Brigade, searching houses during mopping up operations in Centuripe, Sicily. August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5388)]
Men of the 6th Inniskillings, 38th Irish Brigade, searching houses during mopping up operations in Centuripe, Sicily. August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5388)]
Panzer VI ‘Tiger I’ in a city in Sicily, Italy. 1943. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J14953 CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Panzer VI ‘Tiger I’ in a city in Sicily, Italy. 1943. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-J14953 CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Personnel of a Beach Balloon Detachment bring gas cylinders ashore at “Cent” Beach near Scoglitti, Sicily. [© IWM (CNA 4180)]
Personnel of a Beach Balloon Detachment bring gas cylinders ashore at “Cent” Beach near Scoglitti, Sicily. [© IWM (CNA 4180)]
Remains of the Italian Navy armed train “T.A. 76 2 T”, destroyed by USS Bristol while opposing the landing at Licata. [Public Domain]
Remains of the Italian Navy armed train “T.A. 76 2 T”, destroyed by USS Bristol while opposing the landing at Licata. [Public Domain]
German troops of the 29th Panzer Division near the Strait of Messina. Summer 1943.
German troops of the 29th Panzer Division near the Strait of Messina. Summer 1943.

 

German troops in Sicily in the summer of 1943 preparing to fight with the Allies.
German troops in Sicily in the summer of 1943 preparing to fight with the Allies.

 

German soldiers on the beach with Tellermines in their hands. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-303-0598-04 Lüthge CC-BY-SA 3.0]
German soldiers on the beach with Tellermines in their hands. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-303-0598-04 Lüthge CC-BY-SA 3.0]
German soldiers maintaining the Panzerkampfwagen III N (Sd.Kfz.1412). July 1943. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-308-0799Q-15A Fraß CC-BY-SA 3.0]
German soldiers maintaining the Panzerkampfwagen III N (Sd.Kfz.1412). July 1943. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-308-0799Q-15A Fraß CC-BY-SA 3.0]
German artillery crew in action with their 7,5cm cannon. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-304-0615-32 Lüthge CC-BY-SA 3.0]
German artillery crew in action with their 7,5cm cannon. [Bundesarchiv, Bild 101I-304-0615-32 Lüthge CC-BY-SA 3.0]
General Patton during conversation with Lieutenant Colonel Lyle Bernard near Brolo. [U.S. National Archives and Records Administration]
General Patton during conversation with Lieutenant Colonel Lyle Bernard near Brolo. [U.S. National Archives and Records Administration]
General Keyes and the General Molinero together arriving at Palermo in order to sign the surrender of the city.
General Keyes and the General Molinero together arriving at Palermo in order to sign the surrender of the city.

 

General Bernard Law Montgomery is bid a jolly farewell by Lieutenant General George S. Patton. An Airport at Palermo, Sicily, 28 July 1943. [Signal Corps Photo MM-Bri-7-28-43-R2-6]
General Bernard Law Montgomery is bid a jolly farewell by Lieutenant General George S. Patton. An Airport at Palermo, Sicily, 28 July 1943. [Signal Corps Photo MM-Bri-7-28-43-R2-6]
Destroyed palace after Allied bombing in Palermo. July 1943. [Bundesarchiv, N 1603 Bild- Horst Grund CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Destroyed palace after Allied bombing in Palermo. July 1943. [Bundesarchiv, N 1603 Bild- Horst Grund CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Bombs bursting on the docks and harbour of Pantelleria, as seen from on board the cruiser HMS ORION, in preparation for the allied invasion of the island. Pantelleria, Sicily, 1943. [© IWM (A 17666)]
Bombs bursting on the docks and harbour of Pantelleria, as seen from on board the cruiser HMS ORION, in preparation for the allied invasion of the island. Pantelleria, Sicily, 1943. [© IWM (A 17666)]
British dummy tanks on the Catania Plain. [© IWM (NA 5273)]
British dummy tanks on the Catania Plain. [© IWM (NA 5273)]
British Sherman tank advancing near Catania, Sicily. 4 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5522)]
British Sherman tank advancing near Catania, Sicily. 4 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5522)]
British ship HMS Warpite of the coast of Sicily. July 1943. [Di ISpinksy – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0]
British ship HMS Warpite of the coast of Sicily. July 1943. [Di ISpinksy – Opera propria, CC BY-SA 3.0]
British troops wade ashore during the invasion of Sicily, 10 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4275)]
British troops wade ashore during the invasion of Sicily, 10 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4275)]
British wounded being treated, and Italian prisoners of war waiting to be evacuated from the beach on the first day of the invasion of Sicily, 10 July 1943. [© IWM (A 17912)]
British wounded being treated, and Italian prisoners of war waiting to be evacuated from the beach on the first day of the invasion of Sicily, 10 July 1943. [© IWM (A 17912)]
Chandelier flares light up an Allied airfield during a night raid by Axis bombers. Bombs are bursting and a column of smoke rises into the night sky from a fire. [© IWM (CNA 1293)]
Chandelier flares light up an Allied airfield during a night raid by Axis bombers. Bombs are bursting and a column of smoke rises into the night sky from a fire. [© IWM (CNA 1293)]
Civilian resident of Misterbianco, near Catania, paints the slogan ‘Viva England’ on a wall after the village had been occupied by the Eighth Army. [© IWM (NA 5450)]
Civilian resident of Misterbianco, near Catania, paints the slogan ‘Viva England’ on a wall after the village had been occupied by the Eighth Army. [© IWM (NA 5450)]
Crew from the tank “Eternity” check their vehicle after landing at Red Beach 2, Sicily. 10 July 1943. [Signal Corps Photo MM-43-01-32 (Osborne)]
Crew from the tank “Eternity” check their vehicle after landing at Red Beach 2, Sicily. 10 July 1943. [Signal Corps Photo MM-43-01-32 (Osborne)]
Anti-aircraft FlaK-38 20mm and its crew near Etna, Sicily. 1943. [Bundesarchiv, N 1603 Bild-226 Horst Grund CC-BY-SA 3.0]
Anti-aircraft FlaK-38 20mm and its crew near Etna, Sicily. 1943. [Bundesarchiv, N 1603 Bild-226 Horst Grund CC-BY-SA 3.0]
American troops advance through a damaged street in Randazzo. [© IWM (NA 5893)]
American troops advance through a damaged street in Randazzo. [© IWM (NA 5893)]
A wrecked U.S. Army Air Force Waco CG-4A glider (s/n 42-73623) in Sicily in July 1943. [U.S. Air Force Photo]
A wrecked U.S. Army Air Force Waco CG-4A glider (s/n 42-73623) in Sicily in July 1943. [U.S. Air Force Photo]
A Sherman tank passes a tram in the Via Garibaldi during the entry into Catania. 5 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5558)]
A Sherman tank passes a tram in the Via Garibaldi during the entry into Catania. 5 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5558)]
A jeep is loaded onto an American WACO CG-4A glider before Operation Husky. July, 1943. [© IWM (CNA 1662)]
A jeep is loaded onto an American WACO CG-4A glider before Operation Husky. July, 1943. [© IWM (CNA 1662)]
A huge dump of German Teller mines captured by the Americans near Roccopalunba during their drive on Palermo. [© IWM (NA 5130)]
A huge dump of German Teller mines captured by the Americans near Roccopalunba during their drive on Palermo. [© IWM (NA 5130)]
A German Panzer III Ausf M moves along a dusty road in Sicily, August 1943. [© IWM (MH 6341)]
A German Panzer III Ausf M moves along a dusty road in Sicily, August 1943. [© IWM (MH 6341)]
A German Mk III tank knocked out during the fierce street fighting in Centuripe. [© IWM (NA 5389)]
A German Mk III tank knocked out during the fierce street fighting in Centuripe. [© IWM (NA 5389)]
A captured Italian 305mm gun being fired at night by the British during the Battle for Catania. This was the biggest gun used during the campaign. [© IWM (NA 5474)]
A captured Italian 305mm gun being fired at night by the British during the Battle for Catania. This was the biggest gun used during the campaign. [© IWM (NA 5474)]
Italian gunboat ‘Geniere’ lies on its side in Palermo Harbour after being hit by a bomb, 23-26 July 1943. The Americans entered Palermo on 22 July, cutting off 50,000 Italian troops in the west of the island. But the mobile Axis forces, including most of the Germans, escaped to the north-east corner of the island. [© IWM (NA 5132)]
Italian gunboat ‘Geniere’ lies on its side in Palermo Harbour after being hit by a bomb, 23-26 July 1943. The Americans entered Palermo on 22 July, cutting off 50,000 Italian troops in the west of the island. But the mobile Axis forces, including most of the Germans, escaped to the north-east corner of the island. [© IWM (NA 5132)]
The Sicily Landings 9-10 July 1943: A small section of the vast armada of ships which took part in the invasion of Sicily as photographed from landing ship headquarters HILARY at dawn of the first day of the invasion of the island. [© IWM (A 17945)]
The Sicily Landings 9-10 July 1943: A small section of the vast armada of ships which took part in the invasion of Sicily as photographed from landing ship headquarters HILARY at dawn of the first day of the invasion of the island. [© IWM (A 17945)]
A Martin Baltimore of the Tactical Bomber Force of the North West African Air Forces, flying over its target by a road in Sicily, while bombing retreating German forces heading for Messina. August 1943. [© IWM (C 3772)]
A Martin Baltimore of the Tactical Bomber Force of the North West African Air Forces, flying over its target by a road in Sicily, while bombing retreating German forces heading for Messina. August 1943. [© IWM (C 3772)]
The successful German rear guard action towards the end of the campaign enabled over 100,00 Axis troops and a large quantity of equipment to be evacuated to Italy from Messina. An aerial photograph shows one of the last German ships to leave Messina on fire after being bombed by the Royal Air Force off the Sicilian coast. [© IWM (C 3733)]
The successful German rear guard action towards the end of the campaign enabled over 100,00 Axis troops and a large quantity of equipment to be evacuated to Italy from Messina. An aerial photograph shows one of the last German ships to leave Messina on fire after being bombed by the Royal Air Force off the Sicilian coast. [© IWM (C 3733)]
An Airborne Division Horsa glider, after landing off course nose down in a field near Syracuse. Although unsuccessful in achieving their primary objectives, the Airborne forces did cause considerable disruption behind the lines. [© IWM (NA 5543)]
An Airborne Division Horsa glider, after landing off course nose down in a field near Syracuse. Although unsuccessful in achieving their primary objectives, the Airborne forces did cause considerable disruption behind the lines. [© IWM (NA 5543)]
A British self propelled ‘Priest’ gun in action against the town of Palazzolo. The ‘Priest’ was a 105mm Howitzer mounted on an American M7 Howitzer Motor Carriage and was first used at the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. [© IWM (NA 4469)]
A British self propelled ‘Priest’ gun in action against the town of Palazzolo. The ‘Priest’ was a 105mm Howitzer mounted on an American M7 Howitzer Motor Carriage and was first used at the Battle of El Alamein in October 1942. [© IWM (NA 4469)]
A 4.2-inch mortar of 1st Princess Louise’s Kensington Regiment in action near Adrano. 6 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5666)]
A 4.2-inch mortar of 1st Princess Louise’s Kensington Regiment in action near Adrano. 6 August 1943. [© IWM (NA 5666)]
A British soldier reads up on Sicily, the target for the next Allied invasion, July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4105)]
A British soldier reads up on Sicily, the target for the next Allied invasion, July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4105)]
A British Universal Carrier Mark I comes ashore during the invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4183)]
A British Universal Carrier Mark I comes ashore during the invasion of Sicily on 10 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4183)]
Italian soldiers of the 206th Coastal Division, taken prisoner by British forces after the landing in Sicily. Typical of the second-rate equipment issued to the Coastal Divisions, they are wearing Adrian helmets, rather than the more modern M33 helmets.
Italian soldiers of the 206th Coastal Division, taken prisoner by British forces after the landing in Sicily. Typical of the second-rate equipment issued to the Coastal Divisions, they are wearing Adrian helmets, rather than the more modern M33 helmets.

 

U.S. Navy LCVPs from USS Joseph T. Dickman (APA-13) landing vehicles through the surf at Gela, Sicily, on 10-12 July 1943. The truck in the center appears to have stalled. [U.S. Navy photo 26-G-1788 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command]
U.S. Navy LCVPs from USS Joseph T. Dickman (APA-13) landing vehicles through the surf at Gela, Sicily, on 10-12 July 1943. The truck in the center appears to have stalled. [U.S. Navy photo 26-G-1788 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command]
Handley Page Halifax A Mark V Series 1 (Special), EB139 ‘NN’, of No. 295 Squadron RAF based at Holmesley South, getting airborne from Portreath, Cornwall, towing Airspeed Horsa glider LG723 to Tunisia, during Operation BEGGAR: the transit of Halifax/Horsa glider combinations from the United Kingdom to North Africa by units of No. 38 Wing RAF, in preparation for the Operation Husky. [© IWM (CM 6934)]
Handley Page Halifax A Mark V Series 1 (Special), EB139 ‘NN’, of No. 295 Squadron RAF based at Holmesley South, getting airborne from Portreath, Cornwall, towing Airspeed Horsa glider LG723 to Tunisia, during Operation BEGGAR: the transit of Halifax/Horsa glider combinations from the United Kingdom to North Africa by units of No. 38 Wing RAF, in preparation for the Operation Husky. [© IWM (CM 6934)]
The Allied commanders of the campaign photographed in Tunisia. Front row, left to right: The Commander-in-Chief, General Dwight Eisenhower, The Air Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Air Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder; the Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Ground Forces Commander, General Alexander and the Naval Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Andrew Cunningham. In the back row are the Hon. Harold MacMillian MP, Brigadier General W B Smith and Air Vice Marshal H E P Wigglesworth (on the extreme right).[© IWM (CNA 1075)]
The Allied commanders of the campaign photographed in Tunisia. Front row, left to right: The Commander-in-Chief, General Dwight Eisenhower, The Air Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Air Command, Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder; the Deputy Commander-in-Chief and Ground Forces Commander, General Alexander and the Naval Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean, Admiral of the Fleet, Sir Andrew Cunningham. In the back row are the Hon. Harold MacMillian MP, Brigadier General W B Smith and Air Vice Marshal H E P Wigglesworth (on the extreme right).[© IWM (CNA 1075)]

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Wrecked and damaged Italian fighters outside bomb-shattered hangars at Catania, Sicily, under the scrutiny of an airman, shortly after the occupation of the airfield by the RAF. [© IWM (CNA 1352)]
Wrecked and damaged Italian fighters outside bomb-shattered hangars at Catania, Sicily, under the scrutiny of an airman, shortly after the occupation of the airfield by the RAF. [© IWM (CNA 1352)]