In recent posts I have presented:
- Description of Operation Husky
- Colonel Gavin’s description of the airborne operations in Sicily
- My remarks at Ponte Dirillo on 10 July
The latest is that some citizens in Bellevue Ohio working with the mayor have decided to seek the Medal of Honor for my father LTC Arthur F. Gorham.
We will be following this story.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I am honored to join you today for the third time. I am proud to be joined by my wife, our three children, and all three of our grandsons.
I want to thank Senore Ventura and all of our Sicilian friends for the warm hospitality extended to my family and all who celebrate freedom. In our 3 visits to this hallowed ground we have been warmly received and we appreciate the friendship that has not only been developed here but also that exists between our two nations.
I speak to you not only as a former warrior myself, but as the son of a true warrior: LTC Arthur F. Gorham. My father gave his life while leading his paratroopers against a determined foe at the beginning of the effort to rid Italy and Europe of the scourge of Fascism’s two evil dictatorships. I am reminded of a saying I learned while a cadet at West Point that is attributed to General Douglas MacArthur: “There is no substitute for victory.” The brave men and women from many countries who valiantly fought here 75 years ago knew that victory, even in the face of long odds, was the only option.
The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, was a major World War II campaign, in which the Allies liberated Sicily from the Axis. It was a coordinated large scale amphibious and airborne operation, followed by six weeks of intense land combat. Husky set the stage for freeing the rest of Italy and later Europe.
Husky began on the night of July 9,1943. The initial airborne landings took place in extremely strong winds, which made the landings difficult but also ensured the element of surprise. Later, beach landings were made on the southern and eastern coasts of the island, with British forces in the east and Americans towards the west. Spearheading the sledgehammer blow to crack open Hitler’s Festung Europa, for the first time, would be paratroopers of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division and glidermen and parachutists of Britain’s 1st Airborne Division. My father led the 1st Battalion of the 505th. Despite the high winds which scattered the paratroopers into small groups all over the island, the airborne troops took the initiative wreaking havoc on the Axis lines of communications so that the landings could occur on the beaches near Gela uninterrupted by counter attacks. The seizure and holding of the bunkers and top of the hill to your rear was key to this effort.
Strategically, Husky achieved the goals set out for it by Allied planners. The Allies drove Axis air and naval forces from the island; the Mediterranean’s sea lanes were opened and dictator Benito Mussolini and his fascists were later toppled from power. The success of the Allied effort here in Sicily opened the way to the destroying Nazism in Europe.
They fought right here near this monument. My friend, Senore Ventura, on whose farm we are at today, remembers observing as a young boy the fighting and dying that occurred at this place.
Today, we celebrate the feats of those brave warriors and their struggle for freedom. Warfare today is vastly different than what the soldiers who fought here 75 years ago knew. In the current climate, it is unclear what constitutes victory and worse, some refuse to even admit there are enemies whom we must defend against. In some cases, we fight against terrorists who know no rules of war and seek to deny us our freedoms. In other cases, old enemies appear eager to re-fight a war I thought was settled with the fall of the Berlin Wall nearly three decades ago. In this climate, it seems like we need to be reminded of what Winston Churchill said in 1940 before the United States entered World War II: “Victory at all cost. Victory in spite of all terror. Victory no matter how long and how hard the road may be; for without victory there is no survival.”
As we contemplate the sacrifices made 75 years ago, let us insure that the warriors who died freeing the world from Facism and later communism will continue to be relevant in our search for freedom. We must remain resilient to the forces who would seek to suppress our individual freedoms to their preferred political or religious views.
Let me close by reassuring those who gave their lives for freedom that we understand their sacrifice by reciting The Absent Legions by – Edgar A. Guest
Somewhere, far away, ‘they heard us
When the word of Victory stirred us.
Safe within God’s Holy keeping,
Heard us cheer and saw us weeping;
Shared in all we did or said-
Freedom’s glorious, youngest dead.
Never doubt it, there was gladness
Where the dead are done with madness,
Hate and hurt, and need for dying.
As they saw our banners flying
On our day of joyous pride,
” ‘Twas for this,” said they,
“We died!” What if tears our eyes had blinded.
As of them we were reminded?
Never doubt it. they were voicing
Somewhere. songs of great rejoicing;
Glad to look on earth and see
Safe our country. still. and free.
Thank you for the warm hospitality extended to my family and all who celebrate freedom.
“Elements of the 1st Battalion of the Regiment landed exactly where they were supposed to: on and off the high ground overlooking the airfield about 5 kilometers northeast of the city of Gela. The 1st Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Arthur F. Gorham, accompanied by elements of the 3rd Battalion of the 504th, engaged a Kampfgruppe[i] of the Hermann Goering Panzer Division at once. There were supposed to be no Germans (except a few technicians) on the island, and I could not believe the first reports that were coming in; the German Panzers were everywhere in large numbers. The troopers went to work and in a short while learned that the Panzer Infantry was quite manageable and our Infantry could stop them. The Tiger Tanks, though, were something else. Equipped with 4-112 inches of armor that on a slant amounted to 6 inches, and 88 MM. guns that the Germans used against the Infantry, and which was probably the most formidable antitank weapon in the world at that time; with an overall weight of 60 tons the Tiger Tank was something that one would never forget after the first encounter. The Germans launched their counterattack in two columns: the western column from the vicinity of Niscemi, and the eastern column from the vicinity of Biscari. This column contained a company of Tigers. It was this battalion that I became engaged with on the morning of July 11th. It was about 10 kilometers east of its planned objective and, from the outset, the German Panzer battle group was astride the road that we needed to get to our objective area where the 1st Battalion had landed. At the end of the day’s hard fighting we made a last counterattack, and the German Infantry broke and ran from the battlefield, and, thus, we were able to join with the 1st Battalion near Gela.”
[i] 1. The Kampfgruppe was an ad hoc combined arms formation, usually employing combination of tanks, infantry, and artillery (including anti-tank) elements, generally organiz1ed for a particular task or operation.
A Kampfgruppe could range in size from a corps to a company, but the most common was an Abteilung (battalion)-sized formation. Kampfgruppen were generally referred to by either their commanding officer’s name or the parent division.
On July 9, Allied convoys came together near the British-held island of Malta, and from there they made for the southern coast of Sicily. The landing craft were slightly delayed in reaching the island because of a storm, but in fact this also helped the Allies: the Italian defense forces had been placed on a lower than usual state of alert because it was thought that the poor weather would have made an attack unlikely. Simultaneously airborne troops of the US 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) and the British 1st Airlanding Brigade.
The location of the planned paratrooper landings was the vicinity of the U in the above map of the landing bases.
The first landings were made by the British, using more than 130 gliders of the Airlanding Brigade. Their task was to take control of a bridge, the Ponte Grande, some distance to the south of Syracuse. However, the landings were fraught with problems: 200 men were drowned when their gliders crashed into the sea, many more landed in areas away from their target, and only 12 landed in the right place. Even so, the British were successful in taking and holding the bridge.
Meanwhile, the American paratroopers were attempting a landing in the south west part of Sicily (just east of the port of Gela. This operation, too, went far from smoothly. Many of the pilots used had little experience of combat and a combination of this inexperience, dust being thrown up from the dry ground, and fire from anti-aircraft guns meant that the American paratroopers ended up quite widely spread, some landing as much as 50 miles away from their targets.
The planned and actual landing zones for the US paratroopers. (From Ready thde history for the 505th PIR in WW II.)
On Tuesday July 10, 2018 there will be several ceremonies celebrating the American assault on Sicily. The first will be at Ponte Dirillo where some of the paratroopers commanded by LTC Arthur F Gorham fought off 2 German counterattacks over the following several days near there. LTC Gorham was killed during those battles. (Ponte Dirlllo is located just south of where elements of 1-505 actually landed.) There will also be ceremonies in Gela and a reenactment of the naval invasion on the evening of 10 July. We will report from the scene.
The main assault on the Sicilian coast was a joint effort between British and U.S. forces, with American divisions attacking the western coasts and the British the east. Warships were based off the coasts in order to provide covering fire. The British forces had the easier time of the two groups, with relatively little fight being put up by the Italian defenders. This allowed the Allied guns and tanks to be landed quickly, and Panchino was in British hands by nightfall.
Meanwhile, the U.S. divisions on the other coast of the island had a much harder time of things, with both Italian and German airplanes offering strong resistance to the invasion. Later in the afternoon, a Panzer division of heavy Tiger tanks joined the defense, but the Americans managed to land 16th Regimental Combat Team and the 2nd Armored Division by evening. The U.S. forces succeeded in holding their ground until covering fire from the Navy drove off the tanks. The beach head was also protected by the brave paratrooper lead by LTC Gorham near Ponte Dirillo. Subsequently LTC Gorham’s small paratroop element was place under the command of the 16th Regiment of the 1st Infantry Division.
The Axis were misled by the widely scattered Allied paratroopers into thinking that the invasion was on a massive scale, and requested reinforcements. However, these did not make a difference to the eventual outcome. On July 12, Augusta had come under British control, and General Bernard Montgomery ordered his men to mount an attack on Messina to the north. Lt. General George S. Patton, who commanded the American 7th Army, did not agree with this change in emphasis and told his troops to head west instead.
The U.S. soldiers advanced steadily toward Palermo, a strategically important seaport. They met relatively little serious resistance and, by the time they had occupied the port on July 22, more than 50,000 prisoners had been taken. Control of Palermo allowed the 9th Division of the U.S. Army to make a landing there, rather than having to repeat a riskier southern assault; it also opened up a useful supply line for the Allies. Once this had been achieved, Patton was ordered by Alexander to go forward to Messina.
Many analysts have credited the planning and operational approach to operation Husky as making Normandy a success. Normandy was an invasion on a much larger scale and with many more troops but the approach was the same. The paratroopers’ mission in both operations was to isolate and protect the beach heads from enemy attacks so that there was time for the beach heads to be consolidated and the landing forces assuming the brunt of the battle.
The activities around Gela will be reported right after they happen.