Home » Army » 75th Anniversary of Operation Husky (Allied invasion of Sicily during WW II)

75th Anniversary of Operation Husky (Allied invasion of Sicily during WW II)

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.

Operation Husky

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.

Drop zonesThe 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.


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