The Allied Invasion of Sicily
The Allied Invasion of Sicily
Your Holiday Essentials
The island of Sicily is rich in military history. From classical Greek and Roman sites, to the Napoleonic war and, of course, the Second World War. The north east of the island, where we spend the majority of our time, is dominated by the imposing site of Mount Etna which looms menacingly over the coast line and countryside through which we travel. There is also the famous Strait of Messina, the narrow body of water that separates Sicily from the mainland, and from where the German army orchestrated their almost miraculous escape in 1943.
Whilst travelling through Sicily we will admire its beauty, but also see for ourselves the difficulties the terrain posed for both attacker and defender during the war. We travel along the rock-strewn coastline, visit mountain top villages, scale an active volcano and stay in some of the island’s most historic and picturesque towns. This is a tour that has everything, in a place steeped in history.
1943 was a difficult year for the Allies. America was still not at full capacity industrially and she was still learning on the battlefield. The British Empire, on the other hand, was under assault in the Atlantic and from the air whilst her victory in North Africa had done little to convince the battered Soviets that she was sacrificing enough.
With a view both to knock Italy out of the war and to seize a foothold in the Mediterranean, the ambitious plan to grab Sicily was hatched.
However, the campaign there marked the turning point of the Alliance. Patton’s 7th Army arrived in Sicily expecting to play second fiddle to Montgomery’s 8th Army but, after the British offensive stalled at Primosole from 13th July, Patton seized the initiative, driving first for Palermo and then, in tandem with three, daring amphibious landings, racing against the British to liberate Messina.
So the friction and lack of coordination between the Allies helped the Germans to escape with remarkably light casualties to Reggio Calabria. Then, as Mussolini’s Government imploded and his country capitulated, the Allies found themselves having to make some hard decisions about where and how to dominate the Mediterranean. The subsequent invasion of mainland Italy was a strange decision but this tour will reveal why it was taken.
- With retired army Colonel Patrick Mercer OBE
- Monty & Patton's landings and battles inland
- Coast, mountains and cuisine of Sicily
- Visit Syracuse, Palermo and view Mt Etna
"Attack both by day and night to the limit of human endurance and then continue to attack"
Gen George Patton - General order to US 7th Army before Sicily landings 1943
Day 1 – Arrival
Take our late afternoon flight from London to Catania and drive to Syracuse to check-in to our hotel for three nights.
Day 2 – Landings at Gela
The strategy of the US landings will be explained before we drive to the Gela Beachhead. There the first landings by the Rangers will be examined before we look at both 3 Infantry Division’s and 45 Infantry Division’s amphibious assaults. If anyone chooses to dismiss the commitment and bravery of the Italian Forces, they need look no further than the counter-attacks against these landings. The marks of intense fighting in Gela and around Ponte Dirillo, where 82nd Airborne Division took on an Italian bunker complex, can still be seen.
Day 3 - British & Canadian landings
The strategy will be talked through before we go to the ancient site of Castello Eurialo to oversee the beaches where it was put into practice. The Special Raiding Sqn’s attack on Porco di Murro will start an in-depth examination of this extensive and complex area, followed by air landing operations at Ponte Grande. We then turn our attention to Operation Ladbroke. The difficult combination of glider, parachute, commando and amphibious raiding operations will be examined by studying the defences that remain as well as the glider landing sites which proved so difficult to assess before the aircraft were launched.
Day 4 - Exploitation
The British attempt to push forward quickly to capture Catania and exploit northwards will take up the whole of this busy day. Modern developments mean that it has been hard to trace the exact site of the Primosole Bridge but the parachute landings, the first attempt by the British to seize the bridge and the Germans’ counter attack against the ‘Johnny’ hills, are all there to be seen. Similarly, the course of the final actions by the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, and by 10 Bn Royal Berkshire Regiment, will be walked followed by visits to the Durham’s memorial and to that at Berkshire Farm. At the end of another full day we will drive to our hotel near Catania for three nights.
Day 5 - Cracking the Etna Line
Once the Germans had decided to evacuate Sicily they established the Etna Line of defences and fell back behind them. We will visit 51st Highland Div's battles for Gerbini and Sferro, the first part of Montgomery’s ‘left hook’ into the foothills of Etna, and climb to the extraordinary 51st Division’s Memorial. From there we will twist our way upwards towards the 1st Canadian Division’s mountainous assaults on Assoro, Regalbuto and Adrano and marvel at their achievements. Finally, the CWGC Cemetery at Agira will be visited - the only completely Canadian cemetery in this theatre.
Day 6 - The End Run
Our penultimate day will start with a scene-setting lecture in the German evacuation plans and then a visit to Forte Cavali to get a grandstand view of the whole operation. Then the reasons why the Allies failed to stop the evacuation will be discussed at the quayside in Messina before we head back to Catania to visit both the German and Commonwealth Cemeteries, finishing the day at the superb museum of the campaign. Prepare to be impressed: this wonderful collection, although hidden in the town’s suburbs, is one of the finest military museums that you will see including divisional histories, weapons, uniforms and interactive sites.
Day 7 – Aftermath
The aftermath of Operation Husky will be described from the top of Mount Etna to which we will ascend by cable car. From here the full majesty of Sicily can be appreciated as well as the need to dominate it as a stepping stone to the rest of the Mediterranean. The strengths, limitations and faults of the campaign will be discussed from here as well as a frank overview of what came next for the Allies in two more years of gruelling fighting up mainland Italy. Fly Catania to London.
Recommended Reading List
- Sicily 1943: The debut of Allied joint operations
- Sicily and the Surrender of Italy: The Mediterranean Theater of Operations
- The Allied Invasion of Sicily: The History of the Largest Amphibious Campaign of World War II
- The Battle for Sicily: Stepping Stone to Victory
Patrick Mercer OBE
Patrick Mercer OBE read History at Oxford University before joining his family’s regiment, The Sherwood Foresters. He completed many operational tours in Northern Ireland and Bosnia, for which he was decorated several times. After leaving the army he became a defence correspondence for the BBC. His first love, however, is military history.