As part of our special monthly series covering historic WW2 battles, this month we’re looking at the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943 – Operation Husky.
In the wake of the successful Allied campaign in North Africa, which removed German and Italian forces from their last positions in Tunisia in May 1943, the Allies stood poised to bring the battle to Italian soil. The most viable option was to launch an amphibious and airborne invasion to secure the important island of Sicily as a base for further operations.
To carry out the operation, the Allies mustered the British 8th and U.S. 7th Armies. These consisted of multiple infantry divisions with additional armoured formations and support units. In addition to this, the British 1st and American 82nd Airborne Divisions were allocated to the airborne assault. These forces were well-supported by naval and air power.
Facing the Allies were approximately a quarter of a million Italian troops of the 6th Army and 2 German armoured divisions. Although large in number, these forces lacked the air and naval support enjoyed by the Allies.
In the early hours of 10 July 1943, Allied airborne and seaborne forces landed on Sicily. Although the airborne part of the operation suffered from strong winds which hampered the effectiveness of the units involved, the British and American paratroopers were successful in establishing a foothold on the island. Meanwhile, the sea landings were also hampered by the adverse weather, although this actually added to the element of surprise as the defenders did not expect landings to go ahead in such conditions. By the end of the day, 7 divisions had been brought ashore and the key port of Syracuse had been captured.
Over the following days, the Allied forces pushed the defenders North East towards the Italian mainland. Having lost most of the island, the Axis forces were made to retreat from Messina back to the mainland. By 27 July, the last Axis forces had withdrawn, after conducting a highly effective evacuation operation, leaving the Allies in control of Sicily.
The Allied landings in Sicily marked the beginning of the Italian campaign which brought the war to Germany’s closest ally. By securing Sicily as a base, the Allies were able to turn their focus towards the mainland and the advance North.