Friday, July 15, 2005

On July 10th in military 1943.

(Yeah, well I can't ever seem to post this things on time either. And don't bother trying to corret any speeling and/or grammattical errors, Cap'n)

On July 10th in military history….in 1943. The Allies invade the island of Sicily in Operation Husky. After having forced the Axis out of North Africa in the spring of 1943, the Allies had a problem. They had a very large army sitting around doing nothing in North Africa and wanting to keep the momentum going, they needed to start another campaign. The US wanted to invade France just as soon as possible, but the British were more keen on keeping the Mediterranean sea lanes open between Gibraltar and Alexandria. Since it was decided that the invasion of France would have to be put on hold for another year, the next best thing would be to invade Italy (the "soft underbelly of Europe" as described by Winston Churchill). In order to successfully invade Italy, you need to take Sicily first and the fact that North Africa is only a short distance from Sicily (as testified by all the boatloads of illegal immigrants who "invade" Sicily), it was a no-brainer that Sicily should be invaded next. So, Operation Husky was born.

Operation Husky was the largest landing of men and material in the war and also took place over the longest front. The Allies invaded with one American Army (the 7th under General George Patton) and one British Army (the 8th under the "hero" of Normandy, Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery). The British would land on the southern tip of the island between Syracuse and Pachino and the Americans would land to the west between Licata, Gela and Scoglieri. The plan was to have the British forces do all the "heavy lifting" and drive north thru Catania to Messina while the American forces would only provide support for the British and protect their flank. This was due to the belief by some in the British Army that the Americans were not really "up to speed" when it came to fighting since the British had been at it already for four years and the Americans had just joined the war a few years ago. The Axis forces, under the command of an Italian general, consisted of about 365,000 Italian troops but more importantly, two German divisions, the 15th Panzer Grenadier and the Herman Goering Armored.

The landings were executed in rough seas, but they achieved tactical surprise. Unfortunately, the Americans had decided to land infantry in the first waves without any armored support. This was a mistake as the Germans counterattacked the landing beaches at Gela almost immediately using the tanks from the Herman Goering division. It looked as if the Allies would be thrown back into the sea if not for Allied off-shore naval gunfire support. The Germans learned very quickly what the Japanese had already learned trying to repel US Marine invasions in the Pacific: naval gunfire rocks! Time after time as the German panzers came down out of the hills and valleys, naval gunfire would stop the attack in its tracks. As an example, the biggest gun carried by US light cruisers during World War II was the 6-inch cannon. In millimeters, 6 inches is equal to 152 millimeters. The main US artillery guns during World War II were 75, 105 and 155 millimeters. A US light cruiser carried 9 to 12 of these guns along with 8 5-inch guns (127 millimeters), so one well-placed broadside of 12 6-inch guns and 4 5-inch guns could quickly ruin any tank commanders day and destroy any counterattack. The first military action that my sainted father saw during World War II was the Sicily invasion and his ship, the light cruiser USS Birmingham, was instrumental in repelling the German counterattacks around Gela.

After the initial landings, the British started running into stiff resistance and their attack bogged down. Meanwhile, General Patton was chaffing at the restrictions placed on him by the invasion plan and decided to take matters into his own hands. He decided to conduct a "reconnaissance" towards Agrigento to the west and succeeded in capturing the town. He then moved on Palermo. The Allied land forces commander (a Brit) tried to stop him, but Patton said that the radio transmission was "garbled" and before you knew it, he was in Palermo ("Patton’s taken Palermo. Damn!"). He next wheeled his forces around and attacked to the east towards Messina to cut off the escape route for any German/Italian forces. The rest of the campaign degenerated into a race between the British and the Americans to see who would get to Messina first (the Americans did).

The Axis forces lost around 29,000 men and 140,000 were captured. However, due to poor planing on the Allies part, the Axis were able to evacuate over 100,000 men and 10,000 vehicles thru Messina to the Italian mainland. Luckily, the US press/Michael Moore was not on hand to scream "Quagmire!" and "We went to war with out a plan!" as they would in later US conflicts. The Allies lost about 29,000 men killed and wounded. Strategically, the Sicily invasion achieved what the British had hoped, it removed any threat to the Mediterranean sea lanes, but it also helped to topple Mussolini from power and hastened the surrender of the Italy to the Allies.


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