Chapter 5: Final Allied Preparations
Missions and Forces
The Allied concept of making a concentrated assault on the southeastern corner of Sicily did not mean that all the troops would land bunched together. It meant instead that more than seven divisions, preceded by airborne operations involving parts of two airborne divisions, would come ashore simultaneously along a front of one hundred miles. Both frontage and initial assault forces would be larger than those of the Normandy invasion a year later. In fact, the invasion of Sicily, the first crack at Europe’s “soft underbelly,” was to be at once the largest and most dispersed amphibious assault of World War II.
Though the Combined Chiefs of Staff had hoped that the invasion could go in June, the length of the Tunisian campaign, which ended 13 May, and the difficulties of preparing the Sicilian operation made it impractical before July. Important in the choice of date and invasion hour were the conflicting requirements of the naval forces, which would convey the ground forces to Sicily, and of the airborne troops, which were to drop onto the island to disrupt the enemy rear and thereby assist the amphibious elements ashore. Specifically, moonlight, necessary for airborne operations, was unfavorable for naval operations.
Allied planners had assumed from the outset that an airborne attack was essential for a successful assault on Sicily. Yet as plans were developed, Washington planners began to feel that it was absurd to threaten the success of the naval effort by requiring the Allied naval convoys to approach the hostile shore in broad moonlight simply to accommodate an airdrop of relatively small proportions. To them, it seemed that Eisenhower was “jeopardizing the entire operation because of the desire to use paratroops.” Since current doctrine favored beach assaults during the hours of darkness, the planners noted, could not the airborne troops be dropped at dusk the evening before D-day to enable the naval convoys to approach during the night and the amphibious troops to hit the shore just before daylight?1
General Eisenhower thought not. Supported by Admiral Cunningham and Air Chief Marshal Tedder, and also by his airborne adviser, Maj. Gen. F. A. M. Browning, the Allied commander in chief stated that moonlight was necessary so that troop-carrying aircraft could find the proper drop zones. Thus, moonlight was not a requirement imposed by the airborne troops; it was “mandatory for the air force.” Though Cunningham realized the disadvantages of such an action, he believed that heavy air attack would diminish the threat of enemy air
action against the naval forces and also that moonlight would enhance Allied defense against enemy surface ships and submarines. In the Sicilian region, Eisenhower concluded, a second quarter moon provided the necessary light and darkness. This occurred between the 10th and 14th of July.
Having secured the agreement of the planners in Washington, Eisenhower designated H-hour as 0245, D-day as 10 July, for the beach assaults. The airborne drops would occur around midnight, some two and a half hours earlier.2
Under Admiral Cunningham’s operational command, the Western Naval Task Force, commanded by Vice Adm. Henry K. Hewitt and numbering more than 1,700 ships, craft, and boats, was to carry the American troops to Sicily; the Eastern Naval Task Force under Vice Adm. Sir Bertram H. Ramsey was to transport the British troops. Though enemy air attack was the major naval concern, Cunningham assigned six battleships to cover the convoys against the potential threat of surface attack by the Italian Fleet.3
Under General Alexander’s 15th Army Group headquarters, Montgomery’s Eighth Army was to land on the beaches fronting the Gulf of Noto, just south of Syracuse, and on both sides of the southeastern point of Sicily; Patton’s Seventh Army was to come ashore on seventy miles of beach along the Gulf of Gela. (Map III) Both the southwestern cluster of airfields and the Catania–Gerbini complex remained excluded as immediate objectives, and the hope was that the major port of Syracuse would be occupied soon after the landings. If operations developed quickly out of the initial beachhead, Augusta and Catania would soon add their facilities to Allied port capacity.
Though the British thus expected to have three major ports quickly, the Americans, served only by the minor ports of Licata and Gela, would have to depend on beach maintenance. Alexander justified this logistical risk for two reasons: the probability of good weather in July, and the availability of a newly developed two-and-a-half-ton amphibious truck called the Dukw, which could ferry men and matériel directly to beach dumps. Furthermore, after the British captured and opened the port of Syracuse, they agreed, after the fourteenth day of the campaign, to dispatch 1,000 tons of supplies daily to the Seventh Army. But whether this, plus beach maintenance, would be enough remained to be seen.4
Before the landings, Alexander made no specific plans to develop the land campaign growing out of the initial beachhead. He preferred to get the two armies firmly ashore before launching out. But he counted on the British Eighth Army to make the main effort, and he expected Montgomery to drive quickly through Catania to the Strait of Messina.5 He
was aware of possible resentment in the American Seventh Army over the fact that the Americans would only protect the British flank and rear while Montgomery drove for the main strategic objective in Sicily. Patton’s army would be the shield in Alexander’s left hand; Montgomery’s army the sword in his right.
As Alexander expected, some resentment did arise, for Admiral Cunningham reported that the Americans were “very sore about it.” Maintenance, too, was bound to be “a tricky problem” for the Americans, for whether they could bring 3,000 tons ashore daily for six weeks over the beaches and through the small ports was highly questionable. Yet Patton, Cunningham learned, had taken “the attitude that he has been ordered to land there and he will do it.”6 Though some of Patton’s associates urged him to protest, he refused. An order was an order, and he would do his “goddamndest to carry it out.”7 He apparently convinced Alexander of his good faith and firm intention to do the best he could.8
As finally drawn up, the plan provided for the employment of thirteen divisions and one brigade. The British Eighth Army was to land four divisions and one brigade, most of them on the Gulf of Noto beaches, the 1st Canadian Division on one beach around the southeastern corner of the island. Their objectives were the port of Syracuse and a nearby airfield. The British 1st Airlanding Brigade was to precede the main British amphibious landings and seize the bridge called Ponte Grande over the Anapo River just south of Syracuse. The American Seventh Army was to land three divisions on beaches oriented on the ports of Licata and Gela and several airfields nearby. A reinforced regimental combat team from the 82nd Airborne Division was to drop several hours ahead of the main American landings to secure important high ground a few miles inland from Gela.9
The British Eighth Army planned to make five simultaneous predawn landings, preceded by the air-landing operation just south of Syracuse. The 13 Corps (General Dempsey) on the right was to come ashore on the northern beaches of the Gulf of Noto, the 5th Division near Cassibile, the 50th Division near Avola. Troops of the 1st Airborne Division were to land south of Syracuse on the corps north flank, and together with Commando units landing just south of Syracuse, were to assist the 5th Division to take the port. With a beachhead and Syracuse secured, the 13 Corps was to advance to the north to take Augusta and Catania.
The 30 Corps (General Leese) was to make its amphibious landings on both sides of the Pachino peninsula, the southeastern corner of Sicily. The 231st Infantry Brigade was to protect the right flank and gain contact with the adjacent 13 Corps in the Noto area; the 51st Division was to take the town of Pachino. On the left, the 1st Canadian Division, with two Royal Marine Commando units attached, was to capture the Pachino airfield and make contact with the American Seventh Army at Ragusa. After a secure beachhead was established, Montgomery planned to have the 51st Division
relieve the 50th Division at Avola to enable the latter unit to move north toward Messina with the 13 Corps.10
The British airborne troops, unlike the Americans who would parachute into Sicily, planned to come in by glider. They were to seize two objectives: the Ponte Grande over the Anapo River on Highway 115, and the western part of Syracuse itself. Montgomery hoped that the glider troops would assist the advance of his ground troops into the city and quicken the opening of the port of Syracuse, essential to Eighth Army’s logistical plans. The U.S. 51st Troop Carrier Wing, which had worked with the British airborne troops since April 1943, was to furnish a majority of the gliders and the tow planes.
Again, unlike the Americans, who preferred not to schedule follow-up airborne operations, the British scheduled two, one against Augusta, and one in the Catania area. But until the invasion actually started, no one could say with certainty which, or if indeed either, of these operations would be needed.11
The problem of mounting, assembling, and supplying the various units in the Eighth Army was rather more difficult than the one faced by the Seventh Army, primarily because of the dispersed locations of the units. The 5th and 50th Divisions and the 231st Infantry Brigade were to be mounted in the Middle East. The 1st Canadian Division was to come from the United Kingdom; the 51st Division was to be mounted in Tunisia and partly staged in Malta. The 78th Division and a Canadian tank brigade, follow-up units, were to be mounted in the Sfax–Sousse area of North Africa.12
In the American invasion, perhaps the most dramatic role was assigned to the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division, the newest member of the invasion team, a unit which had yet to celebrate its first birthday.
Delivering ground combat troops to a battlefield by air was not a new idea in 1943, nor was Sicily the first place which saw the use of this dramatic method of warfare. But Sicily was to be the scene of the first Allied employment of a large number of airborne combat troops, delivered by parachute and glider, to support larger bodies of combat troops engaged in conventional ground warfare. Sicily also marked the first test of the airborne division concept, which had not been accepted by the U.S. Army until 1942.13
Commanded by Maj. Gen. Matthew B. Ridgway, the 82nd Airborne Division had been activated in August 1942. It had had a difficult training period. Shortages of transport aircraft, gliders, and parachutes hampered the program, and as late as March 1943 inspection revealed an “insufficient training in the field” and a need for “maneuver experience” before the division could be certified “fully prepared for combat duty.”14 Organizational changes immediately before the scheduled departure of the division for the Mediterranean theater disrupted what little training time remained. With only about one-third the amount of training normally accorded the infantry divisions, the 82nd sailed for North Africa. It arrived early in May, two months before the projected invasion of Sicily.
Training continued “in a fiery furnace,” according to Ridgway, “where the hot wind carried a fine dust that clogged the nostrils, burned the eyes, and cut into the throat like an abrasive.”15 Pilots of the Northwest African Air Forces Troop Carrier Command (NAAFTCC), activated on 21 March 1943, worked with both the 82nd Airborne and the British 1st Airborne Divisions, but a lack of unity of command between the airborne and the air units precluded full coordination. Although an American air force officer was attached to the 82nd Airborne Division and an airborne liaison officer was attached to the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing (the specific NAAFTCC component scheduled to support the American airborne operations), the efforts of a few liaison
officers could not overcome the deficiencies of a system which split command in a single operation.16
Arriving in North Africa in April 1943, the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing was considered fully qualified in dropping parachutists and towing gliders, but only on daylight missions. Accordingly, the troop carrier units concentrated on night formation and navigational flying, using both normal navigation lights and, later, as proficiency increased, small and lavender-colored resin lights, which would be the only aids available during the Sicily operation. But no real effort was made by the wing to check the location of pinpoint drop zones at night. A night joint training program with airborne troops and carriers fared poorly.
General Ridgway selected the 505th Parachute Infantry Regimental Combat Team, commanded by Col. James M. Gavin, reinforced by the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, to make the initial drop. With no specific assignment, the remaining airborne units worked on several plans covering various contingencies that might lead to their commitment.
Unlike the airborne troops, the American ground units scheduled to make the invasion were for the most part combat-experienced. Despite its new title, to become effective on D-day, the Seventh Army headquarters was essentially that of the I Armored Corps. The headquarters planned the Sicilian operation first at Casablanca, then at Oran, later at Rabat, and finally at Mostaganem. The chief planner was Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes, deputy commander. Patton, himself, participated only in the resolution of major problems.17
The subordinate ground units most concerned with the detailed planning of the operation were those eventually allocated to the Seventh Army: the II Corps headquarters; the 1st, 3rd, and 45th Infantry Divisions; the 2nd Armored Division; the 82nd Airborne Division; and a portion of the 9th Infantry Division, the bulk of the latter cast in the role of a follow-up unit to be committed only with General Alexander’s approval.
Scheduled to control a sizable portion of the assaulting echelon, the II Corps had played an important role in the North African campaign, first under Maj. Gen. Lloyd Fredendall, then under General Patton, and finally under Maj. Gen. Omar N. Bradley. A West Point graduate in the class of 1915 and the first of that class to receive a star, General Bradley had commanded in turn two infantry divisions in the United States before coming to North Africa in early 1943 to act as General Eisenhower’s personal representative in the field. On 16 April, Bradley had assumed command of the II Corps and had demonstrated a competence that marked him for higher command.
The 3rd Infantry Division had participated in the North African invasion and
in part of the ensuing campaign. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., had served as head of the American mission to the British Combined Operations Headquarters, where he had conceived the idea of creating American Ranger battalions patterned after the British Commandos. An observer in the ill-starred Dieppe raid of August 1942, he had helped plan the North African invasion, and had commanded the American landings at Port- Lyautey in Morocco. Truscott assumed command of the 3rd Division on 8 March 1943.
The 1st Infantry Division, the oldest division in the American Army, had participated in the North African invasion and had seized Oran after some of the bitterest fighting of the campaign. The division had then served throughout the remainder of the North African campaign, often under trying circumstances. Maj. Gen. Terry de la Mesa Allen had assumed command shortly before the division had shipped overseas.
The 45th Infantry Division was an Oklahoma National Guard unit that had been federalized in 1940. Alerted in January 1943 for an amphibious operation in the Mediterranean theater, the division was probably one of the best trained divisions in the American Army when it sailed from the United States in June 1943. Its commander, Maj. Gen. Troy H. Middleton, had been the youngest regimental commander in the American Army in France during World War I. He had retired in 1937, but had returned to active duty in early 1942 and soon assumed command of the division.
The 2nd Armored Division, which was to provide supporting armor to the assault forces as well as to constitute a floating reserve, was a comparatively new unit on the rolls of the American Army, although its tank strength could be traced back through the 66th Infantry (light tanks)—the nation’s only tank regiment in 1940—to the American Tank Corps of World War I days. Three invasion teams had been drawn from the division
to provide armored support in the American landings in North Africa but had taken no part in the later Tunisian fighting. In early 1943 the division provided some two thousand replacements and numerous wheeled and tracked vehicles to the 1st Armored Division. Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Gaffey, who as Patton’s chief of staff in the II Corps had gained considerable experience during the Tunisian campaign, assumed command of the 2nd Armored Division on 5 May 1943. Gaffey had been one of the pioneers of the American armored effort in the early days of World War II.
The follow-up 9th Division, which had participated in the invasion of North Africa and had fought in the Tunisian campaign, notably at Hill 609, was under Maj. Gen. Manton S. Eddy, who had been in command since mid-1942. Its 39th Infantry Regiment and division artillery were alerted for commitment in Sicily any time after D-day.
In addition to the major ground units, the Seventh Army included a number of units designed for specialized functions. Of primary importance to the assault phase were three Ranger battalions, the 1st, 3rd, and 4th. The latter two had been newly activated in North Africa. The 1st Rangers, led by Lt. Col. William O. Darby, had earned an enviable combat reputation in the Tunisian fighting.
Another special unit was a motorized chemical battalion equipped with the 4.2-inch mortar, an extremely accurate, rifled-bore, muzzle-loading weapon. Four of these battalions were assigned to the Seventh Army, one to each infantry division. Each consisted of forty officers and over five hundred men, equipped with forty-eight of the big mortars, a Chemical Corps weapon designed originally for firing smoke and gas shells, although quite capable of firing high explosive and white phosphorus rounds. There was little opportunity for combined training and for instructing infantry commanders and their staffs on the capabilities and limitations of the mortar. This was doubly unfortunate because the 4.2-inch mortar was, in effect, a new weapon and few infantry personnel in North Africa had had any previous experience with it.
To give the Free French, who were re-equipping their Army units in North Africa with United States assistance, at least token representation in the Sicilian invasion, General Eisenhower accepted a battalion-size unit, the 4th Moroccan Tabor of Goums, to operate with the American forces. Numbering almost 900 men, the tabor had French officers and noncommissioned officers, Berber goumiers in the ranks, 117 horses, and 126 mules. Attached to the 3rd Division, the goums were scheduled to come ashore on the fifth day of the invasion.18
Seventh Army Plans
The troops of the Seventh Army were to land on the beaches of the Gulf of Gela west of a boundary line running from the coast near Pozzallo inland through Ragusa to Vizzini, these towns and the road connecting them being assigned to the British. Patton was to seize the airfields of Licata, Ponte Olivo, Biscari, and Comiso. He was to capture
and put into operation the ports at Licata and Gela. He was then to be ready for future operations as directed.
As Patton analyzed the terrain, he saw a dome-shaped plateau facing his landing areas as the important piece of ground—a high saddle springing from the Caronie Mountains in the north and extending southeast from Enna to Piazza Armerina and onto the peak of the plateau at Monte Lauro. Hardly less important was the Salso River on the left.
These terrain features indicated roughly an outline of the beachhead that the army would have to secure. The obvious strongpoint on which to base the beachhead on the west was a secondary ridge east of the Salso River, which would provide a further obstacle to enemy intrusion. Elsewhere the high ground at Piazza Armerina would delineate the beachhead. Possession of this terrain would deprive the enemy of ground overlooking the assault beaches and give the Seventh Army protection for building up its strength preliminary to a push inland. But this beachhead would not give the army two of its important and assigned objectives, the port and airfield at Licata.
To get these, Patton extended the beachhead line on the west to a high ridge fourteen miles northwest of Licata. But the key to the entire problem remained the high ground at Piazza Armerina, which was not only commanding terrain but also carried the main road (Highway 117) leading from Enna to Gela and Syracuse. The enemy would most certainly utilize this road in shifting his forces from the western and central portions of the island to oppose the Allied landings. To get to this high ground quickly became the basic motive of Seventh Army planning.
The seventy miles of beach assigned the Seventh Army from Licata on the west to Pozzallo on the east comprised the crescent shore line of the Gulf of Gela. Though only a few of the beaches had good exits, almost all had some access to inland trails and roads. Except for the small ports of Licata and Gela and the tiny fishing village of Scoglitti, the coast was open, with sandy beaches and occasional rocky outcroppings. The beaches appeared ideal for amphibious landings, but in reality they were not. Gradients were too gentle for many of the assault landing craft. False beaches, shifting sand bars covered by sufficient water to float smaller landing craft but not enough for the larger craft carrying vehicles and heavy equipment, fronted much of the shore line.
The shallow plains behind the assault beaches extended inland only a few miles before merging with the foothills of the dome-shaped plateau. The main rivers flowing from the high ground—the Salso, the Gela, and the Acate—presented problems for cross-country movement.
The length of assault frontage and the compartmenting of terrain created by the rivers strongly influenced General Patton in organizing the army for the invasion. He assigned the II Corps the bulk of the assault units and a large section of the front. He kept the 3rd Division, reinforced heavily with combat and service support units, directly under his control. The II Corps was to make the main effort and seize the key terrain features in the Piazza Armerina area; the 3rd Division was to attack in the Licata area and anchor the beachhead on the west by seizing the ridge line west of the Salso River. An army reserve was to comprise four principal elements: (1) the 2nd Armored
Division, minus Combat Command A but reinforced by the 18th Infantry Regimental Combat Team (RCT) of the 1st Division, which was to sail with the assault forces prepared to land in support of any assault; (2) the remainder of the 82nd Airborne Division, which was to be on call any time after H-hour; (3) the 39th Infantry RCT of the 9th Infantry Division, plus the 9th Division’s artillery, which was to be ready to move from North Africa at any time after D-day; and (4) the remainder of the 9th Division.19
Patton’s scheme of maneuver called for simultaneous landings in the Licata–Gela–Scoglitti areas in order to capture the airfields, the air landing ground at Farello, just east of Gela, and the ports of Licata and Gela by darkness of D plus 2. For control, Patton designated two phase lines. The first, called the YELLOW Line, marked a secure initial beachhead and included the initial objectives—a line through Palma di Montechiaro, Campobello, Mazzarino, Caltagirone, and Grammichele, roughly twenty miles inland. The second, denoted the BLUE Line, through Campobello, Piazza Armerina, and Grammichele, included the high ground overlooking the lateral roads in the army sector.
To General Bradley’s II Corps went three principal missions. Under the cover of darkness on D-day, the assault units—the 1st and 45th Infantry Divisions—were to land at Gela and near Scoglitti, and capture the Ponte Olivo airfield by daylight on D plus 1. After pressing inland and seizing the Comiso airfield by daylight on D plus 2 and the Biscari airfield by darkness of that day, the corps was to extend its beachhead to the YELLOW Line, from Mazzarino on the west to Vizzini on the east, and gain contact with the British Eighth Army at Ragusa.
Truscott’s reinforced 3rd Division also had three principal missions. It was to land in the Licata area on D-day and capture the port and airfield there by nightfall. After extending its beachhead to the YELLOW Line (from Palma di Montechiaro on the west up to and through Campobello toward Mazzarino) to protect the army’s beachhead from enemy interference from the west and northwest, the division was to gain and maintain contact with the II Corps on the right.20
Expecting Truscott’s 3rd Division to capture the port and airfield at Licata by nightfall of the first day and the high ground around Naro soon after, and anticipating that Bradley’s II Corps would have the three airfields in its zone by the end of the third day, General Patton hoped to have his initial objectives in three days. Then he wanted the beachhead expanded to the final phase line, named BLUE. To bolster the II Corps landing in the Gela area, he directed that a parachute task force in reinforced regimental strength be dropped in front of the 1st Division to secure the high ground overlooking the 1st Division’s assault beaches.
Commanding the left invasion forces, Truscott, with CCA of the 2nd Armored Division and the tabor of goums attached to his 3rd Division, had about 45,000
men. About half were to land on D-day on a front of more than twelve miles. His objective, Licata, a city of about 30,000 people, a minor port, rail, and road center, nestled against a mound that rises about 500 feet above the Licata plain, flat terrain rimmed, five miles away, by the foothills of the dome-shaped plateau. In the middle of the plain, three miles northwest of the city and adjacent to the highway running north to Caltanissetta and Enna, was the Licata airfield.
The Seventh Army designated four assault beaches as suitable for the 3rd Division—two west of Licata, two east of the town. Because beach data was far from complete, Truscott appealed personally to Maj. Gen. James Doolittle, who commanded the Northwest African Strategic Air Force (NASAF), for serial photos of the landing sites, which Doolittle supplied.21
Early capture of Campobello and Palma di Montechiaro, both on Patton’s YELLOW Line and both controlling avenues of approach from the northwest, were Truscott’s essential objectives for protecting the army’s left flank. But the Salso River, bisecting his zone, could be crossed only by road and railway bridges at Licata. The beaches west of Licata were poor, those east of the city good. Assuming that the enemy would destroy the bridges across the Salso, should Truscott commit his entire force to the eastern beaches and risk its temporary confinement within the narrow limits of the river, hill, and sea? Or should he land in strength on both sides of the river and risk isolation of the western landings in view of the necessity for seizing Campobello and Palma di Montechiaro? Even though it would be difficult to reinforce from the sea over the beaches west of Licata, Truscott chose to land on both sides of the river.
Truscott wished to land all his infantry as rapidly as possible, with some tanks in close support, and seize four key points in the foothills dominating the Licata plain. With a beachhead formed and secured, he would then strike immediately for Campobello and Palma di Montechiaro, using if necessary CCA of the 2nd Armored Division, his floating reserve.
The right invasion force, Bradley’s II Corps, was to bite off more than fifty of the seventy miles of army front, though in actuality the landings would occur on somewhat separated fronts totaling fifteen miles. The 1st Division was to land on the left, the 45th Division on the right.
The 1st Division’s zone extended from a point midway between Gela and Licata eastward to the Acate River. Gela, about twenty miles east of Licata, was an overgrown fishing village with 32,000 inhabitants. It had a pier jutting 900 feet into the water from near the center of the town to serve small ships. Behind the town was the treeless plain of Gela, used for growing grain. The Gela River reached the sea a mile or so east of the town. Three miles east of Gela and adjacent to the coastal highway was the Gela–Farello landing ground. Six miles east of Gela, the Acate (or Dirillo) River emptied into the sea.
General Allen, controlling two regiments of the 1st Division, two Ranger battalions, and supporting units, was assigned six beaches with a total frontage of five miles. He split his troops into
three attack groups. The Rangers were to take the city of Gela; one of the infantry regiments was to assist the Rangers, if necessary, or was to take high ground overlooking the Ponte Olivo airfield from the west; the other regiment was to move to the northeast toward the hilltop town of Niscemi, thirteen miles northeast of Gela, make contact with paratroopers dropped inland, and advance against the Ponte Olivo airfield from the east.
Between the Acate River and the Seventh Army boundary on the right, a distance of fifteen miles, lay the zone of the 45th Division, a smooth arc of coast line virtually devoid of indentation. Two rocks jutting above the water signaled the entrance to two coves that served the fishing village of Scoglitti. Behind the shore was a broad, relatively open plain sloping gradually to the foothills of the mountainous terrain and to inland towns on relatively high ground. About ten miles inland, Biscari and its airfield (three miles to the north of the town) and Comiso and its airfield (three miles north of the town), were the main objectives of General Middleton’s division. Between the relatively uninhabited coast line and the coastal highway, which sheers away from the coast after leaving Gela, there were no good roads. One regiment coming ashore just east of the mouth of the Acate River was to drive north to Biscari to take the town and airfield and seize the crossing of the coastal highway over the Acate River—Ponte Dirillo. Another regiment was to seize Scoglitti, then capture the town of Vittoria, seven miles inland, and be prepared to help take the Comiso airfield. The third regiment was to drive on the Comiso airfield, protect the II Corps right flank, and gain contact with the Canadians at Ragusa.22
The assault forces and the floating reserve were paired off with the naval task forces which comprised the component parts of Admiral Hewitt’s Western Naval Task Force. The 3rd Division was to be transported on a shore-to-shore basis by Naval Task Force 86 under the command of Rear Adm. Richard L. Conolly. Two light cruisers and eight destroyers were to perform escort and gunfire support duties for this task force. The 1st Division and the army’s floating reserve were to be carried by Rear Adm. John L. Hall’s Naval Task Force 81 on both a ship-to-shore and shore-to-shore basis, escorted and supported by two light cruisers and thirteen destroyers. The 45th Division was paired off with Rear Adm. Alan G. Kirk’s Naval Task Force 85 on a wholly ship-to-shore operation. One light cruiser and sixteen destroyers were allotted to this force for supporting duties. There was to be no naval counterpart to the II Corps headquarters, nor did General Bradley have a naval opposite number. The II Corps commander and a few key members of his staff were allotted space aboard Admiral Kirk’s flagship, while the remainder of the corps’ staff was distributed among five LSTs of the same force.23
The airborne mission, designed primarily to assist the 1st Division landing, was the seizure of the high ground (Piano Lupo) in the Gela area for the purpose of blocking enemy approach from the north and east. The troops were also to cover the Ponte Olivo airfield by fire and facilitate its capture by the seaborne infantry. Under Seventh Army control until they made contact with the ground forces, the parachute troops were then to come under the II Corps. General Bradley planned to attach the 3rd Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry, to the 1st Division to assist the latter unit in taking Niscemi, while the remainder of the parachute combat team assembled near Gela as 1st Division reserve.
The drop zone for the major parachute elements—Piano Lupo—was a hill mass which dominated a road intersection seven miles northeast of Gela. There the roads from Caltagirone (via Niscemi) and Vittoria met, providing excellent approaches for an enemy force arriving to contest the 1st Division’s landings. Drop zones for lesser elements were chosen for similar reasons—troops dropped in these areas were to knock out roadblocks and obstruct the highway approaches to the beaches. One party of forty-two men was to drop from three planes in the early minutes of 10 July to demolish or hold the vital Dirillo bridge across the Acate River.
Attachments of engineers, signal troops, medical personnel, and naval gunfire and air support parties reinforced Colonel Gavin’s combat team. Though the planners hoped for early contact with the seaborne forces, they planned at least one aerial resupply mission.
The 52nd Troop Carrier Wing planned to employ 227 aircraft, all C-47’s, organized into five groups to transport the paratroopers. They were to fly at just above sea level in closed V of V formations of nine craft, rising during their final approaches to 600 feet and widening their formations. All were to arrive over the drop zones between 2330, 9 July, and 0006, 10 July. After discharging their loads, they were to execute a wide 180-degree turn and fly back to their home bases in North Africa,
Though the initial route proposed for the troop carriers was a relatively short and straight flight over Pantelleria, the planners eventually chose a route over Malta in order to keep the planes away from the naval convoys and their antiaircraft guns. The final route accepted had three sharp turns over water during dim moonlight, “a complicated dog-leg course requiring over three hours flight each way.”24
The pilots were to identify their drop zones from aerial photographs carried in their cockpits. There were to be no markers on the drop zones, no pathfinder teams. But this seemed satisfactory, for on a previous night reconnaissance, Colonel Gavin found that “all check points and terrain showed up clearly in the moonlight, exactly as we had memorized them from photographs.”25
A problem of great concern to General Ridgway, the 82nd Airborne Division’s commander, was adequate night fighter protection for the troop carriers, which
were vulnerable to attack. No one could guarantee that the Allied air forces would have complete air mastery by the time of the invasion. Though Ridgway requested fighter protection, and though General Patton and the troop carrier commander supported him, the NATAF disapproved the request on the basis that other missions were of greater importance to the operation as a whole. As a result the paratroopers and the troop carrier crewmen would have to bank on achieving tactical surprise or possibly on the unwillingness of enemy air to make a fight of it.26
Though tactical planning was not particularly troublesome, logistics posed its problems. Planners provided the 45th Infantry Division with twenty-one days maintenance plus ten units of fire in the assault and first follow-up convoy of D plus 4. Seven additional days maintenance, plus one and one-sixth units of fire, would be carried on the second follow-up convoy on D plus 8.27 The 1st Division, furnished with enough supplies for the airborne elements committed in its zone, was to carry on its assault convoy seven days maintenance plus two and one-third units of fire, while its D plus 4 follow-up was to bring in an additional seven days of maintenance plus one and one-sixth units of fire. Fourteen days maintenance, plus two and one-third units of fire, were provided on the D plus 8 convoy. The 3rd Division generally followed the same plan: seven days maintenance plus one and one-sixth units of fire on the assault convoy; seven days maintenance and one and one-sixth units of fire on the first follow-up convoy; but only seven days maintenance and one and one-sixth units of fire on the D plus 8 convoy.
There was also to be a floating supply reserve. In Oran, Algiers, and Bizerte, twenty days maintenance and four units of fire were to be loaded in seven cargo ships and held on call to unload over the beaches any time after D plus 14. In addition, the logistical planners established on the ground in the Bizerte area a reserve of supplies of three and one-half units of fire, 25 percent combat vehicles, 10 percent general purpose vehicles, and 10 percent weapons, plus fifteen days maintenance for 140,000 men, to be available on call for movement to Sicily.
An emergency stockpile of supplies, established in the Kairouan area of central Tunisia for the 82nd Airborne Division and available for shipment on call from army, consisted of seven days maintenance and two and one-third units of fire for one infantry regimental combat team reinforced by three antiaircraft battalions and one tank battalion.
The division commanders were responsible for their own supply from ships and landing craft over the beaches, or through any of the captured ports, until the Seventh Army could assume the logistic function. This responsibility included
maintaining all the beaches in the division areas. To carry out this function, each assault division received an engineer shore regiment or an engineer combat regiment. When the army took over the supply mission, the 1st Engineer Special Brigade (a permanent headquarters) was to assume command of all division beach groups and become responsible for the execution of all supply plans emanating from army, including the operation of captured ports. The II Corps would have no administrative functions other than those pertaining to corps troops unless an emergency arose.28
The most crucial aspect of all army logistical planning remained the balancing of army requirements with the available naval shipping capacity. The limitations on the number of landing craft assigned to the division task forces caused logistical planners many sleepless nights. Artillery wanted its guns ashore as quickly as possible and did not particularly care if the weapons displaced necessary service units. Engineers wanted more bridging equipment and did not hesitate to argue for the displacement of certain artillery units. General Bradley, whose headquarters was responsible for the preparations of two of the three assault forces, was in the middle of the dispute. Bradley fought, pleaded, cajoled, and ordered his supply people to come up with a workable plan. But the separate arms and services were difficult to handle, “each contending,” Bradley said, “that if its particular allotment were cut, the whole invasion might fail.”29
Truscott’s supply people faced much the same problem. Since the 3rd Division would be almost three times the size of a normal infantry division and expected to be responsible for its own supply and maintenance for a long time, Truscott found it necessary to establish an administrative organization much larger than that normally found in a division, one that was comparable to an army-size unit.30
The assault against Sicily represented an enormous improvement in specialized craft and in the technique of amphibious operations over the North African landings of 1942. Several new devices were to be used on a large scale for the first time. A whole new series of landing craft and ships were to play a prominent part. The most important of these were the LST (landing ship, tank), the LCT (landing craft, tank), the LCI (landing craft, infantry), and the LCVP (landing craft, vehicle or personnel). Their function was to come aground on the shore and disgorge men and matériel rapidly. Yet they were so new that no one could be sure of certain aspects of their performance. For example, the LCI had never been beached successfully in water shallow enough for infantry to wade ashore; many naval officers thought that the troops would first have to disembark into canvas or rubber boats. No one knew precisely how many men could be loaded into an LST or LCT with both comfort during the voyage and
adequate egress ashore. There was also the Dukw, an ingenious vehicle able to swim and roll, and on this vehicle rested much of the hope of supplying the Seventh Army adequately over the beaches. Basically an amphibious 2½-ton truck capable of carrying twenty-five troops and their equipment, or five thousand pounds of general cargo, or twelve loaded litters, the Dukw, with its six-cylinder engine and propeller, could make a speed of five and a half knots in the water in a moderate sea, and race fifty miles per hour on land on its six wheels.31
The various new craft, products of American and British imagination and industrial skill, in large measure provided the answer to the chief problem of amphibious warfare—the rapid transfer of
men and matériel to the far shore. But the Sicilian beaches presented a peculiar problem. Between the false beaches and the true beaches were depressions, or runnels. To overcome this hazard, the Navy devised two methods of transferring vehicles and other cargo from the large landing craft across the runnels to the shore line. The first was the ponton causeway, several of which were constructed at Bizerte and Arzew under the direction of Admiral Conolly. A number of ponton units were clamped securely together to form a causeway or portable bridge either to be towed to Sicily or carried there on the sides of LSTs.
The second method married an LCT to an LST. Cut out, hinged sections of selected LCTs permitted these modified craft to be joined to the bow of an LST, at right angles to the larger vessel. The vehicles, or other cargo, on the LST could then be moved across the lowered bow ramp of the LST onto the LCT. From the first LCT, the vehicle or cargo could then be transferred to a second LCT, bow to bow, and the second LCT could transport the load to shore.32
Naval and Air Plans
The peculiar difficulty in planning HUSKY was that the operation did not fall specifically into either a ship-to-shore or a shore-to-shore operation. In the first place, it could not be called shore-to-shore since the 45th Division was tactically loaded in the United States before the final tactical plan was firm. On the other hand, many of the vessels allotted to the army units were the types specifically designed for shore-to-shore operations, a situation which posed untold problems since this technique of amphibious warfare had been given little study in the United States and there was little official American literature on the subject.
As late as the middle of May the naval staff was planning to employ equipment whose capabilities and limitations were virtually unknown.33 Nor was there a sufficient number of any category of craft for component forces within the Army to be similarly equipped. The 45th Division, coming directly from the United States, was loaded on the pre-TORCH principle of “Trans-Divs” (Transport Divisions), consisting of combat-loaded AP and AK ships.34 The 1st Division, executing a shore-to-shore operation, had for the most part ship-to-shore ships and craft with the bulk of its vehicles loaded into AK or other types of cargo ships. The 3rd Division alone had an adequate number of shore-to-shore craft entirely suitable for its task.
There could be no argument with the suballotment of the available shipping: Patton did not have enough of any one kind to go around. He chose to concentrate in a single sector—that of the 3rd Division—the means to put ashore rapidly a powerful armored force which in the initial phases could have a material effect on the whole of the subsequent campaign. When deciding on the allotment of landing craft to the divisions, Patton felt that one of the most vital, if least spectacular, of the assigned tasks was the protection of the left flank of the Allied
landings against counterattacks from the strong German formations known to be in the western part of the island. The rapid disgorgement of armor onto the 3rd Division beaches would greatly assist in meeting any such threat.
Whether it was vital to soften the beach defenses by naval gunfire before the landings was a question on which the Army and Navy took opposite views. Not optimistic about the effect of naval gunfire on fixed beach defenses, Army planners were concerned with the safety of paratroopers dropped ashore before the landings; they were also interested in achieving tactical surprise. The Navy planners argued that it was impossible to expect to achieve surprise because of the heavy preparatory air bombardments, the dropping of paratroopers several hours before the beach assault, and the approach of huge convoys in bright moonlight.
The Army prevailed. There was to be no preparatory naval fire. Yet the Army wished the warships to be ready to furnish fire support after the troops were ashore. To this end, fire control parties from each artillery battalion received some training in observing and controlling naval gunfire on ground targets; arrangements were made for air observation and control of naval fires; and a naval gunfire liaison officer was assigned to each infantry division staff.
In the event that the enemy discovered the invasion forces offshore and began to take effective measures to prevent the landings, the Navy was to be ready to take shore targets under fire. The planners prepared a system of prearranged fires, Army planners selecting certain targets for the Navy, others for the Air Forces.35
Unlike the naval planners who cooperated closely with Army planners, the Air Forces refused to coordinate its planning with either Army or Navy. Part of this was due to the influence of the British concept, which held that the air service was independent of and coequal with the other services—a concept different from the American point of view, which saw the air arm as having a support function as well as a more or less independent mission. But the Air Forces adopted as its primary mission the neutralization of Axis air power, and until that objective was accomplished to the satisfaction of air commanders, little could be done to secure ground support. The Air Forces’ position was that air strength should not be parceled out to individual landings or sectors, but should instead be kept united under a single command to insure the greatest possible flexibility. Thus, air power could be massed where it was needed and not kept immobilized where not needed. Because the enemy air forces remained the overriding target, and since enemy aircraft comprised “a fluid target not easily pinpointed in advance,” the air plan gave ground and naval commanders no concrete information on the amount and type of air support they could expect on D-day.36
The air plan issued late in June was described by one American general as a “most masterful piece of uninformed prevarication, totally unrelated to the Naval and Military Joint Plan.”37 D-day
bombardment targets were not disclosed, except those diversionary bombardments in support of the airborne drops.38 Ground and naval commanders had no idea of the degree of protection they could expect, and when the assault troops set sail for Sicily, their commanders had not the faintest idea of when, where, under what circumstances, and in what numbers they would see their own aircraft.
The U.S. XII Air Support Command (Maj. Gen. Edwin House) had the mission of providing air support for the Seventh Army. The command comprised seventeen squadrons of aircraft: six of fighter-bombers, ten of day fighters, and one reconnaissance squadron. The command also included signal construction and signal operation units for maintaining and operating an extensive communications network plus a signal aircraft warning battalion which could provide radar coverage over the battle area and ground control for the aircraft. Of the allotted aircraft, however, only the reconnaissance squadron operated under the direct control of the XII Air Support Command; all fighter-bomber and day fighter aircraft were placed under the operational control of the RAF’s Malta Command and under NATAF itself, operating through XII Air Support Command’s rear headquarters in Tunisia.39
The most support that would be furnished the Seventh Army during the initial phases of the Sicilian Campaign consisted of a maximum of eighteen tactical reconnaissance missions per day, each mission lasting some thirty minutes.
Despite ground dissatisfaction with air plans, the Allied air forces actually performed their preinvasion roles effectively. Furnishing all the fighter and fighter-bomber support and much of the light and medium bomber support, the NATAF moved three Spitfire wings from North Africa to Malta in June to bring the air strength on that island to twenty fighter squadrons. An American P-40 fighter group moved to Pantelleria, also in June, to cover the assault landings at Gela and Licata. American aviation engineers in the remarkably short time of twenty days constructed a new airfield on the island of Gozo, near Malta, to base another American fighter group. By the end of June, Allied planes based on the three islands totaled 670 first-line aircraft.
On the Cape Bon peninsula of North Africa, twelve newly constructed, or improved, Axis airfields went to the XII Air Support Command and to the Tactical Bomber Force. The British Desert Air Force, based in the Tripoli area and employing fighter-bombers entirely, was
ready to support ground operations in Sicily and prepared to move to Malta as soon as planes there shifted to newly captured airfields on Sicily.
The NASAF started its Sicilian operation by first attacking the southwestern group of Sicilian airfields, then shifted during the final week before the invasion to the eastern fields. Enemy air opposition proved surprisingly light.
The Final Days
The general plan for the forces approaching Sicily from the west, which included the entire American assault and a goodly portion of the British assault force, was an accretive process in which the layers were added in consideration of the mounting areas, the relative speeds of the vessels, the mutual protection of the convoys, and to the end of providing maximum traveling comfort for the troops.
First to sail, the 45th Division reembarked on the afternoon of 4 July at Oran on the same ships that had brought the division from the United States only a short time before. The 1st Division, less a few units staging through Tunis, boarded transports in the Algiers harbor on the following afternoon. Still later, the 3rd Division departed Bizerte, CCA of the 2nd Armored Division, Oran. General Patton, accompanied by General Ridgway, sailed on Admiral Hewitt’s flagship, the Monrovia. The subordinate ground commanders sailed with the naval commanders who headed the smaller task forces carrying the three major elements of the Seventh Army invasion force: Generals Bradley and Middleton with Admiral Kirk on the Ancon; General Allen with Admiral Hall on the Samuel Chase; General Truscott and Admiral Conolly aboard the Biscayne.
The Mediterranean was relatively calm until the morning of 9 July when wind and sea began to rise. From a velocity of ten miles per hour, a westward wind increased to a maximum of almost forty miles in early afternoon. Discomfort and seasickness increased, especially among the troops crowded into the LCIs.
As the invasion fleet turned to the north in the late afternoon of 9 July for the final approach, the ships began taking the wind and seas broadside. This slowed the landing craft to the point where it was difficult to maintain the speed required to keep up with the convoy. Some of the LCT formations began to straggle. Other vessels, including control ships, lost their places in column. As LSTs and LCIs rolled heavily, cargoes shifted, and courses and speeds had to be changed. All the convoys were about an hour late in arriving at their assigned areas offshore, and many of the vessels were not on proper station.
The gale also had its effect on Generals Eisenhower and Alexander who had gone to Malta to await reports on the invasion. As increasing tension developed over the weather, the question arose whether the operation ought to be postponed twenty-four hours. Once made, the decision could not be revoked, for the naval forces needed at least four hours to transmit the information to all concerned. After conferring with Admiral Cunningham’s meteorological experts, Eisenhower decided against postponement.
After dinner, hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the troop carrier aircraft towing the gliders filled with men of the British 1st Airborne Division, Eisenhower scanned the skies. He saw a few planes.
He rubbed his ever-present seven lucky coins and offered up a silent prayer for the safety and success of all the troops under his command. Returning to the governor’s palace, he sent a wire to General Marshall to inform him that the invasion would take place as scheduled. Then he returned to Cunningham’s underground headquarters to await first news of the invasion.40
On Sicily, meanwhile, General Guzzoni’s intelligence had reported early in July that 90 percent of available Allied troops, 60 percent of the air forces, and 96 percent of the landing craft were concentrated in the central-western Mediterranean and directly threatening Sicily. As the weather during the first ten days of July seemed particularly propitious for an amphibious landing, information from Italian and German intelligence sources repeatedly warned of the Allied danger to Sicily and Sardinia, with emphasis on Sicily. Though the Germans were not
entirely convinced, the Italians began to feel certain that the Allies would make a massive effort including, in all probability, the use of parachute troops.41
When news came to the Sixth Army headquarters at Enna on 4 July that an Allied convoy of twenty-five merchant vessels with naval escorts had been observed in North African waters, Guzzoni issued an estimate of the situation that stressed the lessened threat to Sardinia, the increased danger to Sicily, particularly the eastern part, and also to Calabria. Noting the “substantial number” of Allied fighter planes on Malta, the movements of heavy Allied warships, and increased Allied air bombardments, Guzzoni alerted his forces to the possibility of an Allied invasion during the period up to 10 July—when the moon would be invisible. The Germans still inclined toward the opinion that the Allies would launch simultaneous attacks against Sardinia, Sicily, and Greece, though not in the immediate future, but Guzzoni thought an attack “against Sicily could come even today. We must be extremely alert.”42
Noting on 5 July an increase in Allied hospital ships from two to sixteen, the Italians took this to mean an operation was imminent. By nightfall, Italian reconnaissance pilots observed a convoy traveling under an umbrella of barrage balloons. With the location of the British Eighth Army confirmed on the same day, Guzzoni in his evening bulletin concluded that that army would operate against Sicily. To him this was “a very serious and decisive indication. The danger of an imminent attack is increasing.”43
Italian military commanders in Rome by then held a similar opinion.44 So much on edge were staffs in Rome that many officers interpreted Supermarina reports on numerous fires near Marsala on 7 July as indications of Allied landings. Late that same day, German reconnaissance pilots reported the presence of a large Allied convoy four miles off Licata. The report turned out to be false, but in the meantime an alert had sent coastal defenders hurriedly to their posts.45
By 8 July Guzzoni had ordered the ports of Licata, Porto Empedocle, and Sciacca on the southern shore prepared for demolition. Comando Supremo ordered Trapani and Marsala rendered useless by dumping earth and rock into the harbors; when this proved impractical, the Italians demolished the docks in the hope of interfering with Allied landings. When Luftwaffe headquarters on the morning of 9 July reported seventy to ninety landing craft and transports traveling at high speed not far from Pantelleria, Guzzoni concluded that an invasion on the southeastern corner of Sicily, from Gela to Catania, was not far off.46
At 1810, 9 July, Guzzoni received another message reporting the approach of additional convoys. Late in the evening and during the night, information kept coming in to Sixth Army headquarters of several Allied convoys of varying size off the southeastern corner of the island. Meanwhile, Guzzoni, at about
1900, issued the order for a preliminary alert; three hours later, he ordered a full alert.47
When Hitler learned of the approaching Allied fleet on 9 July, he ordered the German 1st Parachute Division to be alerted for immediate transfer, by air if necessary, from France to Sicily, a movement that could be made in five days.48
That evening Allied air forces bombed Caltanissetta (headquarters of the Livorno Division), Syracuse, Palazzolo Acreide (headquarters of the Napoli Division), and Catania, where serious damage was caused to the various Italian command installations. Naval gunfire was reported to have struck Syracuse, Catania, Taormina, Trapani, and Augusta.49
At nightfall on 9 July the waters off Sicily seemed deserted. Yet despite the windy weather and rough sea, the coastal defenders were aware of the presence of a huge fleet of vessels somewhere in the darkness. Filled with American and British soldiers, the ships were moving toward the island. The Italian and German island defenders could do little except await the resumption of Allied air bombardments that would signal the start of the invasion.