Chapter 7: The First Day
The Axis Reaction
The Axis was unable to react effectively against the initial Seventh Army landings. At 0430, 10 July, the first enemy planes appeared over the Allied shipping massed in front of the assault beaches. The destroyer Maddox took a direct hit and sank within two minutes, just before 0500, and a mine sweeper went down at 0615. Enemy fighters shot down several planes that were spotting targets for the cruisers’ guns, and occasionally enemy bombs fell in the transport area. The air raids interfered but little with the landings.1
Axis commanders were already trying that morning to stem the American advances. To counter the Gela landings and back up the weak XVIII Coastal Brigade, General Guzzoni attached to the XVI Corps the two Italian mobile airfield defense groups intended for the defense of the Ponte Olivo and Biscari airfields, the Livorno Division, and the Hermann Göring Division (minus Group Schmalz). He wished these forces to counterattack before the Americans could consolidate a beachhead. At the same time, despite his continued apprehension over an Allied landing in the western part of the island, Guzzoni ordered the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, the larger part of which had just completed its transfer to the west, to retrace its steps and return to the Canicatti–Caltanissetta–San Cataldo area in the center of the island.2
With these new units, the XVI Corps intended to launch a coordinated attack against the Gela landings, the Hermann Göring Division and the two Italian mobile groups to strike from the northeast, the Livorno Division from the northwest. But since telephone communications, poor to begin with, had been almost totally severed by the scattered groups of American paratroopers and by Allied bombing raids during the night, many of the units failed to receive the corps order. They proceeded to act on their own initiative according to the established defensive
doctrine for the island.3 The broad-fronted, massive, coordinated push visualized against the Gela beaches would turn out to be a series of un-coordinated, independent thrusts by small Axis units at varying times and at various places along the center of the American front.
General Conrath, the Hermann Göring Division commander, had learned of the American landings early that morning, not from the Sixth Army headquarters but from messages relayed to him from Kesselring’s headquarters in Italy and from his own reconnaissance patrols, several of which clashed with American paratroopers near Niscemi. Later, word from Colonel Schmalz reporting his commitment of troops against the British landings convinced Conrath that the time had come to carry out the predetermined defense plan. He decided to counterattack at Gela.4
The German division was not altogether unprepared. General Conrath had alerted his units at 2200 the previous night, instructing them to stand by for definite word on the expected Allied assaults. Because his communications with both Sixth Army and XVI Corps had gone out early on 10 July, and because he wished someone in authority to know of his counterattack plan, Conrath phoned General von Senger, the German liaison officer with the Sixth Army, outlined his plan, and told him he was jumping off without delay.5 He was not aware of the XVI Corps’ plan for a coordinated attack. Nor did he know that his division was attached to the corps for the attack.
The bulk of the Hermann Göring Division was assembled in and around Caltagirone. Conrath had organized the division forces into two reinforced regiments, assembled as task forces.6 One, heavy in infantry, consisted of a two-battalion infantry regiment mounted on trucks, an armored artillery battalion, and an attached Tiger tank company of seventeen Mark VI tanks.7 The other task force, heavy in tanks, had a two-battalion tank regiment (about ninety Mark III and Mark IV tanks), two armored artillery battalions, and the bulk of the armored
reconnaissance and engineer battalions, which functioned as infantry.8
General Conrath planned to commit his task forces in a two-pronged attack toward the beaches east of Gela. The troops were to move on three secondary roads to assembly points south of Biscari and Niscemi. With the infantry-heavy force on the Biscari side, both were then to jump off in a concentric attack on the beaches. Conrath hoped to begin his attack before 0900, 10 July, for a later hour would put the sun in his men’s eyes and make it easier for the Americans to locate his units. Besides, the earlier he could attack, the better his chances for success.
Both German task forces were on the move shortly after 0400. (See Map IV) Although the roads had been previously reconnoitered and found to be passable, if mediocre, the approach march to the assembly areas turned out to be much slower than Conrath had anticipated. Allied armed reconnaissance air strikes against the columns and clashes with scattered groups of American paratroopers caused some confusion and delay. Accompanying his tank regiment, Conrath had to work hard more than once to prevent panic among his inexperienced troops and admittedly not very capable junior commanders. The task forces soon lost contact with each other, and 0900 came and went with both groups still struggling toward their assembly areas.9
Meanwhile, the Italian Mobile Group E under XVI Corps orders had started its movement south from Niscemi. Organized into two columns, one moving along the secondary road leading to Piano Lupo and Highway 115, the other turning west toward Ponte Olivo to pick up Highway 117 for a drive south on Gela the group had no contact with the Hermann Göring Division. But it was aware of a corps order to the Livorno Division to commit a battalion in an attack on Gela from the northwest. Moving by truck, this battalion approached a jump-off point near Gela for an attack in conjunction with the mobile group.
At 0900, 10 July, therefore, three Axis forces were moving against the center of Seventh Army’s front. In the path of these forces lay the special force in Gela, the 26th RCT moving around Gela toward Highway 117, the 16th RCT advancing toward Piano Lupo, and the badly disorganized 180th RCT immediately east of the Acate River, with one of its battalions preparing to push from Highway 115 to Biscari. Elsewhere, there seemed to be no contest. On the right only a few static Italian defensive positions remained. On the left, the XII Corps was trying to scrape together enough units
to halt, or at least slow down, the Americans until the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division returned from the west.
At Casa del Priolo, halfway between Piano Lupo and Niscemi, where less than 100 men of the 1st Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, had, under Lt. Col. Arthur Gorham, reduced a strongpoint and set up a blocking position, an American soldier saw a column of Italian tanks and infantry heading his way. Alerted, the paratroopers allowed the point of the column, three small vehicles, to enter their lines before opening fire, killing or capturing the occupants. The sound of firing halted the main body.
After thirty minutes of hesitation, about two infantry companies shook themselves out into an extended formation and began moving toward the Americans, who waited until the Italians were 200 yards away. Then they opened a withering fire not only of rifles but of the numerous machine guns they had captured when they had taken the strongpoint. Their first fusillade pinned down the enemy troops except for a few in the rear who managed to get back to the main column.
Several minutes later, the Italians moved a mobile artillery piece into firing position on a hill just out of range of any weapon the paratroopers possessed. As the gun opened fire, a previously dispatched paratrooper patrol returned and reported to Colonel Gorham that there appeared to be no strong enemy force at the battalion’s original objective. This was the road junction on Piano Lupo, where only a few Italians armed with machine guns held a dug-in position surrounded by barbed wire.
Unable to counter the artillery fire, Gorham decided to make for Piano Lupo. The move would have several advantages: it would put him on his objective and closer to the 16th RCT, which he was supposed to contact; it would probably facilitate contact with other paratroopers. Even though naval gunfire began to come in on the Italian column, Gorham had no way of controlling or directing the fire. Leaving one squad to cover the withdrawal, he started the paratroopers south, staying well east of the Niscemi–Piano Lupo road to escape the effects of the naval fire. It was then close to 0930.10
The naval gunfire had come in response to a call from observers with the 16th RCT’s leading battalions, which were moving toward Piano Lupo. Because the RCT’s direct support artillery unit, the 7th Field Artillery Battalion, was not yet in firing position, the destroyer Jeffers answered the call with nineteen salvos from her 5-inch guns.11 A few of the Italian tanks were hit, but the majority were unscathed.12 No Italian infantry ventured
past the Piano Lupo road junction, for they preferred to take cover from the relatively flat trajectory naval fire in previously prepared defensive positions. Masked on the south by high ground that caused most of the naval fire to overshoot the junction, the Italian infantrymen reached and occupied their positions just a few minutes ahead of Gorham’s paratroopers.
The Italian tanks that passed through the fire, about twenty, continued past the road junction and turned on Highway 115 toward Gela.13 They proceeded downhill only a short way. The two forward battalions of the 16th RCT, though armed only with standard infantry weapons,
knocked out two of the tanks, thoroughly disrupted the Italian thrust, and halted the column. Without infantry support, its artillery under heavy counterbattery fire from American warships, the Italian tankers broke off the fight and retired north into the foothills bordering the Gela plain on the east.14
The threat dispersed, the 16th RCT resumed its movement to the Piano Lupo road junction. But Gorham’s paratroopers, approaching from the opposite direction, arrived first. After reducing one Italian strongpoint, the paratroopers made contact with scouts from the 16th RCT at 1100.15 The 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry (Lt. Col. Charles L. Denholm), then cleaned out several remaining Italian positions around the road junction, a task facilitated by a captured map, while the 2nd Battalion (Lt. Col. Joseph Crawford) and the paratroopers moved across the road and occupied high ground to the northwest.
Meanwhile the heterogeneous Ranger-engineer force in Gela had observed a column of thirteen Italian tanks escorted by infantry moving south along Highway 117 toward the city—the right arm of Mobile Group E’s two-pronged attack. Another column, the Livorno Division’s battalion of infantry, could also be seen moving toward Gela along the Butera road. While the destroyer Shubrick started firing at the tank-infantry column on Highway 117, the Ranger-manned Italian 77-mm. guns opened up on the Livorno battalion.
The first Shubrick salvos halted the Italians in some confusion. But the tankers recovered a measure of composure; they resumed their movement, though fewer now, for several tanks were burning in the fields along the highway. Without further loss, nine or ten tanks dashed down the highway and into the city. But the same thing happened here that had happened on the Niscemi–Piano Lupo road—Italian infantrymen did not follow the tanks. And so, in the city, the Rangers and the engineers began a deadly game of hide and seek with the Italian tanks, dodging in and out of buildings, throwing hand grenades and firing rocket launchers. Colonel Darby jumped in a jeep, dashed down to the beach, commandeered a 37-mm. antitank gun, returned with it to the city and knocked out a tank. Another burned as Rangers and engineers teamed up, first to stop it and then to destroy it. After twenty minutes of this kind of fighting, the Italians started back out of the city hotly pursued by American fire. The Italian crews suffered heavily. Almost every survivor carried with him some kind of wound.16
As for the Livorno Division’s battalion—in almost formal, parade ground formation, the Italian infantrymen advanced against the western side of Gela. The two Ranger companies firing their captured Italian artillery pieces took heavy toll among the closely bunched enemy soldiers. Rifles, machine guns, and mortars joined in as the range closed. Not an
enemy soldier reached the city. Leaving behind numerous dead and wounded, the remnants of the Italian battalion fled.17
The Italian thrust against Gela stopped, the 26th Combat Team moved from the Gela–Farello landing ground into Gela and made contact with Darby’s force by noon. Two battalions swept past the city on the east, cut Highway 117, and took high ground two miles to the north.
With the city firmly in American hands, Colonel Bowen, the 26th RCT commander, began to think of seizing the terrain overlooking Ponte Olivo airfield from the west. Yet he was not anxious to start until he had adequate field artillery and armor support. As of noon, Bowen had neither. Nor was the situation along the Piano Lupo–Niscemi axis clear.
South of Niscemi, the right column of Conrath’s two-pronged counterattack, the
tank-heavy force, closed into its assembly area. The infantry-heavy force closed in the Biscari area. With all in readiness at 1400, five hours late, Conrath sent his Hermann Göring Division into its attack.
The tank regiment struck the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry, which had prepared defensive positions on ground overlooking the road junction at the coastal highway and had sent patrols almost to Casa del Priolo.
Colonel Crawford’s 2nd Battalion, along with Colonel Gorham’s paratroopers, bore the initial brunt of the German tank thrust, and soon Colonel Denholm’s 1st Battalion was drawn into the fight. Calls for naval gunfire soon had shells dropping on the Niscemi road, but the German tanks, accompanied by reconnaissance and engineer troops in an infantry mission, rolled slowly past Casa del Priolo. Not far from Casa del Priolo the tanks slowed, sputtered, and eventually stopped. The tankers could not go on because they had nothing to cope with the five- and six-inch naval shells that came whistling in from the sea. Also, American small arms fire had knocked out the accompanying foot soldiers and had thrown the lead tanks into confusion. Then, too, no support developed from the infantry-heavy column on the left.18
Conrath ordered the tank attack renewed at 1500. But even Conrath’s inspiring and hard-driving presence was not enough to furnish impetus. The attack failed to get rolling. Still uncertain about the location and the fate of the infantry-heavy task force, which was supposed to have crossed the Acate River and attacked Piano Lupo from the southeast, Conrath called off his offensive action. “The tanks are trying to withdraw,” the 16th Infantry reported around 1700. And at 1845, “Tanks are withdrawing, it seems we are too much for them.”19
Conrath’s infantry force had jumped off at 1400, had promptly lost communications with division headquarters, and had run into the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, which, together with some paratroopers picked up along the way, was moving toward Biscari. Their attack blunted by the relatively small American force supported by one battery of the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, the Germans came to a halt by 1530. Though the terraced terrain was well suited for infantry operations, dense groves of olive trees interfered with the movement of the heavy Tiger tanks that were part of the column. Moreover, some of the Tigers, among the first produced, had defective steering mechanisms, and those that dropped out blocked the others. Inexperience among junior officers and some of the troop units, failure to get the Tiger tanks forward, and American tenacity on the ground stopped the German attempt.
Regaining communications later that afternoon, Conrath relieved the task force commander. After much prodding from Conrath and under a new commander, the infantry-heavy force regrouped and jumped off again. This time the German attack was better coordinated. The Tiger tanks led off, followed closely by foot soldiers. Breaking through the thin American lines, the Germans overran the positions of the 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry,
and took prisoner the battalion commander, Colonel Schaefer, and most of the surviving troops. The remnants of the battalion streamed south toward the coastal Highway 115.20
The way seemed open for German exploitation that would endanger the 1st Division beaches, when the 3rd Battalion, 180th Infantry, suddenly appeared. Released from corps reserve to counter the German attack, this American force took defensive positions and held fast. Imminent American disaster was averted as the Germans unexpectedly panicked. German soldiers broke and ran in wild disorder, their officers finally stopping the rout just short of Biscari. The Americans were content to remain along a line paralleling the south side of Highway 115.21
Some confused fighting among combat patrols lasted until well after dark. Though strong enemy forces ringed the Gela plain and the Acate River valley, though commanders were concerned about the arrival of supporting tanks and artillery and the extent of their frontages, the troops in the center of the American beachhead had earned the right to a brief pause.
On the army left, General Truscott sent the 15th RCT, his center unit, seven miles up Highway 123 toward Campobello, holding the others ready to counter Axis thrusts. Reconnaissance pilots had picked up the movement of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division, which was returning from the western part of Sicily, and Truscott was preparing to meet the threat. Landing the 3rd Division’s floating reserve, General Rose’s CCA, would help, and the armored command began coming ashore over the beaches east of Licata and through Licata itself. Truscott planned to send the armor to Naro, a small town fifteen miles northwest of Licata, between Palma di Montechiaro on the south and Campobello on the east. With troops at Naro and Campobello, Truscott would block an important avenue of approach to the division’s beachhead from the northwest.
On the army right, General Middleton kept pushing his easternmost regiments, the 179th and 157th. By nightfall they were seven miles inland. In contrast with the 180th Infantry’s rough experience in the Acate River valley, the 179th Infantry had Colonel Taylor’s 3rd Battalion, and some paratroopers who had joined, at the outskirts of Vittoria before 1600. A few men entered the city, but small arms fire drove them out. Unwilling to unleash his supporting artillery until city authorities had a chance to surrender, Colonel Taylor spent much time trying to persuade a civilian to go into the city to bring out the mayor or some other
municipal official. The civilian refused. Infantry attack preceded by artillery bombardment appeared the only solution.
Unknown to Taylor, negotiations for Vittoria’s surrender were already taking place. Three of the ubiquitous paratroopers had been in the city since early morning, having been captured by the Italians shortly after dropping to ground. Two by this time were roaring drunk. The third, 1st Lt. William J. Harris (Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry), was trying to persuade the Italian commander to capitulate. The approach of Taylor’s battalion strengthened Harris’ arguments considerably. At 1640, as American artillery units prepared to open fire, the Italians agreed to surrender. Beckoned by the hurried display of white flags, the infantrymen outside the city marched in unopposed.
Farther to the right, where Americans were moving on the Comiso airfield, Santa Croce Camerina was taken in the early afternoon as the result of an unplanned pincer movement. Colonel Murphy’s 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, and Major Alexander’s 2nd Battalion, 505th Parachute Infantry, neither of which apparently knew of the other’s presence, attacked the town about the same time. The Italian garrison, concerned with Murphy’s approach from the west and totally unprepared for the paratrooper attack on the east, conceded defeat.
While Alexander’s paratroopers moved off to the north and west in search of a higher parachute headquarters, Murphy outposted the town and sent a partially motorized company thirteen miles northeast to Ragusa, the 1st Canadian Division objective. With only negligible opposition, the two motorized platoons entered Ragusa at 1800. No Canadians and only a few Italian soldiers were in the city. Since they were unwilling to chance an ambush during the night, the American platoons withdrew to the western outskirts, where the remainder of the company joined them shortly before midnight.
Sliding past Santa Croce Camerina on the west, the other two battalions of the 157th Infantry overran a strongpoint at Donnafugata. A four-truck motorized patrol to high ground northeast of Comiso secured an assembly area for the leading battalion. And from that point, Hill 643, the battalion the next day would support by fire the attack planned to seize the airfield.22
By nightfall of D-day, 10 July, the Seventh Army was firmly established on Sicily. Only in the center was there cause for any immediate concern, and this stemmed from the failure of the airborne drop. The absence of paratroopers on Piano Lupo deprived the 1st Division of a reserve, put the 16th Infantry at a disadvantage, and increased the threat of enemy counterattack. The paratroopers had created confusion in enemy rear areas, but they had not seriously interfered with the movement of German and Italian units against the invasion.
The cause of failure lay with the troop carriers. As late as 20 June, three weeks before the invasion, observers had considered the 52nd Troop Carrier Wing deficient in night formation flying, night navigation, and drop zone location during darkness. The wing had had only two practice missions at night under simulated combat conditions. One of these had scattered the 505th Parachute Infantry all along the flight route. Further training was impossible after 20 June because of the need to start moving troops and planes to the advanced take-off airfields.23
On the evening of 9 July, serious doubts had existed in some quarters on the ability of the troop carrier units to deliver the paratroopers to the correct drop zones; at least one commander felt that the Troop Carrier Command was far too optimistic about the proficiency of the aircraft crews.24 Late in July 1943, General Ridgway was unequivocal in stating that the operation “demonstrated beyond any doubt that the Air Force ... cannot at present put parachute units, even as large as a battalion, within effective attack distance of a chosen drop zone at night.”25
German commanders tended to minimize the effect of the American airborne operation. Col. Hellmut Bergengruen, a staff officer with the Hermann Göring Division, judged that the airdrops “were made in rear of the Italian coastal divisions, but in front of the German units and did not interfere with the conduct of the battle.” He conceded only the possibility that the parachute landings might have helped cause panic among some Italian units.26 Generalmajor Walter Fries, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division commander, was less impressed. “Since they landed in front of the Germans,” he wrote later, “even if they were in rear of the Italian troops, there was little prospect of their being able to intervene decisively.”27 Kesselring took a different tack. Admitting that the paratroopers “effected an extraordinary delay in the movement of our own troops and caused large losses,” he was more inclined to place blame on the leadership of General Conrath and other officers of the Hermann Göring Division. The command, he said, “was not fortunate.” Because the “march groups” were “incorrectly composed,” the paratroopers delayed the division. “It is incorrect armor tactics,” Kesselring continued, “for the tank units to march separate from the armored infantry as occurred here. With proper composition of the march groups the armored infantry riflemen would quickly have cleared out the snipers.”28
General Patton’s solution to the vacuum created by the unsuccessful airborne drop was to get his floating reserve ashore. In the early afternoon, as the threat of the Axis counterattack developed in the center, Patton directed General Gaffey to land his 2nd Armored Division (less CCA but augmented by the 18th RCT) in the 1st Division’s zone, to assemble just inland, and to prepare for commitment as later ordered. A second, reinforcing airborne drop, considered for that evening and shelved in view of the need for armor ashore, was tentatively scheduled for the following night.
Throughout the morning the armored division’s headquarters aboard the transport Orizaba had been intercepting messages from the 1st Division to the Seventh Army, messages that urged the immediate landing of artillery and armor to support the assault units. By noon, not one piece of artillery, nor any of the ten tanks attached to the 1st Division had gotten ashore.29
For better information on possible plans for his commitment, Gaffey boarded the Monrovia, the naval force flagship which also carried Patton and his army headquarters. Just before 1400, Gaffey received the order to land. He was to go ashore over the 1st Division’s YELLOW and BLUE Beaches, the beaches nearest Gela.
Returning to the Orizaba, General Gaffey sent ashore his chief of staff, Col. Redding L. Perry, to reconnoiter the assigned beaches and to make the necessary arrangements with the 1st Division for assembly areas, routes, and guides.
On shore, Perry discovered a picture quite different from that visualized on the Monrovia. General Allen, the 1st Division commander, expressed concern about getting armor ashore. Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt, the assistant division commander who had visited all the division beaches, brought word that YELLOW and BLUE were heavily mined—both had been closed. He strongly recommended bringing in the 2nd Armored Division across RED Beach 2.
Apprised of Roosevelt’s recommendation upon Perry’s return, Gaffey approved the change to RED 2, even though it entailed some delay in amending the previous orders.
About 1700, the command echelon of Col. I. D. White’s CCB landed on RED Beach 2. After contacting General Allen and reconnoitering several possible assembly areas, White settled on a site near the Gela–Farello landing ground which was being vacated by the rearmost units of the 26th Infantry.
The first unit scheduled to land was the 18th RCT. When General Gaffey learned that the LCIs carrying the unit had remained in a cruising formation during the day instead of shifting to the planned landing formation, he nevertheless ordered debarkation from the cruising
formation, counting on subsequent reorganization on shore. Because the beach was unsuitable for LCIs, the beachmaster was expected to provide LCVPs to discharge the men from the LCIs and take them ashore. But apparently because of a failure in communications between the landing craft and the beachmaster, LCVPs were not available, so the LCIs approached as near to shore as possible and the infantrymen waded the rest of the way through the high surf. One officer and two enlisted men were drowned. Considerable equipment was lost. But the first wave was ashore by 2130; the entire regiment was on the ground soon after midnight.
Col. George A. Smith moved his regiment into an orchard near the landing ground. The dismounted riflemen of the 1st Battalion, 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, landed soon afterwards and took positions nearby. Two platoons of Company I, 67th Armored Regiment, came ashore at 0200, 11 July, and the ten medium tanks immediately stalled in the soft sand. High surf and beach congestion prevented the landing of additional armored vehicles.
By morning of 11 July, the chief result of Patton’s decision to land the army’s floating reserve was that four additional infantry battalions equipped with hand-carried weapons only were ashore. The ten medium tanks were still having considerable trouble getting off the beach. Difficult beach conditions had not only interfered with landing the reserve, they had impeded all the other landings.
The delay in the arrival of the 1st Division’s supporting artillery and armor could be traced to enemy artillery fire, particularly in support of the various counterattacks, to enemy air raids against Allied shipping lying off the Gela beaches, and to the poor beaches themselves. Enemy air strikes had begun two hours after the invasion. After daylight, enemy batteries inland, from Ponte Olivo to Niscemi, had started pounding the beaches. By 0900, such heavy fire came in that YELLOW Beach (26th Infantry) was closed. Shipping was diverted eastward to BLUE Beach. Enemy artillery fire soon forced this beach to be closed, too, and boat traffic was again diverted eastward, this time to RED Beach 2. Soon after 1000, enemy shelling became so accurate that this beach had to be closed for twenty minutes. Only one beach, GREEN 2, was then available to receive landing craft. Though RED 2 was reopened at 1030, enemy artillery fire and intermittent enemy air attacks throughout the day greatly delayed unloadings and did considerable damage to landing craft and beach supply. Even after the enemy artillery fire slackened, both YELLOW and BLUE Beaches remained closed because numerous uncleared mine fields lay in the dune area just back from the shore.30
The closing and shifting of beaches created serious problems, particularly in getting the 1st Division’s heavy equipment ashore. General Allen’s calls for armor and artillery support during the morning were so pressing that Admiral Hall finally ordered in those LSTs carrying the heavy equipment even though there were few places to accommodate the large landing ships. Furthermore, because of the assumption that the Gela pier would be captured intact and put to immediate use, Hall’s naval task force had only three ponton causeways. One, unfortunately, was carried by one of the three LSTs
that had beached by mistake in the Scoglitti area.
One causeway was finally rigged on RED Beach 2. By 1030 one LST was fully unloaded and a second was moving in to start. As other LSTs began rigging the second causeway on GREEN 2 late in the afternoon, an enemy aircraft coming in low dropped a bomb directly on one of the landing ships. Loaded with elements of the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion and an antiaircraft artillery battalion, the LST blew up with a horrendous roar, scattering fragments of trucks, guns, and exploding ammunition in all directions. All of the vehicles of Battery A, 33rd Field Artillery, and of one section of the antiaircraft battalion were lost. Fortunately, the howitzers were already ashore, having been landed by Dukws. But what was more serious was the fact that fragments from the exploding LST knocked out the ponton causeway in operation on RED Beach 2.
By 1800, only three LSTs had been unloaded over the Gela beaches. Only one field artillery battalion and four separate field artillery batteries were ashore. These were the 33rd Field Artillery Battalion (minus two howitzers lost when Dukws overturned on the way to shore); two batteries of the 7th Field Artillery Battalion (the howitzers were landed in the 45th Division zone, the personnel in the 1st Division’s area); and two batteries of the 5th Field Artillery Battalion (delayed in landing until late afternoon when the LST carrying the batteries made landfall off Licata and had to traverse almost the entire length of both the 3rd Division and 1st Division beaches). Available all together were eighteen 105-mm. howitzers and eight 155-mm. howitzers. As for the 16th RCT’s Cannon and Antitank Companies, they were unloaded in the 45th Division’s zone, and were still east of the Acate River.
With RED Beach 2 receiving everything coming ashore, it became so congested with landing craft and supplies that many of the small craft had to turn away without unloading. Beach parties were completely swamped with work even before the 18th RCT started ashore. And General Allen continued to call for more artillery and armor.31
Across the Acate River, the 45th Division beach situation was little better, although more supporting units did move ashore during the day. Except for the 171st Field Artillery Battalion, the 180th RCT’s direct support battalion, the division artillery landed in good fashion.32 The medium tank battalion came ashore in the 157th RCT’s sector during the late afternoon.
But, in general, the 45th Division beaches presented a most deplorable picture throughout D-day. Backed by soft sand dunes and with few usable exits, the five assault beaches were cluttered with masses of stranded landing craft and milling groups of men and vehicles soon after the initial landing. Many landing craft were hung up on offshore sand bars, unable to retract. Others broached on the beaches, the sea breaking completely over some, eddying into others over lowered ramps. Scattered and disorganized shore parties were still not functioning properly as late as 0800. In the meantime, landing craft waited on the beaches for three to four hours to be unloaded. Because the efforts of the naval salvage parties to get stranded craft off the beaches were largely unsuccessful, a diminishing number were available to unload the supplies still on board the transports. An inshore movement of the transports just after 0600 helped a little, but the ever-growing shortage of landing craft soon vitiated even this slight improvement.
Because they were simply unsuitable, all the southern beaches except BLUE 2 were closed at 1050, and even though BLUE 2 was no prize, it had a good exit. North of Scoglitti, RED and GREEN Beach traffic used the exit road from YELLOW Beach, where the sandy area behind the beaches was smaller in size.
Concerned by the beach conditions and the serious loss of landing craft, Admiral Kirk sent one of his transport division commanders ashore in the middle of the morning to see what could be done to alleviate the situation. The report was pessimistic: between 150 and 200 stranded landing craft on the beaches; insufficient naval salvage parties; not enough beach exits; poor boat handling; poorer shore party work. Except for trying to get some of the stranded craft off the beaches and back into operation, there was little that could be done.
In the early afternoon, after the division shore party command post and a reinforced engineer shore company moved into Scoglitti and reconnoitered the area around the village, Admiral Kirk and General Middleton were told it was advisable to close the three northern assault beaches at noon the next day and to open six new beaches—three above Scoglitti, two at Scoglitti itself, and one just below the village. Both commanders approved the recommendation, but improvement was still almost two days away.33
Only in the 3rd Division sector was the beach situation satisfactory. RED and GREEN beaches west of Licata were closed very early and all further unloadings were made over the two beaches east of the city and in the port itself.34 Enemy air attacks spilling over from the 1st Division beachhead were a nuisance, but none caused more than superficial damage to the mounting accumulation of supplies at the dumps.35
Despite formidable obstacles the invasion thus far appeared eminently successful. The next test would be whether the Allies could stand up to the inevitable Axis attempts to push them back into the sea.