Chapter 21: The End of the Campaign
The Race to Messina
Wasting little time in congratulations, General Truscott urged his men on after General Fries’ back-pedaling German division. Tired from their exertions at the Naso ridge, the men of the 3rd Division wearily resumed their eastward trek. The preceding five-day battle had been slow, costly, and difficult. The 7th Infantry reported losses of fifteen officers and four hundred men killed, wounded, and missing, a figure approximated by each of the other infantry regiments.
South of the mountains, General Bradley, the II Corps commander, brought the 1st Division back into line. Eddy’s 9th Division drew the secondary road leading from Floresta northeastward through Montalbano to Furnari. Huebner’s 1st Division was to pass through the British 78th Division east of Randazzo, then turn north to Bivio Salica.1 If they were able to move fast enough, Bradley believed, the divisions just might catch the German division up north and squeeze it against the 3rd Division. (Map IX)
During the evening of 12 August, German units all across the front withdrew to Hube’s previously designated first phase line. This line was to be held at least until nightfall on 13 August, whereupon the units were to withdraw again to the east, nearer Messina. Thus, on the north coast, by the morning of 13 August, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division as it pulled back some fifteen miles lost contact with the 3rd Division. Before moving into the new line east of Falcone (twenty-eight miles east of Cape Orlando)—a line which extended south almost to Novara di Sicilia—German engineers effectively blocked the coastal highway by partially demolishing the highway tunnel at Cape Calavà and, just to the east, by blowing a 150-foot section of the road, bracketed 300 feet high on a cliff, into the sea. It was a masterful demolition job; overcoming it was to become a landmark of American engineer support in Sicily.
Yet even this stratagem would not save the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, General Patton felt, if a new plan reached fruition. On the same day (12 August) that Truscott executed the link-up with Bernard’s amphibious force near Brolo, Patton had set his staff to preparing still another dash around the Germans’ right flank. With the Navy’s promise to supply more landing craft, and with General Alexander’s permission to use the 2nd Battalion, 509th Parachute Infantry, Patton planned a full-scale operation well behind the German defenders. Late on 12 August, Patton’s staff came forth with the plan, calling for a landing any time between 14 and 18 August in the Bivio Salica–Barcellona area. The Seventh Army
would retain control of the participating units until such time as those units actually landed.2
This attempt to cut off the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, and possibly other German units, was to be much more ambitious than either of the earlier amphibious efforts. Patton hoped to cut Highway 113 as well as the secondary road along which the 1st Division would be advancing. The battalion of paratroopers was to drop at 2000, D minus 1, near Barcellona to prevent German forces from moving to the west to relieve the encircled German units, and to seize and hold the highway bridge just west of Barcellona until the seaborne force landed. Colonel Ankcorn’s 157th RCT (from the 45th Division), reinforced by a company of medium tanks and a company of 4.2-inch mortars, was to land near Bivio Salica, join with the paratroopers, then attack westward to link up with the 3rd Division.
As the Seventh Army staff completed the details for the new end run, the three American divisions then on line kicked off to clear the Messina peninsula. On the north coast, the 15th and 30th Infantry Regiments crossed the Brolo River, the 30th toward Cape Calavà, the 15th cross-country toward Patti. Neither advance was seriously contested.
The 15th Infantry had a more difficult task, for its route led through the mountainous interior over difficult terrain. Yet, the 15th reached Patti long before the 30th entering the town at 1530. Along the highway, the 30th Infantry had come to an abrupt halt upon reaching the partially demolished tunnel and blown out road section at Cape Calavà. Pausing just long enough to start his foot troops inland around the obstacle and across the neck of the cape, Colonel Rogers loaded two Dukws (which had been in a follow-up motor column for just such a purpose as this) with water, signal equipment, and a few communications personnel and chugged around the cape, rejoining the foot elements east of that point.
The 10th Engineer Battalion moved up to restore the highway for vehicular traffic. By hanging “a bridge in the sky” the engineers were able to permit a jeep—carrying General Truscott—to cross the wooden structure eighteen hours after starting work. Six hours later, after a
bit of shoring here and there, heavier vehicles began to cross.3
By 0300 the following morning, 14 August, the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry, after a night’s march, entered Oliveri. The 29th Panzer Grenadier Division had again pulled back to the east. It was now on General Hube’s second phase line, with the northern hinge resting on the coast town of Furnari. The 15th Panzer Grenadier Division was well on its way toward completing its transfer to the Italian mainland. Parts of the other German divisions were also moving toward the embarkation points. In fact, by nightfall on 14 August, only one reinforced infantry battalion held the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division’s front. This battalion was to hold the second phase line until dark on 15 August.4
At Messina, the German ferrying service had swung into full operation with the arrival of the first troops from the front on the night of 11 August. During this first night, Captain von Liebenstein’s craft ran at full capacity until 2045 when the pace slowed and then stopped, partly because
British Wellingtons bombed the strait, partly because troops were slow in reaching the ferrying sites. Despite renewed attacks by Allied bombers, the evacuation resumed during the early morning of 12 August after additional troops from the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division arrived. On the second night of Hube’s evacuation efforts, the night of 12 August, telephone communications between Messina and the mainland failed, and some confusion resulted in getting the naval craft and the ground troops together on the Messina side. Ferrying craft stood by at one of the landing places for three hours, only to leave shortly before the troops finally arrived.
Ferrying did not get under way again until 0200, 13 August. Strong Allied air attacks, persisting until 0500, made it impossible to use the ferries at the narrow part of the strait. But, then, contrary to the original plan of crossing troops only at night, Liebenstein ordered the ferrying continued throughout the 13th. By evening of 13 August, a total of 15,000 men, 1,300 vehicles, 21 tanks, and 22 assault guns had completed the crossing.5
While Liebenstein’s fleet of small craft lifted German troops and matériel across the strait, the Italian ferrying service operated as best it could with its somewhat limited equipment. The train ferry caught fire on 12 August and was out of commission for forty-eight hours. Motor rafts saved the situation and transported 20,000 men at the rate of 1,000 a trip. In an attempt to relieve the situation, the Italians loaded one of the other inoperable train ferries with heavy artillery, planning to tow it across to the mainland. But after all that work, the Italians could not find a towboat. Eventually, they scuttled the craft to keep the artillery pieces from falling into Allied hands.
The Italians now accepted Hube’s previous offer to transport their remaining heavy equipment in German craft. But at the same time, to keep the equipment from falling to the Allies, Hube issued additional instructions to all German units to take charge of any Italian matériel that could not be moved by the Italians. Thus, many pieces of Italian equipment were saved but, at the same time, lost to the Italians, for on the mainland the Germans simply appropriated them for their own divisions. In fact, after completing its evacuation on the evening of 14 August, the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division found that it had more and better wheeled equipment than at the beginning of the campaign, for the simple reason that the troops had acquired Italian motor vehicles of all kinds before leaving Sicily.6 Instances were also reported of German commanders who retained Italian personnel, put the men into German uniforms, and refused to let them return to their own units.7
Despite these difficulties, the evacuation of Italian personnel from Sicily was virtually completed by 16 August. Generale di Brigata Ettore Monacci, commander of Italian army troops at the Naval Base Messina, was the last to leave Messina after setting mines to blow up the port’s installations. All told, the Italians evacuated between 70,000 and 75,000 men; from 227 to 500 vehicles; between 75 and 100 artillery pieces; and 12 mules.8
The German ferrying service continued operations on the evening of 13 August—the third night—even though British Wellington bombers were again out in force. While these bombing attacks time and again forced cessation of the ferrying service across the neck of the strait, at the wider parts the service proceeded pretty much according to schedule. Concluding that these continued heavy bombing attacks made it almost impossible to conduct any sort of satisfactory ferry service in the narrow part of the strait at night, Liebenstein ordered daylight ferrying service only in this zone, though round-the-clock transfers would continue in the wider parts of the strait. Until the end of the operation, most of the remaining German troops on Sicily were ferried to the Italian mainland during daylight hours. Though the frequent Allied air attacks caused some damage to the embarkation points, the damage was light and quickly repaired, particularly because no heavy bombers appeared over the strait during the day. And thanks to Baade’s massed guns, Allied NATAF flyers operating during daylight hours encountered great difficulty in aiming accurately enough to cause any serious damage to either ships or landing points.9
Though quite unknown to the Axis, both German and Italian ferrying services were being aided, inadvertently to be sure, by the actions of certain commanders in the Allied hierarchy of command.
Almost since the beginning of the Sicilian operation, General Montgomery had had ample opportunities to launch amphibious end runs around the German defenses in the Catania plain area. Rather than make use of “the priceless asset of sea power, and flexibility of maneuver,” Montgomery chose instead to slug his way forward up the difficult east coast road, first with one division, then with two, and then again with one.10 Montgomery steadfastly refused to launch any amphibious end runs.
Furthermore, there was the failure on the part of the Allied air commanders to assess correctly Hube’s evacuation plan: they believed almost to the end that the Axis forces would cross the strait only during the hours of darkness, and that NATAF alone could handle any daylight evacuation attempts. Almost one-half of the available Allied air power—the 869 aircraft that belonged to NASAF—was used in only a limited way to stop the evacuation.11 True, British Wellington bombers, flying an average of eighty-five sorties each night against Messina, did force Liebenstein to shift from night crossings to day crossings. But except for three daylight U.S. B-17 attacks on Messina, up to 8 August there were no other calls on the NASAF heavies to bomb Messina, the evacuation beaches, the embarkation
points, and Baade’s gun emplacements, until it was too late. In fact, on 11 August, the NATAF commander had even released the heavy bombers from any commitment in the Messina Strait area. On 13 August, when the Germans shifted to daylight crossings, “the land battle [on Sicily] was going so well” that NASAF scheduled a huge raid on the Littorio airfield and Lorenzo marshaling yards near Rome, committing 106 B-17’s, 102 B-26’s, 66 B-25’s, and 135 P-38’s to this mission.12
Despite numerous signs of Axis withdrawal and evacuation, it was not until 14 August that General Alexander felt the German evacuation had really begun. He radioed this belief to Air Chief Marshal Tedder, but NASAF was committed too deeply to striking at mainland targets to be turned loose against Messina. It did release some medium and light bombers, as well as fighters and fighter-bombers, to assist the NATAF in a round-the-clock pounding of Messina, the strait, and the Italian toe.
The NATAF had undoubtedly tried hard to disrupt Hube’s schedule, but the pilots found it almost impossible to penetrate the antiaircraft defenses. “The immense concentration of flak on both sides of the Narrows makes it impossible to go down and really search for targets thoroughly with fighter bombers,” reported the Desert Air Force (the U.S. XII Air Support Command’s counterpart). “It also greatly restricts the use of light bombers. The Hun knows very well that if we really put up a lot of bomber formations into his main flak concentration, we should have the whole lot unserviceable in no time.”13 Without the support of the U.S. B-17’s during the daylight hours, and with Admiral Cunningham’s refusal to commit any large warships in the strait area to form a “positive physical barrier,” the NATAF pilots faced an almost impossible task.
Thus it was that Hube’s evacuation proceeded fairly close to schedule. By 14 August it was too late to catch any sizable number of enemy ground troops forward of Messina. General Patton, however, continued with his plans for launching another amphibious end run.
During the evening of 13 August, the Hermann Göring Division gave up Taormina (twenty-nine miles from Messina) and fell back to Hube’s second phase line, anchored at the small town of Santa Teresa. Here, twenty miles south of Messina, the German division had orders to hold through the evening of 15 August. Leaving a strong rear guard at Santa Teresa, General Conrath started the rest of his division back to the ferrying sites.
The British 50th Division followed slowly, impeded by efficient German demolition and mine work. The British 78th Division swung around Mount Etna, cleared Highway 120 between Randazzo and Linguaglossa, five miles from the east coast highway. But contact was not regained with the Hermann Göring Division until late on 15 August, by which time even the German rear guards had started to pull back to Hube’s third phase line just short of Messina.
In the center of the Allied front, both the U.S. 1st and 9th Divisions encountered little trouble in closing out their roles in the Sicilian Campaign. Leaving
Floresta early on 14 August, DeRohan’s 60th Infantry pushed northeast along the secondary road leading to the north coast, and that same afternoon his patrols made contact with the 3rd Division at Furnari. On the same day, the 18th Infantry (1st Division) passed through Randazzo, through the British 78th Division, and turned north on the secondary road leading through Novara di Sicilia. This movement soon turned largely on how fast the division’s engineers could remove mine fields and construct bypasses. The 18th Infantry moved slowly along the road—there was no enemy opposition—and across the ridges to Novara di Sicilia. Just after noon, General Bradley telephoned General Huebner the information that Truscott’s units had already passed Bivio Salica and had, therefore, pinched out the 1st Division. There was little point in going any farther, although 18th Infantry patrols did link up with the 3rd Division later in the day.
On the north coast road, the 3rd Division pushed on, nearing the very place where General Patton planned to pull off his combined amphibious-airborne operation—Barcellona. At 0930, 15 August, the 7th Infantry, which leapfrogged the 15th Infantry, punched into Barcellona. Continuing its drive to the east, brushing aside a series of roadblocks defended by a few German machine gunners and mortar men, the regiment pushed all the way to the point where the coastal highway swings inland across the northeastern tip of the island to Messina. At daylight, 16 August, the 7th Infantry was ready to turn for Messina, only twelve miles away.
At Messina, the German evacuation proceeded unimpeded. Hube, confident that his troops could fend off the advancing Allied armies and determined to get as much equipment as possible off the island, had decided on 14 August to extend the evacuation by one night. In order not to upset the announced timetable, he ordered the additional night inserted between the previously ordered third and fourth nights. Thus, the evening of 14 August became known simply as the additional night, while 15 August was still designated as the fourth night, and 16 August as the fifth.14
When both German divisions reported contact regained with the Allied armies on 15 August, Hube completed arrangements to transfer the last elements of the divisions still on Sicily to the Italian mainland during the evening of 16 August. The Hermann Göring and 15th Panzer Grenadier Divisions were, after arrival in Calabria, to march to the north. The 1st Parachute Division, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, and Colonel Baade’s headquarters were to remain in Calabria attached to the LXXVI Panzer Corps.15
Even as the 7th Infantry neared the turn in the road leading to Messina on 15 August, General Patton was calling General Bradley to inform the II Corps commander that the 157th RCT was to land on the morning of 16 August, not at Bivio Salica as originally planned but at Spadafora, ten miles farther to the east. The airborne battalion was not going to participate, Patton said, since the 3rd Division had already passed Barcellona. General Patton apparently felt that, even if the amphibious landing caught no Germans, it would put additional troops on shore to
help speed Truscott’s advance into Messina. The thought of taking Messina, of beating the Eighth Army to this prime objective of the entire campaign, may well have appealed even more strongly to the Seventh Army commander than the spectacular dash across western Sicily.
Not pleased with Patton’s idea of using the 157th RCT at this late stage of the campaign in what he considered a useless operation, knowing that the 7th Infantry was encountering only light rear guard resistance and could outrun any amphibious force, Bradley protested the operation. Determined to go ahead despite General Bradley’s statement that “we’ll be waiting for your troops when they come ashore,”16 Patton sent his deputy, General Keyes, to Truscott’s command post to coordinate the details.
Like Bradley, Truscott was astonished when Keyes outlined the Seventh Army plan. The 7th Infantry was even then approaching Spadafora and undoubtedly would be past that town by the time the 157th RCT started landing. Fearing that the amphibious landing taking place in the middle of the 7th Infantry’s column might lead to confusion and possibly some internecine fighting, Truscott bitterly remonstrated with the Seventh Army deputy commander. But, as before the Brolo landing, Keyes was reluctant to cancel the amphibious end run, knowing full well that General Patton counted on the favorable publicity such a spectacular operation would bring to the Seventh Army. Finally, after Truscott stated flatly that he would halt the 7th Infantry and withdraw it west of Spadafora in order to prevent any conflict with Colonel Ankcorn’s units, Keyes relented. Though the operation would still take place, it would be staged at Bivio Salico on the originally assigned beaches. Truscott reluctantly agreed, although he preferred to see the landing canceled.17
On the same day, 15 August, General Montgomery had finally decided that the Eighth Army, too, would launch an amphibious operation. Early on 16 August, tanks from the British 4th Armored Brigade and a Commando unit were to land at Cape d’Ali, cut off what Germans they could, and speed the Eighth Army’s advance into Messina. Almost four hundred British troops were to be involved, and they too had a strong desire to beat the Americans into Messina.18
The same evening, the Hermann Göring Division rear guards began moving out of Santa Teresa, heading for Hube’s third phase line, anchored at Scaletta, three miles beyond Cape d’Ali.19
Despite the increase in Allied air attacks on 15 and 16 August, the evacuation of German troops and matériel had continued without serious interruption. General Hube and General Fries, commander of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, crossed to Calabria at 0530 on the 16th. Before leaving, General Fries deployed his now less than 200-man rear guard in two widely separated positions: half at Acqualadrone to block the road around the northeastern tip of Sicily; the others at the Casazza crossroads, four miles
west of Messina. These two positions protected the ferrying sites.
In the Seventh Army sector, Bradley’s and Truscott’s prediction of the day before held true when, early on the morning of 16 August, the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry passed through Spadafora. By early afternoon, the 7th was on the highway to Messina.
Colonel Ankcorn’s 157th Infantry, meanwhile, had splashed ashore near Bivio Salica just after midnight, 16 August. Except for the loss of eleven men in a landing craft accident, the landing was uneventful. That afternoon, Truscott ordered Ankcorn to send one battalion to follow the 7th Infantry and assist in the capture of Messina; the remainder of Ankcorn’s command was to stay at Bivio Salica.
By the time the 157th Infantry battalion caught up with the 7th Infantry, the latter unit had already cleared the German rear guards at the Casazza crossroads and controlled the ridge line overlooking Messina. The 30th Infantry had swung past the 7th along the road around the northeastern tip of the island. It was nearing Messina from the north. By this time, too, Truscott had a battery of 155-mm.
howitzers (Battery B, 9th Field Artillery Battalion) firing across the strait onto the Italian mainland. Just after dark, after driving off a small patrol from Company I, 7th Infantry, which was probing toward Messina, the last German rear guards along both roads pulled back to the outskirts of Messina on the edge of the last ferrying site that was still operating.
On the east coast highway, Montgomery’s landing caught the tag end of the Hermann Göring Division’s withdrawing rear guard unit, which halted and stopped the British column just north of Scaletta. Not until dark on 16 August, as the Germans again started back for Messina, did the British column move forward, finally passing through Tremestieri, two miles south of Messina, at daylight 17 August. Here again the British column halted, this time because of a demolished bridge over a deep ravine. By now it was broad daylight—about 0815—and the Commando leader, a lieutenant colonel and distant relative of the British Prime Minister, decided to bypass the obstacle in a jeep and start for Messina. He was determined to get to the city before the Americans.20
The British officer might have spared himself a bouncing, jostling ride. The evening before, a reinforced platoon from Company L, 7th Infantry, under the command of 1st Lt. Ralph J. Yates, had pushed into the city proper. Early next morning, patrols from the other 7th Infantry battalions plus a platoon from the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry, entered Messina. Except for occasional rifle fire, they met no resistance.
The last of the German defenders had crossed to the Italian mainland just about two hours earlier. In Calabria, General Hube reported at 0635, 17 August, “Operation LEHRGANG completed.” The last Axis troops to leave Sicily were eight men of an Italian patrol picked up by a German assault boat about an hour later.21
On the ridge line overlooking the city, General Truscott received Messina’s civil dignitaries at 0700, and one hour later, Col. Michele Tomasello, who offered to make the formal military surrender. However, because he had been told by General Keyes to wait for General Patton before entering Messina, Truscott sent General Eagles, his assistant division commander, into the city with Tomasello to prepare for the surrender of the city after Patton arrived, to supervise the activities of the various American units then roving about the port city, and “to see that the British did not capture the city from us after we had taken it.”22
General Patton came onto the ridge at 1000, asked “What in hell are you all standing around for?,” took his place in a car at the head of a motor cavalcade, and roared down into the city, accompanied all the way by enemy artillery fire from the Italian mainland.
At the southern edge of Messina, the British armored column had finally caught up with the Commando officer, who had, by this time, made contact with General Eagles and learned that the Americans had beaten him to the prize. Continuing through the southern outskirts and into the center of Messina, the British column clanked its slow way forward, arriving in a large park just after General Patton had accepted the city’s surrender. The senior British officer walked over to General Patton, shook hands, and said: “It was a jolly good race. I congratulate you.”23
The Sicilian Campaign was over. The Western Allies had reached the southern gateway to the European continent.
The Allied invasion of Sicily and subsequent reduction of the island accomplished the objectives laid down by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca in January 1943: to make more secure the Allied lines of communication in the Mediterranean; to divert as much German strength as possible from the Russian front during the critical summer period; and to intensify pressure on Italy. More, the invasion of Sicily on 10 July and the attendant heavy bombing raids on key Italian cities and installations led directly to the overthrow of Mussolini and of the Fascist regime, Italy’s first step toward leaving the war. Allied armies had taken from the Axis Powers the Sicilian bridge to the European mainland, and had placed on one end of that bridge a force which constituted a serious threat to all Axis-held portions of the European continent. All this had been accomplished at a cost of less than 20,000 men—7,402 in the Seventh Army, 11,843 in the British Eighth Army. Measured against Axis losses of 12,000 German dead and captured and 147,000 Italian dead, wounded, and captured, the Allied losses were slight.24
From the American point of view, the Seventh Army—the first United States field army to fight as a unit in World War II—had done more than well. Landing on exposed beaches, its airborne mission an almost complete failure, initially facing the bulk of the German defenders, hit by strong Axis counterattacks within hours after landing, the men of the Seventh Army had clawed their way inland. Within seventy-two hours after the initial seaborne landings, the army had established a firm and secure beachhead. Stopped by General Alexander from continuing on to Messina, the Seventh Army refused to relinquish all thought of offensive action and punched its way across the western tip of the island and into Palermo. Allowed to turn to the east, alternately bucking and plunging, it traveled the mountainous roads on and near the north coast to enter Messina just a few hours before the Eighth Army.
There were many noteworthy accomplishments in the thirty-eight days of fighting. Chief among these was the performance of the American fighting man. What he may have lacked in North Africa, if indeed he lacked anything but experience, he more than made up for in Sicily. On this Italian island, the American infantryman was a first-class fighter, in top physical condition, aggressive, always
pushing ahead. The tenacious defense by the 1st Division at Gela; the aggressive, hard-moving actions by the 157th and 179th Combat Teams at Comiso, Scoglitti, and Vittoria; the 3rd Divsion’s capture of Agrigento; the 505th Parachute Infantry at Biazza Ridge; the sweep across western Sicily, where daily thirty- and forty-mile foot marches were common; the fighting at Bloody Ridge and San Fratello; Troina; Randazzo; Brolo; all stand in testimony to this man’s fighting ability.
Scarcely less notable were the accomplishments of the supporting arms. All of these played key parts in keeping the infantrymen moving forward. From the first day of the campaign, the field artillery battalions, divisional and nondivisional, provided tremendous support, and their actions in Sicily were marked by a high degree of success. Events clearly demonstrated that well-trained artillery units could maintain effective and continuous fire support despite the difficulties imposed by mountainous terrain, scarcity of good position areas, limited and congested roads, and, at times, a rapid rate of advance. Probably the most important lesson learned by the artillerymen was the necessity for vigorous and aggressive employment requiring continued rapid displacements in order to maintain fire support in a fast-moving situation. At no time did the artillery fail to deliver requested fires, although there were times when the infantrymen complained that they were not receiving enough. While the island’s road net did not permit all of the artillery units to stay near the front lines at all times, their fires were massed when real resistance was encountered. As many as nine battalions of artillery were placed on a single important target; four and five battalions frequently were used on a single target. By the end of the campaign, in II Corps alone, over 120,000 rounds of 105-mm. howitzer, 34,000 rounds of 155-mm. howitzer, and 6,000 rounds of 155-mm. gun ammunition had been expended.
Vital, too, was the information gained on the value and versatility of the artillery observation aircraft. These small aircraft—grasshoppers, puddle-jumpers—proved most effective in carrying out fire missions and, in addition, served in a variety of important secondary roles despite the difficulties posed by scarce and restricted airfields.
The rugged, mountainous country and the difficult and limited road net precluded any mass action by the one armored division which participated in the campaign. Thus, the major role of the tanks took the form of rapid pursuit action and, where necessary, of assistance to the infantry in small units. The confined areas and narrow valleys flanked by high mountains provided little space for large-scale armored operations. The main operation of the 2nd Armored Division as a whole was the rapid and successful dash for Palermo which involved a pursuit action from Agrigento to the latter city in only three days.
The administrative and technical services also provided outstanding support to the infantrymen. Engineer support rendered throughout the Seventh Army’s various zones of action bordered on the spectacular. After operating the assault beaches, Engineer units pushed inland to repair airfields, roads, and bridges, and sometimes to act as infantrymen. Despite extensive road demolitions (the Axis forces on Sicily demolished 130 highway bridges and cratered roads in 40 places), mines, and enemy opposition, the Engineer
units managed to maintain the Seventh Army’s limited road net in a most satisfactory manner and contributed largely to the successful ground operations. Military police of the Seventh Army, too, operating with a limited number of units, contributed to the successful ground operations by relieving the combat units of the staggering total of 122,204 prisoners of war, of whom almost 75,000 were evacuated to North Africa, while another 34,000 were granted island paroles. The almost 9,000 Seventh Army Signal Corps troops rehabilitated 4,916 miles of telephone wire; laid almost 1,800 miles of spiral-four cable; and handled over 8,000 radio messages. The Seventh Army Medical Corps personnel, usually the unsung heroes of any campaign, processed 20,734 hospital admissions of U.S. personnel and established two field and six evacuation hospitals. Of the total admissions, 7,714 were for wounds or injuries; the other 13,320 were for diseases, with malaria and diarrhea accounting for two-thirds of these. Roughly half of the hospital cases were evacuated to North Africa, an equal number each by air and water.
Outstanding, too, was the close cooperation between the ground forces and the supporting naval units. Even with the mistakes made at some of the assault beaches—notably in the 180th Infantry’s sector—the amphibious phase of the operation was an almost unqualified success. Certainly no complaints could be raised by the ground forces about the naval gunfire support so lavishly rendered during the first forty-eight hours.25 Naval gunfire support on both the 10th and 11th of July played a key role in throwing back the strong Axis counterattacks near Gela, and in paving the way for a resumption of the inland movement the following day.
Throughout the campaign, American naval elements continued to furnish support for the Seventh Army divisions, and not only in the form of naval gunfire support. On the north coast in particular, in addition to the three amphibious end runs, the Navy furnished landing craft to ferry troops, supplies, and artillery pieces around badly damaged sections of the coastal highway to facilitate the ground advance. And while some complaint might be registered over the lack of continuous naval gunfire support at Brolo, this would have to be weighed against the performance of the naval gunners at Gela, Niscemi, Biscari, Scoglitti, Agrigento, and San Fratello.
None of this should be construed to mean that HUSKY was a perfect military campaign, that there were no flaws in the planning and execution of the operation.
In analyzing the Sicilian Campaign, one might naturally question why the original plan was ever changed: why the Allied armies were bunched on the southeastern coast instead of landing at widely separated points and then converging on Messina. The final plan was based on anticipation of strenuous Italian resistance. The whole approach toward Sicily was cautious and conservative. Emphasis was on ensuring success and on the avoidance of calculated risk or gamble for high stakes at little cost. The plan was also designed to avoid the possibility of enemy ground force superiority at any point. If any sub-task
force landing were to fail or miscarry through enemy interference, the adjacent landings would guarantee numerical superiority over the defenders.
The final HUSKY plan was for a power drive, a frontal assault along a single sector of the coast. At no time during the course of planning of the Sicilian invasion did the Allied commanders aim to achieve an envelopment of the defending forces—to launch the initial attacks behind the flanks of the enemy. Even the two-pronged attack envisaged in the initial plan was designed to gain port facilities, not to get between the enemy and Messina. In the final plan, the two Allied armies were to land abreast and to advance together. This was to minimize the danger of having the enemy concentrate against one task force at a time. The risks in the plan were strictly in the matter of supply and mainly affected the Seventh Army.
Sound, cautious, conservative, the final plan was well designed to achieve the occupation of Sicily, the objective set by the Combined Chiefs. At the same time, Alexander’s idea of first consolidating a firm base on the southeast corner offered little scope for maneuver with the object of destroying the enemy garrison.
In essence, the plan as finally designed was Montgomery’s. No one except Montgomery was particularly happy with it. The strategic conception inherent in the plan was both disadvantageous to and disparaging of the American force. Although the original two-pronged attack was based solely on logistical considerations, it implied a twofold advance on Messina. Each army, having gained its port, would advance by its own route to Messina, the hinge of Sicily. The defending forces were expected either to concentrate against one attacking force, leaving the route of advance open to the other, or to withdraw quickly to the northeastern corner of the island where the two Allied armies would converge. The final plan changed all this and embodied an altogether different conception. There would be but one thrust against Messina—the drive through Catania along the east coast highway by the Eighth Army. The Seventh Army would protect the flank and rear of Montgomery’ forces. Only reluctantly and under pressure did General Alexander finally consent to release the Seventh Army from a subordinate and purely supporting mission.
The numerous changes in the HUSKY plan during the February–May period came about as a direct result of the command structure which had been specifically spelled out by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca. For the second time—the first had been in North Africa—an Allied military operation was to be conducted under the control of a triumvirate of commanders, rather than under the direction of one. General Alexander (Eisenhower’s deputy) was made responsible for the ground operations; Air Chief Marshal Tedder for air operations; Admiral Cunningham for naval activities. General Eisenhower was to act as a sort of chairman of the board, to enter into the final decision-making process only when the board members presented him with unsolved problems. If the three board members agreed on policy, there was little that Eisenhower could do to change the policy unless he was willing to dispense with the board members’ services. Eisenhower was raised involuntarily far above the operational level; only indirectly could he influence the course of operations once that course had been agreed on by his committee of three.
The committee system of command
would have been more palatable if the headquarters had not been physically separated—if the committee members had established and maintained a joint headquarters at a single location. But with the invasion of Sicily, Alexander established his headquarters on the island; Tedder’s headquarters remained in North Africa, near Tunis; Cunningham’s naval headquarters was at Malta; and General Eisenhower’s staff remained in Algiers. While the separation had little effect on the conduct of the campaign during the month of July, although it appears logical to assume that a joint headquarters might have prodded General Montgomery into doing more on the east coast in the way of amphibious end runs, one result of maintaining such widely separated headquarters became painfully evident during the last ten days of the operation, when the Axis forces began evacuating the island. A joint plan was not drawn up to prevent an enemy evacuation from the island. Each of the three services operated independently of the others, doing what it thought best to prevent the evacuation. Since the issue was not presented to the chairman of the board (General Eisenhower), the issue remained unsolved, and the Germans and Italians completed one of the most successful evacuations ever executed from a beleaguered shore.
Furthermore, there was the question of air support: whether or not Allied air plans were meshed sufficiently with ground and naval plans. Simply put, the Allied air forces in the Mediterranean refused to work out detailed plans in cooperation with the army and navy. This was particularly true in the case of the Seventh Army—to a much lesser degree in the Eighth Army, where Montgomery’s relations with the British Desert Air Force were somewhat different from Patton’s relations with the U.S. XII Air Support Command. The official air force historians explain the airman’s views:
It should be noted that the air plan dealt for the most part with broad policies and that it had not been integrated in detail with the ground and naval plans. This was deliberate, and the result of sound strategical and tactical considerations emphasized by experience in the Tunisian and Western Desert campaigns. There would be no parceling out of air strength to individual landings or sectors. Instead, it would be kept united under an over-all command in order to insure in its employment the greatest possible flexibility. It would be thrown in full force where it was needed, and not kept immobilized where it was not needed. Too, the chief immediate task of the air arm was to neutralize the enemy air force, a fluid target not easily pinpointed in advance.26
Primarily concerned with other matters—neutralizing enemy air, strategic targets, armed reconnaissances, cover over the beaches—the Allied air commanders devoted little thought and attention to providing close air support to the ground forces during the campaign. During the first critical forty-eight hours, no close air support missions were flown in support of the Seventh Army, and no close support missions were handled by the air support parties with the II Corps and with the assault divisions until 13 July. Even then the cumbersome system of requesting missions, with attendant delays in transmission and in identifying targets, proved almost unmanageable. It resulted in the scrapping of many requested and approved missions, and sometimes worked out in disastrous ways for friendly forces.
As regards the execution of the plan,
questions might well be raised as to the conduct of the ground phases of the campaign. The ground assault started auspiciously on 10 July with the greatest amphibious attack ever undertaken by any armed force. Within seventy-two hours after the initial seaborne landings, the two Allied armies advancing abreast had practically secured their designated objectives. On the east coast, the Eighth Army entered Augusta on the morning of 12 July. Thus far, its advance had not been seriously contested. The bulk of the defending forces, particularly the German contingent, was off to the west, one portion counterattacking the Seventh Army near Gela and Biscari, the other part hurriedly moving eastward to block any further American advances inland from Licata. Catania was almost in sight. The only force of any consequence opposing Eighth Army’s two assault corps was the German Group Schmalz, and this force was almost certainly not strong enough to stop an aggressive thrust north from Augusta. The Seventh Army, for its part and after the initial Axis counterattacks at Gela, had pushed on strongly, so strongly that its left task force—the reinforced 3rd Division—had run out of objectives and was poised to strike inland at the key communications center of Enna. Highway 124, the important east-west highway, was almost in Seventh Army’s grasp. Several huge gaps had been created in the Axis line, gaps that were being held halfheartedly by remnants of the Livorno and Napoli Divisions.
It was at this very point on the evening of 12 July, when the Allied armies were in the best position of the entire campaign for finishing off the Axis defenders quickly and pushing on through to Messina, that General Alexander, for some unknown reason, permitted General Montgomery to change the Eighth Army’s plans. Instead of moving along a single major axis of advance, throwing his army’s entire weight against the German defenders at Catania, Montgomery split his assault corps into a two-pronged effort, one prong continuing along the east coast highway, the other prong swinging to the west across Seventh Army’s front around Mount Etna. At the same time, Alexander changed the Seventh Army axis of advance from the north to the west and again relegated Patton’s force to the passive role of guarding Montgomery’s flank and rear. For all practical purposes, Seventh Army could have stayed on the beaches; its brilliant assault achievements were completely nullified by the new British plan.
Why Alexander permitted this to happen has never been satisfactorily explained. Seventh Army was moving ahead nicely; it almost had Highway 124; the German and Italian forces in front of it had been practically dissolved or withdrawn. The German forces from the west, not really strong enough to contest an advance all along the line, were still scrambling to the east in a desperate effort to close the tremendous gap in the center of the Axis line. No enemy force of any size opposed either the 1st or 45th Divisions. General Bradley, the II Corps commander, was ready and willing to take Highway 124 and Enna, thus encircling the German defenders facing Eighth Army. In North Africa, the remainder of the 82nd Airborne and 2nd Armored Divisions lay ready to sail for Sicily to reinforce the American effort. But apparently it was Alexander’s distrust of the American fighting man that permitted him to accept Montgomery’s plan of a two-pronged British advance, of dividing Eighth Army in the face of the
enemy. Or it may be that General Eisenhower’s opinion of Alexander—“At times it seems that he alters his own plans and ideas merely to meet an objection or a suggestion of a subordinate, so as to avoid direct command methods”—was correct.27
Alexander’s permission given to Montgomery to launch Eighth Army on its ill-fated two-pronged offensive constituted the turning point in the Sicilian Campaign. From this date on the course of the campaign could not have proceeded much differently. The Axis forces, suddenly relieved of the tremendous American pressure along most of their front, were now given enough time to prepare strong defensive positions in the mountainous interior, and the rest of the campaign turned into little more—except for Patton’s spectacular dash into Palermo, almost a publicity agent’s stunt—than digging the enemy out of strongpoints and knocking him off mountain tops. It was not until 23 July, when General Alexander finally turned Seventh Army toward Messina, that even these tactics paid off.
Questions, too, might be raised about the tragic confusion which marked the four major Allied airborne operations. The scattering of the American paratroopers and British glidermen on the evening of D minus 1, followed by the shooting down of large numbers of friendly aircraft on the evenings of 11 and 13 July 1943, almost brought American airborne efforts in World War II to an end. Much disillusionment set in following the disastrous airborne operations, and many responsible officers became convinced that the basic structure of the airborne division was unsound.
Sicily was an especially bitter disappointment for men who had put great faith in airborne operations. General Swing, American airborne adviser at AFHQ, attributed the unsatisfactory results to five principal causes: insufficient planning in coordinating routes with all forces several weeks earlier; the inability of troop carrier formations to follow the routes given, partly because of poorly trained pilots, and partly because of the complicated routes; the rigid requirement that naval forces fire at all aircraft at night coming within range, regardless of their efforts to identify themselves; the unfortunate circumstance wherein an enemy bombing raid coincided with the arrival of the airborne force; and the failure of some ground commanders to warn the men manning antiaircraft weapons of the expected arrival of the troop carrier formations.28
General Browning, British airborne expert and the AFHQ airborne adviser, was sharp in his criticism of the aerial navigation:
In spite of the clear weather, suitable moon, the existence of Malta as a check point only 70 miles from Sicily and the latter’s very obvious and easily recognizable coast line, the navigation by the troop carrier aircrews was bad.
The troops comprising both British and American Airborne Divisions are of a very high quality and their training takes time and is expensive. They are given important tasks which may acutely affect the operations as a whole. It is essential both from the operational and moral point of view that energetic steps be taken to improve greatly on the aircrews’ performance up to date.
Intensive training in low flying navigation by night, especially over coast lines, must be organized and carried on continuously. This must form part of the aircrews’ training before they reach a theater of war and the standard set must be very high.29
General Ridgway, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, stated weeks later that “both the 82nd Airborne Division and the North African Air Force Troop Carrier Command are today at airborne training levels below combat requirements.” He emphasized that airborne and troop carrier units were “unprepared to conduct with reasonable chances of success night operations either glider or parachute, employing forces the size of Regimental Combat Teams.”30
A report on the Sicilian airborne operations by the Fifth Army Airborne Training Center was more blunt:
The (82nd) Division was in superb physical condition, well qualified in the use of infantry arms, in combined ground operations, and in individual jumping. It was extremely deficient in its air operations. The (52nd) Troop Carrier Wing did not cooperate well. Training was, in general, inadequate. Combat efficiency for night glider operations was practically zero. The combined force of (82nd) Airborne Division and troop carrier units was extremely deficient.31
Allied airborne operations did live up to some expectations, but they might have been far more vital in the conquest of Sicily had the airborne troops been dropped, not between the reserves and the beach defenses, but en masse on the central plateau, where they could have assembled with little interference and then struck aggressively at the enemy’s rear.32
In some respects Allied airborne operations in Sicily bear certain similarities to the German airborne invasion of Crete. In each case the attacker considered the operation a disappointment, while the defender considered the operation a more or less spectacular success. Each operation was something of a turning point in the airborne effort of both sides. For the Germans, Crete was the end of major airborne operations. For the Allies, Sicily was only the beginning of airborne operations on an even larger scale.
After Sicily, however, it was not certain that airborne divisions were here to stay. The reaction of the Army Ground Forces in the United States was that the airborne program had been overemphasized. They could see no immediate requirement for the airborne strength which had been assembled, and were willing to abandon the idea of special airborne divisions. AGF suggested that the airborne divisions then in being be reorganized as light divisions. Parachute units would be removed and the light divisions would be given a variety of special training. Whenever an airborne operation was contemplated, then the light division could be trained, preferably in the theater, for that specific operation. Parachute units would be organized into separate battalions, after the fashion of the armored infantry battalions,
and would then be grouped as necessary for training and tactical employment.33
At the same time, writing from North Africa, General Eisenhower also suggested a reorganization:
I do not believe in the airborne division. I believe that airborne troops should be reorganized in self-contained units, comprising infantry, artillery, and special services, all of about the strength of a regimental combat team. Even if one had all the air transport he could possibly use the fact is at any given time and in any given spot only a reasonable number of air transports can be operated because of technical difficulties. To employ at any time and place a whole division would require a dropping over such an extended area that I seriously doubt that a division commander could regain control and operate the scattered forces as one unit. In any event, if these troops were organized in smaller, self-contained units, a senior commander, with a small staff and radio communications, could always be dropped in the area to insure necessary coordination.34
Opposing this trend was General Swing, who had served as an airborne adviser in Allied Forces Headquarters and who was now at the Airborne Command in the United States. He protested that these views were based upon a campaign marked by certain adverse conditions which were remediable. He pointed to the Markham valley operation in New Guinea (September 1943) as an example of what could be done with proper training and planning. His conclusion was that airborne divisions were sound and that the succesful employment of those divisions required careful and exact planning and coordination with the major ground effort. In this connection, General Swing recommended, as he had done earlier, that an airborne staff section be established in each theater to assist the theater commander in taking full advantage of the capabilities of airborne units.35
In a later study of the subject, the American and British Combined Staff Planners saw nothing in combat experience, either British or American, which indicated that the division was not the proper organization for airborne troops. Taking cognizance of the expressed views of Eisenhower, Swing, and others, the planners recommended that no changes be made in that structure until further experience indicated the need for a change.36 This recommendation was accepted by both Americans and British. It had been a near thing for the airborne effort. For with the loss of the division structure and a reversion to battalion size units only, the airborne units would have been no more effective than if they had retained the same mission originally contemplated for them in the days before the war—the seizure of an airhead for the benefit of air-transported infantry units.
The campaign had done more from an American viewpoint than deal the enemy a serious blow and prove the abilities of the American soldier. The campaign also had produced an American field commander, who, on the one hand, by his
verve, élan, and professional ability, had captured the fancy of his troops and the American public, and on the other hand, because of some of his actions, had incurred severe, even hostile, criticism from his superiors, his troops, and the public.
This commander was General Patton. Having first emerged as a colorful, capable leader in North Africa, Patton in the Sicilian Campaign had developed as the American answer to Montgomery. Part of Patton’s distinction was sheer histrionics—the characteristic riding breeches and the pearl-handled pistols that set him apart, gave him a trademark. Of a piece with this was the fervor with which he pursued a relatively empty but nonetheless spectacular objective like Palermo.
But, as even his severest critics would admit, Patton had done a masterful job. He had created a battle-worthy field army and shaped it in his own image—tenacious, bold, aggressive, resourceful, an army imbued with Patton’s own passion for beating the British to Messina. Yet in the process, under the pressure of the same consuming drive which brought achievement, Patton had proven himself cold, uncompromising, and even cruel in dealing with any subordinate who seemed to be remiss or who might hinder him in attaining his goals.
If the subordinate was a division commander, like General Allen, who felt the lash of Patton’s tongue on the beaches near Gela, or like General Truscott, who questioned what he considered too much haste in the end run at Brolo and drew for his protests stinging rebuke, there would be no widespread repercussions. But when these hard, personal methods, exaggerated by moments of rage, reached down to private soldiers in a war-swollen army, closely, even jealously watched by the people at home, the situation could be different.
Two incidents involving hospitalized privates came close to damaging the morale of the Seventh Army and even closer to knocking Patton from the military pedestal to which the Sicilian Campaign had elevated him. These two incidents did not affect the actual conduct or outcome of the campaign, but, like the debacle of the airborne reinforcement, their scandalous nature and the attendant publicity have made them an integral part of the story of the campaign, sometimes to the point of eclipsing the achievements of the Seventh Army in Sicily and of Patton himself. These were the two so-called “slapping incidents” involving General Patton and two soldiers whom he suspected of malingering.37
The first of the incidents took place on 3 August in the receiving tent of the 15th Evacuation Hospital (Lt. Col. Charles N. Wasten), then in the 1st Division’s area near Nicosia, during one of Patton’s periodic visits to medical installations supporting Seventh Army. Patton, in company with General Lucas, entered the receiving tent escorted by Colonel Wasten and other medical officers assigned to the hospital, spoke to various patients, and especially commended the wounded men. Then he came upon a private from Company L, 26th Infantry, who had just recently
arrived in the hospital area with a preliminary diagnosis made at the clearing station of “psychoneuroses anxiety state—moderate severe.”38 Approaching, Patton asked the soldier what the matter was. The man replied: “I guess I can’t take it.” Patton immediately flew into a rage, cursed him, slapped the private soldier across the face with his gloves, and finally grabbed him and threw him out of the tent.39 In General Lucas’s words: “We stopped at an Evacuation Hospital before reaching Nicosia to visit the wounded boys and try to cheer them up. Brave, hurt, bewildered boys. All but one, that is, because he said he was nervous and couldn’t take it. Anyone who knows him can realize what that would do to George. The weak sister was really nervous when he got through.”40
Patton concluded the inspection of the hospital’s facilities, toured the front lines, and returned to his headquarters where he had the following memorandum prepared and distributed to his senior commanders:–
It has come to my attention that a very small number of soldiers are going to the hospital on the pretext that they are nervously incapable of combat. Such men are cowards, and bring discredit on the Army and disgrace to their comrades who [sic] they heartlessly leave to endure the danger of a battle which they themselves use the hospital as a means of escaping.
You will take measures to see that such cases are not sent to the hospital, but are dealt with in their units.
Those who are not willing to fight will be tried by Court-Martial for cowardice in the face of the enemy.41
Apparently, this particular incident caused no serious repercussions on the island or at Allied Force Headquarters in North Africa. Nor did General Lucas mention the incident to General Eisenhower on his return to North Africa on 6 August. Patton, himself, was not overly concerned with the incident, and in his diary noted: “I gave him the devil, slapped his face with my gloves and kicked him out of the hospital. … One sometimes slaps a baby to bring it to.”42
The soldier, in the meantime, had been picked up by a hospital corpsman after being thrown out of the receiving tent and had been taken to a ward tent where he was found to be running a high fever and where he gave a history of chronic diarrhea. Two days later, the final diagnosis in his case was made: chronic dysentery and malaria, and on 9 August the man was evacuated to North Africa.43
Just the day after the ailing soldier was sent off the island, General Patton dropped in unexpectedly at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital (Col. D. E. Currier)
where he was met by Maj. Charles B. Etter, the hospital’s receiving officer, and taken to the receiving tent, where fifteen patients had just arrived from the front. Patton started down the line of cots, asking each man where he had been hurt and how, and commending each. The fourth man Patton reached was a soldier from Battery C, 17th Field Artillery Regiment, who had been previously diagnosed at a clearing station as suffering from a severe case of shell shock. He was huddled on his bunk and shivering. Patton stopped in front of the bed and, as was his way, asked the soldier what the trouble was. The man replied, “It’s my nerves,” and began to sob. Patton, instantly furious, roared, “What did you say?” The man again replied, “It’s my nerves,” and continued, “I can hear the shells come over, but I can’t hear them burst.”
Patton turned impatiently to Major Etter and asked, “What’s this man talking about? What’s wrong with him, if anything?” Etter reached for the soldier’s chart but before the doctor could answer Patton’s questions, Patton began to rave and rant: “Your nerves, Hell, you are just a goddamned coward, you yellow son of a bitch.” At this point, Colonel Currier and two other medical officers entered the receiving tent in time to hear Patton yell at the man, “You’re a disgrace to the Army and you’re going right back to the front to fight, although that’s too good for you. You ought to be lined up against a wall and shot. In fact, I ought to shoot you myself right now, goddam you!” With this, Patton reached for his pistol, pulled it from its holster, and waved it in the soldier’s face. Then, as the man sat quivering on his cot, Patton struck him sharply across the face with his free hand and continued to shout imprecations. Spotting Colonel Currier, Patton shouted, “I want you to get that man out of here right away. I won’t have these other brave boys seeing such a bastard babied.”
Reholstering his pistol, Patton started to leave the tent, but turned suddenly and saw that the soldier was openly crying. Rushing back to him, Patton again hit the man, this time with such force that the helmet liner he had been wearing was knocked off and rolled outside the tent. This was enough for Colonel Currier, who placed himself between Patton and the soldier. Patton turned and strode out of the tent. As he left the hospital, Patton said to Colonel Currier, “I meant what I said about getting that coward out of here. I won’t have those cowardly bastards hanging around our hospitals. We’ll probably have to shoot them sometime anyway, or we’ll raise a breed of morons.”44
General Patton left the hospital area, still fuming “about the cowardice of people who claimed they were suffering from psychoneuroses” and exclaiming that “they should not be allowed in the same hospital with the brave wounded men,” and went forward to General Bradley’s headquarters where he casually mentioned what had just happened.45 So casual was Patton about the incident that General Bradley tended to disregard the whole matter.46 For the soldier, the preliminary diagnosis made of his case was later fully
confirmed by the 93rd Evacuation Hospital’s psychiatrist.47
Two days later, on 12 August, Bradley had cause to remember Patton’s casual mention of the incident. Colonel Currier had submitted a report through the II Corps surgeon on the incident at his hospital, and Gen. William B. Kean, Bradley’s chief of staff, rushed it into the II Corps commander’s trailer. No one else at II Corps headquarters had seen the communication, which was a full report of the occurrence. Bradley instructed Kean to lock the report in a safe and to do nothing more about the matter.48 Other than going directly to Eisenhower with the report, which would mean jumping channels, there was little else General Bradley could do. He was still under Patton’s command, and forwarding the report to Seventh Army headquarters probably would have accomplished nothing. This was General Eisenhower’s problem and General Bradley apparently did not want to be a party to accusing the Seventh Army commander of any wrongdoing.
By this time, however, the incident was common knowledge all over the island. An account of it had been carried back orally to Allied Force Headquarters press camp by three reputable newsmen who had been covering the fighting on Sicily. One of the correspondents stated that there were at least 50,000 American soldiers on Sicily who would shoot Patton if they had the chance; a second felt the Seventh Army commander had gone temporarily insane. Just a few days later, another correspondent brought in a detailed written report of what had happened at Colonel Currier’s hospital. Thus far, none of the correspondents had filed a story on either of the slapping episodes. They realized the seriousness of the incidents, and the impact such a story would have on the public in the United States; they were willing to hush the story at their end for the sake of the American effort.49
General Eisenhower had already acted in the matter. On 16 August the Supreme Allied Commander had in his hands a detailed report of the two incidents prepared by NATOUSA’s surgeon’s office. General Eisenhower was shocked by the report, but determined to give Patton a chance to explain. On the following day, 17 August, Eisenhower wrote a personal letter to his senior American subordinate, a letter which offered Patton a chance to deny the allegations made against him, but which also included a strong rebuke if all, or any part of, the allegations proved correct.
Though General Eisenhower planned no formal investigation, in the letter to Patton, delivered personally by a general officer, he indicated his feelings. “I am well aware of the necessity for hardness and toughness on the battlefield,” Eisenhower wrote. “I clearly understand that firm and drastic measures are at times necessary in order to secure desired objectives. But this does not excuse brutality, abuse of the sick, nor exhibition of uncontrollable temper in front of subordinates.” While Eisenhower felt that Patton’s “personal services” as commander of Seventh Army had been of immense value to the Allied cause during the Sicilian fighting, he stated bluntly that “if there is
a very considerable element of truth in the allegations accompanying this letter, I must so seriously question your good judgment and your self-discipline as to raise serious doubts in my mind as to your future usefulness.” The Allied commander then stated that if any of the allegations were true, Patton was to make amends, apology or otherwise,” to the individuals concerned, and stated baldly that “conduct such as described in the accompanying report will not be tolerated in this theater no matter who the offender may be.”50
At the same time, General Eisenhower ordered General Lucas to Sicily to talk to Patton, and sent the theater inspector general to the island to see what effect Patton’s conduct had had on Seventh Army. Lucas arrived in Palermo on 21 August and spoke in a “kindly but very firm” tone to the Seventh Army commander. By this time, Patton had received Eisenhower’s letter, and Lucas found him “chastened” and agreeable to “everything I suggested including never doing such things again.”51 Lucas knew of General Eisenhower’s strong feelings about Patton’s actions and realized Patton was in serious danger of being relieved. As far as the inspector general was concerned, he felt that no great harm had been done to Seventh Army by Patton’s conduct.52
Patton, apparently not fully realizing the seriousness of his actions at the evacuation hospitals—“evidently I acted precipitately and on insufficient knowledge”—felt that “my motive was correct because one cannot permit skulking to exist.”53 He regretted what had happened more because of making “Ike mad when it is my earnest desire to please him.”54 But he set about making amends before answering General Eisenhower’s letter. He talked to the two soldiers, explained his motives, and apologized for his actions. “In each case I stated I should like to shake hands with them, and in each case they accepted my offer.”55 Then, acting on General Lucas’ suggestions, Patton talked to the medical personnel who were present when the incidents occurred and expressed his regrets for “my impulsive actions.” And, finally, he addressed all Seventh Army divisions and expressed his regret “for any occasions when I may have harshly criticized individuals.”56
On 29 August, Patton sent his reply to General Eisenhower, assuring the senior American commander in the theater that he had had no intention of “being either harsh or cruel in my treatment of the two soldiers in question. My sole purpose was to try and restore in them a just appreciation of their obligation as men and as soldiers.” Continuing, Patton recalled a World War I incident when a close friend lost his nerve “in an exactly analogous manner.” After suffering years of mental anguish, Patton wrote, his friend had committed suicide. “Both my friend and the medical men with whom I discussed his case assured me that had he been roundly checked at the time of his first misbehavior, he would have been restored to a normal state.” It was recalling this incident, Patton stated, that caused him to “inaptly” try “the remedies suggested,”
and, “after each incident I stated to officers with me that I felt I had probably saved an immortal soul.”57
Patton’s admission of the allegations contained in the 16 August report placed General Eisenhower in a most difficult position: were the incidents sufficiently damaging to Patton and to his standing in Seventh Army to relieve him? Eisenhower could rationalize the incidents, although he admitted that Patton’s behavior was undeniably brutal. He knew that Patton was impulsive and was, when the incidents occurred, in a “highly emotional state.”58 Eisenhower wanted Patton “saved for service in the great battles still facing us in Europe.”59 He did not want to get rid of the general “who had commanded an army in one of our country’s most successful operations and who is the best ground gainer developed so far by the Allies.”60 Weighing one set of facts against the other, General Eisenhower concluded that Patton was too valuable a man to lose, and he determined to keep him in command of Seventh Army.61 He then called in the group of reporters who had brought the story over from Sicily, explained what actions had been taken, and his reasons for keeping Patton in command of Seventh Army. The correspondents were satisfied and voluntarily declined to file stories back to the States. As far as AFHQ was concerned, the matter was closed.62
Although much was later said about the Patton incidents when a reporter, fresh from the United States, got wind of the story and released it over the radio in November 1943, Eisenhower did not waver in his decision to back General Patton. Writing then, Eisenhower said simply, “I still feel my decision sound,” and refused to rescind it.63 But the incidents did convince General Eisenhower that the horizon of Patton’s command role was limited. In a later message to General Marshall, Eisenhower stated emphatically: “In no event will I ever advance Patton beyond Army command ...”64