Allied Forces Invade Sicily

The invasion of Sicily, the first and largest joint amphibious operation of World War II and the initial step of the two-year Italian campaign, also marked the first Allied taking of an Axis area in Europe. Code-named Operation Husky, the invasion lasted thirty-eight days and was fought over rough terrain. The Allies achieved their objective of taking Sicily and toppling Mussolini’s Fascist regime, but a lack of air and naval coordination permitted a large German army to escape to the mainland. The Allies would pay a large price for this mistake during the Italian campaign.

Summary of Event

By the end of 1942, the Anglo-American North Africa World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];North African campaign campaign was in the final stages of defeating the once-formidable Afrika Korps, which was headed by the German military genius General Erwin Rommel. The Battle of Stalingrad was in its final stages as well, and Joseph Stalin continued his long-standing demand for a second front to be opened in Europe to relieve pressure in the east. To this end, a ten-day secret meeting was held at Casablanca Casablanca Conference (1943)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Allied planning meetings in mid-January, 1943, which was attended by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and their respective military advisers. Sicily, invasion of (1943)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Italian campaign
Operation Husky
[kw]Allied Forces Invade Sicily (July 9-Aug. 17, 1943)
[kw]Sicily, Allied Forces Invade (July 9-Aug. 17, 1943)
Sicily, invasion of (1943)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Italian campaign
Operation Husky
[g]Europe;July 9-Aug. 17, 1943: Allied Forces Invade Sicily[00880]
[g]Italy;July 9-Aug. 17, 1943: Allied Forces Invade Sicily[00880]
[c]World War II;July 9-Aug. 17, 1943: Allied Forces Invade Sicily[00880]
[c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;July 9-Aug. 17, 1943: Allied Forces Invade Sicily[00880]
[c]Military history;July 9-Aug. 17, 1943: Allied Forces Invade Sicily[00880]
Eisenhower, Dwight D.
[p]Eisenhower, Dwight D.;World War II
Alexander, Harold (first Earl Alexander of Tunis)
Patton, George S.
Montgomery, Bernard Law
Kesselring, Albert
Guzzoni, Alfredo
Simonds, Guy

Proposals at the meeting included discussion of invasions of Greece, the Balkans, Sardinia, France, and Sicily. Because Operation Torch (which was a success by mid-March, 1943) would place the British Eighth Army, under General Bernard Law Montgomery, and the U.S. Seventh Army, under General George S. Patton, in Tunisia, less than 100 miles from Sicily, meeting participants agreed that it would be possible, logistically, to invade Sicily by that summer.

The invasion of Sicily, code-named Operation Husky, was planned to include subsequent landings on the Italian mainland, a mere 2 miles from the island. It was believed that such a move would topple the Fascist regime of Benito Mussolini and cause Italy (Germany’s chief European ally) to drop out of the war. It would also give the Allies control of shipping lanes on the Mediterranean Sea. A cross-Channel invasion was also agreed to at Casablanca, but this would take place only when preparations were adequate.

Plans for Operation Husky, which called for simultaneous air and seaborne landings on Sicily, were finalized by Eisenhower on June 7. On June 11, the British invasion force left port. Its first objective was Pantelleria Pantelleria, fall of (1943) , an island between Tunisia and Sicily that contained several airfields. Before a single soldier stepped foot on Pantelleria, the 10,000 Italian defenders surrendered. The main invasion force (an Allied land force led by British general Harold Alexander), consisting of 180,000 troops and 1,375 ships (the largest fleet yet assembled), was now ready to embark and face a defending force of 90,000 German troops, led by General Albert Kesselring, and 315,000 Italian troops, led by General Alfredo Guzzoni.

The invasion began on the evening of July 9 with nearly 2,800 U.S. paratroopers (among them the Eighty-second Airborne Division, which was making its first combat jump), and the British First Airlanding Brigade, which attacked with 137 glider planes. Windy conditions, which hampered the amphibious landing the following day, played havoc with Allied airborne troops as well. Only twelve gliders reached their designated areas. Half came down at sea, drowning their passengers, while the others came down over a wide area. Pilot inexperience and the wind spread U.S. paratroopers over a 50-mile radius. Casualties amounted to 23 percent of the U.S. force and 27 percent of the British force. The chaotic landings did, however, first confuse the German forces, but because they believed a much larger attack was taking place, they were able to reinforce their infantry and armored capabilities in Sicily.

Allied landings came on July 10, supported by heavy naval gunfire. British forces and Canadian forces, led by Major General Guy Simonds, landed in the east, virtually unopposed, and within a few hours were able to walk into Syracuse. U.S. troops landed on the beaches in the Gulf of Gela, meeting some resistance, depending on the area. The heaviest opposition came from the Hermann Göring Göring, Hermann Panzer Division, a German division equipped with Tiger tanks, but these forces eventually were dispersed by naval gunfire and the U.S. Second Armored Division.

Patton would then easily capture Agrigento and proceed largely on his own initiative along the west coast of Sicily and then inland to take Palermo Palermo, fall of (1943) . Amid flower-strewn streets on July 22, Patton accepted the mass surrender of Italian troops. Two day’s later, Mussolini’s own Fascist Grand Council Fascist Party, Italian withdrew its support for his leadership. The following day, he was arrested and jailed by order of the king of Italy, who immediately entered into secret negotiations with the Allies to withdraw Italy from the war.

The fall of Palermo was followed by a race between Montgomery and Patton over whose army could reach Messina first. However, staunch resistance by General Hans Hube’s Hube, Hans badly outnumbered forces stalled both Allied generals. What neither general suspected was that Hube was launching not a defense but a tactical evacuation to the mainland. Under orders from the German commander in chief in Italy, General Albert Kesselring, German forces had constructed a strong defensive line (the Etna line Etna line ) around Messina, intending to hold the Allies while German forces slipped away to the mainland. The evacuation began on August 11.

Patton rolled into Messina on August 14, fifty minutes before the arrival of Montgomery, but hours had passed since the last of Kesselring’s forces had evacuated from Sicily. However, the German evacuation was soon followed by an invasion by an elite German army of ninety thousand—along with sixty-two thousand Italian soldiers, ten thousand vehicles, and forty-four tanks—which would cross the Strait of Messina to fight again. Failure to plan for the German resistance at Messina is considered one of the great blunders in modern military history.

The conquest of Sicily had taken thirty-eight days and cost the Allies 22,800 casualties. The Axis powers suffered 165,000 casualties, 30,000 of which were German. From Sicily, the Allies had a wide range of choices as to where they would invade the Italian mainland. On September 3, Montgomery’s forces landed at Calabria, at the “toe” of the Italian mainland. A joint Anglo-American force landed on September 9 at Salerno, one day after Italy’s capitulation.


The invasion of Italy was the first joint amphibious operation in World War II and can be considered as a small dress rehearsal for D-Day (June 6, 1944). The Sicily invasion brought Anglo-American and Canadian forces to the doorstep of the European continent, setting the stage for the invasion of the Italian mainland (set to take place the following month). While Sicily was not the second front that Stalin had demanded, the invasion did cause Adolf Hitler to withdraw elite troops during the final stages of the Battle of Kursk on the Eastern Front; it also tied down twenty German divisions, which had been attempting to slow the Allied advance up the Italian peninsula. The invasion was also directly responsible for speeding the fall of Mussolini and the detachment of Italy from the Axis powers.

On the negative side, the disastrous landing of Allied airborne troops, the lack of coordination between British and U.S. generals, and the lack of planning to prevent the escape of the entire German army across the Strait of Messina, has led military historians to label the invasion of Sicily an example of everything military planning should not be. In the final analysis, the successful takeover of Sicily by Allied forces fell far short of being a victory. Sicily, invasion of (1943)
World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Italian campaign
Operation Husky

Further Reading

  • Bruce, Collin John. Invaders: British and American Experience of Seaborne Landings, 1939-1945. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1999. A history of amphibious operations during World War II. Includes discussion of the invasion of Sicily. Illustrations.
  • Cross, Robin, et al. World War II. New York: DK, 2004. A well-written study of all fronts of World War II. Excellent for providing background to the global conflict. Index, footnotes, bibliography, maps, illustrations, appendixes.
  • D’Este, Carlo. Bitter Victory: The Battle for Sicily, July-August, 1943. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991. A detailed scholarly study of the invasion of Sicily. Index, footnotes, bibliography, maps, illustrations, appendixes.
  • Lamb, Richard. War In Italy, 1943-1945: A Brutal Story. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, 1996. An analysis of the Italian campaign that draws from Italian archives. Gives particular attention to civilian suffering. Index, illustrations, maps, index, bibliography.
  • Lovering, T. T. A., ed. Amphibious Assault, Manoeuvre from the Sea: Amphibious Operations from the Last Century. London: Crown, 2005. A comprehensive history of seaborne landings, including the landings at Sicily and locations on the Italian mainland in 1943. Illustrations, bibliography, index.
  • Pack, S. W. C. Operation Husky: The Allied Invasion of Sicily. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1977. A scholarly study of the invasion of Sicily. Footnotes, bibliography, index.
  • Tomblin, Barbara Brooks. With Utmost Spirit: Allied Naval Operations in the Mediterranean, 1942-1945. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004. A thorough history of Allied operations in the Mediterranean region during World War II, with chapters on the Sicilian campaign.

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