Operation Husky – The Allied Invasion of Sicily

World War II played host to some of the most famous battles in history, and one of the most pivotal moments was the Allied Invasion of Sicily. In 1943, Britain and the US defeated Italy and Germany in the North African Campaign and turned their eyes to occupied Europe.

Allied troops receiving medical attention in Piazza Duomo, Catania

The allies decided to continue to push Axis powers back by moving their focus to Italy, with hopes that they could remove the Fascist regime there. This new focus was to start with Sicily.

What happened at the Allied Invasion of Sicily?

With the successful North African Campaign, which concluded on May 13, 1943 with 250,000 Axis troops surrendering in Tunisia. The American and British troops fighting in North Africa were now free and ready for action. After some debate, the Allied forces decided to press north into Italy.

The island of Sicily has long been a trade point and stepping stone for people and cultures moving to and from Northern Africa and mainland Europe. Sicily was the perfect next step for the Allied forces, and they would have air cover from the bases in British Malta, which is only 60 miles south of Sicily, which had only recently been freed from Axis forces.

Operation Husky 70 Years Later: When The Allied Forces Landed in Sicily |  ITALY Magazine

The forces did not fly in guns blazing, however.

Operation Mincemeat

The Allied forces did not want the Axis forces to know they were going to try to force them out of Sicily next, so the Allied forces came up with a plan to fool the Germans into thinking they were going to attack in another location.

The British “repurposed” the body of a Welsh homeless man who had committed suicide by dressing the body up in the uniform of British Major Martin William. They then handcuffed a briefcase to his body that contained fake documents, seeming to reveal the Allied force’s plans, and dropped the body into Spanish waters where the Germans were likely to find it.

Naval identity card of Major Martin with photograph of Captain Ronnie Reed

The Germans took the bait. They took the briefcase attached to the “Major” and delivered the—unbeknownst to them—false documents to Hitler. Hitler fully bought the documents, and directed his troops away from Sicily to fortify their position on Sardinia and Corsica, two islands west of Italy.

Operation Husky

With Operation Mincemeat a success, the Allied forces were ready to press forward into Sicily. Operation Husky began on July 10, 1943, which was a full-frontal assault. It combined air and sea landings, which resulted in 4,000 aircraft, 600 tanks, and 150,000 troops infiltrating the southern shores of Sicily.

U.S. and British troops landing near Gela, Sicily. 10 July 1943. [U.S. Army Photo]
U.S. and British troops landing near Gela, Sicily on July 10, 1943

The British Army in Sicily 1943 Men of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders advance along a road near Noto, 11 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4306)]
The British Army in Sicily 1943 Men of the 2nd Seaforth Highlanders advance along a road near Noto, 11 July 1943. [© IWM (NA 4306)]

The troops only found light resistance on Sicily – Hitler had been so convinced by Operation Mincemeat that only two German divisions remained on the island. Even after he learned of the invasion in Sicily, he remained convinced that it was still just a diversion.

Battle of Troina | Stories and History
Near Troina. August 4-5, 1943. Sicilian farmer showing an American officer which way German soldiers proceeded

American troops advance through a damaged street in Randazzo. [© IWM (NA 5893)]
American troops advance through a damaged street in Randazzo. [© IWM (NA 5893)]

The day after Mussolini’s arrest, Italian forces withdrew from Sicily. Hitler also ordered his troops to start thinking about leaving.

By August, the Axis powers managed to evacuate 100,000 men, vehicles, supplies, and ammunition, and when American forces moved into Messina in the Northwest on August 17, 1943 expecting to have a final battle, they found that the Axis powers had vanished.

The Allies had won.

Map of the Operation Husky
Operation Husky

Operation ‘Husky’ – The Sicilian Campaign 1943 by Robin F. Finlayson

Italian gunboat ‘Geniere’ lies on its side in Palermo Harbour after being hit by a bomb, 23-26 July 1943. The Americans entered Palermo on 22 July, cutting off 50,000 Italian troops in the west of the island. But the mobile Axis forces, including most of the Germans, escaped to the north-east corner of the island. [© IWM (NA 5132)]
talian gunboat ‘Geniere’ lies on its side in Palermo Harbour after being hit by a bomb, 23-26 July 1943.

Allied invasion of Sicily - Wikiwand
Wounded soldier receiving medical attention

The HMS Wallace & Prince Philip

More than 3,000 ships were involved in Operation Husky, one of which was a ship called the HMS Wallace.

At age 21, Prince Philip became First Lieutenant, one of the youngest in the British Navy. At the Allied Invasion of Sicily and during Operation Husky, Prince Philip was stationed on the HMS Wallace which came under heavy fire from a German bomber.

A yeoman on the Wallace described the situation as dire, and that they felt like a sitting duck. He said, “It was for all the world like being blindfolded and trying to evade an enemy whose only problem was getting his aim right.”

Prince Philip and the Invasion of Sicily | Sky HISTORY TV Channel
Prince Phillip

The yeoman reports seeing Prince Philip go to the ship’s Captain. “The next thing, a wooden raft was being put together on deck. Within 5 minutes they launched the raft over the side, at each end was fastened a smoke float.”

The smoke floats started putting out spiraling smoke as soon as it hit the water, and the Wallace sped away at full speed for a few minutes before cutting the engines and sitting in silence.

When they next heard the approach of the bomber and the whine of the bombs, they were not close – the ruse had worked, and the saving of the HMS Wallace and its crew has since been attributed to Prince Philip.

Today in 1943, Allied troops landed in Sicily, code name: Operation Husky.  | loveSicily
Air raids during operation Husky

In August 1943, after just 38 days of fighting, the US and Britain drove the German and Italian troops from Sicily, regrouped, and moved on to fighting on the mainland.

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