The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky… began on the night of 9–10 July 1943, and ended 17 August. Strategically, Husky achieved the goals set out for it by Allied planners. The Allies drove Axis air, land and naval forces from the island; the Mediterranean's sea lanes were opened and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was toppled from power. It opened the way to the Allied invasion of Italy….
At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943, with the end of the North African Campaign in sight, the political leaders and the military Chiefs of Staff of the US and Britain met to discuss future strategy. The British Chiefs of Staff were in favour of an invasion of Sicily or Sardinia, arguing that it would force Germany to disperse its forces and might knock Italy out of the war and move Turkey to join the Allies. At first the Americans opposed the plan as opportunistic and irrelevant, but were persuaded to agree to a Sicilian invasion on the grounds of the great saving to Allied shipping which would result from the opening of the Mediterranean by the removal of Axis air and naval forces from the island.
The Combined Chiefs of Staff appointed General Eisenhower as Commander-in-Chief of the Allied Expeditionary Force, General Alexander as Deputy C-in-C with responsibility for detailed planning and execution of the operation, Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham as Naval Commander, and Air Chief Marshal Tedder as Air Commander….
On 17 May Alexander issued his Operation Instruction No. 1 setting out his broad plan and defining the tasks of the two armies….
The American Seventh Army was assigned to land in the Gulf of Gela, in south-central Sicily, with 3rd Division and 2nd Armored Division to the west at Licata, site Baia di Mollarella, 1st Division in the center at Gela, and 45th Division to the east at Scoglitti. The U.S. 82nd Airborne Division was assigned to drop behind the defences at Gela and Scoglitti. Seventh Army's beach-front stretched over 50 kilometres (31 mi). The British Eighth Army was assigned to land in southeastern Sicily. XXX Corps would land on either side of Cape Passero, at the very southeastern corner of Sicily, while XIII Corps would land in the Gulf of Noto, around Avola, off to the north. Eighth Army's beach front also stretched 50 kilometers, and there was a gap of some 40 kilometres (25 mi) between the two armies. Preparatory operations…. Allied airmen flew a total of 42,227 sorties between mid-May and the invasion, destroying 323 German and 105 Italian aircraft and lost 250 aircraft, mostly to anti-aircraft fire while operating over Sicily….
To distract the Axis, and if possible divert some of their forces to other areas, the Allies engaged in several deception operations. The most famous and successful of these was Operation Mincemeat. The British allowed a corpse disguised as a British officer to drift ashore in Spain, carrying a briefcase containing fake secret documents which supposedly revealed that the Allies were planning to invade Greece and Sardinia, and had no plans to invade Sicily. German intelligence accepted the authenticity of the documents with the result that the Germans diverted much of their defensive effort from Sicily to Greece….
Two British and two American attacks by airborne forces were carried out just after midnight on the night of 9 July-10 July, as part of the invasion. The American paratroopers consisted largely of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, making their first combat drop. The British landings were preceded by the 21st Independent Parachute Company (Pathfinders) who were to mark landing zones for paratroopers who were intended to seize the Ponte Grande, the bridge over the River Anape just south of Syracuse and hold it until the British 5th Infantry Division arrived from the beaches at Cassibile, some 7 miles (11 km) to the south. British Glider infantry from the 1st Air Landing Brigade were to seize landing zones inland.
Strong winds of up to 45 miles per hour (72 km/h) blew the troop-carrying aircraft off course and the U.S. force was scattered widely over south-east Sicily between Gela and Syracuse. By 14 July about two thirds of the 505th regiment had managed to concentrate, and half the US paratroopers failed to reach their rallying points. The British air-landing troops fared little better, with only 12 of the 147 gliders landing on target and 69 crashing at sea. Nevertheless, the scattered airborne troops maximized their opportunities, attacking patrols and creating confusion wherever possible. A platoon of the South Staffordshire Regiment, who had landed on target, captured Ponte Grande and fought off counterattacks. More men rallied to the sound of shooting and by 6.30 a.m. 89 men were holding the bridge.[ By 11.30 a.m. a battalion of the Italian 75th Infantry Regiment from the 54 Infantry Division Napoli arrived with some artillery. The British force held out until about 1530 hours when they were forced to surrender to Colonel Francesco Ronco's 75th Infantry Regiment only 45 minutes before the leading elements of 5th Infantry Division arrived from the south….
The strong wind also made matters difficult for the amphibious landings but also ensured the element of surprise as many of the defenders had assumed that no-one would attempt a landing in such poor conditions. Landings were made in the early hours of 10 July on twenty-six main beaches spread along 105 miles (169 km) of the southern and eastern coasts of the island between the town of Licata Torre di Gaffe and Mollarella beach in the west, and Cassibile in the east, with British and Canadian forces in the east and Americans towards the west. This constituted the largest amphibious operation of World War II in terms of size of the landing zone and number of divisions put ashore on the first day. The Italian defensive plan did not contemplate a pitched battle on the beaches and so the landings themselves were somewhat of an anti-climax. More trouble was experienced from the difficult weather conditions (especially on the southern beaches) and unexpected hidden offshore sandbars than from the Coastal divisions. Some troops landed in the wrong place, in the wrong order and as much as six hours behind schedule but the weakness of the defensive response allowed the Allied force to make up lost time.
Once the Axis commanders had divined the Allies' intentions, the Allies began to see some reaction from the Axis field divisions waiting inland, the Hermann Göring and Livorno Divisions. In the US 1st Infantry Division's sector at Gela there was a substantial Italian division-sized counterattack at exactly the point where the dispersed 505th Parachute Regiment were supposed to have been. The German Tiger tanks of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division which had been due to advance with the 4 Infantry Division Livorno had failed to turn up. Nevertheless on Highways 115 and 117 during 10 July Italian tanks of the "Niscemi" Armoured Combat Group and "Livorno" infantry pressed home their attack nearly reaching the Allied position at Gela, but guns from the destroyer USS Shubrick and the cruiser USS Boise destroyed several tanks and dispersed the attacking infantry battalion. The 3rd Battalion, 34th Regiment, "Livorno" Infantry Division, composed mainly of conscripts, is recorded by its commanding officer as having made a valiant but ultimately equally unsuccessful daylight attack in the Gela beachhead two days later alongside infantry and armour of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division.
By the evening of 10 July the seven Allied assault divisions, three British, three American and one Canadian, were well established ashore and the port of Syracuse had been captured…