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Introduction to the Sicilian Campaign

A decision to invade Sicily was made at an Allied conference at Casablanca which took place from January 14 to 23, 1943. By that time it had become apparent that a cross-channel invasion (an operation earnestly desired by the Russians) would be impossible during 1943. On the other hand, the immense military resources accumulated in the Mediterranean Theater could be used to knock Italy out of the war, to divert some German strength from the Russian front, and to reopen the Mediterranean as a thoroughfare to the East, while the buildup for the eventual cross-channel attack continued in Great Britain and the Allied air forces mounted a systematic bombing of Germany.

Ground forces assembled to conduct the Sicilian Campaign (10 July - 17 August 1943, codenamed Operation HUSKY) constituted the 15th Army Group under the command of General Alexander. This command included the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery and the newly established U.S. Seventh Army under General Patton. Among the American forces was the 82d Airborne Division, which was scheduled to drop behind the invasion beaches to forestall enemy reaction to the landings. The total invasion force numbered some 160,000 men.

For weeks before the invasion, Allied planes raided western Sicily in order to deceive the defenders regarding the Allied intention, which was to make landings on the southern and eastern coasts of the island. These raids succeeded in dispersing German armor, which made it difficult for them to mount quick, concentrated counterattacks.

The invasion took place on July 10, 1943. Winds of near gale proportions made the landings difficult, but the weather conditions threw the defenders off guard and made possible a tactical surprise. After landing, the Allies intended to strike for dominating ground in the east-central part of the island and then to take Messina on the strait between Sicily and Italy.

After recovering from their initial surprise, the German forces in Sicily succeeded in blocking the most direct route to Messina by concentrating against the British Eighth Army in the vicinity of Catania.

Thereupon Patton sent a mobile provisional corps under Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Keyes to the northwest, which cut the island in two, captured Palermo by 22 July, and broke the morale of the Italian garrison of 275,000 men on the island. The American forces were now in a position to attack from the west to break the deadlock opposite the British. When the Seventh Army drove eastward across the island, the Germans began to withdraw across the Strait of Messina to Italy. Despite attacks by Allied aircraft, they were able to evacuate some 60,000 troops.

On 17 August 1943 American patrols pushed into Messina, and the campaign reached a successful conclusion. Axis losses in the campaign were around 167,000 killed, wounded, and captured, including some 10,000 German casualties. Allied losses were 31,158.

Sicilian Campaign: Features

Heroes of the Sicilian Campaign

Fascinating, inspiring stories and details about American heroes of the Sicilian campaign who were recognized with the Congressional Medal of Honor.

[The primary source for this text is the U.S. Army Center for Military History. For a more general overview of the war see the Brief History of WWII e-text."]

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