The Allied Invasion of Sicily, 1943
This month marks the 80th anniversary of the allied invasion of Sicily, a major campaign of World War II, which, though fraught with terrible decision-making, the cosmically, un-empathetic egos of Generals Patton and Montgomery, and rotten weather conditions, ended in the first defeat of one of the three Axis powers—fascist Italy.
Launching from the island of Malta before dawn on July 10 with a tremendous Mediterranean crossing of amphibious and airborne units, the invasion resulted in higher casualties and less than expected results (for those reasons I listed above, but especially because of those enormous egos), until, eventually, the sheer scope of the mission—150,000 troops, 3,000 ships and 4,000 aircraft—all directed at the southern shores of the island, all of which followed an aerial thumping of Sicily from the sky—to the tune of 6,000 tons of bombs in the month prior—was enough to throw off the muddled, out-manned and out-gunned occupying Axis force.
What followed was a six-week land campaign that left 24,850 American, British, and Canadian casualties and nearly 28,000 Germans either killed, wounded or captured. The Italian losses were an estimated 147,000 casualties, which, having come on the heals of successive disasters in Africa, prompted the Italian government to finally reject Mussolini (who resigned and was later imprisoned) and enter immediately into secret negotiations of surrender with the Allies.
Where we live now, Troina, was the site of particularly fierce fighting, due to the numerous hills and mountains surrounding the town, which the Germans had heavily fortified and used as bases for direct and indirect fire. The battle began July 31, shortly after it became clear to both the Allied and German high commands that Sicily was lost, and still lasted seven days. Eventually, the last of the 100,000 German soldiers retreated to mainland Italy and after, as the Italians emerged from the ruins, the joy and relief on their faces became obvious in their greeting and up-raised arms.
For Italy, the war was just beginning, but for Sicily, it had finally come to an end. Our neighbor and good friend, Salvatore, remembers that week and the month preceding it. He was ten at the time and though the family lived in the country and not in town, those same combat miscalculations that foiled much of the initial assault on the southern coast, impacted the aerial bombardment of the inner island, too.
Salvatore remembers one occasion when his mother had told him to go gather the donkey and the other few livestock they owned and take them to the barn. He'd done as she asked and left the house and was standing in the field with the animals when he heard the approach of plane engines. He swept his gaze skyward but the sun blinded and blotted his vision. In a moment such as this, despite all you know of the world and its capabilities to bring death and destruction, for someone even such a young age, sometimes you can do nothing but watch and wait and wonder.
While I can't imagine what Salvatore must've been feeling or thinking or any of his experiences really, in Sicily, I have been to war and I have stood on the ground and watched as enemy rockets flashed and flew overhead. It's a paralyzing feeling, the kind that begs you to move but something about the murderous enormity of it all begs you to stand there and question: Is this it?
For me, it was not, of course, nor was it for Salvatore. His mother had heard the planes, too, and rushed outside, calling as she hurried across the fields to where her young son was standing, "Corri, corri, Salvatore! Run, run!
If you'd like to read a short piece on the personal war experience I mentioned above, please feel free to download this file titled, Anchor Moon.
And if you'd like to learn a little more about Operation Husky check out this link. If after reading you'd like to go even deeper, this book offers an indepth study into the Battle for Italy in the Second World War.
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