Operation Husky was formed during the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. And it was the first major Allied campaign of WW2.
It was also at that time, the largest amphibious operation carried out by the Allies. And was a rehearsal for the much bigger D-Day operation, planned for the following year in Normandy, France.
The strategy was to invade and liberate Sicily – a large island off the southern Italian coast.
Italy was under the dictatorship of Mussolini and his fascist regime. They ruled by fear and terror and were sympathetic supporters of Hitler. The Allies needed to defeat them to achieve success in liberating occupied Europe.
Operation Mincemeat: A Successful Deception
Operation Mincemeat was a cleverly planned decoy operation, created to distract the Germans from the invasion of Sicily.
British counterintelligence planted the body of, what seemed to be, a British Royal Marine pilot on a beach in Spain. He had a briefcase and personal documents with him. The Allies hoped the contents would persuade the Germans there was an imminent invasion planned on Sardinia and possibly Greece.
The strategy had three goals.
- Distract attention from Operation Husky
- Draw German troops from the north of France before the D-Day invasion. Thereby reducing enemy resistance to the landing troops
- And force Italy out of the war.
The body was recovered by local Spanish fishermen who handed it over to the Spanish Navy. When the German military intelligence unit, Abwehr found out about the body and the documents, the head of Abwehr persuaded the Spanish authorities to photograph the papers and hand them over to the Germans.
They were then quickly taken to German headquarters, where Hitler believed the contents to be genuine.
The strategy worked.
Hitler reacted just as the Allies had hoped, immediately diverting troops from northern France and from the Russian battle front at Kursk. He used them to reinforce Sardinia against the impending Allied attack.
But it never came.
With German troops, previously on Sicily, now deployed on Sardinia thanks to the fictitious Operation Mincemeat, only two small German garrisons of 35,000 men were left to defend the island, supported by several thousand Italian coastal defense troops.
But they fought hard and held out against the Allies.
Their Worst Nightmare – Bad Weather
By the time the Germans realized they’d been duped, thousands of Allied troops were already mobilized and gathering in the Mediterranean.
Operation Husky had started.
This was the beginning of the Allied invasion of Italy. And the commander-in-Chief was General Dwight D Eisenhower.
Over 150,000 Canadian, British, US and Free French troops made up the landing force. And combined with air and sea support, almost 500,000 troops took part.
General Sir Bernard Montgomery led the Eastern task force. And the Western task force was under General George Patton.
The operation started during the night of July 10th, 1943 and continued until 17th August.
British bases on Malta, just 60 miles south of Sicily, provided much needed air support for Operation Husky. And the 4,000 fighter and bomber aircraft were joined by over 3,000 Allied ships.
However, bad weather and high winds proved a major problem for air drops. American and British paratroopers were deployed from a base in Tunisia using gliders and troop carriers. But due to the poor navigational conditions, many aircraft were blown off course with paratroopers landing miles from their targets.
And several of the gliders never made it to the drop zones and crashed into the sea.
The End of a Regime
German and Italian troops fought hard to hold Sicily.
But shocked by the sudden invasion of the island, the fascist regime fell apart.
In July 1943, Mussolini was deposed and arrested – he would later be publicly executed. And the newly-appointed anti-German leader, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, quickly began working with the Allies towards an armistice.
Meanwhile the fighting on Sicily continued.
German garrisons resisted the Allied advance. And it took five weeks for the troops to push them back. The Germans were dug into a dense mountainous area in the north of the island. And mountaintop towns gave them major vantage points during the battle.
It was hard for the Allies to make progress. But their determination won and they forced the Germans to retreat to the northeast port of Messina.
A Vanishing Act
The commanders Montgomery and Patton regrouped, allowing their troops a few days of well-earned rest as they prepared for one final hard battle.
But the Italians and Germans had other ideas.
During this lull, they managed to evacuate over 100,000 troops, steathily moving men, supplies and equipment across the narrow Strait of Messina to the mainland.
When the Allied troops invaded Messina on August 17th, the enemy had vanished.
Operation Husky was a shocking blow to the Axis forces and played a major part in the liberation of Europe.
But it was a hard-won success.
By driving the Axis powers off the island, it opened shipping routes for Allied troops and support ships. This was the first time, since the start of the war, that they could move freely around this area of the Mediterranean.
But the weather and the terrain caused major problems for the Allies. And there was the ongoing lack of military coordination and poor logistical planning by the leaders.
Operation Husky also claimed over 24,000 Canadian, British and American casualties. Many of them still buried in the war cemeteries on the island today.
Meanwhile German and Italian troops regrouped on the mainland.
They were ready now for the Allied invasion.
And the Allies faced a hard and bitter fight in the months ahead, during the battle to liberate Italy.
But they won.
Museo dello Sbarco (Allied Landing Museum) in Catania
Museo della Memoria (Museum of Memory) in Modica, Ragusa