Monday, February 6, 2017

Context: Days Before Operation HUSKY (Sicily)

Allied Planes Soften the Axis (And More)

Headlines from The Montreal Star, July 3, 1943.
Weather - "Fair and Warm." Photo from Microfilm

The invasion of Sicily in July, 1943 was described simply by a Canadian sailor: "It was hot." He was describing the weather? No, he was describing the landing of troops and materials under heavy German bombardment. Fortunately, as the sailor said, "Landing crafts make small targets."

The week leading up to the invasion was hot as well, on several war fronts, and Canadian war correspondents were in place to record the action.

Canadian sailors recall members of the press (from The Montreal Star) accompanying them to Reggio di Calabria during the subsequent invasion of Italy in September. Copies of that newspaper can be found on microfilm in universities and archives in Canada (in my case, at The University of Western Ontario, London).

Several items are presented on this website to provide readers with information about WW2 events in which members of the Allied forces served in Sicily and Italy, including, of course, Canadians in Combined Operations, the young men who manned and operated many of the landing crafts that transported the troops and all materials of war to foreign and often hostile shores.

It has been recorded that Canadians in four flotillas participated in Operation HUSKY and were likely - one week before the invasion - in or near Alexandria, preparing themselves and their crafts for action, unaware of their destination, the duration of their service or where they would live (and what they would eat and drink) during HUSKY.

The Montreal Star, July 3, 1943.

From the July 3 issue of The Montreal Star we read:

Cairo. July 3 -(A.P.)- Heavy bombers of the 9th U.S. Army Air Force attacked airfields in Southern Italy by daylight yesterday following a night assault by R.A.F. heavies on Catania, Sicily, the Middle East Air Command announced yesterday.

The American bombers registered hits on hangars at airdromes at both Lecce and Grottagile, the war bulletin said. A force of 40 enemy fighters, including Messerschmitt 109s and 202s, challenged the bombers at Lecce, but 12 were reported shot down. The communique said these and other operations were carried out with the loss of five planes.

(The Italian communique, broadcast from Rome and recorded by the Associated Press, admitted casualties and damage were caused in the Lecce and Grottaglie areas and asserted 24 of the attacking planes, 12 of them four-engined bombers, were shot down in attacks on the mainland in Sicily and Sardinia).

Fires Started

At the Lecce field, fires were reported started behind the hangars and dispersal areas, fuel was set afire in the southeastern section of the field and other hits were scored to the north. At Grottaglie bursts were observed in dispersal areas. Both fields are on the "heel" of the Italian boot, east of Taranto naval base and near the Adriatic Coast.

The R.A.F. night bombers scored hits on the Catania railway yards, the communique said. Bomb bursts seen all over the sidings and in the industrial area, including a section where sulphur refineries are located. Four small fires were said to have been started at this east coast Sicilian city.

Shipping Attacked

R.A.F. long range fighters, continuing their attacks on enemy shipping in Aegean waters, shot up a schooner in Kyliene harbor off the west coast of Greece yesterday, the bulletin said. On the previous day Allied fighters attacked two dredges in the Levicas Channel in the same area where a ship had been sunk blocking the channel.

At the same time, in sweeps along a canal in that district, the Allied planes silenced several gun-posts, the announcement said. Spitfires sent a Junkers-88 crashing into the sea north of Alexandria yesterday.

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The Montreal Star, July 3, 1943.

An excerpt follows from a news item written by Joseph W. Grigg:

London, July 3 -(B.U.P.)- The Allied Middle Eastern Command, as part of the general Anglo-American preparations for an invasion of Europe, has taken over direct supervision of well-armed guerrilla armies in Greece, a Cairo dispatch reported today.

Axis broadcasts continued to insist that the "zero hour" for invasion was sometime today or tonight and the Axis Paris radio was heard broadcasting that "it is no longer a question of days or hours, nor even a question of minutes...."

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Caption: 82nd Airborne load a 75mm howitzer into a CG-4A Troop Glider during training
at Oujda, French Morocco, North Africa a month before the Sicily invasion, Jun 11 1943.
Source - World War II Database, United States National Archives via D. Sheley

Newspaper Ad, The Montreal Star, July 3, 1943.

A short article entitled "DAY OF INVASION DRAWING CLOSE FOR UNHAPPY ITALY" and written by DeWitt Mackenzie, an Associated Press War Analyst, appeared in The Montreal Star on July 3rd as well.

We read:

This is the date which the German-controlled Paris radio has been persistently predicting would produce the Allied invasion of Europe - but today, with the invasion still in the future, the Paris station scoffed at the Allies, sarcastically intimating that their plans had gone awry. It was a patent effort to get out from under the forecast which the station had been drumming for a week.

Certainly prophecy is a tricky business, calling either for vast rashness or great cleverness. Still, had the Paris broadcaster singled out July 3 as the approximate rather than the specific date - and assuming that invasion doesn't come before midnight tonight - he might not have been so far off at that.

Close to the Zero Hour

One suspects that the Allied High Command would agree with him broadly, for indications multiply that we are close to the zero hour or some sort of invasion in the Mediterranean. As previously pointed out, Sicily is a good bet and the big sister island of Sardinia might be coupled with that for a double.

Dispatches from Spain report heavy movement of Allied shipping in the Mediterranean. Two convoys of transports are said to have cleared Gibraltar yesterday, and another was stated to be arriving there from the Atlantic. A considerable Royal Navy unit, including the warships Nelson and Rodney*, are reported anchored roadstead** of the Rock. Meantime the Allies have destroyed more than 20 enemy ships in the Mediterranean during the past week.

Both Sicily and Sardinia - particularly the former - have been blasted with bombs to a point where they are in dire straits.

Torn to Pieces

The three thousand year old city of Messina, which is one of the most important strategic spots in the Mediterranean, has once more been torn to pieces - this time by bombs. It will be recalled that it was devastated by earthquake in 1908 when more than 77,000 people were killed and 90 per cent of the city was destroyed.

British and American bombers have paid special attention to Messina because its ample harbor is the railway junction with the mainland. Trains are ferried across the Strait of Messina, which at its narrowest point is only two miles wide. Naturally, the Allies would need to sever this communication, to cut off reinforcements and supplies, before attempting invasion of Sicily.

The Anglo-American forces are proceeding methodically with their preliminary bombardment of Italian positions, giving indication that they don't intend to be rushed. One would expect a similar procedure when it comes to invasion of the Italian mainland, if indeed that is attempted.

*[Editor adds - The Royal Navy battleships HMS Nelson (flying the flag of Vice-Admiral Algernon Willis) and HMS Rodney plus a large squadron sailed from Scapa Flow to join the largest invasion fleet yet mustered in World War II - 280 warships, 320 merchantmen, 2,125 landing craft and smaller vessels - for Operation Husky, the Sicilian landings. From World War II Database, "Invasion of Sicily and Italy's Surrender"]

**roadstead - A roadstead is a body of water sheltered from rip currents, spring tides or ocean swell outside a harbor where ships can lie reasonably safely at anchor without dragging or snatching while waiting for their turn to enter a port of call. From Wikipedia/roadstead

* * * * *

The Montreal Star, July 3, 1943.

We read:

Washington, July 3 -(A.P.)- The United States Navy will increase in size by nearly 500,000 in the first six months of next year, while there will be no appreciable change in the army's size during that period, War Manpower Commission officials revealed yesterday.

The expansion will be necessary to man the growing fleet and provide a corresponding increase in supporting personnel on shore, it was explained by Frank Sparks, head of the W.M.C.'s Labor Utilization Bureau.

The total strength of the armed forces now is 9,300,000 and it has been estimated that this figure will increase to 10,800,000 by the end of this year. The further increase in navy personnel will bring the total of the armed forces to 11,300,000 by July, 1944.

Sparks cautioned that the 2,000,000 increase in the total fighting forces (from 9,300,000 to 11,300,000) merely reflected growth and did not mean that only that number would be drafted, since it did not take into consideration replacement for casualties or normal attrition.

Caption: Bell underway off the Charleston Navy Yard, South Carolina, 11 June 1943
Source - World War II Database,  U.S. Navy History and Heritage Command

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While the U.S. Navy was experiencing positive growth, some members of the Italian Navy faced a firing squad. 

The following also appeared in the July 3rd issue of The Montreal Star:

Italian Navy Mutiny Reported

London, July 3 - (C.P.) - A mutiny aboard Italian warships, quelled by Fascist militia, was reported today in a Tass dispatch from Geneva broadcast by the Moscow radio and recorded by the Soviet monitor here.

The dispatch said the crews of warships anchored at Brindisi in Southern Italy refused to obey an order to sail south on a "special mission." Leaders were reported executed and a naval commission set up to purge the crews.

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Canadians in Combined Operations, Ismalia, Egypt. circa June, 1943
(L - R) P. Martel, E. Chambers, S. Ingram, Norm Mitchinson (of Canadian Flotillas)
Photo Credit - Joe Spencer of RCNVR, Combined Operations

Please link to Context: "Navyman Sent To Jail" in Scotland.

Unattributed Photos GH

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