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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Allied Landings in Sicily

10 July to 17 August 1943

Theatre: Mediterranean
Location: Sicily
Players: Allies: General Bernard Montgomery's 8th Army (consisting of 13th Corps and 30th Corps) and General George Patton's US 7th Army. Axis: General Alfredo Guzzoni's Italian 6th Army, with the German General Hans Hube and troops of the 15th Panzer Grenadier, 29th Panzer Grenadier and Hermann Goering Panzer Divisions.
Outcome: Allies gain control of the island, but Axis forces escape to the mainland with much of their equipment, to fight another day.

Note: Prior to the Sicilian campaign, Germany was wrongfooted by an ambitious deception operation. A body with a fictitious identity was dropped off the Spanish coast carrying forged letters referring to an imminent Allied invasion of Greece and Sardinia. Germany was tricked into concentrating its forces away from Sicily.

Bayonet-fixed rifles held firmly, members of the British 8th Army are pictured heading into the smoke of battle as they rush a Sicilian railway strongpoint
Bayonet-fixed rifles held firmly, members of the British 8th Army are pictured heading into the smoke of battle as they rush a Sicilian railway strongpoint©
Just before dawn on 10 July 1943, the British 8th Army and US 7th Army landed at Castellazo, on the south eastern tip of Sicily. It was the first European landfall by British troops since the fall of Crete two years earlier.

The Allies advanced north and west and controlled a quarter of the island within three days. Montgomery proposed that 13th Corps should further advance northwards along the coast, while 30th Corps should head north west towards Palermo. The 7th Army would carry out defensive operations.

Patton resented this idea, and the suggestion was overruled by General Harold Alexander, the overall commander of US and British armies in the area. The result was that a united 8th Army advanced northwards, while the American 7th Army made for Palermo on the north west coast.

Patton entered Palermo on 22 July. The 8th Army made slower progress, occupying Catania - midway up the east coast - on 5 August.

The difference between the progress of the two armies was due in part to the mountainous eastern terrain: north of Catania, the 8th Army had to skirt Mount Etna. However, the main factor hampering the advance of the 8th Army was the greater concentration of enemy forces in the east.

The German General Hans Hube had arrived in Sicily on 15 July. His orders were firstly to take charge of the Italian forces, and secondly to withdraw to a defensive line across the north east of the island, in preparation for an orderly withdrawal. Montgomery's 27 July assessment that 'we have got the whole of the island and pinned the enemy in the north east corner' was thus only half true.

By the end of July, German and Italian forces were under attack from both the 8th Army and the 7th Army, advancing east along the north coast of the island. The 7th Army advance was distinguished by the use of naval power; Patton twice called in amphibious operations, landing troops behind German lines.

Hube's forces fought hard before falling back to successive defensive positions around the north eastern port of Messina. The Germans started to withdraw from the first defensive lines on 27 July, two days after Mussolini fell from power. Total evacuation to the Italian mainland started on 11 August.

Patton entered Messina on 17 August, a few hours ahead of Montgomery; by this stage 70,000 Italian and 39,000 German troops had been evacuated.

The landings in Sicily answered Churchill's repeated calls for an attack on the 'soft underbelly' of Axis held Europe, as well as redeploying the 8th Army following its victories in North Africa - victories which had left Sicily as the only obstacle to Allied control of the Mediterranean. The Italian campaign that followed would also pin down German forces prior to the anticipated D-Day landings in Northern France.

Although the Germans managed to withdraw from Sicily in good order, for Italy the loss of the island came as a heavy blow. On 25 July, realising that a Fascist Italy could now escape defeat only through complete domination by Germany, the Italian King Victor Emmanuel sacked Mussolini.

In his place, the King appointed Marshal Pietro Badoglio, who promptly opened secret negotiations with the Allies. As well as the first victory over Nazi Germany in Europe, the liberation of Sicily signalled the end of the Axis.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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