The invasion of Sicily was a two pronged assault. The British and Canadians in the Eighth Army, the ‘Desert Rats’, were under General Montgomery, now a world famous leader since El Alamein. The U.S. 7th Army was led by another exceptional character, General George S. Patton. Both men were to attract controversies and the differences between them were come into sharp relief over the coming days.
What both men shared was enormous self belief and determination, and great physical courage and disregard for danger. They both had a gift for inspiring the men they were leading with. Montgomery’s supremely self assured orations were often remembered by those who heard them. Patton had a taste for direct fighting talk.
Patton was anxious to get ashore as quickly as he could. “You had better come now”, he said to one of the reporters on the Flag ship Monrovia as he prepared to land on Sicily, “or my men will have killed all of the bastards”:
General Gay, Captain Stiller, and I, and some soldiers left the Monrovia in the Admiral’s barge at 0900 and reached the beach at Gela at 0930.
Standing on the beach, I noticed two Dukws, destroyed by personnel mines, and about seven small landing craft beached. While I was making these observations, the enemy opened fire with what was probably an 88 mm. or a 105 mm. gun. The shells hit the water about thirty yards from the beach, but could not get into the beach on account of the defilade afforded by the town.
After our scout car was de-waterproofed, I intended to go to the Headquarters of the 1st Division, about three miles to the southeast along the coast road. As we got into Gela, we noticed a flag on the left and decided to call on Colonel W. O. Darby, commanding the Rangers. This was very fortunate, because, had we proceeded down the road, we should have run into seven German tanks, which at that moment were advancing along it toward the town.
[He watched Darby’s Rangers engage the Italians for a while]
The bag of enemy tanks for the day is, I think, about fourteen. I have seen eleven.
I then decided to go down and see General Allen and General Gaffey. While we were driving down the road, we met Allen coming in and halted on a hill. This was about 1530. While we were there, fourteen German bombers came over and were attacked by the anti-aircraft. We got off the road, but as it was parallel to the line of flight of the enemy airplanes, quite a number of fragments from the anti-aircraft hit along the road. One piece struck within, I should think, five to ten yards of General Gay and myself. During this attack, we saw two bombers and one other plane shot down.
After this, we mounted our cars and drove to the Headquarters of the 2nd Armored Division. While we were there, a German battery kept shelling us, but not very accurately, or else the hill behind was too high to clear, as nearly all of the shots were overs. We arranged for Allen and Gaffey to take Ponte Olivo Airfield in the morning.
We then drove back to Gela without incident except that I think it is quite unusual for an Army Commander and his Chief of Staff to travel some six miles on a road parallel to the fronts of two armies and about equally distant from the two.
On the way back to Gela, I happened to be looking out to sea. From a Liberty freight ship, which the Germans had bombed about a half-hour earlier, smoke was issuing. Before our eyes a tremendous explosion threw white and black clouds several thousand feet into the air. The ship was literally blown in two, but at the present writing, some six hours later, the rear half is still aoat. Most, if not all, of the army personnel on board, who numbered only one hundred and fifteen, were saved.
While we were on the beach at Gela, waiting for a boat to take us out to the Monrovia, I saw the most stupid thing I have ever seen soldiers do. There were about three hundred 500-pound bombs and seven tons of 20 mm. high-explosive shell piled on the sand, and, in between the bombs and boxes of ammunition, these soldiers were digging foxholes. I told them that if they wanted to save the Graves Registration burials that was a fine thing to do, but otherwise, they’d better dig somewhere else.
About the time we got through explaining this to them, two Hurricane Bombers came over and strafed the beach, and all the soldiers jumped right back into the same holes they had dug. I continued to walk up and down and soon shamed them into getting up.
We got back to the Monrovia at 1900, completely wet. This is the first day in this campaign that I think I earned my pay.