In Sicily the tremendous rivalry between two of the Allied commanders had very nearly broken out into the open and demonstrated weaknesses in the Alliance. Montgomery was commanding British forces driving out from the south east of Sicily for an assault on the main German forces in the east. He prevailed upon the Allied Commanders to be given two of the roads heading east upon which to base his attacks.
It left little room for his American ally George S. Patton to pursue the Germans as well. It also looked suspiciously like a British stitch up – as the decision had been made by the British Deputy Allied Commander, General Harold Alexander.
Patton was at first extremely frustrated but then diverted his energies to marching north to capture the first major Italian town of the campaign. In a spectacularly swift move he arrived in Palermo on the 23rd July, his troops urged on by their commander:
July 23, 1943
On the afternoon of the twenty-first, we secured a position northeast of Castelvetrano from which to launch the 2nd Armored Division, which heretofore had been held back near the middle of the island so that the enemy could not tell which way it was going.
The troops moved into position, beginning at 4 p.m., and were all set by dark. In the morning they started their relentless advance.
The first act was to break through the enemy on his immediate front. This was done by the 41st Infantry supported by a battalion of medium tanks from the 66th. This started the enemy rolling back. From then on, it was a question of attacking him with converging tanks whenever he tried to stop us, which he attempted on three occasions.
In one case a ’75 mm. assault howitzer in a half-track engaged a German 105 at five hundred yards and destroyed him. This act was as lucky as it was heroic. The last stand was made in the mountains southwest of Palermo, which was a most difficult nut to crack, but was finally done with artillery fire and tanks.
We met some of the most ingenious tank traps I have ever seen. The Germans would dig a hole about eighteen feet long and ten feet deep halfway across the right side of the road and cover it with chicken wire and dust to make it look like the road. Then, about thirty feet beyond, on the left-hand side of the road, they would make a similar pit. In front of each pit they would put a wire entanglement with the hope that our tanks would disregard the wire and crash into the holes. Fortunately we did not do so.
In other places they tank traps about twenty feet wide and fifteen feet deep for distances of several miles, but by sticking to the roads and blasting our way through, we had no trouble with them.
I drove up through the column and received a very warm reception from the 2nd Armored, all of whom seemed to know me, and all of whom first saluted and then waved.
As we neared the city, it was dark, so I picked up Colonel R. F. Perry, Chief of Staff of the division, to act as a guide. He stated he believed the town had fallen, and we therefore decided to go in and see.
As we approached, the hills on each side were burning. We then started down a long road out out of the side of a cliff which went through an almost continuous village. The street was full of people shouting, “Down with Mussolini!” and “Long Live America!”
When we got into the town, the same thing went on. Those who arrived before dark, among them General Keyes, had flowers thrown on the road in front of them, and lemons and watermelons given them in such profusion that they almost became lethal weapons.
The Governor had left, but we captured the two Generals, both of whom said that they were glad to be captured because the Sicilians were not human beings, but animals. The bag in prisoners for the day must have been close to ten thousand. On the morning of the twenty-third, when I was inspecting the harbor, I passed a group of prisoners, all of whom stood up, saluted, and then cheered.
Meanwhile Montgomery’s forces, even with their room to manoeuvre, were getting bogged down as the German resistance stiffened.