Pantelleria, the small Mediterranean island between North Africa and Sicily was being subjected to some of the most intense bombing in history. It had been heavily fortified by Mussolini with a ring of gun emplacements around the coast but the Allies wanted to take it with minimum losses, a stepping stone on the way to Sicily.
On the 8th June 1943, just over a week after the bombing had begun, a Naval bombardment was added to the Italian’s torment. The Naval Commander, Mediterranean Admiral Cunningham and the Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, went along to observe the effect of the gunnery. They had had difficulty in persuading Churchill that he need not stay on in Tunisia just to watch the operation, designed to test the Italian’s reactions to the approach of invasion forces:
The Pantellaria rehearsal went according to plan. The air bombing was an impressive sight, and the reply of the batteries to the fire of the cruisers was wild in the extreme. It looked as though the Italian gun-control arrangements had been knocked out. The reception of the M.T.B.s at the harbour entrance was feeble enough, and had we had a few hundred troops in landing-craft I believe we could have taken the island there and then.
General Eisenhower and I were much encouraged, and in the event the island fell easily into our hands on June 11th, white flags being hoisted as the troops started to move shorewards in their landing craft. I need not describe it, as it had full publicity at the time; but the excuse given for surrender, i.e. that water was lacking, was incorrect. The truth was that the Italians, stunned by their defeat in Tunisia, had no stomach for further fighting. They had had enough, though some hours elapsed before all resistance ceased. Lampedusa and Linosa, of no practical value, surrendered to naval forces within twenty-four hours.
See Viscount Cunningham: A Sailor’s Odyssey, London, 1951
Contemporary film of part of the USAAf and RAF operation: