Operation Husky – the invasion of Sicily approaches

The Sicily Landings 9-10 July 1943: A late evening picture as the fast convoy of big ships, carrying the men who made the initial assault, approached Sicily. Photograph taken from the destroyer NUBIAN.

The Sicily Landings 9-10 July 1943: A late evening picture as the fast convoy of big ships, carrying the men who made the initial assault, approached Sicily. Photograph taken from the destroyer NUBIAN.

Captain Ray Ward was amongst the the 160,000 troops approaching the shores of Sicily on 9th July. The battle would not begin until just after midnight. There was still time for him to make further study of the photographs and maps of the objectives that the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders would soon face. There were also some other briefing material:

I had always thought of the Mediterranean as a calm sea but it was choppy south of Malta when our convoy of twenty ships, escorted by a cruiser and eight destroyers, joined more troopships, landing craft and warships. We had a few air-raid alarms during the voyage but saw no enemy planes. Now RAF fighters flashed overhead.

As we approached Sicily on 9 July gale force winds swept the sea. Before the war our ship had been nicknamed ‘the drunken duchess’ and we found out why. The Duchess of Bedford was built for the shallow approach to Montreal and had a relatively flat keel, a design feature that caused the ship to roll at sea. This quirk was amply demonstrated in the storm’s heavy swell. By dusk, we were wallowing 6o kilometres off the coast and feeling hellish.

I leafed through my copy of the army’s Soldier’: Guide to Sicily, an unitentionally amusing diversion. The cover showed a fist pointing to a silhouette ofthe island – a symbol of our invasion fleet and the knock-out blow we were expected to give the enemy.

A British soldier reads up on Sicily, the target for the next Allied invasion, July 1943.

A British soldier reads up on Sicily, the target for the next Allied invasion, July 1943.

Inside there was a Monty-style special message from Dwight D. Eisenhower, General, US Army, the Allies’ C-in-C. That was followed by cliched tourist information, dated photographs and an over-inked and completely useless map. The text included some idiosyncratic observations:

Sicily has a long and unhappy history that has left it primitive and undeveloped, with many relics of a highly civilised past. Saint’s Day feasts with their odd mixture of operatic songs and pantomime are a feature of the Island . . . The Sicilian lives on pasta with tomato sauce and a little meat, sardines, tunny fish, cheese or olive oil to add a variety of flavours; oranges, lemons, almonds are plentiful; Marsala wine, is the popular drink . . .

Crime is highly organised in all grades of society; ‘gangsterism’ in the USA had its origins in Sicilian immigration. Morals are supercially very rigid, being based on the Catholic religion and Spanish etiquette of Bourbon times; they are, in fact, of a very low standard, particularly in agricultural areas. The Sicilian is still, however, well known for his extreme jealousy in so far as his womenfolk are concerned, and in a crisis still resorts to the dagger.

Thus, we expected a land of opera singers, saints, violent menfolk and gangsters, living in a land plentiful with food, wine, and ruins of antiquity. We were to see plenty of ruins in Sicily but they were not the historic kind.

See Ray Ward: The Mirror of Monte Cavallara.

EIGHTH ARMY

PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE ARMY COMMANDER To be read out to all Troops

1. The time has now come to carry the war into Italy, and into the Continent of Europe. The Italian Overseas Empire has been exterminated; we will now deal with the home country.

2. To the Eighth Army has been given the great honour of representing the British Empire in the Allied Force which is now to carry out this task. On our left will be our American allies. Together we will set about the Italians in their own country in no uncertain way; they came into this war to suit themselves and they must now take the consequences;they asked for it, and they will now get it.

3. On behalf of us all I want to give a very hearty welcome to the Canadian troops that are now joining the Eighth Army. I know well the fighting men of Canada; they are magnicent soldiers, and the long and careful training they have received in England will now be put to very good use – to the great benefi of the Eighth Army.

4. The task in front of us is not easy. But it is not so difcult as many we have had in the past, and have overcome successfully . . . the combined effort of the three fighting services is being applied in tremendous strength, and nothing will be able to stand against it. The three of us together—Navy, Army and Air Force—will see the thing through. l want all of you, my soldiers, to know that I have complete condence in the successful outcome of this operation.

5. Therefore, with faith in God and with enthusiasm for our cause and for the day of battle, let us all enter into this contest with stout hearts and with determination to conquer. The eyes of our families, and in fact of the whole Empire, will be on us once the battle starts; we will see that they get good news and plenty of it.

6. To each one of you, whatever may be your rank or employment,l would say: GOOD LUCK AND GOOD HUNTING IN THE HOME COUNTRY OF ITALY.

B. L. Montgomery, General, Eighth Army. July I943.

General Montgomery travels in a DUKW, 12 July 1943.

General Montgomery travels in a DUKW, 12 July 1943.

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