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CASE: LEAVING SICILY AT A LEISURELY PACE

After their landing on the night of 9 to 10 July, the Allies were clearly on the winning side and the Germans and Italians were forced to retreat to an increasingly smaller part of the island. When it became clear during the month of July that the position of the Germans had become untenable, it took 10 days for Montgomery to draw up a plan for a follow-up offensive. When the offensive - Operation Hardgate - finally got underway on August 1, the Germans had had ample time to prepare for the evacuation of their units and to withdraw in an orderly and organized way: "in military operations in Sicily during August ... the Allied generals imagined that they were driving the enemy back by a series of brilliant offensives. Actually the Axis were conducting a series of rear-guard actions to cover an orderly evacuation of Sicily, which was carried out with complete success."

 

The Germans succeeded in transferring almost 40,000 troops, 10,000 vehicles, 47 tanks, 94 artillery pieces, 2,000 tons of ammunition and fuel and 15,000 tons of other supplies to mainland Italy between 11 and 17 August. It involved 4 experienced divisions plus their staff and with their command structure intact, only 20% of their nominal number was killed or taken prisoner. It were these units that would give the Allies a hard time on the mainland of Italy in the subsequent year. Surprisingly, the Allies had never made any plans during the preparation of Operation Husky to cut off this obvious route for the Germans.

 

Once they realized that the Germans were preparing an evacuation to the mainland, they were not able to draw up plans fast enough to come to a coordinated deployment of the army, navy and  air force. This meant that the British navy, which could dispose of a wide range of ships, made no attempt to disrupt the steady flow of vessels between Sicily and the mainland. The Allied Air Force was also deployed to a limited extent, partly because, in their own words, it required all its bombers to bomb Rome. No wonder that “The enemy later expressed his astonishment that the Allies had not used their overwhelming air superiority to greater effect… Even when the enemy’s intention was plain, the action taken suffered from lack of interservice coordination.”

German units were able to cross the street of Messina between Sicily and the mainland of Italy without much difficulty. Here one of the many ferries that were used for this, an image that is reminiscent of a Sunday outing due to the absence of any attempt by the Allied side to frustrate this crossing.