On this day in history during WWII, 1943, the Allied forces kicked off their campaign of capturing Axis-dominated Europe by commencing “Operation Husky,” involving a compact island off the southern mainland of Italy known as Sicily. The tactical invasion of Sicily by United States, Great Britain, and Canadian forces lasted until August 17, 1943.
Leading up to the invasion, the Allies had been plotting their future course of attack for some time after the North Africa campaign was nearing its closure.
The Allies envisioned Operation Husky as the beginning of the shutdown of Nazi Germany and occupation of Axis-Europe, as well as dividing up Hitler’s defenses and halting the rising Fascist regime in Italy and Sicily.
Remember those movies where the protagonist would throw a bottle/rock across the room to stealthily distract and eliminate or sneak past the bad guys? A very similar strategy was played out by the Allies three months prior to the actual attack.
In order to drive forces away from Italy to create a safe opening to seize Sicily, the Allies formulated a diversion tactic known as Operation Mincemeat. A British submarine off the Spanish coast sent a corpse wearing a British Major’s uniform toward the shore and with him, tucked away in an attaché case, were counterfeit plans for an incursion of Greece.
The classified “plans” were delivered to prominent German officials and reinforcements were sent to Greece away from Italy, leaving Operation Mincemeat as a subtle, but crucial success.
When the Allies finally hit the beaches of Sicily, the only defensive divisions stationed there were two German Panzer units and 10 Italian platoons.
Amphibious and airborne troops were deployed and within three days the Allies had efficiently stormed the southeastern part of Sicily. Hard-charging General George S. Patton led the campaign aided by British General L. Bernard Montgomery in a pincer tactic along the north and south coasts to prevent the Axis from falling back to the mainland in the “Race to Messina.”
Demoralized German troops fell with ease and while the pinch did not entirely go as expected, (approximately 100,000 German and Italian reinforcements along with equipment, vehicles, and ammunition managed to evacuate over the course of several nights) the Allies completed the capture of Sicily on August 17, 1943.
The Axis forces withstood significant losses, however, the number of casualties was relatively low overall on both sides. This would not always be true as moving forward, the Axis powers would hold on to their territory with a ferocity which would prove costly to both sides in the greatest conflict in human history.