The Allied invasion of Sicily – Experience Part II


None of this should be construed to mean that HUSKY was a perfect military campaign, that there were no flaws in the planning and execution of the operation.

In analyzing the Sicilian Campaign, one might naturally question why the original plan was ever changed: why the Allied armies were bunched on the southeastern coast instead of landing at widely separated points and then converging on Messina. The final plan was based on anticipation of strenuous Italian resistance. The whole approach toward Sicily was cautious and conservative. Emphasis was on ensuring success and on the avoidance of calculated risk or gamble for high stakes at little cost. The plan was also designed to avoid the possibility of enemy ground force superiority at any point. If any sub task force landing were to fail or miscarry through enemy interference, the adjacent landings would guarantee numerical superiority over the defenders.

The final HUSKY plan was for a power drive, a frontal assault along a single sector of the coast. At no time during the course of planning of the Sicilian invasion did the Allied commanders aim to achieve an envelopment of the defending forces to launch the initial attacks behind the flanks of the enemy. Even the two-pronged attack envisaged in the initial plan was designed to gain port facilities, not to get between the enemy and Messina. In the final plan, the two Allied armies were to land abreast and to advance together. This was to minimize the danger of having the enemy concentrate against one task force at a time. The risks in the plan were strictly in the matter of supply and mainly affected the Seventh Army.

Sound, cautious, conservative, the final plan was well designed to achieve the occupation of Sicily, the objective set by the Combined Chiefs. At the same time, Alexander’s idea of first consolidating a firm base on the southeast corner offered little scope for maneuver with the object of destroying the enemy garrison.

In essence, the plan as finally designed was Montgomery’s. No one except Montgomery was particularly happy with it. The strategic conception inherent in the plan was both disadvantageous to and disparaging of the American force. Although the original two-pronged attack was based solely on logistical considerations, it implied a twofold advance on Messina. Each army, having gained its port, would advance by its own route to Messina, the hinge of Sicily. The defending forces were expected either to concentrate against one attacking force, leaving the route of advance open to the other, or to withdraw quickly to the northeastern corner of the island where the two Allied armies would converge. The final plan changed all this, and embodied an altogether different conception. There would be but one thrust against Messina-the drive through Catania along the east coast highway by the Eighth Army. The Seventh Army would protect the flank and rear of Montgomery’s forces. Only reluctantly and under pressure did General Alexander finally consent to release the Seventh Army from a subordinate and purely supporting mission.

The numerous changes in the HUSKY plan during the February-May period came about as a direct result of the command structure which had been specifically spelled out by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at Casablanca. For the second time-the first had been in North African Allied military operation was to be conducted under the control of a triumvirate of commanders, rather than under the direction of one. General Alexander (Eisenhower’s deputy) was made responsible for the ground operations; Air Chief Marshal Tedder for air operations; Admiral Cunningham for naval activities. General Eisenhower was to act as a sort of chairman of the board, to enter into the final decision-making process only when the board members presented him with unsolved problems. If the three board members agreed on policy, there was little that Eisenhower could do to change the policy unless he was willing to dispense with the board members’ services. Eisenhower was raised involuntarily far above the operational level; only indirectly could he influence the course of operations once that course had been agreed on by his committee of three.

The committee system of command would have been more palatable if the headquarters had not been physically separated- if the committee members had established and maintained a joint headquarters at a single location. But with the invasion of Sicily, Alexander established his headquarters on the island; Tedder’s headquarters remained in North Africa, near Tunis; Cunningham’s naval headquarters was at Malta; and General Eisenhower’s staff remained in Algiers. While the separation had little effect on the conduct of the campaign during the month of July, although it appears logical to assume that a joint headquarters might have prodded General Montgomery into doing more on the east coast in the way of amphibious end runs, one result of maintaining such widely separated headquarters became painfully evident during the last ten days of the operation, when the Axis forces began evacuating the island. A joint plan was not drawn up to prevent an enemy evacuation from the island. Each of the three services operated independently of the others, doing what it thought best to prevent the evacuation. Since the issue was not presented to the chairman of the board (General Eisenhower), the issue remained unsolved, and the Germans and Italians completed one of the most successful evacuations ever executed from a beleaguered shore.

Furthermore, there was the question of air support: whether or not Allied air plans were meshed sufficiently with ground and naval plans. Simply put, the Allied air forces in the Mediterranean refused to work out detailed plans in co-operation with the army and navy. This was particularly true in the case of the Seventh Army-to a much lesser degree in the Eighth Army, where Montgomery’s relations with the British Desert Air Force were somewhat different from Patton’s relations with the U.S. XII Air Support Command. The official air force historians explain the airman’s views:

It should be noted that the air plan dealt for the most part with broad policies and that it had not been integrated in detail with the ground and naval plans. This was deliberate, and the result of sound strategical and tactical considerations emphasized by experience in the Tunisian and Western Desert campaigns. There would be no parceling out of air strength to individual landings or sectors. Instead, it would be kept united under an over-all command in order to insure in its employment the greatest possible flexibility. It would be thrown in full force where it was needed, and not kept immobilized where it was not needed. Too, the chief immediate task of the air arm was to neutralize the enemy air force, a fluid target not easily pinpointed in advance.

Primarily concerned with other matters -neutralizing enemy air, strategic targets, armed reconnaissances, cover over the beaches-the Allied air commanders devoted little thought and attention to providing close air support to the ground forces during the campaign. During the first critical forty-eight hours, no close air support missions were flown in support of the Seventh Army, and no close support missions were handled by the air support parties with the II Corps and with the assault divisions until 13 July. Even then the cumbersome system of requesting missions, with attendant delays in transmission and in identifying targets, proved almost unmanageable. It resulted in the scrapping of many requested and approved missions, and sometimes worked out in disastrous ways for friendly forces.


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