At the end of July 1943, men of the Irish Brigade came ashore near Cassibile just to the south of Syracuse on the south east coast of Sicily.
Brigadier Nelson Russell had arrived a few days before the main body of the Brigade and he recalled his journey from Tunisia:
“A skeleton Brigade staff sailed from Sousse on 23rd July, consisting of myself, Charles O’Farrell of the Faughs, a couple of jeeps, and drivers.
My trip took 36 hours, and they were extremely pleasant hours. The Captain kindly gave me his cabin, and I slept in comfort both there and on a shady part of the top deck. It was like a weekend peace time cruise.
We landed safely on 25th July and moved up to the battle area the same day.”
Lieutenant Percy Hamilton, arrived with the 6th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers (6 Innisks) on the morning of 27th July 1943:
“We came in sight of land early in the morning and sailed along with it to port. The sea was flat calm and the sun was shining, and about midday, we came to an improvised port, and had to wait a little way out while some other ships unloaded. After lunch, we pulled in to the jetty, which ran out from a sandy beach far enough for the LST to come right up to it. There was room for two ships at a time, as coming in bow first, they only need their own width. The beach was covered with Summerfelt track, an improvised road made out of coconut matting and wire netting, so we were able to drive the transport right up to the road without any trouble. There, we stopped to get organised, and the drivers started to remove the waterproofing from their vehicles; this was not supposed to be done, but it didn’t matter as we didn’t need it.
We found we were a few miles south of Syracuse and the country was not inviting. As we drove to the place, where we met the advance party, we passed orange groves, all surrounded and the roads bordered, with dry stone walls. All the ground was dusty and the vehicles made a cloud, when they moved.”
A day later, the crossing from Sousse had not been quite so smooth, as described by CQMS Edmund O’Sullivan when he arrived with the 2nd Battalion, London Irish Rifles (2 LIR) on 28th July 1943.
“As we left the shelter of the harbour, we were met with mountainous seas. Our large ship was heavily buffeted but the infantry landing ships were tossed about like cockle shells. We knew that the first assault landings had encountered heavy weather and that commandos and air-borne troops had suffered casualties. Many parachutists finished up in the sea, and some were dropped as far away as Malta. I remembered that both St Paul and St Anthony had been wrecked in storms in the Mediterranean.
I took to my bunk, occasionally going aloft to be greeted by howling winds and spindrift. Finally, we entered a port area near to Syracuse. The companies literally crawled off their ships. Most had been seasick during the voyage and had had nothing hot to eat or drink as the galley fires could not be lit. They were speedily boarded onto TCVs and we made our way towards the centre of Sicily.”
Today, the beach area near Cassibile has been largely turned over to resort complexes although the view from the rocky headlands may give an idea of what the men of the Irish Brigade saw as they neared land…