Sicilian campaign overview

Brigadier Nelson Russell provided a succinct overview account of the Sicilian Campaign and how the Irish Brigade affected its outcome:

“The British 8th Army was to land on the beaches on the east coast of the island, south of Syracuse, capture Syracuse, and so have a port; then drive the enemy from the Catania Plain, thus obtaining aerodromes; and then advance east and west of Etna converging in the neighbourhood of Taormina.

The American 7th Army was to land on the south coast of island near Gela, make tracks for Palermo and Marsala and clear up the western part of the island; then turn about and using the northern coast and converge on Messina.

The landing was made on July 9th/10th and the plans put into operation.

The campaign may perhaps be divided into three phases: “The Good Beginning”; “The Sticky Period”; “The Final Push”.

July 10th to 20th – “The Good Beginning”.

The well laid plans went with a swing. On the right, the 8th Army pushed northwards up the coast and when held up at Catania (this was strongly held and did not fall until “The Final Push”) wound round the left towards Ramacca and Catenanouva.

The American 7th Army made great gains; took Palermo and Marsala and cleared up the western half of the island.

The enemy, who anticipated our landing on the western coast, was rather on the wrong foot during the period and on its conclusion we held half of Sicily.

July 20th to 31st – “The Sticky Period”.

The first impetus of “The Good Beginning” was over. Troops had been fighting for many days in difficult country. The enemy had regrouped and was determined (the German part anyway) to impose the maximum delay to our success in country that was made for that very purpose.

It was necessary to reorganise and rest part of the original troops; to bring reinforcements (our Division, the 78th, was now called forward), and to make a coordinated plan to overcome the more organised enemy resistance.

This does not mean that there was any relaxation of pressure or fighting – but steps were being taken and advances being made with an eye to the future coordinated plan due to start very shortly. In particular, the Americans made good progress in their “about town” progress, eastwards along the coast road.

August 1st to 15th – “The Final Push”.

The plans for the final push were roughly as under-

8th Army – Catania to Regalbuto and to encircle Etna by the eastern coast road, and the road through Adrano, Bronte and Randazzo.

7th American Army – Regalbuto (excluded) to north coast and advance on Messina by two northern routes.

The 78th Division was on the left flank of the 8th Army and thus a connecting link with the Americans.

Their (Our) task was extremely difficult – the capture of the mountain fortress of Centuripe and the further advance to Randazzo via Bronte and Maletto, which included forcing the crossing of two rivers – the Salso and Simeto. But it was an important task and successfully accomplished would add another feather in the Division’s well feathered cap. For each step gained was bound to affect the German defences on the whole of the 8th Army front. It was an opportunity for a Division to greatly distinguish itself. The opportunity was taken.

The capture of Centuripe caused the whole German defences to withdraw 5-10 miles.

The crossing of the Salso and Simeto, culminating in the capture of Adrano, cut all the enemy lateral communications west and south of Etna; and caused the fall of Paterno, Santa Maria and Biancavila.

The capture of Maletto and the rapid advance to Randazzo finally started the enemy in his last hurried rush to the sea – and there was no more real fighting after this final success.

It was our first showing with the 8th Army, and the Division, at the end of the campaign had the same reputation here as it had with 1st Army.”


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