PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE ARMY COMMANDER
TO BE READ OUT TO ALL TROOPS
The time has now come to carry the war into Italy, and into the Continent of Europe. The Italian Overseas Empire has been exterminated; we will now deal with the home country.
To the Eighth Army has been given the great honour of representing the British Empire in the Allied Force which is now to carry out this task. On our left will be our American Allies. Together we will set about the Italians in their own country in no uncertain way; they came into this war to suit themselves and they must now take the consequences; they asked for it, and they will now get it.
On behalf of us all I want to give a very hearty welcome to the Canadian troops that are now joining the Eighth Army. I know well the fighting men of Canada; they are magnificent soldiers, and the long and careful training they have received in England will now be put to very good use—to the great benefit of the Eighth Army.
The task in front of us is not easy. But it is not so difficult as many we have had in the past, and have overcome successfully. In all our operations we have always had the close and intimate support of the Royal Navy and the R.A.F., and because of that support we have always succeeded. In this operation the combined effort of the three fighting services is being applied in tremendous strength, and nothing will be able to stand against it. The three of us together—Navy, Army, and Air Force—will see the thing through. I want all of you, my soldiers, to know that I have complete confidence in the successful outcome of this operation.
Therefore, with faith in God and with enthusiasm for our cause and for the day of battle, let us all enter this contest with stout hearts and determination to conquer.
The eyes of our families, and in fact of the whole Empire, will be on us once the battle starts; we will see that they get good news and plenty of it.
To each one of you, whatever may be your rank or employment, I would say:
GOOD LUCK AND GOOD HUNTING IN THE HOME COUNTRY OF ITALY!
B. L. MONTGOMERY, General.
THE invasion of Sicily was a well-planned and boldly executed operation in which the sea, air, and land forces each played a vital and successful part. It was an operation which the Italians, at any rate, did not think could possibly succeed. The first landings by sea and air were made where they were least expected, and so surprised were the enemy that on the first day the landings were practically unopposed.
Sicily, an island about one hundred and sixty miles wide and about ninety miles from north to south, is about half the size of Ireland. It is high, mountainous country intersected by deep gorges with rivers running swiftly between precipitous cliffs. Along parts of the coast are narrow plainlands, but except the Catania Plain on the eastern side there is no really flat country in the island. Mount Etna, eleven thousand feet, is the highest of a rugged group of mountains.
The Sicilians, a hardy mountain race, appeared intensely to dislike the Italians, and Mussolini in particular. Throughout the island small villages of ancient stone houses, perched amid the mountain peaks, formed a series of fortresses. They were designed to be impregnable in the Middle Ages with the primitive weapons of those days. In fact, as the Sicilian campaign progressed they proved to be difficult obstacles when defended with modern weapons.
The British Eighth Army, fresh from their triumph in North Africa, landed on the beaches of the east coast of Sicily, south of Syracuse, the ancient city founded by the Corinthians several centuries before Christ. The port, scene of stirring battles between the Athenians and the Syracusans, was captured and was quickly made ready to receive the reinforcements which followed up behind the assault troops. The historic old city had escaped devastation.
The next objective was the Catania Plain and its spacious airfields, thence east and west of Mount Etna, to converge again in the neighbourhood of Taormina. The American Seventh Army landed on the south coast near Gela and proceeded towards Palermo and Marsala on the west side of the island.
Montgomery’s plans went with a swing. The Eighth Army pushed northwards up the coast until stiff resistance was met outside Catania. The Americans made impressive progress against less stubborn opposition. Palermo and Marsala fell, and the western half of Sicily was almost cleared up.
There were about three German divisions in the island and they were reinforced by several paratroop brigades fighting as infantry. They were all picked troops and they put up a desperate, stubborn, but hopeless fight with skill and determination. There were four hundred thousand Italians there, too, but they did not seem to function much as soldiers. They surrendered in thousands.
Forsaken by the Italians, the Germans found that their best friend was the country, which could not have been more suitable for a defensive battle. The first impetus of the invasion over, the enemy recovered from his surprise and regrouped his forces to meet the main Allied thrusts. The Allied troops had been fighting in difficult country in an oppressive and tiring heat, and it was necessary that the original invaders should be rested and that new men should go forward.
A new co-ordinated plan was prepared to overcome the reorganised resistance of the Germans. There was, of course, no breaking of contact and no relaxation in the pressure by the British and American forces on land and in the air. Fighting continued in each sector, but advances were made with a view to preparing for the final push.
The 78th Division, in which was the 2nd Battalion London Irish, landed on July 26—27. The 78th Division had now left the First Army and was making its first appearance with the Eighth. This was the first time that the two battalions of the Regiment had been in the same theatre of war since leaving England.
The plans for the final push were roughly that the Eighth Army should proceed along the eastern side of the island, capture Catania and Regalbuto, and encircle Mount Etna by the inland road through Aderno, Bronte, and Randazzo. The American Seventh Army should cover westwards of Regalbuto to the north coast and advance on Messina by the two northern routes.
The 78th Division was on the left flank of the Eighth Army and became a connecting-link with the Americans. The 50th Division was on the right flank, fighting its way up along the east coast.
The time had now arrived for what became known as Montgomery’s left hook. The Americans were pressing in the west and the time had come for a strong blow in the centre. To the troops came the following message from their leader:
PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM THE ARMY COMMANDER
TO BE READ OUT TO ALL TROOPS
1. The Allied Armies landed in Sicily, on Italian soil, on 10th July, magnificently supported by the Royal Navy and the Allied Air Forces, and are to-day in possession of the whole island except for the north-east corner where the enemy is now hemmed in.
2. I want to tell all of you, soldiers of the Eighth Army, that this has been a very fine performance. On your behalf, I have expressed to the Commander of the Seventh American Army on our left the congratulations of the Eighth Army for the way the American troops have captured and cleaned up more than half the island in record time. We are proud to fight beside our American Allies.
3. The beginning has been very good, thanks to your splendid fighting qualities and to the hard work and devotion to duty of all those who work in the ports, on the roads, and in the rear areas. We must not forget to give thanks to “THE LORD MIGHTY IN BATTLE” for giving us such a good beginning towards the attainment of our object.
4. And now let us get on with the job. Together with our American Allies we have knocked Mussolini off his perch. We will now drive the Germans out of Sicily.
5. Into battle with stout hearts. Good luck to you all.
B. L. MONTGOMERY, General,
SICILY JULY 1943.