Sicily and Italy – The Hard Slog

Operation Husky: With the North African shore cleared, the whole of the Southern Europe landscape was open to the Allies for invasion. The decision was taken to take one of the Axis powers out of the coalition facing us – Italy. The traditional route of invasion through Sicily was chosen partly because of the airfields it would yield to support the main effort on mainland Italy later.

Map of Sicily for Operation Husky
Map of Sicily for Operation Husky.

The invasion was planned to have Montgomery’s 8th Army in the east and moving up the coastal route to Salerno, with the US, under Patton in the west taking a more difficult route across the island. The RAF Regiment component of the force was 14 squadrons – 5 LAA from UK, 3 Field and 3 LAA from North Africa and 1 LAA and 2 Field from the Levant. As a prelude to the invasion, 2744 and 2864 took the small Italian convict island of Lampdusa after heavy air attacks, giving the allies an airfield closer to Sicily.

The invasion began on the night of the 9/10th July 1943 and 3 squadrons went ashore with the main landings to protect the airfield at Pachino, 2855 having lost all their equipment sunk by enemy action before landing. The remaining squadrons landed on the 19th July. In Sicily, the problem of a lack of a self-destruct mechanism on the ammunition of the Regiment’s 20mm Hispano AA cannon reached a height with Montgomery and Air Marshal Coningham being in close proximity to impacting 20mm rounds from naval weapons. This incident placed limitations on the usage of 20mm weapons and ensured that the 40mm Bofors was made available to the Regiment as soon as practicable.

Italy

20 squadrons were involved at various stages during the long hard slog up the Italian Peninsula. It was particularly well suited for defence with its steep mountainous terrain. The Corps operated under both American 5th Army and British 8th Army. 2721 Squadron landed at Anzio beach as protection for the American S Force of Air Intelligence and became the first British unit to enter Rome, seizing the main radio station and its many landing grounds. The major battle in the southern part of Rome was the Monastery at Monte Cassino, an obstacle that had proved difficult through the ages. 2 Regiment Squadrons alternated in the line with the NZ Division, their 3-inch mortars being particularly valued. It was, however, a bloody business, one unit having over 50 killed during its 6-week stay at the front. Line after line of German defences had to be broken and the Regiment squadrons were frequently in the line. At Ravenna an adjoining army unit asked the Field Squadron CO to tone down his men’s aggressiveness whilst patrolling because the Germans had drafted more troops into their sector as they thought a major attack was in the offing.

Italy was a long hard slog, against the grain of the country and well-entrenched, experienced troops.