Monday, July 9, 2018

Operation Husky + 75

Smaug the Dragon

Seventy-five years ago on this day in 1943 (written July 10, 2018) Allied troops began the invasion of Sicily.  Churchill sought to attack the "soft underbelly of Europe" in much the same way that Bard the Bowman kills Smaug with an arrow to the belly in The Hobbit.  The invasion of Sicily would, however, prove to be infinitely more complicated than Tolkein's novel.  It was the largest amphibious invasion ever attempted at that point in history.  Mussolini's Fascist regime was a house of cards that needed to be toppled with a violent push.  But Nazi Germany would not give up on Italy so easily and a grinding campaign fought up the spine of the Italian peninsula that would result in more Allied deaths than the more famous northern campaign that began on June 6, 1944.

George S Patton

Paton and Montgomery would compete in the "Race to Messina" to liberate the island of Sicily.  Alec Guinness of the Royal Navy would pilot amphibious vehicles that stormed ashore on July 10, 1944.  Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of WW2, would also fight in Sicily.  All of these were of Celtic ancestry and many will be discussed in our forthcoming 100 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur (out in 2019).

Bernard Law Montgomery

We wrote about the American involvement in the invasion of Italy in our book America Invades (

"It all started on July 10, 1943, with Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. The first day of the campaign was also one of the worst when the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment of Matthew Ridgway’s 82nd Airborne was decimated by friendly fire. About fourteen hundred Americans were tragically killed by  re from anti-aircraft batteries on allied naval vessels. From this painful experience, the Allies learned a valuable lesson. All Allied aircraft participating in the D-Day invasion were painted with black and white stripes prior to the Normandy invasion.
Once ashore, General Patton and British General Montgomery competed in the famous “Race to Messina” on the other side of the island. To Montgomery’s irritation, the indefatigable Patton won, but he didn’t have it all his way ending up being very nearly court-martialled for slapping a soldier suffering from battle fatigue.

With Sicily under Allied control, it was on to mainland Italy. The Second World War in Italy was a long grueling affair in which Americans fought with great tenacity and bravery. For instance, The 442nd Regimental Combat Unit, composed mainly of Japanese-Americans, became the most decorated American military unit in our history winning a staggering 9,486 Purple Hearts. There were times when the possibility of a rapid advance north towards the heart of Europe seemed possible, for instance, after the Germans were initially surprised by the Allied landings at Anzio, but somehow the enemy collapse never came, at least not until right at the end of the war itself.

In spite of the surrender of the Italian government and their switching sides to the Allies, the German defense of Italy under the able “Smiling Albert” Kesselring was stubborn and tenacious. After Southern Italy was cleared, the Americans used airbases in Italy to bomb Axis targets, such as the Ploesti oil fields in Romania. George McGovern, the future presidential candidate, piloted his B-24 Liberator bomber on thirty-five missions from San Giovanni Air Base in Apulia.

Rome, Mussolini’s former capital, was liberated by American forces on June 4, 1944, an extremely newsworthy event but preempted by what came two days later far to the north—D-Day. As Allied armies swept across northern Europe towards the Reich, American and other Allied armies continued their slow, tough advance north through Italy. In fact, fighting was to continue in Italy all the way until May 8, 1945—V-E Day.

Victory in Italy came at a heavy price. There were about 114,000 US casualties in the Italian campaign. Today you will find two American Battle Commission cemeteries in Italy, one in Florence and another near Anzio (Nettuno) where visitors can sit and think about the huge sacrifice made by many young troops." Source:

Remember ALL those brave Allied troops, American, British, Canadian, etc. that fought to slay the dragon of fascism in Europe from July of 1943 until the end of the war.  Never forget their sacrifice!

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