Sicily -_"Husky"

Confident of a successful conclusion to their North African Campaign, the Allied Forces now looked ahead for a foothold in Europe. The planning for this occurred in January 1943 at a high level conference in Casablanca attended by Roosevelt and Churchill. The plans aim was to put pressure on "the soft under belly of Europe" in an effort to force the German's to spread their troops more thinly. The plan, targeted Sicily as the first step in this operation code-named "HUSKY". Operation "HUSKY" involved four separate airborne operations, two by the British and two by the 82nd Airborne.

HUSKY I

The first operation "HUSKY I" spearheaded this airborne invasion of Sicily. Led by Col. James M. "Slim Jim" Gavin, the 505th PIR, and the 3rd Battalion of the 504th PIR were organized into a Regimental Combat Team. On 9 July 1943, just over a year after it's activation the 505th made the first regimental size combat parachute attack as it landed behind enemy lines at Gela, Sicily.

Their first objective was to close off roads leading to the beaches and secure the drop zone for the next operation. They were also to take out Objective Y which was a series of 16 concrete "pillboxes" from which German gunners controlled movement on the nearby roads. Under a nearly full moon the paratroopers crossed over the Sicilian coast on schedule and jumped on their assigned drop zone on 9 July 1943 -- an event which British Prime Minister Winston Churchill termed, "not the beginning of the end, but the end of the beginning."

 HUSKY II

The second operation called "HUSKY II" involved the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 504th PIR, led by Colonel Reuben H. Tucker. They loaded the C-47 aircraft and took off for Sicily from the dusty airstrip near Kairouan, Tunisia. Near the Sicilian coast, however, a nervous Allied naval vessel suddenly fired upon the formation. Immediately, all other naval vessels and shore troops joined in, downing friendly aircraft and forcing planeloads of paratroopers to exit far from their intended drop zones in one of the greatest tragedies of World War II.

By morning, only 400 of the Regiment's 1600 soldiers had reached the objective area. The others had been dropped in isolated groups on all parts of the island and carried out demolitions, cut lines of communication, established island roadblocks, ambushed German and Italian motorized columns, and caused so much confusion over such an etensive area that initial German radio reports estimated the number of American parachutists dropped to be over ten times the actual number.

Gavin & Tucker

 The 82nd Airborne Division's drove northwest 150 miles along the southern coast of Sicily. With captured Italian light tanks, trucks, motorcycles, horses, mules, bicycles, and even wheelbarrows pressed into service, the 82nd encountered only light resistance and took 22,000 prisoners in their first contact with Nazi and Fascist forces.

In it's first trial-by-fire, the 505th, though out-manned and outgunned, used raw courage and fighting spirit to block the German Herman Goering Panzer Division and to save the beachhead and the Allied landings. With Sicily secure, the Allies continued attack on the Axis powers with landings on the Italian mainland.

Next: Naples

 

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