- The Battle of Sicily -
At the Casablanca Conference that took place between January 14th to 23rd, 1943, Allied leaders decided to invade Sicily. Sicily was roughly the size of New Jersey with 600 miles of coastline southwest of Italy. Securing Sicily would free Mediterranean shipping from Axis attacks, divert German forces from the Russian front and get Italy out of the war.
With the British Eighth Army to the east and the American Seventh Army to the west, the Allied forces hit the Southern beaches of Sicily early in the morning of July 10th, 1943. Though the initial sweep placed 80.000 troops ashore, the fighting soon became a series of small engagements by Artillery and Infantry men. On July 17th 1943, the 39th Combat Team, joined by the 34th Field Artillery Battalion, joined the 82nd Airborne Division in a thrust north of the beaches. The 39th Combat Team captured 327 prisoners near Agrigento, thrusting forward through town after town. Lt. Colonel Van H. Bond led the 3rd Battalion across the Belice River into Castelvetrano on the 21st. This enabled the 2nd Armored Division on the right to attack north and capture the city of Palermo.
While the 3rd Battalion tackled Castelvetrano, the 1st Battalion occupied Campobello that evening, shortly after 1800 hours. Pressing on they entered Mazara three hours later and captured 3456 Italian soldiers. The 155mm cannoneers of the 34th Field Artillery Battalion blasted the way through Ribera and Santa Margarita for the 82nd Airborne Division in a “workmanlike fashion”, as mentioned by 82nd Airborne commander Brigadier General Maxwell D. Taylor. Enemy artillery batteries defending the port of Trapini were effectively silenced by the men of the 34th Field Artillery Battalion, enabling the paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne to occupy the city.
With the Allies in possession of the western and south-western parts of the island, the 39th Combat Team was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, driving through the mountains south of the seacoast towards Messina. It conquered the enemy at Cerami and then joined the assault on Troina, a key enemy strongpoint. While two Regiments of the 1st Division attempted to flank the city, the 39th Combat Team took it head on, scrambling up heights rising 3000 feet. Though bombers and artillery pounded the city, the enemy held fast.
At the same time other parts of the Ninth Infantry Division had moved to Sicily. It was ordered to break the impasse at Troina. On August 5th, 1943, the 60th Infantry Regiment teamed up with the 4th Tabour of Guorns (knife-wielding irregular Moroccan troops who distinguished themselves whilst fighting under French command in Tunisia, Italy, France and Germany during World War II). Together they flanked Troina along a ridgeline to the North which forced German artillery north east of the city to withdraw, and thus leaving the Germans in Troina vulnerable. The Germans withdrew with the Ninth Infantry Division in hot pursuit. The Americans and the British 78th Division were funnelling in towards Randazzo, which, if taken, would open the way for a run to Messina. Impending the way were demolitions, mined roads, blown bridges, craters and the notorious “Schu-Mines”. These mines would send off a load of metal up to waste/crotch height and explode. Personnel mines were placed about 20-yard intervals, coordinated with belts of Anti-Tank mines about 50 yards apart. Infantry men were frequently forced to leave the road to hike over volcanic rock. The enemy had begun his evacuation of Sicily. So, rear-guard troops would put up a stiff resistance before pulling back. This they also did on a hill before Randazzo, dubbed “Cadillac” by the 39th Combat Team, and then withdrawing from the city on the next day. The withdrawal had been encouraged by another flanking move of the 60th Infantry Regiment and a 12 mile by-pass supply road build by the 15th Engineers in a day and a night, capable of handling loaded 2,5 ton trucks.
General Patton wanted to beat Montgomery into Messina. Since the 3rd Division was chasing the enemy east on the coast, the 9th Infantry Division could go no further. Messina fell on August 17th, 1943. Rest, recreation and re-training followed, and by November 1943 the Ninth was at sea again, heading for England where it would start more extensive training to prepare for the fighting in Normandy.
Source: 9th Infantry Division – “Old Reliables” book.