The Bloody Road to Catania
A History of XIII Corps in Sicily, 1943
Author : Barrie S Barnes
Not yet published - in Autumn 2021 list
General - Pages : 224 | Images : 4 b/w maps, c 70 b/w photos
Paperback - ISBN : 9781914059933 | Helion Book Code : HEL1374
This study starts with the landings by XIII Corps on 10th July 1943 (Operation Husky) between Avola and Cassibile, Sicily. The advance inland took place along the eastern coastal road on the right flank of the invasion. The countryside consisted of winding narrow roads flanked by high hills, this terrain favoured the defenders and the skilful German forces took full advantage of it, making a stand at every opportunity, this cost the assaulting British troops dearly in lives and vehicles as they had to fight for every yard of ground taken. Road bridges were held by the Germans to the last man, these focal points were essential to Montgomery’s plan of attack. To reinforce the hard-pressed Herman Goering Division, troops of the 1st Fallschirmjaeger Division were air dropped into Sicily on 13th July, these were tough paratroopers who had served in Russia and their inclusion into the German order of battle was a great boost to the defending forces. The night these troops were dropped into Sicily so did the paratroopers of the British 1st Parachute Brigade and on to the same landing zone as the German paras. Paratroopers of both sides fought it out near a bridge called Primosole, which the British were to capture. The British air drop was a disaster, scattering men miles from their objective, few reached the bridge over the Simeto. Eventually Primosole Bridge fell to the British paras and they held on in the face of furious counter-attacks by the German paras, tanks and artillery of the Herman Goering Division. The 50th Northumbrian Division had great difficulty in fighting their way forward to relieve the men at Primosole and eventually the British paras had to abandon the bridge having suffered enormous casualties. The Germans once again held Primosole.
The 50th Division’s supporting armour of the 4th Armoured Brigade arrived at Primosole and at the sight of the approaching tanks the Germans pulled back to the northern bank and waited in defensive positions. The advancing infantry of XIII Corps had fought their way forward in the terrible heat and dust, fighting numerous actions as they went, and were in no fit state to mount an attack, but Montgomery would not let them rest as this junction at Primosole was holding up the advance of the entire Eighth Army. 151 (Durham) Brigade attacked the next day and were cut down like corn before the scythe by the German paras, for three days the vineyards on the south bank echoed to the sounds of battle as the Durhams and Germans fought it out in extreme close quarter fighting. Once over the Bridge Montgomery continued the pressure and wanted XIII Corps to press on to Catania Air Field. Numerous attacks were pressed forward by XIII Corps, all ended in disaster and the entire corps was held up on the Catania Plain.
Montgomery then launched his left hook around Mount Etna by XXX Corps, this resulted in numerous other costly actions until it too came to a halt. By now the Germans were preparing to withdraw their units towards Messina and as they did so the weary British units pressed forward behind them. The Germans withdrew in stages and continued to fight delaying actions wherever possible costing the British even more casualties for every village and town they encountered. During this period at the start of August the Germans began Operation Lehrgang, which was the evacuation of all German forces across the Strait of Messina to the Italian mainland. The withdrawal was conducted with cool efficiency and pin-point precision. The Allied naval and air forces never disrupted the evacuation and made no effective response to Operation Lehrgang, this was to prove to be ‘ineffectiveness’ on a grand scale as the German forces slipped away, the Germans justifiably termed the evacuation ‘A glorious retreat’ but for the Allies the taking of Sicily had been a bitter victory that would return to haunt them. Thousands of German troops, vehicles, ammunition dumps and tanks had left Sicily and when the Allies invaded Italy these battle-hardened veterans would be waiting for the assaulting troops at Cassino, Anzio and Salerno. This was to be the start of yet another bloody campaign. In August American forces entered Messina, the Germans had gone and the town was decimated.