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The Bloody Road to Catania

A History of XIII Corps in Sicily, 1943

Author : Barrie S Barnes

The Bloody Road to Catania : A History of XIII Corps in Sicily, 1943


General - Pages : 244 | Images : 40 b/w photos and four b/w maps

Paperback - Date of Publication : August 2021 | Size : 234mm x 156mm | ISBN : 9781914059933 | Helion Book Code : HEL1374

The Bloody Road to Catania commences with the landings by XIII Corps on 10 July 1943 (Operation Husky) between Avola and Cassibile. The inland advance occurred along the eastern coastal road on the invasion's right flank. The countryside consisted of winding narrow roads flanked by high hills. this terrain favoured the defence and skilful German forces took full advantage of it. Road bridges were held 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 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 defenders. The same night the Fallschirmjaegers were dropped into Sicily, the British 1st Parachute Brigade was dropped on to the same landing zone as that of their enemy equivalents. Paratroopers of both sides fought it out near a bridge called Primosole, which eventually fell to the British in the face of furious counter-attacks by the Herman Goering Division. The 50th Northumbrian Division had great difficulty in fighting its way forward and, despite earlier gains,  the beleaguered British paras abandoned the key bridge after sustaining enormous casualties.

The 50th Division's supporting armour arrived at Primosole and, at the sight of the approaching tanks, the Germans withdrew to the northern bank. The advancing XIII Corps, having fought their way forward in terrific heat and dust, were in no fit state to mount an attack, but Montgomery would not let them rest as the vital Primosole junction was holding up the Eighth Army advance. The 151st (Durham) Brigade attacked the next day and were cut down like corn before the scythe by German paras. For three days the south bank vineyards echoed to the sounds of battle as Durhams and Germans engaged in fierce close quarter fighting. Once over the Bridge Montgomery wanted XIII Corps to press on to Catania airfield. Numerous attacks were launched, but all ended in disaster and stalemate on the Catania Plain.

Montgomery then launched XXX Corps in a left hook around Mount Etna This resulted in numerous other costly actions until they too came to a halt. By now the Germans were preparing to withdraw towards Messina. As they did so, weary British units pressed forward. Withdrawing in stages, the Germans fought delaying actions wherever possible. By early August, the Germans began 'Operation Lehrgang', a plan to evacuate all German forces across the Strait of Messina to the Italian mainland. The retirement was conducted with cool efficiency and precision, Allied naval and air forces  offering no effective response. Justifiably termed  'A glorious retreat' by the Germans, for the Allies the invasion of Sicily was a bitter victory that would return to haunt them. Thus, thousands of battle-hardened German troops and war material would be redeployed to face the Allies at Cassino, Anzio and Salerno.

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