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Library Reference Number: 037

The Invasion of Sicily - Operation Codename 'Husky'

Dave Cumming, Scottish Saltire Branch, ACA

By the late spring of 1943, the Royal Air Force fighter and heavy bomber squadrons based in North Africa, had for many months been engaged in attacks on the Axis forces, comprised of mainly German army units known as the Afrika Corps. Following General Montgomery's 8th Army victory at El Alamein, these enemy forces were pursued through Libya, and on May 13th, 238,000 of them surrendered in Tunisia.

Following the victory, a meeting between President Roosevelt, and Prime Minister Churchill was held in Casablanca. Their decision to make Sicily the next objective, led to plans being formulated for an operation to be codenamed "Husky". This was to be a joint airborne and sea invasion of the Mediterranean island scheduled for July 10th 1943, and subsequently the air forces were briefed on their supporting roles.

No. 70 squadron was among the units ordered to take part, and just before midnight on the night of the 9th July, our five man crew took off in a Wellington X, HZ747, from Kairouan airfield in Tunisia, to join the main force of bombers heading for the target at Syracuse in Sicily. As we gained height over theMediterranean, we were mindful of the warning given at briefing, that Allied naval forces would not hesitate to fire on any aircraft flying below 8,000 feet, and so carry out their orders to protect the military convoy also en route to Sicily. Reaching and maintaining this height proved more difficult than expected. It was a very warm night, and with the ever present risk that our engines would overheat, our pilot had no easy task, keeping constant attention on the oil temperature gauges and the altimeter. I don't think he quite made the stipulated ceiling, but we managed to proceed safely on our way.

The target was part of a small isthmus adjoining the mainland at Syracuse. It extended to only about 400 yards square, and housed the railway station and yards, and other installations. Airborne forces and paratroops were to be dropped, their objective being to secure and hold positions just 1000 yards from our target. Our bombing time was strictly limited to a precise period of 30 minutes between 02:15hrs and 02:45hrs, with the extra instruction, that on no account must bombs fall outside the target area, and hit the mainland, due to the proximity of our ground troops. At cessation of bombing, these forces would break out from their positions, and begin attack on Syracuse.

Exactly on time, the illuminating aircraft began dropping flares, enabling the main force to bomb accurately. Most aircraft carried a load of 16 x 250lb (N.I.R.) and this meant mostly single drops to minimise ground spread on such a small target area. Fortunately, the opposition from flak and searchlights, although sustained, was only moderate. As bomb aimer, the permitted 30 minutes passed quickly enough, as it did for the pilot, but to the rest of the crew, it must have seemed a long half hour.

With all bombs gone, we turned for home and landed safely at Kairouan after almost six hours in the air. We learned later that Operation "Husky" had gone mostly to plan, albeit confirmed reports that some glider troops sustained casualties after landing in the sea. It had been a satisfactory night's work, with the squadrons taking part knowing that they had contributed significantly to the successful beginning of the campaign in Sicily.

Before the end of July, our squadron flew on further operations to the island, particularly to Messina and the surrounding beaches. The purpose was to harass the enemy forces, now preparing to quit Sicily by crossing the Straits of Messina and reaching the temporary safety of the Italian Mainland.

A new phase of operations began for the Royal Air Force, with targets switching to Italy. Naples, with it's large harbour and important shipping facilities, the arsenal, and railway marshalling yards was a prime target, whilst Mount Vesuvius (later to erupt in 1944) was even then showing a faint glow in the night sky, and was extremely useful as a navigation check after a long flight over the sea. Other targets such as aerodromes, also began to feel the effect of daylight bombing by the USAAF, whilst the RAF bombed regularly at night. The long campaign in Italy had begun.

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