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J.L. Granatstein: Remembering Canada’s costly fight for Sicily

daftandbarmy

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Very good.... as always with one of Jack's articles

Eighty years ago today, the Allies invaded Sicily, defended by Italian and German troops. In the invasion force were the 1st Canadian Division and the 1st Canadian Armoured Brigade, some 20,000 soldiers ready for their first full-scale operation after three years in England.

The Canadians reached Sicily in two convoys, one of which had three ships sunk by U-boat torpedoes, and lost 58 soldiers, forty of the division’s 25-pounder artillery pieces, 500 trucks, the headquarters’ wireless equipment, and Major-General Guy Simonds’ baggage. The division’s chief engineer, Geoffrey Walsh, remembered that he had to loan socks to the 1st’s commander.

The invasion proceeded well nonetheless. The Canadians and British troops, under General Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army, landed on the southeastern shore, the Americans to the west. There was light opposition on the beach, with Italian troops surrendering quickly in the face of overwhelming force—“They hadn’t got their heart in it at all,” one soldier said. The Canadians moved inland over rugged terrain with steep hills and winding narrow roads, and the constant heat, dust, and malaria-carrying mosquitoes soon began to wear down the men. After three days, Montgomery recognized that the Canadians, not yet inured to the climate, needed a few days rest. Supplies came forward
Moving forward on July 15, the leading units bumped into the Germans, a small blocking force from the Hermann Goering Division. The Wehrmacht had better machine guns, well-trained mortar men, and deadly 88mm guns that pierced the lightly armoured Sherman tanks, and in this first engagement the Canadians suffered 27 casualties. The next day at Piazza Armerina, a town best known for wonderful Roman mosaics, Panzer Grenadiers blocked the advance for a day until the Loyal Edmonton Regiment took the town. At Valguarnera, the enemy in battalion strength fought stubbornly, and it took two brigades—and 145 casualties—to drive them back. But the Germans had noticed; Field Marshal Albert Kesselring reported to Berlin that his Grenadiers called their opponents “‘Mountain Boys’ [who] probably belong to the 1st Canadian Division.”

For the next two weeks, the 1st Division fought over the steep hills and through the deep ravines of central Sicily. It seemed that every turn in the winding roads had a German machine gunner or two, each blown bridge a defended obstacle to be overcome, each small town a platoon of Germans to inflict casualties and another delay. So too did dysentery, diarrhea, and malaria in the towns that Brigadier Bruce Matthews, the division’s artillery commander, called “filthy & smelly beyond description.” At Assoro, the Germans held the high ground and prepared to fight. There the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment swung wide, found a higher peak, and scaled it at night. The dawn revealed the Germans eating breakfast, and the Canadians poured their fire into them. Well-trained, the enemy recovered quickly, even the cooks fighting back, and their artillery pounded the Canadians. Soon counterattacks began, and the Hasty Pees were hard-pressed but hung on. The German defence of Assoro had been completely disrupted.

At nearby Leonforte, the 2nd Brigade’s Loyal Edmonton Regiment fought into the town, but the Germans counterattacked in force and cut off the Eddies. Brigadier Chris Vokes organized a flying column of tanks, anti-tank guns, and infantry to bust into Leonforte, free the Edmontons, and, after heavy fighting, finally liberate the town. Two days of battle had cost the 1st Division 275 casualties.

At Agira, 25 kilometres to the southeast, the Germans were again ready in strength. Simonds unwisely sent one battalion after another into the attack; each assault crumbled under the mortar and machine gun fire, and the Three Rivers Regiment lost ten tanks to the 88mm guns. Simonds persisted, using a heavy artillery barrage and tanks to support the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in taking their first objective. The Germans promptly recovered and drove off subsequent assaults. But when a company of Seaforth Highlanders climbed a 100-metre ridge that dominated their position, and when the Loyal Eddies took another ridge west of Agira, the Germans had to retreat. Again the cost was heavy, but this was a major victory.

The Sicilian campaign was nearing its end. The Americans under General George Patton had stormed through the western island, freed Palermo, and were moving east quickly. The British had advanced in parallel with the Canadians, and in Rome the Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini had been toppled. Only northeast Sicily remained in German hands.

 
My grandparents were liberated by the RCR in Modica on 11 July 1943. My grandmother told me they hung white bedsheets out of the windows to show no hostile intent. The Canadians were welcomed as liberators and shown as much hospitality as they could, given the situation.

Most of the Italian forces that were in the garrison were sick, wounded, or had just been rotated out from the Eastern Front. They left their arms in a pile in the city centre and waited for the first Allies to arrive.

Additionally, the Cosa Nostra had conducted massive sabotage to the defences and had made it very clear that there would be "happy little accidents" to the families of anyone that resisted the invasion.

As for the Canadians, they were polite, kind, and made a very good impression; especially after having dealt with the Fascists for 2 decades previous. A lot of families (mine included) decided Canada was the destination post War.

I am honored to have served with both the RCR and the decendent unit of 1st Cdn Div Signals as the grandson of a liberated family. Pachino (pronounced Pah-Kee-Noh 😉) Day meant a little bit more to me than cheap Vino Rosso and bland spaghetti lol.
 
My grandparents were liberated by the RCR in Modica on 11 July 1943. My grandmother told me they hung white bedsheets out of the windows to show no hostile intent. The Canadians were welcomed as liberators and shown as much hospitality as they could, given the situation.

Most of the Italian forces that were in the garrison were sick, wounded, or had just been rotated out from the Eastern Front. They left their arms in a pile in the city centre and waited for the first Allies to arrive.

Additionally, the Cosa Nostra had conducted massive sabotage to the defences and had made it very clear that there would be "happy little accidents" to the families of anyone that resisted the invasion.

As for the Canadians, they were polite, kind, and made a very good impression; especially after having dealt with the Fascists for 2 decades previous. A lot of families (mine included) decided Canada was the destination post War.

I am honored to have served with both the RCR and the decendent unit of 1st Cdn Div Signals as the grandson of a liberated family. Pachino (pronounced Pah-Kee-Noh 😉) Day meant a little bit more to me than cheap Vino Rosso and bland spaghetti lol.
The role the Mafia played in helping the Allies in WW2 is a very interesting story:


Thankfully the Mob loves America and are true Patriots!

 
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