Upon victory in North Africa, Allied forces used ports in North Africa as staging points northwards toward the underbelly of Europe. The first target chosen by the Allied commanders was Sicily after concluding an amphibious operation against Vichy France would be impossible. Allied occupation of Sicily would also safeguard Allied shipping in the Mediterranean, as well as relieve Malta from the constant Axis air raids.
10 Jul 1943
On 10 Jul 1943, Operation Husky called for 2,590 Allied ships to land 180,000 troops, 600 tanks, and 14,000 mechanized vehicles on the Italian island in three days at multiple sites, forming the second largest amphibious operation in the European theater. A large gamble the Allies took on was that the landing took place at several locations; a failure in any of the many locations could negatively affect outcome of another landing site. When the actual landings took place, harsh weather conditions (very strong winds) surprised the Axis defenders, while support fire from ample naval power ensured successful landing operations by the Allied 15th Army Group. The army group, consisted of the U.S. 7th Army and the British 8th Army, benefited greatly from the newly developed DUKW ("duck") landing craft. The landing forces were protected by six battleships, 10 cruisers, and two aircraft carriers. Four airborne operations were also conducted. Eventually, 180,000 soldiers would set foot on the island.
The island was defended by 230,000 Italian troops consisting of weak coastal defense units. It was generally thought that the best Italian units were lost in Africa, although Dwight Eisenhower was unwilling to discount the quality of Italian troops as the psychology of defending their own homeland could make a world of difference in their ferocity. The Italian troops were augmented by two German divisions under the command of General Hans Hube, which commandeered much attention by Eisenhower's intelligence staff. Initial resistance was fierce from Italian XII and XVI Corps and German XIV Panzer Corps, combined at the strength of 400,000, but under the pressure of Eisenhower's troops they soon buckled; Syracuse was taken on the first day of the invasion nearly uncontested, Palermo on 22 Jul, and Catania on 5 Aug.