Monday, October 10, 2005

The Invasion/Liberation of Sicily, 1943

My godfather and uncle Pete Kutz took part in the invasion of Sicily in 1943. He had joined the army early in the war and was stationed with General Montgomery and the Brits in Africa. We have a photo of him, tall and very skinny, in front of the pyramids. So, from his stories, I knew at least that there was an invasion of Sicily by the Allies. What I didn't know was that it was the largest invasion force ever assembled (bigger than Normandy with 478,000 invading troops) and that it was before D-day and Normandy.

The funny thing is that the Sicilians call it a "liberation," not an invasion. Technically, the Italians were on the side of the Germans. Remember Mussolini? He was a joke of a dictator and Hitler couldn't stand him. Anyway, the Sicilians like to say that they were never part of that whole deal . . . like they were neutral or something. In fact, there was a large German presence in Sicily, and even today you can see bunkers all over the place, even right near NAS I Sigonella.

There are two large war cemeteries nearby. The British cemetery (LEFT), located near the Catania airport, has over 2,000 men buried in it,and the German one, near Misterbianco, has more than twice as many. I've been to both and also to the World War II Museum in downtown Catania. In fact, Kendra and I took our tenth grade Integrated Literature-World History students there last spring. It is a FABULOUS museum! It's very interactive and realistic throughout. You go through a bomb raid, get inside a machine gun bunker, see films, artifacts, wax figures, and end with a very moving memorial for all who died in the invasion. Even the tenth graders liked it, and they were a group who didn't like much.

Our former ROTC teacher, a retired Navy captain, was quite a WWII buff, and he accompanied us to the museum. He told us the story of "Mincemeat," a decption plan which the British used to throw the Germans off the track on where the invasion would take place. They took a fresh corpse and dressed it up as a British officer, complete with a briefcase of phony papers indicating that the invasion would take place in Sardinia and Greece. Then they threw the body into the ocean off the coast of Spain, where it was found by the enemy, who promptly bought the story and shifted many troops off the island of Sicily and onto Sardinia and Greece, making the invasion of Sicily easier.

It came as quite a surprise to the Germans, apparently, despite heavy bombing beforehand. It took a few months for the Allies to overtake the entire island and push the retreating Germans over the Straits of Messina. But the losses were heavy for the Axis--172,000 were killed, wounded, imprisoned or missing. The British, Canadian, and US losses were light in comparison--8,300 killed or wounded.

Remember the scene in the movie _Patton_ when the general slapped the enlisted soldier who was in tears and called him a coward? That took place in Sicily. There are stories of how the Mafia helped the Allies, how the Italian soldiers simply gave up, smiling, and how the Sicilian-American soldiers felt they had "come home" to their roots. My mother's friend, now in her mid-80s, wrote to me, "The boys came home from the war and said it was just beautiful over there (in Sicily)."

By the way, no American soldiers were knowingly buried in Sicily because the USA's policy is not to bury them on "enemy territory," which Sicily technically was, at the time.

The war museum tour finishes with quote by Pope John XXIII: "Peace is the ultimate good. To forget this is pure madness."


At October 19, 2005 12:44 AM, Blogger Colleen in CA said...

I enjoyed this entry, Maryellen. I'll look forward to visiting the sites you mentioned.
In the book "Midnight in Sicily," Peter Robb describes the Allies' showing off Lucky Luciano's embroidered handkerchief and granting him American immunity basically, to front them during their Sicily campaign.


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