Sicily is a large island of nearly 10,000 square miles and the largest island in the Mediterranean Sea. It lies directly off the boot tip of Italy and only about 100 miles from the northern coast of Tunisia. The most prominent feature of Sicily is Mt. Etna, the tallest active volcano in Europe. The location of the island makes it a key strategic point with respect to the Mediterranean Sea also providing closer access to the Suez Canal and valuable oil supplies in North Africa.
In October 1935, Italy began its move for the Suez Canal by invading Ethiopia from Somaliland which at the time was an Italian colony.
On May 9, 1936, Italy captured Ethiopia.
On May 22, 1939, Germany and Italy signed their Axis ‘Pact of Steel.’ Soon after, Germany sent troops and naval operations to Sicily to help give them access to not only the Mediterranean Sea, but also to North Africa. In fact, Sicily was a major supply avenue for Germany and Italy’s North African campaign.
In August 1940, Italy invades and occupies British Somaliland.
Oh September 13, 1940, Italy invades Egypt, seeking control of the Suez Canal for the Axis powers. The Italians also move into Libya and capture Tobruk, located on the Northern coast and only 75 miles from the Egyptian border.
In December, 1940, British forces launch offensive against the Italians in the deserts of North Africa.
On January 22, 1941, British and Australian troops capture Tobruk from the Italians.
On February 11, 1941, British forces cross into Italian Somaliland.
On February 12, 1941, German Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, also known as the Desert Fox, arrives at the Libyan city of Tripoli, located along the northern Mediterranean coast about 100 miles from the border with Tunisia.
On February 14, 1941, Germany’s Afrika Korps troops begin to arrive in North Africa for their North African Campaign.
On April 14, 1941, Rommel leads the Afrika Korps forces in an attack on the British and Australian forces in Tobruk.
On June 8, 1941, Allied forces land and invade Lebanon and Syria.
On July 14, 1941, British forces occupy Syria.
On December 16, 1941, Allied troops force Rommel to retreat to El Agheila in Libya, now known as Al Uqaylah, located about half way between Tobruk and Tripoli along Libya’s northern coast.
On January 21, 1942, Rommel launches his counter-offensive against Allied forces in North Africa, starting from his position at El Agheila.
On May 26, 1942, Rommel engages Allied forces at the Gazala Line, a defensive line established around Tobruk.
On June 21, 1942, Rommel captures Tobruk from the Allies.
On July 1 – 30, 1942, Rommel attacks El Alamein, just west of Alexandria, Egypt.
On August 7, 1942, British commander General Bernard Montgomery takes over command of the British 8th Army in North Africa and is tasked with stopping Rommel.
On September 2, 1942, Montgomery and Rommel clash at the Battle of Alam el Halfa, just south of El Alamein, Egypt. Montgomery prevails and pushes Rommel back.
On November 1, 1942, Allies launch Operation Supercharge and break Germany’s and Italy’s lines at El Alamein.
On November 8, 1942, US forces launch Operation Torch in North Africa.
On December 13, 1942, Allied forces, including US troops, force Rommel to withdraw from El Agheila.
On January 23, 1943, Montgomery and the British 8th Army capture Tripoli.
On February 14-25, 1943, Rommel’s Afika Korps and Italian troops, including 2 German Panzer Divisions battled US II Corps led by Major General Lloyd Fredendall, the British 1st Army led by Lieutenant General Kenneth Anderson and the British 6th Armoured Division led by Major General Charles Keightley at a 2 mile-side pass in the Atlas Mountains known as the Kasserine Pass In Tunisia. At first, Rommel and the Axis panzers pushed the Allied forces back until Allied reinforcements arrived and defeated Rommel’s offensive.
On March 2, 1943, German forces begin to withdraw from Tunisia.
On March 20-28, 1943, Montgomery and the British 8th Army break through the remaining Axis (mostly Italian) lines remaining in Tunisia.
On April 6-7, 1943, remaining Axis forces in Tunisia, mostly Italian, withdraw.
On May 7, 1942, Allied forces control Tunisia.
On March 9, 1943, citing health reasons, Rommel leaves North Africa and heads back to Germany. Many believe he left knowing the end of his campaign was near and he did so to avoid capture.
May 13, 1943, German and Italian forces surrender in North Africa. Now that the war in North Africa was over, Allied forces turned their attention to the important strategical island of Sicily.
On July 9-10, 1943, Allied forces land on Sicily. Among the Allied forces was British General Montgomery and the 8th Army and British General Sir Harold Alexander along with US General George Patton and the 7th Army and General Dwight Eisenhower. Eisenhower and Alexander were placed in charge of the Allied invasion of Sicily.
On July 22, 1943, Patton and the 7th Army reached the Sicilian capital of Palermo.
Patton and Montgomery tried to reach Messina in order to prevent the German forces from crossing the Straight of Messina, the 2-mile-wide straight that separated Sicily from Italy, but neither were successful. Combined Allied forces numbered 160,000 who were up against around 400,000 Axis troops.
On this day, August 11, 1943, Germany began withdrawing their troops from Sicily, transporting them to the Italian mainland. The Germans had moved a large portion of their North African forces to Sicily and was now tasked with moving them off the island.
By August 17, 1943, Germany had managed to evacuate nearly 40,000 troops, nearly 50 tanks and 100 heavy guns and just under 10,000 vehicles and over 2,000 tons of ammunition. During the 6 six days, Italy also withdrew about 60,000 troops.
On August 17, 1943, Sicily belonged to the Allies, although a number of Italian troops still remained in various locations on the island. Sicily came at a heavy cost with the loss of nearly 24,000 Allied casualties. The Axis suffered around 29,000 casualties and 140,000 captured, mostly Italian troops.
The Battle of Sicily was one of the most important battles in the Mediterranean due to the closure of the Axis supply of oil. It also gave the Allied forces a ground base to work from in the upcoming battle to liberate Italy.
Two of the more unusual events that took place during the Battle of Sicily involved US General George Patton. On one occasion, an Italian farmer on the island was having problems getting his donkey off the road and out of the US army’s way. Several American soldiers were trying to help push the donkey out of the way when Patton pulled up to the scene. In his typical gruff and impatient way, Patton pulled his gun and shot the donkey, reportedly saying that his army would not be delayed by an ass. In the second unusual incident, Patton dispatched an army unit to the town of Villalba, which had no military or strategic importance at all. Their mission was to locate a reported mafia boss named Calogero Vizzini in order to get information from him on how best to establish a new government to rule Sicily.
Sources for the above includes: Timeline of Selected Events 1931-1945; Sicily 1943; Invasion of Sicily and Italy’s Surrender; Germans Begin to Evacuate Sicily; Timeline of Operation Husky: The Allied Invasion of Sicily (July 9th, 1943 – August 17th, 1943); World War II Europe: Fighting in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy; World War II in Europe; The Second World War; World War II in Europe; Operation Husky – The Allied Invasion of Sicily; Liberation: The Sicilian Campaign – 1943; Battle of Sicily