PREPARATION FOR INVASION
The combined Chiefs of Staff, at the Casablanca Conference of January 1943, had agreed to Churchillian strategy for the Mediterranean Theater of Operations. In aiming at the "soft underbelly of the Axis" along the Mediterranian, control of Sicily was necessary because of its strategic position dominating the sea lanes between Tunisia and Italy. Invading and conquering Sicily was of paramount importance in making Allied lines of communication more secure for the conquest of Italy. In spite of devastating reverses in the Soviet Union and its stunning defeat in North Africa, the Axis managed to garrison Sicily with ten Italian and three reorganized German divisions.
It was determined that General Alexanders 18th Army Group would command the Sicilian campaign ground forces, to consist of General Pattons 7th Army on the left and General Montgomerys 8th Army on the right. The 443rd Battalion moved on 6 June, from its wheatfield bivouac four miles south of Ferryville, to be attached to the 3rd Infantry Division about 25 miles farther west, near El Alia. Two days later, Lt. Col. Larson, two other officers, four enlisted men and an Arab guide, acting quickly on information received from a French family, searched an area six miles north of El Alia and captured a German lieutenant and nine enlisted men. They had been in hiding since the 9 May surrender, and had been attempting to contact German submarines, off the coast.
On 16 June, the 443rd began waterproofing gun-tracks and other vehicles scheduled for the assault waves in the Sicilian Invasion. Preparation also began for amphibious exercises and landing strategies.
The 443rd Commander had submitted names of all 443rd 2nd lieutenants for promotion to 1st lieutenant. But the 3rd Division Assistant Commander, General Eagles, opposed the action. Lt. Col. Larson then discussed the combat records of these officers with General Truscott, Division Commander. The General directed that the request be re-submitted at the end of the Sicilian Campaign, at which time he would approve it.
During 21/22 June, all Battalion vehicles, destined for the initial assault waves of the invasion, were loaded on landing craft in Lake Bizerte. Batteries A and B loaded on LCTs (Landing Craft, Tank) and Batteries C and D loaded on LSTs (Landing Ship, Transport), to participate in the 3rd Divisions amphibious landing exercises. Following the training all personnel, except drivers and guards, returned to the Battalion bivouac. Then on 27 June, the Battalion received some badly needed equipment. It received 38 M-3 half-tracks for use as platoon, battery and battalion command and communication vehicles as well as for platoon ammunition carriers. On 30 June the Battalion was issued 19 SCR-628 radios, to be installed in command half-tracks. The 443rd, for the first time, looked forward to having adequate communication for command, control and coordination.
Preceding final embarkation for Sicily, his silver hair shining in the hot, late afternoon, African sun, General Truscott addressed all the officers of his command. He reviewed the preparations and the training, now completed, and told the assembled group that, "We do not know the word failure. We know only that we will be successful or that we will be successful beyond our utmost expectations . . .". As the General was concluding his address, the Sirocco wind, hot as from a blast furnace, came from out of the desert and blew for several minutes. General Truscott, his silver hair blowing in the hot, searing wind, commented, "We can believe in omens and this wind must be a good omen since it blows us in the direction we are going".
On 5, 6, 7 July, personnel and remaining assault vehicles were loaded aboard ship. During the loading, enemy bombers attacked the invasion fleet but were driven off with slight damage. Three men of Battery D were slightly wounded by fragments from antiaircraft gunfire. The Sirocco returned on 6th and 7th July causing severe discomfort as many metal objects became almost too hot to handle. And although it meant a return to combat most Americans were glad to be leaving a land of extreme heat and cold, defeats, stalemates, drudgeries, boredom, death and the excitement of battle and final victory. It symbolized another step toward home.
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