443rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion in World War II

SICILIAN CAMPAIGN

INVASION OF SICILY

Three convoys of LCIs (Landing Craft, Infantry), LSTs and LCTs, each able to proceed at different speeds, took separate routes to deceive the enemy. They all made rendezvous on 9 July off Gozo Island near Malta — a bastion of Allied air and naval strength. Stormy weather came up during the night of 8/9 July and grew worse as the day progressed. The invasion fleet ploughed through increasingly heavy seas toward Sicily. Seasickness and its agonies made the voyage miserable for many. Prospects for a successful invasion were dimming as the storm increased in violence. But when darkness fell the ships came under the leeward side of the island of Sicily and final preparations for invasion were begun. Evidence shows that the Axis Command expected Sicily to be invaded and had alerted its defenders. However, the enemy expected the invasion to hit the western coast of Sicily. And the defenders were on less than full alert as they couldn’t believe that an invasion could be mounted during such a violent storm at sea.

At 1:30 am on 10 July the convoy dropped anchor off the port of Licata and by 2:45 am the first assault wave was on the beaches. Enemy planes, which had attacked the convoy before it had even dropped anchor, continued to bomb the ships as well as the landing beaches. Allied naval forces had shelled the landing points and Allied air had bombed them heavily, preceding the landing. Parachutists of the 82nd Airborne Division had also been dropped with missions to seize the enemy airfield, destroy communications and harass attempts by the enemy to move reinforcements to the beachhead. Many of the paratroopers were dropped in widely scattered areas bearing little resemblance to scheduled drop zones. But this was of little consequence compared to action on invasion beaches far to the east where 23 Allied air transports were shot down by friendly troops near Gela. They had the misfortune to fly over just after a severe enemy air attack and gunners assumed that another attack was in progress.

At Licata, the enemy appeared to have been completely surprised and put up largely token resistance at the beachheads. Greatest damage to invading forces was inflicted by enemy air attacks. A ring of hills surrounded the Licata plain. They were 1,200 to 1,600 feet high and could have been made into strong defenses. The defenders did not make full use of this defense potential. Although at least 5 Italian Divisions plus corps and army troops as well as 34,000 German troops could have been made available for enemy defense against the 3rd Infantry Division at H-Hour and thereafter, only a portion of this strength was mustered at any one time to oppose the American advance. The invasion beaches at Licata received much machine gun and small arms fire but all units soon achieved their objectives and by 11 am Licata was captured.

443rd platoons of Battery B landed between 4 and 8 am, occupying their tactical defense positions at once. Platoon B-3 destroyed two enemy machine gun nests by firing at them while still aboard the LCT heading for the beach. A similar incident occurred later when Platoon D-2 destroyed an ME-109 by firing while still aboard an LCT landing craft. Batteries B and D engaged enemy dive bomber and swing-bomber missions during the morning and afternoon of D-Day. Both Batteries remained on beach defense since the Licata airfield was inoperable and no defense was needed. The airfield was still under construction.

Battery A platoons, landing between 6:30 am and 1 pm, occupied assigned positions protecting Beach Blue and by mid-afternoon had shot down an ME-109. A FW-190 was shot down by Battery C, landing about the same time.

By 11 July all enemy artillery positions had been overrun and the U.S invaders began a general extension of the beachhead to the "yellow line" — their second objective. Stubborn pockets of German and Italian resistance were overcome. Enemy air continued to harass the beach area where supplies and equipment were being unloaded as rapidly as possible. And at 8 am on 11 July two ME-109s scored a direct hit on an LST, destroying it. After this action, heavy and indiscriminate fire from naval craft rose at every plane venturing over the area during landing operations — including even friendly aircraft — often endangering troops on the beaches and on the hills behind them. At one time, such fire was even directed at an American pilot descending in a parachute after his plane — a P-51 — had crashed. The 443rd gunners, skilled and experienced in aircraft identification, were firing only at enemy planes when they flew near enough to be reached by automatic weapons and were upset and angry at such irresponsible shooting.

"That Mediterranean Cruise"The 443rd’s Battery C was attached to the 2nd Armored Division’s CCA. On 11 July, as it protected its assigned unit, it shot down 4 FW-190s and one ME-109. The batteries defending the beaches, the same day, destroyed 2 FW-190s and 2 ME-109s. This ended air activity on the beaches of Licata. Platoon C-2 moved with the 41st Armored Infantry to positions near Naro. At 7:45 in the evening six ME-109s attacked the position and one was shot down. And when American P-38s bombed and strafed the CCA convoy in error, 443rd gunners held their fire.

The 443rd Battalion Command Post just off Beach Yellow, on 11 July, saw large stores of 5 gallon gasoline cans and a supply of ammunition brought off landing craft, by truck, and stacked adjacent to each other along a railroad track very near the Command Post. Noticing that the gasoline cans were too near to the tracks, Lt. Col. Larson and C.P. personnel moved at night to a small, nearby hill. Early the following morning a locomotive came chugging around the bend and vibrated some gasoline cans onto the tracks where they were crushed and the gasoline ignited by sparks from the engine. This set off a spectacular fire which spread to the ammunition. For nearly two hours all personnel in the vicinity took cover while exploding ammunition and gasoline cans filled the air with debris going in all directions. Shortly thereafter the Command Post moved to west of Naro near the 3rd Infantry Division C.P.

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