443rd Antiaircraft Artillery Battalion (Special Weapons) in World War II

SICILIAN CAMPAIGN

DRIVE TO MESSINA

Without delay, the 3rd Infantry Division and its attached units wheeled right and began to drive east from Palermo, on the coast road to Messina. At one point the 443rd Commander and three of his officers took the surrender of the Paticio antiaircraft battery. In another incident at the Palermo Airport, Platoon A-1 lost one man killed and two wounded by an anti-personnel mine. Stung by the rapid conquest of western Sicily the Germans determined to keep the eastern part of the island from being taken so swiftly and marshalled their defenses. The coast road to Messina was well-defended. Roadblocks, blown bridges and mines made going difficult while units farther inland fought stubborn, rear-guard resistance over rugged, dusty, mountainous terrain with a poor, and often primitive road net. In addition, skilled German engineers were able to blast whole road sections into the sea, along the coast. Just east of a highway tunnel on the tip of Cape Calava, the road hung like a shelf on the abrupt, rock wall and after the German demolition, nothing remained but a sheer drop of several hundred feet into the sea. Bypassing inland would have meant several days delay but the U.S. 10th Engineers, in less than 24 hours, built a replacement bridge shelf of timber, cable and steel with earth fill at both ends. In the meantime, men, vehicles and equipment were moving by sea in LCTs around Cape Calava. The Engineers played a major role in the speed with which the entire Sicilian Campaign was completed.

As the enemy withdrew along the narrow coastal road, much contact was limited to long-range, sporadic artillery fire. Some strafing attacks by German planes occurred but enemy air activity was at a minimum in the severe terrain with its single coast road. Space, defilade and deployment room were at a premium, often causing the 443rd to expose its gun-tracks and, in some instances, field artillery pieces, to enemy observation. All low priority vehicles were kept off the road but in spite of such precautions the road was sometimes blocked with traffic for as long as six hours at a time. The 443rd assigned two officers as M.P.s to help control traffic all the way to Messina.

The rugged Sicilian terrain has a high range of rocky mountains running generally east and west, thus forming the backbone of the Island. From these mountains a long series of parallel ridges and deep valleys descend to the sea in the north. These natural barriers, perpendicular to the enemy’s axis of withdrawal, made northern Sicily into ideal terrain for defensive warfare.

The terrain, combined with road and bridge demolition were effective deterrents to the US advance until the final few days when the enemy was so reduced in strength and under such pressure that even mine fields could not be laid.

Very few roads and trails suitable for motor traffic existed and even mule pack trains couldn’t move over some of the rough, precipitous slopes. Trails shown on maps were not always accurate. While driving blackout one night the 443rd S-3 and his Operations Sergeant suddenly saw the two, dim tracks they were following, begin to merge into one and at the same time felt their jeep turning over. Both leaped out and found their jeep on its side in a streambed far below. Scrambling down the rocks, the two righted the vehicle and drove off-cautiously. The S-3 jeep used nine replacement tires during the Sicilian Campaign — typical of the lacerating effect of the rocky terrain on vehicle tires.

The coastal highway was the only road suitable for two way traffic except for the four, main, lateral roads which connected the principal towns of San Stefano, San Agata, Capo D’Orlando and Furiana on the coast, to the inland towns of Nicosia, Cesero, Randazzo and Francavilla, respectively. Each of these lateral roads served as defense lines for the enemy.

During the 3rd Infantry drive along the Sicilian north coast, 443rd units participated in a new tactic with considerable success. To outflank the stubborn enemy defenders, amphibious moves were used. Platoon B-3 loaded two of its gun-tracks on LCTs with the 10th Field Artillery guns and made a flanking attack from the sea, in the vicinity of Caronia Marina, on 3 August, forcing the enemy to withdraw beyond Caronia to the flats between the hill mass of Capo D’Orlando and the north-south ridge east of Caronia. This action probably drew some enemy strength from the San Fratello battle which began the same day. 443rd platoons were well forward in the advance in which artillery played so important a part. Consequently they were subjected to terrific counterbattery fire and suffered a number of casualties. Upon reaching the west bank of the Furiano River, the Americans found that the Germans were well entrenched on the east bank and opposing the advance with intermittent artillery fire and mortar fire from well-entrenched and defiladed positions supported by heavy machine gun and rifle fire. Heavy fighting erupted as the 3rd Division’s 15th Regiment attacked on 3 August in front of San Fratello, following a two and one-half hour artillery barrage. The fighting continued until 8 August when the 15th and 30th Regiments, in a bayonet attack forced the enemy to surrender both San Fratello and Monte Fratello. So bitter was the battle that bodies went unburied for several days. During heavy enemy shelling a prime mover, loaded with artillery shells, was hit and set on fire. A 443rd lieutenant and sergeant left their place of cover and helped carry ammunition and powder to safety, thus saving the artillery piece and averting serious danger to artillery personnel. Both were recommended for a Silver Star.

443rd antiaircraft training had always stressed the need for gun sergeants not to order firing too soon and not to continue firing too long. To do so wasted ammunition and reduced chances that an enemy plane would fly close enough for a sure kill. This practice was well learned in Tunisia where multiple targets had to be engaged. But in Sicily, the steep mountains and deep valleys plus lack of local warning facilities allowed enemy planes to fly low and suddenly hedgehop in and out in an attack. Gunners found that most of the time, it was possible to fire only on a receding plane and, out of frustration, often fired when the plane had passed well beyond effective range. Along the coastal road to Messina, very few planes were encountered but men were subjected to intense artillery fire. As a result they had "itchy fingers" and in the excitement of firing often forgot previous training, instructions and experience. Platoon commanders continued to work to upgrade combat use of the T-28-E1s.

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