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E - 151 : Remembering 1943

Updated: Apr 16, 2021

Canadian Troops on the Way to Sicily in their Landing Craft on 10 July 1943, the same Day of the Year we start our Sailing in Malta

Hurray – we got the signed and amended rental agreement for the AFAET yesterday! Had to change the starting port from Tunis to Malta but it is now signed and sealed. We are going to sail this summer! Hope the European Union won’t come up with some stupid restrictions last minute but this is a risk am willing to take. So let’s cross fingers that reason prevails.

It would be a good point to start writing about our new point of departure, the islands of Malta. But it has to wait for the next blog. Want to pay tribute to the young English and Canadian men and women who made this trip possible. The beaches and shores we sail along this summer were the site of intensive fighting in 1943 when the Allied Forces, mainly Brits, Canadians and Americans liberated first Sicily then Calabria and Puglia and started the liberation of the European continent.

Bomber Ranges in 1943 - Bombers flying from Italy could reach the Romanian Oil Fields

The Americans were lukewarm about attacking the “soft” underbelly of Europe first and would have preferred to concentrate their efforts on operation “Overlord”, the invasion of France which was originally planned for summer 1943. But Churchill knew better. In order to succeed with the invasion of France, Nazi Germany’s mobile forces and its air force had to be immobilized. Germany’s lack of petrol was a dirty little secret that drove much more of Hitler’s strategy than most wanted to admit. A modern army without fuel does not move. I know this first-hand from my time as head of logistics of the 4th army corps in Switzerland. Keeping our mechanized brigades refueled and the artillery supplied with ammunition required 40’000 trucks. And immense quantities of fuel. I guess the Germans 50 years earlier need less but the principle is the same. Churchill knew that and wanted airfields to bomb the oilfields in Romania which were out of reach from England but well within reach from Southern Italy.

The Liberation of Sicily - US Forces in Green, Brits and Canadians in Red

And so the invasion of Sicily became a strategic war goal. On 10th July 1943, Sicily was invaded and liberated within a month. By the 17th August, British and American Forces had reached Messina and looked at Reggio di Calabria across the Straits of Messina. It was the first town they saw in Continental Europe. The shores and beaches we sail along from Capo Passero to Messina were heavily fought over and the resistance of the Italian and Germany Army fierce. But the day was carried by the young Brits and Canadians, most of them had never been to this part of the world. They fought for freedom and democracy and many paid with their lives for principles we take for granted today. Could not find detailed casualty lists for Sicily and Calabria but am sure the toll was high. We should observe a minute of silence when we sail along these shores. Our way of life would not be possible without their sacrifices.

The Liberation of Southern Italy by British and Canadian Forces after 3rd September 1943

Montgomery and Eisenhower, the two Allied Generals, did not waste time. On the 3rd of September 1943, just two weeks after arriving in Messina, Canadian and British Forces landed on the beaches of Reggio di Calabria and started pushing inland. In parallel, the English and American governments negotiated with the Italian Government a surrender agreement which would enter into force once allied forces had landed on Italian soil. The date of the surrender was the 8th of September. Italy capitulated. Its armed forces surrendered. But it was not the end of the war in Italy. The German High Command understood far too well the strategic value of Italy for the Royal Air Force and would not cede ground easily. They blew up every railway, road and bridge they could on their way back to the Volturno main defense line – about 25 km north of Naples. Wherever the Canadian Division arrived when pushing along the east coast of Calabria, the Germans had just left the day before. Tanks could not follow. Most was done walking or by jeep. Thus the advance was slow. It was also slowed down by the enthusiastic reception by the Italians in Calabria and Puglia – there were parties in every village. So much about the Italian’s love for their Duce Mussolini. He was hated and everybody was glad that his dictatorship was over.

Canadian M-4 Sherman Tanks in a Destroyed Village in Sicily

The Royal Airforce and the US Airforce quickly established big airfields once the area was secured. Within weeks, they began bombing the Romania Oil Fields and railway lines linking Romania to Germany. The effect was devastating and exactly as hoped for. German forces lost their mobility. Due to Alfred Speer’s focused armament program, Germany had almost as many tanks operational on the eastern front as the Red Army in 1943. But after the battle of Kursk, they had not fuel and could not move. The same was true for Germany’s Luftwaffe which had not enough fuel to properly train its pilots. Young fighter pilots with just 20 hours of flying experience were sent against the British Lancaster bombers and the American B-17s. They were no match for the well trained Mustang fighter aces America could send to protect their bombers. By doing my own pilot license, I know how little you know after 20 hours of flying: almost nothing. You are too busy with instruments and technique - you do not even hear the radio traffic! It takes about 100 hours to start flying intuitively and 300 hours to become proficient. The young German pilots did not have that luxury and had to go up anyway. Most of them never came back. Churchill was right, by June 1944 German forces had lost their mobility and Overlord was successful when launched on the 6th of June 1944.

Canadian Infantry fighting their way up the Calabrian Coast

The photos of this blog are from a Canadian site that collects and preserves the memories of the soldiers who fought in Europe during World War II. Not all the photos are well labeled and I will have to visit them once when we are allowed to travel again. But I am immensely grateful for the Canadians and Brits who fought on these shores. Our life would be different without their sacrifice.

Our Itinerary this summer

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13 feb 2021

Excellent overview of the events of 1943 in Sicily und Southern Italy. Yes, we owe the courage and sacrifice of these British, American and Canadian boys a good deal of what we enjoy ever since. A lot of superficial people conveniently forget that nowadays. I would certainly add a mention of the 2nd New Zealand Division, later NZ Expeditionary Force, which fought as part of Montgomery's 8th Army from Greece (April 1941) to Crete (May and June 1941), Egypt (El Alamein, decisive role of the NZ Division!), Libya, Tunisia (November 1941 to September 1943). In October 1943, the NZEF was shipped in 48 ships to Taranto. The Kiwis played again a decisive role in the battle of the Sangro (November…

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11 feb 2021


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