Austin Bay

Now U.S. troops pushed east toward Messina. The British kept pounding from the south. The hard slog did not end until Aug. 17. The Allies suffered 25,000 casualties (killed and wounded). The Germans lost 4,700 dead, 14,000 wounded and 5,500 captured. Italians suffered 4,300 dead, 32,000 wounded and 100,000 captured (possibly more).

The Sicily campaign placed Allied troops less than 10 miles (the strait's width) from mainland Italy.

The oh-so-close proximity of large Allied forces to Italy was enticing. And that enticement leads to the biggest historical question tagging Operation Husky: Was taking Sicily the best strategic choice, since it made an invasion of Italy inevitable? From south of Naples to the Po Valley, Italy's rugged and rocky terrain is a defender's delight and attacker's sorrow.

Winston Churchill had sold Sicily as the next logical step. Sicily was the classical route to Rome from North Africa, and knocking fascist Italy out of the war would deal Adolf Hitler's Axis a heavy political loss.

Sicily geographically dominates the central Mediterranean. Husky's advocates noted that for three millennia the island served as the stepping stone of to-and-fro commerce and war between North Africa and Europe.

American military leaders were not convinced. The decisive route to Berlin goes through France -- make the all-out effort there. Churchill also claimed Europe had a "soft underbelly." Italian and Balkan terrain is not soft. Several senior U.S. planners thought Churchill was really trying to defend British imperial interests.

Axis-controlled Sicily had served as a big aircraft carrier for attacking Allied shipping. Under Allied control, those bases would extend air cover to northern Italy and Sardinia. U.S. planners agreed that Husky made operational sense if the goal was securing air bases. But can we stop there, at the strait? Sicily's hard slog was costly. A strategic thrust up Italy's mountainous spine will be as just slow and deadly.

And indeed it was.

Austin Bay

Austin Bay is the author of three novels. His third novel, The Wrong Side of Brightness, was published by Putnam/Jove in June 2003. He has also co-authored four non-fiction books, to include A Quick and Dirty Guide to War: Third Edition (with James Dunnigan, Morrow, 1996).
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