Did you know that Canadian did not just storm the beaches of Normandy, but they also landed on the beaches of Sicily. Here’s your opportunity to learn about Operation Husky. Canadians played an important role in the liberation of Italy. Operation Husky 2013 will be organizing a series of commemorative ceremonies where Canadian fought and liberated Italian communities. See the list below for dates and locations of ceremonies. For more information about this project, please visit their site.
Route of the 1st Canadian Infantry Division
Each day of Operation Husky 2013, a group of participants will pause along the route taken by the 1st Canadian infantry Division in 1943, to conduct a remembrance ceremony at a location of significance to the Canadian advance on that same date in 1943. While a number of these events will be held in ancient Sicilian village or town squares and be held in cooperation with the local authorities, others will take place in the open expanses of the island’s beautiful and rugged countryside.
CEREMONY LOCATIONS AND DATES
Ceremony dates listed in bold writing are the main commemorative events planned
July 10, Bark West—Roger Beach
On this morning in 1943 the leading battalions of 1st Canadian Infantry Division stormed onto the white sand of a beach on the western edge of Pachino Peninsula—the southernmost point of Sicily. A slaughter was feared as the Canadians had to rush from the sea fully exposed to the Italian gun positions. Fortunately, the Italians either fled or surrendered. During the landing and immediate advance inland on this day, ten Canadians were killed. This was considered remarkably light. The July 10 Remembrance Ceremony, not only recognizes the sacrifice of these Canadian lives but also those of 58 soldiers who were lost at sea when the transports St. Essylt, City of Venice and Devis were sunk by a German U-Boat on July 4–5 en route from Great Britain to Sicily.
July 11, Ispica Town Centre
The town of Ispica was the first entered by Canadian troops. It had been badly damaged by pre-invasion shelling and bombing. A young Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry lieutenant, Sydney Frost, was soon appointed as its temporary mayor. Frost renewed his relationship with the townspeople after the war. Working with Ispica townspeople, this veteran funded the 1991 erection of a memorial honouring the Canadians who fell during Operation Husky. In 2000, Frost and Ispica further unveiled additions to the monument that recognized the Italian troops and civilians of Ispica who also perished in the fighting. Today’s ceremony will either take place in Ispica’s main square or at the monument site.
July 12, Modica Central Plaza
This day found the Canadians advancing into Sicily’s fiery interior. Italian resistance was light. By mid-day, elements of various Canadian battalions were probing into Modica. In the town’s central plaza, they discovered hundreds of Italian troops waiting to surrender. Before the day was through, the general commanding the 206th Coastal Division came forward to give up. This largely marked the end of Italian resistance in the Canadian sector of the invasion.
July 13, Ragusa
The biggest enemy facing the Canadians this day was the terrific interior heat. Having lost many vehicles at sea when the transports were torpedoed, the troops advanced largely on foot. Meeting little resistance, the advance since leaving the beach had been rapid and grueling. In the area of Ragusa, the Canadian division received orders to stand down for 36 hours of badly needed rest.
July 14, Roadside fields south of San Giacomo
Taking advantage of the Canadians being gathered in various resting spots, General Bernard Montgomery visited each position and rousingly welcomed them to service in the Eighth Army. He also praised their performance in the initial phases of the invasion and cautioned them that hard fighting awaited when they finally met the German army. At this spot, 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade’s battalions gathered to hear Monty.
July 15, Southeastern outskirts, Grammichele
At approximately 1100 hours, Lieutenant Pete Ryckman led the Canadian advance into Grammichele aboard a Bren carrier of the Three Rivers Regiment scout platoon. Coming under intense fire from several German tanks and self-propelled guns, Ryckman marked their locations with tracer fire from a Bren gun and several were knocked out by the following squadrons of Canadian Shermans. Ryckman was awarded the Military Cross in this fi rst confrontation with German troops.
July 16, Heights seized by Loyal Edmonton Regiment’s ‘A’ Company
Facing heavy opposition from the moment they led the advance out of San Michele Di Ganzaria, the Eddies fought their way forward this afternoon until coming into sight of these heights guarding either flank of the road. Throwing in a major attack with two companies forward and one in support, the Eddies rousted the Germans from their defensive positions and were now within striking distance of Piazza Armerina.
July 17, Road junction facing Grotta de Calda to west
This day, 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade became embroiled in a hard battle to seize the junction that controlled both the road running north to Valguarnera and the one leading west to Enna. Both towns were important objectives. The legendary French-Canadian Royal 22e Regiment waged a drawn out gun duel with Germans for the junction, but by late evening had it in hand.
July 18, Hills adjacent to road leading to Valguarnera
The Royal Canadian and Hastings and Prince Edward regiments attempted to outflank heavy German defenses with a night move overland to take the town from the flank. Both were blocked by strong German forces and forced to conduct hasty and dangerous retreats. Attempting to stabilize the RCR front, its second-in-command, Major Billy Pope, led a patrol in an attack on three German tanks threatening their main position. Armed with a PIAT gun, Pope charged one of the tanks only to be killed by machine-gun fire.
July 19, Valguarnera main plaza
During the night of July 18–19, the 48th Highlanders slipped out from 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade’s lines to probe Valguarnera. They found the town badly damaged in the fighting, deserted by the Germans and most of the populace. The ceremony this day will commemorate the suffering of all combatants and non-combatants during the battle.
July 20, Junction on the site of Dittaino Station
This railway station served as an important rallying point for 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade’s planning of the attack on Assoro. From points in this area, the commanders were able to plan their operation. Not far north of here, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Sutcliffe was killed by German artillery fire while attempting to observe enemy defenses on the Assoro heights.
July 21, Summit of Assoro Mountain
On the night of July 20-21, the Hasty P’s conducted a stealthy march across country and scaled the eastern flank of Assoro Mountain. Catching the German defenders entirely by surprise, they were able to gain control of the summit around its imposing castle and dug in before the enemy could respond. A furious battle raged through July 22. Late in the day, the enemy broke off the engagement and retreated. Today’s ceremony will be held on the summit alongside a Canadian Battlefields Foundation monument commemorating the heroic climb by the so-called Plough Jockeys.
July 22, Leonforte Main Plaza
At the same time as the Hasty P’s moved against Assoro, the Loyal Edmonton Regiment assaulted Leonforte head on. A terrific street battle that portended the fi ghting in Ortona ensued. Cutoff, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Jefferson and a large number of Eddies were soon fighting for their lives and knew it would only be a matter of hours before they were overrun. At dawn, the PPCLI raced to the rescue by riding on several Sherman tanks into the midst of the battle. After heavy combat in the streets, the Germans were driven out and Leonforte was in Canadian hands by day’s end.
July 23, Dittaino Valley astride Raddusa-Agira Highway
While the Leonforte-Assoro battles raged, 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade advanced along the Dittaino Valley with the Carleton & York Regiment gaining this road late on July 22. In doing so, they relieved the British 231st Brigade (which was attached to 1st Canadian Infantry Division) and enabled it to advance north on the road toward the next major Canadian objective of Agira.
July 24, Nissoria
Advancing behind the largest barrage the Canadians had ever seen, the Royal Canadian Regiment was to walk from a crossroads outside of Leonforte across eight miles of rugged countryside to seize Agira. The attack initially went well, but as the troops moved through Nissoria and into the confused hill country beyond the advance bogged down and the battalion was subsequently thrown into disorder. Attempting to regain contact with his missing companies, Lieutenant Colonel Ralph Crowe went forward with only a few signalers in tow. Encountering a German machine-gun position, he charged it alone and was shot down. Communications broke down with his death and the RCR attack foundered.
July 25, High ground a mile southeast of Nissoria
During the night of July 24–25, the Hasty P’s moved across country to seize this hill. They found it heavily defended by German machine-gun posts, mortars, and three Mk III tanks that had been dug in on commanding posts. Bitter fighting ensued, but the Canadians could make no headway and were forced to withdraw. During the day, the 48th Highlanders took over the assault and were also repelled. The Hasty P’s lost 5 officers and 75 other ranks killed, wounded, or missing while the 48th suffered 51 casualties—11 of which were fatal.
July 26, Atop the Heights codenamed “Tiger”
The attempt to outflank the heights guarding the road to Agira having failed, 1st Division’s Major General Guy Simonds resorted to head-on attacks. To the north, the heights were code-named, “Lion,” those to the south, “Tiger.” While Lion fell quickly, the PPCLI attacking Tiger became disoriented as night drew in and fighting raged in the darkness even as the Seaforth Highlanders pitched in to help. Not until late morning on July 27 was Tiger considered secure.
July 27, Summit of Monte Fronte–“Grizzly”
With its 300-foot almost vertical cliffs, square-topped Monte Fronte was the cornerstone of the next defensive line—dubbed “Grizzly.” On the night of July 27–28, the Seaforths conducted a long flanking march to gain its southeastern fl ank, which the Canadians hoped would be less heavily fortified. Major Budge Bell-Irving (a future Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia) led ‘A’ Company in scaling the summit. After a night of close-quarters combat, the mountain was taken and the road to Agira lay open. The price was 2 Seaforths killed and 5 wounded compared to 75 German fatalities, unknown numbers of wounded, and 15 taken prisoner.
July 28, Monte Scalpello
While the rest of 1st Canadian Division closed on Agira, 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade had continued its advance east along the Dittaino Valley toward Catenanuova. Through July 27 and the ensuing night, the Royal 22e Regiment were locked in a tough scrap to capture and then defend the 3,000-foot massive summit of Monte Scalpello. This mountain, which loomed immediately to the north of the main road, changed hands a couple times before the Van Doos could declare it secure. Taking the mountain was a key requirement to enabling Eight Army’s Operation Hardgate (the advance from both the south and west on Adrano) to begin.
July 29, Catenanuova
The small highway and railroad junction town of Catenanuova was the final major objective for 3rd Brigade’s operations in the Dittaino Valley. It fell this day in a well-coordinated attack by the Carleton & York and West Nova Scotia Highlander regiments that entirely broke the morale of the German defenders and sent them running. German high command was so incensed they broke up the German unit and its troops through the ranks of other units. But the damage was done. A British Eighth Army division could now use the town as its start point for an advance toward Adrano along the highway running through Centuripe.
July 30, Agira Square fronting the Cathedral
On the evening of July 30, the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada’s pipe band played the retreat in this square. Hundreds of Sicilians turned out for the performance and the cathedral bells joined in. CBC reporter Peter Stursberg recorded the event. This was the first radio report from Sicily and the BBC broadcasted it worldwide.
July 31, Regalbuto
From July 30 to July 31, 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade’s battalions advanced from Agira along the highway to the outskirts of heavily defended Regalbuto in preparation for an attack on it. Previous assaults by the British 231st Brigade had failed to break into the town. The night of July 31 would see the Royal Canadian Regiment undertake the task.
August 1, Tower Hill, overlooking Regalbuto from the south
The Royal Canadian Regiment attack was focused on gaining control of heights overlooking Regalbuto to the south. Tower Hill, named after the ancient watchtower on its summit, was the final objective. The attack unraveled into chaos and ended with the battalion’s withdrawal. Ending as it did in failure, for the RCR this last day of combat in Sicily was a hard blow.
August 2, Monte San Giorgio
In a new bid to invest Regalbuto, 1st Canadian Infantry Brigade’s Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment embarked on a long swing across country past Monte Tiglio to take Monte San Giorgio and then drive the Germans back to Tower Hill and on into Regalbuto. The operation was entirely successful with the town falling quickly once the infantry moved in. To escape the heavy aerial and artillery bombardments that Regalbuto had been subjected to, most of the citizens had fled to the surrounding mountains or taken refuge in railway tunnels. As soon as the Canadians arrived the population quickly returned.
August 3, Salso River Valley
Due to the stiff resistance met at Agira and Regalbuto, 1st Division’s Major General Guy Simonds had decided to shift his main thrust to Adrano north into the Salso River Valley. The only line of communication through this rugged country was a railroad track, so initially the battalions of 2nd Canadian Infantry Brigade operated on foot with support from mule trains. At the same time, Royal Canadian Engineers frantically worked to build a road that would capitalize on an existing railway bridge to gain the north bank of the Salso and enable tanks to advance east toward Adrano. The bridge at this location opened for traffi c on the night of August 3–4.
August 4, Troina River axis with Salso
Leapfrogging the Seaforths, who had been leading the 2 CIB advance, the PPCLI drove through to the Troina River and forced a bridgehead that put them astride the Troina–Adrano Road. This set the stage for a major push for Adrano the following day.
August 5, Adrano Main Plaza
With a crossing of the Troina secure, 2 CIB’s Brigadier Chris Vokes unleashed an armoured column under Three Rivers Regiment commander Lieutenant Colonel Leslie Booth to break through to the western bank of the Simeto River into which the Salso spilled. With the Seaforth Highlanders aboard the tanks and their battalion commander riding in the turret of Booth’s Sherman, the column dashed ahead and quickly secured the objective. This paved the way for the 3rd Canadian Infantry Brigade’s Van Doos to pass through the following morning and on the night of August 6–7 probe Adrano. The patrol found the shattered city devoid of either Germans or civilians.
August 6, Monte Seggio
From this summit and those of nearby Hill 736 and Monte Revisotto, the Germans continued to threaten the flank of 1st Canadian Division. Hill 736 fell in a bloody assault by the Loyal Edmonton Regiment on August 5. But the other two mountains were not taken until the following day. After brutal climbs up the steep hillsides and short fi re fi ghts, Monte Revisotto and Monte Seggio were taken respectively by the Eddies and the PPCLI. These were the last combat actions fought by the 1st Canadian Division in Sicily.
August 7, Agira Canadian Cemetery
Over twenty-eight days the Canadians had marched 120 miles, mostly on foot, and fought a grinding, costly campaign. “No other division in the Allied force made a larger contribution to the victory,” concluded one after battle report. A total of 562 Canadians perished in Operation Husky. Most of those who fell are buried at Agira Canadian Cemetery. Here, on this last day, a remembrance ceremony will honour all the Canadians lost in Sicily.