This Week in History


Operation Husky: The Canadian Landing in Sicily

This story was initially published in 2010 and republished in 2013

On July 10, 1943, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division landed in Sicily with the hopes of liberating the island from Axis (German and Italian) control. Operation Husky, as the mission was called, was at that time the largest amphibious landing in history.

The landing in Pachino, Sicily
© Frank Royal. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada, PA-166751
Although Canadian soldiers had been training for the Second World War since 1939, few had actually been in combat. Operation Husky was a gamble, and the Allies hoped the Canadians, along with the British and Americans, would land without facing strong resistance. To ensure the beach landings went smoothly, the Allied air forces, of which three squadrons were Canadian, attacked German airfields on the island and attempted to disable communication towers. The attacks were so successful that only two airfields were considered operational when the Allies landed in Sicily.

The Canadians were initially tasked with securing the beach known as Bark West, located on the south coast of the island. Success during the initial landing was essential, as there would be no way for supplies and reinforcements to reach the Canadians if the beach was not first secured. Once landed, the Canadians were to capture the Pachino airfield and prepare it for Allied use.

Two soldiers of the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry look over enemy vehicles burning
© Frank Royal. Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada, PA-163670

The Canadians were able to complete their landing with relative ease, encountering little resistance from the Italian soldiers. They later discovered that most were tired of fighting and would surrender after brief exchanges of fire. Resistance from the local Sicilian population was also limited. In fact, Canadian troops were greeted with cheers and applause when they entered certain towns. Perhaps most challenging was the Sicilian climate itself, combating the hot sun, dust and dehydration each day.

Although the Italian troops had been defeated within the first week, the Germans proved to be more challenging. The Germans were scattered throughout the island, forcing the Canadians to fight in different environments, ranging from cities to mountains. The Canadians were especially adept at fighting in the mountains, gaining the nickname “Mountain Boys” from the German soldiers. The Germans believed the Canadians must have been specially trained for mountain combat. Little did they know that the Canadians had little training in this area! After nearly a month of hard fighting, the Allies forced the Germans to retreat out of Sicily and back to the Italian mainland.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of Operation Husky! The Canadian Landing in Sicily represents Canada’s contribution to the beginning of the liberation of Europe during the Second World War and was designated a national historic event in 2000.

For more information, please see Christmas at the Front, Disaster at Dieppe, and The Battle of the Atlantic - War on the Homefront

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