The Invasion of Sicily


The commander of the 1st Airborne Division was Major-General Hopkinson, and when he heard, in May 1943, that a plan had been finalised for the invasion of Sicily, he visited General Montgomery at his Headquarters in the hope of securing a starring role for his men. It soon became apparent that Monty favoured not one, but three airborne operations in support of the 8th Army; the first on the eve of the invasion and the others on the days that followed. Once the British had landed on the beaches the main thrust of their advance was to be in a northerly direction along the coastal road to Messina at the north-eastern tip of Sicily; via Syracuse, Augusta and Catania. Each of these last three locations were barred by a series of rivers, and the airborne troops were to capture bridgeheads across each of these to enable the 8th Army to advance unimpeded. The operations were:


1. "Ladbroke". The capture of Syracuse and its neighbouring road and railway bridges during the night of the 9th July/10th July; the eve of the invasion.


2. "Glutton". The capture of Augusta and its road bridge during the night of the 10th/11th July.


3. "Fustian". The capture of the road bridge near Catania an unspecified number of days later, depending upon the swiftness of the advance.


The first operation would form the opening salvo of the British invasion. The 8th Army's first bound to Syracuse was blocked by the River Anapo and the Canal Mammaiabica, and the coastal road that they planned to use in their drive northwards crossed both of these waterways on two connected bridges, spanning 600 yards in total, 2 miles south-west of Syracuse. As the British advance would be severely hindered if the enemy destroyed these bridges and established defensive positions along the opposite bank, it was eminently desirable that an airborne brigade should capture them in the hours before the seaborne landings took place.


It had originally been supposed that one of the 1st Airborne Division's three parachute brigades would have this honour, but Major-General Hopkinson had other ideas. He had only been in command of the Division for two months, but was an experienced airborne officer, having previously commanded the 1st Airlanding Brigade from the time of its formation until early 1942. Hopkinson, an amateur pilot and pre-war glider enthusiast, was a fierce proponent of glider-borne warfare and he was determined that his old Brigade's first action would be in the vanguard of the invasion. He discussed the matter with Montgomery and persuaded him of the merits of gliders and the perils of paratroopers; namely that the latter are prone to being scattered during the drop, whereas glider troops land together as an intact unit ready for immediate action. Montgomery was convinced by what he had heard and, rather than run the risk of losing the bridges through a disorganised landing, he gave his backing to the 1st Airlanding Brigade. The two remaining operations, at Augusta and Catania, would be undertaken by the 2nd and 1st Parachute Brigades respectively.