Turning Point – 1943

The Army Sicily and Italy

The Italian Campaign – Beginnings in Sicily

Map of the Canadian advances in eastern Sicily during 1943

Caption: Map of the Canadian advances in eastern Sicily during 1943

From 1942 on, the Germans were on the retreat in North Africa. In 1943 the Allies scored points everywhere. The Canadian army took part in the landing in Sicily in July 1943 and throughout the Italian campaign until February 1945. Curiously, this effort, which in terms of the quantity of troops is almost comparable to the campaign in France after 6 June 1944, has gone virtually unnoticed. Fifty years later, on 1 June 1994, Le Figaro would refer to the French, American and British presence in Italy but completely overlook the Canadian Army Corps. Yet many a Franco-Canadian military link was forged on this Mediterranean battleground.

The Canadians who had remained in England were unhappy with the army's long wait there. They were jealous of the success and publicity surrounding the efforts of other Commonwealth troops. The Canadian government, meanwhile, was sensitive to public opinion and to charges that it feared the political consequences of too much bloodletting among its soldiery. In 1914-18 volunteers had been thrown into the fray barely six months after reaching England, and a number of officers in the 1st Canadian Army, remembering battles fought a quarter of a century earlier, keenly resented their lengthy guard duty in the United Kingdom. The critics would not let up, even when told that many battles remained to be fought before war's end and that the morale of the troops was good, or that the commander in chief was going easy on the Canadian soldiers so that they could lead an Allied offensive across the Channel. It would be logical, the critics retorted, to have the Canadians who would eventually be opening the second front in France acquire some combat experience. In the end, it was probably less for military than political reasons that the government insisted on the 1st Canadian Infantry Division participating in the attack on Sicily in July 1943.

Sicily thus became the first important Canadian battleground in the Second World War. On 8 July 1943 the news release announcing the Allied landing did not mention Canada's participation, but the oversight was rectified the next day. The Canadian campaign under Major-General G.G. Simonds was not a massive one compared to those that would follow in Italy and France, but the terrain was hilly and the resistance sometimes stubborn. The Canadians, flanked by British and American troops on their right and left, respectively, advanced in the dust on twisting, mine-laden roads. At Grammichele they encountered some weak resistance. After mid-July, and despite the defensive advantages the mountains provided to the towns of Leonforte and Assoro, they fell too. Around Agira the Germans fought fiercely and had to be driven out of their positions. By early August it could be said that the way was open to wind up the Sicilian campaign. On the 6th the Canadians were placed in reserve. They took no part in the final battles culminating in the 16 August capture of Catania that put an end to enemy resistance on the island.

Additional Images

Corporal, Royal 22e Régiment, Italy, 1943