“Before undertaking the landing in Sicily, the Allies had decided that it was advisable to seize the small island Pantelleria, 150 miles northwest of Malta. They were under the impression that the island was a naval fortress with very strong fortification, a small Gibraltar, which it would be impossible to seize with direct attack, without previous preparation with intensive bombings from air and sea that would destroy the defensive installations.
In reality they were 7 coastal gun batteries and 15 antiaircraft, but in positions that were not protected and with old equipment. The small harbor was only suitable for small naval units. There was also a small airport of doubtful usefulness for the Axis in that stage of operations, but that could be used by the fighters of the Allies to provide from there coverage over certain coasts of Sicily.
The island’s garrison numbered 7,000 men and there was a civilian population of 10,000; its presence however complicated the resistance situation, because there was an important lack of food, following the naval blockade of the Allies. There was also a very important shortage of water that was transported by water boats from Sicily. The most needed supplies were sent with 3 submarines, one of which sunk in such mission, as well as with small merchant ships that succeeded to slip through the enemy blockade.
The enemy bombings started in the beginning of May and reached an extreme intensity towards the end of that month; as a result almost all of the defensive installations and most of the populations’ homes were destroyed. The 3 existing wells were destroyed with the bombings and only few water tanks remained, while a water boat and small quantities of water by air plane succeeded to arrive. The civil population, terrorized, had assembled in the narrow spaces of underground gunpowder magazines and military installations; their contact with the military personnel negatively influenced the moral of the latter. A German military unit of about 1,000 men that was present on the island left at the end of May. The friendly air force wasn’t showing up over the island, because the Axis air planes that were approaching were shot down by the enemy’s. Finally, bombings from the sea completed the destruction of the gun batteries.
From June 5 and onwards, the Allies started inviting the garrison to surrender; they were receiving no answer. After however a particularly violent air bombing, when only 2 antiaircraft guns remained, water deposits for 4 days and the population’s moral reached a very low point, the Admiral Commander of the island ask and received permission on June 9, to stop resistance. The island of seized by the Allies on June 11, 1943.
Admiral Cunningham doesn’t accept as exact reason for the surrender the water shortage and is of the opinion that, after their defeat in Tunisia, Italians were not willing to get on with the war.
Anyhow, the not timely evacuation of the civilian population of the island was a mistake. The Navy had proposed it in time, but the civil leadership didn’t agree, fearing the adverse influence that the measure could have, especially to the population of Sicily.
After the fall of Pantelleria, the Allies seized, almost without resistance, the two small islands Lampedusa and Linosa that disposed very limited means of defense.”