“Following the total defeat of the Axis in North Africa, the Allies proceeded to a coordinated preparation of the operations that would lead to the fall of Italy. Among their first actions were the rehabilitation of the large naval base of Bizerta and the cleaning up of the minefields spread across the Mediterranean transport routes.
The Bizerta naval base was lying in ruins and the port entrance had been blocked by a large number of sunken floating means. Nevertheless, until the end of May 1943, it was made possible for ships of 10,000 tons displacement to enter port. On the other hand, the fast cleaning up of the dense minefields near Malta, the Sicily Straits and in the entire area east of Cape Bone was a must. An area of some 600 miles full of shipwrecks, where adverse weather conditions were prevailing, had to be cleaned. This operation started on May 9 and lasted less than one month; the only loss was a minesweeper.
The route from Gibraltar to the Middle East was now free, as was the one towards Malta.
The invasion in Sicily that was decided at the Casablanca Conference was the largest in history -until then- amphibious operation. 160,000 men were scheduled to land, 14,000 vehicles, 600 tanks and 1,800 guns on enemy land and face enemy resistance. The initial landing was to be followed by a stream of reinforcements of large quantities of military equipment and supplies. 3,200 war and merchant marine ships of all types would participate in the operation, of which around 2,000 would be used in the first wave of the landing.
First, it was necessary to gather that large number of ships from all parts of the globe, in a period when the resources of the Allied marine were very limited and the submarine war was raging in the Atlantic. In March 1943, 120 German submarines were active and the losses in all seas had reached 108 ships of a total displacement of 627,000 tons. This number however was the maximum, as in the following months the action of these ships started to gradually decrease.
Planning an amphibious operation of that size required much time and close cooperation of the services of all 3 Weapons of both Allies. It was absolutely necessary to take care of many details. The ships had to be assigned to convoys and determine their escorts and the routes that the convoys would follow; the exact speed of each one, so that they would reach their destination at the predetermined time.
At landing time, the minesweepers had to precede the landing crafts and naval forces of cruisers and destroyers had to be assigned to protect the landing with their fire. It was necessary to take antisubmarine and antiaircraft measures and dispose sufficient air coverage in cooperation with the Air force. Finally, the whole operation had to be covered by a powerful force of battle ships to face a possible attempt of the main force of the Italian Fleet to intervene. The duties and movements of the large number of small ships of all types that are used in such operations had to be worked out in detail.
The final decision for the go ahead of the operation was taken on January 3, 1943, and by mid February the combined operation Plan had been drawn in general terms, according to which it was expected the Americans and the British to land simultaneously, west of Sicily and Southeast respectively.
The British were overestimating the power and will to resist of the opponent and considered the operation difficult and risky. They were assuming that 8 mobile divisions, of which 2 German and 5 Italian coastal, were available for the defense of the island. In addition they were some 30 airports in Sicily. Because of these difficulties, they were long debates between the Allied Headquarters before adopting the final Plan. The first that was drawn wasn’t approved by General Alexander, the Superior Commander of the expeditionary Corps (under Commander in Chief Eisenhower), as he considered dangerous the dispersion of forces because of the expected serious resistance.
On the other hand, Admiral Cunningham was of the opinion that dispersion was necessary in amphibious operations, while Tedder, the Commander in Chief of the British Air forces, considered necessary the seizure of the important air base in the south coast of Sicily.
It was finally decided that the Americans would land on the southeast coast, west of the British. Thus, the British would initially dispose as supply ports Syracuse and Augusta –planned to be seized from the start-, while the Americans would only have at their disposal only the small port of Licata, of a daily throughput of only 600 tons that was completely insufficient. This matter wasn’t of any special worry to them; they were counting on the capabilities of their new landing means to land supplies on open shores and on the probability that at the time of landing weather conditions wouldn’t be adverse.
Even if this last forecast didn’t materialize, in reality they brightly succeeded to land troops and supplies on an open shore, under adverse weather conditions. Besides, in the span of only 12 days since landing on July 10, 1943, General Patton, the Commander of the 7th American Army, succeeded to seize the port of Palermo and the southeastern airports of the island.
Much time was lost nevertheless during these long discussions and only on May 12 the general axes of the plan were approved. Next however, in the just 2 months till landing day, they succeeded to draw detailed plans that proved successful when they were applied.
In the meantime, even if the large ships of the Italian Navy were immobilized in northern ports, the Allies to be secured from any probability that they would be used, they proceeded to intensive air attacks against them.
In April the heavy cruiser RN TRIESTE sunk and the RN GORIZIA suffered heavy damages, that haven’t been possible to repair till the Italian armistice. The heavy battleships anchored in La Spezia were also fiercely bombed, but were not damaged. The naval base was however almost destroyed and 1 destroyer was sunk. In May, the naval base of Cagliari was ruined and 20 small units of the Navy were sunk in it.
In general, all the southern Italian ports -to the smallest ones- were bombed to such extents that at the end of May were more or less unusable. In one of them the cruiser RN BARI was sunk. On June 5, during the bombing of La Spezia, the battleships RN LITTORIO and RN ROMA were lightly damaged and the RN VITTORIO VENETO damaged more seriously was sent for repairs to Genova, because the base of La Spezia did not dispose repair facilities any more.”