Speed was essential to prevent the consolidation of Italian and German defences facing a rapid pincer movement launched from the west and south east immediately after the amphibious landings. Key bridges and ports were to be captured by airborne assault.
Overnight on the 9th/10th July 1943, 1st Air Landing Brigade’s 2,000 soldiers were towed in over 144 gliders by 109 American C-47 Dakotas and 35 RAF tugs. Stormy weather and devastating fire from both the enemy and the allied navies dispersed the fly-in, which was conducted by inexperienced American air crews. 78 gliders landed in the sea while the remainder crash-landed across miles of rugged Sicilian countryside.
Grimly determined isolated groups continued with the mission. One platoon of the South Staffords captured the Ponte Grande bridge which was held, reinforced by stragglers, until the following day. German troops pushed them off but sea-borne troops arrived within an hour to recapture it, having landed virtually unopposed behind a distracted enemy.
The Primosole bridge assaulted by 1st Parachute Brigade was the only crossing point facilitating an advance to the north by the sea borne invasion force near the coast. The 113 parachute aircraft and 16 gliders carrying the 1,856 men in the brigade group were hit hard again by enemy and friendly fire. Inexperienced air crew became disorientated and only a quarter of the force dropped accurately.
The bridge was captured but pressed hard on three sides by the counter-attacking German 4th Fallschirmjäger Brigade and other forces. A three day battle developed with success ebbing and flowing as German infantry and tank attacks battered the defenders until the Eighth Army vanguard arrived and finally secured the objective.
Airborne initiative, aggression and resourcefulness enabled the mission to be achieved despite discouraging initial set-backs.
Battle Honour Conferred: