Fascist Italy entered the war in 1940 when its troops advanced into Egypt. The Italians were expanding their empire in the Mediterranean. That was the plan at least, but Britain was not defeated. Defeating Italy may have only been a subsidiary military objective, but for the Allies in the West the Mediterranean, including parts of North Africa, was their only notable front up to 1943.
The Allies first had to win the North Africa Campaign. That was where Italy had stationed most of its army, and it seemed that the campaign might soon be over after Operation Compass. The surrender of the Tenth Army in Libya, as well as further defeats in the Balkans, convinced Germany to provide more reinforcements. The Axis established the Afrika Korps, which combined Nazi and Italian troops, and this ensured that the campaign was far from over.
To win the North Africa Campaign, Britain and the USA had to cut the Afrika Korps' supply line as much as possible. That supply line ran through the Mediterranean Sea, so the Allies targeted convoys. The Allies also had supply routes in the Mediterranean, making naval and air superiority there all the more essential to defeat Italy.
Two battles kept the Royal Navy ahead of the Regia Marina in the Mediterranean Sea. Firstly, Britain scored a great victory at Taranto in 1940. With an aircraft carrier the Royal Navy bombed Italian battleships in the port, which put three of them out of action.
Better came in 1941 when Britain's navy intercepted Regia Marina warships off Cape Matapan. The Italian fleet was targeting a Greek-bound convoy, but before it could sink those ships it had to defeat a Royal Navy fleet first. Without adequate air cover, the enemy ships had little chance against the British who had a supporting aircraft carrier. Italy lost two destroyers and three cruisers during the battle.Credit: The image is licensed under public domain.
Those naval victories undoubtedly decided the Battle of the Mediterranean, and the Regia Marina remained relatively inactive afterwards. However, only after they defeated the Siege of Malta, in late 1942, were Britain and the USA really on course for victory in the campaign. The Germans and Italians lost hundreds of aircraft as they targeted Allied ports and RAF bases in Malta. Had the siege been maintained, the Axis might have been able to invade and occupy Malta in the Eastern Mediterranean.
As the Axis could not take Malta, Rommel's supply line was further eroded and oil was in increasingly short supply for the Afrika Korps. This despite winning the Battle of Gazala and taking Tobruk, and by 1943 the Allies had all but won the campaign after victory at El Alamein. Allied reinforcements flooded into Africa, and the last remnants of the Italian and German forces surrendered in Tunisia.
The Allies had won in Africa, but the Italians were not about to open peace talks so long as Germany remained undefeated. To defeat Italy in 1943, the Allies had to invade. With the Axis defeated in the Mediterranean Sea, the path was clear for an amphibious landing in Sicily.
There was a wider political context to the operation. Aside from the military objective of taking Sicily and defeating Italy, it would also be a chance to get more of a foothold in Europe. In 1943, most of the German army was on the Eastern Front in the USSR. The Russians called for a new second front in Europe, especially as the Wehrmacht began a renewed advance toward Kursk.
A new front in Europe was another key factor behind Operation Husky. Then Britain and the USA expected the Reich to station reinforcements in Italy. Germany did send further reinforcements to Italy after the operation as the Allies advanced northwards. Thousands of Wehrmacht troops were also in Sicily before the Allied soldiers landed.
Deception was a part of the operation. This ensured the Italians and Germans were not sure where they would land for Operation Husky. Sardinia and Greece were two other potential targets for an invasion, and Allied hoaxes made it seem that they were more likely targets.
The operation included the British, American and Canadian armies, each of which had separate landing points in the east and west of Sicily. The amphibious landing was also supported from the air with airborne paratrooper divisions.
While the weather was not ideal the operation went ahead, and the Allies still secured the beachheads in the south of Sicily regardless of Italian and German attacks. Britain and the USA took the port of Syracuse along with Pachino airfield. Hereafter, the Allied armies made a northward advance towards the more mountainous terrain in the northeast.
It was there that some of the more notable battles emerged. The Caronia Mountains and Mount Etna in the northeast were mountainous terrains where the Germans established the Etna Line. During the Battle of Troina, U.S. troops broke the Etna Line, which allowed for further advances in Sicily.
Although Sicily was seemingly lost, the Nazis' delaying tactics were effective enough to provide the time required for an evacuation. Thousands of Axis troops were able to withdraw from Messina. These soldiers resumed the Italian Campaign after the Allies began landing on the boot of Italy.
However, despite the enemy's withdrawal, Operation Husky had still fulfilled its objectives. Britain and the USA had taken Sicily, and hundreds of thousands of Italian soldiers surrendered.
The loss of Sicily ensured Italy's defeat. After losing Sicily, the Italian king dismissed Mussolini and began peace talks. It was a separate armistice as the Nazis still had a notable military presence in Italy, and with those divisions the campaign continued beyond 1943.
Nevertheless, the Axis was still crumbling. Had it not been for German military support, Britain and the USA would probably have defeated the Italians somewhat sooner. Victories at Libya, Taranto, Cape Matapan, Malta, El Alamein and Sicily were decisive enough to defeat Italy.