The Failure of Joint Integration During the 1943 Sicily Campaign

The Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation HUSKY, was the first combined amphibious invasion of Axis territory involving both British and U.S. forces. Poor planning and a weak operational command structure resulted in mediocre command and control of the air, land, and sea components throughout the operation. If measured by current U.S. joint doctrine, the integration of joint functions by the Allies during the Sicily Campaign was below par, leading to missed opportunities and increased costs. While Operation HUSKY still resulted in the Allied conquest of Sicily, the failures of the Allies in command and control and joint function integration during the campaign would result in greater combat losses than necessary and diminished returns during the Sicily invasion, as well as substandard operations on the Italian peninsula. The failures of integration during the HUSKY campaign illustrate why mission command and joint operations are critical components of current U.S. defense doctrine.

At the conclusion of the Casablanca conference in January 1943, the Allies decided to invade Sicily. British and American leaders were divided over this decision; the Americans wanted to focus on a cross-channel invasion of France targeting Germany whereas the British preferred to operate on the periphery of Axis-held territory.[1] British planners believed there was an insufficient logistics network and capacity on the Allied side to support an invasion of France in 1943, and they were also convinced that peripheral operations combined with continued pressure on the Eastern front would draw German forces away from France.[2] British planners believed this strategy would increase the chances of a successful Allied invasion of the European continent by 1944. The commitment by the British to invade France in 1944 served as the final impetus and persuaded reluctant U.S. generals to invade Sicily in 1943.[3]

  Omar Bradley and George Patton make plans for the final drive on Messina, Sicily.

Omar Bradley and George Patton make plans for the final drive on Messina, Sicily.

Command and control at the operational level was deficient during Operation HUSKY. This deficit is most pronounced when measured against the tenets of mission command as defined in current joint doctrine. The tenets of mission command are commander’s intent, mutual trust, and understanding.[4] These tenets can enable disciplined initiative by subordinates in order to achieve the commander’s objectives without micromanagement by the commander. The failure to utilize appropriate command and control at the operational level during the Sicily Campaign resulted in a much longer and more costly campaign than necessary to seize the island and clear Axis forces from the territory.

Commander’s intent is an expression of the purpose of the operation, and the desired military end state.[5] During the planning for Operation HUSKY, neither the Supreme Allied commander, U.S. General Dwight D. Eisenhower, nor the deputy commander (and land component commander) British General Sir Harold Alexander, produced an overall strategy or vision for how the campaign was to unfold.[6] Thus, the air, land, and sea component staffs never attempted to coordinate their subsequent plans to ensure all efforts focused on a singular set of goals beyond simply landing ashore and engaging with Axis forces. As the army group commander, General Alexander also failed to create detailed plans for the land component beyond the initial landings.[7] This failure resulted in unsynchronized operations for the duration of the campaign between the two field armies under his command.

Understanding is the possession of the insight and foresight needed to make effective decisions, manage risk, and consider the consequences of decisions.[8]

Due to his failure to develop and effectively communicate his intent, the lack of understanding between General Eisenhower’s principal subordinates led to poor decision-making and adverse consequences for the Allies. For instance, the inability of the air and maritime components to close the straits of Messina allowed the Axis powers to evacuate forces from Sicily that would later oppose the Allies on the Italian mainland.[9] General Alexander’s prioritization of employing British land forces against the Germans resulted in a diversion of U.S. forces towards the capture of Palermo, which did nothing to hasten the defeat of Axis forces on the island.[10]

The Allies planned conservatively in Sicily, unaware that the majority of Axis forces were incapable of serious resistance.

There was a clear lack of mutual trust between the U.S. and British operational commanders during Operation HUSKY. Trust is the reliance on or faith in the ability or integrity of a person or thing to perform a task or function.[11] General Alexander had little confidence in the ability of the American ground forces to effectively combat the Axis forces.[12] This was in spite of the evidence of improved U.S. combat capabilities in the closing months of the Tunisian campaign.[13] The assignment of U.S. forces to a subordinate role in the initial stages of the invasion, and the failure of General Alexander to effectively utilize U.S. ground forces in the drive to capture Messina, were detrimental to the campaign and can be directly attributed to Alexander’s lack of trust in the American field army.

  M4 Sherman tanks being loaded onto LSTs for Operation Husky, Pêcherie, Bizerte, Tunisia.

M4 Sherman tanks being loaded onto LSTs for Operation Husky, Pêcherie, Bizerte, Tunisia.

The poor integration of the joint functions at the operational level during Operation HUSKY resulted in a longer and more costly campaign to seize Sicily. Integration is the arrangement of military forces and their actions to create a force that operates by engaging as a whole.[14] Inadequate integration of joint functions can undermine the cohesion, effectiveness, and the adaptability of the force.[15] Allied failures in the integration of movement and maneuver with intelligence are indicative of the lack of functional integration of the invasion forces, resulting in failures in cohesion and effectiveness. These failures also inhibited the Allied ability to adapt to changing circumstances and take advantage of the resulting opportunities to decisively end the campaign in a manner that would have eliminated the Axis forces rather than allow them to escape Sicily.

...the Axis was able to evacuate over 100,000 men and 10,000 vehicles from Sicily during the first seventeen days in August 1943.

Movement and maneuver encompass the disposition of joint forces to conduct operations by securing positional advantages before or during execution.[16] Effective use of the principles of movement and maneuver allow a commander to best utilize the geographic and environmental conditions of the theater of operations to defeat the enemy. Intelligence provides information that allows a commander to understand the operational environment.[17] Movement and maneuver also enable assessments that allow a commander and subordinates to anticipate changes to the environment and develop courses of action that best leverage those changes.

The Allies planned conservatively in Sicily, unaware that the majority of Axis forces were incapable of serious resistance.[18] The subsequent Allied maneuver concept failed to account for the poor condition of Italian troops in Sicily, the scattered dispositions of their forces, or the reluctance of the Italian soldiers and civilians towards continuing the war. A more holistic appreciation and understanding of the intelligence regarding the forces in Sicily may have induced the Allies to accept more risk in their movement and maneuvers. Landings in both Syracuse and Palermo, or in Syracuse with a simultaneous landing in Italy to capture ports opposite of Messina, could have been alternative, more risk-accepting options. Either choice would have increased the chance of trapping the Axis forces in Sicily, and accelerated the German withdrawal from Italy.

  M4A1 Sherman tank of the 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division lands during Operation Husky.

M4A1 Sherman tank of the 67th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division lands during Operation Husky.

Axis forces began evacuating Sicily on 8 August 1943, with Allied commanders concluding by 9 August that an evacuation of the island was underway.[19] The lack of functional integration meant there was no movement and maneuver effort (which by necessity would probably have focused on air and naval capabilities) to block the sea evacuation or destroy the port and naval facilities at Messina or Reggio (the port in Italy across from Messina).[20] General Eisenhower and his staff did not effectively utilize the information about the evacuation in their planning or execution of operations. Thus, the component commanders failed to take advantage of the opportunity. One consequence of this lack of integration within the Allied camp was that the Axis was able to evacuate over 100,000 men and 10,000 vehicles from Sicily during the first seventeen days in August 1943.[21]

The failure to integrate joint functions during the Sicily invasion meant the inability of the joint force to engage as a whole, fully applying combat power to points of enemy vulnerability...

The deficiency of Allied command and control during Operation HUSKY is also notable when assessed against the mission command tenets of commander’s intent, mutual trust, and understanding. This failure led to an inability to mass capabilities against critical enemy vulnerabilities, and quickly end the campaign. The lack of intent allowed the component commanders to wage disparate efforts instead of a unified action. The absence of trust between British and U.S. ground commanders meant the initial relegation of U.S. ground forces to secondary roles, reducing combat effectiveness within the land component. Without the insight provided by understanding of the senior commander’s vision for the operation, the Allied subordinate commanders made poor decisions that prolonged the campaign and enabled the escape of Axis forces.

The failure to integrate joint functions during the Sicily invasion meant the inability of the joint force to engage as a whole, fully applying combat power to points of enemy vulnerability. The lack of integration of intelligence with movement and maneuver is but one example of how the Allies were hamstrung by poor integration during Operation HUSKY. A better grasp and understanding of the intelligence on Axis forces may have motivated maneuver commanders to assume more risk and reap greater rewards from the campaign. The failure of the Allies to use the knowledge of Axis forces evacuating from Messina as the impetus for an all-out effort to block the straits demonstrates the disjointed nature of operations resulting from integration failures.

General Eisenhower and the Allied command team learned from the shortcomings of the Sicily campaign, resulting in more synchronized and effective operations during the invasion of France in 1944.[22] The successful landings and eventual breakout from the beachhead were due to the coordination of air, land, and sea efforts, as well as an understanding by the component commanders of General Eisenhower’s intent. The lessons gleaned from the Allied efforts to conquer Sicily enabled success in Normandy, and validate the current U.S. doctrinal emphasis on mission command and joint function integration for combined operations. 


Alexander Sharpe is an officer in the California Army National Guard. He recently completed a posting at the Land Forces Academy in L’viv, Ukraine, where he served as the Senior Maneuver Doctrine and Tactics Advisor. The views expressed are the author's alone and do not represent the official position of the U.S. Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.


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Header image: An African-American combat patrol advances three miles north of Lucca, Italy, furthermost point occupied by American troops during Operation Husky | Wikimedia Commons


Notes:

[1] Andrew Birtle, Sicily, The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II, CMH Pub 72-16, (Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 2004), 2.

[2] Andrew Roberts, Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans won the War in the West, 1941-1945 (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2009), 93.

[3] Albert Garland & Howard Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, CMH Pub 6-2, (Washington, DC: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1965), 22.

[4] Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mission Command White Paper (Washington, DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 3 April 2012), 5.

[5] Joint Staff, Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations (Washington DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 11 AUG 2011), II-2.

[6] Jon Swanson, Operation Husky, The Campaign in Sicily, Individual Study Project (Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 1992), 14.

[7] Andrew Birtle, Sicily, The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II, CMH Pub 72-16, 4.

[8] Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mission Command White Paper, 5.

[9] Albert Garland & Howard Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, CMH Pub 6-2, 411.

[10] Jon Swanson, Operation Husky, The Campaign in Sicily, 42.

[11] Merriam Webster Dictionary New Edition (Springfield, MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc., January 1, 2016), 722.

[12] Albert Garland & Howard Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, CMH Pub 6-2, 211.

[13] Jon Swanson, Operation Husky, The Campaign in Sicily, 10.

[14] U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, Joint Publication 1 (Washington, DC: U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 25 March 2013), GL-8.

[15] Ibid, I-18.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Andrew Birtle, Sicily, The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II, CMH Pub 72-16, 5.

[19] Albert Garland & Howard Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, CMH Pub 6-2, 374.

[20] James Prescott, What Operational Level of War Lesson can be learned from the Allied Invasion of Sicily? (Newport, RI: U.S. Naval War College, 1994), 16.

[21] Andrew Birtle, Sicily, The U.S. Army Campaigns of World War II, CMH Pub 72-16, 13.

[22] Albert Norman, Operation Overlord, Design and Reality: The Allied Invasion of Europe, Pickle Publishing, 7.