Part 4: Dad’s introduction of the D-day invasion of Sicily, and his experiences with and his views on General Patton
From: Glen Palecek
This story is Dad’s account of the D-day invasion of Sicily starting on July 10, 1943, which, in terms of numbers of troops, was, and still is, the biggest invasion in world history. While the invasion of Normandy was massive on any scale, landing five divisions, the invasion of Sicily landed eight. The eight divisions included almost 500,000 men, about half of whom were American and half British. I was surprised this invasion was so big in Dad’s notes, so I did a little fact checking and confirmed it. I do agree that the overall scope of the Normandy invasion was bigger, involving 7,000 ships (compared with 3,000 at Sicily). I only compare the two invasions to show you the size and importance of the beachhead at Sicily. Dad was also part of the beachheads at Salerno and Anzio, which were also massive on any scale. Dad wrote about all of these invasions, as you will see later in this series.
Sadly, the general put in charge of the American troops in Sicily was General George S. Patton Jr., while General Montgomery was in charge of the British troops. Both men wanted the glory of victory for themselves and, in Patton’s case at least, many American lives were sacrificed needlessly in a mad dash to conquer Sicily, which the troops did in only 39 days. Even Patton supporters recognize that he missed a golden opportunity to trap the Germans on the island. Thankfully, after the conquest of Sicily, Patton was temporarily relieved of his command. Dad went on to serve under many generals, but none as ruthless as Patton.
Because a movie was made about Patton, most people today think he was a hero and fought alongside his men. None of this is true as witnessed by Dad. By the time Patton arrived in Sicily, after the beachhead was secure, the soldiers had already constructed pontoon-style bridges and Patton was simply driven onto the island. Only after the front lines were secure was Patton driven in a jeep to check on them. My dad remembers some German shells landing some distance away. Patton’s jeep immediately turned around and high-tailed it back to the safety of the rear. This did not stop Patton from sending suicide squads of ground troops against German machine guns and artillery, not waiting for the Allied bombers, which always sent the Germans in retreat. Dad was put on one of these suicide squads, but his life was spared because the Allied bombers came in time.
While Dad was in North Africa, he witnessed a fiery speech by Patton where the general worked the troops into a frenzy and ordered that all Germans should be shot and none taken prisoner. Not all American troops were taken in by Patton’s words. Dad, his best friend, Aubrey Elam, and several others sat in numb silence. Dad and Aubrey had come forward for Christ together before they left the U.S. Now, they wondered if they would be forced to commit murder. The shocking consequences of Patton’s orders will come to light later in this series, as well as Dad’s valiant efforts to stop them.
Next time, I’ll submit, in Dad’s own words, his view of the pre-bombardment of Sicily from the ship’s lookout and his description of the landing boats and what it was like on them.
I would like to close this part of the series with a tribute to the Minnesota National Guard. My dad was part of the 45th Division, which had its base with the Oklahoma National Guard, but was re-enforced with soldiers, like Dad, from all over the country. Dad’s Thunderbird Division is credited with 511 days of actual combat in World War II’s European Theater. Only one division had more days in combat (519), and that was the one from Minnesota. Soldiers from Minnesota certainly contributed more than their fair share to the war effort. But, that is not my dad’s story, and I know nothing about it. I think Winona Post readers would be very interested in anything anyone knows about the brave soldiers from the Winona area who fought in the war. If you have such a story, I encourage you to contribute it.