On the 9th of July, 1943, Allied forces launched ‘Operation Husky’ which was the Allied invasion of Sicily and the precursor of the D-Day invasion that would launch a year later. The Allies saw Italy as the ‘soft underbelly’ of Europe and commenced an invasion that saw a combined effort of army, naval & air forces to secure beachheads in Sicily with the objective of securing the island and beginning the Italian campaign. 

While D-Day (Operation Overlord) is the more famous Allied invasion of Europe, Operation Husky was a huge contributing factor in the eventual defeat of the Axis forces. It lead to the regime of Benito Mussolini collapsing, it caused Adolf Hitler to cancel the major German offensive at Kursk after only a week (in the Eastern Front against the Soviet Union) and re-route troops to Italy and it overall weakened the Axis war machine. Italian forces collapsed and German troops had to hold Italy and Eastern Europe: one fifth of the German army was rerouted from the East to Southern Europe where they would remain for the rest of the war. 

Some of the planning for Operation Overlord was conducted in Largs. Operation Husky also has an Ayrshire connection as Troon was used as the staging and training area for the invasion. Despite Allied control of North African and Middle Eastern naval bases, it was decided that some of the invasion forces would launch directly from Troon due to the easier logistics and as a result Troon and the surrounding area saw the arrival of troops from the UK, Canada and the USA. Another reason Troon was chosen was the somewhat similar coastline to Sicily in the surrounding area and practice invasion drills were conducted on the Ayrshire coast. 

The invasion commenced around midnight of the 9th/10th of July when British and American airborne troops landed on the island. The weather was exceedingly poor and almost caused the cancellation of the invasion. The U.S paratroopers were scattered across the island due to strong 45mph winds and British glider troops were knocked off course with over 200 drowning in the sea.  

Chaos ensued on the island as the Axis forces were caught completely off-guard. Not only did they suspect that no one would attempt an invasion in such bad weather, but prior to the invasion, British Intelligence had undertaken ‘Operation Mincemeat’ which saw the body of a homeless man who had committed suicide being dressed as a Royal Marines officer and allowed to drift ashore in Spain. Carrying documents pointing to an Allied invasion of Sardinia and Greece, the Germans believed this and diverted troops to guard them, weakening the forces on Sicily. 

Overwhelmed by the seaborne invasion that launched in support of the airborne troops, the Axis forces withdrew to mainland Italy. The invasion was costly, seeing almost 25,000 Allied casualties but it lead to the collapse of the Italian Government and served as a vital learning operation for the eventual invasion of France.