The Invasion of Sicily and Italy, an account by Capt. L.G. Alexander (Sept. 4-6, 1943)

Note: These entries come from an extended account Doc Alexander wrote of the invasion of both Sicily and Italy, and the occupation of both. I don’t know when he wrote this account, but the entries are more extensive than his regular journals. I didn’t include this account for Sicily during what would have been the 70th anniversary of the Sicilian campaign as I was focused on my family during my sister’s short battle with cancer. I will include the extended account alongside the daily journal entries from here through to November 11 when the extended account ends.

Invasion of Italy Sept. 4/43
At 5:30 p.m., we weighed anchor from the beaches of Sicily and sailed slowly up the Straits of Messina, enjoying the scenery, the picturesque villages perched high on the hills and the ships returning for reloading. We sailed for twenty five miles hugging the Sicilian Coast and the turned sharply eastwards towards the rapidly approaching shores of the south Italy. We cooked supper on deck, and sat and smoked as we drew in to the stretch of beach just north of the City of Reggio, and in the darkness made a perfectly peaceful landing, not even disturbed by enemy aircraft. We proceeded to a square in the outskirts of the Town, badly battered, but still standing and there we bedded down for the night. Our landing was completed, we were all ashore – and now confronting us was the occupation of a country which would begin at once.

The Occupation of Italy

We we arose in the morning of Sept. 5 we immediately invaded the deserted houses in quest of souvenirs, many of which were attained. Men came out in ladies hats, mens straw hats, hard hats – some carrying umbrellas and some wearing Italian soldiers caps. YOu would have thought it was a picnic rather than a war.

A view down the length of a street bordered by three-storey, typically Italian looking buildings. In the left foreground a British soldier is leaning into the damaged window of a building, while another British soldier is carrying some loot away from the building in the right foreground. In the middle ground to the left, four civilians are carrying large sacks of loot on their backs and are heading left around the street corner. © IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3453)

A view down the length of a street bordered by three-storey, typically Italian looking buildings. In the left foreground a British soldier is leaning into the damaged window of a building, while another British soldier is carrying some loot away from the building in the right foreground. In the middle ground to the left, four civilians are carrying large sacks of loot on their backs and are heading left around the street corner.
© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 3453)

About 8 a.m. We started through the Town to join the Echelon which had landed ahead of us and were waiting for us in harbour. The streets were lined by thousands of civilians, neither enthusiastic nor hostile – just curious, the shops were closed and everywhere the Carabineiri were on guard and prisoners were walking aimlessly – not being bothered about. We reached our harbour after passing thru the main part of Reggio – it had been bombed in the outskirts, but the heart of the City was intact and very beautiful. Lovely big apartment homes.

Our harbour was on the edge of the Airport, and we were mixed in with an English A.A. Btty. Everywhere you look, Italians are coming in by thousands, the officers in beautiful uniforms and the men a haggard looking bunch in their dull blue-gray uniforms. The A.A. Btty is notified not to fire on any Italian plan flying over the City, as Envoys will be landing on Reggio Airport today. This gives rise to great speculation and we all believe that Italy will soon be out of the war.

One of our ambulances and a motorcycle have been sent to Capt. Hunter who has gone with “A” Squadron into the hills above the City. All day long we attend to wounded and sick Italians – one little boy, terribly burned by a bomb, and several who had been wounded both by German planes and our own.

On Sept. 6/43 – We are notified that a flying column is going to set out south and follow the coast road as far as possible, and at any rate as far as Locri – so that the infantry can cut across from the West coast by the one road through the mountains and thus cut off the big toe of Italy. One company of Carleton Yorks Infantry, one Company of Saskatoon M.G., one Company 1st Div. Recce, 1 Section of Engineers, two troops of Calgary Tanks, and two tanks of H.Q. Squad will make up the force, under the command of Col. Neurotsos. Stoney Richardson will command the two troops of “B” Squadron Tanks, and I will be the medical man in the column.

 A line of Sherman tanks and their crews await the order to mount up and advance, September 1943. © IWM (NA 7250)


A line of Sherman tanks and their crews await the order to mount up and advance, September 1943.
© IWM (NA 7250)

I decide to take with me, my jeep driver, one orderly, my Sgt. As Motorcycle O.R. And one light ambulance. I leave Bert and Jim with the 15 cwt to look after the remainder of “B” Squadron and leave the Section, Larry plus staff to look after “A” Echelon. Both are ordered to be able to come to me at a moments notice if I need them. At 6 p.m. We swart and pass by the airport, then south on a beautiful road, bordering the Mediterranean. The scenery is lovely, and at times we climb to a tremendous height and other times are at sea level.

We pass through village after village, not very clean, but cleaner than Sicily; we soon realize the poorer part of Italy is in the south. The people are at first curious, then as we pass farther along, become very interested and later becoming enthusiastic and happy, giving us wonderful welcomes, throwing flowers and grapes to me – waving flags and cheering and clapping their hands. Practically every town has a large white flag flying. We stop for the night in an orchard on the southern tip of Italy about six miles from Melito. A column never travels after dark and is always ready to travel at the break of dawn. First the recce in their Bren Gun Carriers, move carefully along looking for enemy, followed closely by the tanks. Our jeep rides in the center of the column of tanks, but has priority to go anywhere at my discretion. H.Q. Tanks bring up the rear with the Engineers, Artillery and Infantry – all lorry borne.

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About Rob Alexander

I am a writer, photographer and historian and the author of The History of Canmore, published by Summerthought Publishing of Banff, AB.

2 responses to “The Invasion of Sicily and Italy, an account by Capt. L.G. Alexander (Sept. 4-6, 1943)”

  1. Gerald says :

    Warfare is a fascinating subject. Despite the dubious morality of using violence to achieve personal or political aims. It remains that conflict has been used to do just that throughout recorded history.

    Your article is very well done, a good read.

    • Rob Alexander says :

      Thank you Gerald. I appreciate it. And your right on all counts, warfare is a fascinating subject, despite the morality of it. My fascination lies in the ability of people to stand fast in awful circumstances. The human spirit is a remarkable thing. Cheers.

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