Leadgate Community History Club


The Fall of North Africa - Sicily and the Italian Campaign

Major Events 1943

Victory in North Africa

The Battle of Mareth

The battle of the Mareth Line  (20-26 March 1943) was the Eighth Army's last major setpiece battle in North Africa, and saw Montgomery force the Germans and Italians to retreat from their last significant defensive position in southern Tunisia. The battle also showed that Montgomery could be a flexible commander - after his initial plan for a breakthrough on the coastal front failed, he turned his attention to a wide outflanking movement that forced the Axis troops to retreat. Operation Pugalist  The 50th Infantry Division  attack began at 2145 hours on 20 March with an artillery bombardment. The infantry then had to move off at 2315 hours. They had to cross the Wadi Zigzaou, a strong defensive position that had been improved by the Axis forces and was defended by a series of strongholds. Their attack began well. On the left the 8th Durham Light Infantry 151st Brigade , captured the Ouerzi strongpoint. On the right the 9th Durham Light Infantry,  151st Brigade, captured the Ksiba Ouest strongpoint. However this attack was only conducted by a single brigade, leaving it vulnerable to counterattack. Finally, to the left of the main attack, the 7th Green Howards  from the 69th Brigade  advanced through the German anti-tank lines to screen the left flank of the attack.

Operation Supercharge II

At this point Montgomery decided to switch his main effort from the coastal attack on his right to the New Zealander's outflanking move. 50th Infantry Division was ordered to stop its attacks. XXX Corps  (7th Armoured, 50th and 51st Infantry Divisions) were ordered to attack in the centre of the Mareth Line, to keep the German reserved pinned down in that area. On 29 March the German armour finally retreated from El Hamma, allowing XXX Corps to follow the retreating Axis forces towards the Wadi Akarit position, generally known as the Gabes Gap.

Crusader tanks of the 1st Armoured Division enter El Hamma

Battle of Cabes Gap

The Battle of Wadi Akarit  (Operation Scipio) was an Allied attack from 6–7 April 1943, to dislodge Axis forces from positions along the Wadi Akarit in Tunisia during the Tunisia Campaign of the Second World War.  T he Gabès Gap, north of the towns of Gabès and El Hamma, is a passage between the sea and impassable salt marshes.  The 51st (Highland) Infantry Division breached the defences and held a bridgehead, allowing the passage of their main force to roll up the Axis defences. After several determined counter-attacks, the Axis forces withdrew and the Eighth Army, under General Bernard Montgomery, pursued toward Tunis, until reaching Axis defensive positions at Enfidaville. The Axis forces surrendered on 13 May 1943 yielding over 275,000 prisoners of war.

The Italian Campaign

Invasion of Sicily

The invasion of Sicily, code-named Operation Husky , began before dawn on July 10, 1943 and lasted until 17 August. With combined air and sea landings involving 150,000 troops, 3,000 ships and 4,000 aircraft, all directed at the southern shores of the island. This massive assault was nearly cancelled the previous day when a summer storm arose and caused serious difficulties for paratroopers dropping behind enemy lines that night. However, the storm also worked to the Allies’ advantage when Axis defenders along the Sicilian coast judged that no commander would attempt amphibious landings in such wind and rain. By the afternoon of July 10, supported by shattering naval and aerial bombardments of enemy positions, 150,000 Allied troops reached the Sicilian shores, bringing along 600 tanks. Fighting to clear Sicily was hard however by 17th August the island was captured and became a staging post for the invasion of Italy.

British Troops landing on Sicily 10th July 1943

Invasion of Continental Italy

Forces of the British Eighth Army, still under Montgomery, landed in the 'toe' of Italy on 3 September 1943 in Operation Baytown , the day the Italian government agreed to an armistice with the Allies. The armistice was publicly announced on 8 September by two broadcasts, first by General Eisenhower and then by a proclamation by Marshal Badoglio.

British troops boarding ships on Sicily ready to invade mainland Italy September 1943

The Armistice of Cassibile

 The armistice was signed on 3 September 1943 by Walter Bedell Smith  and Giuseppe Castellano  and made public on 8 September between the Kingdom of Italy and the Allies during World War II. It was signed at a conference of generals from both sides in an Allied military camp at Cassibile, in Sicily, which had recently been occupied by the Allies. The armistice was approved by both King Victor Emmanuel III and Italian Prime Minister Pietro Badoglio . The armistice stipulated the surrender of Italy to the Allies.

The men who signed the Armistice 3rd September 1943

The German Army Fights on

Despite the Italian Surrender the German forces prepared to defend without Italian assistance, only two of their divisions opposite the Eighth Army  and one at Salerno were not tied up disarming the Royal Italian Army .

German Defensive Lines Defending Italy

The German defensive position south of Rome designated as the Gustav Line  which ran across Italy and included the famous Abbey at Monte Cassino. The line was a major obstacle for the Allied forces, initially commanded by Major General John P. Lucas  were hard pressed to breakout from the initial beachhead but they eventually prevailed.

The Caesar Line  was the last German line of defence in Italy before Rome. It extended from the west coast near Ostia, over the Alban Hills south of Rome, from Valmontone to Avezzano and then to Pescara on the Adriatic coast. Behind the western half of the line was a subsidiary line, the Roman switch line which took a path north of Rome.

When the Caesar C Line defences, manned by the German 14th Army, were breached by the U.S. Fifth Army on 30 May 1944, following the breakout from Anzio, the road to Rome was finally opened. The Germans retreated to their next line of defence, the Trasimene  Line where the 14th Army re-aligned with the German 10th Army before withdrawing to the formidable defences of the Gothic Line .

The fight for italy was very tough, the Germany Armies defencive lines which ustilied the natural landscape of the northern Italian Mountain Ranges proved very hard to crack. The battle to liberate Italy would not be accomplished until the spring of 1945. 

Interactive Database of Leadgate Fallen 1943

Signalman John Joseph Ward  aged 18, Son of Mary Ellen Ward and stepson of John William Charles Batey, of Skerne Grove Leadgate, Co. Durham. Royal Corp of Signals , Died when he was shot by a fellow soldier who had an accidental discharge while cleaning his weapon on the 22nd February 1943, Buried Rhyl Town Cemetery . Leadgate Remembers

Guardsman William Charlton aged 22, Son of John William and Barbara Charlton, of Second Street Bradley Bungalows Leadgate Co Durham, 6th Battalion The Grenadier Guards , died in Tunisia on 17th March 1943 at the Battle Of Mareth. Buried  Sfax War Cemetery, Tunisia. Leadgate Remembers

Sergeant John Cutting Swainston, aged 29, Husband of Mary Catherine Swainston, of Leadgate Co Durham,  159 Indep. Field Bty Royal ArtilleryOn the 25th February, John boarded the RMS Strathaird  at Glasgow heading for Aden, during the voyage he fell ill and died of haemorrhagic enteritis and toxaemia and was buried at sea 6th April 1943, commemorated Brookwood Memorial . Leadgate Remembers

Trooper Maurice Sewell Lowson aged 21. Son of Hodgson Lowson and Olive Kipling of 6th Street Crookhall Leadgate Co Durham. 56th Regiment The Reconnaissance Corps . Died during the Battle of Longstop Hill  27 April 1943. Buried  Medjez -El-Bab War Cemetery  Tunisia . Leadgate Remembers

Private Lawrence Cousins aged 28, Son of John and Sarah Elisibeth Cousins.64 Plantation Street Leadgate Co Durham. 1st (Airborne) Battalion The Border Regiment , Lawrence took part in Operation Ladbroke , the Invasion of Sicily, unfortunately, bad weather forced the planes to fly higher and some of the gliders carrying his Regiment were released too early and crashed into the sea early in the morning of 10th July 1943, commemorated  Cassino Memorial. Leadgate Remembers

Corporal Gordon Gibson  aged 25, Son of Joseph Henry and Elizabeth Gibson, of 3rd Street Pont Bungalows Leadgate Co Durham,  9th Battalion The Durham Light Infantry , Died during the  Battle of Primosole Bridge  in Sicily on16th July 1943. Buried Catania War Cemetery , Sicily. Leadgate Remembers

Sergeant William Maltby aged 25, Son of Mr. and Mrs. William Frazer Maltby of 11 Fourth Street Watling Bungalows; husband of Enid Maltby, of Blackhill, Co. Durham. 1st Battalion The Green Howards , Died during the advance on Catania Sicily which started at 10pm on the night of the 19th July 28 men of 1st Green Howards including William, were killed that night 20th July 1943. Buried  Catania War Cemetery , Sicily. Leaadgate Remembers

Flying Officer William Hughes  aged 25, Son of Patrick and Mary Jane Hughes, of Leadgate, Co. Durham.  61 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve , Died when his Lancaster W4934 which t ook off 2136 17 Aug 1943 from Syerston. Crashed in the Baltic  18th August 1943. Commemorated  Runnymede Memorial . Leadgate Remembers

Flight Sergeant Eugene Heweston   aged 28, Son of John and Mary Heweston, of 12 Hawthorn Terrace Leadgate, Co. Durham.  158 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve Died on 3rd October 1943 when his plane was shot down over the North Sea near Holland during a raid on Kassel in Germany. Commemorated Runnymede Memorial . Leadgate Remembers

Lance Corporal Eric Beardsworth aged 27, Son of Richard Albert and Edith Maud Beardsworth, of 12 Park Villas Leadgate, Consett, Co. Durham. 41 Fortress Company The Royal Engineers, Captured by the Japanese with the fall of Singapore on 15th February 1942, he, along with many others, were marched to Changi and in May marched back to Singapore before being transported 1200 miles to Thailand/Burma. Eric died from Malaria and Beri Berry on 3rd November 1943. Buried Chungkai War Cemetery  Thailand. Leadgate Remembers

Flying Officer Thomas Hall aged 31, Son of Robert H. and Louisa M. Hall of 460 Bradley Square Leadgate Co Durham ; husband of Mena A. E. Hall, of Somerton, Oxfordshire.  10 Squadron Royal Air Force . Died 22nd November 1943 when the plane he was piloting was shot down over Germany returning from a bombing raid on Berlin. Buried  Reichswald Forest War Cemetery  Germany.  Leadgate Remembers

Sergeant Clifford Robinson   aged 31. Son of William Robinson and Annie Henrietta Broadbent of 22 H awthorn Terrace Leadgate Co Durham625 Squadron Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve  Died during a mass bombing raid to Berlin when his Lancaster Mk.III , LM 424 (CF-B), which had suffered tail damage from German fighter planes, crashed in the small farming village of  Oppendorf  . Buried Hanover War Cemetery Leadgate Remembers

Leadgate Remembers World War 2

Leadgate Remembers World War 2  is a Facebook Project compiled by Andy Plant. We have worked closely with Andy on all the Leadgate Remembers projects and he has done a magnificent job of researching the fallen of Leadgate in both world wars. Andy's World War 2 project was designed to use a one year calendar view of the fallen on the date they died, regardless of which year.

Acknowledgements & Sources

Copyright Notice

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