WW II, a British focus  



The Battle for

Primosole Bridge Fortifications
At 9 o'clock a persistent stranger on the brigade forward control was spoken to by Brigadier Currie and turned out to be the Headquarters of the Brigade of 1st Airborne Division, who were to have been dropped during the night to capture Primosole bridge, south of Catania. We had heard that they had been dropped in the wrong place, but their brigade HQ an a handful of men held the bridge. Spasmodic conversations with them continued for an hour, after which we heard no more.

Meanwhile the fight for Carlentini was going slowly: the Sharpshooters were having great difficulty with the going and progress was slow without the support of infantry or artillery, the latter being provided later by the voluntary help of 24th Field Regiment. Eventually they joined hands with troops of 50th Division. As there was only one road and that a very bad one, it was decided to pass 44th Royal Tanks through, the Sharpshooters having run short of ammunition. This took a long time as tanks were continually shedding tracks on the rocky hairpin bends. In addition the move entailed over-taking troops and transport of 50th Division in the tortuous streets of Carlentini and Lentini.

Eventually 44th Royal Tanks caught up with the leading troops of 69 Brigade: they were opposed by two German tanks and had met several small parties of our own airborne troops, none of whom however knew anything about Primosole bridge. One squadron of the 44th Royal Tanks was placed in support of 151 Brigade, but for various reasons the attack on the bridge was postponed until the following morning. The attack was launched early in the morning of the 15th supported by 44th Royal Tanks, while the Sharpshooters protected the left flank.

Owing to mines and vehicles blocking the road, tanks could not cross the bridge: 151 Brigade had succeeded in making a very narrow bridgehead but were later withdrawn. Before dawn on the 16th a further attack was made: 8 DLI secured a bridgehead just large enough to allow the sappers to clear the mines and obstructions, which they did in time to let a squadron of the 44th Royal Tanks pass over at first light. Unfortunately the bridgehead was under accurate anti-tank fire and four tanks were knocked out, the CO and 3 other officers being killed. During the day the Royals had engaged many small parties of enemy on the bridges between the left of 50th Division and the right of 30 Corps, the Sharpshooters being concentrated in reserve. A further attack in the bridgehead area had been put in by 6 and 9 DLI during the night 16/17th. At first light the Sharpshooters, relieving 44th Royal Tanks with 151 Brigade, passed over the bridge. The bridgehead area continued to be most un-healt! hy, until the source of trouble, a strong point about 300 yards north-west of the bridge, was finally located and cleared by the Sharpshooters. Before that was done the Sharpshooters had lost their CO and 5 tank commanders from sniping. The battle for the bridge was now over and the Sharpshooters supported the extension of the bridgehead, being relieved by the 44th Royal Tanks on the 18th. During the day they had one sharp battle, assisting 1st Royal Berks who had been surrounded, and lost five tanks in doing so. On the 19th 13 Brigade of 5 Division passed through, supported by B Squadron of the 44th Royal Tanks, directed on Misterbianco. Little progress was made in the face of stiff opposition, a further five tanks being knocked out or damaged. On the 20th the Sharpshooters supported an attack by 5th Division to cross the River Simeto. For the rest of the month the brigade was in reserve. Of the 95 tanks with which we had landed, 25 had been knocked out. On July 22nd our tank! strength was 67: it had never fallen below 55 in spite of practically no respite from movement or action, a great feat by the fitters.

contributed by Alan Forrest

Of the 1,900 members of the British Parachute Brigade who were despatched to Sicily, only about 200 men and three anti-tank guns reached the Primosole Bridge and seized it. They promptly removed the German demolition charges and set up a perimeter defence, but they constituted a pitifully small force to hold out until the ground forces arrived overland.

By coincidence, the bridge was near the Catania airfield where the regiment of the German 1st Parachute Division - the first contingent of the division to arrive in Sicily - had dropped a few hours earlier as Kesselring had watched. The German paratroopers reacted savagely to the intrusion of the British Paratroopers, and a fierce battle that started at daylight of 14th July lasted all day. At nightfall, having hung on despite heavy losses, the surviving British withdrew from the bridge to a piece of high ground overlooking the structure, and from there they covered the bridge by fire and at least prevented the Germans from damaging it.
Extract from "Sicily, whose victory?" by Martin Blumenson

The paragraph above describes "airborne and commandos", what group of commandos landed with the airborne at the Primosole Bridge? If you can answere this question or would like to contribute to this page please email.


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