July 17, 1943 (19th Parliament, 4th Session)


William Lyon Mackenzie King (Prime Minister; Secretary of State for External Affairs; President of the Privy Council)


Right Hon. W. L. MACKENZIE KING (Prime Minister):

A week has now passed since the landing of Canadian troops in Sicily. I should like to make a brief statement on the progress of operations.
During the week, our thoughts have been mainly with the army. No account of the Canadian share in operations would be complete, however, without a reference to the other two services.
The battle for Sicily really began weeks before the landing of the allied troops on Saturday last. Ever since the close of the Tunisian campaign the allied air forces in North Africa and the middle east have been "softening up" the island of Sicily for the coming invasion. In those operations, Canadian airmen, in R.A.F. and in R.C.A.F. squadrons, have had1 a large share.
Operating under the immediate command of Major General James Doolittle of the United States Army Air Corps, an R.C.A.F. bomber wing composed of an unstated number of squadrons helped to pave the way for the allied invasion of Sicily by terrific bombardment of the island. During the landings and as the allied forces have continued to strengthen their position in Sicily, Canadians in the air have been blasting enemy troop concentrations, strong points and supply columns.
In addition to the bomber squadrons, a Royal Canadian Air Force Spitfire squadron which distinguished itself in the Tunisian campaign is participating in the Sicilian action. It cannot be revealed whether this squadron is yet based on a Sicilian field, but it is known that many members of the R.C.A.F. are among the aircrews which are now operating from captured aerodromes on the island.
There are, of course, thousands of Canadian personnel included in the Royal Air Force squadrons operating in the Mediterranean as there are in almost every R.A.F. unit around the world. No reports on their participation are available, but it is safe to assume that there are few, if any, Royal Air Force squadrons operating in the aerial forces being thrown against Sicily in support of our armies which do not include Royal Canadian Air Force personnel. Other Canadians are flying Wellington bombers, harassing and disrupting enemy supply routes from the African mainland.

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While operations of our air units and our personnel out of the United Kingdom are not directly linked with the Sicilian campaign, their activities are having the effect of tying a great part of the Luftwaffe to Western Europe. Were these Luftwaffe units released for service in the Mediterranean they could make our operations there far more difficult.
In the Sicilian operations, the Royal Canadian Navy has also been represented. We have been advised that several hundred Royal Canadian Naval Officers and men acting in conjunction with and under the direction of the Royal Navy, took part in the hazardous work of safely effecting landings for the troops engaged.
For many months now, almost two thousand Canadian Naval personnel have been training at a combined operations base in England, * preparing themselves to take part in landing operations. Their ships are known as "assault landing craft". A number of Canadian sailors took part in the combined operations when landings were made in North Africa in November last. This week, they took their craft, under enemy fire, and ferried in troops who were part of the first wave of the invading forces to move on to the beaches. We shall await with interest a more detailed account of their hazardous work.
Coming now to the army, its operations began at dawn, Sicilian time, on Saturday, July 10, when the British, United States and Canadian troops commenced landing on the shores of Sicily. The landings on the beaches had been preceded by allied paratroop landings beyond the coastal defences.
According to statements made by prisoners, the landings were a complete surprise and caused much confusion. The element of surprise, combined with the fact that the landing areas were defended only by static or semi-static Italian troops, resulted in very light casualties for the landing forces. The bulk of enemy operational divisions were in the central part of the island.
The Canadian division, now identified as the first division, landed at the southeast tip of Sicily. Two and one-half hours after landing they had captured their first objective, and made contact with the British division on their right flank. Meanwhile British and American forces had landed to the east and west of the Canadians.
Canadian troops captured the airfield at Pachino six hours after landing, and a short time later were in Pachino itself.
On Monday, July 12, General Eisenhower visited the Canadians on Pachino peninsula. He sought out Canadian headquarters, but headquarters was moving forward so rapidly
that he was unable to make contact. That day the Canadians captured several inland towns. The first enemy counter attack was met and beaten off.
At Ragusa, an important inland junction about 25 miles northwest of Pachino, the Canadians made their first contact with the American forces.
I believe that this is the first occasion on which Canadian and American troops have been fighting side by side. We were, of course, both engaged in the last great war together, but I think this is the first time that Canadian and American troops have actually been fighting shoulder to shoulder in action overseas.
Shortly before midnight, Augusta, an important naval base, nineteen miles north of Syracuse was captured by British and Canadian troops. The port is stated to be in perfect working order.
On Tuesday, July 13, Canadian troops made further advances, repulsed counter-attacks and captured the first Italian general to surrender, together with his headquarters staff.
On Wednesday, July 14, Canadian armoured forces landed at Syracuse and moved north, while other Canadians were making progress over forty miles northwest of their landing places. It was revealed that day that the Canadians formed part of the eighth army, under the command of General Montgomery.
On Thursday, July 15, the eighth army including the units of the first Canadian division continued its advance along the east coast towards the Catania plains repulsing strong counter-attacks.
Yesterday, July 16, the advance continued on all sectors, and by the end of the day which completed the first week of operations, a wide arc enclosing about a quarter of the island had been occupied by the allied forces. Over 20,000 prisoners and a large quantity of arms and material had been taken.
So successful, within the week, has been the combined operations of the armed forces of the United States, Great Britain and Canada that yesterday morning, Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt felt justified in addressing to the people of Italy the proclamation which I read to the house at the opening of the morning sitting. The proclamation stated that the sole hope for Italy's survival lay in honourable capitulation, and that the time had come for the people of Italy to decide whether Italians would die for Mussolini and Hitler-or live for Italy and for civilization.
It is eminently fitting that the first division of the Canadian army should have been given the honour of taking part in the first major Canadian land operations of the war. The men of the first division were the earliest to volun-
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teer; they have waited longest for action. They are the most seasoned formation of Canada's army overseas.
It will be a satisfaction to General McNaugh-ton, who led this first division when it sailed for Britain in the autumn of 1939, and who led parts of it to France in the summer of 1940, to have seen these officers and men, after three years of waiting, now carrying the fight into the enemy's camp with such conspicuous success.
Having this in mind, and realizing that the people of Canada would wish that an immediate word of congratulation should reach our troops upon their initial success, together with an assurance of our unfailing support of them, I sent the following message to General McNaughton on Monday last:
I know you must be exceedingly proud of the fine results of your long and ardous tour of duty. I congratulate you most sincerely on the achievement already evident in Sicily. Please arrange to have transmitted the following message to the Canadian Force Commander:
Message begins: Major-General Guy Simonds, Commanding Canadian Forces, Mediterranean.
"All Canada rejoices in the news of the initial successes of Canadian troops in Sicily. Will you please extend to the officers and men under your command every good wish for the complete success of the hazardous operations in which they are engaged. Here at home, in Canada, the eyes of all are fixed on Sicily. We know that there is heavy fighting ahead. We know, too, that the Canadian forces will do honour to themselves and to our country. Please give to all the assurance that our hearts are with them, that Canada is proud of the patience and courage of her army overseas, and that Canada will not fail her fighting men." Message ends.
We have reason to be thankful that the Sicilian landing operations were completed with very light casualties. Also that the resistance encountered during the first week of operations has ben comparatively slight. The successes of Canadian forces in the field should not, however, leave us unprepared for word of much heavier fighting which may follow at any time. There are strong enemy forces on the island and already stiff resistance has been encountered. Provided we guard against undue optimism, the people of Canada have every reason to rejoice at the results so far achieved in the first major operations in which the Canadian army has taken part. It is not too early to say that Canadian soldiers in Sicily are upholding the traditions established by the Canadian Corps of a quarter of a century ago.

Topic:   THE WAR
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