Sicily after 65 years

Discussion in 'WW2 Battlefields Today' started by sicily43, Dec 4, 2008.

  1. brooks1943

    brooks1943 Junior Member


    Punta dei Malati - 3 Commando Bridge. July 14th/15th 1943.

    In WW2, bridges played an important part :- Kwai, Remagen, Toko Ri, Pegasus, Primasole etc. This is the story of one that has been forgotten.
    Three kilometres north of Lentini near to the city of Syracuse on the island of Sicily, lies the Malati Bridge. Today it is now on a minor road, overshadowed by an autostrada on massive concrete piles. This was not so in 1943.

    The Casablanca Conference in January 1943 attended by Churchill, Roosevelt and their military and civil advisers, decided that on victory in North Africa the next step in the war against the Axis forces would be the invasion and reduction of the island of Sicily. The “return to Europe”. Timed to take place in mid 1943 and code-named “Husky” the D-Day for this operation would be the 10th of July 43. The British and Commonwealth 8th Army and the US 7th Army, along with allied naval and air arms would make up the invading forces, landing by sea and air.

    The invasion of Sicily, a massive undertaking, was initially a sad tale of bad luck, poor planning and a large loss of allied troops to friendly-fire. Witness the Military Cemeterys at Catania, Syracuse and Agira and the numbers of those with “no known grave” commemorated on panels at the Cassino Military Cemetery. But with dogged determination both armies secured their landings and the Axis forces were engaged..

    By the 13th of July the 8th Army under the command of General Montgomery was established ashore and moving north. The intention was to push the Axis towards Messina cornering them in the north east of Sicily. The officer commanding No 3 Commando, Lt.Col. J.F.Durnford-Slater was summoned to the quay at Syracuse and given orders by General Dempsey to capture the Malati Bridge over the river Leonardo. Montgomery had realised that this bridge was on the main route north to Catania and wanted it intact and in Allied hands to ensure that the 50th Division could continue its advance.

    3 Commando were put ashore north of Augusta in the Bay of Agnone from the infantry assault ship HMS Prince Albert and following the railway line, headed west towards Lentini. It had been thought that the only resistance would be from scattered Italian defenders, but straight away the commandos ran into the 3rd Battalion of the Hermann Goering Regiment. This meant that all the way to the bridge there was intensive fighting, but their objective was reached by 0300 on the 14th July.

    The Italians guarding the bridge were quickly overcome and it came under British control. The demolition charges were removed and the commandos now had the task of holding the bridge until the arrival of the 50th Division which was fighting its way up Highway 114. This was the route north for the 8th Army and south for the re-supply of the German forces and their principal evacuation route north, so the Malati Bridge became the focus of numerous firefights. A German Mk VI Tiger tank appeared not more than 200 yards away and began firing its heavy machine gun towards the commandos who were around and under the bridge with no cover. A number of men were wounded and some, including Lt. Tony Butler who had joined No 3 (Army) Commando from the North Irish Horse Tank Regiment, were killed. More tanks could be heard coming down the road and with the 50th Division still not in sight, after a short discussion it was decided that the remaining commandos would withdraw into the hills to the east and reform. Once there they came under heavy fire again and they were ordered to set off in small parties to make for a prearranged rendezvous on the coast. With great difficulty most reached this objective, although some were captured (only to escape their captors shortly afterwards) and the majority of the survivors after a few square meals and a couple of nights’ rest began to look forward to the next battle. Lt. Butler and Lt. Cave along with four other commando dead, were buried at the bridge. The other dead and wounded were recovered from the surrounding area, the total of casualties from the action being 153 killed, wounded and missing. This figure might have made the operation seem like a failure, but the fact that the bridge was not blown and the confusion caused the Axis forces by 3 Commando meant that the 50th Division could continue it’s advance north.

    After the fall of Catania, General Montgomery ordered that a stone be carved with “3 Commando Bridge” and this stone cemented into the Punta dei Malati bridge.

    One reason for my latest trip to Sicily was to visit the Malati Bridge, which with the help of the Lentini stationmaster and a private motorist, plus a few Euros I managed to do.

    The bridge today looks exactly as it did in a 1943 photograph, Montys stone still in place and the large pill box guarding one end. Standing under the bridge (as Lt. Butler and his comrades had done), on this hot, sunny, quiet afternoon it was hard to imagine those July days 62 years ago.

    Lt. Butler and Lt. Cave are buried side by side in Catania Commonwealth Military Cemetery. Other officers and men of 3 Commando are buried in Syracuse Commonwealth Military Cemetery. They and those of 3 Commando (Army) who survived will not be forgotten. C.H.
    For an in depth account of this action see “ Storm From The Sea”.
    by Peter Young (1989) New edition - Wren’s Park 2002.

    This article is dedicated to the memory of Lt. Anthony Danvers Cavendish Butler of the North Irish Horse, Royal Armoured Corps and No. 3 Commando.
    Killed on 14th July 1943 aged 27.

    My Father Ernest Terrance Brooks was also at the Punta Dei Malati Bridge.He was badly wounded and as a result had his leg amputated aged 20.
  2. jont

    jont Junior Member

    Thanks Owen - other priorities took over just after I first joined but have some time now to follow up on this.
  3. sicily43

    sicily43 Senior Member

    I think Lemon bridge and Grape bridge were a ford and not really bridge
  4. jont

    jont Junior Member

    Hi Sicily43, On the link posted by Owen earlier in this thread, there are details of Lemon bridge and a map showing the location in the 5th Division history. I also have a book "Rough Road to Rome" that shows a picture of the still intact bridge around the time of the battle. I'll scan the photo soon.
  5. sicily43

    sicily43 Senior Member

    This is a antitank position in Nicolosi, on Etna volcano.
    So is built with lava stone and is perectly camlufaged in this evironment.
    Look the road from Belpasso.

    Attached Files:

  6. sicily43

    sicily43 Senior Member

    The last sunday we organize a cleaning of the bunker in Nicolosi.

    Attached Files:

  7. sicily43

    sicily43 Senior Member

    this position is on etna

    Attached Files:

  8. grandpa ousey

    grandpa ousey Junior Member

    my late grandfather was a no3 commando and in a book at his house i found writing that said (dsm agnore sicily July 15 1943)it must of been near this area?
  9. colinhotham

    colinhotham Senior Member

    DSM - Distinguished Service Medal? Won on July 15th at AGNONE during the battle for 3 Commando Bridge? This fits perfectly.
  10. sicily43

    sicily43 Senior Member

    you can find here the photos about agnone
  11. tron333

    tron333 Member

    ok big day today, off to gela and Colin's monument trail. btw Primosole bridge is being demolished for a new bridge. Also I got to go to Gerbini and get good picts of a big bombshelter/bunker. I found the same type at FOntanarosa but it had a tree in it.
    I could not find anything over on the east side of ss114 though. The huge underground command bunker is now a trash dump. Guess they bull dozed it.
  12. tron333

    tron333 Member

    ok got Milati (3 comando) bridge. had to chase the hoes away with big ass TeeVee camera. guess they didn't want to have a world wide debut of their sex acts. Talked with a guy who said his Grandma was hit during the bombings. He still was very pro American. Although I have run against a few anti Americans but they were shameless opportunists who were making money off of fascists.
  13. tron333

    tron333 Member

    btw today 67 years ago today Lathbury's position at primosole was becoming untenable but still he remains in the hot broiling sun, just like today 35 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.
  14. Rule.303

    Rule.303 Member

  15. colinhotham

    colinhotham Senior Member

    It's good to see all this to do with Sicily and Husky continuing on here. Please everone look forward and put a date in your 2013 diary - 10th July 2013 - 70th anniversary of Husky. We must get it into the public domain as it is often a forgotton part of WWII! The British and Commonwealth Eighth Army, The US Seventh Army and of course the Canadian 1st Div all involved along with the RAF and Navy and many others.
  16. tron333

    tron333 Member

    I did a shoot at the fossa botacetta to see why the area was impervious to repeated artillery and hand to hand combat. It has some very interesting aspects common to ww1 trench warfare. The 10 Berkshires had it really bad. Also interviewed a Sicilian author about his book about his grandfather and the Germans. Sadly its 106 degrees outside and the camera gear is not liking this at all.
  17. tron333

    tron333 Member

    yup ss114 is without a bridge, they will probably put a prestressed concrete bridge in since loads were smashing the old bridge. Last year I got pictures of the old bridge and noticed considerable fretting of the lower longerons and wondered how long they would let that go. Obviously not long. Picture 6.png
  18. sicily43

    sicily43 Senior Member

    great tron....I wait for see your work
  19. sicily43

    sicily43 Senior Member

    It's good to see all this to do with Sicily and Husky continuing on here. Please everone look forward and put a date in your 2013 diary - 10th July 2013 - 70th anniversary of Husky. We must get it into the public domain as it is often a forgotton part of WWII! The British and Commonwealth Eighth Army, The US Seventh Army and of course the Canadian 1st Div all involved along with the RAF and Navy and many others.

    yes colin...............
  20. Tom Canning

    Tom Canning WW2 Veteran WW2 Veteran

    Colin -
    From our many talks in Vancouver in the past three / four years - I agree that more could be known about the Battles of Sicily and for that matter - the whole of the Italian Campaign as it sometimes astounds me that very few people - even on this forum have little knowldge of what went on there for such a long time - but owing to the visits of Paul and Owen - a light is glimmering albeit of Anzio and Cassino - hopefully Paul will manage a trip to the area of the Gothic Line Battles which many have said were even worse than Cassino. In that I would concur !

    I have only been back to that area once and was pleased to see that apart from the cemeteries - there are very few reminders of those days and the countriside has returned to it's natural beauty.

    As you are aware my only experience of Sicily was a two months stay in a Catania hospital being patched up once more to return to the breech.

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