Maps

The Invasion of Sicily

Operation Ladbroke

Pictures

A Waco glider washed ashore to the south of Syracuse

A 1st Border officer making his way aboard a ship after being rescued from the sea

 

Fortunately for those who had come down in the Sea, the gliders possessed a natural buoyancy in the wings which, in most cases, kept them afloat for some hours before finally breaking up. However the fuselage, in which the passengers sat, sank below the waves almost immediately, and the moments following their landing were ones of sheer desperation as men tried to hack their way through the sides before they went under. Many did not get out in time; of the 1,730 men of the 1st Airlanding Brigade, 326 drowned. The majority survived, yet those who were too far out to sea had no choice but to cling to the wings for up to 10 hours in the hope that the Royal Navy would find them in the morning.

 

Major-General Hopkinson, the commander of the 1st Airborne Division, who had been such a fierce advocate of the operation and was unconcerned by its inherent dangers, had flown in with the Brigade but his glider was also stranded at sea. At dawn, after 6 hours of waiting, he found that he was in the path of the 8th Army's invasion armada. As the landing craft drew near, Hopkinson called out, "Ahoy there! Airborne troops in distress!". After the exhausting ordeal that he and his fellow troops had gone through, it was only natural to make such a call, however the reply he received from a Sergeant of the Royal Marines was only to be expected; "Shut up you **** fools, we are doing a **** invasion."

 

One group from "A" Company of the 1st Border had the dubious fortune to ditch near a British warship. It took them two hours to swim to it, whereupon they climbed a chain onto a deserted deck. Having spent a quarter of an hour wandering about and trying to find some means of announcing their presence they bumped into a seaman who, startled at the sudden appearance of strangers in the darkness, gave a yell in warning and promptly fainted. Within moments a horde of his shipmates poured onto the deck and, believing the dishevelled intruders to be saboteurs, immediately fell upon them with their fists. In varying stages of consciousness, the unhappy airborne troops were taken below deck for interrogation, where their identity was at last revealed. The Navy apologised profusely for the treatment that they had dished out and could not do enough to make their unexpected guests welcome. One of their number explained, "the Army must realise that if they said the Airborne troops were to go by air, they must go by air. And if they changed their minds and sent the Airborne troops to swim to Sicily, then they ought to inform His Majesty's ships to avoid any confusion."

 

Others, who had landed within a few miles or just a few yards of the shoreline, braved the waters and swam for the shore; some did not make it, others played a part in the action on land. Lieutenant-Colonel Chatterton, the commander of the 1st Battalion The Glider Pilot Regiment, landed in the sea with a part of Brigade Headquarters, but later joined up with a party of SAS men whose orders were to locate and destroy enemy strong-points in the cliffs surrounding the 8th Army's landing beaches. By dawn, this small group had attacked numerous positions and taken 150 Italians prisoner.

 

In most cases, being few in number and often having been forced to abandon their weapons, and sometimes even their clothing, in order to stay afloat, most of these impromptu amphibious soldiers could do little else but lay low until the 8th Army troops began to land. The enemy had barely fired a shot and already Operation Ladbroke was a disaster.