Battle of Troina – Sicily 1943

After General Patton’s “end run” across the Island of Sicily, taking the western half and the old city of Palermo on the run, his II Corps headed eastward entering the mountainous northern half of the island. Quickly the pace of advance was reduced to a slow ridge line, or river line, or old hilltop town clearing process. Skillful German rearguard actions, holding the key terrain features, maximized German-Italian efforts to delay both the American and British advancing armies as preparations continued for the cross strait Messina final evacuation to mainland Italy.

The Battle for Troina was a week-long bitter struggle to seize control of the old Sicilian hilltop town and nearby “mountain” terrain. Being somewhat central on the endgame Allied frontal map lines of Sicily, with the Americans battling along the northern coastal road at San Fratello, and the British around the flanks of volcanic Mt. Enta to the southeast, the town of Troina was seen by both sides as a linchpin or hinge to stall or finish the Sicilian island campaign.

Linchpin or hinge on the military maps, the American 1st “Big Red” Division wanted the town and access to the eastern narrow highway SS120 beyond towards Cesaro and eventually Messina itself. The German 15th Panzergrenadier Division, their hilltop town and nearby low mountains having a view of the American advance, planned the defense with deadly precision. The Americans didn’t disappoint them, their August 1st first probing frontal attack was quickly rebuffed when launched by the 39th Regiment (transferred in from US 9th Division to support the 1st Division).

II Corps advance prior to the Battle of Troina. Map from the US Army history WWII MTO.

Troina as viewed from the American general approach during WWII. Lots of open hilly ground overlooked by the German defenders. (US Army photo)

The American viewpoint towards Troina and the 39th Regiment (attached 1st Div.) tried a direct August 1st assault up that slope. Compare modern-day Troina view with previous historical photo.

Historical WWII picture of Troina looking westwards. Another axis of American attack (16th Regt.) approached from that direction with little success before German retreat.

The Battle of Troina starts on 31 July – 1st August, when the Germans repelled a probing advance by the 39th Infantry, a 9th Infantry Division regiment temporarily attached to the 1st Division pending the divisional level changeover. This setback forced Generals Bradley and Allen to orchestrate a massive American assault, increasing in size over the next few days against Troina’s defenders. American intelligence G-2 reports thought the town was weakly defended, with only a small rearguard to cause delay. Each American attack added more regimental forces to the offensive till all the 1st Division, part of the 9th Division, the French Moroccans, and the 91st Cavalry Recon became involved. Over the next six days the men of these commands, along with 165 artillery pieces (divided among 9 battalions of 105-mm howitzers, 6 battalions of 155-mm howitzers, and 1 battalion of 155-mm “Long Tom” guns), and numerous Allied aircraft sorties, were locked in combat with Troina’s dug-in kamfpruppe German defenders. Control of key hilltop positions around Troina changed hands often, especially to the western approaches, with the Germans and Italians launching two dozen counterattacks during the week-long battle. American losses mounted rapidly, battalions reduced to several weak companies, platoons to 20 men on average. During the raging battles, the American short advances were stopped cold from artillery bombardments and concentrated mortar fire. Every critical hill near Troina was fought over, taken then retaken back, only to be attacked again the following day. Overhead American senior commanders ordered large aircraft sorties to engage the German rear artillery positions with little reduction to show for the aerial effort. Even the Luftwaffe staged daring strikes on the American roads leading up to Troina… the congested narrow roadway made a pilot’s target list.

The experience of Colonel John Bowen’s 26th Infantry Regiment was fairly typical of the action around Troina and the underlying basis for the Flames of War scenario outlined below. The 26th’s assignment was to outflank Troina by seizing Monte Basilio two miles north of the town. From here, the regiment would be positioned to cut the Axis line of retreat. Bowen moved his soldiers forward on 2 August supported by the fire of 1 battalion of 155-mm howitzers, 4 battalions of 105-mm howitzers and 4 “Long Tom” batteries. Despite this weighty arsenal, German artillery fire and difficult terrain limited the regiment’s advance to half a mile for the day. The next morning one of the regiment’s battalions lost its bearings in the hilly terrain and wandered around ineffectually for the remainder of the day, ending up near their start point, the Rocca di Mania. A second battalion reached Monte Basilio with relatively little difficulty, bushing aside the weak German defense only to be pounded by Axis artillery fire directed from neighboring hills. The defending 115th Panzergrenadier Regiment launched a failed offensive to retake the mountains. They were repelled by machine gun fire and American artillery bombardments while American casualties list grew defending the exposed hill ground.

For the next two days the men of the 26th Regiment on Monte Basilio were pinned down by artillery fire. Determined to hold Troina for as long as possible, the Germans and nearby Italians reacted strongly to the threat the 26th Regiment posed to their line of communications. Axis pressure practically cut off the forward 26th Regiment positions on Monte Basilio from the rest of the 1st Division, and attempts to resupply them from the air were only partially successful. By 5 August food and ammunition were low and casualties had greatly depleted the regiment, with one company mustering only seventeen men effective for duty. It was at this point that the German infantry attacked again, touching off another round of furious fighting. The 39th Regiment launched another battalion attack directed near Ponte di Failia bridge, supporting the efforts of 26th Regiment on Monte Basilio to expand their position. Slowly ground was gained, lost, then retaken. The writing is on the wall, time for the German defenders of Troina to withdraw to their next defensive position near Cesaro.

The Germans evacuated Troina later that night. Hard pressed by American forces throughout the Troina sector and unable to dislodge the 26th Regiment from its position threatening his line of retreat, General Hube, the German commander for Sicily, withdrew the badly damaged 15th Panzer Grenadier Division toward Randazzo, then Casero. As the 9th Infantry Division took up the pursuit, the 1st Division retired from the front line for rest and replacements. Their fight and front line participation in Sicily was over.

For more complete detail on the Troina battle, the failure of American intelligence on German positions and strength, the piecemeal attacks adding regiments into the battle, the attacks, counterattacks, the massed artillery bombardments from both sides… all details can be read in the US Army history WWII MTO history Chapter XIII on the Battle of Troina. US Army WWII MTO Troina 1943 Chapter XVII

Map from US Army history WWII MTO on the Troina battles. Shows the regimental attacks conducted during the week-long battles.

Below Troina (off picture uphill at left) and viewing NW the Ponte di Failla stone bridge across the Troina river. Monte Basilio is rise to right of the Ponte di Failla bridge. Rocca di Mania in background. Photo by Giomodica.

View from up the Monte Basilio rise and downhill towards the Ponte di Failla bridge. Note the bushy hill slopes. Photo by Giomodica.

Ponte di Failla bridge over the Troina river. Monte Basilio rises off the left side of photo. Photo by Giomodica.

US 1st Infantry Division

American 1st “Big Red One” Infantry Division. As part of US II Corps, the division landed in Oran, Algeria on 8 November 1942 as part of Operation Torch. Heading towards Tunisia, elements of the division then took part in combat at Maktar, Tebourba, Medjez el Bab, the Battle of Kasserine Pass, and Gafsa. It then led the Allied assault in brutal fighting at El Guettar, Béja, and Mateur. In July 1943, the division took part in the Allied invasion of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, still under the command of Major General Allen. Lieutenant General George S. Patton, commanding the U.S. Seventh Army for Sicily invasion, specifically requested the division as part of his forces for the invasion. In Sicily the 1st Division saw heavy action when making amphibious landings opposed by Italian and German tanks at the Battle of Gela. The 1st Division then moved up through the center of Sicily, slogging it out through the mountains along with the 45th Infantry Division. In these mountains, the division saw some of the heaviest fighting in the entire Sicilian campaign at the Battle of Troina; some divisional units losing more than half their strength in assaulting the defended mountain town and surrounding mountains during a week-long serious engagement.

General Terry de la Mesa Allen of 1st Division.

On 7 August 1943, after Troina was taken, Major General Allen was relieved of his command by Lieutenant General Omar Bradley, then commanding the II Corps. Allen was replaced by Major General Clarence R. Huebner who was, like Allen, a decorated veteran of World War I who had served with the 1st Infantry Division throughout the war. After Sicily was secured, the 1st Division transferred back to England, fought in Normandy, the Hurtgen forest, the battle of the Bulge, and into Germany during 1945.

Timeline note… the two face slapping incidents of General Patton and the 1st Division soldiers occurred during and right after the Troina battle. Wikipedia article link on the face slapping incidents.

General Huebner and Allen in Sicily 1943.

The 1943 regimental and battalion components of the US 1st “Big Red One” Division included:

16th Infantry Regiment
18th Infantry Regiment
26th Infantry Regiment
HHB Division Artillery
5th Field Artillery Regiment [155-mm]
7th Field Artillery Regiment [105-mm]
32nd Field Artillery Regiment [105-mm]
33rd Field Artillery Regiment [105mm]
Headquarters, 1st Division
Headquarters and Military Police Company
Artillery Band
1st Engineers Combat Battalion
1st Medical Battalion
1st Quartermaster Battalion
1st Signal Company
1st Reconnaissance Troop

The 39th Regiment and supportive battalions were detached from the arriving US 9th Infantry Division during the Troina engagement. The 9th Division eventually replaced the entire 1st Infantry Division in the front lines within days after Troina was captured and finished the American central Sicilian drive towards Messina while the 1st Division recovered from their continuous front line service since their invasion landing at Gela.

15th Panzergrenadier Division marking

The 15th Panzergrenadier Division was formed in July 1943 in Sicily from Division Sizilien (Sicily) and elements of the former 15th Panzer Division. The division later fought on Italian mainland at Salerno, San Pietro, and Cassino. Transferred to France then Germany in August 1944, it surrendered to British forces, in northern Germany, at the end of the war. The 15th Panzergrenadier division’s WWII area of operations were:

Sicily and Italy (June 1943 – Aug 1944), 
France (Aug 1944 – Nov 1944), 
Germany (Nov 1944 – Dec 1944), 
Ardennes (Dec 1944 – Jan 1945), 
Netherlands (Jan 1945 – Feb 1945), 
Northern Germany (Feb 1945 – May 1945)

General Rodt Eberhard of the 15th Panzergrenadier Division in Sicily.

Divisional HQ Staff, 999th Mapping detachment (mot), 33th, Military Police troop (mot). Heavy Flak Battery (mot) (88mm AA)

115th Panzergrenadier regiment: HQ staff, Staff company, Panzerjäger platoon, Motorcycle platoon, Signals platoon.

3 x Battalions, Staff, 3x Companies (mot) each battalion
, Heavy company (mot), Infantry Gun company, Pioneer company.

104th Panzergrenadier regiment: HQ staff
, Staff Company, Panzerjäger platoon, Mortar platoon, Motorcycle platoon, Signals platoon.

3 x Battalions, Staff, 3 x Companies (mot) each battalion, Heavy company (mot), Infantry Gun company, 
Pioneer company

115th Panzer battalion: HQ Staff
, Staff company,

3 x Panzer Companies (Panzer mkIV), Supply company (mot), Panzer Maintenance company

Attached units:

Panzerjäger company (mot): Staff, Staff company (mot), Signals platoon (mot),

2 x Panzerjager platoons (Marder III), Panzerjäger Supply company (mot)

Sturmgeschütz platoon (StuG III F/8 or G)

31st Heavy Flak battalion (mot): Staff, Staff battery,

3 x Battery (mot) (88mm AA)

31st Feldersatz battalion: 4 x Panzergrenadier companies, Panzer company detachments (various)

33rd Reconnaissance battalion: HQ Staff, Staff company Armored Car Platoon

3 x Companies (mot), Heavy company, Pioneer platoon, Infantry Gun platoon, Mortar platoon, Reconnaissance Supply company

33rd Artillery regiment: HQ Staff, Staff battery (mot)

3 x Battalion: Staff, Staff battery (mot), 3 x Battery (mot) (10.5cm artillery)

33rd Pioneer battalion: HQ Staff, 3 x Companies (mot), Light Pioneer company

Signals battalion: Staff, Telephone company (mot), Radio company (mot), Signals column (mot) plus the normal Supply & Support units

Map for the Troina 1943 tabletop scenario. Scale is 12″ per map square for table of 6′ x 10′ dimension. Map legend for terrain at right.

The Scenario: The expanded Flames of War Troina 1943 scenario is based upon the original FOW scenario published by Battlefront when Version 2.0 MRB was the current edition, along with the old mid war Afrika intelligence book. WR has enlarged the scenario to run two “Hold the Line” like scenarios (5×6 table each), concurrently and side by side on a single common 6×10 scenario tabletop, but with an interesting twist. On one half of the scenario tabletop the Germans are the attacking force, the other table half format is inverted and has the Americans as the attacking side, both scenarios with a common table edge to allow egress to the other scenario.

The complete Troina 1943 scenario notes file (.doc): Troina 1943 Scenario notes

The original single table Troina 1st Division FOW (v2) scenario (.doc) if interested:  Troina FOW scenario (V2 original)

American scenario forces:

American forces (3,200 points approximately) are drawn from the old mid war period Afrika intelligence V2 handbook covering the Mediterranean theater of operations. The updated North Africa intelligence V3 handbook can also be used with a slightly different unit / platoon point structure. Version 3.0 MRB rules will be used for the scenario tabletop play unless noted. All American units or platoons are confident trained for scenario. The entire American forces available includes:

1st Division HQ team linking 26th and 39th Regiments on tabletop.

26th Regiment (1st Battalion): (Confident Trained)

  • CO HQ (CinC and 2iC with 2 bazooka)
  • 3x Rifle platoons (Cmd, 9x rifle) each
  • Weapons platoon (Cmd, 3x M2 60mm mortar, 4x M1919 LMG)
  • Machine gun platoon (Cmd, 4x M1917 HMG, jeep w/.50 cal AA, 4x jeeps w/trailers)
  • Anti-Tank platoon (Cmd, 4x M1 57mm A/T guns, jeeps w/.50 cal AA, 4x 3/4 trucks)
  • Ammo & Pioneer platoon (Cmd, 6x pioneer rifle)
  • 105mm Field Artillery battery is held off-board (Cmd, staff, observer w/jeep, 4x M2a1 105mm guns)
  • On call is a 155mm Long Tom battery off-board (Cmd, staff, observer in dedicated battery AOP, 4x M1 155mm). Follows the NGFS rules needing 4+ to be available.

39th Regiment (1st Battalion): (Confident Trained)

  • CO HQ (CinC and 2iC with 2 bazooka
  • 3x Rifle platoons (Cmd, 9x rifle) each
  • Weapons platoon (Cmd, 3x M2 60mm mortar, 4x M1919 LMG)
  • Intel & Recon platoon (Cmd, 3x rifle, jeep w/.50cal AA, 3x jeeps)
  • Cannon platoon reinforced (3x T30 75mm HMC)
  • Sherman M4a1 platoon (5x Sherman M4a1)
  • Engineer platoon (Cmd, 4x pioneer rifle, 2x pioneer M1917 HMG, 3x bazooka, jeep w/.50cal AA, 3x trucks, pioneer truck, unarmored bulldozer),
  • 105mm Field Artillery battery is held off-board (Cmd, staff, observer w/jeep, 4x M2a1 105mm guns)

German and Italian scenario forces:

German and Italian forces (3,200 points approximately) are drawn from the old mid war period Afrika intelligence handbook covering the Mediterranean theater of operations. The updated North Africa intelligence handbook can also be used with a different unit / platoon point structure. All German units are confident veteran rated. The Italians are all reluctant trained. The entire German-Italian force includes:

129th Pz Gren. Regiment HQ team to link both German battalion sectors during the battle.

1st Btn./115th Pz Gren: (Confident Veteran)

  • Company HQ (CinC and 2iC Cmd SMG teams, Kfz 15, MC w/sidecar)
  • 3x Motorized Panzergrenadier platoons (Cmd, 6x MG, 3x Kfz 70 trucks, Kfz 15)
  • Motorized Machine-gun platoon (Cmd, 4x MG34 HMG, 2x trucks, Kfz 15)
  • Anti-tank Gun platoon (Cmd, 3x 5cm Pak38 guns, 3x Kfz 70 trucks, Kfz 15)
  • 10.5cm Artillery battery is held off-board (Cmd, staff, 4x 10.5cm LeFH18 guns, the 2x observers w/kubelwagen)
  • Allied platoons (Aosta Division): Italian Fucilieri platoon (Cmd, 8x rifle/mg), another Fucilieri platoon (Cmd, 8x rifle only), SP 47/32 platoon (3x Semovente 47/32 assault guns). All Italian platoons are predetermined to be reluctant trained for entire scenario and placed under German direct command for scenario

2nd Btn./115th Pz Gren: (Confident Veteran)

  • 2x Motorized Panzergrenadier platoons (Cmd, 6x MG, 3x Kfz 70 trucks, Kfz 15)
  • Pioneer platoon (Cmd, 6x pioneer rifle/MG, pioneer truck, 3x trucks, Kfz 15)
  • Assault Gun platoon (3x StuG III F/8) starting in tank pits
  • Rocket Launcher battery (Cmd, 6x 15cm NW41 RL, 2x observers with w/kubelwagen)

Newspaper clipping from the Chicago Tribune several days after the Troina battle:

Comparative photos of Troina showing the damage in town and modern day view. After the photos, information on the YR 2015 wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance.

In 2015, the Marines and sailors with the Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa Detachment A joined more than 20 U.S. service members in a parade and wreath-laying ceremony in remembrance of the battle during World War II, in Troina Sicily on Aug. 2, 2015. The ceremony was held 72 years to the week of the bitter fighting of World War II. Additional information and photos below taken by Cpl. O. McDonald of the 2015 Troina Remembrance ceremony.

Navy Lt. Derrick Horne, the chaplain with Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa, Detachment A, pays respect for the sacrifices made during the Battle of Troina in World War II during a wreath-laying ceremony in Troina, Sicily, Italy, August 2, 2015. Horne later offered a prayer in honor of the civilian and military casualties during that battle in 1943.

Fabio Venezia, mayor of Troina, Sicily, Italy, pays his respects during a wreath-laying ceremony for the Battle of Troina in World War II in Troina, August 2, 2015. The mayor asked the people of Troina and the American service members to remember the values so many fought and died for: freedom and democracy.

Cheers from the warren. This Flames of War scenario is scheduled to be played at Strategicon Gamex convention on 2017 Memorial Day weekend.

Update 6/10/2017: Posted the Troina 1943 FOW After Action report: Troina 1943 AAR

WR

 

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