The 2nd battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment was chosen as the leading glider assault troops for Operation Ladbroke, the opening move of Operation Husky, the Allied invasion of Sicily. These are the orders they were given just days before the battle.
Operation Order No. 1 for the 2 South Staffords was signed off on the afternoon of 4 July 1943, only five days before the Allied air armada took off for Sicily. It was at about this time that the airborne troops waiting in camps in Tunisia began to be briefed on their mission. The inside walls of tents were lined with giant blow-ups of aerial photographs, while tables were strewn with maps. Although the hammering heat of the North African sun outside was oppressive, it was preferable to those stifling briefing sessions, which had to be held inside for reasons of secrecy, as the camps were not behind the tall walls of a regular barracks, but in open olive groves.
The men of the Staffords learned that they were to be part of Operation Ladbroke. It was their job to act as the proverbial tip of the spear for the entire invasion of Sicily, landing before any other forces on the night before D Day (10 July 1943). ‘C’ Company was to land by glider and seize the Ponte Grande bridge (codename Waterloo) in a coup-de-main attack that would prevent the bridge from being destroyed. ‘A’ Company was also to land by glider in another coup-de-main attack, to seize the nearby railway bridges (codename Putney). Other Staffords companies were to seize strongpoints on the roads leading to the bridges, or neutralise gun batteries.
All of this was designed to facilitate the capture of Syracuse (codename Ladbroke, hence Operation Ladbroke). Syracuse was Eighth Army’s primary objective for D Day. The rapid capture of the port was considered vital to the success of the invasion, as its harbour was needed for unloading supplies and reinforcements. But the main seaborne forces of the Eighth Army were not due to land until nearly dawn, and their closest landing beach was many miles south of Syracuse. So 1 Border Regiment, the Staffords’ sister battalion in the gliderborne 1 Air Landing Brigade, was to land at the same time as the Staffords, and then pass through their positions and seize the outskirts of Syracuse.
As described elsewhere here, the plans went wildly awry. None of the identified strongpoints were captured by the glider troops. Nor were the gun batteries. Nor were the railway bridges. No airborne troops attacked Syracuse that night. Nearly half the gliders landed in the sea, and many others either never reached Sicily or landed too far away. The one bright spot, and it was a bright spot, was the initiative of Lt Lennard Withers, in command of a single platoon of ‘C’ Company, whose Horsa glider was the only one of the four destined for the Ponte Grande that actually made it. Withers’ platoon took the bridge alone and, with some reinforcement during the night, held it long enough for it to be saved from demolition.
The transcription of Operation Order No. 1 that follows is only a selection of sections from a much longer document that came complete with appendixes and diagrams that are also not reproduced here. The formatting has been kept as it was in the original, as have spelling and other mistakes, to give the full flavour of the original. Text in italics between square brackets is editorial.
2 South Staffords Operation Order No. 1