General Patton paid his first visit to the 3d Division shortly after noon on 14 July and told General Truscott something of his future plans. With his eyes set on Palermo, Patton said he would need Porto Empedocle to support such a drive. But because of the limitations imposed by General Alexander, Patton declared, the Seventh Army could not attack the port in strength for fear of becoming involved in a costly battle which might expose the Eighth Army’s left flank to an Axis counterattack.
General Truscott, who with army approval had already conducted one small-scale reconnaissance effort against Agrigento and Porto Empedocle on the 13th, felt that the 3d Division could take both towns without too much trouble. All he needed was General Patton’s approval. The Seventh Army commander agreed to another reconnaissance in force, this time in greater strength than the one battalion used previously. But Patton specified that the move was to be made on Truscott’s own responsibility. For General Truscott, there was much to gain and little to lose. If he could take Agrigento and Porto Empedocle, everybody would be happy. If he failed, he nevertheless would have gained valuable information on the status of the enemy’s defenses.17
Porto Empedocle serves Agrigento in somewhat the same fashion as Piraeus
serves Athens. A town of 14,000 people, Porto Empedocle had a town mole, almost completely surrounded by two breakwaters jutting from a narrow shelf of land slightly above sea level. On the eastern and western sides of town, abrupt cliffs rose in some places two hundred feet or so above the level of the shelf, and parts of the residential area faced the sea on these heights. In the center of town, a deep ravine cut through the cliffs to the lower shelf, sharply dividing the upper part of town into eastern and western halves. The daily capacity of the port was 800 tons, approximately the same as that of Licata.
Agrigento, a city of some 34,000 inhabitants, was perched on a hilltop about three miles from the coast. Seventeen miles west of Palma di Montechiaro and twenty-two miles southwest of Canicattì, Agrigento was the most important road center along the southwestern coast of Sicily. Highway 115 connected Agrigento with Licata and Gela. Highway 122 linked it to Caltanissetta, Canicattì, and Favara.
For the Seventh Army, Agrigento represented the gateway to western Sicily. From there, Highway 115 continued northwestward along the coast to Marsala and Trapani; Highway 118 zigzagged northward over the mountains through Raffadali, Prizzi, and Corleone to the north coast and Palermo. Veering at first northeastward, a second-class road also led to the north coast by way of the inland towns of Conistini and Lercara Friddi. The seizure of Agrigento thus was essential for a drive on Palermo, while Porto Empedocle would give Seventh Army a port twenty-five miles closer to its front.
General Patton’s preoccupation with Palermo amounted to an obsession. Porto Empedocle was a logical objective in terms of augmenting the minor capacities of Gela and Licata. But with Porto Empedocle in hand, why Palermo, too? Perhaps he thought of a rapid, dramatic thrust to draw public attention to the capabilities of U.S. armor. Perhaps it was the only objective that could compensate partially for having been relegated the mission of acting as Alexander’s shield. “Palermo,” General Truscott would write after the war, “drew Patton like a lode star.”18
The 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, which had conducted the reconnaissance toward Agrigento on 13 July, had reported considerable enemy artillery defending Agrigento along the eastern perimeter. There appeared to be at least twelve direct fire, high-velocity weapons and one or more battalions of field artillery positioned against an approach along Highway 115. Too, the enemy appeared dug in east of Agrigento along the Naro River. Although General Truscott estimated the enemy’s infantry strength at no more than one coastal regiment–a fairly accurate appraisal–he ruled out a frontal assault because of the strength of the enemy artillery.
The Seizure of Agrigento
3d Infantry Division
14-17 July 1943
He determined instead on a flanking movement to strike at Agrigento from the northeast by way of Favara on Highway 122. To do the job, General Truscott selected the 7th Infantry Regiment, the 10th Field Artillery Battalion, and one battalion from the 77th Field Artillery Regiment.19
The route to Favara had already been checked by a company of the 7th Infantry that had worked its way cross-country during the night of 13 July, entered Favara early the next morning, and stayed there. Basing his decision on the information sent back by this company, General Truscott directed Colonel Sherman, the 7th Infantry commander, to move two battalions in the company’s path, one to go all the way into Favara, the other to advance on the north side of Highway 115 to high ground before the Naro River. (Map 2) The 3d Ranger Battalion, which was in division reserve, was to move to Favara, then reconnoiter to the west of Agrigento.
Until the ground troops could get within striking distance of both towns, the enemy was to be allowed no rest. The Navy agreed to furnish the maximum possible gunfire support. Since 12 July, the cruisers Birmingham and Brooklyn had been firing missions against Agrigento and Porto Empedocle. On 14 July, the Birmingham concentrated on Italian shore batteries, and as the foot troops moved out to the new areas that night, the British monitor, H.M.S. Abercrombie, joined the Birmingham. The next day, the guns of the Philadelphia added their fires.20
Before daylight on 15 July, the two infantry battalions occupied their objectives without difficulty. Now General Truscott attached the Ranger battalion to the 7th Infantry and ordered a continuation of the reconnaissance effort against Agrigento. That night the 3d Ranger Battalion was to move from Favara to the little town of Montaperto, situated on commanding ground northwest of Agrigento. The 2d Battalion, 7th Infantry, at Favara was to move on Agrigento to take Hill 333, which commanded the northern approaches into Agrigento. These two moves would block the northern and western exits from Agrigento. Then the 1st Battalion, 7th Infantry, along Highway 115 was to push straight to the west, cross the Naro River, and drive on Agrigento. Only one change was made in this plan: after taking Montaperto, the 3d Ranger Battalion was to swing south over Hill 316 to take Porto Empedocle.
As night fell on 15 July, the Rangers moved out from Favara. Though they came under scattered artillery fire, they suffered no casualties. A half hour after midnight, 16 July, the Rangers ran into an Italian roadblock just east of the junction of Highways 122 and 118. While scouts uncovered the Italian position, Maj. Herman W. Dammer, the Ranger battalion commander, deployed his men and sent them in. Within an hour the action was over; one hundred and sixty-five Italians surrendered.
At daylight, 16 July, Major Dammer started his men westward cross-country toward Montaperto. The Rangers had crossed Highway 118 and were on high ground some two hundred yards west of it when an enemy column composed of ten motorcycles and two truckloads of troops came unsuspectingly down the highway toward Agrigento. Deploying along the high ground, the Rangers permitted the enemy force–all Italians–to come fully abreast before opening fire. The first shots threw the enemy column into complete confusion. Many Italians were killed; forty were added to the bag of prisoners.
Without further incident, the Rangers moved into Montaperto. From the hilltop, they had a commanding view of the valley below where four batteries of Italian artillery were emplaced. Major Dammer quickly set up his 60-mm. mortars and opened fire. Individual Rangers joined in with their small arms. Though a few Italians escaped toward the south, most came up the hill with hands held high.
Meanwhile, the two battalions of riflemen from the 7th Infantry were executing
THE VERSATILE DUKW bringing in supplies to Seventh Infantry troops in Port Empedocle.
their roles in what was euphemistically called a reconnaissance in force. The 2d Battalion, advancing westward along Highway 122 from Favara, gained two hills about a thousand yards east of its objective by 0900. Little resistance was encountered, but loss of contact with the Rangers and spotty communications with combat team headquarters prompted Major Duvall, the battalion commander, to hold his attack until he could further develop the situation to his front and flanks. The 1st Battalion, along Highway 115, was having a hard fight trying to get into Agrigento. After dark on 15 July, Colonel Moore, the battalion commander, sent his men across the Naro River and onto three barren hills which fronted the city. His companies soon found themselves hotly engaged with Italian infantrymen representing parts of two infantry battalions. By early afternoon of 16 July the 1st Battalion was still unable to move forward.
In the early afternoon, General Truscott ordered the 3d Battalion, which had been in reserve, to move south of Highway 115 to assist the 1st Battalion. Just after 1400, Colonel Heintges led his 3d Battalion down to the highway. Quickly, the battalion finished off one of the Italian forces opposing the 1st Battalion. Together the two battalions started for Agrigento, as Italian resistance slowly crumbled. In Agrigento, Colonel de Laurentiis, commander of the defense forces,
was undergoing some trying moments. His command post had been the object of heavy Allied naval and ground bombardments during the day. By early afternoon of 16 July all of the Italian artillery batteries had been silenced. Fires had broken out in many places. The town was completely enveloped. The Americans were nearing the town. Finally, after the 1st Battalion had broken into the city proper, Colonel de Laurentiis, his staff, and his troops surrendered to Colonel Moore. By this time, too, Porto Empedocle had fallen to the Rangers.21
Army Directive of 15 July 1943
The 7th Infantry’s thrust against Agrigento and Porto Empedocle was only one of a number of events growing out of General Alexander’s directive of 13 July, which turned the Seventh Army’s axis of advance from the north to the west. On 15 July, even as the 7th Infantry’s reconnaissance in force gathered momentum, General Patton outlined his plan and issued his instructions for executing the army group’s order. Apparently still anticipating a drive on Palermo, he rearranged his forces in the belief that he could win sanction for a thrust to the north coast. While recognizing the initial line of advance as spelled out by General Alexander to be a line from Caltanissetta to Palma (a line already outstripped by the 3d Division), General Patton extended the army boundary past Enna (where General Alexander’s army boundary stopped) to the north coast just west of Santo Stefano di Camastra. Within this new zone, he disposed his forces under two corps headquarters, the existing II Corps and a newly created Provisional Corps. To each of the corps, General Patton assigned roughly one-half of the new zone of operations.
The right sector, running from just east of Serradifalco to Mussomeli, Lercara Friddi, Marineo, and Palermo, went to General Bradley’s II Corps. The newly organized Provisional Corps, under the command of General Keyes, the Seventh Army deputy commander, took over the left sector. To the new corps went the 3d Infantry Division, minus CCA and other supporting units; the 82d Airborne Division; units from the 9th Infantry Division; and artillery units which had been supporting the 3d Division. The 3d Division was to continue on its mission of taking Agrigento and Porto Empedocle and of securing Highway 122 in its sector before passing to Provisional Corps control. The 2d Armored Division was to form the army reserve.
Once the II Corps had shifted the 45th Division from the east to the west of the 1st Division, the divisions were to drive