German Counter-attack at Gela

South-eastern Sicily, the scene of the allied landings

German Counter-attack at Gela

With the invasion of Sicily underway (July 10, 1943) and US forces streaming onto the beach at Gela, the German forces in the area prepared to counter the Allied move. In the east Kampfgruppe Schmalz, of the Herman Göring Division, and the Italian Napoli Division faced the British, while the remainder of the Herman Göring Division and the Livorno Division were positioned within striking distance of the US landings at Gela.

Word of the Allied invasion reached Conrath’s headquarters (commander of Herman Göring) from Kesselring’s Mediterranean HQ near Rome, and was confirmed when patrols encountered US Paratroops near Niscemi.

Guzzoni, overall commander of Axis forces in Sicily, had ordered an immediate counter-attack on first news of the invasion, but poor communications meant he was never sure if the orders had got through to his units.

Conrath had not got Guzzoni’s orders, but used the independent German network to contact the German liaison officer at the Italian’s HQ to suggest a counter-attack. Conrath’s plan was quickly approved the attack was underway by 4am.

The US forces landed at on the Gela beach were the 1st Infantry Division and the 2nd Armored Division ~ Hell On Wheels (less Combat Command A). The first troops had come ashore on July 10 at 5.00pm and a stream of Armored and Infantry troops continued to stream onto the beach through the evening.

By 2.00am, July 11, the 2nd Armored only had two tanks ashore and both had become bogged down in the soft sand, and rough weather delayed the landing of the remainder until later that morning. In the meantime the Infantry of the 1st Infantry Division had been under pressure from a number of Italian counter-attacks, but had held their positions while the Armor struggled ashore. 

As unloading resumed that morning reconnaissance troops were sent out and Armored Units were assembled ready for combat. At about 8am Conrath’s counter-attack arrived on the 1st Infantry Divisions right flank. 

A landingship loaded up with men, transport and supplies heading for the beaches of Sicily

About thirty Panzers attacked the 2nd Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment between Gela and Niscemi. The attack was repulsed with anti-tank guns, Bazookas and later in the day with the arrival of a single M10 tank destroyer. 

The German tanks regrouped and managed to by-pass the west flank of the 16th Infantry Regiment and, using a hill to screen their movement, advanced on the Gela beachhead. Commander of Hell On Wheel’s Combat Command B Colonel I D White was on the beach establishing communications while his 2iC Lt. Colonel Briard P Johnson was at the HQ observing the advance of the 26th Regiment combat teams advance on Ponto Olivo when he and the command staff noticed the emergence of the German tanks from behind the hill about 4000 metres from the beach.

Immediately Johnson contacted White and called for an available tank platoon to be brought forward. As Johnson was observing the Panzers shells started to fall among them and several German tanks were abandoned.

The Sherman platoon of 1st Lieutenant James A White (4 Tanks) was placed in a firing position on the Gela-Vittoria road. Lt White’s platoon opened fire as the Panzers came into range, with Lt Col Johnson standing on the back of Lt White’s command tank directing fire. At the same time all available artillery on the beach opened up on the Germans, including 105 Howitzers, 4.2” Chemical Mortars and Naval artillery.

A M4A1 Sherman in Sicily
Supplies and guns come ashore

A single 105mm howitzer was also brought forward to assist the Shermans in their direct fire on the Panzers.

At one point Lt Col Johnson ran over from Lt White’s tank to the 105mm howitzer to give the crew a brief lesson in leading their targets in direct fire. A platoon of Panzers closed to about 1000 metres of Johnson’s position and Lt White’s three most forward Shermans were forced to withdraw 400 metres due to low ammunition.  

As the Panzers advanced White’s tank and the Howitzer opened fire on them, one Panzer was destroyed and the remainder fell back.

Johnson sent one of his officers back to retrieve ammunition for the tanks and howitzer. Major Joe A. Clema was unable to locate ammunition but he did return with an M7 Priest from the 16th Infantry Regiment’s Cannon Company. The 105 Howitzer withdrew to find its unit.

M2A1 105mm gun
Patton (left) arrives at Gela, note the Summerville Matting underfoot

More tanks coming forward were delayed by the difficulties moving across the soft sand, Summerville Matting (chicken wire) placed on the sand to improve traction was becoming entangled in the tracks and drive sprockets and had to be cut free to get the tanks moving again. Any tanks leaving the Summerville Matting were throwing tracks in the soft sand.

But soon more US tanks appeared and the toll from Johnson’s small command and the artillery bombardment forced the Germans of the Herman Göring Division to withdraw. They had lost 15 Panzers to the Americans 3 men wounded. 

Refighting the Battle

Gela was a desperate holding battle, so a No Retreat mission would best suit any re-fights. You may like to add a preliminary bombardment to represent the Naval artillery or work out some off board artillery buy representing them with the US commander observing and giving them a 1+/2+ firepower.

US defender of course.


Combat Command A, 2nd Armored Division (Hell On Wheels)

The US force on table should consist of:

Lt Col Johnson;s
CCA Command HQ
2x M1 Carbine Team ~ 1pts
1x M2A1 105mm Howtizer (under the command of Johnson) ~ 3pts

Lt White’s M4 Sherman Tank Platoon
4x M4A1 Shermans ~ 32pts
Area of the Gela landings


Arriving in this order:
Armored Recon Patrol ~ 3pts

1x M7 Priest (comes under the command of CCA Command platoon) ~ 4pts

Armor Platoon
5x M4A1 Shermans ~ 40pts

Off table artillery equivalent of a Field Artillery Battery ~ 10pts
(Measure ranges from table edge).

Total ~ 93pts

Landings at Gela Herman Göring Panzer Regiment

Pamzer III (Uparmoured) Tank Company Headquarters
2x Panzer III (Uparmoured) L ~ 16pts

Panzer Platoon
3x Panzer III (Uparmoured) L ~ 24pts

Panzer Platoon
4x Panzer III (Uparmoured) L ~ 32pts

Panzer platoon
3x Panzer III (Uparmoured) L ~ 24pts

Total ~ 96pts

Last Updated On Thursday, September 28, 2017 by Wayne at Battlefront