National Geographic : 1946 Feb
From Africa to the Alps I 1 National Geogra phic S , , '.S. .rnry .ir FIorces, Ollicial Smoking Mount Etna Looms above the Scene of the Final Battles for Sicily IKNOWN to ancients as the "forge of Vulcan." 10.758-foot Mount Etna formed a massive backdrop for the fighting that knocked Italy out of the Axis line-up. After the conquest of North Africa, Pantelleria, and the smaller Mediterranean islands, the full weight of Allied air power was employed to "soften up" Sicily. Hard-hitting Mitchells. like the one flying past snow-clad Etna. led the air attack. Used mainly as medium bombers, these B-25's also raked enemy shipping with 75-mm . cannon mounted in their noses. Hundreds of enemy planes, too, were wrecked as they sat on their fields. Other B-25's, carrying depth charges in their bomb bays, helped drive U-boats out of the Mediterranean. Largely because of this aerial softening up, the Allies conquered Sicily in slightly more than five weeks. In contrast, the ancient Saracens laid siege to the Sicilian town of Enna for 31 years, and it took the Normans a quarter of a century to reduce the same stronghold. The assault on Sicily began on July 9, 1943. when C-47 transports dropped paratroops on strong points inside the island (Plate VI). These were the first American troops ashore. While airborne units were fighting in the enemy's rear. an armada of more than 2,000 vessels landed an invasion army on the east coast. By July 25 the enemy had been pushed back to his Mount Etna line. Three weeks later remnants of the Axis forces were retreating across the Strait of Messina to Italy. Etna, highest volcano in Europe, covers an area of 460 square miles, with Catania at its southern base and Taormina, a famous resort, to the north east. In 1928 an eruption wiped out the town of Mascali and almost destroyed Nunziata. Streams of lava 100 feet wide blocked the Messina-Catania railway line and caused heavy damage to property.