NEWYou can now listen to Fox News articles!
General George S. Patton, one of the most revered, skilled and yet controversial figures in American military lore, reached the coastal city of Messina and secured the liberation of Sicily on this day in history, August 17, 1943.
The fall of Messina marked the end of the Sicily Campaign and set the stage for the invasion and liberation of the European mainland in World War II.
Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini suffered his humiliating downfall and arrest in Rome during the Allied effort to seize the Mediterranean island.
Messina’s capture was not only a victory for the Allies; it was a personal victory for the famously proud, bombastic Patton.
He reached the port city on the northeastern tip of Sicily just hours before his British foil, Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
The two celebrated military leaders — the American dubbed “Old Blood and Guts,” the Brit known simply as “Monty” — reportedly had an unofficial battle to beat the other in the so-called “Race to Messina.”
“This is a horse race in which the prestige of the U.S. Army is at stake,” Patton wrote in orders to his field commanders.
“We must take Messina before the British. Please use your best efforts to facilitate the success of our race.”
Messina is located just two miles from the boot of Italy — close enough that in recent years, proposals have been made to bridge the distance over the Straits of Messina.
“Sicily was a natural route to mainland Italy and the European continent going back in history to the Punic Wars between Carthage and Rome,” states the National World War II Museum in its recount of the campaign.
“This is a horse race in which the prestige of the U.S. Army is at stake.”
The Allies’ invasion of Sicily on July 9, 1943, included the largest amphibious landing force in history until that time.
It was a proving ground for the epic D-Day invasion of mainland France to follow in 1944.
The Allies landed 150,000 troops in Sicily over three days, in a Herculean military and industrial effort supported by 3,000 ships and more than 4,000 aircraft.
The campaign coincided with a series of monumental events in WWII history.
Mussolini was deposed and arrested on July 25, when he was voted out of office, then dismissed and arrested by King Victor Emmanuel III, as it became clear the war was lost for Italy.
Mussolini was executed on April 28, 1945, as the war drew to a close.
Angry Italians desecrated his corpse in a Milan piazza the following day.
Patton, while willing the race to Messina, also saw his star dimmed during the Sicily Campaign. He was reprimanded by Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower for slapping soldiers on August 3 and 10, 1943.
Among the consequences, Patton was forced to sit out the D-Day invasion of Normandy in June 1944. He was placed in charge of a “ghost army” used to deceive the Germans over the location and scope of the impending invasion.
He returned to play a heroic role in the defeat of Germany as the Allied armies swept across Northern Europe in late 1944 and early 1945.
Patton was killed in a car accident in Germany in December 1945 — and buried with other American soldiers at the Luxembourg American Cemetery.
The U.S., British and Canadians suffered 24,000 casualties in the five-week-long Sicily Campaign.