German Propaganda Archive Calvin University


Background: The Nazi Party depended heavily on speakers to get its message across. Those speakers needed to be informed. The following is a translation of instructions to speakers issued in late August1943. After the loss of North Africa a few months before, the Allies landed in Sicily and drove the Germans out in August. As the following rightly observes, the Allies did find the battle in Sicily much tougher than expected, and the Germans managed the astounding feat of withdrawing nearly all of their men and equipment across the Strait of Messina. Still, as an earlier issue of this series noted, wars are not won by evacuations. Despite the efforts made here to present withdrawal as victory, Germans were beginning to wonder how many victorious withdrawals they could survive.

The source: Redner-Schnellinformation, Lieferung 66, late August 1943.

The Island Battle of Sicily

The Germans fought like “tigers.”

We teach the strongest naval powers about freedom of action.

The great battle was fought where the Germans wanted.

For five weeks a handful of German soldiers defended Sicily against two Anglo-American armies (14 enemy divisions, which because of casualties were continually reinforced) and finally crossed the Straight of Messina with men and equipment intact, protected by a flak and aircraft umbrella.

The length of Sicily’s coast is 1050 kilometers. That is 425 kilometers more than the entire German North Sea coast, a distance greater than that between Cologne and Königsberg. The purpose of the defense was to hold back the enemy as long as possible to allow the necessary time for our defensive measures on the continent. The history of warfare shows that such tasks can be achieved only by soldiers willing to fight to the last bullet, sacrificing in the end themselves. The defense of Sicily was especially difficult since the German Wehrmacht as a land power had to defend an island with the long coastline described above against two of the strongest naval powers in the world. The successful defense was crowned by the withdrawal of the fighting troops with all their weapons and equipment under the very eyes of the enemy, a brilliant military achievement by our soldiers and military leadership. It will go down in the glorious pages of German military history.

The enemy boasted too eagerly at the beginning of the battle that German resistance would be broken within three days, and that they would cut off Axis forces in Sicily and capture several elite German divisions. By the end, the Anglo-Americans realized with disappointment that the Germans had decided to fight elsewhere and that the enemy’s enormous superiority in land and sea forces had not succeeded in surrounding and cutting off the small number of bold defenders on the island.

The enemy himself had to admire the German fighters on Sicily, excusing his own lack of success by saying that German soldiers on Sicily fought like “tigers.”

To give our speakers the material in coming months to repeatedly portray the defeat of enemy hopes by the heroic German battle on Sicily, we provide a collection of English and American reports along with the final report of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht about the battle of the “tigers” of Sicily:

1. On 4 August the English journalist James Wollard telephoned Radio New York with the following report:

“If we succeed in cutting off the Axis powers in Sicily before then can break through to the Straight of Messina, we will capture two motorized Nazi divisions, an Italian division, and units of the toughest soldiers in the German army, namely the paratroopers.”

A day later Radio Boston announced in its 10 p.m. English news broadcast:

2. “All organized German resistance on Sicily will be broken in three days.”

Two days later English voices were already quieter:

3. “Before we begin to crow and shout too loudly, we must remember that on land we have so far captured or worn down only the enemy’s outer lines.” (Radio London, 7 August, English service)

This cautious statement was consistent with the statement of the enemy general of the 8th British army, who said in a Radio London situation report of 11 August:

4. “Outside of North Africa, the enemy has never fought as bitterly as here in Sicily.” (Exchange Telegraph)

“The commanding German general has a fully intact army.” (Radio London on 11 August)

This statement corresponds with a dispatch of 14 August from the Exchange Telegraph on the situation in Sicily:

5. The intensive German flak and coastal artillery around the Straight of Messina makes our attacks on German shipping in this area difficult. Given these conditions it is possible that the Germans will be able to bring a considerable portion of their troops to the mainland.” (Exchange Telegraph, 14 August)

On 5 August, “all resistance was to be broken in three days.” Nine days later there was a discouraged enemy admission that the German flak and artillery barrier could not be overcome.

6. “The Germans are using an unprecedented scorched earth policy to slow our advance.

They fought like tigers,

which made the Allied advance very slow. Given these conditions, it is not possible today to predict when the final blow will fall.”

Two days later Allan Humphry reported on Globereuter:

7. “The Germans are leaving Sicily. The water traffic is lively.”

On 14 August Radio London announced at 11:45 p.m.:

8. “The Germans are withdrawing form Sicily. The withdrawal is orderly. A few troops will be left behind to cover the withdrawal. These German forces are giving tough resistance.”

An hour later on 15 August at 12:55 a.m., the news was:

9. “No major battles are waging in Sicily, nor will they in the future, because the Germans have decided to fight their great battle somewhere else.” (Radio London)

German land forces taught the greatest naval powers on earth about freedom of action in the battle for an island with over 1,000 kilometers of coastline!

The Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht provided the following report on the conclusion of the battle of Sicily on 17 August:

“For the last five weeks German troops and parts of an Italian division have been in bitter combat with enemy forces four to five times as large. Our heroic troops achieved superhuman deeds in the most difficult territory and under conditions of tropical heat. The enemy was forced to throw new units into the battle to make up for his heavy losses in men and matériel. The planned withdrawal has been in motion for 14 days. Through our defense and powerful counterattacks, the enemy suffered the heaviest losses. All enemy attempts to trap our troops on Sicily through rolling air attacks or naval action in the Straight of Messina failed. Enemy landing craft to the rear of our front were destroyed. Despite the strongest enemy air attacks, the overwhelming part of our forces was transferred according to plan to Calabria. By 6 a.m. on 17 August, all German and Italian troops along with their heavy weapons, tanks, artillery, vehicles, and equipment had been brought across the Straight of Messina to the mainland. The last to leave the island was Panzer General Hube, who had directed the battle of Sicily.

This enormous military and logistic accomplishment was made possible by the bravery of the troops who hindered each attack on land, through the tireless and heroic work of our navy that carried the traffic with small vessels and protected the flank with light naval forces, and through the strong umbrella provided by the Luftwaffe’s fighters and flak over the Straight of Messina. The leadership and troops have accomplished a task that will go down in military history in the same way as a victorious attack.”

Further details on the achievements in Sicily and the withdrawal were provided on 19 August by the Führer’s Headquarters. That reported the extraordinarily heavy enemy losses and the superior fighting strength of our numerically much weaker forces. According to the report:

“Between 10 July and 17 August units of all branches of the Wehrmacht and armed services in Sicily inflicted heavy losses on the American-British armies. Besides a high number of prisoners, they lost about a third of their troops through death or injury. 383 tanks and armored cars, 63 artillery pieces of all kinds, 652 aircraft, and 11 freight gliders were destroyed or captured.

Naval losses were 61 transport ships with troops or war equipment, a total of 278,750 gross registered tons, and furthermore one cruiser, seven destroyers, three corvettes, and numerous smaller vessels were sunk. A further 59 freighters or transports totalling 278,750 gross registered tons were so severely damaged during the period that they can be assumed a total loss.

During the first two weeks of August, about 17,000 tons of munitions, fuel, and supplies, along with nearly 10,000 vehicles as well as all German and Italian troops with their weapons and equipment were transferred in small ships from Sicily to the mainland.”

The fundamental difference between England’s wild flight from Dunkirk and the strategically and tactically successful; battles of the German divisions in Sicily is clear to any reasonable and objective observer. The British lost the last weapons they had when they fled. We took not only our last, but all our weapons and equipment, all troops as well as the wounded and POWs over the course of a carefully planned action that lasted several weeks. The German soldier showed his absolute superiority in individual combat, as did the lower, middle, and highest levels of military leadership. That superiority enabled us to conduct the battle and to limit the effectiveness of the enemy’s great numerical superiority in matériel and men.

The experiences of this island battle will handicap the enemy in the future as well, for it shows him what to expect when he faces German forces under conditions when we have better supply conditions, equivalent weaponry, and similar numbers of soldiers. The brilliance of the Sicilian operation can be compared with the brilliance of the operation at Narvik. The German solider has proven himself successful, the German leadership always had perfect control of the initiative, and the enemy himself could not hide his admiration for the “tigers” of Sicily.

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