ALLIED HEADQUARTERS, North Africa -- The United Nations opened the battle of Europe today by sending powerful invasion forces swarming onto the beaches of Sicily, and the first eyewitness report said a bombardment by Allied warships had "started a chain of smoke and flames" stretching 10 miles into the island.
"Somebody is definitely catching hell, and I give you one guess who it is," said Lieut. Robert S. Bleile, of Seaford, Del., as he brought his Lockheed Lightning back to an advanced air base from a flight over Sicily.
A mighty aerial umbrella aided the Allied invasion forces which were made up of American, British and Canadian troops. Meager and unofficial reports said the invasion aided by heavy naval support was "proceeding according to plan."
Indications were that the Axis defenders were putting up a stiff fight.
More Important Blows Expected Early.
(Axis communiques reported that the fighting was heavy on the southeastern coast of Sicily, and said decisive counterblows had been struck against the invaders. British sources suggested that other and more important blows might be struck against the fortress of Europe soon.)
Bleile said that from his reconnaissance plane he could see Allied warships "shelling the enemy without interruption." Allied landing barges "seemed to be everywhere," he added.
The Allied amphibious operations under command of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower began after two weeks of mounting aerial onslaught that was continued by hundreds of airplanes up to Friday, when U. S. Liberators from the Middle East smashed Comiso and Taormina, 30 miles south of Messina, causing heavy damage.
Fifteen Axis planes were shot down Friday when Allied aircraft from the northwest Africa command encountered increased opposition, losing 10 airplanes.
A furious naval barrage that illuminated sections of the Sicilian coast opened the invasion operations in darkness as the Allied fleet -- including battleships -- threaded through the enemy mine field and put assault troops ashore in tank-carrying barges. There was no immediate indication that Mussolini's scattered and battered Italian fleet accepted the challenge to fight the invasion.
The first phase of the attack on Sicily, regarded popularly as the opening move in establishment of a second front, was designed to establish bridgeheads and strong Axis opposition was anticipated in the air and on the ground.
Parachute and Air-Borne Troops Likely Used.
(London reports describing the greatest Allied offensive of the war suggested that parachute and air-borne troops were used by the Allies to crash through the strong Sicilian defenses, manned by an estimated 300,000 Italians and Germans. Radio Morocco reported the landings were "being consolidated" on the west coast of Sicily, but it was believed many landings had been made around the shores of the island, with the ports of Catania, Palermo and Trapani as well as Comiso, Catania and Gerbini airdromes as the main objectives.)
(The reported landing at the western tip of Sicily indicated that the first Allied objectives included the important Axis air bases of Trapani, Marsala, Mazzaro, Milo and Castelvetrano, all on the western end of the island and linked by a network of good roads with the big port of Palermo.)
The Allied invasion forces, specially trained in American-built landing barges for many weeks, were reported meeting "strong resistance" in the first phase of fighting on European soil just two months after the last Axis forces were driven from Africa.
Eisenhower, following issuance of a communique announcing the landings, broadcast a message to occupied France in which he described the invasion of Sicily as "the first stage in the liberation of the European continent." He told the French people to remain calm until they were called upon to act, which he hinted might be soon.
Many Ships in Operation.
The special communique at 5:10 a. m. from Allied, headquarters said:
"Allied forces tinder command of General Elsenhower began landing operations on Sicily early this morning. The landings were preceded by Allied air attack. Allied naval forces escorted the assault forces and bombarded tie coast defenses during the assault."
The crossing of the 90-mile "moat" from Tunisia to the rugged island of Sicily, which once had 4,000,000 population, was made in all types of naval craft, including special landing barges brought under their own power from the United States to strike at Italy just three years and one month after Mussolini stabbed France in the back. (There was no mention of French troops taking part in the invasion of Sicily).
For two weeks huge Allied air fleets based in northwest Africa and the Middle East had hammered at Sicily with thousands of tons of bombs, seeking to knock out Axis air power, demolish air bases, destroy railroad facilities and ports and isolate the island from the Italian mainland. For the last seven days the air attack had been almost continuous, day and night.
Troops Jam Ships.
Then the converted freighters, the big battleships, the fast destroyers, the heavily armed cruisers and the new type lauding barges heavily armed and protected were assembled by the hundreds and put out in darkness from the African coast. Crouching in the barges and jammed aboard the transports were American troops that had been practicing invasion assaults for weeks and were toughened and ready for the hardest battle of their lives.
There were Canadian troops, too the rough-and-ready soldiers who had been waiting (presumably until recently in England) for the chance to avenge their comrades who fell at Dieppe and had long been promised the honor of spearheading the invasion of Hitler's European fortress.
The British forces, which chased Nazi Marshal Erwin Rommel across Africa and into the sea, were the third part of the Allied team which struck at Sicily in an operation that found land, sea and air forces co-operating magnificently under Eisenhower's command.
Engineers Lead Assault.
Crouched in the landing barges, the Allied troops led by engineers and sappers were off the Sicilian coast in the dark hour before dawn.
The engineers, given the toughest jobs in such a hazardous operation, carried bangalore torpedoes a gadget about 15 to 18 feet long and encased in a two or three-inch pipe used to shove into barbed wire entanglements in order to open a path for the assault troops.
Allied forces from Malta, only 60 miles away from Sicily, were presumed to have joined invasion units somewhere off the island coast.
And then, in the last period of darkness, the big guns of the naval armada opened up.