File No.: Battle Study # 18
Title: Location of the Battle of Biazza Ridge, Sicily ( Italy), July 10th 1943
Investigation made at: Municipalities Niscemi and Gela,
Sicily (Italy)
Period Covered: July 10th and 11th, 1943
Date:  January 2010
Case Classification: Description of Battlefield / Combat Scene
Case Status: Case Closed
REASON FOR INVESTIGATION: It came to this agency's attention that paratroopers of the 82nd "All American" Division fought a characteristic airborne battle on the Italian island of Sicily during the invasion of that island in 1943. Paratroop-infantrymen, together with artillery units, were to take and hold a ridge - Biazza Ridge - just inland from the invasion beaches. From the inland to the coastal area a road ran through the ridge at one point - at Ponte Dirillo. By controlling this road-ridge-junction, the airborne men could stop enemy reinforcements moving from mainland Sicily to the landing beaches. The battlefield has hardly changed since World War Two.
BattleDetective.com went there to investigate.

 

SYNOPSIS:  The orders of the paratroop force, sent to the Biazza Ridge were:
"505 Regimental Headquarters, 1st and 2nd Battalions and Batteries A and B of the 456 were to drop just north of an important road junction (Y) about seven miles east of Gela, attack and overcome an enemy strongpoint commanding the junction and hold that position until contacted by the 1st Infantry Division. The 3rd Battalion and Battery C of the 456 would drop south of the same junction and occupy the high ground. 3/504 would drop south of Niscemi and establish and defend roadblocks on the road from that area to the south."
 

(click on the image to enlarge)

On the 10th of July 1943,  after very a very difficult landing (caused by evasive action from enemy and friendly ground anti-aircraft artillery by the troop-carrying pilots), the paratroops set up their defensive positions.
Soon they would meet with the anticipated German counter-attack: tanks from the Herman Goering Armored Division.

The fight at Biazza Ridge would be one of the fiercest and bloodiest battles of the invasion of Sicily. The battle to hold the junction raged on for hours, with about 250 lightly armed paratroopers against a German armored column.
With the aid of artillery units and a newly developed tactic - waiting for the heavily armored German tanks to expose their weak spots and then shoot them with bazooka's and canons- the Americans held the ridge and stopped enemy tanks from attacking the 45th US Infantry Division landing on the beaches. A machinegun crew from Battery D of the 456 Parachute Field Artillery Battalion shot down one German Messerschmidt ME-109 and damaged two others that were strafing and bombing the ridge.

Later, a battalion of the 45th Infantry Division, with the support of Sherman tanks and artillery, came up to the ridge with a naval liaison officer who radioed the offshore destroyers and cruisers. The Navy responded by firing their battleship canons at the German positions. At the end of the day a counterattack was ordered  and although the paratroopers came under heavy enemy artillery and mortar fire, the "All Americans" successfully overran the German positions.
 

CONCLUSIONS: The battle at Biazza Ridge turned out to be a turning point in the invasion of Sicily. American opposition forced the Germans into making the decision to break contact at Gela and withdraw. It has always been German military doctrine to defend a coast at vital points and have mobile reinforcement units available to move toward the location of the actual invasion. By cutting the road to the invasion beaches, the paratroops prevented the enemy from driving the American infantry back into the sea.

In august 2009 we visited the battlefield. We found that on either side of the ridge, where Highway 115 cuts through it, German pillboxes can be seen. They remain largely as they were in 1943:
 


Bazarra Ridge at Ponte Dirillo looking North inland with pillbox covering Highway 115

A monument, featuring a plaque with the names of the 39 paratroopers of the 82nd Airborne Division who gave their lives for the capture and the defense of Biazza Ridge, was dedicated at the outside wall of a farmhouse, close to the road junction.
 
EXHIBITS: 

(click on the thumbnails to enlarge)

Highway 115 Southbound through Biazza Ridge at Ponte Dirillo

Battle Detectives near Highway 115

Enemy pillboxes on North Eastern high ground of Biazza Ridge

Enemy pillbox on North Eastern high ground of Biazza Ridge

Monument to the 82nd Airborne Division at Ponte Dirillo

B.D. Kim at the monument to the 82nd Airborne Division at Ponte Dirillo

Enemy pillbox on North Western high ground of Biazza Ridge

View from from firing hole of pillbox looking North

Artillery position and fortified trench on North Western high ground of Biazza Ridge at Ponte Dirillo

Pillbox and entrance to fortified trench on North Western high ground of Biazza Ridge at Ponte Dirillo

Excellent view from fortified trench

View from pillbox on Western slope of Biazza Ridge looking East across fortified trench

An impression of what combat inside these pillboxes was like, can be seen in the excellent 1943 Invasion of Sicily Museum in Catania:
 

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