Meeting Minutes-Alex Fitzgerald-Black:Canadian Airmen in Sicily-Oct. 31st. 2019
President Julian Sale opened the meeting at 9:55 am with 53 members in attendance. After welcoming today’s guest speaker, Alexander Fitzgerald-Black, Julian made a few preliminary comments and announced that a recent new member, Bob Berry, has stepped forward to assist the House Committee by agreeing to learning and then setting up the AV system for our regular meetings. Thank you Bob. Julian once again asked for volunteers to assist on the various membership committees, especially the Activities Committee.
Announcements Activities – Ken Marchant - Remembrance Day ceremonies will take place on November 11th at the Sleeman Centre with lunch to follow at Diana’s Restaurant for those who wish to do so; - Christmas Luncheon is scheduled for December 12th at Victoria Golf Club. Sign-up sheet is on the greeting table. There has been a fairly good signup so far; - The Village-on-the-Arboretum Cabaret has only two tickets left available for November 21st for the first two people who want them; - Signup sheet for the Valentine’s Day Dinner is now available.
Coffee – Andy Curtis Next week same as usual at both the Boathouse and Airpark Café. John Sneyd introduced today’s guest speaker, Alexander Fitzgerald-Black speaking on Eagles Over Husky, The Allied Air Force and the Sicilian Campaign, 14 May to 17 August, 1943
Bio:. Alex Fitzgerald-Black has a Master of Arts in Military History from the University of New Brunswick and a Master of Arts in Public History from the University of Western Ontario. He is the Digital Projects Coordinator at the Juno Beach Centre Association, where he is the host of Juno Beach and Beyond: Canada's Second World War Podcast. Alex’s research interests include air power in the Second World War, with a particular focus on the Mediterranean, and Canadian military history. He is the author of Eagles over Husky: The Allied Air Forces and the Sicilian Campaign, 14 May to 17 August 1943.
Topic In the summer of 1943, the United Nations began Operation HUSKY, the invasion of Sicily. The Eagles over HUSKY – the airmen of the Allied air forces – played a crucial role in the assault. Concentrated in four Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons and scattered among dozens of Imperial units, Canadians served throughout the Allied air armada. Over three months, 154 Canadian airmen died in support of the operation. When Canada remembers the Italian Campaign, we often neglect the contributions of airmen like these. What follows is an effort to retrieve the stories of a few Canadian airmen from the relative obscurity that has become the invasion of Sicily.
Presentation: Alexander Fitzgerald-Black began by talking about his book cover. It incorporates some major themes one of which is the overarching theme of cooperation between the Royal Airforce as well as a number of Canadian squadrons involved and the US Army Airforce.
At the outset on the 22 July,1943, in the Battle for Sicily there was a history of bumbling. This was shown by mistakes made between the ground troops and the Allied air command when they strafed some Canadian troops by mistake and one plane was actually shot down by ground forces thinking that they were “friendly planes in hostile hands.”
In the attack, air force support was arranged to support the ground attack by strafing Axis supply lines between the two target towns. But due to mistakes there is an argument that the Allies cost themselves total victory. In the past historians have argued that poor cross national and inter-arms cooperation allowed the Germany army to successfully make a complete withdrawal from Sicily even though they were greatly outnumbered by Allied armies. This is argued in two books: “Bitter Victory: the Battle for Sicily” and “The Battle of Sicily: How the Allies Lost Their Chance For Total Victory.”
Fitzgerald-Black argued in his book on a different tact that Sicily was a victory which thwarted German attempts to keep Italy on side as long as possible and to prevent the Allies from invading the mainland. The withdrawal caused Nazi Germany to have to divert 20 percent of its troops to Italy but allowed the liberation of Europe to begin in the fall of 1943 instead of the spring of 1944.
The question being asked was where was the air force in all of this? Focussing on the short-comings of the campaign historians have tended to obscure the role played by the Allied air forces in a critical strategic victory. The tactical air force provided close air support causing the Axis in Sicily with heavy losses. The strategic air force raids on mainland and railway transport and enemy supply lines making Axis re-supply lines difficult. Raids also brought pressure on the Italian state to shed fascism change sides in the war. In this way the strategic mission of allied soldiers and airmen were one and the same.
Fitzgerald-Black went on to explain why her wrote this book. He was interested in a topic to do a thesis on while at the University of New Brunswick and a mentor suggested this topic. He had been an air cadet while younger and the air force always had an interest to him. He was touring Sicily in 2013 and while doing a lot of secondary research he was always being asked where was the air force in all of this and knowing there was very little history from the air forces perspective. So, he decided to write about the campaign from the air forces perspective as opposed to the campaign from the army’s perspective. Then he discovered the critical role of the Allied air force’s operation called “Husky.”
For the remainder of his presentation he highlighted the places, people, and battles associated with this campaign. He goes on to explain the sources of his research.
Alexander Fitzgerald-Black works at the Juno Beach Centre as a historian and is the digital products coordinator. (For more information on this and to listen to podcasts go to junobeach.org/podcast ) Also see the slide for this presentation on the Men’s Club website under speaker’s notes.
John Sneyd thanked Alexander Fitzgerald-Black Adjournment: 11:00 am Recording Secretary: Kerry Gennings