Air Support of the Allied Landings in Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio

By St. Clair, Matthew G. | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2005 | Go to article overview

Air Support of the Allied Landings in Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio


St. Clair, Matthew G., Joint Force Quarterly


This study analyzes the operations of the Twelfth Air Force in the Mediterranean theater from 1943 to 1944, specifically in regard to the three Allied amphibious operations at Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio. These landings illustrate a wide range of tactical and operational innovations, doctrine, and coalition air warfare. In the interwar years, the Army Air Corps had given virtually no thought to supporting amphibious operations, yet it had to develop a doctrine for such operations.

Amphibious assaults are the most complex of all military operations to execute because they demand detailed coordination and planning among the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Allied planners in the Mediterranean had few historical models as examples in early 1943. The large amphibious landings in North Africa in 1942 had experienced only sporadic resistance from the Vichy French both on the ground and in the air, and the defense never mounted a serious air or naval threat.

Many U.S. Army planners were reluctant to embrace the idea of amphibious operations and believed that landings against an opposed shore had little chance of success. The British were not strong advocates of amphibious operations because the failures at Gallipoli in 1915 and Dieppe in 1942 continued to haunt them. Yet amphibious landings would be critical to the operational success of the Allies in the Mediterranean. General Dwight Eisenhower and his commanders had limited experience in their planning and coordination, and Airmen had not developed a doctrine to support them. The learning curve would be steep and innovation was essential.

The story of Twelfth Air Force support of the Allied landings contains valuable lessons for today's coalition warfare environment as well as issues of air-ground coordination, close air support, and the strategic effects of airpower. This study is not intended to be an operational history of Twelfth Air Force; rather, it follows the early evolution of the tactical and operational techniques and procedures used and the development of doctrine that influenced the organization of the U.S. Air Force.

The conclusion addresses some of the more important issues of interest today. Twelfth Air Force entered the war with no combat experience, untested doctrine, and tactics that frustrated Airmen and ground commanders alike. As the war in the Mediterranean theater progressed, the Airmen of the Twelfth Air Force developed effective doctrine and tactical innovations that made significant contributions to the Allied strategy and established precedents that are employed in the 21st century. In the end, the study shows the importance of sound doctrine, innovation, and leadership.

Air Operations in North Africa

Operation Torch and the eventual Allied victory in Tunisia were executed with considerable friction among the Americans, British, and forces of the Free French. Initial procedures regarding command and control, doctrine, logistics, and employment of airpower were not universally agreed upon, which caused considerable debate between the planning staffs as well as between air and ground commanders. However, the doctrine and procedures developed by the end of the African campaign served as the basic model for campaigns in Sicily, Italy, and northwest Europe. The airpower doctrine advocated by American Airmen laid the foundation for changes to the U.S. Army Air Forces standing field regulations for air superiority, interdiction, and close air support. Twelfth Air Force and the Royal Air Force (RAF) Eastern Air Command were initially unable to achieve air superiority, and poor coordination of the overall air effort frustrated Allied commanders. It became imperative for Eisenhower to resolve these issues and adopt a doctrine providing for employment of air assets to gain and maintain air superiority and provide close air support to ground commanders. (1)

Prewar airpower doctrine for the Army Air Force and RAF focused on strategic bombing and aerial interdiction; thus, both air forces were organized around a substantial fleet of bombers. …

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