On 27 July 1943, after overcoming strong German
resistance, British and American troops reached positions
overlooking the town of Agira in Sicily. The following
day the United Nations forces continued to
bring pressure to bear from the northeast and northwest. In
the evening of 28 July, Agira was captured. A substantial
number of prisoners was taken, and many German dead were found.
On the 29th a private first class of a Panzer Grenadier
unit, which had retreated from Agira to a new
position several kilometers away, wrote a brief summary
of the action at Agira. U.S. junior officers and
enlisted men should find this narrative informative and
useful, since it discusses the engagement from the
point of view of an enemy infantryman.
2. ACTION AT AGIRA, AS A GERMAN SAW IT
For the past two weeks we have been fighting on Sicilian
soil. The battle we fight here against British and American
troops is tough. Since the fighting is taking place in
mountainous, semi-tropical country, we are experiencing special
conditions of terrain and climate to which we are not accustomed.
A few days ago, we were still in position on a tactically
important height in front of the town of Agira. From this
height the road to Agira could be controlled. The town itself
had not yet been subjected to fire. However, the British and
Americans realized the importance of this town, and made
every effort to defeat us in order to occupy it.
Although we were able to hold our position for several days,
we were not strong enough to resist indefinitely. Also, the
hostile forces had at their disposal an unexpectedly large number
of heavy weapons, which assaulted us day and night. With
this support, the enemy succeeded in penetrating our positions
at certain points during the night and crushing the front line.
We then withdrew to the town of Agira, in order to preserve
our strength and avoid unnecessary casualties.
There we were able to reorganize and make ready for
further defense. Positions were prepared, manned, and improved.
We of course expected a new attack by the hostile
forces; however, for the time being, the enemy sent out only
small forces for reconnaissance. He was being rather careful,
and perhaps did not want to sacrifice troops unnecessarily.
During this period each side tried to find out as much as possible
about the other's positions and strength. Every so often,
heavy weapons participated.
Only after some time did our patrols discover that the
British and Americans, exploiting favorable approach possibilities
under cover of darkness, had occupied several hills
close to the town. Our forces staged counterattacks... but not
until it was too late did we discover that it was the opposition's
intention to bypass the town and block the routes of approach.
Here and there, hostile tanks suddenly appeared, light personnel
carriers came forward, and hostile artillery placed its
"magic fire" [Feuerzauber] closer and closer to our positions. Our
casualties and weapon losses increased, and our situation
became more and more critical. Since our supply routes were
under the steady fire of heavy artillery, we were able to bring
up rations and ammunition only in greatly reduced quantities
and under cover of darkness.
The situation grew still worse when the hostile forces
attacked the battalion echeloned on our right, and forced it
back close to the town. The most severe fighting therefore took
place near the western entrance to the town, where the attacking
forces were strongest. The opposition was able to gain
successes at certain points, although suffering losses.
Our defensive line was still intact. We had hoped that we
might be able to break contact with the hostile forces after delaying
them by house-to-house fighting. Unfortunately, we
were prevented from using these tactics, inasmuch as we received
an order to the effect that the town must be held for
another 24 hours. Now the word was "Hold at any cost." We
realized that .the coming night would bring the crisis, upon
which everything would depend. It came and passed—more
quietly and better than any of us had expected. The British
and Americans had penetrated only into the western part of
the town, evidently moving with caution, and had established
themselves there. We moved around the town, and occupied
the northern entrance at dawn. The enemy tried to interfere
with this tactical undertaking, but we placed sufficient fire on
the attackers to force a withdrawal. We anxiously waited for
night to fall. It was our intention to lose contact with the
opposition after dark, since our delaying mission had been
completed. All day long, every one of us wondered whether
the opposition would remain inactive until nightfall and how
everything would develop.
At dusk we made our preparations. Evacuating Agira as
silently as possible, we made a night march of several kilometers, under
very uncomfortable conditions, and took up a
new position, where we are at present. It is on a steep
hill, and is roughly opposite the same town for which we were
fighting so bitterly only yesterday. Looking at it, we have only
one thought and hope: to halt, weaken, and defeat the advancing enemy.