Operation Fustian

Operation Fustian was a British airborne forces mission during the Allied invasion of Sicily in the Second World War. The operation was carried out by the 1st Parachute Brigade, part of the 1st Airborne Division. Their objective was the Primosole Bridge across the Simeto River. The intention was for the brigade, with glider-borne forces in support, to land on both sides of the river. They would then capture the bridge and secure the surrounding area until relieved by the advance of XIII Corps, which had landed on the south eastern coast three days previously. Because the bridge was the only crossing on the river, and would give the Eighth Army access to the Catania plain, its capture was expected to speed the advance and lead to the eventual defeat of the Axis forces in Sicily.

The operation encountered multiple obstacles and met heavy opposition. Many of the aircraft carrying the paratroopers from North Africa were shot down or were damaged and turned back, due to both friendly fire and enemy action. The evasive action taken by the pilots scattered the brigade over a large area, and only the equivalent of two companies of troops were landed in the correct locations. Despite this and the defence by German and Italian forces, the British paratroops captured the bridge. Resisting all attacks, they held out against increasing odds until nightfall.

The relieving force led by the 50th (Northumbrian) Infantry Division, which was short of transport, had their own problems trying to reach the parachute brigade and were still 1 mile (1.6 km) away when they halted for the night. By this time, with casualties mounting and supplies running short, the parachute brigade commander, Gerald Lathbury, had relinquished control of the bridge to the Germans. The following day the British units joined forces, and the 9th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry with armour support attempted to recapture the bridge. The bridge was not finally secured until three days after the start of the operation, when another battalion of the Durham Light Infantry, led by the paratroopers, established a bridgehead on the northern bank of the river.

The eventual capture of Primosole Bridge did not lead to the expected rapid advance, as by this time the Germans had gathered their forces and established a defensive line. It was not until early the following month that the Eighth Army captured Catania. By this time the 1st Parachute Brigade, which had taken no further part in the conquest of Sicily, had been withdrawn back to Malta. However, many lessons had been learned during the operation, which were put into practice for future Allied airborne operations.

Read more about Operation Fustian:  Background, Fustian, Aftermath

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Operation Fustian - Aftermath
... After an enquiry into the problems with the airborne missions in Sicily, the British Army and Royal Air Force submitted some recommendations ... Aircrew had to be trained in parachute and glider operations, and pathfinders landing before the main force had to have enough time to set out their beacons ...

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