I have always been interested in military history and the history of Sicily is the story of repeated conquest and occupation. The largest island in the Mediterranean is dotted with sites ancient and modern that testify to its long and sanguinary struggle against invaders from Carthage, Greece, Rome, North Africa, Germany, and most recently the U.S. and Great Britain. Ten years ago, Patti and I decided to search out the remaining evidence of Operation Husky, the Anglo-American invasion of Sicily in 1943. Long overshadowed by the subsequent landings on the Italian mainland and then Normandy, the first American incursion in Europe during the Second World War has become a barely remembered footnote in history.
I did some preliminary research with the official U.S. Navy and Army histories of the campaign, but it soon became clear that what we needed was a large dose of local knowledge. We secured it in the form of one Roberto Piccione, a part-time guide and employee of Italy’s version of the IRS. Needless to say, we were intrigued. Of equal importance, Roberto was very facile with the web and I was able to arrange a three day guided tour of the areas around Licata, Cassibile, Siracusa, and Catania where the landings took place and/or some of the heaviest fighting raged.
We started with an overview of Operation Husky at Catania’s excellent museum dedicated to World War II in Sicily. Roberto expanded on each of the exhibits with in-depth analysis and anecdotes from his father and other relatives who lived through the conflict. Then we drove all over southeastern Sicily in search of pill boxes, bunkers, gun emplacements and other strong points. Roberto taught us how to spot such artifacts from the road (they are often cunningly camouflaged), a skill we employ to this very day, not only in Sicily but also in France and Belgium (see our series on European Battlefields). Once you know what to look for, these reminders of the past are like mushrooms peaking through blades of grass during a hike, ubiquitous yet difficult to spot if your brain is not trained for the task.
We also visited the Anglo-American landing sites and cemeteries as well as the place where the Italians surrendered Sicily to the Allies while the Germans fought on grimly retreating across the Straights of Messina and then up the spine of the Italian peninsula. We saw the remains of airfields from which U.S. paratroops were staged for lightening coup d’etat in Rome that was called off at the very last minute. We walked a battlefield just outside Syracuse where British and German paratroops fought a fierce battle for control of vital river crossing at the outset of the invasion. It was one of the best tours we have ever had, featuring a polymath guide who knew Sicily’s history both ancient and modern as well as where to get excellent VFM meals and accommodation.
Now flash forward 10 years. We were pleasantly surprised to hear from Roberto again through a contact on our MagoGuide.net website. He has now become a Professional Tour Guide with all of Sicily as his brief. Surprisingly, given Roberto’s pervious career path, he is quite an entrepreneur. He has one website in excellent English giving out helpful information (Impavidus.it) with another in the works. In addition, he owns and rents studio apartments and is planning to open a B&B next year.
Even if you do not have any interest in history you should take advantage of Roberto’s encyclopedic knowledge of the Sicilian countryside (he grew up in the Sicilian equivalent of the Boy Scouts and knows all of the great trekking areas on this beautiful island) as well as his gastronomic expertise. If you’re going to Sicily be certain to check out Roberto’s website and get in touch. His English is excellent, his knowledge of the area thorough, and his perspective unique.
2014 marked the 100th anniversary of World War I. Team Mago spent two weeks in the early summer of 2014 exploring the fields of valor that made up The Western Front of The Great War as well as many of its antecedents and successors. This book takes you to battlefields and other military artifacts not typically found in guidebooks, providing detailed context, analysis, and local knowledge that enhance the experience for both travelers and readers. With over 350 photos as well as reviews of restaurants, hotels, and chateaus, this book both entertains and enlightens. If you are planning a visit to coincide with the centenary of the First World War War or are a student of military history, MagoGuide’s European Battlefield Tour is a must read.
Get more information here and order it today!