Operation ‘Husky’, the Allied invasion of Sicily, commenced on 10 July 1943. Surrounded by Italian units, most of which were of third line quality and only too happy to surrender, the ‘HG’ Division and the Army’s 15. Panzergrenadier-Division fought well, despite coming under devastating fire from Allied naval vessels offshore; they even managed an initially successful counter-attack at Gela in the south of the island. They held their line tenaciously, but despite reinforcements – in the shape of 29. Panzergrenadier-Division flown in from mainland Italy, and elements of 1. Fallschirm-Division from France overwhelming Allied superiority saw the Germans being pushed inexorably north-east towards Messina. The ‘Hermann Göring’ provided rearguard cover for other German units being evacuated to the Italian mainland, and was indeed one of the last elements to leave Sicily. Despite the heavy fighting in which it had been involved, and the intensive Allied bombing of the port of Messina through which it was withdrawn, the bulk of the ‘HG’ Division’s personnel and most of its heavy equipment were successfully evacuated – an extraordinary achievement. It is perhaps indicative of the fighting qualities of the ‘Herman Goring’ that in his post-war memoirs Gen. Eisenhower maintained that the Panzer and paratroop units deployed in Sicily were amongst the best that the US forces encountered throughout the whole war. He also commented on the tenacity of the defenders, stating that each German position could only be taken once its defences had been utterly destroyed.
The division was then moved to the area around Naples for an intended period of rest and refitting. Almost immediately, however, the ‘Hermann Göring’ was put onto the alert for further action. On 3 September the British 8th Army landed in Calabria; and on the 8th the Italian government surrendered. This came as no surprise, and Germany quickly implemented contingency plans to occupy strategic points and disarm the Italian armed forces. The following day, US 5th Army units landed at Salerno and successfully established a beachhead. German efforts to eliminate this foothold lasted for nine days; at first the ‘HG’ Division’s efforts met with some success, but the sheer weight of firepower available to the attackers from Allied warships gradually forced the Germans to give ground. The division pulled back into Naples, where it held on tenaciously until finally relinquishing the devastated port on 1 October, ‘Withdrawing to positions on the line Volturno-Termoli.
Here once again the ‘Hermann Göring’ and its brothers-in-arms of 15. Panzergrenadier Division put up a spirited defence, gaining essential time for the main defences on the Gustav Line to be prepared; this system ran right across Italy from Gaeta on the west coast to Ortona on the east, ‘With its western end blocking the Liri Valley, the gateway to Rome. German delaying tactics were highly successful: sappers destroyed bridges, mined roads and demolished buildings while infantry, guns and armour fought stubborn rearguard actions. The Allied advance was slow and costly, and every day won by the defenders brought closer the onset of winter weather, which would compound the Allies’ difficulties. With the coming of the autumn rains the bulk of the ‘Hermann Göring’ was then pulled back to rest in new reserve positions around Frosinone; but some elements – mainly the Flak and Panzer-Artillerie regiments – remained at the front, involved in heavy winter fighting before they too were relieved in January 1944.
As die Allies continued to push against the mountainous defences of the Gustav Line, the ‘Hermann Goring’ was released from the reserve and moved south to face the British 8th Army on the Garigliano River. On 22 January 1944 the Allies took the Germans completely by surprise with a landing at Anzio, north of the Gustav Line’s western end, and successfully established a small bridgehead. This force “Fas supposed to penetrate inland, rapidly, drawing German troops away from Cassino and the Gustav Line; instead, not realising that the road to Rome lay virtually open before him, the US Gen. Lucas hesitated fatally. The very able German C-in-C Italy, Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring, quickly sent units racing to the Anzio front, among them elements of the ‘He’ Division; the bridgehead was successfully contained, and put under such pressure that it was the Allies who had to shift men there from the Cassino sector. The ‘Hermann Goring’ fought effectively on the German, left flank near Cisterna, opposite the US 3rd Division and two unlucky Ranger battalions, before being withdrawn to Tuscany to reform. In February 1944 the ‘Hermann Goring’ was redesignated as a Fallschirm-Panzer Division (‘Parachute Armoured Division’), though this was a purely ‘paper’ change involving minimal alteration to its structure or capability. In April, Generalleutnant Conrath handed over command of the division to Generalmayor Wilhelm Schmalz.
In May 1944 the Allied break-out from the Anzio-Nettuno bridgehead coincided with Gen. Alexander’s long-delayed capture of Monte Cassino and subsequent advance up the Liri Valley. Rome was now threatened, and so was the retreat from the Gustav Line of the German 10. Armee. Caution was thrown to the wind, and the ‘Hermann Goring’ was ordered to march to the Velletri sector of the front in broad daylight despite the danger from Allied air superiority. It was a decision that cost the ‘HG’ dearly: the German columns were attacked relentlessly by fighter-bombers, in a foretaste of what would happen La German armoured units again the following month in Normandy. Although the division initially succeeded in holding up the Allied advance it was eventually forced into retreat, pulling back at the start of June to positions on the Aniene river east of Rome; once again, however, the ‘HG’ Division’s exemplary conduct in the face of overwhelming odds earned it a specific mention in the official Wehrmacht communiques. By July the division had been forced back to positions south of Florence; and it was from there, on 15 July 1944, that the ‘Hermann Göring’ was pulled out of Italy altogether.