Friday, March 13, 2009

The Battle of Troina, August 1-6, 1943


The Associated Press reported today that Laurie Contreras, seen here last summer sipping a cappuccino at Aci Trezza's Mythos Cafe, arrives in Catania in ONLY SEVEN DAYS!

Thursday, my 50th day since leaving Camarillo, was a travel day for us as we made for the hill country to the northwest of Catania.


Certain people only need one name... Elvis, Pele, Cher and Ronaldo.  Jonathan, the owner of Jonathan's Paninni Stand is one such person.  It has long been recognized that his Paninni Stand is the linchpin of the Sicilian economy.

Because of a recent stomach ailment that required surgery, Jonathan has been forced to stay in seclusion thus not being his usual highly visible self at the stand.  This absence is of course what sent out the shock waves that caused the downturn of both the Sicilian and global economic markets these past six months.

Wednesday night after practice, he was back at the stand!  I was deeply honored that, when he saw me for the first time since I left last July, he came out of the stand to greet me.

Not only did I get a hug and a kiss on both cheeks, I also received the highest honor possible when he unzipped his jacket so as to give me a look at the tube holding his excessive surgical related bodily fluids that apparently are still oozing out of his billionaire body!  I WAS SO DEEPLY TOUCHED BY THIS GESTURE, WE BONDED!

I then ordered the breaded cutlet paninni with cheese, eggplant, french fries, ketchup and mayonaise.  A Fanta of course was the perfect choice to match up with the red meat main course.  YUM!

Did I look this haggard when I finished a day of teaching?

On our way to Elephant Headquarters we were stopped in traffic as a local high school got out for the day.  Note all the new motorcycle/scooter enthusiasts adding to the afternoon driving madness.

This teacher actually stopped and babbled something incoherent to us as we waited for the school to empty.  I think he could sense that we were living his dream job... RETIRED teacher!

Our first goal for the day was to for a third time try to retrieve Paul's missing third and final package that he mailed here from Santa Barbara over six weeks ago.  He used the postal system because it was so much cheaper than FedEx but here we are still waiting.  The first two failed trips to Italian Post Office took 60 and 30 minutes in line respectively.  Both times he was told that the package was not there as the note left by the postman at our Headquarters indicated but would be there the next day.  Today's equally abortive mission resulted in Paul being told that the package is no longer at this post office but at another one in town that we will hunt down on Friday.  At least it only took about 15 minutes to be rejected this time.

Fourth time's the charm?

The things you see in northwest Sicily's hill country!

In Sicily hitch hikers come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors, religions and creeds!

How old is this aqueduct?

In the distance, the town of Troina

In the Nebrodi Mountains, this is the highest city in Sicily at an elevation of 3,678 feet and was first settled by the Greeks as early as 700 B.C.

During World War II, from August 1 to 6, 1943, this now sleepy little town was the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting in all of the 20th Century.  The main cause of this enormous cost of lives by both Allied and Axis forces was Troina's 360 degree view of all of the possible approaches to the town and some extraordinary bad planning by the Allies.

Just below Troina

If this old farmhouse could only tell us what it saw that fateful week nearly 66 years ago.

The Mandatory Sicilian City Map

This small plaque was the only thing we could find that spoke of the battle anywhere in the village.

The view of the valleys west of Troina

The view of the valleys east of Troina with Mt. Etna obscured in the distance.

Note all of the relatively new buildings in these two pictures, much of the old town was destroyed in this battle.

The old Norman built church

The Germans held Troina as part of the Enna Defense Line trying to stall the Allied advance to buy time for the Axis retreat through Messina and across the Straights of Messina to Calabria, the toe of the Italian boot.  At the time of this battle, the Axis had been in retreat for three weeks.

Lookouts were posted in the towers of this church to observe Allied troop movements.

This statue erected in 1918 honors the World War I dead from the town of Troina.

Who doesn't love a Cherub?

Or eagles for that matter?

I wonder how many shots were fired from here?

Troina was held by the German 15th Panzer Grenadier Division.  Torrential rains that slowed down the Allied advance gave the Germans time to really dig in four artillery batteries at Troina and lay hundreds of mines in preparation for the anticipated Allied assault.

The 12,000 inhabitants of Troina either fled to the surrounding countryside or hunkered down in their basements and churches.

The U.S. Army's First Division, "The Big Red 1", was led by Major General Terry Allen and his assistant, Brigadier General Ted Roosevelt Jr. (yes, former U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt's son).  They planned their assault on what they thought was a poorly defended Troina.  This bad decision was a result of an air reconnaissance set of photos of Troina that were sent to North Africa and were never received in their headquarters in nearby Cerami.

In six days of battling, hills were won, lost, won again and lost again.  In the hot and dry conditions of a typical Sicilian summer, the fighting started a series of brush fires that added to the ambience.

On August 4th, Allied airplanes were finally able to provide air strikes to support the ground troops that were dying to gain inches.

Finally, in the early morning hours of August 6th the Allies surrounded and entered Troina only to find that the Germans had moved out during the night.

German casualties were estimated at 1,600 men.  The Big Red 1 and the 39th Infantry suffered over 1,000 casualties.

The end result of this excessively costly, ill-conceived battle was that both Major General Allen and Brigadier General Roosevelt, in charge of this operation and highly popular with their troops, were relieved of their duties and sent back to the United States.

Now the countryside surrounding Troina is so serene.

A pastoral scene on the drive from Troina to Enna.

Thank goodness for this sign just, when we thought we were hopelessly lost!

A very cool Tower Fountain in another hillside village.

The center of Sicily is still very rural.

Last Stop, the City of Enna


Dinner at Ristorante La Fontana in Enna

Typical Americans, we were the only ones in the ristorante.

Actually the ristorante was closed with all the lights out when we got there but the owner/cook, La Donna Concetta, saw us at the locked door and opened up just for us.

The World's Best Garlic Bread!

Move over Gilroy, California, the home of "The Garlic Festival".  After devouring a plate of regular bread, you can see the last piece to the left of the plate, La Donna Concetta brought out this plate of garlic bread.  IT WAS SO GOOD!

We had three different types of soup and a huge plate of grilled lamb chops which were quite tasty, but it was the garlic bread that I will remember, especially the second plate of garlic bread that she brought out later.  All of our meal was cooked by La Donna Concetta herself.

La Donna Concetta by her favorite painting in the ristorante.

There are several paintings hanging on the walls of the ristorante, many painted by La Donna Concetta herself and by her daughter.  I asked her if this nude, her favorite, was of her in her wild youth.  She said no but I was not convinced.

Friday night after our practice, I may need to head back to Enna for this concert.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this summary of the Battle of Troina. My uncle, James McInerney (b. Manhattan; 39th Infantry Regiment) was killed outside Troina on July 30, 1943 in the lead-up to the battle. A now deceased family friend (Tom Orband, Binghamton, NY) who had also been detached to the 39th, told my family that my uncle had been killed by machine gun fire while scouting enemy emplacements. My uncle was the only boy in a family of six children and his loss, needless to say, was a devastating blow to my grandparents. Members of the 39th Infantry Regiment were the first U,S, combat troops to land on foreign soil in WWII when they landed at Algiers in November 1942. The 39th fought across North Africa, took part in the Sicilian campaign, later landed at Utah Beach (D-Day +4), fought their way across France, were in the thick of the Battle of the Bulge and the battle for the bridgehead at Remagen, and with the 47th Infantry Regiment captured Roetgen, the first German city to fall in WWII. The odds of surviving WWII if you'd been detached to the 39th were steep. Tom Orband beat those odds--my uncle did not. If anyone has information regarding either man, or can provide more firsthand accounts of the Battle of Troina, please contact me at