As the British 8th Army advanced across Sicily, it encountered strong German resistance from heavily fortified positions along the Assoro Ridge. The commander of the British 8th Army, Lieutenant- General Bernard Montgomery, assigned the 1st Canadian Division the task of taking the two main German strong points on the ridge, the towns of Leonforte and Assoro.

The 1st Canadian Brigade was responsible for taking Assoro. In an effort to avoid a costly frontal assault, the brigade commander, Brigadier-General Howard Graham, proposed to scale a precipitous 300-meter cliff that the Germans considered impassable. The commander of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment, Lieutenant-Colonel B.A. Sutcliffe, accepted the assignment. Accompanied by his intelligence officer (IO), Sutcliffe personally scouted the proposed route. The crew of a German 88mm anti-tank crew spotted Sutcliffe and his IO and opened fire, killing both men.

Major Lord John Tweedsmuir succeeded Sutcliffe as commanding officer of The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment. Under his direction, the regiment scaled the cliffs during the night of 21 July and established a defensive position above the town of Assoro. With sunrise, the Germans discovered The Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment dug in with a commanding view of their positions. As they counterattacked the Canadian regiment, Major Tweedsmuir radioed the location of the German defences to artillery batteries of the 1st Canadian Brigade and 2nd Brigade at Leonforte. After an intense barrage, the rest of the 1st Brigade attacked Assoro, and the Germans retreated. With the Assoro Ridge in Canadian hands, the British 8th Army was able to continue its advance through central Sicily.

The outstanding action of the "Hasty Ps" at Assoro defines one of the characteristics of Canadian operations in the Italian campaign. Their training in the United Kingdom had included instruction in special operations such as mountaineering. Also, many Canadians had taken commando training. On several occasions, Canadian units undertook assaults from "impossible" approaches using such mountaineering skills. In doing so, they gained the advantage of surprise and were able to achieve their objectives with minimal loss.

The British 8th Army and U.S. 7th Army conquered Sicily in 38 days, entering the city of Messina on 17 August 1943. The 1st Canadian Division had played a significant role in the Allied victory and, through its baptism by fire, had proven its mettle as an effective fighting force.

 

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