The destruction of Panzer Armee Afrika left the United Kingdom Eighth Army and the American Seventh Army without a mission. Even before the final surrender of Axis Forces in North Africa, there was much discussion of where the Allies should strike next. UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had quietly withstood Stalin’s blistering demands for a second front, pushed to delay an invasion of France by the end of 1943. The British believed the American war machine required more time to build up Allied forces to insure victory. Churchill recognized that with the majority of men and materiel coming from America, he had to give in to Eisenhower's demand for an invasion before the end of the year. Churchill argued for an invasion of what he called the “soft underbelly” of Europe, either the Balkans or Greece. At the “Trident” Washington Conference in May 1943, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt and UK Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill agreed that an invasion of Italy could knock her out of the war. Besides boosting Allied morale, German control of the Balkans could be threatened.
The first target was the island of Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean. Again Eisenhower was named supreme commander of the operation. UK Army General Bernard L. Montgomery commanded the Eighth Army and US Army Lieutenant General George S. Patton commanded the Seventh Army. The Italians and the Germans had 405,000 men; 90,000 were German troops, armed with Tiger tanks.
The first use of American paratroopers, in conjunction with British airborne units, would precede US landings at the Gulf of Gela and British landings at Syracuse. The Allied paratroopers were new units. The American 82nd Airborne Division was formed the year before, and the British had seen action in small-scale raids on the continent and in the Middle East to invade Iraq when the government there tried to join the Axis in 1941. These units were highly trained and motivated, but lacked combat experience.