Designed to open a second front in 1943 when it was determined that D-Day in Normandy would not be practical until 1944, the Allied invasion of Sicily was the first stage in a campaign to cut through what Churchill described as “the soft underbelly of the Axis”. Operation Avalanche was undertaken by the US Fifth Army under General Clark, and the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery. It was extremely successful and plans were soon drawn up to invade the Italian mainland.
By early October 1943, the whole of southern Italy was in Allied hands, but the Germans chose to fight delaying actions across a series of prepared defensive lines running across Italy from which they could buy time while the north was fortified further. It took months to break through the multiple defensive lines, and what the Allies had hoped would be a quick and decisive campaign, soon turned into one of the hardest fought battlefronts of the entire war, culminating in the four battles of Monte Casssino and the huge Allied losses there. Despite decisive Allied air and sea superiority, the Germans fought an impressive defense and there was still fighting in Italy after Berlin had fallen.
This latest commemorative of the war is an extremely well realised battle scene from Monte Cassino, depicting a pair of Canadian soldiers flanking one of the most common tanks of the war, the M4 Sherman. The Sherman was a tank already outdated by this time and no match for most German panzers in theatre, but was built in great numbers, its biggest advantage. A later British variant called the Firefly and fitted with the 75mm ’17-pounder’ gun, possibly the best tank gun of the war, wasn’t available for the early stages of the Italian campaign. A pity as that variant was feared intensely by the Wehrmacht’s tank soldiers, well founded given later incidents such as a Firefly destroying 5 Panther tanks with 6 shots and two Firefly’s destroying 10 Panthers with 10 shots. Even famed German Ace Michael Wittman was killed by one in his Tiger.
The coin is clean-struck, which makes a nice break from unnecessary colour, and of four-nines silver composition. What distinguishes this one from the norm is the innovative packaging. The ammo-case style box opens up to form a miniature diorama depicting a Sherman against destroyed buildings. It’s a nice idea and one that will be more popular with collectors of militaria, who are more used to displaying their collections, than to coin collectors. I for one, would love one to display amongst my model tanks (yes, I know it’s sad…).
Available to order now, the coin retails for $109.99 and starts shipping on the 02 June. Strangely, it’s to US and Canada only. We can understand that being the case with movie licences such as Superman and Looney Tunes, but a World War II coin !?! You’ll be able to pick up one at the usual Canadian or European dealer no doubt, failing that eBay will oblige.