Part III: The Allies Gain Momentum

Posted: January 11, 2011 in World War 2
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ITALY CHANGES SIDES

All Italians who now act to help eject the German aggressor from Italian soil will have the assistance & support of the Allies.

Proclamation by General Dwight D. Eisenhower

On September 2, 1943, a small Allied force had landed on the “heel” of Italy, quickly taking the ports of Brindisi & Taranto. The following day, Montgomery’s Eighth Army crossed the Straight of Messina & landed in Calabria, on the “toe” of Italy. That day, the new Italian government agreed to the Allied peace terms, though their capitulation was not announced until September 8th.

Under the peace agreement, the Italian Navy was to surrender in Malta. On its way there, it was bombed by the Germans. German units also turned on the Italians in Greece & the Balkans, & disarmed them. One the Greek island of Cephalonia & in Croatia, two Italian divisions were massacred by German units. Italian survivors joined the Greek Resistance or Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia. In return for Italy’s capitulation, the Americans had promised to land the 82nd Airborne Division on the outskirts of Rome & take over the city, but the Third Panzergrenadier Division got there first. On September 9th, an Anglo-American force under General Mark Clark landed at the beachhead in Salerno, 30 miles south of Naples. Kesselring had anticipated this move & managed to hold the Allies back in their bridgehead for six days.

GERMANY INVADES

Hitler anticipated the fall of Mussolini & sent 17 more divisions to Italy under the command of Rommel, who set up his headquarters in Bologna on August 17th, 1943. Several Italian units melted away, but Rommel managed to take over ten divisions & add them to his command. Effectively, Italy had been invaded by Germany & Hitler even threatened to arrest the king. On September 12th, Kesselring counterattacked between the British & American forces, attempting then to encircle & crush the American beachhead at Salerno. Clark threw every man he had left into the fight, including a regimental band, orderlies, & cooks. But Hitler denied Kesselring reinforcements & the German advance foundered under a naval bombardment just five miles from the beach. New German radio-controlled bombs hit the US cruiser Savannah as well as the British cruiser Uganda & the battleship Warspite, which had been brought close to the coast. Eventually, the Americans were relieved when Montomgery broke through at Agropoli. On October 1st, the American Fifth Army entered Naples, while more British forces landed at Bari & Termoli on the Adriatic coast. The German Tenth Army had been defeated at a cost of 5,674 American casualties.

On October 13th, 1943, the new Italian government in Rome declared war on Germany. This did not bother Kesselring unduly because German reinforcements were already consolidating their hold on north & central Italy, where a new Fascist republic had been set up under Benito Mussolini, who had been rescued from prison in a daring raid. The Repubblica Sociale Italiana was established on September 18th at Salò on lake Garda. Members of the Grand Council of Fascists who had voted against Mussolini, including his own son-in-law, former Foreign Minister Count Ciano, were arrested & executed. But otherwise, as Mussolini himself admitted, he was merely a puppet. None of the neutral countries – not even Fascist Spain – would recognize Mussolini’s new republic. In Rome Marshal Ugo Cavallero committed suicide rather than accept Kesselring’s offfer of the command of a new Fascist Army.

The Italian declaration of war followed a wave of atrocities & looting after Italy’s surrender. In Rome, German troops stole priceless manuscripts & artifacts. Civilians in Naples had been subjected to a five-day reign of terror by the retreating Germans. In one case, they herded 100 Neapolitans into a room & blew it up with land mines. Hospitals were attacked, food stocks stolen, water mains & sewers dynamited. In villages across the country, Germans murdered Italians at random, claiming that they had betrayed them. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of disarmed Italian soldiers were packed into sealed trains & taken to Germany as slave labor. But in the south the Germans were facing another foe who was not nearly as helpless.

AN ITALIAN PILOT’S STORY

We decided, a few families, a few friends, to go over to the Allies. But there were minefields everywhere. The Yankee or British Navy, I don’t know, were shelling these big towers. There were Germans there. I know this because I helped them. I didn’t want to. I had to. Otherwise, I would be shot. Then I became a bit of a devil. I couldn’t care less what happened to me in those days. A German came & pointed the gun on me & said: “I will shoot.” I said: “You shoot, you bastard, if you like.” You know you become like that when you see so much suffering.

Antonio Colette, Italian Air Force

THE GUSTAV LINE

Rommel’s Panzers checked the American Fifth Army on the Volturno river, just 20 miles north of Naples. But Rommel was urged by Hitler to abandon Rome & withdraw to the north. On November 21st, Rommel was relieved. On the east coast, the British advance had run out of steam when the roads through the mountainous terrain became jammed with vehicles. French colonial troops arrived with horses & mules instead. The Germans dug in for the winter along the Gustav Line, a defensive position that ran for 100 miles across the Italian peninsula which hinged on the town of Cassino with the historic Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino on the mountain above it.

From The Story Of A World At War: World War II, by Nigel Cawthorne

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Comments
  1. vimax says:

    Olá do Brasil aqui ..:):) Minha esposa vai ficar bravo se ela ouve isso.

    vimax

  2. This is one of my favorite posts to far.

    “Clark threw every man he had left into the fight, including a regimental band, orderlies, & cooks.”

    “In Rome Marshal Ugo Cavallero committed suicide rather than accept Kesselring’s offer of the command of a new Fascist Army.”

    And the A. Colette quote.

    🙂

  3. Hey!
    I’m at work surfing around your blog from my iphone 4s! Just wanted to say I love reading your blog and look forward to all your posts!

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