World War II Italian Campaign

World War II Italian Campaign

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Why America Targeted Italian-Americans During World War II

Louis Berizzi was in his pajamas when FBI agents burst into his Manhattan apartment and arrested him. As his daughter, Lucetta, and the rest of the family watched, wiping the sleep from their eyes, he hurried into clothing and was taken away. Soon after, FBI agents questioned more

Surging Toward the Alps: The Final Battles of the Italian Campaign in World War II

Allied troops pursued the retreating Germans during the last days of the war in Italy.

Vietinghoff had warned the high command in Berlin that the Eighth Army advance threatened to outflank his line along the Reno, and the commander of Army Group C requested permission to withdraw. However, he received a terse reply from headquarters on the 17th.

“All further proposals for a change in the present war strategy will be discontinued,” read the communiqué from Colonel General Alfred Jodl, chief of the high command operations staff. “I wish to point out particularly that under no circumstances must troops or commanders be allowed to waver or to adopt a defeatist attitude as a result of such ideas apparently held by your headquarters. Where any such danger is likely, the sharpest countermeasures must be employed. The Führer expects now, as before, the utmost steadfastness in the fulfillment of your present mission, to defend every inch of the north Italian areas entrusted to your command. I desire to point out the serious consequences for all those higher commanders, unit commanders, or staff officers who do not carry out the Führer’s orders to the last word.”

Vietinghoff was in no position to deny the reality of his plight. The 78th and 56th Divisions were rolling through the newly opened Argenta Gap, while the 2nd New Zealand, 10th Indian, 3rd Carpathian, and 5th Kresowa Divisions pushed forward along Highway 9 in a combined effort by the V, XIII, and Polish II Corps.

1,300 Killed and Wounded

Five days after the Eighth Army’s thrust, the Fifth Army began its drive into the Po Valley. After fog had lifted on the morning of April 14, four days of sustained air support began. More than 2,000 bombers hit German positions supported by massed artillery. The 85th Infantry Regiment of the 10th Mountain Division advanced into the Pra del Bianco, a valley northeast of Castel d’Aiano. When his company met stiff resistance, Pfc. John D. McGrath silenced four enemy machine-gun nests and used a captured weapon in the process before falling mortally wounded. McGrath received a posthumous Medal of Honor. Such individual acts of bravery gave momentum to the effort, and nearby Hill 680 was occupied along with several neighboring prominences.

Meanwhile, the 85th Infantry cleared the village of Torre Iussi and took Hill 903, while the 86th Infantry captured high ground at Rocca Roffeno. The German 94th Infantry Division, in danger of encirclement, began to fall back the following day.

Fighting on Hill 913, 2nd Lt. Robert Dole, accompanied by two other infantrymen, set out in the darkness of the 14th to capture a German prisoner for interrogation. A hidden machine gun cut down the two scouts and seriously wounded Dole, who lost all use of his right arm and later a kidney. The future senator from the state of Kansas and candidate for the presidency of the United States spent 40 months recovering in hospitals.

Although five days of fighting cost the 10th Mountain Division nearly 1,300 killed and wounded, Monte Mantino, Monte Croce, and Monte Mosca were occupied, and by the 18th Allied troops were nearly within sight of Highway 9 and the Po Valley. Armor support and reinforcing troops from the Brazilian Expeditionary Force drew up to exploit the gains in the IV Corps sector.

The Polish II Corps Liberates Bologna

The drive of the II Corps toward Bologna progressed much more slowly. In anticipation of a renewed Allied effort to take the city, the Germans had placed their strongest defenses in the area. On the left, the 6th South African Armoured Division captured Monte Sole in the predawn hours of the 16th, facilitating an advance toward the Praduro road junction on Highway 64. Although the Germans stubbornly resisted along Highway 65, flanking operations by the 91st and 34th Divisions cleared sections of the road. General Truscott repositioned several units, including the 85th Division, into positions previously occupied by the U.S. 1st Armored in preparation for the II Corps to finally break through to the Po Valley.

The 10th Mountain and 85th Divisions began moving once more on April 18. In 24 hours, the 85th was north of the town of Piano di Venola, while elements of the 10th Mountain took Monte San Michele the following day. German resistance began to crumble. An isolated stand at the town of Pradalbino obliged the 87th Infantry Regiment to fight house to house, while armor of the 90th Panzergrenadier Division, desperately trying to stem the tide, was engaged in a tank versus tank battle with the 1st Armored Division. Intercorps boundaries blurred in the race to the Po Valley. Troops of the 133rd Infantry Regiment of the 34th Division hitched rides on tanks of the 752nd Tank Battalion and headed up Highway 65 toward Bologna.

On April 21, as troops of the Red Army battled in the suburbs of Berlin far to the north, the II Polish Corps entered Bologna from the east at approximately the same time as the Fifth Army forces. The Poles were greeted enthusiastically. Seventeen Polish officers were declared honorary citizens of Bologna, and a number of Polish soldiers subsequently received medals inscribed, “To the liberators who were the first to enter Bologna—on 21 April 1945—in honour of their success.”

The liberation of Bologna was the crowning achievement of the Polish II Corps during World War II. Throughout the campaign in Italy, the corps had fought with distinction, suffering 2,301 killed and 14,830 wounded, more than 36 percent of its strength.

“Go For Broke”

The 92nd Division continued to attack in the west, intending to trap German troops at the naval base of La Spezia on the Ligurian coast. The 473rd Infantry reached a position within 10 miles of the base at the junction of Highway 62 and the coastal road, Highway 1. The 442nd RCT faced tough opposition in the mountains. On April 21, young 2nd Lt. Daniel K. Inouye lost his right arm while leading a company in the assault on Colle Musatello.

Inouye was wounded in the side by machine-gun fire but threw a grenade into a German position and killed the crew as the enemy soldiers rose from their cover. He destroyed a second position with a grenade but was driven to his knees due to loss of blood. Undeterred, he crawled forward to attack yet another machine-gun nest.

“At last I was close enough to pull the pin on my last grenade,” Inouye remembered. “And as I drew my arm back, all in a flash of light and dark I saw him, that faceless German, like a strip of motion picture film running through a projector that’s gone berserk. One instant he was standing waist-high in the bunker, and the next he was aiming a rifle grenade at my face from a range of 10 yards. And even as I cocked my arm to throw, he fired and his rifle grenade smashed into my right elbow and exploded and all but tore my arm off. I looked at it, stunned and unbelieving. It dangled there by a few bloody shreds of tissue, my grenade still clenched in a fist that suddenly didn’t belong to me anymore…. The grenade mechanism was ticking off the seconds. In two, three, or four, it would go off, finishing me and the good men who were rushing up to help me.

“Get back! I screamed, and swung around to pry the grenade out of that dead fist with my left hand. Then I had it free and I turned to throw and the German was reloading his rifle. But this time I beat him. My grenade blew up in his face and I stumbled to my feet, closing in on the bunker, firing my tommy gun left-handed, the useless right arm slapping red and wet against my side.”

Grievously wounded, Inouye was evacuated and spent 20 months in various hospitals. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross. Later, that recognition was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, which was presented to him on June 21, 2000. Inouye was elected to the U.S. Senate from the state of Hawaii in 1962 and continues to serve in that capacity until his death on December 17, 2012. His heroism exemplified the motto of the 442nd RCT, “Go For Broke.” The regiment moved on to eventually liberate the cities of Genoa and Turin.

German Resistance Crumbles

By April 20, it was apparent to Vietinghoff that all of Army Group C was in grave danger. The Fifth Army breakthrough west of Bologna threatened to drive a wedge between the German Tenth and Fourteenth Armies. The U.S. Eighth Army also threatened to encircle the elusive Tenth Army. Vietinghoff took matters into his own hands that day and began a general retirement without orders.

As early as February, high-ranking German officers in Italy had realized that all was lost. One of these, SS General Karl Wolff, who commanded German police and SS forces in northern Italy, had contacted Allen Dulles, head of the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in Switzerland. Through diplomatic channels, Wolff communicated overtures of a separate peace in Italy between Germany and the Western Allies. On April 20, Wolff was officially rebuffed due to concerns over the repercussions such a development would have with the Soviets. Two days later, Wolff met with Vietinghoff at the Recoaro Terme in the foothills of the Alps, and the decision was made to surrender German forces in Italy. Further instructions from the high command in Germany would ostensibly be ignored.

Even prior to victory in the North African Campaign, there was disagreement between the Allies on the best strategy to defeat the Axis. The British, especially Prime Minister Winston Churchill, advocated their traditional naval-based peripheral strategy. Even with a large army, but greater naval power, the traditional British answer against a continental enemy was to fight as part of a coalition and mount small peripheral operations designed to gradually weaken the enemy. The United States, with an even larger army, favoured a more direct method of fighting the main force of the German Army in Northern Europe. The ability to launch such a campaign depended on first winning the Battle of the Atlantic.

The strategic disagreement was fierce, with the US service chiefs arguing for an invasion of France as early as possible, while their British counterparts advocated a policy centred on operations in the Mediterranean. There was even pressure from some Latin American countries to stage an invasion of Spain, which under Francisco Franco was friendly to the Axis nations, although not a participant in the war. [5] The American staff believed that a full-scale invasion of France at the earliest possible time was required to end the war in Europe, and that no operations should be undertaken that might delay that effort. The British argued that the presence of large numbers of troops trained for amphibious landings in the Mediterranean made a limited-scale invasion possible and useful.

Eventually the U.S. and British political leadership reached a compromise in which both would commit most of their forces to an invasion of France in early 1944, but also launch a relatively small scale Italian campaign. A contributing factor was Franklin D. Roosevelt's desire to keep US troops active in the European theatre during 1943 and his attraction to the idea of eliminating Italy from the war. [6] It was hoped that an invasion might knock Italy out of the conflict, [7] or at least increase the pressure on them and weaken them further. [8] [9] The elimination of Italy would enable Allied naval forces, principally the Royal Navy, to dominate the Mediterranean Sea, securing the lines of communications with Egypt, the Far East, the Middle East and India. [9] [10] Italian divisions on occupation and coastal defence duties in the Balkans and France would be withdrawn to defend Italy, while the Germans would have to transfer troops from the Eastern Front to defend Italy and the entire southern coast of France, thus aiding the Soviets. [11] [12]

North Africa

Failed invasion of Egypt

The Italians fared poorly in North Africa almost from the beginning. Within a week of Italy's declaration of war on 10 June 1940, the British 11th Hussars had seized Fort Capuzzo in Libya. In an ambush east of Bardia, the British captured the Italian Tenth Army's Engineer-in-Chief, General Lastucci. On 28 June Marshal Italo Balbo, the Governor-General of Libya, was killed by friendly fire while landing in Tobruk.

Mussolini ordered Balbo's replacement, General Rodolfo Graziani, to launch an attack into Egypt immediately. Graziani complained to Mussolini that his forces were not properly equipped for such an operation, and that an attack into Egypt could not possibly succeed nevertheless, Mussolini ordered him to proceed.

On 13 September elements of the Italian Tenth Army retook Fort Capuzzo and crossed the border into Egypt. Lightly opposed, they advanced about 100 kilometers to Sidi Barrani, where they stopped and began entrenching themselves in a series of fortified camps.

At this time, the British had only 36,000 troops available (out of about 100,000 under Middle Eastern command) to defend Egypt, against 236,000 Italian troops. [43] The Italians, however, were not concentrated in one place. They were divided between the 5th army in the west and the 10th army in the east and thus spread out from the Tunisian border in western Libya to Sidi Barrani in Egypt. At Sidi Barrani, Graziani, unaware of the British lack of numerical strength, [nb 9] planned to build fortifications and stock them with provisions, ammunition, and fuel, establish a water pipeline, and extend the via Balbia to that location, which was where the road to Alexandria began. [45] This task was being obstructed by British Royal Navy attacks on Italian supply ships in the Mediterranean. At this stage Italian losses remained minimal, but the efficiency of the British Royal Navy would improve as the war went on. Mussolini was fiercely disappointed with Graziani's sluggishness. However, according to Bauer [46] he had only himself to blame, as he had withheld the trucks, armaments, and supplies that Graziani had deemed necessary for success. Wavell was hoping to see the Italians overextend themselves before his intended counter at Marsa Matruh. [46]

Graziani and his staff lacked faith in the strength of the Italian military. One of his officers wrote: "We're trying to fight this. as though it were a colonial war. this is a European war. fought with European weapons against a European enemy. We take too little account of this in building our stone forts. We are not fighting the Ethiopians now." [47] (This was a reference to the Second Italo-Abyssinian War where Italian forces had fought against a relatively poorly equipped opponent.) Balbo had previously documented: "Our light tanks, already old and armed only with machine guns, are completely out-classed. The machine guns of the British armoured cars pepper them with bullets which easily pierce their armour." [46]

Italian forces around Sidi Barrani had severe weaknesses in their deployment. Their five main fortifications were placed too far apart to allow mutual support against an attacking force, and the areas between were weakly patrolled. The absence of motorised transport did not allow for rapid reorganisation, if needed. The rocky terrain had prevented an anti-tank ditch from being dug and there were too few mines and 47 mm anti-tank guns to repel an armoured advance. [44]

Africa Korps intervention and final defeat

On 8 December 1940, the British launched Operation Compass. Planned as an extended raid, it resulted in a force of British, Indian, and Australian troops cutting off the Italian troops. Pressing the British advantage home, General Richard O'Connor succeeded in reaching El Agheila, deep in Libya (an advance of 500 mi/800 km), and taking some 130,000 prisoners. [48] The Allies nearly destroyed the 10th army, and seemed on the point of sweeping the Italians out of Libya altogether. Winston Churchill, however, directed the advance be stopped, initially because of supply problems and because of a new determined effort that had gained ground in Albania, and ordered troops dispatched to defend Greece. Weeks later the first troops of the German Afrika Korps started to arrive in North Africa (February 1941), along with six Italian divisions [49] including the motorized Trento and armored Ariete. [50]

German General Operation Crusader in November 1941 which resulted in the Axis front line being pushed back once more to El Agheila by the end of the year.

In January 1942 the Axis struck back again, advancing to Gazala where the front lines stabilised while both sides raced to build up their strength. At the end of May, Rommel launched the Battle of Gazala where the British armoured divisions were soundly defeated. The Axis seemed on the verge of sweeping the British out of Egypt, but at the First Battle of El Alamein (July 1942) General Claude Auchinleck halted Rommel's advance only 90 mi (140 km) from Alexandria. Rommel made a final attempt to break through during the Battle of Alam el Halfa but Eighth Army, by this time commanded by Lieutenant-General Bernard Montgomery, held firm. After a period of reinforcement and training the Allies assumed the offensive at the Second Battle of Alamein (October/November 1942) where they scored a decisive victory and the remains of Rommel's German-Italian Panzer Army were forced to engage in a fighting retreat for 1,600 mi (2,600 km) to the Libyan border with Tunisia.

After the Operation Torch landings in the Vichy French territories of 18th Army Group commanded by General Sir Harold Alexander) and regain the initiative in April. The Allies completed the defeat of the Axis armies in North Africa in May 1943.

World War II’s Forgotten Front: LIFE in the Aleutians

Troops were carted by tractor to the movies from an isolated camp in Massacre Vally, Attu Island, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Written By: Ben Cosgrove

Maybe it’s because the casualties, in relative terms, were light compared to those suffered in other theaters of conflict during World War II. Or perhaps the isolated front was destined to a gradual, ever-deepening obscurity because no storied battles with stirring names (Iwo Jima, Bastogne, Normandy, Saipan) were fought there.

But in the early 1940s the Aleutian Campaign was news throughout the U.S..Some of the islands in the North Pacific, in what was then the American territory of Alaska, had been invaded and occupied by Japanese troops. Was it a diversion ahead of another, critical attack elsewhere? Was it the vanguard of a far larger assault on America’s enormous, and perhaps fatally vulnerable, west coast?

Here, decades after Japanese forces seized control of Attu and Kiska islands early in the war, presents a gallery of photos by Dmitri Kessel chronicling the day-to-day existence of Allied troops serving in the dramatic and forbidding landscape of the Aleutians.

Ultimately, long before the war was over, the Japanese were routed from the islands they did occupy. But Allied casualties (U.S. and Canadian) during the year-long campaign to push them off of American territory were in the thousands, with a grim percentage killed or severely wounded by the same hazards that troops have always faced when fighting in a wilderness thousands of miles from home: friendly fire exposure minor wounds that turn mortal when transportation proves impossible.

And then there was the fatigue the lethargy-inducing sameness of the place. The old characterization of warfare as long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of terror applied to the Aleutian campaign. Even the most adamant and dedicated nature lover could hardly remain enthralled, month after month after month, by the surroundings—endless snow-capped mountains, mud-filled tundra and water, water everywhere. As LIFE pointed out to its readers in the midst of the war, the weather and the landscape were relentless, monotonous enemies all their own:

The Aleutian Islands are a chain of high mountains rising our of the North Pacific between Alaska and Siberia. There, among fog and sudden storms, the world is still in the making. Volcanoes blow rings of steam. Islets pop out of the water and then mysteriously vanish again. Earthquakes make and unmake harbors, cliffs, beaches and caves.

The shortest route between the U.S. and Japan lies through Alaska and out the Aleutians. From Attu to Tokyo is only1,750 miles. . . . Whoever controls the Aleutians has a flanking position on the whole ocean. [In June 1942 Japan] seized Attu and Kiska and remained a constant threat to Alaska, Canada and the U.S. until August 1943 when they were finally driven off. To defend the Aleutians against another attack, thousands of Americans are still stationed there.

Of all the U.S. outposts the Aleutians are probably the wildest and most inhospitable. There are almost no trees on the islands. There are few animals. The temperature seldom drops below freezing in winter or goes above 60 degrees in summer. There are as many as 250 rainy days a year and as few as eight clear days.

Kessel’s pictures, meanwhile, suggest that despite the spartan lodgings, the often impassable terrain, the questionable food, the tricky climate, the grueling work and the ceaselessly challenging environment, thousands of troops, nurses and even some civilians stuck with it throughout the war years, and they made do.

In often primitive conditions, in one of the most unforgiving environments on Earth, they did what was asked of them. They are not forgotten.

Aleutian Islands, World War II, 1943

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The rocky peaks of Attu Island, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Aleutian Islands, World War II, 1943

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A P-38 Lightning above the Aleutian Islands, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Dutch Harbor, Aleutian Islands, WWII, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

American troops, Aleutian Islands, World War II, 1943

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Tents housed Seabees (members of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion), Adak Island during World War II, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Dutch Harbor, Aleutian Islands, WWII, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

On the island of Kiska, men built fires near wrecked equipment and cooked their meals, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The remains of a Japanese soldier, Aleutian Islands Campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Attu Island, Aleutian campaign, World War II, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Attu Island, Aleutian campaign, World War II, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Kiska Island, Aleutian campaign, World War II, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

An American soldier leaned against a wall in the captured Japanese headquarters on Kiska Island, beside graffiti caricatures of FDR and Churchill (left), 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Barracks, Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Unidentified military personnel, Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Mail transports, Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

In barracks, Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Laundry, Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Soldiers bathed in halved oil drums, Amchitka Island, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

R&R, Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Dutch Harbor, Aleutian Islands campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Makeshift soda fountain, Adak Island, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Playing chess, Adak Island, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel Time & Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Pin-up photos adorned the walls of a bomber-crew shack where soldiers played cards on Adak Island, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel / The LIFE Picture Collection © Meredith Corporation

An American nurse, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Nurses’ quarters, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Nurses fishing, Dutch Harbor, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A soldier tended his garden with a teaspoon, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Because the mess hall on Attu Island was too small, some men ate outside.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A Seabee (of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion) strung wire for communications on the island of Adak, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Troops were carted by tractor to the movies from an isolated camp in Massacre Vally, Attu Island, Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Seabee carpenters (of the U.S. Navy’s Construction Battalion), Aleutian campaign, Alaska, 1943.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A fake tree built by the Army Engineers, Camouflage Division, on Attu Island.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

American troops studied stone and bone implements and other objects recovered from an earlier settlement.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

The “Press Club” on Adak Island.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Inside the “Press Club” on Adak Island.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

A street sign in the town of Unalaska during World War II.

Dmitri Kessel/Life Pictures/Shutterstock

Remembering the Italian campaign in Tuscany

April 25 marked the 66th anniversary of Italian liberation from fascism. This year, the national holiday fell on pasquetta, the day after Easter, marking rebirths both religious and national. On that day, president of the Italian Republic Giorgio Napolitano commemorated a young Florentine man who was brutally killed by Fascists in 1938: Napolitano awarded Mario Pucci a post-humous gold medal. Although the day has now passed, those wishing to commemorate April 25 and the men and women who fell in the name of freedom, can do so throughout the year. Below are several itineraries in Florence and Tuscany, provided by Anne Saunders, a scholar of history and author of a guidebook to World War II sites in the region. Next time you're planning a weekend excursion, include a site near your destination-or make it your destination.

Today Tuscany is at peace, but the roar and smoke of battle filled this region in the summer of 1944. How and why did World War II reach Tuscany?

The events of 1943 provide answers to those questions. In July 1943, Italy's leaders deposed Mussolini. By early September they had withdrawn their nation from its alliance with Nazi Germany and agreed to an armistice with the Allies. The Germans quickly responded by occupying hundreds of villages and cities. From 1943 until May 1945, Allied armies fought to expel German forces from Italy in a series of battles known as the Italian campaign. Italian partisans aided this cause.

After liberating Rome in June 1944, Allied troops advanced north into Tuscany and from there into Emilia-Romagna and other regions. During those months, tens of thousands of soldiers died in combat and thousands of civilians were executed by German troops. Countless buildings were damaged or destroyed.

Today, monuments, museums, and cemeteries in Tuscany and other regions commemorate the events of World War II. A new guidebook, A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy, makes these locations easier to find. The book is available online and at English-language bookstores in Florence and Rome. For more information, see

Sites in and near Florence

To slow the advance of Allied forces, the Germans blew up all the bridges across the Arno except Ponte Vecchio, which Hitler had ordered spared. As you walk across Ponte Santa Trinità to Lungarno, on the left is a plaque noting that this bridge was built in 1569, destroyed by German mines on August 4, 1944, and rebuilt after the war.

The Germans used the magnificent Synagogue on via Farini as warehouse and stables when they occupied Florence. After the war, this temple was restored to its former glory. A massive stone block in the front garden lists the names of the 248 Jews deported from Florence to concentration camps. Attached to the synagogue is a museum that illustrates the history of Florence's Jewish community from 1437 to modern times, including the deportations.

The Florence War Cemetery (just outside central Florence on Strada Statale 67) is one of 37 British Commonwealth WWII cemeteries in Italy. Its 1,632 headstones stand in rows that lead to a memorial overlooking the Arno. The inscriptions on the headstones show the diversity of the Commonwealth, which recruited soldiers for the Italian campaign from Britain, Canada, India, Nepal, South Africa, New Zealand and elsewhere.

The Florence American Cemetery lies about eight miles south of Florence, on via Cassia. Its 70 acres hold more than 4,400 graves. Near the entrance, a reception center welcomes visitors. Paths lead uphill to open buildings that display maps of the Italian campaign and the names of those missing in action. Every year on Memorial Day (the last Monday in May), veterans, civilians, and soldiers gather here to pay tribute with speeches and hymns (See TF 7 for more).

Sites around Tuscany

In and around the town of Borgo a Mozzano (near Lucca), visitors can tour the remains of bunkers, gun emplacements, a massive anti-tank wall and other structures that formed part of the Gothic Line, the Germans' principal defensive system in northern Italy. This ‘line' ran across Italy from one coast to the other, about halfway between Florence and Bologna, and was built by forced labor. Today, local volunteers work on preserving the sites and providing tours of the bunkers and related structures. To request a tour, visit and click on ‘Linea Gotica.'

Another group of volunteers focuses on preserving war monuments and fortifications in central and eastern Tuscany. Its multi-language website ( describes the group's activities. One of its projects is a WWII museum in Scarperia, a town directly north of Florence. These volunteers also keep the memory of the war alive by attending commemorations and re-enacting local battles.

The Brazilian Expeditionary Force Memorial near Pistoia was built to honor the nearly 500 Brazilian soldiers killed in the Italian campaign. Their bodies were returned to Brazil in 1960, but this impressive memorial remains.

In Sant'Anna, a mountain village near Lucca, German forces killed more than 500 civilians, including children, women and the elderly. The site of the massacre has been turned into a national park that contains many monuments and a small museum. The museum displays the photographs of those who survived the slaughter and their accounts of the horrific experience (See TF 60 for more).

Italian Submarines of World War II

The Italian submarine fleet of World War II With 107 submarines, it was one of the largest in the world at that time, second only to that of the Soviet Union. It saw action during the Second World War, serving mainly in the Mediterranean. During the conflict 88 submarines, some two-thirds of its total strength, were lost.

Italian submarines of this period were of various types, depending on the design bureau responsible. Bernardis favoured a single hull design, for better submerged characteristics, but adding side blisters for stability on the surface. This design was preferred by the Navy. Cavallini used a double hull format, or a partial double hull with saddle tanks, to aid surface performance this design was found to give better results. Ansaldo also used the double hull, to emphasize surface handling.

Italian submarines were of four basic types: very large oceangoing cruiser submarines, large minelayers, large long-range patrol boats, and medium-size vessels. The cruisers, few in number, proved rather unsuccessful, especially as they were slow to dive they saw little operational service. The minelayers, however, were much more successful. They displaced between 1,054 and 1,305 tons standard on the surface, with a range of 8,500 miles at 9 knots on the surface, a submerged endurance of 60 hours at 2 knots, and a diving depth of 330 feet. Armament included a battery of 6 to 8 torpedo tubes with 8 to 14 torpedoes, 36 mines, and one or two 3-inch deck guns.

The two series of patrol submarines emerged as essentially standard designs immediately before World War II began. The larger group displaced between 920 and 1,000 tons standard on the sur- face, with a range of 9,000 miles at 8 knots on the surface, a submerged endurance of 60 hours at 2 knots, and a diving depth of 330 feet. Armament included a battery of 8 torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes and one 4-inch deck gun. The smaller group displaced between 650 and 680 tons standard on the surface, with a range of 5,000 miles at 8 knots on the surface, a submerged endurance of 60 hours at 2 knots, and a diving depth of 330 feet. Armament included a battery of 6 torpedo tubes with 12 torpedoes and one 4-inch deck gun. These smaller patrol submarines were very successful boats, per- forming well in the shallow, clear waters of the Mediterranean the larger boats performed quite effectively in the Atlantic.

However these vessels compared unfavorably with their British and German contemporaries, with comparatively slow diving times and poor handling underwater. One feature that caused problems was the large conning tower, making the boat more visible on the surface, and slowing the dive time. During the war many of these were reconstructed to remedy this fault.

In 1939 the Regia Marina had 107 submarines this included 7 vessels of World War I vintage confined to training. Eight more were commissioned prior to joining hostilities, and a further 30 were commissioned during the war. The Italian submarine force was designed and intended to operate mainly in Mediterranean, in support of battle fleet or on scouting and patrolling missions, although its ocean-going vessels were also intended for the Atlantic. It also had a number of boats stationed overseas in Italy’s colonial empire.

At the joining of hostilities in June 1940 Italy had 115 submarines, of which 84 were operational however 10 were lost in the first twenty days of action, due partly to flaws in quality, or poor training, and partly due to reckless bravado. Thereafter the Italians never had more than 25 to 30 boats at sea at any one time. The commander of the Italian submarine fleet on 10 June 1940 was Admiral Mario Falangola, who was replaced by Admiral Antonio Legnani in December 1941.

Italy’s simultaneous entry into the war terminated all commercial traffic in the Mediterranean except for very heavily escorted operational convoys bringing supplies into Malta. It also substantially increased the number of submarines available for the Atlantic campaign against shipping, inasmuch as Italian submarines began operating from Biscay ports, effectively doubling the total Axis force at sea. This situation allowed Admiral Karl Dönitz to introduce his wolf-pack tactic on a large scale into the Atlantic shipping campaign, just as the British faced an alarming shortage of oceanic convoy escorts be- cause of the neutralization of the French Fleet and their decision to retain destroyers in home waters to guard against a German invasion. The results vindicated Dönitz’s belief in the effectiveness of wolf packs. In the first nine months of the war, German U-boats sank a little more than 1 million tons of shipping, whereas they and the Italians together destroyed more than 2.3 million tons between June 1940 and February 1941. However, the release of destroyers from their guard duties, the addition of new escorts, and the transfer of fifty obsolete destroyers from the U. S. Navy improved the situation. The dispersal point for westbound transatlantic convoys and the pickup point for escort groups meeting eastbound shipping gradually moved westward as the range of the escorts was increased. This pushed the main arena of Axis submarine operations more toward the mid-Atlantic zone, which reduced the time that boats could spend on station. In mid-1941 the United States imposed its so- called Neutrality Zone on the western Atlantic and began escorting British convoys in conjunction with Royal Canadian Navy escorts, operating from Argentia in Newfoundland. North Atlantic convoys now were escorted throughout by antisubmarine vessels. Nevertheless, these additions to the escort force had only a limited impact on losses, since German and Italian submarines succeeded in sinking a further 1.8 million tons in the following nine months prior to the U. S. entry into the war.

Soon after June 1940 a submarine force was dispatched to the Atlantic, honouring a commitment to Germany to help in the Atlantic campaign. Code-named BETASOM, this force was stationed at Bordeaux in occupied France. 32 boats in total served in the Atlantic, equaling the German numbers at the time. Half of them later returned to the Mediterranean, or were converted to transports, for operations to Far East. The Italian submarines operating in the Atlantic overall sank 109 allied merchant ships totalling 593,864 tons.

In the Mediterranean the submarine force suffered heavily in the face of intense anti-submarine warfare, and in attacks on heavily guarded convoys and naval formations. Results were modest, with only 21 merchantmen and 13 enemy warships sunk (for a total around 100,000 tons) one reason for such a disappointing score was the lack of targets (with most of them being harder-to-hit warships, and the merchant ships being under heavy escort), and another was the outdated doctrine employed at the beginning of the war (with static patrols, and attacks being executed firing only one or two torpedoes), although this aspect was being corrected by 1942 (as proven during Operation Pedestal, when a more aggressive and dynamic conduct met with considerable success). In 1943 at Italy’s surrender the Regia Marina had 34 boats operational, having lost 92 vessels in action (over two-thirds of their number). During the conflict 88 submarines, some two-thirds of its total strength, were lost. 3,021 men of the Italian submarine service were lost at sea during the war.

In World War II, Brazil Helped the Allies Seize Italy

The United Nations was born from the efforts of many Allies.

Key point: Brazil and other countries contributed forces, logistics, bases, or aid to help the Allies win World War II.

The term “United Nations” was in large part derived from the large number of nations that joined in common cause between 1939 and 1945 to defeat the Axis powers of Germany, Japan, and Italy during World War II. Scores of nations joined the major Allied powers to contribute, directly or indirectly, to the defeat of the common enemy.

One of those nations was South America’s largest country, Brazil. The significant contribution of her wealth, resources, and blood of her own people is, unfortunately, little remembered today.

Latin America in World War II

Originally, Latin America was important to the United States for the resources it provided to a nation soon to be at war. In 1940, 90 percent of the region’s coffee, 83 percent of the sugar, 78 percent of the bauxite, 70 percent of the tungsten, as well as significant percentages of tin, copper, and crude oil were imported to the United States for both domestic and military consumption.

Although the United States was not yet at war, it had concerns about Latin America, for a dictator sympathetic to Adolf Hitler or Benito Mussolini might cause trouble for a United States that was trying to remain neutral. German propaganda took full advantage of the opportunity and distributed literature and films in Spanish to encourage dissension throughout Latin America. It even established a propaganda radio station in Montevideo, Uruguay.

Mexico was already at odds with the United States. It had expropriated American oil companies, and the United States was claiming that communist and National Socialist plots were prevalent throughout that country. And the Mexican government was ready to expel any American agents within its borders that were identified. Mexico also clearly anticipated a German victory, which the country was expected to use to strengthen its position with the United States. Mexico finally sent a squadron of fighter aircraft to the Pacific late in the war.

Other Central and South American countries such as Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, and Venezuela wanted no part of the conflict and remained on the sidelines.

Brazil’s Road to War

In Brazil in June 1940, President Getúlio Vargas had already informed the German ambassador that Brazil fully intended to maintain its independence, despite Vargas’s known dislike of the democratic system and the appeal he personally felt for totalitarian states. Other states, like Argentina, were split in their loyalties. Chile, Uruguay, and Panama (of the Spanish-speaking countries, only Panama entered into a declaration of war) were sympathetic to the American camp, but the United States had to bring the entire continent onto its side.

To do so, President Franklin Roosevelt established the Inter-American Financial and Economic Committee, based in Panama. Then a number of conferences were held in Panama, Rio de Janeiro, and Washington, D.C., to settle differences between the members. The Chapultepec Conference held in Mexico resulted in an agreement that laid the foundations of the future cooperation of the American states. With Nelson A. Rockefeller as his coordinator for inter-American affairs, President Roosevelt loaned the Latin American states money, increased imports from them to the United States, and sent American technicians to modernize the economy of the various countries.

The Germans did much to push Brazil into the American camp. U-boat attacks off the coast of Brazil sank several Brazilian ships and killed over 600 of its citizens, including women and children. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Vargas decided to honor his nation’s commitments to the United States and, in January 1942, broke diplomatic relations with Germany, Japan, and Italy.

The Brazilian Navy immediately took steps to protect its shipping while the air force conducted offshore patrols to detect enemy submarines. Several Brazilian military bases were ceded to the United States for similar uses. The sinking of Brazilian ships continued, however, with another dozen ships gone by August 1942. Vargas and his government had enough provocation by this point, and in the same month declared war on Germany and Italy.

The Creation of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force

It took longer for Brazil to decide how to contribute to the Allied war effort. Concerns that the fascist forces in North Africa, which bulged too close for comfort just across the South Atlantic, might take some aggressive action against Brazil, kept her forces at home in a protective mode. But with the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942 and the eventual defeat of the Axis forces there, Brazil turned to a more active role in the war.

On December 31, 1942, President Vargas announced in a speech that his government was beginning to “think on the responsibilities of an extra-continental action.” This idea would soon develop into the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, which would fight alongside the Allies in Italy in 1944 and 1945.

The first concrete steps were taken at a conference between Presidents Roosevelt and Vargas at Natal in northeastern Brazil on January 28, 1943. There the two heads of state agreed that Brazil would make some physical contribution to the Allied war effort beyond protecting its own borders. That March, President Vargas issued an “Explanation of Motives” written earlier by the war minister in which he proposed the organization of an expeditionary force to fight outside the continent. Thus was born the Brazilian Expeditionary Force, or BEF.

Although the idea had taken hold, there remained problems within Brazil itself. There were strong elements within the Vargas government who opposed Brazil’s participation in the war against the Axis powers. Then there was the problem of organizing, training, equipping, and staffing such a force. There was also a need to infuse into the Brazilian people a will to fight a war in the Old World, which was far away and often resented by factions of the populace. But Vargas and his followers began campaigns to overcome each of these obstacles in turn, and by the fall of 1943 he accomplished his goal. The BEF would consist largely of a single infantry division based on the contemporary American model. To create such a unit, existing Brazilian military units would be consolidated into the necessary combat formations. Thus, the three infantry regiments were formed from units spread across Brazil. The 1st Infantry Regiment, or Sampaio Regiment, came from the military district of Rio de Janeiro. The 6th Infantry Regiment, formerly the Ipiranga Regiment, came from São Paulo State. The 11th Infantry Regiment was formerly known as the Tiradentes Regiment and came from Minas Gerais State. Most of the artillery was formed from units then based in and around Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo.

The unit’s 9th Engineer Battalion came from Aquidauana, Mato Grosso State, while the Reconnaissance Squadron was formed out of the 2nd Mechanized Regiment, based within the city of Rio de Janeiro. The medical battalion consisted of units based in both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. On October 7, 1943, Maj. Gen. João Baptista Mascarenhas de Moraes was appointed to command the assembled units.

The general was born in São Gabriel, Rio Grande de Sul State, in 1883, and at age 16 entered the Rio Pardo Military School as a cadet. He then completed his military training at the Brazilian Military School in Rio de Janeiro and was commissioned a second lieutenant. Later in his career he won first place in the Officers’ Higher Training School and third place at the General Staff School both courses were directed by the French military mission. He continued to rise in rank and responsibilities until he reached the highest post of chief of the Brazilian Expeditionary Force.

Adopting the American Military Model

For many years prior to the outbreak of World War II, the Brazilian military had been instructed by a French military mission. All of its military equipment was European. This ceased with the surrender of France in 1940. Now the Brazilian forces were to participate in a foreign war with different allies, and new tactics and techniques, not to mention organizational skills, had to be learned. To this end, General Mascarenhas traveled to the United States to quickly learn American military techniques, organization, and equipment.

In Brazil the complete transformation of the BEF from a European-model organization to an American-based one took time and a great deal of effort. For example, the BEF had to be motorized, more specialists trained, and new equipment introduced. The M1 Garand rifle, the 60mm mortar, bazooka, .30-caliber light machine gun, 57mm antitank gun, and the 105mm artillery pieces, among others, were unknown to the Brazilians. These all had to be acquired, learned, and then implemented within the unit’s structure, which itself was changing.

Recruitment of personnel, particularly for the specialist positions, was difficult and time consuming. Additionally, many of its leading officers were still undergoing training in the United States. In December, General Mascarenhas traveled to Italy with a group of observers viewing the Italian campaign.

On December 28, 1943, Mascarenhas was officially named commander of the 1st Expeditionary Infantry Division (1st EID), and in January, upon his return from Italy, he assumed command of the still-forming BEF.

World War II - Italian Campaign

The Italian campaign of World War II consisted of Allied and Axis, who now were without Italy as Ally, operations in and around Italy, from 1943 to 1945. The Joint Allied Forces Headquarters (AFHQ) was operationally responsible for all Allied land forces in the Mediterranean theatre and it planned and led the invasion of Sicily in July 1943, followed in September by the invasion of the Italian mainland and the campaign in Italy until the surrender of the German Armed Forces in Italy in May 1945.

It is estimated that between September 1943 and April 1945, 60,000�,000 Allied and 38,805�,660 German soldiers died in Italy. The number of Allied casualties was about 320,000 and the German figure (excluding those involved in the final surrender) was over 330,000. Fascist Italy, prior to its collapse, suffered about 200,000 casualties, mostly POWs taken in the Allied invasion of Sicily, including more than 40,000 killed or missing. Over 150,000 Italian civilians died, as did 35,828 anti-Fascist partisans and some 35,000 troops of the Italian Social Republic. In the West, Italy was the most costly campaign in terms of casualties suffered by infantry forces of both sides, during bitter small-scale fighting around strongpoints at the Winter Line, the Anzio beachhead and the Gothic Line.

The Allied invasion of Sicily, started in July 1943, led to the collapse of the Fascist Italian regime and the fall of Mussolini on 25 July, which was deposed and arrested by order of King Victor Emmanuel III. The new government signed an armistice with the Allies on 8 September 1943. However, German forces shortly succeeded in taking control of northern and central Italy Mussolini, who was rescued by German paratroopers, established a collaborationist puppet state, the Italian Social Republic (RSI) to administer the German-occupied territory, leading to Italy being split in two. The Germans, often helped by Fascists, also committed several atrocities against Italian civilians and non-fascist troops. As result, the Italian Co-Belligerent Army was created to fight against the RSI and its German allies, alongside a large Italian resistance movement, while other Italian troops, loyal to Mussolini, continued to fight alongside the Germans in the National Republican Army. This period is known as the Italian Civil War. The campaign ended when Army Group C surrendered unconditionally to the Allies on May 2, 1945, one week before the formal German Instrument of Surrender. The independent states of San Marino and the Vatican, both surrounded by Italian territory, also suffered damage during the campaign.

Even before the victory in the North African campaign in May 1943, there was disagreement among the Allies on the best strategy to defeat the Axis. The British, especially the prime minister, Winston Churchill, advocated their traditional naval-based peripheral strategy. Even with a large army, but greater naval power, the traditional British answer against a continental enemy was to fight as part of a coalition and mount small peripheral operations designed to gradually weaken the enemy. The United States, with the larger U.S. Army, favoured a more direct method of fighting the main force of the German Army in northwestern Europe. The ability to launch such a campaign depended on first winning the Battle of the Atlantic.

The strategic disagreement was fierce, with the U.S. service chiefs arguing for an invasion of France as early as possible, while their British counterparts advocated a policy centred on operations in the Mediterranean. There was even pressure from some Latin American countries to stage an invasion of Spain, which, under Francisco Franco, was friendly to the Axis nations, although not a participant in the war. The American staff believed that a full-scale invasion of France at the earliest possible time was required to end the war in Europe, and that no operations should be undertaken that might delay that effort. The British argued that the presence of large numbers of troops trained for amphibious landings in the Mediterranean made a limited-scale invasion possible and useful.

Eventually the U.S. and British political leadership reached a compromise in which both would commit most of their forces to an invasion of France in early 1944, but also launch a relatively small-scale Italian campaign. A contributing factor was Franklin D. Roosevelt's desire to keep U.S. troops active in the European theatre during 1943 and his attraction to the idea of eliminating Italy from the war. It was hoped that an invasion might knock Italy out of the conflict, or at least increase the pressure on it and weaken it. The elimination of Italy would enable Allied naval forces, principally the Royal Navy, to dominate the Mediterranean Sea, securing the lines of communications with Egypt, the Far East, the Middle East and India. Italian divisions on occupation and coastal defence duties in the Balkans and France would be withdrawn to defend Italy, while the Germans would have to transfer troops from the Eastern Front to defend Italy and the entire southern coast of France, thus aiding the Soviets.

Invasion of Sicily

A combined Allied invasion of Sicily began on 10 July 1943 with both amphibious and airborne landings at the Gulf of Gela. The land forces involved were the U.S. Seventh Army, under Lieutenant General George S. Patton, and the British Eighth Army, under General Bernard Montgomery. The original plan contemplated a strong advance by the British northwards along the east coast to Messina, with the Americans in a supporting role along their left flank. When the Eighth Army were held up by stubborn defences in the rugged hills south of Mount Etna, Patton amplified the American role by a wide advance northwest toward Palermo and then directly north to cut the northern coastal road. This was followed by an eastward advance north of Etna towards Messina, supported by a series of amphibious landings on the northern coast that propelled Patton's troops into Messina shortly before the first units of the Eighth Army. The defending German and Italian forces were unable to prevent the Allied capture of the island, but they succeeded in evacuating most of their troops to the mainland, with the last leaving on 17 August 1943. The Allied forces gained experience in opposed amphibious operations, coalition warfare, and large airborne drops.

Invasion of Continental Italy

Forces of the British Eighth Army, still under Montgomery, landed in the 'toe' of Italy on 3 September 1943 in Operation Baytown, the day the Italian government agreed to an armistice with the Allies. The armistice was publicly announced on 8 September by two broadcasts, first by General Eisenhower and then by a proclamation by Marshal Badoglio. Although the German forces prepared to defend without Italian assistance, only two of their divisions opposite the Eighth Army and one at Salerno were not tied up disarming the Royal Italian Army.

On 9 September, forces of the U.S. Fifth Army, under Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, expecting little resistance, landed against heavy German resistance at Salerno in Operation Avalanche in addition, British forces landed at Taranto in Operation Slapstick, which was almost unopposed. There had been a hope that, with the surrender of the Italian government, the Germans would withdraw to the north, since at the time Adolf Hitler had been persuaded that Southern Italy was strategically unimportant. However, this was not to be although, for a while, the Eighth Army was able to make relatively easy progress up the eastern coast, capturing the port of Bari and the important airfields around Foggia. Despite none of the northern reserves having been made available to the German 10th Army, it nevertheless came close to repelling the Salerno landing. The main Allied effort in the west initially centred on the port of Naples: that city was selected because it was the northmost port that could receive air cover by fighter planes flying from Sicily.

As the Allies advanced, they encountered increasingly difficult terrain: the Apennine Mountains form a spine along the Italian peninsula offset somewhat to the east. In the most mountainous areas of Abruzzo, more than half the width of the peninsula comprises crests and peaks over 3,000 feet that are relatively easy to defend and the spurs and re-entrants to the spine confronted the Allies with a succession of ridges and rivers across their line of advance. The rivers were subject to sudden and unexpected flooding, which had the potential to thwart the Allied commanders' plans.

Allied Advance To Rome

In early October 1943, Hitler was persuaded by his Army Group Commander in Southern Italy, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, that the defence of Italy should be conducted as far away from Germany as possible. This would make the most of the natural defensive geography of Central Italy, whilst denying the Allies the easy capture of a succession of airfields each one being ever closer to Germany. Hitler was also convinced that yielding southern Italy would provide the Allies with a springboard for an invasion of the Balkans with its vital resources of oil, bauxite and copper.

Kesselring was given command of the whole of Italy and immediately ordered the preparation of a series of defensive lines across Italy, south of Rome. Two lines, the Volturno and the Barbara, were used to delay the Allied advance so as to buy time to prepare the most formidable defensive positions, which formed the Winter Line – the collective name for the Gustav Line and two associated defensive lines on the west of the Apennine Mountains, the Bernhardt and Hitler lines (the latter had been renamed the Senger Line by 23 May 1944).

The Winter Line proved a major obstacle to the Allies at the end of 1943, halting the Fifth Army's advance on the western side of Italy. Although the Gustav Line was penetrated on the Eighth Army's Adriatic front, and Ortona was liberated with heavy casualties to Canadian troops, the blizzards, drifting snow and zero visibility at the end of December caused the advance to grind to a halt. The Allies' focus then turned to the western front, where an attack through the Liri valley was considered to have the best chance of a breakthrough towards the Italian capital. Landings at Anzio during Operation Shingle, advocated by the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, behind the line were intended to destabilise the German Gustav line defences, but the early thrust inland to cut off the German defences did not occur because of disagreements that the American commander, Major General John P. Lucas, had with the battle plan and his insistence that his forces were not large enough to accomplish their mission. Lucas entrenched his forces, during which time German Field Marshal Kesselring assembled sufficient forces to form a ring around the beachhead. After a month of hard fighting Lucas was replaced by Major General Lucian Truscott who eventually broke out in May.

It took four major offensives between January and May 1944 before the line was eventually broken by a combined assault of the Fifth and Eighth Armies (including British, American, French, Polish, and Canadian corps) concentrated along a twenty-mile front between Monte Cassino and the western seaboard. In a concurrent action, American General Mark Clark was ordered to break out of the stagnant position at Anzio and cash in on the opportunity to cut off and destroy a large part of the German 10th Army retreating from the Gustav Line between them and the Canadians. But this opportunity was lost on the brink of success, when Clark disobeyed his orders and sent his U.S. forces to enter the vacant Rome instead. Rome had been declared an open city by the German Army so no resistance was encountered.

The American forces took possession of Rome on 4 June 1944. The German Tenth Army were allowed to get away and, in the next few weeks, were responsible for doubling the Allied casualties in the next few months. Clark was hailed as a hero in the United States.[citation needed] The Canadians were sent through the city without stopping at 3:00am the next morning.

Allied Advance Into Northern Italy

After the capture of Rome, and the Allied invasion of Normandy in June, the U.S. VI Corps and the French Expeditionary Corps (CEF), which together amounted to seven divisions, were pulled out of Italy during the summer of 1944 to participate in Operation Dragoon, codename for the Allied invasion of Southern France. The sudden removal of these experienced units from the Italian front was only partially compensated for by the gradual arrival of three divisions, the Brazilian 1st Infantry Division, the U.S. 92nd Infantry Division, both in the second half of 1944, and the U.S. 10th Mountain Division in January 1945.

In the period from June to August 1944, the Allies advanced beyond Rome, taking Florence and closing up on the Gothic Line.[41] This last major defensive line ran from the coast some 30 miles (48 km) north of Pisa, along the jagged Apennine Mountains chain between Florence and Bologna to the Adriatic coast, just south of Rimini. In order to shorten the Allied lines of communication for the advance into Northern Italy, the Polish II Corps advanced towards the port of Ancona and, after a month-long battle, succeeded in capturing it on 18 July.

During Operation Olive, which commenced on 25 August, the Gothic Line defences were penetrated on both the Fifth and Eighth Army fronts but, there was no decisive breakthrough. Churchill, the British Prime Minister, had hoped that a major advance in late 1944 would open the way for the Allied armies to advance northeast through the "Ljubljana Gap" (the area between Venice and Vienna, which is today's Slovenia) to Vienna and Hungary to forestall the Red Army from advancing into Eastern Europe. Churchill's proposal had been strongly opposed by the U.S. Chiefs of Staff who, not fully understanding its importance to British postwar interests in the region, did not think that it aligned with the overall Allied war priorities.

In October, Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery succeeded Lieutenant General Sir Oliver Leese as the commander of the Eighth Army. In December, Lieutenant General Mark Clark, the Fifth Army commander, was appointed to command the 15th Army Group, thereby succeeding the British General Sir Harold Alexander as commander of all Allied ground troops in Italy Alexander succeeded Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson as the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean Theatre. Clark was succeeded in command of the Fifth Army by Lieutenant General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr.. In the winter and spring of 1944�, extensive partisan activity in Northern Italy took place. As there were two Italian governments during this period, (one on each side of the war), the struggle took on some characteristics of a civil war.

The poor winter weather, which made armoured manoeuvre and the exploitation of overwhelming air superiority impossible, coupled with the massive losses suffered to its ranks during the autumn fighting, the need to transfer some British troops to Greece (as well as the need to withdraw the British 5th Infantry Division and I Canadian Corps to northwestern Europe) made it impractical for the Allies to continue their offensive in early 1945. Instead, the Allies adopted a strategy of "offensive defence" while preparing for a final attack when better weather and ground conditions arrived in the spring.

In late February-early March 1945, Operation Encore saw elements of the U.S. IV Corps (1st Brazilian Division and the newly arrived U.S. 10th Mountain Division) battling forward across minefields in the Apennines to align their front with that of the U.S. II Corps on their right. They pushed the German defenders from the commanding high point of Monte Castello and the adjacent Monte Belvedere and Castelnuovo, depriving them of artillery positions that had been commanding the approaches to Bologna since the narrowly failed Allied attempt to take the city in the autumn. Meanwhile, damage to other transport infrastructure forced Axis forces to use sea, canal and river routes for re-supply, leading to Operation Bowler against shipping in Venice harbour on 21 March 1945.

Map of the Brazilian actions in northern Italy, 1944-1945. National Archives of Brazil. The Allies' final offensive commenced with massive aerial and artillery bombardments on 9 April 1945. The Allies had 1,500,000 men and women deployed in Italy in April 1945. The Axis on 7 April had 599,404 troops of which 439,224 were Germans and 160,180 were Italians. By 18 April, Eighth Army forces in the east had broken through the Argenta Gap and sent armour racing forward in an encircling move to meet the U.S. IV Corps advancing from the Apennines in Central Italy and to trap the remaining defenders of Bologna. On 21 April, Bologna was entered by the 3rd Carpathian Division, the Italian Friuli Group (both from the Eighth Army) and the U.S. 34th Infantry Division (from the Fifth Army). The U.S. 10th Mountain Division, which had bypassed Bologna, reached the River Po on 22 April the 8th Indian Infantry Division, on the Eighth Army front, reached the river on 23 April.

By 25 April, the Italian Partisans' Committee of Liberation declared a general uprising and on the same day, having crossed the Po on the right flank, forces of the Eighth Army advanced north-northeast towards Venice and Trieste. On the front of the U.S. Fifth Army, divisions drove north toward Austria and northwest to Milan. On the Fifth Army's left flank, the U.S. 92nd Infantry Division (the "Buffalo Soldiers Division") went along the coast to Genoa. A rapid advance towards Turin by the Brazilian division on their right took the German–Italian Army of Liguria by surprise, causing its collapse.

As April 1945 came to an end, the German Army Group C, retreating on all fronts and having lost most of its fighting strength, was left with little option but surrender. General Heinrich von Vietinghoff, who had taken command of Army Group C after Albert Kesselring had been transferred to become Commander-in-Chief of the Western Front (OB West) in March 1945, signed the instrument of surrender on behalf of the German armies in Italy on 29 April, formally bringing hostilities to an end on 2 May 1945.

Background to the Italian Campaign, Po Valley

Rome had been liberated in early June 1944 and fascist Italy was virtually out of the war, but much more had been accomplished elsewhere with the liberation of France and the great westward drive of the Soviet Red Army which had already crossed into Germany and was close to the battle for Berlin itself. To close the book on the Mediterranean Theater, the 15 Army Group had to overrun the top of the Italian Boot, the Po Valley.

The fighting in the North Apennines had exhausted 15 Army Group which was starved for replacements and supplies due to the shift in Allied priorities to France and western Europe. But by the end of the winter of 1944-1945, the fully rested and resupplied 15 Army Group, under U.S. Lt. General Mark Clark since December 1944, prepared to renew the offensive into the Po Valley, the final Allied push of the war in Italy. 15 Army Group consisted of U.S. Fifth Army, commanded by Lt. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. since Clark move up to 15 Army Group in December 1944, and British Eighth Army, commanded since 1 October 1944 by General Sir Richard L. McCreery.

Watch the video: Allied Invasion of Italy. Battle of Salerno. World War 2 Documentary (May 2022).