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Italian Campaign - World War II

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For units and profiles of those who participated, see the category for the Italian Campaign.


Italian Campaign

Highlights of the Italian Campaign of WW2: The Italian Campaign of World War 2 began with the campaign in Sicily July 9 - August 1943. This was followed by the invasion of mainland Italy by the British 8th Army on the 'toe' of Italy in September 3, 1943. This was soon followed by the US 5th Army landing at Salerno on September 9, the day after the Italian government surrendered. The 5th Army advanced along the western half of Italy while the British 8th Army advanced along the eastern or Adriatic coast. The American units involved were the 3rd, 34th, & 36th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Armored Division. The 5th Army had many other foreign units attached to it at various times, including French Morroccan, Brazilian and British.

The Germans built a strong defensive position across the Liri Valley and Monte Cassino, just south of Rome. The Allies made three unsuccessful attempts to break through the German line. An amphibious landing was made at Anzio behind the German lines in January 1944. However the Germans stopped the Allies from linking up or advancing towards Rome. More American units arrived in spring: 85 and 88 Infantry Divisions and 91 Infantry Division began arriving. On 11 May, 1944, Operation DIADEM opened with a massive artillery barrage at 11pm, that began final attack on the GUSTAV Line. The Allies broke through and linked up with Anzio front. The Allied troops entered Rome on June 4, 1944.

The Germans slowly fell back to the ARNO Line, on the Arno River, while the Allies continued in pursuit. At this time, the VI Corps was pulled out of the 5th Army for an amphibious landing on Southern France. The units that departed Italy included: 3rd, 36th and 45 Infantry Divisions and the Japanese-American 442 Regimental Combat Team. The only new units to arrive were the remainder of the 91 Infantry Division and the all-black 92 Infantry Division.

The Germans fell back to the GOTHIC Line, their the main defensive position in the North Apennine Mountains they had been building for months. The Allies lauched their attack in September 1944 and quickly broke through main defenses. However, the Germans defended from each mountain peak and the Allied advance slowly continued until mid-November 1944, when the rains and lack of ammunition and supplies halted their advance within sight of the Po Valley.

During the winter lull, the 10th Mountain Division arrived. They lead the assault to take the last mountains in February 1945. The 442 Regimental Combat Team returned to Italy and were attached to the 92 Division. On April 21, the final offensive began along the entire front of the US 5th Army and British 8th Army. All units rapidly advance across the Po Valley, by-passing the pockets of Germans held up in the major towns. The 5th Army crossed the Po River on April 23 and broke out in all directions across northern Italy to cut-off the retreating Germans from reaching Austria. On May 1st, the order was given to halt all combat and the surrender of all German troops in Italy was announced on May 2, 1945.


After the success of Operation Torch and the North African Campaign British and U.S commanders were at odds as to how to continue prosecution of the war in the Euopean Theatre.

The Americans wanted to launch an invasion of France in 1943. This thinking was predicated on the U.S having such large manpower to supply its Army backed by industrial muscle back home. They correctly saw this as the quickest way to bring the War in the European Theatre to a close.

The British favoured a campaign against Italy, 'the soft underbelly' of Europe. The thinking was based on the failure in August 1942 of a combined British-Canadian small scale raid on Dieppe, France to test Allied amphibious tactics. The disastrous outcome showed more time was needed to perfect these tactics. Also, the logistics for a full scale invasion of France were unlikely to be in place before early 1944. An Italian campaign would have the added benefit of drawing Italian troops away from coastal defence and occupation duties in the Balkans and France while Germany would have to draw troops from the Eastern Front to cover for the losses. There was also the prospect of taking Italy out of the War altogether thus depriving Hitler of a key ally.

In the end a compromise was reached. Preparations for a full scale invasion of France in 1944 would continue unabated while a scaled down invasion of Italy was authorized.

Invasion of Sicily

General Dwight D. Eisenhower was called upon to head up Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. General Sir Harold Alexander was placed in charge of Allied ground forces.

On 10 July, 1943 nearly half a million men landed on the south-east shore of Sicily. The U.S Seventh Army under Lieutenant-General George S. Patton pushed north-west to Palermo then headed east along the coast. Simultaneously, the British Eighth Army under General Montgomery pressed northward on either side of Mt. Etna to Messina. Within five weeks all Axis reresistance had been crushed.

The Allies lost 20,000 men. The Axis lost eight times that number but managed the withdrawal of 100,000 troops to the Italian mainland. The Allies had now gained experience in making opposed amphibious landings.


On the 25th of July, just three days after General Patton took Palermo, Mussolini was deposed and the new government opened secret talks with the Allies. Hitler immediately ordered German troops in Italy to disarm Italian forces while bringing up reserves to hold northern Italian passes. German troops under Field-Marshal Rommel in the North and Field-Marshal Kesselring in the South swiftly occupied all of Italy.

On the 3rd of September, 1943 Italy signed a truce with the Allies.

Invasion of Italy

Southern Italy

On 3 Sep 1943 the British Eighth Army landed at Reggio di Calabria (Operation Baytown). On 9 Sep the U.S. Fifth Army under Lieutenant-General Mark W. Clark came ashore at Salerno (Operation Avalanche). At the same time elements of the British Eighth Army came ashore and seized the port of Taranto (Operation Slapstick).

The U.S. Fifth Army broke through determined resistance from Kesselring and by 13 Sep had linked up with elements of the British Eighth Army which was pushing northward from Reggio di Calabria. The Germans withdrew north destroying the harbour of Naples on the way.

On 1 Oct the Americans occupied Naples and began rebuilding the harbour. By 12 Oct the Allies held southern Italy from Termoli on the Adriatic to just north of Naples. On 13 Oct Italy declares war on Germany.

Kesselring erected a series of defences in central Italy using the rugged terrain to optimal advantage. It was called the Gustav Line. By 15 Jan 1944 the Allied advance had stalled at this line. At the same time Allied command staff were being pulled from the Italian Campaign in preparation for the D-Day landings.

The Allied commanders still regarded the liberation of Rome as a worthwhile objective and to this end on 22 Jan landed a force of 50,000 men at Anzio south of Rome and just north of the Gustav Line. However, over the next four months the Allies failed repeatedly to break out.

Further south the Allies were held up at the town of Cassino which occupied a key position close to the Gustav Line. In Feb and Mar the Allies bombed Cassino and its monastery which finally allowed them to break through the Gustav Line west of the town in mid-May.

The Anzio forces broke out on 23 May and linked up with other Allied forces advancing on Rome. Rome was liberated on 4 Jun. The Germans had already withdrawn northward.

Conclusion Southern Italy

Italy would serve as an Allied airbase for the remainder of the War.

The Italian Campaign, along with the North African Campaign which had preceeded it, had been a training ground for the Allied armies in preparation for the task to come. These campaigns had given the Allied armies the battle-hardened edge they would need to retake the heart of Europe from the Nazis.

Northern Italy

General Mark Wayne Clark, commander of the U.S. Fifth Army, had disobeyed orders when he moved to occupy Rome. Since the Germans had already withdrawn from the city there was no need to occupy it. Instead, he had been ordered to intercept the German Tenth Army which was retreating from the Gustav Line. Having escaped, the German Tenth Army would be responsible for doubling the number of Allied casualties over the next few months.

Operation Overlord saw the removal of several (seven) experienced fighting divisions from the Italian Campaign for duties in the Invasion of Normandy. These forces were gradually replaced by the arrival of three new divisions: the Brazilian Infantry 1st Division; the U.S. 92nd Infantry Division; the U.S. 10th Mountain Division.

From Jun-Aug 1944 the Allies advanced through Italy up to the Gothic Line. Operation Olive in the Autumn of 1944 saw the Gothic Line penetrated by both the Eighth Army and Fifth Army but there was no decisive break out.

Operation Encore in early 1945 saw the Brazilian Infantry and the U.S. 10th Mountain Divisions push the Germans from Monte Costello, Monte Belvedere and Castelnuovo which commanded the approaches to Bologna.

Quoting the Wikipedia article describing the final offensive in the Italian Campaign:

"The Allies' final offensive commenced with massive aerial and artillery bombardments on 9 April 1945. 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 US 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 Eighth Army) and the U.S. 34th Infantry Division (from Fifth Army). 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 Eighth Army advanced north northeast towards Venice and Trieste. On the U.S. Fifth Army front, elements drove north toward Austria and north west to Milan. On the army's left flank, the U.S. 92nd Infantry Division (the "Buffalo Soldiers Division") went along the coast to Genoa; and 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 came to an end, Army Group C, the Axis forces in Italy, 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 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.[1]

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Categories: Italian Campaign