Italian Campaign, 3 September 1943-2 May 1945

Italian Campaign, 3 September 1943-2 May 1945

Italian Campaign, 3 September 1943-2 May 1945

Baytown/ Taranto
Salerno to Naples
To the Gustav Line
The Gustav Line
To the Gothic Line
The Gothic Line
Allied Spring Offensive of 1945

The Italian Campaign was one of the hardest fought and most controversial offensives carried out by the Western Allies during the Second World War, and saw the Germans fight a skilful delaying action that lasted from September 1943 until the end of the war in the spring of 1945.

The decision to invade the Italian mainland was the cause of much controversy in its own right. Churchill had always been in favour of an invasion of Italy, in the hope that it would allow Allied troops to get into the Balkans ahead of the advancing Soviets, while also preventing the Germans from moving troops to France to face Operation Overlord. At first the Americans were entirely opposed to the idea, partly because they were suspicious of Churchill’s intentions in the Balkans and partly because they didn’t want to see resources drained away from Overlord. Early in 1943 they agreed to the invasion of Sicily on the grounds that Overlord couldn’t take place until 1944, and it would be hard to explain to Stalin why the Western Allies were no longer fighting a land campaign against the Germans, but at this point there was no intention of going beyond Sicily onto the Italian mainland.

The invasion of Sicily (Operation Husky) began on 10 July and after a few nervous moments the Allies were soon firmly entrenched on the island. On 16 July Eisenhower was asked to consider an amphibious assault somewhere near Naples, and on 23 July he was ordered to prepare a plan for this as a ‘matter of urgency’. Events in Rome then made this invasion almost irresistible. On 25 July, Mussolini fell from power. He was replaced by Marshal Badoglio, who announced that Italy would remain in the war alongside Germany, but then entered into secret negotiations with the Allies, claiming that he wanted to change sides. This had the potential to transform the military situation in Italy and the Balkans, where many Italian troops were on garrison duty.

On 31 July the Italians sent an envoy to Lisbon to enter into negotiations with the Allies. The Italians were very considered about the potential German response to their actions, and wanted to make sure that they would be protected against their current, but soon to be former, allies. Badoglio wanted the Allies to land 15 divisions within striking distance of Rome and an airborne division into Rome herself. The first of these demands was entirely beyond the Allied capabilities, and would have been an invasion on an even larger scale than Husky or Overlord, but Eisenhower did at least consider dropping the 82nd Airborne Division into Rome. This plan was only cancelled at the last moment. General Maxwell A. Taylor was sent into Rome on 8 September to judge if the plan was feasible, and quickly realised that the Italian troops would be unable to defend the required airfields against the German troops that were already in the vicinity. The success or failure of this plan would have depended entirely on the response of the Italian military, as the airborne troops would have been entirely isolated in central Italy while the main Allied invasion was going on south of Naples, and would almost certainly have ended with the destruction of the 82nd.

Unsurprisingly the Allies didn’t trust the Italians. Badoglio promised to bring the Italian armed forces onto the Allied side, and wanted to know the exact date of the planned Allied invasion. This was of course entirely unacceptable to the Allies, who instead insisted that the Italians sign an unconditional surrender, without knowing the date of the invasion. This was signed on 3 September, the same day that saw Montgomery’s Eighth Army actually cross the straits of Messina. The Italian surrender was to be announced simultaneously by Eisenhower in Algiers and Badoglio in Rome, at 6.30pm on 8 September, the day before the planning landings at Salerno (although the Italians wouldn’t learn about the invasion until the following day).

The Germans had already put in place a plan for the defence of Italy, based on the assumption that the Italians would surrender. Rommel had been given command of a new Army Group in northern Italy, which was to defend a line from Pisa to Rimini. Kesselring commanded the Axis troops in the south of Italy, with orders to conduct a fighting retreat back to the Pisa-Rimini line. Kesselring was opposed to this idea, and believed that he could pin the Allies down much further south, taking advantage of the mountainous terrain of southern Italy to construct a defensive line that would be very difficult to penetrate. Kesselring had eight German divisions under his command in August-September 1943, two around Rome and six in the south, from Naples to the toe of Italy, where they formed the German Tenth Army, under General Heinrich von Vietinghoff.

The Germans also had a plan to disarm the Italian armed forces and seize control of the country if the Italians did chance sides, Operation Axis (Achse). This was activated when the Italian armistice was announced on 8 September 1943, and the majority of the Italian army was disarmed without any problems. There was some limited fighting around Rome, but any chance of more determined resistance ended after the new government and the Royal Family fled from the city. Eventually elements of the Italian armed forces would serve on both sides (and Italian troops made up a large part of the British Eighth Army at the end of the war), but for the moment they were no longer a factor.

The Allied plan was for three landings in the south of Italy. Montgomery’s Eighth Army was to move first, crossing the Straits of Messina between 30 August and 4 September (Operation Baytown). They would then advance north through Calabria. On 9 September another British force would land at Taranto, in the heel of Italy, while the main landing would take place in the gulf of Salerno, south of Naples. The two forces would be far too far apart to support each other at the start of the campaign - Montgomery would have to advance 200 miles north through difficult terrain to reach Salerno, and wouldn’t arrive until the battle had already been won.

Baytown/ Taranto

The invasion of the mainland began on 3 September 1943, exactly four years to the day after the British declaration of war, when the Eighth Army crossed over from Sicily to the tip of Calabria (Operation Baytown). The two German divisions in Calabria carried out a skilful retreat, using the mountain roads and terrain to delay Montgomery’s advance, without risking getting trapped in the far south. An attempt to outflank them from the sea by landing at Pizzo (Operation Hooker) didn’t achieve much.

The second British landing, Operation Slapstick, faced even less resistance. The Italians welcomed them at Taranto on 9 September, and Bari and Brindisi also fell quickly. The German troops in the area pulled back towards Foggia, again offering only limited resistance. More troops then landed at Taranto and Bari, and pushed up towards Foggia, which fell to the 4th Armoured Brigade on 27 September.

Although there wasn’t much hard fighting, the Germans were able to delay Montgomery. The winding roads of Calabria were easy to block by demolishing the many bridges or culverts. Carefully positioned guns on the far side of the barrier forced the British to carry out a slow outflanking movement in the mountains, at which point the Germans would retreat without a fight, only to repeat the exercise a few miles further on.

Salerno to Naples

Operation Avalanche, the landings at Salerno, didn’t go as smoothly. The US Fifth Army (US 6th Corps and British 10th Corps) allocated four divisions to the first wave of the attack. The Germans only had one division in the Salerno area, but they were expecting an attack. The landing area was overlooked by hills that made good observation points for the German artillery and split by the Sele River. On 9 September the Allies landed, but were only able to establish two small separate beachheads. Kesselring rushed reinforcements to the Salerno front, and made a real effort to throw the Allies back into the sea. By 13 September the Germans were ready to launch their main counterattack. They came dangerously close to reaching the coast between the two breachheads, advancing down the line of the Sele. Their attack finally came to a halt where the Calore River flowed into the Sele. That night General Clark rushed the few reinforcements at his disposal into the beachhead, including flying in airborne troops. He also reorganised his lines, and even put in place plans to evacuate the US beachhead if it came under too much pressure. Clark’s response helped avert a crisis. On 14 September the Germans attacked again, but the attack was repulsed. General Vietinghoff, commander of the German forces outside the beachhead, requested permission to withdraw, only a day or two after claiming that he had won the battle.

The Germans withdrew from the beachhead area on 18 September. However their near success at Salerno changed the nature of the campaign. Kesselring was given permission to try and hold the Allies south of Rome and began work on the ‘Gustav Line’, where he hoped to make his main stand. His troops were ordered to carry out a fighting retreat, defending a series of less important defensive lines - the Volturno, Barbara and Bernhardt Lines. The Allied advance from Salerno began on 20 September. They now came up against the same delaying actions as the Eighth Army had encountered in the south, but they were still able to take Naples on 1 October. The Germans had put a great deal of effort into disabling the port, but it was able to take 3,500 tons of cargo per day within two weeks!

To the Gustav Line

The rest of the Italian campaign was dominated by a series of German defensive lines. This started with the Volturno Line, which ran along the Volturno in the west and the Biferno in the east.

In the east the Eighth Army began its attack on the Biferno line on 1 October, with an advance towards the river. This was followed by an amphibious landing at Termoli, behind the river, early on 3 October. The Germans attempted to counterattack, but the key 16th Panzer Division moved too slowly, and although the defenders of Termoli came under heavy pressure, they held on. By 6 October the Eighth Army was able to go onto the offensive, and the Germans retreated to the next river line, on the Trigno.

In the west the Fifth Army reached the Volturno on 7 October, and launched their assault on the new position on 12 October. After some initial resistance, the Fifth Army was firmly established across the river by 15 October.

The next German line was the Barbara Line, which was more of a series of strong points than a continuous line. In the west it generally protected the exits from the plains north of Naples, and was just to the south of the mountains of the Bernhardt Line. In the east it followed the Trigno River.

In the east the Eighth Army attacked across the Trigno on 3 November, and the German line was quickly broken. They were forced to pull back to the Sangro, which was an outlying element of the Gustav Line.

In the west the first break in the Barbara Line cane on the coastal flank, where the British 7th Armoured Division broke through. The British reached the lower Garigliano, and were able to move up the river to threaten the outlying positions of the Bernhardt Line. On 31 October the US 3rd Division broke through the centre of the Barbara Line. Finally the US 34th and 45th Divisions crossed the upper Volturno and took the section of high ground between that river and the key Mignano gap.

The third German line was the Bernhardt Line. In the west this was an outlying spur of the Gustav Line. It followed the line of the Garigliano from the coast, but then crossed a series of mountains to guard the Mignano Gap, the best route to Cassino and the entrance to the Liri Valley. North of the gap the line followed more mountains north to the valley of the Rapido, a tributary of the Garigliano. In the east the situation is a little less clear, at least as far as names go. The Germans had two lines of defences, one on the Sangro and a stronger one a few miles to the north. The Sangro positions are sometimes called the Advanced Sangro Line and sometimes the Bernhardt Line. However the main line is also sometimes called the Bernhardt Line, although it is more often considered to be part of the Gustav Line.

In any case the two lines in the east didn’t survive for long. The Eighth Army began its main attack on the Sangro on 27 November, after heavy rain forced a postponement. This broke through both the positions on the Sangro, and the main line behind the river, and the Germans were forced to retreat back to the Moro River, where they were able to improvise yet another defensive line. The Eighth Army was able to push its way across the Moro, but was unable to take Ortagna, at the western end of the line. On the coast the Canadians were able to take Ortona after the first significant urban battle of the Italian campaign, but by the end of the year the Eighth Army offensive had come to an end. At the end of 1943 Montgomery was recalled to take command of the land forces for D-Day, and was replaced by General Leese.

In the west the Bernhardt Line positions held out for more than a month. The most important part of the line protected the Mignano Gap, where Highway 6, the best road from Naples to Rome, ran through a gap in the mountains to reach the Rapido valley. The Allied attack began on 5 November, when the British 56th Division attempted to take Monte Camino, but the attack had to be abandoned on 14 November. Just to the north the US 3rd Infantry Division was equally unsuccessful at Monte la Difensa. However the 3rd Division was then able to get around the northern end of the line, taking Monte Rotondo, on the northern side of the gap. The Allies then paused for two weeks to recover.

The second attack on the Bernhardt Line was part of a larger scale Allied offensive. This began with the Eighth Army offensive on the Sangro. It was hoped that the British would be able to reach Pescara, and then threaten Rome from the north-east. The Fifth Army would then break the Bernhardt and Gustav Lines and advance into the Liri Valley. Finally two divisions would land at Anzio and the two prongs of the Fifth Army would trap the retreating Germans. This plan soon fell apart. The Eighth Army broke the Sangro positions, but got held up on the Moro. In the west the Fifth Army began on 1 December. The 56th Division finally secured Monte Camino by 6 December. Monte la Difensa was taken by the 1st Special Service Force, a US-Canadian force trained in mountain warfare. Monte Maggiore, behind these two peaks, fell to the 36th Division. This gave the Allies control of the southern side of the Mignano Gap. Next came an attack on Monte Lungo, in the middle of the gap, and San Pietro, on the northern side. These took longer than expected. The first Italian troops to join the Fifth Army attacked Monte Lungo on 8 December and were soon repulsed. The US 36th Division found that San Pietro was far more heavily defended than they had expected, and it took over a week to clear the village, which was evacuated by the Germans on 16-17 December. The Germans still held a few outlying positions east of the Rapido River, but they fell fairly easily.

The Gustav Line

The Germans had now been pushed back to their main defensive line south of Rome, the Gustav Line. This was a very strong defensive position, based around a series of mountains to the west of the line of the Rapido and Garigliano Rivers. The Rapido rises in the Apennines and flows south-west before reaching a more open valley where it flows south, past the town of Cassino and the famous monastery of Monte Cassino on a mountain to the west of the town. The Rapido then flows into the Liri River, which runs from west to east. The Liri valley was the main Allied target, as it would give them a fairly easy approach to Rome. The two rivers merge to form the Garigliano, which continues to flow south to the coast. The Germans had built strong defences along the rivers and the surrounding mountains. It would take the Allies nearly five months and four major battles to finally break through the Cassino line.

The first battle of Cassino (12 January-12 February 1944) was part of a two part Fifth Army offensive. It would begin with a three pronged assault on the Cassino front, to be followed by an amphibious landing at Anzio (Operation Shingle). When this had first been suggested in 1943, the Anzio landings were meant to happen after the breakthrough at Cassino, but this time they would happen while the main army was still stuck in front of the Gustav Line. Clark’s three pronged assault achieved very little. It began on 12 January when the French attacked on the Allied right. They made limited progress in the mountains between the Rapido and Volturno, but then ran into stronger German positions and their offensive was called off after the fall of Sant’ Elia on 16 January. On the left the British 10th Corps crossed the Garigliano on the three division front. On the left two divisions made some progress, and established a foothold across the river near the coast, but the 46th Division, which had the key role in the operation, made very little progress on the British right. The key heights overlooking the Liri and Rapido valleys remained in German hands. Despite these failures, the third prong, the US attack over the lower Rapido, began as planned on 20 January, but the 36th Division lost 1,681 men in two days and achieved nothing.

On 22 January the Allies landed at Anzio. In order to try and support that attack, Clark launched a new offensive on the Rapido on 24 January. This time the Americans were able to get a foothold across the river north-east of Cassino, and were able to advance into the mountains to the north of Monte Cassino. By 4 February they had reached the top of the next major ridge to the north-west, known as ‘Snakeshead’ to the Allies, but after that the attack ran out of steam. The Germans retook the top of ‘Snakeshead’, narrowly preventing an Allied breakthrough into the Liri. The French and Americans continued to attack for a few more days, but they were soon exhausted. The first battle of Cassino came to an end when the US 34th Division was replaced by the 4th Indian Division on 12-13 February.

In the meantime the Allied landings at Anzio promised much but failed to deliver. When General Lucas’s 6th Corps landed at Anzio on 22 January they surprised the Germans. A beachhead was established without difficult, and for a couple of days the roads north to Rome or east to the upper Liri Valley were open and almost undefended. Unfortunately Lucas was too cautious, and failed to take advantage of his brief opportunity. By the time he was ready to begin a cautious advance on 30 January Kesselring had already created a strong defensive cordon around Anzio, and the attack failed. The Germans were actually able to build up their strength quicker than the Allies, and on 16 February General Mackensen launched a large scale counterattack. This came dangerously close to success, and by 18 February the Allies had been pushed back into the area they had held on D+2. However the Allied artillery was too powerful for the Germans, and the attack faded away on 20 February. Two days later Lucas was replaced by General Truscott. A second German attack on 29 February was repulsed more easily, and after that the battle turned into more of a siege.

The second battle of Cassino (15-18 February 1944) was the most controversial of the four. The task of taking Monte Cassino had been given to the 4th Indian Division. Its commander, General Tuker, believed that the attack could only success if the Benedictine Monastery on top of Monte Cassino, was destroyed first. His argument was that even if the Germans weren’t using the buildings before the battle, there was nothing to stop them moving in once it began. Many of the Allied troops believed that the Germans were using the buildings for artillery observation. This wasn’t actually the case. The Germans had been unusually respectful at Monte Cassino. They had no troops in the buildings, and had even helped move many of the artistic treasures to safety at Rome. They did have observation positions and troop positions fairly close to the buildings, but none within them. However Tuker’s request was supported by enough of his superiors for it to be approved, and on 15 February the Allies bombed the Monastery. Many of the buildings were destroyed, although the 10ft thick lower walls remained largely intact. Around 280-300 civilian refugees were killed in the bombardment. To make things worse for the Allies, the air attack wasn’t coordinated with a ground attack. The 4th Indian Division hadn’t been given enough time to prepare, and had expected to attack to come on 16 February. As a result their first attacks were on a small scale. It took until 17 February for a six battalion attack to be launched, by which time the Germans had recovered from the bombardment. Three weeks of poor weather then intervened, creating an unplanned gap before the start of the third battle.

The third battle of Cassino (15-22 March 1944) involved the same divisions as the second - the 4th Indian Division in the mountains and the 2nd New Zealand Division in the town below. The battle began with another heavy air attack and artillery bombardment, but both failed to crush German resistance. The Germans had built bomb proof bunkers and steel shelters in Cassino town, and were able to keep the New Zealanders out of the centre of the town. On Monte Cassino the Germans were now able to use the monastery ruins, and the Indian attack was also repulsed, although they did manage to get within 250 yards of the ruins. One final attack on 22 March also failed, and the offensive was cancelled later on the same day.

General Alexander now decided to concentrate both of his armies on the Cassino front. The resulting fourth battle of Cassino (Operation Diadem) of 11-18 May 1944 finally broke the deadlock at Cassino. The Eighth Army was moved from the Adriatic front, leaving holding forces behind. They would attack on the right. The Polish 2nd Corps would attack Monte Cassino from the front. The 13th Corps would attack across the Rapido south of Cassino. The Canadian Corps would attack just to the north of the junction of the Rapido and Liri Rivers.

The Fifth Army would attack on the left. The French Expeditionary Corps would attack across the upper Garigliano and into the Aurunci Mountains, south of the Liri Valley. On the far left the US 2nd Corps would attack along the coast. Once the Cassino line had been broken and the two armies were advancing towards Rome, the seven divisions at Anzio would break out and cut off the retreating troops from Cassino.

Along most of the line the Germans managed to stop the initial Allied assaults without losing much ground, but French attack achieved a dramatic success. Many of their North African troops came from mountainous areas, and they were able to break through the line in the Aurunci Mountains. Over the next few days the French pushed on to the west, and they were soon threatening to break out into the Liri and to get through the Adolf Hitler Line, between Cassino and Anzio. The French advance helped the Americans and British on their flanks to push forward as well. By 17 May Kesselring was forced ordered to his troops to abandon the Gustav Line and retreat back to the Adolf Hilter Line. On the morning of 18 May the Poles were able to raise their flag above the Monastery ruins.

The time was now right for the breakout from Anzio. General Alexander ordered Clark to attack towards Valmontone, in the Liri Valley, in an attempt to cut off the German troops retreating from Cassino. Controversially Clark decided to largely ignore this order. Truscott was ordered to sent one third of his men towards Valmontone, but make his main effort towards Rome. As a result the retreating German 13th army was able to reach Valmontone and man the Caesar Line, the last defensive line south of Rome. At the same time Truscott’s new route took him to the strongest part of that line, and for a few days it looked as if the Germans might have been able to hold this new line. Luckily for Clark a gap was found at Monte Artemisio, where two neighbouring German units had failed to properly man a key mountain. The Americans managed to slip a unit through the gap, and the line was broken. The Germans were finally forced to retreat, and on 4 June US troops made their entry into Rome, giving Clark two days of glory before the D-Day invasions drew most attention away to Normandy.

To the Gothic Line

Although the Allies had been unable to trap large numbers of German troops south of Rome, the two German armies were still in real danger. The 14th Army, on the German right, was significantly further north than the 10th Army, on the left. For several days the Allies had a chance to get into the gap between the two armies by advancing north-east from Rome, but they were unable to take it. One of their problems was that their supply lines still ran down to Naples, making it difficult to get fuel to the front. As a result one of Clark’s key targets was the port of Civitavecchia, on the right of the 14th Army front. Clark was also faced with the imminent loss of many of his best units, about to be withdrawn to take part in Operation Dragoon, the invasion of the south of France.

The Allies did come close to breaking into the gap between the two armies. Kesselring attempted to organise yet another series of defensive lines, this time in order to win time to improve the defences of the Gothic Line in the northern Apennines. The first of these was the Dora Line, which began at Orbetello, seventy miles up the coast from Rome. It then ran to Lake Bolsena, and from there to Narni, forty miles to the north of Rome. Just to the north-east of Lake Bolsena was Orvieto and the first intact bridge over the Tiber. On 10-11 June the South African 6th Armoured Division broke through the Dora Line east of the lake and threatened Orvieto. The Germans managed to hold on just long enough for most of their troops to escape, but then had to retreat on 14 June.

The second German line, the Trasimeno or Frieda Line, was a more serious barrier. By now the gap between the two German armies had been closed, and they finally had a continuous defended line across Italy. This ran from near to Piombino on the west coast, past Lake Trasmeno and then across the Apennines to reach the Adriatic near Porto Civitanova. The Allies attacked in three sectors, all to the west of the lake. On the Allied right the British Eighth Army hit the 76th Panzer Corps around Chiusi. In the centre the French Expeditionary Force attacked the 1st Parachute Corps. Finally on the left the US 2nd Corps hit the weak 75th Corps. The attack began on 20 June, and by 28 June the line had been broken around Chiusi. The British reached Foiano, 17 miles to the north of Chiusi, on 2 July. On the following day the French took Siena, while on the coast the Americans captured Cecina on 2 July. The Germans were forced to retreat to their next defensive line, the Arezzo Line.

The battles for the Trasimeno Line had cost the Germans too many men, and so Kesselring decided to use the next two lines, the Arezzo and Arno Lines for delaying actions only. The Arezzo Line protected three key centres - the ports of Livorno and Ancona and the communications centre at Arezzo. These three sectors of the line produced three separate battles. On the Allied left the US 4th Corps attacked towards Livorno on 3 July. They broke through the German defences by 7 July, and the Germans began a full scale retreat on 12 July. The first US troops reached the Arno on 17 July, while Livorno fell on 19 July. In the centre the British 13th Corps reached the Arezzo line on 5-7 July. After a pause to move fresh troops to the front the line was assaulted on 15 July, and after resisting for a day the Germans withdrew that night. The British then pressed on towards the Arno. Finally on the right the 2nd Polish Corps, having moved back to the Adriatic after taking Monte Cassino, attacked towards Ancona on 17 July and took the port on the following day.

The final barrier before the Gothic Line was the Arno Line. This followed that river from the coast, through Pisa and Florence and then crossed the Apennines to reach the Adriatic along the Metauro River. This time the German position was compromised by Kesselring’s desire to avoid a battle in Florence as he didn’t want to risk destroying her artistic treasures. The Allies came up to the Arno from mid July, but then had to pause to catch their breath and reorganise their corps to make up for the loss of the French Expeditionary Corps and several US divisions, removed to take part in Operation Dragoon. In the centre the Eighth Army reached the Arno around Florence on 3 August, and on 4 August the Germans began to pull back to the Heinrich Mountain Line in the Mugello Hills four miles to the north. The last German troops left Florence on 7 August.

The Arno Line held the Allies up for a month, as they prepared for their next offensive, but when that finally began the Germans didn’t attempt to make a stand on the Arno, so the fighting moved on to the main Gothic Line, which was also the target of the Allied offensive.

The Gothic Line

The main Gothic Line began a few miles south of La Spezia on the west coast. It then ran south-east through the Apuan Mountains before running along the Apennines, blocking the passes into the Po valley. In the east it ran across the Foglia River and ran into the Adriatic a few miles to the south-east of Rimini. The original Allied plan was for a joint Fifth and Eighth attack on the centre of the line north of Florence, but this was rejected by General Leese, the commander of the Eighth Army. He didn’t want to fight alongside Clark, and also believed that his army would be more effective on the Adriatic. Alexander and Clark accepted Leese’s alternative plan, in Clark’s case after the British 13th Corps was placed under his command.

The new plan (Operation Olive) was for the Eighth Army to attack first. It would cross the Arno Line and Gothic Line and then break out onto the Po Plains. Once the breakout was underway Clarks’ Fifth Army would attack north across the Apennines towards Bologna. The Germans would be unable to move their reserves between the two fronts, and the Allies would be able to push on to the Po and the Alps. This plan came very close to success. All of the effort that the Germans had put into the formal defensive positions of the Gothic Line failed to have any impact, as both Allied armies quickly broke through them. However the Germans were able to create new defensive positions just to the north, and eventually managed to stop the Allies just short of the Po.

The attack began on the Adriatic on 25 August. The Germans were caught in the middle of a movement back towards the Foglia and were quickly overrun. The Allies reached the Foglia by 29 August and were able to push through the German defences behind the river by 1 September. However the Germans then managed to make a stand on the Gemmano and Coriano Ridges, to the north of the Foglia, and stopped the Eighth Army making their quick breakthrough. The battle of Gemmano ended on 13 September, but the Germans then managed to delay the British outside Rimini for another week, before the city fell. The Eighth Army finally emerged onto the Romagna Plain, where they had expected to find good tank country. Instead they found a waterlogged plain, crossed by a series of easily defended and often flooded rivers, with smaller drains cutting across the areas between the rivers. The resulting battle of the Romagna or of the Rivers soon turned from an attempt at a breakthrough into a slogging match. By the time the offensive ended in late December the Eighth Army, now commanded by General McCreery, had taken Ravenna and reached the Senio River, but a shortage of infantry and the winter weather stopped any further progress.

As the Eighth Army slowed down, Alexander decided to launch the Fifth Army attack early. The Arno Line was overrun at the start of September, and the Fifth Army reached the Gothic Line by 12 September. Clark decided to make his main effort against the Il Giogo Pass, a secondary route to the east of the main Futa pass from Florence to Bologna. This was difficult country, but also relatively lightly defended. The attack began on the night of 12 September, and the peaks were in American hands by 17 September. That evening General Lemelsen, commander of the German 14th Army, ordered the 1st Parachute Corps to withdraw to a new position north of Firenzuola. Clark’s next attack was south-east, down the Santerno valley heading for Imola. This began on 24 September, but the valley was heavily defended, and the offensive ended on 1 October. By this point the leading American troops were only 12 miles from Imola. The final American offensive was directed north from their new front line, across the Livergnano escapement, towards Florence. This offensive began on 1 October, and by 3 October Clark was able to see into the Po valley and even glimpsed the Alps. The key Livergnano ridge was taken by 15 October, but the Americans were also short of infantry, and on 28 October the offensive was halted. Clark planned a series of further attacks towards Florence during November and December, but was unable to launch any of them. The Allies were five miles south of Florence and five miles east of Imola, but they weren’t going any further until the spring.

Allied Spring Offensive of 1945

The Allies were now faced with the final line of German defences on the Apennines. South of Bologna they held a series of potentially strong positions in the mountains. To the east the campaign area was dominated by water. The key was the River Reno, which rose in the Apennines west of Bologna, flowed north past that city and then turned east to flow into the Adriatic just to the south of the large Lake Comacchio. A series of rivers ran north from the Apennines to the Reno, and several of them had been fortified by the Germans. The area to the south of the Reno and to the west of Lake Commachio had been flooded.

By the time the offensive began both sides had new command structures. On the German side Kesselring was moved from Italy to take command of the western front in early March and was replaced by General Vietinghoff. On the Allied side General Wilson was moved from the supreme command in the Mediterranean to become the British representative in Washington. In December 1944 Alexander was promoted to the post of Allied Commander-in-Chief in the Mediterranean. He was replaced as commander of the 15th Army Group by General Clark. Truscott was promoted to command the US Fifth Army, while McCreery remained in command of the Eighth Army.

Clark, Truscott and McCreery came up with the overall Allied plan for 1945, Operation Grapeshot. This was largely inspired by McCreery and Truscott, and Clark was impressively willing to give in to his subordinates. Clark had wanted an attack towards Bologna, but his subordinates wanted to focus on destroying the German armies. McCreery wanted to attack north-west into the gap between the Reno and Lake Commachio, the Argenta Gap. Truscott wanted to avoid the strong German defences south of Bologna, and attack further to the west. Both men got their way.

The British attack, Operation Buckland or the battle of the Argenta Gap, began on 9 April 1945. The Eighth Army crossed the Senio. The Polish 2nd Corps attacked towards Bologna, while the British 5th Division attacked toward the Reno. On 14 April the British captured a key bridge at Bastia, east of Argenta, intact. The Germans rushed reinforcements to the Argenta sector, but they were unable to stop the Eighth Army. Argenta fell on 17 April, and the breakout began. By 20 April the 6th Armoured Division was only ten miles from Ferrara, while the Poles had almost reached Bologna from the east.

The American attack, Operation Craftsman, began on 14 April 1945. The attacks were staggered so that all available Allied air power could support one and then the other. The Germans managed to hold on in the mountains for a few days, but on 20 April the 10th Mountain Division finally broke out onto Highway 9. Bologna fell to troops from both armies on 21 April.

The Germans were finally defeated. Late on 21 April Vietinghoff ordered a full scale retreat to the Po, but very few of his units reached the river intact, and hardly any managed to get their heavy equipment across. On 23 April the leading troops from the two Allied armies met at Finale, to the north-west of the bend in the Reno, trapping large numbers of German troops to the south. The Allies reached the Po on 23 April, and were quickly able to cross the river. They were able to cross the Adige without a fight, and spread out across northern Italy. Many cities fell to Italian partisans before the Allies arrived. Mussolini himself made a brief attempt to escape in the Alps to make a last stand, but was captured and executed by Communist partisans near Bonzanigo, close to the Swiss frontier near Lake Como on 28 April. The last serious resistance came on Highway 12, to the east of Lake Garda, where Vietinghoff was attempted to retreat north towards Austria. Even here all serious resistance ended by 30 April. Elsewhere the Allies were able to advance almost unopposed, taking large numbers of prisoners and liberating a series of Italian cities.

In the background armistice negotiations had been going on since February 1945, after representatives of General Wolff, the SS chief in Italy, made contact with the Americans in Switzerland. After a prolonged series of complex negotiations, these finally paid off on 29 April, when representatives of the Army and SS signed the armistice agreement at the Allied HQ at Caserta. The armistice was to come into effect on 2 May. After some last minute problems with Kesselring, Vietinghoff agreed to implement the surrender terms, and the message was broadcast from the German HQ at Bolzano. At 2pm on 2 May 1945 just under one million German and allied troops in Italy and parts of Austria began to surrender, the start of the first large scale German surrender in Europe.


Italian surrender is announced

On September 8, 1943, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower publicly announces the surrender of Italy to the Allies. Germany reacted with Operation Axis, the Allies with Operation Avalanche.

With Mussolini deposed from power and the earlier collapse of the fascist government in July, Gen. Pietro Badoglio, the man who had assumed power in Mussolini’s stead by request of King Victor Emanuel, began negotiating with Gen. Eisenhower for weeks. Weeks later, Badoglio finally approved a conditional surrender, allowing the Allies to land in southern Italy and begin beating the Germans back up the peninsula. Operation Avalanche, the Allied invasion of Italy, was given the go-ahead, and the next day would see Allied troops land in Salerno.

The Germans too snapped into action. Ever since Mussolini had begun to falter, Hitler had been making plans to invade Italy to keep the Allies from gaining a foothold that would situate them within easy reach of the German-occupied Balkans. On September 8, Hitler launched Operation Axis, the occupation of Italy. As German troops entered Rome, General Badoglio and the royal family fled Rome for southeastern Italy to set up a new antifascist government. Italian troops began surrendering to their former German allies where they resisted, as had happened earlier in Greece, they were slaughtered (1,646 Italian soldiers were murdered by Germans on the Greek island of Cephalonia, and the 5,000 that finally surrendered were ultimately shot).

One of the goals of Operation Axis was to keep Italian navy vessels out of the hands of the Allies. When the Italian battleship Roma headed for an Allied-controlled port in North Africa, it was sunk by German bombers. In fact, the Roma had the dubious honor of becoming the first ship ever sunk by a radio-controlled guided missile. More than 1,500 crewmen drowned. The Germans also scrambled to move Allied POWs to labor camps in Germany in order to prevent their escape. In fact, many POWS did manage to escape before the German invasion, and several hundred volunteered to stay in Italy to fight alongside the Italian guerillas in the north.

Italian Campaign, 3 September 1943-2 May 1945 - History

June 1944 - May 1945

This web site contains information on the Italian Campaign in World War 2. The primary focus of my website will be the period after the capture of Rome in June 1944, because most history books do not cover the last year of the war in Italy. This period is after the front opened in France and Italy became known as as the "forgotten front".
The Overview, below, is a brief outline of the battles in Italy from the time of the Allies invaded Sicily on July 9, 1943 until the end of the fighting on May 2, 1945. Later, I plan to have a time-line with maps that will illustrate the advance of Allied forces across Italy.

(More history and maps to be added later)
See also Maps of Italian Campaign

The Allies wanted to establish a position in Italy so they could attach the German territories and resources and relieve the Soviet Union from the German advance. The secondary purpose was to tie up German forces that might be used to resist the channel invasion. The captured airfields in Italy were of great importance in the strategic bombing of Germany territories, such as the oil fields in Polesti. Churchill and many commanders didn't think the Germans would defend Italy and assumed the campaign would be completed by end of 1944. There were even plans to move the troops around Alps and into Vienna.

Outline of the Italian Campaign in 6 parts
General Map of Italy and area.

(1) Sicily Campaign, July 9 - August 1943. The 5th US and 8th British Armies landed on Sicily on July 9, 1943. General Patton was selected to lead the secondary attack on the left flank, around General Montgomery. Patton beat the British to Messina. On 25 July, the King Emanuele overthrew Mussolini. The monarchy tried to make an armistice with the Allies. The Germans rescued Mussolini from prison and set him up as a puppet leader over a new Republic.

(2) Invasion of Italy, September 3 & 9. On 3rd, Montgomery landed at the toe of Italy after an extensive artillery bombardment. Just before the 5th US Army landed at Salerno, below Naples on the 9th, the Italian government had surrendered and ordered Italians not to resist. Soon, both armies had captured the lower part of Italy, including the Foggia airfield and the valuable port of Naples. By December, the Germans had retreated to the natural fortresses along the Liri Valley just south of Rome. The Allies were about to attempt something that had only been done once in Rome's history capture the Eternal city from its southern approaches .
Map of Salerno - Landing by 36th 'Texas' Division.

(3) GUSTAV Line & Battles for Cassino - Jan - May 1944. An estimated 180,000 men were killed or wounded during this 4-month period. The British had a hard time on the east coast because of the many rivers and ridges that crossed their paths. On the Cassino front, or GUSTAV Line, the US had a set back at the crossing of the Rappido River. The II Corps were landed further north behind German lines at Anzio. Both fronts became a stalemate after 3 attacks were made against the GUSTAV Line. The Allies made a controversial decision to bomb the abbey Monte Cassino.
Anzio Diary - Day-by-day experiencies of a soldier who was on the Anzio beach.

(4) Spring Offensive & Capture of Rome, May - June 1944. After receiving more fresh troops, the Spring offensive came on May 11. The GUSTAV Line was broken and by June 4, 1944, the allies on the two fronts had linked up and advanced into Rome, as the Germans gave it up without causing further damage. The Germans were fighting a delaying action as they retreated north of the ARNO RIVER Line and into their major defense line in the mountains.
Map of Gustav Line - Positions of all Allied units on May 11, 1944.
Hill 69 - Brief description of combat of 2nd Battalion, 339th Regiment on May 12.
Pursuit to Arno - Advance from Rome to Arno River(3 parts). Summer 1944

(5) GOTHIC Line in the North Apennine Mtns. Germans set up a defense line north of Rome along the backbone of the northern Apennine Mountains. Again, the British attacked along the east coast. The main crossing of the Apennines was atIl Futa pass. This was heavily defended, so the main attack was at IL Giogo Pass to the east. This fighting was described as an all up-hill battle as several large peaks had to be assaulted. Both the 5th & 8th Armies were drained of men as units were pulled out for the invasion of Normandy and southern France. Without sufficient reserves, the fighting drew to a stalemate as the second winter in Italy set in.
Map of Gothic Line - II Corps attack on the Gothic Line, 10 - 18 September, 1944.
Battle Mountain - One lone company of 88th Division holds a hill with heavy losses.

(6) Rapid advance into Po Valley. Feb-April 1945. A few more units arrived, most notably, the 10th Mountain Division, which was used effectively during late winter operations. On April 19, the British initiated an attack towards Bologna. This was followed by the 5th Army attack that had been delayed by a couple of days. After fall of Bologna, the allies pushed out of the mountains and raced across the Po River valley. Amid much confusion, the Allies advanced rapidly and chased the retreating Germans into the Alps. Mussolini and 15 other Fascist leaders were executed by the partisans.
Po Valley Map - Map of Final drive across the Po Valley. 21 April - 2 May.
Liberation of Vicenza - Two US divisions advance thru Po Valley amid confusion and chaos.
Capture of Imola, April 9-15, 1945 - Initial attack by British 8th Army.
Execution of Mussolini - The last days of IL Duce. Where there American witnesses to his execution.

( My plans are to expand this history using a time-line and maps for each of the above phases and more detailed history of several battles. In the meantime, check out other menus, below. )

Equipment - Basic items used by artillery, including trucks.
Trucks - description of each type.

Rest Centers - Rome, Montecatini, Florence, Caserta

This website is a non-profit site that is dedicated to the memory of those who served in WW2. The intent is to tell what it was like for the common soldier who served in Italy through photos and text. This specific page provides some historical background on the campaign. Due to limited space and time, I've included material that I found interesting to me. There is no way to cover the whole campaign in great detail, but I will try to add more material all the time.
If a reader has a specific question, I will gladly attempt to answer it and provide information not available in my site. I am also willing to give permission to use any material to anyone who submits a request in email. This is to ensure they do not intend to use my material for commercial purposes. I receive an average of one email per week from readers who stumble onto my website and write for information about someone who saw combat in Itlay. I gladly reply to each one, individually.
Check out my Mail Bag for latest emails and some suggestions.

If for some reason a link doesn't work, then refer to the Site Map to find a page. Email me any problems you find. Check out my Mail Bag for latest emails and some suggestions.

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Mail Bag

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Disclaimer: This website is not associated with any veteran's organization or any official U.S. Army or Department of Defense organization.

This site contains copyrightable subject matter and material that is copyrighted as a compilation and/or collective work. No photos, text, or pages of this website may be used without prior written permission. All information contained within this website is from my private collection or records in public domain or property obtained with permission.

Check out Site Map for outline of entire webpage.

Check out Revision History for list of changes to Web-pages by date.

The Italian Campaign

A brief outline of the key events of the Italian Campaign, particularly focusing on the involvement of New Zealand.

9 July - 17 August: Allied invasion of Sicily.
8 September:
Italians surrender to Allies. Germans quickly occupy Italy.
9 September:
Allied landings at Salerno and Taranto, mainland Italy.
11 September: Germans occupy Rome.
12 September: Germans rescue Mussolini from prison.
14 September: Allied landings in Sardinia Heavy fighting at Salerno.
23 September: Mussolini re-establishes Fascist government in northern Italy.
1 October: Allies enter Naples.
3 October: First troops of 2 NZ Division arrive at Taranto, Italy.
13 October: Liberated Italy declares war on Germany.
16 - 17 October: 4 and 5 NZ Brigades leave Port Tewfik, Egypt, for Italy.
22 November: Offensive on the Sangro River by 8 Army begins.
1 December: German line on the Sangro River broken.
3 - 24 December: 2 NZ Division battles for Orsogna north of Sangro River.

13 January: Decision made to move NZ troops from Orsogna across the Italian peninsula to Cassino.
17 January: US 5 Army offensive along the Gustav line begins. 2 NZ Division assembling in army's rear First attack towards Cassino.
22 January: Allied landing at Anzio, behind the German lines at Cassino.
3 February: First counter-attack by Germans at Anzio.
15 - 18 February: Allies bomb the monastery at Monte Cassino.
16 February: Second German counter-attack at Anzio.
17 February: 28 Maori Battalion crosses the Rapido River south of Cassino and captures railway station. Forced to withdraw the following day as Germans counter-attack.
15 March: NZ Corps begins the assault on Cassino town after further Allied bombing. Assault continues until 23 March when they withdraw.
11 - 12 May: Allied forces open new offensive against Gustav line in Italy.
18 May: Polish troops capture Cassino.
5 June: Allies enter Rome.
16 July: Allies capture Arezzo.
17 July: Allies cross the Arno River.
4 August: Allied forces advance into Florence.
22 August: Germans retreat to the Gothic Line in northern Italy.
31 August: Eighth Army attacks the Gothic Line.
2 September: Eighth Army breaks the Gothic Line. US troops capture Pisa.
4 December: Eighth Army enters Ravenna.
14 December: NZ Div captures Faenza.

1 April: Allied forces begin offensive in northern Italy.
28 April: Mussolini executed by partisans Allies take Venice.
2 May: 2 NZ Division enters Trieste Germans in Italy surrender.


The Allies had launched their last big offensive on the Gothic Line in August 1944, with the British Eighth Army (Lieutenant-General Oliver Leese) attacking up the coastal plain of the Adriatic and the U.S. Fifth Army (Lieutenant General Mark Clark) attacking through the central Apennine Mountains. Although they managed to breach the formidable Gothic Line defences, the Allies narrowly failed to break into the Po Valley before the winter weather made further progress impossible. The Allied forward formations spent the rest of the winter in highly inhospitable conditions while preparations were made for a spring offensive in 1945.

Command changes Edit

When Field Marshal Sir John Dill, the head of the British Mission in Washington, D.C., died on 5 November, Field Marshal Sir Henry Maitland Wilson was appointed his replacement. General Harold Alexander, having been promoted to Field Marshal, replaced Wilson as Allied Supreme Commander Mediterranean on 12 December. Clark succeeded Alexander as commander of the Allied forces in Italy (renamed 15th Army Group) but without promotion. Lieutenant General Lucian Truscott the commander of the U.S. VI Corps from the Battle of Anzio and the capture of Rome to Alsace, having landed in the South of France during Operation Dragoon, returned to Italy to assume command of the Fifth Army.

On 23 March Albert Kesselring was appointed Commander-in-Chief Army Group West, replacing General-Field Marshal Gerd von Rundstedt. Heinrich von Vietinghoff returned from the Baltic to take over from Kesselring and Traugott Herr, the experienced commander of the LXXVI Panzer Corps took over the 10th Army. Joachim Lemelsen, who had commanded temporarily the 10th Army, returned to the command of the 14th Army.

Orders of battle Edit

Allied manpower shortages continued in October 1944, the 4th Indian Infantry Division had been sent to Greece and the British 4th Infantry Division had followed them in November, with the 139th Brigade of the British 46th Infantry Division. The rest of the division followed in December along with the 3rd Greek Mountain Brigade. In early January 1945 the British 1st Infantry Division was sent to Palestine and at the end of the month the I Canadian Corps and the British 5th Infantry Division were ordered to north-west Europe, reducing the Eighth Army, now commanded by Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery, to seven divisions. Two other British divisions were to follow them to north-west Europe but Alexander was able to keep them in Italy.

The U. S. Fifth Army had been reinforced between September and November 1944 with the 1st Brazilian Division and in January 1945 with the specialist U.S. 10th Mountain Division. [6] Allied strength amounted to 17 divisions and eight independent brigades (including four Italian groups of volunteers from the Italian Co-Belligerent Army, equipped and trained by the British), equivalent to just under 20 divisions. The 15th Army Group ration strength was 1,334,000 men, the Eighth Army having an effective strength of 632,980 men and the Fifth Army 266,883. [2] [1]

The Axis had 21 much weaker German divisions and four Italian Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano (ENR) divisions with about 349,000 German and 45,000 Italian troops on 9 April. There were another 91,000 German troops on the lines of communication and the Germans commanded about 100,000 Italian police. [7] [3] Three of the Italian divisions were allocated to the Ligurian Army under Rodolfo Graziani guarding the western flank facing France and the fourth was with the 14th Army, in a sector thought less likely to be attacked. [8]

Plan of attack Edit

Clark set out his battle plan on 18 March. Its objective was ". to destroy the maximum number of enemy forces south of the Po, force crossings of the Po and capture Verona". [9] In Phase I the Eighth Army would cross the Senio and Santerno rivers and then make a dual thrust, one towards Budrio parallel to the Bologna road, Route 9 (the Via Emilia) and the other north west along Route 16, the Via Adriatica, towards Bastia and the Argenta Gap, a narrow strip of dry terrain through the flooded land west of Lake Comacchio. An amphibious operation across the lake and parachute drop would bring pressure to bear on the flank and help to break the Argenta position. Depending on the relative success of these actions a decision would be made on whether Eighth Army's prime objective would become Ferrara on the Via Adriatica or remain Budrio. The U.S. Fifth Army was to launch the Army Group's main effort at 24 hours notice from two days after the Eighth Army attack and break into the Po valley. The capture of Bologna was given as a secondary task. [9]

In Phase II, the Eighth Army was to drive north west to capture Ferrara and Bondeno, blocking routes of potential retreat across the Po. The U.S. Fifth Army was to push past Bologna north to link with Eighth Army in the Bondeno region to complete an encirclement of German forces south of the Po. The Fifth Army was also to make a secondary thrust further west towards Ostiglia, the crossing point on the Po of the main route to Verona. [10] Phase III involved the establishment of bridgeheads across the Po and exploitation north.

The Eighth Army plan (Operation Buckland) had to deal with the difficult initial task of getting across the Senio, with its raised artificial banks varying between 6 m (20 ft) and 12 m (40 ft) in height, honeycombed with tunnels and bunkers front and rear. V Corps were ordered to make an attack on the salient formed by the river into the Allied line at Cotignola. On the right of the river's salient was 8th Indian Infantry Division, reprising the role they played crossing the Rapido in the final Battle of Monte Cassino. To the left of the 8th Indian Division, on the left of the salient, the 2nd New Zealand Division would attack across the river to form a pincer. To the left of V Corps, on Route 9, the II Polish Corps would widen the front further by attacking across the Senio towards Bologna. The Poles had been desperately under strength in the autumn of 1944 but had received 11,000 reinforcements during the early months of 1945, mainly from Polish conscripts in the German Army taken prisoner in the Battle of Normandy the previous summer . [11]

Once across the Senio the assault divisions were to advance to cross the Santerno. Once the Santerno was crossed,the British 78th Infantry Division would also reprise their Cassino role and pass through the bridgehead established by the Indians and New Zealanders and drive for Bastia and the Argenta gap, 23 km (14 mi) behind the Senio, where the dry land narrowed to a front of only 5 km (3 mi), bounded on the right by Lake Comacchio, a huge lagoon running to the Adriatic coast, and on the left by marshland. At the same time the British 56th (London) Infantry Division would launch the amphibious flank attack along Lake Comacchio. On the left flank of V Corps, the New Zealand Division would advance to the left of the marshland on the west side of Argenta while the 8th Indian Infantry Division would pass in army reserve. [12]

The Fifth Army plan (Operation Craftsman) envisaged an initial thrust by IV Corps along Route 64 to straighten the army front and to draw German reserves away from Route 65. II Corps would then attack along Route 65 towards Bologna. The weight of the attack would then switch westward again to break into the Po valley skirting Bologna. [13]

In the first week of April, diversionary attacks were launched on the extreme right and left of the Allied front to draw German reserves away from the main assaults. This included Operation Roast, an assault by 2nd Commando Brigade and tanks to capture the seaward isthmus of land bordering Lake Comacchio and seize Port Garibaldi on the lake's north side. Damage to other transport infrastructure having forced Axis forces to use sea, canal and river routes for supply, Axis shipping was being attacked in bombing raids such as Operation Bowler.

The build-up to the main assault started on 6 April with a heavy artillery bombardment of the Senio defenses. In the early afternoon of 9 April, 825 heavy bombers dropped fragmentation bombs on the support zone behind the Senio followed by medium and fighter bombers. From 15:20 to 19:10, five heavy artillery barrages were fired, each lasting 30 minutes, interspersed with fighter bomber attacks. In support of the New Zealand operations, 28 Churchill Crocodiles and 127 Wasp flamethrower vehicles were deployed along the front. [14] [15] The 8th Indian Infantry Division, 2nd New Zealand Division and 3rd Carpathian Division (on the Polish Corps front at Route 9) attacked at dusk. In fighting in which there were two Victoria Crosses won by the 8th Indian Infantry Division, they had reached the Santerno, 5.6 km (3.5 mi) beyond, by dawn on 11 April. The New Zealanders had reached the Santerno at nightfall on 10 April and succeeded in making a crossing at dawn on 11 April. The Poles had closed on the Santerno by the night of 11 April. [16]

By late morning of 12 April, after an all night assault, the 8th Indian Infantry Division was established on the far side of the Santerno and the 78th Infantry Division started to pass through to make the assault on Argenta. In the meantime the 24th Guards Brigade, part of the 56th (London) Infantry Division, had launched an amphibious flanking attack from the water and mud to the right of the Argenta Gap. Although they gained a foothold, they were still held up at positions on the Fossa Marina on the night of 14 April. The 78th Infantry Division was also held up on the same day on the Reno River at Bastia.

The Fifth Army began its assault on 14 April after a bombardment by 2,000 heavy bombers and 2,000 guns, with attacks by IV Corps (1st Brazilian, 10th Mountain and 1st Armored Divisions) on the left. This was followed on the night of 15 April by II Corps attacking with 6th South African Armoured Division and the 88th Infantry Division advancing towards Bologna between Highway 64 and 65, the 91st and 34th Infantry Divisions along Highway 65. [17] Progress against a determined German defence was slow but ultimately superior Allied firepower and lack of German reserves told and by 20 April both corps had broken through the mountain defences and reached the plains of the Po valley. The 10th Mountain Division was directed to bypass Bologna on the right and push north leaving II Corps to deal with Bologna along with Eighth Army units advancing from their right. [18]

By 19 April, on the Eighth Army front, the Argenta Gap had been forced, and the 6th Armoured Division was released through the left wing of the advancing 78th Infantry Division to swing left to race north west along the line of the river Reno to Bondeno and link up with the Fifth Army to complete the encirclement of the German armies defending Bologna. [19] On the same day, the Italian National Liberation Committee for Northern Italy, in command of the Italian resistance movement, ordered a general insurrection in the following days, fighting between Italian partisan and German and RSI forces broke out in Turin and Genoa (as well as in many other towns across Northern Italy), while German forces prepared to withdraw from Milan. [20] On all fronts the German defence continued to be determined and effective but Bondeno was captured on 23 April. The 6th Armoured Division linked with the 10th Mountain Division the next day at Finale some 5 mi (8.0 km) upstream along the river Panaro from Bondeno. Bologna was entered in the morning of 21 April by the 3rd Carpathian Infantry Division of the II Polish Corps and theFriul Combat Group of the Italian Co-belligerent Army advancing up the line of Route 9, followed two hours later by II US Corps from the south. [21] On 24 April, Parma and Reggio Emilia were liberated by the partisans. [22]

IV Corps had continued its northwards advance and reached the Po river at San Benedetto on 22 April. The river was crossed the next day, and they advanced north to Verona which they entered on 26 April. To the right of Fifth Army on Eighth Army's left wing, XIII Corps crossed the Po at Ficarolo on 22 April, while V Corps were crossing the Po by 25 April, heading towards the Venetian Line, a defensive line built behind the line of the river Adige. As Allied forces pushed across the Po, on the left flank the Brazilian Division, 34th Infantry Division and 1st Armored Division of IV Corps were pushed west and north-west along the line of Highway 9 towards Piacenza and across the Po to seal possible escape routes into Austria and Switzerland via Lake Garda. [23] [24] On 27 April, the 1st Armored Division entered Milan, liberated by the partisans on 25 April and the IV Corps commander Willis D. Crittenberger entered the city on 30 April. [25] Turin was also liberated by partisan forces on 25 April, after five days of fighting and on 27 April General Günther Meinhold surrendered his 14,000 troops to the partisans in Genoa. [26] To the south of Milan, at Collecchio-Fornovo, the Brazilian Division bottled up the remaining effectives of two German divisions along with the last units of the Esercito Nazionale Repubblicano, taking 13,500 prisoners on 28 April. [27] On the Allied far right flank, V Corps, met by lessening resistance, traversed the Venetian Line and entered Padua in the early hours of 29 April, to find that partisans had locked up the German garrison of 5,000. [28]

Secret surrender negotiations between representatives of the Germans and Western Allies had taken place in Switzerland (Operation Crossword) in March but had resulted only in protests from the Russians that the Western Allies were attempting to negotiate a separate peace. On 28 April, Vietinghoff sent emissaries to Allied Army headquarters. On 29 April, they signed an instrument of surrender at the Royal Palace of Caserta to the effect that hostilities would formally end on 2 May. [28] Confirmation from Vietinghoff of the arrangements did not reach the 15th Army Group headquarters until the morning of 2 May. It emerged that Kesselring had his authority as Commander of the West extended to include Italy and had replaced Vietinghoff with General Friedrich Schulz from Army Group G on hearing of the plans. After a period of confusion during which the news of Hitler's death arrived, Schulz obtained Kesselring's agreement to the surrender and Vietinghoff was reinstated to see it through. [29]

The Allies’ invasion of Italy and the Italian volte-face, 1943

From Sicily, the Allies had a wide choice of directions for their next offensive. Calabria, the “toe” of Italy, was the nearest and most obvious possible destination, and the “shin” was also vulnerable and the “heel” was also very attractive. The two army corps of Montgomery’s 8th Army crossed the Strait of Messina and landed on the “toe” of Italy on September 3, 1943 but, though the initial resistance was practically negligible, they made only very slow progress, as the terrain, with only two good roads running up the coasts of the great Calabrian “toe” prevented the deployment of large forces. On the day of the landing, however, the Italian government at last agreed to the Allies’ secret terms for a capitulation. It was understood that Italy would be treated with leniency in direct proportion to the part that it would take, as soon as possible, in the war against Germany. The capitulation was announced on September 8.

The landing on the “shin” of Italy, at Salerno, just south of Naples, was begun on September 9, by the mixed U.S.–British 5th Army, under U.S. General Mark Clark. Transported by 700 ships, 55,000 men made the initial assault, and 115,000 more followed up. At first they were faced only by the German 16th Panzer Division but Kesselring, though he had only eight weak divisions to defend all southern and central Italy, had had time to plan since the fall of Mussolini and had been expecting a blow at the “shin.” His counterstroke made the success of the Salerno landing precarious for six days, and it was not until October 1 that the 5th Army entered Naples.

By contrast, the much smaller landing on the “heel” of Italy, which had been made on September 2 (the day preceding the invasion of the “toe”), took the Germans by surprise. Notwithstanding the paucity of its strength in men and in equipment, the expedition captured two good ports, Taranto and Brindisi, in a very short time but it lacked the resources to advance promptly. Nearly a fortnight passed before another small force was landed at Bari, the next considerable port north of Brindisi, to push thence unopposed into Foggia.

It was the threat to their rear from the “heel” of Italy and from Foggia that had induced the Germans to fall back from their positions defending Naples against the 5th Army. When the Italian government, in pursuance of a Badoglio–Eisenhower agreement of September 29, declared war against Germany on October 13, 1943, Kesselring was already receiving reinforcements and consolidating the German hold on central and northern Italy. The 5th Army was checked temporarily on the Volturno River, only 20 miles north of Naples, then more lastingly on the Garigliano River, while the 8th Army, having made its way from Calabria up the Adriatic coast, was likewise held on the Sangro River. Autumn and midwinter passed without the Allies’ making any notable impression on the Germans’ Gustav Line, which ran for 100 miles from the mouth of the Garigliano through Cassino and over the Apennines to the mouth of the Sangro.

The Italian front, 1944

The Allies’ northward advance up the Italian peninsula to Rome was still blocked by Kesselring’s Gustav Line, which was hinged on Monte Cassino. To bypass that line, the Allies landed some 50,000 seaborne troops, with 5,000 vehicles, at Anzio, only 33 miles south of Rome, on January 22, 1944. The landing surprised the Germans and met, at first, with very little opposition but, instead of driving on over the Alban Hills to Rome at once, the force at Anzio spent so much time consolidating its position there that Kesselring was able, with his reserves, to develop a powerful counteroffensive against it on February 3. The beachhead was thereby reduced to a very shallow dimension, while the defenses at Monte Cassino held out unimpaired against a new assault by Clark’s 5th Army.

For a final effort against the Gustav Line, Alexander decided to shift most of the 8th Army, now commanded by Major General Sir Oliver Leese, from the Adriatic flank of the peninsula to the west, where it was to strengthen the 5th Army’s pressure around Monte Cassino and on the approaches to the valley of the Liri (headstream of the Garigliano). The combined attack, which was started in the night of May 11–12, 1944, succeeded in breaching the German defenses at a number of points between Cassino and the coast. Thanks to this victory, the Americans could push forward up the coast, while the British entered the valley and outflanked Monte Cassino, which fell to a Polish corps of the 8th Army on May 18. Five days later, the Allies’ force at Anzio struck out against the investing Germans (whose strength had been diminished in order to reinforce the Gustav Line) and by May 26 it had achieved a breakthrough. When the 8th Army’s Canadian Corps penetrated the last German defenses in the Liri Valley, the whole Gustav Line began to collapse.

Concentrating all available strength on his left wing, Alexander pressed up from the south to effect a junction with the troops thrusting northward from Anzio. The Germans in the Alban Hills could not withstand the massive attack. On June 5, 1944, the Allies entered Rome. The propaganda value of their occupying the Eternal City, Mussolini’s former capital, was offset, however, by an unforeseen strategical reality: Kesselring’s forces retreated not in the expected rout but gradually, to the line of the Arno River Florence, 160 miles north of Rome, did not fall to the Allies until August 13 and by that time the Germans had made ready yet another chain of defenses, the Gothic Line, running from the Tyrrhenian coast midway between Pisa and La Spezia, over the Apennines in a reversed S curve, to the Adriatic coast between Pesaro and Rimini.

Alexander might have made more headway against Kesselring’s new front if some of his forces had not been subtracted, in August 1944, for the American-sponsored but eventually unnecessary invasion of southern France (“Operation Anvil,” finally renamed “Dragoon” [see below]). As it was, the 8th Army, switched back from the west to the Adriatic coast, achieved only an indecisive breakthrough toward Rimini. After this September offensive, the autumn rains set in, to make even more difficult Alexander’s indirect movements, against Kesselring’s resolute opposition, toward the mouth of the Po River.

British Infantry Divisions

Six British infantry divisions fought at varying stages of the Italian campaign.

The 1 Infantry Division was a pre-war Regular Army formation, which was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. In March 1943, it was deployed to Tunisia and then used to secure the Island of Pantelleria. From there, it went on to Italy, arriving on 7 December 1943. The division landed at Anzio on 22 January 1944 under the command of the U.S. VI Corps. It sustained heavy casualties during the battle for Anzio. It remained in the Anzio beach-head until the breakout. It then rested and refitted after its long period on front-line duty. The division was involved in the battle for the Gothic Line between 25 August and 22 September 1944. It left Italy on 27 January 1945 to transfer to Palestine, where it arrived on 2 February. It served in Palestine until the end of the war. The division remained on active service in the Middle East until returning to the United Kingdom in 1955.


The 4 Infantry Division was deployed from Egypt, and arrived in Italy on 21 February 1944. It took part in the second battle for Cassino between 11 and 18 May 1944, under the command of XIII Corps. It participated in the battle for the Trasimere Line between 20 and 30 June 1944, the advance to Arezzo between 4 and 17 July 1944 and the advance to Florence between 17 July and 10 August. On 11 August 1944, the division transferred to V Corps, and then to I Canadian Corps on 7 September 1944 for the battle of the Rimini Line which commenced on 14 September. The battle concluded on 21 September and the division returned to V Corps on 1 October 1944. The division left for Greece on 12 December 1944, arriving a day later. It remained in Greece until the end of the war, and was disbanded there in March 1947.

The most widely travelled formation of the British Army in the Second World War, the 5 Infantry Division had previously served in the United Kingdom, France and Belgium, India and Iraq, with elements having also taken part in 1940 campaign in Norway and the invasion of Madagascar. The division took part in the invasion of Sicily, crossing into Italy in 3 September 1943. It took part in the battle for the River Sangro between 19 November and 3 December 1943. It was withdrawn from the mainland and landed in the Anzio beach-head on 12 March 1944, under the command of U.S. VI Corps. It fought through the battle for Anzio and onto the battle for Rome. The division left for Egypt on 3 July 1944.

The 46 Infantry Division was a second line Territorial Army formation, which was formed in 1939 as a duplicate of the 49 (West Riding) Infantry Division. It was deployed to France in April 1940 on training and labour duties. It remained in the U.K. re-equipping and refitting until leaving for North Africa on 6 January 1943. It transferred to X Corps in July 1943, and landed with the corps at Salerno in Italy on 9 September 1943. The division fought in the battles for the capture of Naples, the Volturno Crossing and the capture of Monte Camino, all under command of X Corps. It left Italy on 16 March 1944 bound for Egypt. It moved to Palestine in April 1944 and then back to Egypt in June. The division returned to Italy on 3 July 1944 and fought in the Gothic Line battles. The division was withdrawn from the line and was hurriedly transferred to Greece on 14 January 1945 to fight in the Greek Civil War. It returned to Italy on 11 April 1945. It moved onto into Austria on the 12 May.

The 56 (London) Infantry Division was a pre-war, first line Territorial Army formation. It landed at Salerno in Italy on 9 September 1943, having come from Libya. It was involved in the battles to recapture Naples in September 1943, the Volturno Crossing in October 1943, and Monte Camino in November and December 1943. In January 1944, it was involved in the battles for the Garigliano Crossing. As the position at Anzio deteriorated, the division was transferred from X Corps to the U.S. VI Corps at Anzio. The division fought in the battle to secure the bridgehead, sustaining heavy casualties. It was withdrawn from Anzio to Egypt on 28 March 1944 to refit. The final offensive in Italy commenced on 13 April 1945, with the division involved in forcing the Argenta Gap. The division remained in Italy, until it was disbanded in 1947.

The 78 Infantry Division had been deployed to North Africa in November 1942. It landed in Sicily on 26 July 1943, moving to Italy on 22 September 1943. It landed at Taranto and advanced up the Adriatic coast under the command of XXX Corps. The division fought at the Battle for Adrano between 29 July and 3 August 1943 and then crossing of the River Sangro. It took part in the Second Battle for Cassino and then the advance up the Liri Valley (Cassino III). The division fought at the battle for the Trasimene Line. It left Italy on 18 July 1944 to transfer to Egypt for a period of rest and refitting. The division returned to Italy on 15 September 1944. It took part in the final offensive with the crossing of the River Senio and then the forcing of the Argenta Gap. The division entered Austria on 8 May 1945. It remained in Austria on occupation duties until it was disbanded in August 1946.

WW2: Key Events

A comprehensive collection selected by British Pathé of the key events that took place.

If you are unable to find what you are looking for, you can explore the entire archive using the search bar at the top of this page.

If you are interested in licensing any of the material, please contact [email protected]

Hitler’s invasion of Poland on 1st September 1939 marked the beginning of WW2 in Europe.

January 1940 saw the start of rationing in Britain. The following films show rationing throughout the war and the effect it had on peoples lives.

1940 saw France, Holland and Belgium become overwhelmed by German “Blitzkrieg”.

Following Neville Chamberlain’s resignation on 10th May 1940, Churchill became Prime Minister.

May 1940 saw the evacuation of British Expeditionary Forces from Dunkirk. The operation was put in place after British, French and Belgian troops found themselves surrounded and cut off by the Germans, during the Battle of France.

Films related to the air battle for Britain from July to October 1940.

Hitler began Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the codename for the invasion of the Soviet Union. These films outline the event.

German Blitzkrieg on the United Kingdom lasted 8 months, from September 1940 to May 1941. Here is a selection of footage showing the destruction caused and what life during the Blitz was like.

Operation Crusader saw the relief of by the Allies on 27th November 1941. Take a look at footage of Tobruk here.

The Japanese military strike on the US naval base Pearl Harbor, was a turning point in WW2 as it led to America’s entry into the war.

The Battle of Stalingrad which began on 23 August 1942, was a turning point in WW2. It was the German army’s first major setback, which they never fully managed to recover from. Here is a selection of films outlining the event.

The Allied victory at El Alamein on 11th November 1942, was a turning point in the Western Desert Campaign. Below is footage of the events that took place in El Alamein.

The Japanese invaded Singapore in the February of 1942. As Singapore was a British stronghold, Churchill referred to the event as the “worst disaster” in military history.

The Battle of Midway took place in the Pacific in the June of 1942, it was a crucial and decisive naval battle, which eventually saw the Americans as victorious.

German defeat at Stalingrad was a turning point in WW2 and is regarded as one of the bloodiest battles in modern history.

Allied Operation Torch landings and battles against Vichy France led to the surrender of Axis powers in North Africa. The Allied victory in North Africa laid the pathway for the Italian Campaign.

The Allied invasion of Italy took place on 3rd September 1943, following the successful invasion of Sicily.

British and Indian forces fight the Japanese in Burma.

The Allies landed at Anzio on 22nd January 1944, as part of the Italian campaign against the German forces.

Continuing the Italian campaign, with the intention of a breakthrough to Rome, the series of four assaults by the Allies on Monte Cassino were extremely costly for the Allies, however they eventually managed to drive the German forces back.

1944 saw the Soviet offensive gather pace in Eastern Europe.

The Allied invasion of France began on 6th June 1944. It led to the eventual liberation of France from the Nazis and contributed to the Allies victory in the war. See below footage of the event.

Paris was liberated from the Nazis on 25th August 1944. See below celebration scenes follow the capital’s liberation.

On 10th August 1944 the Americans regained Guam from the Japanese during the Pacific campaign.

During the Pacific campaign.

The extent of Nazi brutality was revealed when the Soviet army liberated Auschwitz in early 1945.

Soviet forces had surrounded the city of Berlin by 24th April 1945, they began to make their way into the city centre, resulting in the eventual fall of Berlin on 2nd May. Below is footage of the Russians taking Berlin.

Following the fall of Berlin, German forces began to surrender.

Following President Roosevelt’s death on 12th April 1945, Vice President Harry S. Truman assumed the role of President.

The Battle of Okinawa was the bloodiest of the Pacific Campaign, and given the heavy losses sustained, America reconsidered their approach to invading the Japanese home islands.

The final stage of WW2 saw American forces drop atomic bombs on the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagaski in August 1945, killing at least 129,000 people.

The surrender of Japan on 15th August 1945 saw the hostilities of WW2 finally brought to a close.

The Forgotten Army, Italy 1943-1945

I have used the above heading as something that was used to describe the fighting that was going on in Italy during WW2 after the launch of the D-Day Landing on the Normandy Coast in 1944. There were two armies fighting in Italy at that time, predominantly the United States (US) 5th and the British 8th. The only reporting has been about the US 5th Army on the Mediterranean side of Italy by the Snow family on BBC television. There seems to have been no mention of the fighting on at the Adriatic side. I am going to try to correct that situation by covering the landing into Taranto on the toe of Italy, through to Trieste at the northern end of the Adriatic coast.

The invasion of mainland Italy started with the British 8th Army landing at Taranto on 3 rd September 1943 and an operation named “Baytown”. As a matter of interest, the US 5th Army landed on the 9 th September 1943 against heavy German resistance at Salerno in operation “Avalanche”. The 8th Army were able to make relatively easy progress for a while up the eastern coast, capturing the Port of Brindisi, Bari, as well as airfields around Foggia, which provided a base from which US bombers were able to exploit the opportunity to bomb oil fields in Romania and various places in northern Germany. There was an interesting episode by the American Air Force who rescued 500 POW’s after landing in Yugoslavia with the assistance of the Italian Partisans.

What has never been reported is the raid by German bombers on the port of Bari on the evening of 2 nd December 1943. A small number of planes succeeded in destroying 17 Allied merchant ships and killing well over 1000 military personnel, merchant seamen and many local civilians. The Commonwealth Cemetery in Bari contains 2128 graves. It is reported that every available docking space was occupied, with ships anchored out beyond the jetties jutting out into the Adriatic. The dockyards had become such a beehive of activity that unloading was carried out during the night under the glare of lights. The German bombers had a perfect target – it was described as a “cake walk”. The ships already in the harbour contained a great store of ammunition, along with trucks, bales of clothing and hundreds of canvas mail bags for the troops. Alongside them was a US Navy tanker with half million gallons of high-octane gasoline on board. One ship, “John Harvey”, carried as part of its cargo, 100 tons of mustard gas bombs. It was thought that Germany were going to use mustard gas in attacks during the campaigns in Italy, they did not!

With successful Allied landings completed at Taranto units established themselves in various camps and carried out training in preparation for the fighting that lay ahead. As the Allies advanced northwards encountering increasingly difficult terrain, characterised by a succession of fast flowing rivers and intervening ridges running at right angles to the line of advance, this prevented fast movement and provided ideal defences for the Germans.

On 11 th November 1943, Pte Duncan of the Parachute Regiment was awarded the George Cross posthumously for bravery. On 12 th November 1943, Major W Hargreaves of the Parachute Regiment was awarded the Military Cross. The 2nd Parachute Brigade, together with other Commonwealth regiments made their way up the coast to the Sangro River, through icy winds and torrential rain, living in improvised shelters, and eating cold rations. During December 1943 the troops managed to establish a bridge across the Sangro River which had widened considerably due to heavy rains. The 2 nd Paras moved inland up the Sangro Valley to establish Battalion HQ in a school in Casoli from where they patrolled the local area including the villages of Fara, Lama and Torricella.

One of these patrols met with German soldiers at the Melone crossroads, an intense firefight ensued resulting in the death of Sergeant Alf Goldman and wounding Lt Stewart, who died at a later date. My cousin Trevor Warden, was shot in his back and was rescued by New Zealand medics and eventually to a UK hospital. During brigade stay in Casoli two English Ladies came into the HQ together with several POWs who had escaped from the prison camps. They were able to offer valuable information about the German positions.

The next obstacle was the German Gustav Line where a battle ensued to secure Ortona. Blizzards, drifting snow and zero visibility at the end of December 1943 caused the advance to grind to a halt. By the middle of December 1943, Canadian troops at the front of the 8 th Army had reached Ortona, a coastal city occupied by German troops. The armies clashed for nine days outside that city, with many casualties on both sides. Canadian troops finally won the terrain, but the Germans still held the city. The Canadians and German soldiers then battled within Ortona in fierce door-to-door fighting. After a week, the Germans retreated. These battles damaged or destroyed most of Ortona’s buildings and ravaged surrounding countryside. Ortona was secured on 28 th December 1943. River Moro War Cemetery is where 1615 service personnel are buried mostly Canadian, but it also contains other Allied service personnel as well. Sangro River War cemetery has 2617 burials, with a memorial commemorating more than 500 Indian service members who died fighting in the sector. In addition, the cemetery contains the graves of a number of escaped prisoners-of-war who died whilst trying to reach the Allied lines. Sangro cemetery is the second largest cemetery in Italy after Cassino. There are 2117 different regiments buried there, 279 from the Royal Artillery, 352 from New Zealand, 837 from the Combined Indian Regiments and 62 from the Parachute Regiment.

General Montgomery (Monty) halted the 8 th Army in order to conserve resources for the spring campaign. Monty then handed over command of the 8 th Army to General Oliver Leese in Vasto and flew to England to prepare for the invasion of France, scheduled for mid-1944.

In the meantime, the Canadians, New Zealand and Polish troops moved north along the coast towards Pescara. After reaching Pescara, the Indian, Canadian and Polish Regiments were moved across Italy to support the American 5 th Army who were in deep trouble attempting to take the Benedictine monastery on Mount Cassino. Eventually the Polish regiment took Mount Cassino, which to the Polish fighters was satisfying, in return for Germans invading Poland in 1938. Most of the Polish fighters came from units that had found themselves in the UK after escaping from Poland at the beginning of the war.

Editors note: Information received from Michal Smal and confirmed by Roy Quinten. “The Polish 2nd Corps (2 Korpus Poliski) 1943-1947 was a major unit o the Polish Armed Forces in the West, commanded by General Wladyslaw Anders. The training site for the 2nd Corps in the Middle East was Khanaqin-Quizil Ribar in Iraq (1943-1944) and was composed of the soldiers who had been released from exile in the USSR, the Carpathian Rifle Brigade, the 12th Podolski Lancers and 15th Poznan Lancers. Re-organised, the Polish 2nnd Corps comprised two infantry divisions each of which had 2 brigades and 2 light artillery regiments. General Anders also formed the Polish women’s Auxiliary Corps (Pomocznicznz Wojskowo Sluzba Kobiet) and they largely trained as heavy vehicle drivers. Approximately 80% of the Polish 2nd Corps came from Poland’s pre-war Kressy or Eastern Borderlands. In 1944 the Polish 2nd Corps were transferred to Italy where they were an independent unit of the British Eighth Army under General Oliver Leese. The Polish 2nd Corps took part in major Italian Campaigns- the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Battle of Ancona and the Battle of Bologna. Three previous Allied assaults on Monte Cassino had failed and Monte Cassino was a major victory fro the 2nd Polish Corps. With it, the road to Rome was at last open.”

The 8 th Army continued fighting along the Adriatic coast sadly this created the need for cemeteries at Ancona 1029 burials, Castiglione South African, 502 burials Montecchio 582 burials Gradara 1191 burials Coriano Ridge 939 burials Rimini Gurkha 618 burials Cesena 775 burials Medola 145 burials Forli 1234 burials plus a cremation memorial for nearly 800 Indian servicemen Ravenna 955 burials Villanova 955 burials Villanova Canadian cemetery 212 burials Faenza 1152 burials Santerno Valley 287 burials Bologna 184 burials Argente Gap 625 burials Padua 513 burials.

Fighting along the Adriatic section of Italy was quite intensive and continuous from Bari in the south to Milan in the north. The CWGC estimate that the Commonwealth lost nearly 50,000 dead in Italy during World War II most of whom lie buried in 37 war cemeteries, and over 4000 soldiers whose graves are not known but remembered by name on the Cassino memorials. Almost 1500 Indian servicemen, whose remains were cremated, are remembered on three memorials in various cemeteries. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the 8th Army had a difficult time fighting the Germans over very difficult terrain along the Eastern Adriatic coast of Italy. It seems only the Mediterranean side of Italy that is reported on, maybe it is because the American 5th Army proved to be more attractive to the TV producers or they had better PR service personnel?! In addition, they had wanted to be “first” into Rome! It is interesting to note that in the film “Anzio” showed two American soldiers entering Rome to find no Germans there. Having reported back to the American generals they decided not to follow-up on the information fearing it was a trap by the Germans. In fact the truth is that it was two British soldiers that were first to drive into Rome, not the Americans. I wonder if the two British soldiers are still alive and remember the occasion.

An interesting situation developed when a New Zealander, Lt. Titchener, with a patrol of eight men set out for Casoli. “Before they set out an Italian who spoke English informed them that the Germans had vacated, or were vacating, Casoli and he offered to take them there by a back road. His offer was accepted. There were no Germans in the first village, Altino, so they moved into Casoli. The Italian led the way, with Lt Titchener armed with a tommy gun immediately behind him, waiting to deal with him if the whole thing was a trap.

The patrol descended a steep hill, which they had to do in stages marvelling all the while at the untiring pace of the Italian guide, a short stumpy man. At last, on reaching the top of the hill they were greeted by a farmer and his family, offered chairs and given a glass of wine each, we moved on again however, and refusing repeated offers of wine and food, we came to the main street. It was a big town of 9,000 inhabitants and at first, the people did not seem to realise who we were. Then it suddenly struck them, they rushed out, shook our hands and as we neared the centre of the town started clapping, cheering and many of the women wept, Lt Titchener said he felt very embarrassed.”

Should any member of the Italy Star Association like to have a photograph of a relative buried in Italy, they can get in touch with the program director of the War Graves Photographic Project, Steve Rogers ( requesting a copy of a photo. There will be a small charge to cover postage and packaging. Please state the name of the service person, together with service number, and name which cemetery the person is buried at.

As it is, just over 70 years since 1942 and a considerable number of service personnel who died in Italy were no more than 20/21 years old. Many of them are about 90 years old now. Does anyone remember any of the occasions I have mentioned?

We are aware of the D-Day remembrance programmes that were promoted but sadly, nothing was highlighted about the fighting in Italy, even though the fighting stopped in Italy at the same time as fighting on D Day 1945. This is why I headed this article “The Forgotten Army “, remembering the 50,000 Commonwealth personnel that died in Italy! It is very interesting to note that The Far Eastern Association asked the same question! They also seem to have been forgotten!!

Any British Ex-Pat living in Italy reading this article, who would be interested in adopting a Cemetery in Italy near where they live, and be prepared to lay a wreath at a cemetery in November each year to remember those who are buried there and not forgotten, please do contact me. I would love to hear from them.

Bernard Warden

Bibliography :

Some of the following books may be of interest to readers.

“The Forgotten 500” The story of how the Americans rescued the 500 POW’s in Yugoslavia.

“Ortona” The Canadian efforts to capture Ortona.

“The Allied Forces in Italy 1943 – 1945” – Guido Rosignoli

“Italy’s Sorrow”. Fighting in Italy – James Holland.

“Travel Guide to WW2 sites in Italy” Including cemeteries – Ann Saunders.

“Rome remembers her Liberators” Story of Anzio and the role Italian Partisans played during WW2. – H Shindler

“4 th Battalion Parachute Regiment – War Diaries, November 1943 – December 1943”.

Watch the video: : Οι συμφωνίες Σκοπίων - Τουρκίας και η υπό διαμόρφωση γεωπολιτική σκακιέρα μετά το Αφγανιστ