World War II Campaigns: Italy--Allied Invasion of Italy (September 1943)

World War II Naples
Figure 1.--This principal objective of thecAllied invasion if Italy was Naples--the most important port in southern Europe. Modern war required huge quantities of supplies and and thus the Allies needed ports--especially Naples. Hitler at first had planned to oppose the Allies futher north. Field Marshall Lesserling comvimved hom to oppose the Allies in the south primarilt by contesting the American landings at Salerno (SEptember 9) aimed at taking Naples. The result was 3 weeks of bloody fighting and massive destruction in and around Naples. Kesserling and thecGermans almost succeeded, but the 5th United States Army held the beach head and finally entered Naples (October 1, 1943). The photo was taken in Baia, a village near Naples (October 20, 1943). Source: U.S. Navy Combat Photographic Unit.

The Allies began the Italiam campaign, putting land troops ahore on the European mainland (September 3). Units of the British 8th Army were the first to go ashore, landing at the toe of the Italian boot--Operation Baytown. The Allies hoped that the Germans would rush south to engage the British, but Kesserling did not take the bait. A British fleet sailed into the harbor of Taranto at the arch of the Italian boot--Operation Slapstick (September 9). The Germans were not present and the Italians having surrendered did not resist. The British were able to disembark troops onto the docks unimposed. The U.S. 5th Army commanded by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark landed at the Gulf of Salerno in force--Operation Avalanche (September 9). The Germans occupied Fome (September 10). The Germans made no real effort to oppose the British landings in the south, but reacted in strength to the American landings. The Germans fought delaying actions in the south against the British and concentrated their forces on the Americans at Salerno. The prize was Naples--the most important port in southern Italy. For four days vigorous attacks by German armor threatened the beaches. German Panzers for a time put the landings in danger. The beachead was finally secure untill the British hooked up with the Americans south of Salerno (September 16). The British took the important airfields at Foggia (September 27). The Allies finally took Naples with its invaluable port (October 7). This left the Allies in control of southern Italy and the Germans did not have the capability of disloging them. Allied plans called for a continued advance to tie down German troops and prevent their transfer to France or Russia, while Hitler decided to hold as much of Italy as possible while preparing for the expected Allied cross-Channel invasion.

Naples

Ports took on enormous importance in World War II. Modern armies required huge quantities of supplies. And this was particularly the case of armies conducting amphibious landings. All supplies had to comee by sea and established ports were needed to efficently land supplies and heavy equipment. The Germans knew this and thus defended major ports. And Naples was the most important port in southern Italy. It was needed for any Allied campsaign in Italy. Even before the invasion, the Allies began bombing Italian targets. At first it was to reduce supply deliveries to North africa. But after Siily fell (July 1943), it was to prepare for the invasion of Italy itself. And new bases in North Africa and Sicily greatly increased the Allied air capability. Naples became the most bombed Italian city in the War. The Allies conducted an estimated 180 raids in 1943. The largest raid was 400 planes of the U.S. Mediterranean Bomber Command (August 4, 1943)

British Landings (September 3)

The Allies began the Italiam campaign, putting land troops ahore on the European mainland (September 3). Units of the British 8th Army were the first to go ashore, landing at the toe of the Italian boot--Operation Baytown. The Allies hoped that the Germans would rush south to engage the British, but Kesserling did not take the bait. A British fleet sailed into the harbor of Taranto at the arch of the Italian boot--Operation Slapstick (September 9). The Germans were not present and the Italians having surrendered did not resist. The British were able to disembark troops onto the docks unimposed.

American Landings (September 9)

The U.S. 5th Army commanded by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark landed at the Gulf of Salerno in force--Operation Avalanche (September 9). Salerno was chosen because it was just south of Naples, the main target of the invasion. The Germans made no real effort to oppose the British landings in the south, but reacted in strength to the American landings. The Germans fought delaying actions in the south against the British and concentrated their forces on the Americans at Salerno. The prize was Naples--the most important port in southern Italy. For four days vigorous attacks by German armor threatened the beaches. German Panzers for a time put the landings in danger. The beachead was finally secure untill the British hooked up with the Americans south of Salerno (September 16).

Germans Occupy Rome (September 10)

The Germans occupied Fome (September 10).

Foggia (September 27)

The British took the important airfields at Foggia (September 27). This was one of the real bonuses of the Italian canpign. Italy an distance hd shielded Germany southern air flank fromthe llied air assault. This included Germany's vital source of oil in Romania--Ploesti. Italy had many developed air bases with contrete ruwauys and other importnt facilities. Oissessions if these fields meant that within months the Allies could open new front intghe air war. This exposed more German cities to air attack and forced the Germans to spread out the despoition of their fighter aircraft. The allies were rapidly expnding their vomber fleets at the time and by the time the new Italian airfields were were operational, P-51 Mustang squadrns were available to escort them. Yhe principal unit asigned to carry out the bombing was the United states 15th Air Force.

Fighting for Napels (September 27-October 1)

The port of Naples was the largest in souhern Europe and a prize of incalcuable value. As soon as Salerno was secured, the Allies drove out of the bridgehead for Naples. By this time,the Italians had turned on their former allies. German brutality discouraged civilian actions aginst the Germans. Thus while there were strikes and spontaneous small-scale demonsdtrations, no major cities rose against the Germans. The first such rising took place in Naples and the Germans set it off. The Germans had intened the Italian Army and shipped the men to primitive work camps in the Reich. They also began rounding up young men for labor service in the Reich. Field Marshal Kesselring executing orders from Berlin began rounding up a quota of 20,000 men in Naples. German soldiers and a large convoy of army trucks pulled into the Piazza Dante in the Naples city center. The soldiers forced about 6,000 young men on to the trucks. Local women attempted unsucessfully to impede the trucks departing. Mostly young men attempted to secure weapons and began patroling the streets. Shoots out with the Germans a Fascist militia began. The next day when news spread of what the Germans were doing, Naples rose against the Germans and local Fascists--the famous Quattro giornate (Four Days) (September 27). This was not a planned action by the Italian Resistance. It was a spontaneous action of the people of Naples, especially the young men of Naples against te Wehrmacht. Busses were turned over and barricades set up. The resisters obtained some machine guns, but had no heavy weapons. Street fighting developed. The scugnizzi (Naples street children) participated in the struggle. Some even obtained weapons. Those who have visited Naples know the almost labyrinthine streets in the city center which made it difficult for the Germans to deploy tanks and other heavy weapons. The Vomero section became a Resisance stringhold. The Neopolitans managed to capture some Germans, including the German military commander. There were negotiations between the Neopolitan\ns and the Germans. The Resiisters lynched Fascists. The Germans executed the Resisters. The key to te success of the Neopolitans was the fact that the Allies had reached the outskirts of the city. The Germans could not devote their full force against the uprising as they were being hard-pressed by the advancing Allies. The Germans realized that they did not have the capability of retaking the city and began withdrawing. The center of the city was in ruins and 663 Italians were dead. [Mazower, pp. 507-08.] The death toll would have been much higher if the Germans had regained control of the city. The Allies entered the city (October 1).

Securing Naples (October 7)

The Allies finally took Naples with its invaluable port (October 7). Despite Allied bombing and German demolition, the Allies were able to begin usiung the port within just one week after liberation. This left the Allies firmly in control of southern Italy and the Germans did not have the capability of disloging them.

Allied Drive North

Allied plans called for a continued advance to tie down German troops and prevent their transfer to France or Russia, while Hitler decided to hold as much of Italy as possible while preparing for the expected Allied cross-Channel invasion. The Allied commanders were divided in how to persue the Italian campaign. The differences resulted in perhaps the worst possible decession, a drive north from Naples with an inadequate force. The Italian campaign was never designed to be the Allies major offensive to drive into Germany. Important units and the best commanders were transferred to England to begin preparations for the cross-Channelinvasion into France. The U.S. 5th and British 8th Armies had a combined force of only 11 divisions (October 1943). They were able to take the inititive becuse they were much better supplied and had vastly superior air support. The terraine, however, enable the Germans to effectively resist. The Germans were forced to commit more than 20 divisions, forces they had to withdraw from France and the Eastern Front. The American 5th Army was strengthened with a French French Corps (December 1943). Italy had been an was an Axis nation. While Mussolini was intent on the War, the Italian people never seemed to have committed to the War in the way the German people did. The Italians treated the Allies as liberators more than conquerors as they pushed north. This was especially true of the Americans. Many Italians had lived in America or had relatives in America.

Sources

Mazower, Mark. Hitler's Empire: How the Nazi's Ruled Europe (New York: Penguin Press, 2008), 726p.






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Created: 2:56 AM 7/9/2009
Last updated: 11:04 PM 4/12/2014