*** war and social upheaval: World War II campaigns -- Italy

World War II Campaigns: Italy (July 1943-May 1945)

World War II Italian campaign
Figure 1.--This photograph was taken in Matera (southern Italy) showing a Polish soldier, part of the British 8th Army, and barefoot Italian boys.

The Italian campaign is one of the more controversial Allied campaigns. The Allied effort in Italy and the Mediterrean in general is of grrater importance than often noted in assessments of World War II. Marshall Bodaglio arrested Musollini (July 25). Bodgalio and the King tried to convince Hitler that they were committed to the War. Hitler did not belireve them for one minute and 12 divisions, despite the deteriorating conditions on the Eastern Front, were rushed south into Italy. With the Italian surrender, the Germans occupied Italy (September 1943). Several months of very diffifult fighting followed the Allied landings at Salerno. Kesserling very effectiently organized the German defenses. The Germans while in control of Rome seized more than 1,000 Jews who were deported to Auuschwitz. American intrcepts recently released reveal that Hitler himself overrode his local commanders on arresting the Jews. These intercepots also make it clear that Pope Pius XII's policy of silaence primarily stemed from a cponcern to protect the physical integrity of the Vatican. [Katz] Rome was liberated by the Americans on June 4, but the Allied failed to trap sizeable German units. The world's focus turned on July 6 to the coast of France and the D-Day invasion. The final NAZI defensive line in northern Italy, the Gothic Line in the Apennine Mountains was assaulted by the American 10th Mountain Division (February 1945). [Jenkins]


The Italian campaign and the Mediterrean campaign in general is normally seen as a sideshow of the Allied war effort or even a strategic dead-end. This understates the importance of these campaigns. The Mediterranean was a theater of considerable importance to the overall Allied war effort. The geography of the Mediterrean allowed the Allies to bring their greatest asset in 1940-42, naval power, to bear on the Axis. German air and ground forces were clearly superior to the Allies in 1939-41. Allied naval forces restricted Axis land operations and in 1942 played a major in defeating the Africa Korps by cutting off its supplies. The Mediterrean campaign also provided a proving ground for Allied operations (America, Britain, British Empire forces, Free French and other allies like the Poles) to develop a command structure and the skills and tactics that could defeat the German military that had coinquered Europe. The American Army in particular during 1942 was not ready for a full scale confrontation with the Wehrmacht in France. Fighting in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy where thge Germans were streached at the logicvtical limits and supported by naval firces, the Allied armies were able to engage the successfully engage the Germans and support the Soviets. An invasion of northern France in 1942 or even 1943 could have been disasterous. The defeat of Italy forced Hitler to transfer substantial German forces west, releaving pressure on the Soviets. The German units lost in North Africa combined with the 50 divisions deployed in Italy, the Balkans, and southern France. [porch] The Italian campaign succeeded it tieing down and attiting important German units as well as gaining airbases from which to intensify air attacks on Ploesti, an important source of oilk for the Germans.

Allied Plans

The Allies as late as the Sicily campaign were planning to treat Italy like the other two full Axis partners an demand unconditional surrender. Different plans were developed for the invasion of Italy. Initial plans involved limiting the campaign to seizing airfields north of Rome. At the time the NAZIs had not yet moved substantial forces into Italy. Political developments in Rome forced the Allies to adjust their plans. [McJimsey, p. 296.] The Allies decided, however, after Sicily that the primary focus of the Allied effort would be directed at the croiss-channel invasion of France. As a result the forces available for the Italian campaign were limited. The Allies decided that in Italy they would substitute firepower for manpower and in the end the available forces proved inadequate for the goals desired. [Porch]

Rome Bombed (July 19, 1943)

Growing American air power brought the war home to Romans with a raid on the Italian capital (July 19). The Allied nombers targeted the Rome railway station. The San Lorenzo neighborhood was largely destroyed. Many families were displaced. Some families were accommodated in a school in the Parioli neighborhood. It is a neigborhood in the northern part of the town with many wealthy families. The local catholic parish organized the religious service for these families. We note a group of children receiving their First Communion on the feast of Mary (August 15).

Mussolini Arrested (July 25, 1943)

The loss of Sicily through the Italian Government in crisis. President Roossevely and Priminister Churchil broadcast appeals to Italy, calling on Italians not to die for Hitler, but to "Live for civilization" (July 16). Many Italians who did not see the Americans as an enemy agreed. Hitler took a train to Italy to meet with Mussolini in northern Italy (Juky 19). On the same day, the Americans brought the War home to Italians by bombing Rome. The Fascist Grand Council deposed Mussolini (July 25). After the Grand Council took this action, King Victor Emmanuael III, who Mussolinin had reduced to a figurehead, appointed army commander Marshal Pietro Badoglio to be the new Prime Minister. Marshall Badoglio proceeded to arrest Musollini. Italian sentiment had turned against their Fascist Government and Mussolini because of the disasterous losses in the War. The problem was that the Germans ikn the guise of supporting an ally were rapidly occupying the country.

Germans Move South

The Wehrmacht managed to windraw its units from Sicily which would formed the core of its occupaztion of Italt. Hitler ordered another 12 divisions south in to Italy. This was done despite the deteriorating conditions on the Eastern Front. The Wehrmacht had launched its last summer offensive at Kursk (July 1943). The offensive culminated in the largest tank battles in histoy in which the German panzers sustained a massive defeat at the hands of the resurgent Red Army. Despite this disaster and Soviet advances in the Ukraine, the Wehrmacht moved into Italy in force. Marshal Badoglio and the King tried to convince Hitler after arresting Mussolini that the new Government was committed to the War. Hitler for good reason did not believe them. Hitler ordered countermeasures in event of Allied landings and or Italian capitulation. Hitler ordered the rescue of Mussolini code named Operation Eiche (Oak). Operation Achse (Axis) was planned to destroy or capture the Italian fleet. Operation Schwarz (Black) was planned to disarm the Italian Army and set up a defensive line when the Allies landed. The final German action in was Operation Student designed to occupy Rome where Mussolini would be reinstalled in power.

Negotiations with the Allies

Italian military commanders who were never enthusiastic about the War were after the disasters in North Africa and Russia wanted out of the War. They lost all hope of military victory. After the fall of Sicily the military realized that they now faced an Allied invasion. Marshal Badoglio and the High Command, supported by the king, decided to open secret negotiations with the Allies. The heavy presence of German forces in Italy, however, made the Italians virtual prisoners in their own country. When announcing the arrest of Mussolini, Marshal Badoglio added that "the War continues". Badoglio immediately dispatched agents to Spain. He sought to negotiate an armistace with the Allies and take Italy out of the War. He wanted a separate peace. The Allies were intent on unconditional surrenderRoosevelt was not excited about dealing with Badoglio and the King because both were tainted by association with Mussolini. Churchill advised that the Allies should incourage the Italian initiatives and deal with Badoglio, in part to prevent a Communist take over. The first contacts occurred in Portugal (August). In the end, Roosevely gave Eisenhower authority to accept Italy's surrender under terms which implied recognition of the Badoglio Government. [McJimsey, p. 296.] Eisenhower oversaw the negotiations and insisted on the Allied demands for unconditional surrender. Badoglio did not understand how insistent the Allies were on unconditional surrender. [Katz] As a result, the talks between the Allies and the the Italians at first made little profress. This gave the Germans the time needed that they needed to move men and materials into Italy. One Italian author maintains that both Italy and Britain negotiated in bad faith and with considerable duplicity. [Agarossi] Whoever was responsible, it seems that the resulting misunderstandings and misjudgments were partly resonsible fir the Allies failure to achieve a tactical surprise.

Italian Surrender (September 3-8, 1943)

The Badoglio Government after assuring the NAZIs that they would continue the War, but secretly surrendered to the Allies at Fairfield Camp on Sicily (September 3). The United States was preparind to land the 82nd Airborn in Rome to protect the Italian Government from the Germans. Both King Victor Emanuel III and Marsal Pietro Bodaligo were for good reason affraid of the German reaction when the Italian surrender was announced. The 82nd Airborn commander, General Maxwell Taylor secretly entered Rome at night to meet with Badoglio (September 7). The Italian government kept him waiting while he managed to avoid capture by the Gestapo. Taylor helped the new Italian Government conclude the armistice/surrender. Taylor's Division was on the runway ready to go for the drop on Rome. Badoglio understanding the situation demanded a larger force. Taylor ordered the drop canceled and unformed Eisenhower. Eisenhower then communicated to Bodaloigo that if he did not announce the surrender that the Allies would. Eisenhower speaking from Algeirs announced the surrender at 6:00 pm (September 8). He told the Italians, "All Italians who now help eject the German aggressor from Italian soilwill have the assistance and support of the United Nations." Marshal Badoglio did not go on the radio until 8:30 pm. [Katz] He confirmed what he called an armistice and hinted in veiled terms that Italians should trun against the Germans. It was in fact an unconditional surrender. Badoglio called it an armistace. Badoglio and the King fled to Bari in the far south of Italy and formed a government there. The Germans occupied Rome (October 10). Taylor stayed with Badoglio and the King who formed a government in Bari. The new Government declared war on Germany (October 13). The Italian sirrender had consequebces far beyond Italy. It oit another stress on the dwindling Gerna reserves of manpower at a time after Kursk that the Soviets had begun important offenses in the East, kuveraring large aeeas and driving the German forces relentlessly west. There were also consequences in the Balkans. With the Italian surrender, the partisans began seizing Italain occupied areas . This was especially serious in northern Yugoslavia, including the Croatian Dalmatian coast. Hitler was determined to hold on to the Adriatic.

Germans Disarm the Italian Army

Hitler were not suprised, but were incensed. German radio launched a vitriolic attack, calling Marshal Badoglio's action "open trason". A NAZI propaganda broadcast shrilly insisted, "With this a veil has been torn from a treacerous intrigue which for weeks has been enacted by an Italian clique, serfs to Jews and alien to their own people." Many German soldiers who would now have to fight the Allies in Italy must have agreed. This would be reflected in the attrocities that followed. With the announcement of the Italian surrender (September 8), the Germans proceeded to seize control and intern the disperited and confused Italian Army. Italian soldiers for the most part seem to have had no desire to fight the Germans who occuoied Rome (October 10). The Germans swiftly disarmed the Italian Army and took over its defensive positions. This could be achieved in part because the Bodaloigo Government gave no orders to resist the Germans. This was because any such orders would have been picked up by the Germans, alerting them to the surrender. The Germans also disarmed and interned Italian occupation troops in southeastern France and the Balkans. Most of the Italian Army surrendered without incident. Some joined the resistance. Some units resisted. Many in these units who survived military actions were then shot by the Germans. One of the most noted of these masacres occurred on the Greek Aegean Sea island of Cephallonia where the Germans shot 4,500 men of the Italian 33rd Infantry Division Acqui. The Italian Navy presented a more difficult challenge for the Germans. Most of the fleet managed to sail to Malta to surrender. The Luftwaffe used a Fritz X guided bomb sink the battleship Roma off Sardinia (September 9). The Germans interned about 0.5 million Italians as POWs in the Reich. Thousands died there because of the deterioirating conditions.

Allied Invasion (September 1943)

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.

Allies Push North

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 AZmerica or had relatives in America.

Field Marshal Alber Kesselring

The Allies as they advanced north along Italy's mountainous spine were forced to attack a series of well prepared German defenses utilizing rivers and terrain features. The German defense was effectively planned by Field Marshal Alber Kesselring who because of the debelitating struggle on the Eastern Front had only limited limited resources at his disposal. Allied indecession gave Kesserling time to use Italy's mountainous terrain to best use, preparing a daunting defensive lines that suceeded in tieing down the superior Allied force. The Wehrmact was built as an offensive force. Fighting on the defensive limited the effectiveness of German operations, but in both the East and Normandy they proved amazingly good at it, both because of competent leadership and the fighting spirit of the troops. Kesserling proved a highly effective commander, but it was the terraine and Kesserling's use of it that was the greatest impediment to the Allied advance. [Porch]

Allied Command

Field Marshall Alexander was in overall command and commanded the British forces with competence. Patton was to command the American operations, but because of incidents in Sicily, Mark Clark was put in command. He proved the weakest of the major American commanders. One of his weakenesses was a dislike of the British and the failure to grasp the importance of fighting the war with allies. [Porch]

Mussolini's Rescue (September 12, 1943)

Mussolini was overthrown, arrested, and brought to a hotel on top of the Gran Sasso in the Abruzzi Mountains during 1943. Hitler selected SS Colonel Otto Skorzeny to rescue his friend Mussolini. The rescue planed was named Operation Eiche (Oak). Skorzeny's operation was one of the most daring stunts of the War. He and his troops went with gliders, crashing them on the steep rocky slopes of the mountain. Without firing a shot they subdued the Italian guards and freed Mussolini, who was taken away in a Fieseler Storch (some kind of a helicopter). Mussolini was brought back to Germany where he made propaganda broadcasts and was used to set up a Fascist puppet state in northern Italy. Skorzeny meanwhile had also captured Admiral Horthy in Hungary and was active in the Battle of the Bulge during the winter of 1944-45, dressing his English-speaking troops in American uniforms to create confusion at the frontlines. After the war Skorzeny managed to escape to Argentina where he helped reorganize Peron's police. He died in Madrid, Spain, a successful businessman.

Gutav Line (October 1943 - May 1944)

After securing the vital port of Naples, the American Fifth Army and British Eighth Army drove north and forced a crossing of the Volturno River (October 1943). They then encountred Kesselring's primary defenses--the Gustav or Winter Line. Hitler was prepared to abandon much of Italy, but Kesserling convinced tom make a stand and he was proved right. The German defensive position was anchored on the mountains around Cassino and the Rapido and Gariglino Rivers. At the center of the German positions was Monte Casino, an ancient monestary. One historian calls the German preparations a tactical trap, "... a large scale concentration of German troops behind the two rivers, gun pits were being blasted out of solid rock, the banks were being cleared to create fields of fire, and antitank ditches, mines and barbed wire were being readied everywhere." [Parker] Kesseling managed to stop the Allied advance for months. Repeated attempts to break through the German lines were beaten back. Losses were staggering. The British were more cautious than the Americans who were more willing to expend men on fritless asaults. Over 60,000 Allied and German soldiers were killed in the vicious fighting. [Parker] Allied troops were withdrawn from Italy for the Overlord invasion. So the two armies were relatively evenly matched, unlike the situation in the East. The Allies attempted to use their overwealming superiority in fore power to blast through the German defenses. The Americans were to cross the Rapido River in an attack timed to coincide with the Anzio landings--Operation Shingle (January 1944). This was delayed and when launched sustained serious casualties. Further efforts to blast through the Gustav Line filed. Even the use of massed bombers attacks including an attack targetting Monte Cassino failed. The eventual bombing of Monte Casino was more out of frustration than a well thoughout strike. Only after repeted and costly attacks did the Gustav Line begin to creack Mone Casino finally fell after a determined Polish assault (May 18, 1944). This finally breached the Gustav Line opening the advance on Rome.

Italian Civilians

Italian civilians were, except for committed Fascists, not overly enthusiatic about the War. These was, however, no real real resistance to the War. Allied flyers shot down would be turned in by the public. The situation became more complicated when Italy surrendered to the Allies. Then a Resistance began to organize. Civilians until the Allied invasion were relatively unaffected by the War, except through family in the military and increasing shortages that began to become severe by 1942. This changed with the Allied landings (September 1943). As bad as the situation was for the Allied troops who were constantly forced to assault well prepared German positions, the suffering of the Italian civilians is especially sad. The Italians suffered from both German execution squads and Allied bombing. [Atkinson] The race-obsessed NAZIs were never overly friendly with the Italians. After the surrender, the Germans were outraged and looked on the Italians as traitors. There were several massacres of Italin civilans and countless uneported incidents. As the fighting gradually moved north up the Italian peninsula, Italian villages and towns were devestated with substantial civilian casualties. The basic problem for the Italian people is that the campaign lasted so long. After the Normandy breakout in France, the country was liberated in 1-2 momths as the Allies moved north toward Germany. In Italy it took almost 2 years. Many towns and villages were left in rubbles as the Allies drove north. And even after the fighting moved north, civilians faced major problems with shelter, food, and water.

Allied Forces: International Character

The Italian campaign was the most internationalized campaign of the War, at least on the Allied side. The Axis essentially made war on the world and in Italy it came back to bite them. The Allied forces were the American Fifth army and British Eighth Army. Both were composed of many foreign units, including British Empire formations as well as units from occupied countries. This permittef America, Britain, and Canada to withdraw forces from Italy and focus on the critical effort to reenter the continent in northern Europe and drive into the heart of the Reich. This was the strayegy the United states advicated from the start, but the British with more experience fighting th Germans eventually agreed with. The United sttes saw this as the best way to destroy the NAZI tyranny and war-making capacity. The British after the enormous casualties in France during World War I were more concerned. The American Fifth Army included ethnic U.S. units, both the segregated African-American 92nd Infantry Division and the Japanese-American 442nd Infantry Regiment. Most of the foreign (non-British and american) units fought with the British Eighth Army. One exception was French General Alphonse Juin's Free French Expeditionary Corps. The Free French also included the Algerians, Moroccans, and Senegalese. The Brazilians also fought with the Americans Fifth Army. The British Eighth Army was formed from the Western Desert Force and fought the Afrika Corps in North Africa. The Eighth Army was an Empire and European anti-NAZI effort, including Africans from various British colonies as well as one Latin American country. This included Brazilians, Canadians, Czechs, Greeks, Gurkhas, Indians, Italian partisans, Jews from Palestine, New Zealanders, Poles, Rhodesians, and South Africans. The Australians played an important role in the British Eighth Army during the North African campaign, but after Pearl Harbor withdrew to fight the Japanese. After Pearl Harbor more forces were pulled out to invade southern France--Operation Dragoon.

Roundup of Jews

The Fascists, in part because of NAZI demands, gradually increased pressure on Jews. Eventually the Fascists began interning Jews. The one step Mussolini refused to take was to deport Jews to the NAZI death campos in Poland. he situation of the Jews changed radically after the Italian surrender and the NAZI seizure of power (september 1943). The Germans while in control of Rome seized more than 1,000 Jews who were deported to Auschwitz. Recently released American intrcepts reveal that Hitler himself overrode his local commanders on arresting the Jews. These intercepots also make it clear that Pope Pius XII's policy of silence primarily stemed from a concern with protecting the physical integrity of the Vatican. [Katz]

Anzio (January 1944)

The Allies planned an amphibious end run to outflank the Gustav Line. The American 5th Army (VI Corps) landed behind the Gustav line about 30 miles south of Rome (January 22, 1944. The landing surprised the Germans and the Americans pushed toward Rome. Many historians fault the American commander, Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas, for not acting decisively by attacking the Grmans. Lucas decided to build up his force before moving inland. This left the Germans in control of the high-ground and gave Kesselring time to assemble reinforcements. [Atkinson] A minority opinion mainains that Lucas was wise in building up beag deffensives. The Germans launched a whitering attack with artillery and Panzers. American and British units repulsed repeated German attacks. It looked for a time that the Germans might destroy the American beachead (February 17). The American defense supported by invaluable naval artillery support managed to hold off the Germans. The German counterattack was finally haulted (March 2). Anzio became for a time anoher Italian stalemate. The Anzio landings failed in its objective to envelop the Gustav Line, but it did force the Germans to commit their reserves and streached out the fronts that the Grmans had to defend with no added reinforcenets. Thus the Allies remained bottled up in the Anzio beachead for several months. This in the end weakened the Gustav Line allowing the Allies to finally break through.

Vesuvius (March 1944)

If World War II with Allied bombing raids and then the German destruction of the port wasn't enough, the people of Naples had to contend with an eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The eruption of Vesuvius of March 1944 is the last eruption occurred at Vesuvius. Since then the volcano has been in a quiescent stage without any major sign of activity. The eruption started in the night between March 17 and 18 and ended on March 30. There were 26 peoples who died during the eruption. The eruption occurred shortly after the arrival in Naples of the allied forces in World War II and caught by surprise the military and destroyed the air force planes stationed in the airport of Terzigno east of the mountain. An entire wing of 88 B-25 was damaged by the eruption. The major economic losses resulted by the destruction of the villages of S. Sebastiano and Massa by the lava flow. The image shows people of the destroyed villages leaving their houses.

Liberation of Rome (June 4, 1944)

The situation in Rome was very complicated as the Allies approached. There were Fascists, but they had been largely descredited by thecWar and the German occupation. The Vatican was split into two wings. Church people were hiding Jews all over Italy. One wing in the Vatican favored this. Another wanted to expel the Jews, afraid of the possible NAZI reaction. Some in the Vatican feared the Communists would seize control of Rome and invade the Vatican. Pope Pius XII dithered, unsure of what approach to take. German authorities in Rome were confused. Some had fallen in love with the city. Some had even resisted NAZI efforts to roundup and deport the city's Jews, primarily because they did not want to embarass the Pope. Some of the Germans who had been in Rome for some time did not fully comprehend the NAZI commitment to killing Jews. Finally Hitler himself had to send the orders. The Americans and British both wanted to enter the city first. American commander Mark Clark was intent on achieving this honor. He wanted to be the second general in history to conquer Rome from the south. (The first was the Byzantine General Byzarius.) Clark was less interested in cutting off the retreating Germans. The British unable to enter Rome first made an unsuccessful effort to cut off the fleeing Germans. Rome was finally liberated by the Americans (June 4). The scenes in Rome were that of a liberated nation. Italy had been one of the Axis countries but since the Italian capitulation (September 1943) had been occupied by the Germans and experienced their share of natural brutality. The Italians had, howver, a very high regard fir Americans because of the extensive Italian emmigration during the late-19th and early 20th century. The Romans celebrated with the entrance of the Americans. The Allied failed to trap sizeable German units and as a result would face another costly winter campaign. The world's focus 2-days latter turned on July 6 to the coast of France and the D-Day invasion.


We do not yet know a great deal about the Italian resistance. As best we can tell Mussolini and his Fasvists suceeded in supressing resistance to the rgime in the 1920s. Italy was a founding member of the Axis. And while there was no great enthusism for the war when Mussolini entered the War by declaring War on Britain and France and subsequently the Soviet Union and America. While there was no enthusism for the War, there was also no resistance to the War or the Fascist regime. This remained the case even after after terrible Italian losses in North Africa and the Soviet Union. And even after the Allied invasion of Sicily (July 1943), we do not note any major actions by the Resistance in Italy. Allied airmen shot down in Italy did not find the same Resistance network to get them home as was the case of The Low Courtries and France as well as Yugoslavia. This did not change until the Italian surrender (Armistice) (September 1943). The Italian Army did not offer effective resistance to the Germans, but some soldiers mamaged to evade capture and internment and organize resistance cells. In addition, German brutality towrd civilans also help motivate Italians civilians to form resistance units. The Italian resistance was largely organized along political lines. The Resistance at first was primarily involved with assisting Allied trops. This changed after the liberarion of Rome (June 1944). The Italian resistance essentially began at this point. Young people who rose up formed the nucleus for the Resistance that would play an important role in the campaign against the Germans and Fascists in northern Italy. The Resistance organized units that actualy confronted the Germans and Fascists. They also organized non-military resistance such as strike actiins. The main goal of the Resistance was to drice the Germans out of Italy. The timing of final German surrender was more the result of insurections in northern cities (Genoa and Milan) more than impending Allied assaults. [Katz] It was Italian partisans that captured and hung Mussolini.

Northern Italy--the Gothic Line

The Normandy D-Day invasion 2 days after the liberaion of Rome turned the Italian campaign into a secondary theater. Allied troops and resources were focused on France. The Allies did, however, continued to press the Germans in Italy. And German reinforcements and supplies declined as the German position in both the East and West suffered disaderous blows. While poorly supported, the German forces in Italy had the advantage of terraine that provided a natural barrier, something that the German forces in norther Europe did not enjoy. The Allies in Italy attacked the new German defensive line--the Gothic Line (Massa-Rimini fortifications). It was constructed by Kesselring in the Northern Appenines (August 1944). The new German line held. It took several more months to penetrate the German defenses. The German line held during the winter of 1944-45. The Gothic Line was finally broken in an assault headed by the American 10th Mountain Division (February 1945). [Jenkins] This allowed the Allies to enter the Po valley. The break through at the Adriatic end of the line. The Americans breaking through at the western end entered (April 20). The Germans retreated across the Po and abandoned their heavy armor. The goal of German commanders became to get as much as possible of the surviving force back to Germany.

German Withdrawl (April 25, 1945)

With the Allies crossing the Po, the German position in northern Italy was no longer tenable. Italians celebrate April 25 as the day of liberation from the NAZIs. The National Liberation Committee rose in insurrection in Milan as well as other large cities in the northern Italy. The Germans on that date withdrew from Milan. Jubilant crowds celebrated the liberation of the city. Milan was the largest city in northern Italy. It was also a considerable distance from the bordrs of the Reich. Milan was closer to France than the Reich. German convoys wound over narrow mountain roads in an effort to get back to Germany. The German withdrawl meant there was no longer any safe place for Mussolini in Italy. The Germans were not being hard pressed by the Allies at the time, but faced increasingly serious attacks from the Resistance. Attacks were occuring both in the cities and the mountains as German military convoys tried to get back to Germany.

Mussolini Executed (April 28)

Genoa fell to the Allies (April 27). With The Resistance stopped many of the convoys to make sure that Itlalian Fascists did not escape with the Germans. It was in one of these convoys that a partisan group found Mussolini trying to flee with the Germans. They took him from the Germans who did not resist and shot him the next day. The partisans hanged him up-side-down at a gas station together with his mistress, Clara Petacci. Their bodies displayed for the Milanese crowds to deride and curse. Hitler in his Berlin bunker learned of this and was apauled. He resolved not to let this happen to him. .

German Surrender (May 2)

The first great Germn surrender occurred in northern Italy. The Allies in a biterly fought 3-month campaign during the Spring of 1945 drove across the Po Valley. As German resistance crumbled, the Allies made spectacular advances. Columns of German soldiers were desperately trying to reach the Reich. Partisans captured and executed Mussolini as he was trying to flee with the Germans (April 28). The first surrender came in Italy without authorization. SS General Karl Wolff had been engaged in prolonged and unauthorised negotiations with the Allies. Wolff and the Commander-in-Chief of the German Army Group C/10th Army, General Heinrich von Vietinghoff on their own authority signed the terms of the surrender at Caserta (April 29). General W. D. Morgan, representing Supreme Mediterranean Commander [Harold] Alexander, signed for the Allies. The ever suspicious Stalin saw this as the beginning of a separate Allied peace with the NAZIs. Hitler as the Red Army troops neared his Berlin bunker, finally committed suiside (April 30). With Hitler's death, the way was clear for NAZI Germany to finally surrender. Hitler designated his successors. Karl Dönitz as the new Reichspräsident ("President of Germany") and Joseph Goebbels as the new Reichskanzler (Chancellor of Germany). Goebbels and his wife, however, committed suicide after killing their children (May 1). This left it to Dönitz to arrange the surrender of the Third Reich. The two German commanders as already planned ordered German armed forces in Italy to cease hostilities (May 1). The surrender document provided that all German forces in Italy to surrender unconditionally to the Allies (May 2). On that same day, the commander of the German Army Group G north of Italy began communicating with Major General Jacob Devers. The surrender of Army Group G was made effective beginning (May 6). Some 0.5 million German troops along with some Italian Fascists were taken into custody. Most were held through 1946, some even longer. The arrangements were negotiated by Allied commnders. The Italians now on the Allied side were given respobsibility for the logistics of taking the Germans into custody and maintaing the camps for their internment. [Niglia, p. 14.} Within a few days the arrangement was refined. The Allied Commission on Italy proposed to the Italian government in an arrangement to place captured German prisoners under their disposal to work on reconstruction projects (May 14). The prisoners would remain under the authority of the United States and the United Kingdom who would supply their shelter and provisions. Guarding the prisoners was to be the responsibility of the Italian authorities, who would supervise all work projects.


The Italian campaign is perhaps the most controversial Allied campaign of World War II. Many military historians believe that the Allied campaign was poorly planned and executed. Both American general Mark Clark and British commanfer Alexander have been criticized and German commander Field Marshal Alber Kesselring generally given high marks for containing the Allies with the resources provided. While the Allies bagged a sunstantial Axis force in Tunisia, they failed to do so either in Siculy or Italy. One of the problems in Italy is that the Allied commanders were not giving overwealming force to conduct the campaign. North Africa and Sicily in 1942-43 had been the primary Allied theater of operations and resources were concentrated there. After Sicily the Allied focus and major buildup shifted to Britain in preparation for Overload, the cross Channel invasion. While the results were disappointing. The Italian campaign did tie up substantial German gforces, not only in Italy but in southern France, Sardina and Corsica, and the Balkans. This thus limited therir ability to focus their dwindling resources on the defense of the Atlantic Wall.


Agarossi, Elena. Harvey Fergusson II, trans. A Nation Collapses: The Italian Surrender of September 1943

Atkinson, Rick. The Day of Battle: The War in Socily and Italy, 1943-1944 (Henry Holt: 2007), 791p.

Jenkins, McKay. The Last Ridge: The Epic Story of the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division and te assault on Hitler's Europe (Random House, 2003).

Katz, Robert. The Battle for Rome: The Germans, The Allies, the Partisans, and the Pope, September 1943-June 1944 (Simon & Schuster, 2003).

McJimsey, George. Harry Hopkins: Ally of the Poor and Defender of Democracy (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1987), 474p.

Niglia, Federico. "A neglected story German prisoners of war in Italy (1945-1947)", Journal of Military and Strategic Studies Vo. 14, issue 1 (Fall 2011), pp.1-14.

Parker, Matythew. Monte Cassino: The Hardest-Fought Batytle of World War II (Doubleday: 2004), 414p.

Porch, Douglas. The Patth to Victory: The Mediterranean Theater in World War II (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2004).


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Created: February 9, 2004
Last updated: 9:35 PM 7/6/2020