Italian Campaign of 1943–45

Italian Campaign of 1943–45

 

hostilities conducted by the combined forces of Great Britain and the USA against fascist German and Italian troops in Italy during World War II. At various times Algerian, Australian, Brazilian, Canadian, Greek, Indian, Italian, Moroccan, New Zealand, Palestinian, Polish, and Senegalese units of various sizes were included in the Allied forces.

Major defeats suffered by the fascist German and Italian troops in the winter and spring of 1943 on the Soviet-German front and in North Africa led to a sharp deterioration in the combat capacity of the Italian Army and to the rapid growth of the Resistance. Italy’s forces included 82 divisions and eight brigades, 825 operational combat planes, and 263 combat vessels (including six battleships, ten cruisers, and 93 submarines). Of these, only 44 divisions of low combat capacity, six brigades, 600 operational planes, and 183 vessels were allotted for the defense of the home country; the remaining forces were serving in occupied countries and were fighting partisans in the Balkans and in southern France. The fascist German command was able to dispatch to Italy only seven German divisions, one brigade, about 500 planes, and 60 combat vessels.

On July 10 the Anglo-American troops (General H. Alexander’s Fifteenth Army Group, with the support of large naval and air forces) under the overall command of General D. Eisenhower landed in Sicily (the Sicilian Operation of 1943), capturing it on August 17. Italy’s ruling circles, attempting to retain power, engineered a palace coup. On July 25, on orders of the king, the head of the fascist government, B. Mussolini, was arrested and replaced by Marshal P. Badoglio. The loss of Sicily, the growth of the Italian people’s struggle against the war, and the Soviet Army’s rout of fascist German troops in the battle of Kursk (1943) forced the Badoglio government on September 3 to sign surrender terms.

On September 3 the British Eighth Army landed in southern Italy in the area of Reggio di Calabria and began to advance northward. On September 8 the Allied command announced the surrender agreement. The fascist German command, hastily transferring ten more divisions to Italy, disarmed almost the entire Italian Army and occupied a larger part of the country. The Italian government and the supreme command fled to the Allies. The Hitlerites in the occupied territory formed a fascist government headed by Mussolini, whom they had succeeded in freeing from imprisonment. On September 9, the American Fifth Army landed at Salerno, and together with the British Eighth Army began a slow advance northward. By the beginning of November fascist German troops of Army Group South (Tenth and Fourteenth armies) under Field Marshal A. Kesselring had pulled back to a prepared line along the Garigliano and Sangro rivers. Between November 1943 and March 1944 the Allied troops made several attempts to break through the enemy defenses. On January 22 seaborne force was landed at Anzio, and by February 6 the entire American VI Corps had landed. However, despite a superiority in forces and equipment, the Allies failed to break through the enemy defenses, and VI Corps was stalemated by the fascist Germans.

By early May 1944, Allied forces (under the supreme command of General H. M. Wilson) had been increased to 25 divisions (including five armored divisions), eight brigades (four armored and one commando), 9, 400 guns and mortars, and 3, 960 planes. The German Army Group South had 19 divisions (including one panzer division), 2, 450 guns and motars, and 320 planes. In the German-occupied territory a partisan movement arose, led by the Communist Party and including Socialists, Catholics, the Action Party, and other groups. The partisans (about 80, 000 in May) controlled a considerable part of Lom-bardy, Marches, and other regions, diverting sizable enemy forces. On May 11, Allied troops launched an offensive south of Cassino. After fierce fighting Allied troops advanced 30 to 60 km by May 26 and joined up with the American VI Corps. On June 4, American troops entered Rome, abandoned by the enemy, and by August 15 the Allied Fifteenth Army Group, supported by the partisans, had reached a line southeast of Rimini, Florence, and the Arno River. On August 28 the Allies resumed the offensive. By September 5 they had broken through the field fortification belt, and on September 15 they attacked the Gothic Line (north of Pisa, Florence, and Pesaro). Encountering stiff resistance, they were held up until the end of the year, penetrating the defense only in a narrow sector. A push into the Po Valley failed.

Only on Apr. 9, 1945, did Allied troops (under the supreme command of now Field Marshal Alexander) once again resume the offensive. With a 30-percent superiority in divisions (27 to 21), 650 percent in tanks and assault guns (3, 100 to 396), 200 percent in field artillery (3, 000 to 1, 087), and 30-fold in aircraft (4, 000 to 130), the Anglo-American command created a threefold superiority in divisions, sixfold in artillery, and 14-fold in tanks in the area of the main drive. By April 21 the Allies had broken through the entire German defense zone, advanced 40 km and, with the decisive assistance of the partisans, liberated Bologna. On April 24 they crossed the Po River. On the night of April 24– in Genoa, Milan, Venice, and elsewhere, a general uprising was ordered by the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and other leftist forces. Led mainly by the Italian Communist Party, the revolt on April 26 enveloped northern Italy, which was almost entirely liberated by the Resistance. Using the success of the revolt, Anglo-American troops terminated the Italian campaign, accepting on May 2 the surrender of Army Group South.

In the Italian campaign the Germans lost 536, 000 men (300, 000 prisoners) to the Allies and partisans; the Allies lost 320, 000. The Italian Campaign of 1943– is of theoretical military interest from the standpoint of the organization of large-scale landing operations from the sea and the conduct of offensive and defensive operations in mountainous conditions.

REFERENCES

Istoriia Velikoi Otechestvennoi voiny Sovetskogo Soiuza 1941– gg., vols. 3–. Moscow, 1963–.
Kulish, V. M. Vtoroi front Moscow, 1960.
Strel’nikov, V. S., and N. M. Cherepanov. Voina bez riska. Moscow, 1965.

N. M. CHEREPANOV [11–-1]

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