Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257)

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Chapter 6: Salerno to the Gustav Line

By this point Italian influence extended throughout the Mediterranean. Libya had been pacified under the fascists and was undergoing Italian settlement. A friendly Fascist regime had been installed in Spain , and a puppet regime installed in Croatia following the German-Italian Invasion of Yugoslavia. Albania , Ljubljana , coastal Dalmatia, and Montenegro had been directly annexed into the Italian state.

Finally, Italo-German forces had achieved large victories against insurgents in Yugoslavia and had occupied parts of British-held Egypt on their push to El-Alamein after their victory at Gazala. However Italy's conquests were always heavily contested, both by various insurgencies most prominently the Greek resistance and Yugoslav partisans and Allied military forces, which waged the Battle of the Mediterranean throughout and beyond Italy's participation.

Ultimately the Italian empire collapsed after disastrous defeats in the Eastern European and North African campaigns. Italy's military outside of the peninsula itself collapsed, its occupied and annexed territories falling under German control. Italy capitulated to the Allies on 3 September The northern half of the country was occupied by the Germans with the fascists' help and made a collaborationist puppet state with more than , soldiers raised for the Axis , while the south was governed by monarchist forces, which fought for the Allied cause as the Italian Co-Belligerent Army at its height numbering more than 50, men , helped by circa , [2] partisans mostly former Royal Italian Army soldiers of disparate political ideologies that operated all over Italy.

During the late s, the Italian Prime Minister Benito Mussolini spoke with increasing urgency about imperial expansion, arguing that Italy needed an outlet for its " surplus population " and that it would therefore be in the best interests of other countries to aid in this expansion.

There were designs for a protectorate over Albania and for the annexation of Dalmatia , as well as economic and military control of Yugoslavia and Greece. The regime also sought to establish protective patron—client relationships with Austria , Hungary , Romania and Bulgaria , which all lay on the outside edges of its European sphere of influence.


In , Italy initiated the Second Italo-Ethiopian War , "a nineteenth-century colonial campaign waged out of due time". The campaign gave rise to optimistic talk on raising a native Ethiopian army "to help conquer" Anglo-Egyptian Sudan. The war also marked a shift towards a more aggressive Italian foreign policy and also "exposed [the] vulnerabilities" of the British and French. This in turn created the opportunity Mussolini needed to begin to realize his imperial goals. From the beginning, Italy played an important role in the conflict. Their military contribution was so vast, that it played a decisive role in the victory of the rebel forces led by Francisco Franco.

Mussolini referred to this treaty as the creation of a Berlin-Rome Axis, which Europe would revolve around. The treaty was the result of increasing dependence on German coal following League of Nations sanctions, similar policies between the two countries over the conflict in Spain, and German sympathy towards Italy following European backlash to the Ethiopian War.

The aftermath of the treaty saw the increasing ties between Italy and Germany, and Mussolini falling under Adolf Hitler 's influence from which "he never escaped". These included a free port at Djibouti , control of the Addis Ababa-Djibouti railroad , Italian participation in the management of Suez Canal Company , some form of French-Italian condominium over French Tunisia , and the preservation of Italian culture on Corsica with no French assimilation of the people.

The French refused the demands, believing the true Italian intention was the territorial acquisition of Nice, Corsica, Tunisia, and Djibouti. Beginning in Mussolini often voiced his contention that Italy required uncontested access to the world's oceans and shipping lanes to ensure its national sovereignty. He delivered a long speech on international affairs and the goals of his foreign policy, "which bears comparison with Hitler's notorious disposition, minuted by colonel Hossbach ". He began by claiming that the freedom of a country is proportional to the strength of its navy.

This was followed by "the familiar lament that Italy was a prisoner in the Mediterranean". On 31 March, Mussolini stated that "Italy will not truly be an independent nation so long as she has Corsica, Bizerta , Malta as the bars of her Mediterranean prison and Gibraltar and Suez as the walls.

As early as September , the Italian military had drawn up plans to invade Albania. On 7 April, Italian forces landed in the country and within three days had occupied the majority of the country. Albania represented a territory Italy could acquire for "'living space' to ease its overpopulation" as well as the foothold needed to launch other expansionist conflicts in the Balkans. The pact was the culmination of German-Italian relations from and was not defensive in nature.

Mussolini's Under-Secretary for War Production, Carlo Favagrossa , had estimated that Italy could not possibly be prepared for major military operations until at least October This had been made clear during the Italo-German negotiations for the Pact of Steel, whereby it was stipulated that neither signatory was to make war without the other earlier than The lack of a stronger automotive industry made it difficult for Italy to mechanize its military. Italy still had a predominantly agricultural-based economy, with demographics more akin to a developing country high illiteracy, poverty, rapid population growth and a high proportion of adolescents and a proportion of GNP derived from industry less than that of Czechoslovakia , Hungary and Sweden , in addition to the other great powers.

By comparison, Great Britain produced Approximately one quarter of the ships of Italy's merchant fleet were in foreign ports at the outbreak of hostilities, and, given no forewarning, were immediately impounded. Between and , Italy had supplied the Spanish "Nationalist" forces, fighting under Francisco Franco during the Spanish Civil War , with large number of weapons and supplies practically free. The financial cost of the war was between 6 and 8. When Benito Mussolini took office, in , the government debt was 93 billion lire , un-repayable in the short to medium term.

Only two years later this debt had increased to billion lire. In September , Britain imposed a selective blockade of Italy. Coal from Germany, which was shipped out of Rotterdam , was declared contraband. The Germans promised to keep up shipments by train, over the Alps, and Britain offered to supply all of Italy's needs in exchange for Italian armaments. The Italians could not agree to the latter terms without shattering their alliance with Germany.

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British intelligence officer, Francis Rodd , believed that Mussolini was convinced to reverse policy by German pressure in the week of 2—8 February, a view shared by the British ambassador in Rome, Percy Loraine. In April Britain began strengthening their Mediterranean Fleet to enforce the blockade. Despite French uncertainty, Britain rejected concessions to Italy so as not to "create an impression of weakness".

The Italian Royal Army Regio Esercito was comparatively depleted and weak at the commencement of the war. Italian tanks were of poor quality and radios few in number.

Jerry Sage, German POW camps, and “the Great Escape”

The bulk of Italian artillery dated to World War I. Italian authorities were acutely aware of the need to modernize and were taking steps to meet the requirements of their own relatively advanced tactical principles. The Carro Armato P40 tank, [48] roughly equivalent to the M4 Sherman and Panzer IV medium tanks, was designed in though no prototype was produced until and manufacture was not able to begin before the Armistice, [nb 6] owing in part to the lack of sufficiently powerful engines, which were themselves undergoing a development push; total Italian tank production for the war — about 3, — was less than the number of tanks used by Germany in its invasion of France.

10 Failures in Command and Control

The Italians were pioneers in the use of self-propelled guns, [51] [52] both in close support and anti-tank roles. On paper Italy had one of the world's largest armies, [56] but the reality was the opposite. According to the estimates of Bierman and Smith, the Italian regular army could field only about , troops at the war's beginning. Senior leadership was also a problem. Mussolini personally assumed control of all three individual military service ministries with the intention of influencing detailed planning.

Despite being an Axis power , Italy remained non-belligerent until June Following the German conquest of Poland, Mussolini hesitated to enter the war. The British commander for land forces in the Middle East and the eastern Mediterranean , General Sir Archibald Wavell , correctly predicted that Mussolini's pride would ultimately cause him to enter the war. Wavell would compare Mussolini's situation to that of someone at the top of a diving board: "I think he must do something.

If he cannot make a graceful dive, he will at least have to jump in somehow; he can hardly put on his dressing-gown and walk down the stairs again.


Initially, the entry into the war appeared to be political opportunism though there was some provocation , [nb 8] which led to a lack of consistency in planning, with principal objectives and enemies being changed with little regard for the consequences. On 10 June , as the French government fled to Bordeaux during the German invasion , declaring Paris an open city , Mussolini felt the conflict would soon end and declared war on Britain and France.

I only need a few thousand dead so that I can sit at the peace conference as a man who has fought. Mussolini had the immediate war aim of expanding the Italian colonies in North Africa by taking land from the British and French colonies.

Roosevelt of the United States said:. On this tenth day of June , the hand that held the dagger has struck it into the back of its neighbor. The Italian entry into the war opened up new fronts in North Africa and the Mediterranean. After Italy entered the war, pressure from Nazi Germany led to the internment in the Campagna concentration camp of some of Italy's Jewish refugees. In June , after initial success, the Italian offensive into southern France stalled at the fortified Alpine Line. On 24 June , France surrendered to Germany.

Italy occupied a swathe of French territory along the Franco-Italian border. During this operation, Italian casualties amounted to 1, men dead or missing and 2, wounded. A further 2, Italians were hospitalised due to frostbite. Late in the Battle of Britain , Italy contributed an expeditionary force, the Corpo Aereo Italiano , which took part in the Blitz from October until April , at which time the last elements of the force were withdrawn.

This had the effect of providing a de facto temporary haven for French Jews fleeing the Holocaust. In January the Italians refused to cooperate with the Nazis in rounding up Jews living in the occupied zone of France under their control and in March prevented the Nazis from deporting Jews in their zone. Plans to attack the harbour of New York City with CA class midget submarines in were disrupted when the submarine converted to carry out the attack, the Leonardo da Vinci , was sunk in May The armistice put a stop to further planning.

Mussolini ordered Balbo's replacement, General Rodolfo Graziani , to launch an attack into Egypt immediately. Graziani complained to Mussolini that his forces were not properly equipped for such an operation, and that an attack into Egypt could not possibly succeed; nevertheless, Mussolini ordered him to proceed. At this time, the British had only 36, troops available out of about , under Middle Eastern command to defend Egypt, against , Italian troops.

They were divided between the 5th army in the west and the 10th army in the east and thus spread out from the Tunisian border in western Libya to Sidi Barrani in Egypt. At Sidi Barrani, Graziani, unaware of the British lack of numerical strength, [nb 9] planned to build fortifications and stock them with provisions, ammunition , and fuel , establish a water pipeline, and extend the via Balbia to that location, which was where the road to Alexandria began. At this stage Italian losses remained minimal, but the efficiency of the British Royal Navy would improve as the war went on.

Mussolini was fiercely disappointed with Graziani's sluggishness.

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However, according to Bauer [74] he had only himself to blame, as he had withheld the trucks, armaments, and supplies that Graziani had deemed necessary for success. Wavell was hoping to see the Italians overextend themselves before his intended counter at Marsa Matruh. Graziani and his staff lacked faith in the strength of the Italian military. We take too little account of this in building our stone forts We are not fighting the Ethiopians now.

Balbo had said "Our light tanks, already old and armed only with machine guns, are completely out-classed. The machine guns of the British armoured cars pepper them with bullets which easily pierce their armour. Italian forces around Sidi Barrani had severe weaknesses in their deployment.

Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257) Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257)
Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257) Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257)
Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257) Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257)
Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257) Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257)
Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257) Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257)
Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257) Salerno 1943: The Allies invade southern Italy (Campaign, Volume 257)

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