The weather was perfect, Mediterranean climate at its September best. The sea was calm. Despite crowded decks and congested quarters, the troops began to feel almost like passengers on a vacation cruise. Hardly anyone was sick. The food was good. The showers worked. There was lots of time to sleep. What a relief after months of training, C rations, grime, dust, and mud, scorching days and impossibly cold nights. The men preferred to remember the receding coast of North Africa and the nurses bathing in the surf. Ahead lay the beaches of Salerno, and the men learned about them at sea as they clustered about their platoon leaders to discuss missions and study newly issued maps.
But combat belonged to the future. For the moment the scene was reassuring. The convoys moved along in parallel lines, the ships several hundred yards apart. “All around the compass,” an officer later wrote, “as far as we could see in the clear sunlight, there were ships and more ships … ugly but comfortable LSTs, low slung LCTs, sharp, businesslike LCIs … so many ships…that we all had a feeling of security.” Barrage balloons floating above some of the vessels heightened the impression. Occasionally, escorting planes appeared.
(Above: Lieutenant Colonel Nonnan Hussa, “Action at Salerno,” Infantry Journal (December, 1943))
In an offhand remark President Roosevelt once characterized military planners as conservative. They saw all the difficulties. he said, yet more could usually be done than they were willing to admit. [n1-3-1] This conservatism of military commanders and planners grows out of the complexities of warfare and the burden of responsibility carried by those who plan and execute it. In World War II, no military operation was more hazardous and complicated than an amphibious assault landing, and none required more careful and painstaking preparation in every detail. Troops had to be selected, trained, rehearsed, placed aboard vessels, transported through hostile waters, landed on an enemy-held shore on the proper beach in the proper order at the proper time. then supported in the face of opposition.
Weapons, ammunition, equipment, vehicles, and supplies had to be collected, packed, crated, waterproofed, and marked for identification, moved to assembly areas, then to points of embarkation, and loaded and stowed on vessels. Space available had to be reconciled with room needed; pages of manifests, troop lists, and loading tables prepared. Key individuals and vital materiel had to be dispersed among several ships so that loss of anyone vessel would not imperil the entire expedition. Decisions had to be made on what to take, how soon it would be needed on the hostile shore, and where to put it aboard ship so that it could be unloaded in the desired order. Throughout all these activities, men had to be fed and housed, equipment serviced, information disseminated, missions assigned, security and morale maintained.
[n1-3-1 Memo, Marshall for Handy, 9 Aug 43, ABC 384.]
Once afloat, the ground troops were militarily powerless and needed naval and air support. Not until initial objectives were taken and the beachhead was secure, not until men, weapons, and supplies flowed to the front in adequate quantities and without interruption could an amphibious operation be considered successfully completed.
Meanwhile, more men, supplies, and equipment had to be brought across the water in the build-up. Planners had to count on ships allocated or promised, reckon the time needed to make turnaround voyages between rear area bases and the beach, try to employ suitable types of craft for a multitude of tasks; provide sufficient men to handle cargo on the beach and enough motor transport to carry supplies from beach to inland dumps; use the available road nets to assure the flow of adequate tonnages from dumps to combat areas without hindering the movements of troops and weapons.
The assault troops had to be able to meet and overcome any resistance that hostile forces could be expected to offer. Planners had to weigh the capabilities of their own forces against intelligence estimates of enemy strength derived from agents, air and naval reconnaissance, photographs, and the interrogation of prisoners. Over all these actions hovered the menace of inclement weather, fatigue, equipment breakdown, enemy reaction, and bad luck. [n1-3-2]
To organize and manage men and materiel in dispersed locations in Africa and Sicily for water movement to Italy so as to get them there at an appointed time and in condition to overcome hostile forces, and to arrange the details of an amphibious operation eventually involving 450 vessels of all types, hundreds of aircraft of various kinds, 100,000 British troops, almost 70,000 Americans, and 20,000 vehicles-this was the task of the AVALANCHE planners, who had their work further complicated by the uncertainty of units and resources to be allocated to the operation and by the short time available.[n1-3-3]
[n1-3-2 Lucas Diary, 7 Jun 13, photostat copy in OCMH; TOES.\ Ltr, Standing Instructions for Movements by Water, 30 Jan -44, and Captain R. A. J. English, USN, Navy Appreciation of Force 163 ANVIL Plans, 6 Feb 41, both in Force 163 .\G File 370.26.]
[n1-3-3 The best sources on the planning for AVALANCHE are: Fifth Army History, Part I, pp. 1511.; Eisenhower Dispatch, pp. 7111.; Alexander Dispatch, pp.287-911.; Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, “The Allied Navies it Salerno, Operation AVALANCHE -September 1943,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol 79, NO.9 (Sep)]
The American ground headquarters charged by General Eisenhower with planning AVALANCHE was the Fifth U.S. Army. Activated in North Africa early in January 1943 to counter possible enemy action launched from Spain and Spanish Morocco and to safeguard the integrity of French Morocco and Algeria, the Fifth Army, under Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, had opened and operated several training centers, among them one for amphibious operations, where American, French, and some British troops practiced amphibious techniques.
The Fifth Army commander was a graduate of West Point and had been wounded in action in World War I. He had been on the staff of Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair’s Army Ground Forces, becoming AGF chief of staff in May 1942. General Clark took command of II Corps in June 1942, was appointed commander of the American ground forces in the European theater in July, and in November became the deputy commander in chief of the forces executing the North African invasion. As General Eisenhower’s second in command, Clark performed the hazardous task of establishing contact with French officials before the landings, and did much afterward to ensure the success of the invasion of North Africa and the subsequent campaign.
When the question of setting up the Fifth Army was being considered, September, General Clark, Eisenhower noted, “was very anxious to have that command instead of his then title of Deputy Commander-in-Chief.” Although Eisenhower warned him that the Fifth Army would be a training organization for some months and nothing else, and although he assured Clark that he would probably get a front-line command of approximate corps strength soon, “the title of Army Commander was too attractive.” Within a month after Eisenhower placed him in command of Fifth Army, Clark and some of his staff began, as Eisenhower said, to “plague” him for action. Fearful that the war in the Mediterranean would be over before they had a chance to participate, they were “most unhappy” throughout the spring of 1943 as the Tunisia Campaign drew to a close. Eisenhower became concerned with the state of their morale.
Aggressive, hard-working, with a flair for public relations, General Clark impatiently awaited the opportunity to lead his Fifth Army in combat. In early June, as the possibility of Axis incursion through Spanish Morocco faded and the integrity of French Morocco and Algeria seemed assured, Clark became involved in post-Sicily planning as AFHQ sought flexibility in order to be ready to exploit, without recourse to the forces engaged in Sicily, a sudden breakdown of Italian resistance. While the British 10 and 5 Corps worked on their plans for landings on the Italian toe, the Fifth Army planned BRIMSTONE, the invasion of Sardinia. Later, the army drew plans for a landing at Taranto, on the heel of Italy, and for a variety of operations involving a swift descent on Naples in the event of sudden Italian collapse.
Near the end of July, when the Allies were seriously looking toward the Italian mainland and beginning to consider AVALANCHE, Fifth Army seemed the logical headquarters to conduct the operation. A campaign on the mainland, no matter how short, would probably require from six to twelve divisions-British, American, and French-and considerable administrative and logistical overhead. Only an army headquarters could properly manage both operational and logistical matters of such scope. The Seventh Army was engaged in the Sicily Campaign; the Fifth was relatively free. The choice was officially made on 27 July.
General Patton, who had planned two amphibious operations, or Major General Omar N. Bradley, commander of II Corps, would have been more obvious choices to direct AVALANCHE, but both were involved in Sicily. Because General Eisenhower wanted to make sure of getting an American army into Italy if operations developed on the mainland, he told General Marshall, “I had no recourse except to name Clark to command that expedition.” Bradley was kept familiar with the AVALANCHE planning so he could step in as Fifth Army commander if Clark became a casualty. The only possible disadvantage in using Clark was that he had not been at the front during the past few months and as a result had not become an intimate member of the Anglo-American team that was beginning to function so smoothly in combat. But he was, as Eisenhower informed Marshall, “the best organizer, planner and trainer of troops that I have met“; “the ablest and most experienced officer we have in planning amphibious operations …. In preparing the minute details of requisitions, landing craft, training of troops and so on, he has no equal in our Army. His staff is well trained in this regard.” A senior officer reinforced Eisenhower’s judgment. “Clark impresses men, as always, with his energy and intelligence,” he remarked. “You cannot help but like him. He certainly is not afraid to take rather desperate chances which, after all, is the only way to win a war.”
Given the mission of seizing the port of Naples and airfields nearby, General Clark was to assume that the British 10 Corps would not be used in the toe of Italy and that its forces-the 1st Airborne, 7th Armoured, and 46th and 56th Infantry Divisions-would be part of the AVALANCHE force. His American component was to be the VI Corps, with the 82nd Airborne, the 1st Armored, and the 34th and 36th Infantry Divisions.
The senior American ground commander under General Clark was Major General Ernest]. Dawley, commander of VI Corps. A graduate of the Military Academy, he had participated in the Punitive Expedition into Mexico in 1916 and during World War I had been a staff officer assisting General Marshall in France.
As commander of the 40th Division in 1941 and of the VI Corps in 1942, Dawley had attracted favorable notice from Generals Marshall, McNair, and Clark, who judged him a vigorous and aggressive officer. In early 1943 General Dawley brought the VI Corps headquarters to North Africa, where it was placed under the Fifth Army. General Eisenhower, who knew Dawley only slightly, was skeptical of his ability, but Clark assured him that Dawley was performing his planning and training duties in a capable manner.
Of the four divisions immediately available to VI Corps for AVALANCHE, all but one had had battle experience. The 82nd Airborne Division had taken part in the invasion of Sicily and had operated effectively in the campaign under Major General Matthew B. Ridgway, who had been with the War Department’s War Plans Division before taking command of the division in 1942 and bringing it to North Africa in the spring of 1943.
The 1st Armored Division had fought in North Africa from the invasion to the end of the campaign. Its commander, Major General Ernest N. Harmon, had served in France during ‘World War I, had commanded the 2nd Armored Division, and had acted as deputy commander of II Corps before assuming the 1st Armored Division command in the spring of 1943. The 34th Division, a National Guard unit with troops originally from North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota, entered federal service in 1941 and sailed for Northern Ireland early in 1942, the first Army division to go to the European theater. It participated in the North African landings and fought through the campaign under Major General Charles W. Ryder, who had had combat service in France during World War I.
The 36th Division, a Texas National Guard unit inducted into federal service in 1940, was the only unit without combat experience. Major General Fred L. Walker, an infantry battalion commander in France during World War I, had taken command of the division in 1941 and brought it to North Africa in the early months of 1943.
Draft plans, later discarded, for the invasion of Sicily had envisioned the VI Corps headquarters and the 36th Division as participants, but when they were removed from the troop list in favor of experienced troops, they became available for AVALANCHE. General Clark had no choice of a corps headquarters, for the VI was the only one in the theater that was free, but he could select either the 34th or the 36th Division to make the assault, for they were in about the same state of combat readiness. He preferred the 36th. General Dawley and General Walker, the corps and division commanders, had worked well together in North Africa. And perhaps Clark felt that a successful operation brought off by inexperienced troops would demonstrate how effective their training had been. [n1-13-12 Clark, Calculated Risk, p. 175; AFHQ Memo, Archibald for Rooks, 24 Jul 43.]
Two divisions in Sicily, in addition to the 82nd Airborne, would also take part in the Italian campaign. The 3rd Division, which had fought in North Africa and in Sicily, was commanded by Major General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr., who had served as deputy chief of staff to General Eisenhower in North Africa and who had taken command of the division in March 1943. The 45th Division, a National Guard unit from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Oklahoma, had sailed from the United States combat loaded in June 1943 and after a short training interval in North Africa had taken part, under Major General Troy H. Middleton, in the Sicily landings and campaign.[n1-3-13]
Three Ranger battalions, joined into a Ranger Force under Lieutenant Colonel William O. Darby, were also available. The first Ranger battalion, patterned after the British Commandos, had been organized in June 1942 in Northern Ireland. Some members took part in the Dieppe raid, and the unit fought in North Africa. Near the close of the Tunisia Campaign, Darby organized and trained two more battalions, and the entire Ranger Force took part in the Sicilian landings and campaign.[n1-3-14]
[n1-3-13 The 45th Division was originally selected for movement to the United Kingdom, but it was replaced by the 9th, which-along with the 1st Infantry, 2nd Armored, and (later) 82nd Airborne Divisions, all participants in the Sicily Campaign-left the theater to become part of the build-up for the cross-Channel Attack.]
[n1-3-14 Lieutenant James J. Altieri, Darby’s Rangers (Durham, N.C.: The Seeman Printery, 1945), pp. 10,27. Darby was offered command of a regiment of the 45th Division but turned it down to stay with the Rangers. Lucas Diary, 13 Jul 43.]
The support and service units of the Fifth Army were to be drawn largely from the Seventh Army in Sicily-artillery battalions, for example, field hospitals; and Quartermaster truck companies. [n1-3-15] The cannibalization of the Seventh Army eventually reached such proportions that the army was reduced to a skeleton headquarters; its commander, General Patton, was depressed because there seemed no place for him or his staff in the current scheme of operations. [n1-3-16] A message from General Eisenhower early in September appeared to be confirmation-the Seventh Army would probably go out of existence. Until then, Patton was to maintain the efficiency of those units scheduled for assignment to the Fifth Army, [n1-3-17] General Patton had another duty. He appeared conspicuously in a variety of places throughout the Mediterranean theater, his movements deliberately planned by AFHQ to keep German intelligence guessing on the location of the next Seventh Army strike. Even as late as November, long after the AVALANCHE landings, Patton and his army were being used in the hope of deceiving German intelligence. [n1-3-18]
[n1-3-15: See 15th AGp Master Cable File, VI, 9-25 Aug 13. The Seventh Army also furnished support for air force maintenance in connection with the assault across the Strait of Messina.]
[n1-3-16 For Seventh Army cannibalization, see 15th AGp Master Cable File, VI, Aug, Sep 43, and Seventh Army Report of Operations, I, 1. For a description of Patton’s frame of mind, see Lucas Diary, 3 Sep 43.]
[n1-3-17 Eisenhower to Patton, 5 Sep 43, 15th AGp Master Cable File, VI.]
[n1-3-18 Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff . .. July 1, 19-11 to June 30, 1943 … , p. 20; Eisenhower to Marshall, 23 Nov 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3]
The British contingent of AVALANCHE was 10 Corps. Lieutenant General Sir Brian G. Horrocks, its commander, was wounded during an air raid on the eve of sailing for Salerno and was replaced by Lieutenant General Sir Richard L. McCreery. Two infantry divisions scheduled to make the assault under the 10 Corps headquarters were the 46th, which had had much combat experience, and the 56th, which had fought in Tunisia for only a few days. Several Commando units augmented these forces. The 7th Armoured Division, which had fought in North Africa, was to come ashore as follow-up. [n1-3-19]
On the echelon immediately above the Fifth Army was the 15th Army Group, a combined Anglo-American headquarters organized along the lines of the British staff system. The commander was General Alexander, a man of great personal charm who was, in General Brooke’s words, always “completely composed and appeared never to have the slightest doubt that all would come out right in the end.” He had demonstrated his fitness for high command as a division commander early in the war in France, as theater commander in Egypt, and as the commander of the Allied ground forces in Tunisia and Sicily. [n1-3-20] Some Americans thought Alexander biased about American troops, with little confidence in their combat ability, but General Eisenhower thought him “broad-gauged,” a commander who worked on an Allied rather than on a national basis. [n1-3-21] Brigadier General Lyman L. Lemnitzer headed the U.S. contingent of the army group headquarters and was Alexander’s deputy chief of staff. General Alexander would direct not only Fifth Army in AVALANCHE but also the Eighth British Army in BAYTOWN, its assault across the Strait of Messina.
[n1-3-19 Alexander Despatch, p. 2895.]
[n1-3-20 Quote is from General Brooke’s diary in Arthur Bryant, The Turn of the Tide (New York: Doubleday and Company, 1951), p. 82. See also Turn of the Tide, p. 525, and History of AFHQ, Part 2, Sec. I, p. 146]
[n1-3-21 Eisenhower to Marshall, 24 Aug 43, Mathews File, OCMH; Lucas Diary, Jun, Jul 43; Garland and Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, pp. 89–91, 210-11, 235-36.]
The Eighth Army was under General Montgomery, who, according to General Brooke’s characterization, was a “difficult … brilliant commander.” [n1-3-22] To Montgomery, Alexander delegated authority for determining the priority of his unit movements from Sicily and also the date of his invasion of the toe. To Clark he gave authority for determining the assault loading of his convoys. The 15th Army Group controlled the Fifth Army during the planning period, while AFHQ retained responsibility for mounting AVALANCHE. Once the operation got under way, the Fifth Army was to be, temporarily, under its own full operational command.
The naval forces that would carry the ground troops to the AVALANCHE beaches and support them were under the general control of Admiral Cunningham. When General Eisenhower asked him to name a commander for the operation, Cunningham designated Vice Admiral H. Kent Hewitt, U.S. Navy. In command of the Western Naval Task Force, Hewitt would be responsible for planning the employment and directing the operations of a fleet of warships, assault transports, landing ships and craft, and other vessels that would perform such diverse tasks as gunfire support, escort duty, mine sweeping, air support, motor boat patrol, and diversionary or cover operations.
Subordinate commands of the Western Naval Task Force were: the Northern Attack Force (Commodore G. N. Oliver, Royal Navy) and the Southern Attack Force (Rear Admiral John L. Hall, Jr., U.S. Navy), which were the assault convoys; a Naval Air Support Force (Rear Admiral Sir Philip Vian) , which was to provide air cover; and a separate Naval Covering Force (Vice Admiral Sir Algernon Willis), which was primarily to protect the assault convoys from the potentially dangerous Italian Fleet. Upon Eisenhower’s request for an air commander, Air Chief Marshal Tedder designated Lieutenant General Carl Spaatz, commander of the ) Northwest African Strategic Air Force, as the officer responsible for the AVALANCHE plans and operations.
While the Northwest African Coastal Air Force, composed of British, French, and American units, was to protect the convoys for part of the voyage to the beaches, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham’s Northwest African Tactical Air Force, and more specifically Major General Edwin J. House’s U.S. XII Air Support Command, was to provide protection and cover during the latter part of the voyage and at the assault area. On the amount of available airlift-transport aircraft and gliders-would depend whether the 82nd Airborne Division, the 1st British Airborne Division, or both would participate in the operation.
Presiding over the entire combined (American and British) and joint (land, sea, and air) venture designed to put Allied troops into southern Italy was General Eisenhower. His was the ultimate responsibility for planning in a very short time, then executing a risky and complicated operation. Immediately below Eisenhower were three British officers, who commanded combined forces: Alexander, Cunningham, and Tedder, for land, sea, and air, respectively. Just below them and on the working echelon of AVALANCHE were Clark, Hewitt, and House, three Americans in command respectively of combined land, sea, and air forces.
Since Admiral Hewitt’s mission was to land the ground troops and support them until a secure beachhead was established, he commanded the joint and combined forces executing the AVALANCHE operation. Once a beachhead was secured, General Clark would become the de facto commander of the combined and joint forces, and Hewitt would revert to a purely supporting role as commander of the combined naval forces. Hewitt would be responsible to Cunningham, Clark to Alexander. General House, commander of the U.S. XII Air Support Command, was charged with the mission of furnishing air cover over the assault area and was, in effect, the on-the-spot air coordinator.
He was to request assistance from two other air force headquarters, Northwest African Strategic Air Force and Northwest African Tactical Air Force. As far as Hewitt and Clark were concerned, House was an independent commander who could, at least theoretically, be asked but not required to furnish air support. This procedure for air support followed British practice rather than American doctrine. While American ground commanders were accustomed to having at least some air forces under their direct control, the British regarded the air forces as coequal with the land and sea forces. In the British system, air force commanders were expected to co-operate.
Although Eisenhower had accepted the British form to govern the air arrangements for AVALANCHE, some of the senior American commanders agreed among themselves that if they failed to obtain what they regarded as necessary results, they would apply the American doctrine. General House’s place in the AVALANCHE command structure guaranteed the feasibility of their informal decision.
General House would have no responsibility until D-day. The protection of the convoys en route to the beaches was in the hands of the Coastal Air Command, and since no representative of that command would accompany the assault elements to Salerno, House would lack not only the knowledge of whether adequate air cover would be provided for the convoys but also the power to obtain additional protection if needed. General Clark could only assume that adequate preparations were being made, but “such assumptions,” he remarked, were “far from satisfactory” to him.
The joint planning generally took place on three echelons: on the theater level by AFHQ and the staffs of the senior service commanders; on the operational command level by Western Naval Task Force, Fifth Army, and XII Air Support Command; and on the subordinate levels by corps, division, and naval task group staffs. No special air planning staffs worked at the subordinate levels with ground and naval planners, and as a consequence the air plans were not so closely integrated as were the ground and naval plans. Defects would later become apparent in the areas of communications and supply, particularly in the air effort over the beaches, for Navy fighter-director ships would control Army aircraft during the assault landings.
Commanders, staffs, and units were widely dispersed in four areas in North Africa-Oran, Algiers, Bizerte-Tunis, Tripoli-and in Sicily. The Fifth Army headquarters was at Mostaganem, near Oran, where the VI Corps and its American divisions, plus an American naval headquarters, were located. General Clark moved a small planning staff of his army to Algiers to be close to AFHQ and the theater naval and air staffs. British ground and naval headquarters and units were near Bizerte and Tripoli. The 15th Army Group and the British Eighth Army were in Sicily, as were three U.S. divisions eventually to be involved in AVALANCHE. Shortly after the end of the Sicily Campaign, General Alexander moved a small tactical headquarters of his army group to Bizerte, leaving the main 15th Army Group headquarters in Sicily. Air planners were in the vicinity of Algiers and Constantine.
Because the dispersed locations of headquarters placed a heavy load on communications, Eisenhower and Tedder moved from Algiers to the Tunis area during the first week in September to be near Alexander and Cunningham at Bizerte and make feasible the daily meetings, emergency conferences, and direct communications necessary among high commanders immediately before an invasion. In the case of AVALANCHE this was particularly necessary, for there was much uncertainty about the exact forces and resources to be committed, principally because of assault shipping problems.
Throughout the AVALANCHE planning period, no one knew exactly how much assault shipping was available. This lack of definite knowledge was bad enough, but, worse, all estimates of vessels and landing craft on hand seemed much too low for the number of troops deemed necessary for the initial assault and the immediate follow-up. “All our operations are strictly regulated by the availability of ships and landing craft,” Eisenhower reported, and he complained frequently about this “constantly annoying and limiting factor.”
Landing ships and craft deteriorate rapidly under normal conditions, and those in the Mediterranean were almost constantly in use. LCT’s (landing craft, tank), LCM’s (landing craft, mechanized), and DUKW’s (2 1/2-ton amphibious trucks) lightered cargo from freighters to the Sicilian shore. LST’s (landing ships, tank), LCI (L) ‘s (landing craft, infantry, large), and LCT’s ran a cargo shuttle between Sicily and Bizerte-Tunis, a round trip of five or six days. More LCI (L) ‘s and personnel craft were busy with harbor duties. Several impromptu amphibious landings on the northern and eastern shores of Sicily during the campaign had absorbed additional vessels. Consequently, the bulk of the assault shipping was engaged until well past the end of the Sicily Campaign instead of being released for refitting and repair by the beginning of August, as had been hoped, in order to prepare for AVALANCHE.
Another problem was the task of juggling the available vessels-the figure changed constantly-among the various operations being planned against southern Italy. During the early part of August in particular, difficulty arose from the fact that 10 Corps was preparing plans for two operations, one alternative to the other: its landing in the toe (BUTTRESS), and its participation in AVALANCHE. Because Eisenhower had assigned priority to AVALANCHE as late as 19 August, and because there was a distinct possibility that the landing in the toe might at the last moment still be chosen over the landings at Salerno, the Fifth Army had to accept for AVALANCHE the 10 Corps loading plan for BUTTRESS. Although commanders hoped to be able to switch the 10 Corps from one operation to the other without upsetting the detailed planning, they discovered the actual shift to be far less simple than they had imagined. The shipping requirements to get ashore in Calabria and at Salerno were quite different, and until the very end of the planning period, when the invasion of southern Italy got under way, the responsible commanders were uneasily compromising over the conflicting assault lift needs.
During the latter part of August planning for the Eighth Army crossing of the Strait of Messina interfered with the shipping allocations for AVALANCHE. General Montgomery viewed the problems of crossing the strait far more seriously than did General Eisenhower, who declared that rowboats would be enough. Montgomery’s initial request for landing craft far exceeded the number tentatively allotted him, and General Alexander whittled it down. After the first crossing, Alexander stripped Montgomery of virtually all landing craft and transferred them to the Fifth Army for AVALANCHE.
As late as the first few days of September, Alexander was increasing the AVALANCHE D-day lift at Montgomery’s expense-on 4 September, for example, he shifted four LST’s and three LCT’s. Since the Eighth Army and 10 Corps had priority over the Fifth Army, their calls on the available assault vessels in the theater left the Fifth Army very little.
There was a short time early in August when it appeared that no assault shipping, only transports, would be available for the American contingent participating in AVALANCHE -the army headquarters, the VI Corps headquarters, and the U.S. assault troops. For a while the absurd situation developed in which it seemed impossible to include the VI Corps headquarters in the invasion. As late as 20 August, landing craft assigned to carry the 36th Division to the beaches were too few to accommodate all the men, vehicles, and cargo of the assault regiments.
As a matter of fact, General Clark had wanted to have at least two American divisions is in the initial assault under VI Corps, the same number that 10 Corps was planning to put ashore. He continually pressed General Eisenhower for more shipping. Eisenhower requested additional craft from the Combined Chiefs of Staff on the basis that he needed to speed the follow-up. Alexander kept a sharp eye on British demands. And naval repair facilities performed an exceptional job of exceeding their normal maintenance and repair schedules.
Yet the result of scraping and scrimping and of rigorous controls exercised by senior commanders was merely enough craft for a single reinforced American division. Eventually, out of the stock of vessels in the theater, logisticians produced an unexpected bonus. In the early days of September-too late to augment the initial assault forces of VI Corps-they accumulated enough lift to provide AVALANCHE with a floating reserve, a flotilla of boats to be held immediately offshore at the invasion beaches carrying troops available for quick commitment. Some of these boats were craft to be released by General Montgomery after BAYTOWN, his initial assault crossing of the Strait of Messina. They could accommodate a regimental combat team of the 82nd Airborne Division, which, because of its relatively light weaponry, senior commanders hesitated to use as D-day follow up.
But as additional vessels somehow appeared, the commanders were able to substitute a standard and more heavily armed infantry regiment. Both the 3rd and 45th Divisions were in Sicily, and elements of either could be staged through the port of Palermo for transport to Salerno. General Eisenhower selected the 45th, or as much of it as could be carried in the vessels made available, and this eventually turned out to be two regimental combat teams.
AVALANCHE planners tried to assign the smaller landing craft-LCVP’s (landing craft, vehicle and personnel) , LCA’s (landing craft, assault), and LCP’s (landing craft, personnel)-in a way that would enable all infantry battalions to land in assault formation. They dispersed LCT’s throughout the assault convoys to facilitate direct landing of beach roadway equipment, to make it possible to get tanks and guns ashore regardless of LST discharge facilities, and to place LCT’s in positions to help unload LST’s if necessary. LST’s were similarly dispersed to land early priority vehicles.
Although planners could easily determine the best way to employ the various vessels, the shortage of lift as well as of time complicated the whole process. Eisenhower had directed Clark on 27 July to have ready by 7 August-in eleven days-an outline plan for a complex operation scheduled to begin a month later. As the planning progressed, orders were issued and changed, sometimes faster than they could be disseminated. To include last-minute changes of plans, amendments and addenda became commonplace. Allocations and reallocations of vessels continued to be made to the moment of loading, a situation that further plagued already harassed planners. As late as 5 September, four days before D-day, planners were still working on the amount of lift that was, or was expected to become, available.
This uncertainty affected the entire planning. Such matters as waterproofing assault vehicles, deciding the amounts of rations and individual equipment to be carried, and selecting the precise landing beaches had to await final decisions on the amount of shipping available. Amphibious training for the assault troops was thus less thorough than desired. A decision by Clark on 24 August to advance H-hour by thirty minutes involved considerable alterations in convoy sailing plans; and by then all operational orders were already being distributed.
Late receipt of orders from higher authorities and changes in unit compositions adversely affected an orderly development of the pre-invasion process. For example, General Walker, the 36th Division commander, was less worried about the comfort of his troops aboard ship than about getting his units on shore in the proper order and with proper equipment. Yet naval regulations, and probably safety measures, restricted the number of men and the amount of equipment he could load aboard specific vessels. Having settled his loading plans, he then received word from General Clark directing him to make place for additional noncombat equipment, visitors, and observers. He could comply only by removing a portion of the materiel he had deemed necessary to accompany the assault convoys. Reluctantly and rather uncomfortably, Walker left behind some Signal Corps equipment and some vehicles. Not long afterward, only a few days before sailing time, an air force request arrived for bombs to be carried on the decks of several ships.
Walker objected and found support among the naval authorities. The air force representative insisted. Together, Walker, a naval officer, and the air force officer brought the matter to General Eisenhower for resolution. Finding them unwilling or unable to compromise, Eisenhower sent them into the next room and ordered them to come back to him with a decision. The air force representative was quick to admit that he was outnumbered two to one.
“Men of calm dispositions after having rewritten their [loading] schedules several times,” General Walker later wrote, “became quite irritable. Men of sensitive natures became unapproachable…. I myself gave way to expressions of disgust.” During this difficult time of preparation, General Montgomery’s Eighth Army was making ready its crossing of the Strait of Messina. On the basis of intelligence reports that the Germans intended to withdraw from the toe of Italy. AFHQ expected the British to push up the Calabrian peninsula and along the west coast of Italy to the Naples area. But having never received a directive outlining the long-range course of BAYTOWN; Eighth Army planners had no clear idea of what was expected of the Eighth Army. The trouble was that Eighth Army was under 15th Army Group control, and AFHQ apparently never received the army’s detailed plans.
As a result of a lack of co-ordination, no one was entirely sure whether the army was simply to land in Calabria to open the Strait of Messina, whether after landing it was to prepare for a major advance, or whether it was to make an effort to contain the enemy in order to assist the Salerno invasion. As General Eisenhower’s chief of staff, General Smith, saw it: “‘We are confident here that the BAYTOWN attack will get ashore hut I think it will probably bog down and that some [amphibious] end runs may be required. Progress will certainly be slow because of the nature of the terrain, but the operation may attract [enemy] Divisions from the more critical area [Salerno].” How General Montgomery saw his course of action beyond the landings was unknown. The distance that separated the Eighth Army and Fifth Army assault areas prevented mutual support in the opening stages of the operations, and this fact may well have weighed heavily on General Montgomery’s mind.
A new development early in September affected the final invasion plans for southern Italy. During the surrender negotiations, the Italian Government offered to open to the Allies the ports of Taranto, in the heel, and Brindisi, on the east coast. Few Germans were in Apulia and they were expected to withdraw. To take advantage of this opportunity, General Eisenhower hastily planned an operation code-named SLAPSTICK to move the British 1st Airborne Division and a limited amount of equipment into Taranto on warships just as soon as the Italian capitulation took effect and the Italian Fleet surrendered. The troops were to open the port and set up minimum air defenses. Eventually, additional forces would be brought into the heel to seize ports on the east coast.
Unless an untoward event at the very last moment provoked cancellation of AVALANCHE and reinstatement of the 10 Corps descent on the toe, the invasion of the Italian mainland would be a three pronged affair-BAYTOWN in the toe, AVALANCHE at Salerno, and perhaps unopposed SLAPSTICK landings at Taranto. In all calculations, the surrender of Italy, promised for the eve of the Salerno invasion, loomed large.
SOURCE: SALERNO TO CASSINO; by Martin Blumenson (United States Army Center of Military History)