World War Two: Italy; Salerno-The Plans (ISC-4)

With General Montgomery’s Eighth Army planning to land on the toe of Italy, it would have been logical to place the British 10 Corps on the right or south of the Salerno assault forces to facilitate its eventual transfer to Montgomery’s control after the Eighth and Fifth Armies had made contact. But 10 Corps had two divisions for the landing and VI Corps only one. Since the major objective of the operation was Naples, 10 Corps was placed on the left, where it would be closer to Naples and in position to make the main effort once the Fifth Army was firmly established ashore. To help the 10 Corps secure the passes through the mountainous Sorrento peninsula between Salerno and Naples, General Clark proposed landing glider-borne troops the night before the invasion.

The Troop Carrier Command at first agreed, and earmarked all available gliders for the operation, but then demurred. Not only were air currents around nearby Mount Vesuvius dangerous, but the need to concentrate the tow planes along a narrow path at low altitudes during the approach Right would make them vulnerable to strong enemy antiaircraft defenses in the area. On 12 August the project was abandoned. The ask of securing the mountain passes went to Ranger and Commando units, which were to go ashore in landing craft.

The 10 Corps, with the 46th and 56th Divisions, three Ranger battalions, and two Commando units, was to land north of the Sele River, seize the port of Salerno, capture the Montecorvino airfield, take the little rail and road center of Battipaglia, secure the Sele River bridge fourteen miles inland at Ponte Sele, and gain possession of the mountain passes leading to Naples. The 7th Armoured Division was to follow, beginning to go ashore on the fifth and sixth day of the invasion.

The VI Corps, with the 36th Division, was to land south of the Sele River and protect the Fifth Army right Rank by seizing the high ground dominating the Salerno plain from the east and the south-an arc of mountains marked by the villages of Altavilla, Albanella, Rocca d’Aspide, Ogliastro, and Agropoli. After the Rotating reserve-two regiments of the 45th Division-and the rest of the 45th had landed, the 1st Armored and 34th Infantry Divisions, and later the 3rd Infantry Division, were to go ashore through the captured port of Naples, which the Allies hoped to have by the thirteenth day of the invasion.

Although the 82nd U.S. and 1st British Airborne Divisions were also available, the total airlift on hand was about 300 aircraft and somewhat less than 400 gliders, enough to transport only one division. When the 1st British Airborne Division was nominated for seaborne movement to Taranto in Operation SLAPSTICK, the 82nd, which had been under consideration for an amphibious mission in AVALANCHE, was selected for an airborne assignment.

Denied an airborne operation to seize the mountain passes in Sorrento, General Clark proposed on 18 August and General Alexander approved an airdrop along the Volturno River. Coming to earth on the night before the invasion and concentrated near Capua, forty some miles north of Salerno, twenty some miles north of Naples, the paratroopers were to create a diversion and, in order to block reinforcement of the Salerno defenders, destroy the Volturno bridges from Capua to the sea. As the concept developed, General Ridgway planned to send a glider regiment by sea to the mouth of the river. This unit was to fight its way inland and join the paratroopers in an airhead, Supplied by air, these troops were to carry out one of three alternatives: hold, fall back on Naples and eventually make contact with the main Allied forces, or move southeast into the rugged Apennines and await the arrival of the main body of Allied troops.

The Troop Carrier Command favored the operation, but some airborne commanders and some AFHQ planners viewed it with considerable misgivings. In their opinion, the troops would be too far from the main forces to receive effective support and too scattered for effective employment. Furthermore, because aerial resupply in the theater could sustain only five battalions, the force committed would be too small to operate independently so deep in the enemy rear. A recovery of one-third of the troops dropped, the planners estimated, would be fortunate. Nevertheless, with General Clark and General Ridgway endorsing the operation, the drop along the Volturno was projected.

Not long afterward, the discovery of sandbars at the mouth of the Volturno made the seaborne portion of the plan impractical. That, together with the other unfavorable aspects, was about to prompt a reluctant cancellation of the entire operation when another idea arose to overshadow the Volturno plan. The new idea emerged from negotiations leading to the Italian surrender. Because the Italians feared a German occupation of Rome and capture of the royal family and government upon the announcement of the armistice, General Eisenhower agreed to send the 82nd Airborne Division to the capital. The airborne troops, with the help of Italian forces, were to safeguard the city against the Germans.

As a consequence, the 82nd was withdrawn from the AVALANCHE troop list on 3 September despite General Clark’s shocked protest. Several days later, Eisenhower sent the division artillery commander, Brigadier General Maxwell A. Taylor, and Colonel William T. Gardiner of the Troop Carrier Command on a hazardous journey to Rome to co-ordinate the operation with the Italian Army unable to secure satisfactory guarantees of Italian co-operation, Taylor recommended that the Rome operation be canceled. On the evening of 8 September, the eve of the Salerno D-day, the airborne operation was scratched. By then it was too late to employ the troops of the 82nd in AVALANCHE.

The participation of two corps in the Fifth Army amphibious assault made it logical to organize Admiral Hewitt’s Western Naval Task Force similarly. Admiral Oliver’s Northern Attack Force, composed mainly of British vessels, would carry 10 Corps; Admiral Hall’s Southern Attack Force, mostly American ships, would transport VI Corps. The VI Corps was to sail from Oran in a single convoy, but the 10 Corps was to be loaded into many different types of ships and craft and leave Tripoli and Bizerte in a series of convoys of various speeds and compositions.

Those convoys composed of LCT’s and LCI(L)’s would stop in Sicily to refuel and allow the troops to debark briefly and stretch their legs-the meager accommodations aboard these craft made extended trips impractical and a direct voyage to Salerno unwise. All vessels were to pass west of Sicily and go north on the day before the invasion, then turn east toward Salerno after the last light of the day. Much of the route was through narrow lanes swept clear of mines, and no deviation was possible even though enemy ships might oppose the movement or submarines and aircraft might attack.

Admiral Vian’s Support Carrier Force, composed of a British Fleet aircraft carrier and four escort carriers, was to protect the convoys during the approach to Salerno and reinforce the land-based fighter cover there, particularly during the early morning and evening twilight hours, when reliefs between day and night fighters took place. Admiral ‘Willis’ protective or cover force, consisting of 4 battleships, 2 aircraft carriers, and a cruiser squadron, was to guard against the Italian battle fleet of 5 battleships and 9 cruisers based at Taranto, La Spezia, and Genoa. Two battleships at Malta were to watch Taranto; after the Italian surrender, they would be available to replace casualties in the Salerno fleet.

Although naval air was to make a valuable contribution toward solving the air cover problem in the assault area, the naval planners could guarantee only eighty sorties during the first day of the operation and a rapidly decreasing number thereafter. The British aircraft carriers could keep at least fifteen fighters aloft during the first two days of the invasion, but their pilots were notoriously short on training and experience in ground support operations. In all, the naval air could sustain an effective effort for little more than three days. But by then, the planners hoped, land-based planes would be using Montecorvino airfield.

The air forces were to protect not only the convoys en route to and in the Gulf of Salerno but also the ground troops ashore. They were to do this by trying to neutralize the enemy air forces and by blocking the movement of German ground forces. Opening their operations before the Sicily Campaign ended, the air forces would attempt to render useless the Axis airfields close to the assault area, thereby compelling the enemy to evacuate them; they would also try to disrupt traffic on the roads and rail system in southern and central Italy. Allied heavy bombers had sufficient range to strike targets anywhere in Italy, but few tactical planes could remain in the air long enough to give effective cover during the landings. The A-36 fighter-bomber and the night fighter Beaufighter would be effective in the Naples area, and the twin-engine P-38 could remain over Salerno for an hour.

But the P-39 fighter escort and the P-40 fighter-bomber could provide only short-range convoy cover. The Spitfire, probably the best Allied fighter for escort and interceptor duty, could operate from Sicilian airfields only as far as Salerno; even with an extra gasoline tank, it could patrol over the Gulf of Salerno for only twenty minutes, and if it became engaged in combat, could remain only ten minutes. Nevertheless, the air forces promised to keep thirty-six aircraft over the assault area at all times on D-day and to build up their units in the Salerno area as rapidly as possible.

To achieve better air cover, the Allied air forces would expand the number of airfields in northeast Sicily. After Montgomery crossed the Strait of Messina, they would establish airstrips on the tip of the Calabrian toe. Most important, the air forces hoped to gain Montecorvino on D-day, which would enable them to fly in seventy-five aircraft on the following day. Since additional airstrips in the Salerno area would be useful, aviation engineers and their bulky equipment to build and repair air facilities would accompany the assault troops. By the sixteenth day of the invasion, air service troops ashore were expected to number 3,500 men.

Three distinct supply phases were envisaged in the Salerno invasion. During the preparatory phase, the Fifth Army, assisted by the Services of Supply, North African Theater of Operations, U.S. Army (SOS NATO USA) and the British Supply Agency of AFHQ, would equip units and determine initial maintenance supplies to be stocked at ports of embarkation for loading on the assault convoys. Once the invasion of Sicily was launched, SOS NATO-USA would begin the task of remedying shortages in equipment and in basic loads for the units designated for post-Sicilian operations. When the Sicily Campaign had ended, the Seventh Army would turn over supplies and equipment to units of the Fifth Army.

During this first, or pre-invasion, phase of supply, AFHQ had great difficulty supplying the British forces. The detailed planning for AVALANCHE had started after 10 Corps preparations for operations in the toe were well under way, and though 10 Corps was under AFHQ for logistical planning, it was under 15th Army Group for the Salerno operational planning. The switch from one operation to the other, which, among other things, added extra ground troops and Royal Air Force (RAF) personnel to the assault units, complicated matters to the point where the build-up for the Salerno invasion seemed quite unbalanced. Because supplies were in Sicily under 15th Army Group control, in North Africa under AFHQ control, and in the Middle East under British control, simple solutions to logistical problems were the exception. During this earliest phase of supply operations AFHQ provided troop replacements for the invasion units by progressively closing secondary ports in North Africa, reducing garrison forces, and entrusting garrison and port duties increasingly to the French forces, which eventually manned all the African ports except Bizerte, Algiers,and Casablanca.

During the second phase, the assault phase of supply, estimated to last twelve days, the invasion forces were to receive their supplies over the beaches except for a small amount to be put through the port of Salerno for 10 Corps. Beachhead commanders and beach groups would be responsible for receiving, stocking, and issuing supplies. In the VI Corps zone the reinforced 531st Engineer Shore Regiment would unload the landing ships, clear the beaches, and move supplies inland to dumps. Fortunately, the regiment was experienced in beach operations; it was released from duties in Sicily too late to rehearse for Salerno. Together with the 540th Engineer Shore Battalion and attached Signal, Quartermaster, Ordnance, and Medical units, the regiment hurriedly made ready to take part in the invasion without even knowing the stowage plans of the ships and boats it was to unload.

The technique of maintaining large forces over invasion beaches was by this time considered relatively satisfactory. Good weather, a reasonable assurance of safety for the ships, and an adequate number of small craft and DUKW’s-at least 400 DUKW’s were considered necessary for the American beaches alone were major requirements. Special mats and tracks of mesh, burlap, wire, and wooden palings in rolls would accompany the first troops for constructing and maintaining beach roads and landing facilities. If the ships were able to anchor close to shore, unloading would be facilitated since short turnaround voyages for the small craft and DUKW’s resulted in faster cargo discharge as well as less wear and tear on equipment, lower fuel consumption rates, and less strain on personnel.

[Note: Shore Battalions, each reinforced with signal and service elements of various types and a naval beach party. A battalion, containing about 1800 men with attachments, was to land with each infantry regiment. The British organization improvised to work the beaches was usually built around an infantry battalion, with signal, engineer, and service personnel, as well as light and heavy antiaircraft artillery, attached; Navy personnel worked in conjunction with Army beach personnel but not under their command.]

During the initial phase of the assault, vehicles could be unloaded from LCM’s, which could go up on shore. Later, LCT’s would be able to land, and still later, LST’s. DUKW’s, which could travel directly from ship to beach dump, would provide the simplest and most economical method of moving supplies if the ships were reasonably close to shore-not more than two miles out-and if dumps were not far inland. But usually, when LCM’s were unable to discharge directly onto the beach or into trucks, unloading would be accomplished from ship to small craft to shore, then by DUK W or truck to the dump.

The landing craft to be employed most often at Salerno were LCM’s for vehicles; LCVP’s, initially to transport personnel, then vehicles and equipment, finally gas, oil, water, and other supplies easily manhandled; and DUKW’s, which arrived in LCM’s on ships, to move guns and ammunition, rations, and almost anything else except bulky equipment. How “times and methods have changed,” commented one observer. “Not long ago the troop transport (AP), the cargo transport (AK), and the converted four-stacker were considered suitable as personnel and cargo carriers. Now the … LST … LCI … LCVP and other modern types of landing craft relegate the AP and its kindred types to the days of the triremes ….

The third supply phase of the invasion was to start when the port of Naples was opened to receive shipping. The ultimate objective of AVALANCHE, Naples was the second largest city in Italy and could receive at least 16,000 tons of military cargo per day. It had ample warehouse space and cargo-handling equipment. Frequent Allied bombings had damaged the city, even though the Allies had exempted it from air attack after 12 August.

Service troops to repair and operate the port formed a special convoy of seven ships carrying 5,000 men, 500 vehicles, and 7,800 tons of construction equipment and supplies. The convoy was to sail from North Africa to Sicily and there await the capture of Naples. When the port was opened, American and British contingents would set up their own base sections and lines of communication. During this final supply phase, the Fifth Army was to assume complete administrative responsibility, operating ports, railways, base depots, fixed-bed hospitals, and other rear area installations.

While plans and preparations were under way, intelligence agencies were gathering information about the enemy. The Fifth Army was the main collection center, and the data it disseminated to its subordinate units included about 150,000 aerial photographs, many annotated with enemy installations and terrain features. The army also furnished maps overprinted with enemy defenses and beach terrain information. Cover and deception plans devised earlier for operations against Sardinia and Corsica were found, with slight modifications, to be suitable for Salerno.

By mid-August, as the Sicily Campaign came to an end, Allied intelligence officers were still unable to predict confidently German intentions in Italy. They believed that the Germans were aware of the vulnerability of their forces south of Rome; that they would be averse to committing larger forces in southern Italy; and that they would not move their units in northern Italy to oppose an invasion south of Rome.

According to Colonel Edwin B. Howard, the Fifth Army G-2, the Salerno invasion would force the Germans to a decision of major importance: should they fight to repel the landings, which meant concentrating troops at the assault beaches? or should they retire to the north, which meant accepting the risk of sacrificing their troops south of Salerno? Their choice would shape the development of the Italian campaign. Yet there was no way for the Allies to know in advance of AVALANCHE precisely how the Germans would act.

If the Germans had already made their decision and if they were planning to fight, they had plenty of time to strengthen their defenses. Newspapers, magazines, radio announcers, and government officials, as well as the course of the operations in Sicily, more than indicated, it seemed obvious to Colonel Howard, the Allied intention to invade the Italian mainland. The security of the landing plans could well “have been impaired thereby.” Examination of the map alone, he believed, must have made evident to German intelligence officers the same fact that weighed so heavily on Allied planners-that the range of Allied land-based fighter aircraft precluded an invasion of Italy anywhere except between Naples and Taranto. On this long shore line, Naples was unquestionably the most desirable objective, particularly since an invasion near Naples would threaten to cut off the German divisions in the south. There, as well as at the few other logical points of entry, the Germans might well be prepared to repel invasion.

Perhaps the defenses in the Salerno area -about 150 machine gun positions, pillboxes, 3 casemates, 8 roadblocks, 39 light guns, and 3 heavy railroad guns, according to Allied estimates-indicated this intention. Furthermore, because the Germans had an armored division nearby, the Allied troops coming ashore would have to expect early tank resistance and would have to bring artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers quickly ashore.

Anticipating that 39,000 German troops would be near Salerno on D-day and perhaps a total of 100,000 three days later, the planners hoped to send about 125,000 Allied troops ashore. However, the Allied build-up to that figure would be progressive and relatively slow compared with the German capability of reinforcing the defenders.

In the VI Corps zone, the 36th Division, with infantry components 20 percent over-strength, was to land with two regiments abreast, the third in immediate reserve. Each assault regiment, including attachments. had the enormous strength of about 8,000 men, 1,350 vehicles, and 2,000 tons of supplies. Each was to carry in reserve about seven days of all classes of supply, plus a 20-percent safety factor. All vehicles were to be waterproofed, have their gas tanks and radiators full, and carry five quarts of oil and enough gasoline in cans for fifty miles of travel. All units were to carry basic loads of ammunition plus additional ammunition both combat and cargo loaded, which together would provide an estimated three days of fire. Ammunition to accompany the assault troops totaled 240 rounds per 60-mm. mortar, 300 rounds per 81-mm. mortar, 840 rounds per 105-mm. howitzer, 400 rounds per 155-mm. howitzer, and 300 rounds per 155-mm. gun. For the first three days of the landing operations all convoys were to be combat loaded, thereafter convoy loaded for more economical utilization of ship space.

The Navy had established load limits for each vessel, and each ship’s captain was responsible for insuring that his cargo was properly and safely stowed. The actual loading was done by Army personnel in accordance with Army-established tonnage priorities, leaving space aboard ships for Navy and Air Forces items.

[NOTE: 36th Div Admin Order 33 to accompany FO 33, 20 Aug 43; Annex 1 to Change 1 of Fifth Army G-4 Admin Instrs 1 and 2, 5 Aug 43, Fifth Army Admin File. The 141 Infantry with 5,735 men and 1,390 vehicles, needed 6 ships, 16 LCA’s, 93 LCVP’s, 36 LCM’s, and 8 LCI’s; the 142nd Infantry, with 9,112 men and 1,332 vehicles, required 5 ships, 16 LCI’s, 55 LCVP’s, 30 LCM’s, and 10 LCI’s. The 143 Infantry, initially in reserve, had 6,567 men and 1,174 vehicles and required 5 ships, 85 LCVP’s, 23 LCM’s, and 10 LCI’s. Regimental AAR’s, Sep 43.]

On 31 July the 36th Division commander had received word to prepare at once for combat, “apparently,” General Walker noted, “in some contemplated operation against Italy.” Fifteen days later chaos had replaced order. Loading plans were formulated and put into writing only to be superseded by changes as additional vessels became available, as the capacity of some ships was found to have been inaccurately recorded, as the number of vehicles had to be decreased because of intermittent demands by corps and army for space, as observers and newspapermen arrived unannounced and demanded accommodations.

In late August and early September, the assault troops marched to staging areas to prepare for embarkation. Divided into craft and ship loads, the units then moved to port assembly areas, where mess facilities, medical aid, water, and minor vehicle maintenance were provided. From there the troops marched to the loading docks and embarked on the vessels, which soon were crowded and overloaded, their decks obstructed. The largest loadings were made at Oran, Bizerte, and Tripoli. Others took place at Algiers, and in Sicily at Palermo and Termini.

When General Walker and General Dawley visited General Clark at his headquarters early in September, they found the army commander optimistic-Italian resistance was bound to be meager, Clark said. “This is all good news,” Walker observed, “but it remains to be seen whether it is correct.” Walker expected to meet at least one German armored division at Salerno, perhaps two. He was somewhat concerned by the extent of the beachhead he was supposed to secure-a line from Agropoli to the Calore River, more than twenty miles-but he hoped to seize the key points along the high ground edging the Sele River plain. Although he was not altogether satisfied with the way his division had been placed aboard the ships, he had “every confidence of success if the Navy will put my artillery and tanks ashore . . . as I have requested”

The Preliminaries

The invasion of Italy actually began before the end of the Sicily Campaign, when Allied strategic bombers attacked Axis airfields below Rome with good results. By the end of the campaign, the strategic bombing attacks had forced Axis commanders to remove their planes from all the major fields in southern Italy except the important Foggia airfield complex near the east coast.

The Allied tactical air force added its weight immediately after the Sicily Campaign, attacking enemy airfields and lines of communication. Daily attacks started on 2 September, the planes striking targets in a large area to avoid premature disclosure of the invasion plan, In these air operations, the Allies enjoyed a conclusive superiority over the Axis. Counting 75 percent of planes serviceable, the Northwest African Air Forces could employ about 350 heavy bombers; almost 400 medium day bombers 120 medium night bombers, and 70 fighters-more than 1,000 aircraft. The Axis had about the same number of planes in the theater, but they were dispersed over Italy , Sardinia, Corsica, and southern France. In southern Italy, there were about 670 planes, of which, 180 were fighters, but the Italian planes were of little value, and many German craft were not serviceable because of shortages in spare parts.

Despite Axis weakness in the air, German and Italian planes engaged in continual reconnaissance and made several attacks on critical ports in North Africa during the month preceding the invasion. The German long-range bomber force was at a low ebb because trained crews were in short supply-fuel could not be spared for flight training and many instructors were performing air transportation duties; consequently training schedules broke down. On the other hand, the fighter and fighter-bomber force, despite shortages in ground personnel, was a distinct menace to the Allied invasion. On the heels of the Allied air attacks came the first offensive or the Allied ground forces. The initial landing in the three-pronged invasion of southern Italy occurred on 3 September, four years to the day after Britain had gone to war.

At 0no, the Eighth Army began Operation BAYTOWN as the 13 Corps, with the 1st Canadian and 5th British Divisions, reinforced by an armored brigade and an infantry brigade, as well as by various Commando units, moved across the Strait of Messina into Calabria. Support was massive. Six hundred Army and Navy guns delivered fire. In addition to the artillery normally available to Eighth Army, Royal Artillery units of the 15th Army Group, the 30 Corps Artillery, and four battalions of American medium artillery from the Seventh Army fired in support. Naval forces, including battleships, had bombarded the coastal defenses around Reggio before the crossing; 3 cruisers, 3 monitors, 2 gunboats, and 6 destroyers supported the crossing with gunfire. The British Desert Air Force, reinforced by elements of the U.S. XII Air Support Command and of the Tactical Bomber Force, gave support from the air. There was no German opposition, and Italian resistance was practically nonexistent. Some Italian troops volunteered to unload Allied landing craft.

The ease of the Messina crossing prompted considerable disappointment that General Montgomery had not launched his operation earlier. Again in time of as little as one or two days would have facilitated the transfer of landing craft to the Salerno forces. But General Montgomery, acknowledged master of the set battle, was perhaps not the best commander for an impromptu operation. He may even have been unsympathetic with the AVALANCHE concept, for he believed passionately in the concentration of forces, and Salerno was distant from Calabria. Perhaps, too, he saw an opportunity to gain publicity by making an assault on the anniversary date.

It was soon evident that the natural obstructions of the terrain and German demolitions would be the main obstacles to an Eighth Army advance. For a while there was reason to hope that British troops would be closer to Salerno by the time of the AVALANCHE invasion than had earlier been expected, but the roads proved few and inferior, the army lacked sufficient transportation, and the farther the troops advanced into Calabria the more difficult their progress would become.

On the same day as the Calabrian landings, 3 September, the amphibious movement to Salerno started. The first AVALANCHE convoy-38 British LCT’s carrying part of the 56th Division-left Tripoli for Termini on the north shore of Sicily. On 4 September a similar convoy of American LCT’s departed Bizerte with troops of the 46th Division, destined to stage on Sicily at Castellammare, west of Palermo. A convoy of 31 British LCI (L)’s left Tripoli for Termini at daylight, 5 September. That afternoon a skeleton VI Corps headquarters of about thirty officers and the 36th Division left Oran on 9 APA’s (transports, attack), 4 AKA’s (cargo ships, attack), and 3 British LST’s, escorted by 3 light cruisers, 11 destroyers, 8 mine sweepers, and a British fighter-director ship. On 6 September, as 20 LST’s, plus supply ships and auxiliaries, sailed from Tripoli, the USS Ancon) Admiral Hewitt’s flagship (with Generals Clark and House and their staffs aboard) , a fighter-director ship, and three destroyers left Algiers to join the 36th Division convoy.

Nine British LSI’s with escort departed Tripoli that afternoon, and an LCI (L) convoy got under way from Bizerte. Practically all of the Western Naval Task Force was on the move by this time, and an enemy air raid of about 180 planes against Bizerte during the evening of 6 September thus had no effect on the operation.

September 6th was also the day that General Eisenhower inaugurated SLAPSTICK the quick movement of cruisers carrying part of the British 1st Airborne Division from Bizerte to Taranto. The operation required Admiral Hewitt to detach several cruisers from his force and necessitated, as he later said, “considerable last minute rearrangement of the gunfire support plans of both … [Salerno] Attack Forces.”

[NOTE: Hospital ships did not accompany the convoys. Because they were not permitted in the assault area before H·hour of D-day, they took up preliminary positions from which they would later move into the Gulf of Salerno. AFHQ Movement Instr 503, Control of Hospital Ships (n.d.), AG 560. 2RAdmiral H. Kent Hewitt, U.S. Navy (Retired), “The Allied Navies at Salerno, Operation AVALANCHE –September, 1943,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, vol. 79, NO.9 (September, 1953), p. 965. Reprinted from Proceedings by permission; Copyright © 1953 U.S. Naval Institute.]

The convoys bound for Salerno steamed around the west coast of Sicily, the landing craft that had staged on the north shore joining the convoys on 7 and 8 September. Proceeding north in calm seas and bright weather, they turned east toward the Gulf of Salerno at nightfall on the 8th. Mine sweepers ahead made contact with a British submarine, which had been in the gulf since 29 August to locate mine fields. At 2200, 8 September, the convoys sighted the beacon lights of ships sent ahead to mark the assault transport area twelve to twenty miles off the Salerno beaches. Once the vessels were assembled there and the approaches to shore swept of mines, the fleet would move closer to the beaches to facilitate unloading and support.

To guard the northern flank of the convoys against sneak attack by small boats, a picket group of 16 PT boats under Lieutenant Commander Stanley M. Barnes headed into the Bay of Naples to cause a diversion. Another diversionary group under Captain Charles L. Andrews, Jr.-1 destroyer, 2 Dutch gunboats, 6 motor launches, 4 sub-chasers, and 5 motor boats equipped with deception devices and carrying a small detachment of the 82nd Airborne Division entered the Gulf of Gaeta to make a demonstration off the beaches near the mouth of the Volturno River. This force hoped to draw hostile ground forces from Salerno and at the same time to capture Ventotene Island, where a German radar station was located. Both operations were carried out as planned, and the island of Ventotene surrendered at midnight, on the 8th.

At 1830 on 8 September, General Eisenhower announced the surrender of Italy. Ships’ radios tuned to the Algiers loudspeakers to the troops on the invasion fleet bound for Salerno. The reaction was immediate. “I never again expect to witness such scenes of sheer joy,” an observer later wrote. To the sounds of cheers, “speculation was rampant and it was all good …. we would dock in Naples harbor unopposed, with an olive branch in one hand and an opera ticket in the other.” There was an “immediate general letdown among the troops, and cries of ‘another dry run’ could be heard.” That the landing would be easy became a commonplace idea. Some thought it unfair to General Walker and the 36th Division to “walk in,” to lose the opportunity for action after months of training and preparation. A holiday mood and carefree optimism took possession of most of the soldiers.

The senior officers were far from happy. They now anticipated that Germans instead of Italians would meet the landings. Although they tried to warn the troops to expect opposition, thoughts of a painless landing permeated the invasion force and dulled the fighting edge of many men. Any resistance on the beaches, no matter how light, would now, because of its unexpectedness, seem worse.

The Italian surrender posed another problem. Was a preliminary naval bombardment of the shore defenses justified? On moral grounds, the answer would have to be no. But if the Germans took over the coastal defenses from the Italians, naval gunfire preparation was desirable unless, of course, the landing force could achieve surprise. General Clark expected to gain neither strategic nor tactical surprise at Salerno. How could anyone hope for surprise when a convoy covering 1,000 square miles of sea had been steaming in the general direction of Salerno for days?

The decisions on prior naval bombardment of the shore defenses were different for the two attack forces. Because the Northern Attack Force carrying 10 Corps had been bombed and strafed by enemy aircraft, though with little effect, during the voyage, the British concluded that surprise had been lost. They decided in favor of a naval bombardment.

The Americans decided otherwise, and it was the decision of the 30th Division commander, General Walker, to whom Generals Clark and Dawley had delegated responsibility for establishing the beachhead. Walker had considered the matter during the planning period and had discussed it with Admiral Hall, the Southern Attack Force commander.

At that time, he had asked Hall to refrain from firing a preparation. He had two reasons: the naval task force had listed and numbered 173 possible targets ashore-crossroads, fords, bridges, towns, defiles, towers, pillboxes, culverts, railroad guns, antiaircraft guns, artillery positions-but General Walker thought that the targets selected demonstrated a lack of understanding of ground force operations. Also, he had no wish to subject his troops to the possibility of being struck by short rounds from naval guns.

Aboard Hall’s flagship, Walker reconsidered his decision and talked again with the naval commander. From his study of the most recent air photos of the beaches and the surrounding high ground, Walker could find no fixed or organized defenses in his zone. A three-gun railroad artillery battery, reported to be Italian, obsolete, and unmanned, was within rifle range of the beach, and it was the only defensive installation of consequence; if the guns turned out to be manned, riflemen of the first wave could disperse the gun crews. As for the panzer division reported in the Salerno area, Walker thought that the naval bombardment in the British area might draw the tanks away from his beaches. In that case, his initial Waves would achieve surprise and move quickly inland under cover of predawn darkness. If supporting tanks and artillery were landed on schedule, they would be ashore in time to meet a counterattack. Because naval vessels were ten miles offshore and because naval observers were to be ashore only after daylight, a preliminary bombardment, Walker concluded, might be poorly coordinated with a landing taking place during the hours of darkness.

Naval gunfire might intensify the normal confusion of such an operation, Rejecting the psychological value of a preliminary bombardment, Walker reaffirmed his decision not to use the naval guns, though he called on them to help a day later with opposition beyond the beaches. “In view Italian armistice,” read the message making the decision a matter of record at 2035, 8 September, “no repeat no shore bombardment will be undertaken [in the American zone unless there is evidence that landing is being opposed’-‘ Despite the moralistic, hope of gaining surprise on the Salerno

beaches south of the Sele River was the deciding factor. Thus, the realistic importance attached to surprise, as one observer wrote, Noted both British and American decisions. the British feeling as all surprise had been lost both weighed the possible advantage of partial surprise the Americans hoping that enough chance of surprise remained to warrant withholding naval fire.

Those who anxiously awaited the passage of the few hours before the assault and the resolution of their suspense would the beaches he deserted? Would jubilant Italians receive the troops with open arms? or would grim Germans seek to repel them?·-might have remembered Garibaldi, At the end of a triumphant campaign in Sicily he had stood, eighty-three years earlier, on the sands of Point Faro, fabled Charybdis, looking across the Strait of Messenia to Scilla in Calabria, where the water seemed little more than a wide river with hut slight current and only a legendary whirlpool.

Garibaldi, too, had been bound for Naples, attacking troops and transports for a direct descent on the city, he had sent 200 men in rowboats across the narrows on a cloudy night early in August. But the invaders were discovered, and when the alarm was given, they scattered and escaped into the mountains. Not long afterward, on 18 August 1860, Garibaldi marched 3,000 soldiers aboard two steamers and crossed the strait at its widest place, this time successfully. Reggio and San Giovanni soon fell to him, whereupon he set out across mountain and malarial plain toward Mount Vesuvius, He entered Salerno unopposed on the night of 6 September. His enemy, Francis II, having left Naples and retired to Gaeta, Garibaldi ended at his goal on the following day, his campaign had lasted three weeks. How long would it take the Allies in 1943?

SOURCE: SALERNO TO CASSINO; by Martin Blumenson (United States Army Center of Military History)

World War Two: Italy; Salerno-The Opposition: The Germans In Italy (ISC-5)

World War Two: Italy; Salerno-The Preparations (ISC-3)


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