World War Two: Italy; Winter Campaign; The Strategy (ISC-3-11)

Several alternatives faced the Allied command after Naples. Should the Allied forces continue to move up the mainland of Italy? If so, how far and specifically where? The answer hinged on whether the Allied forces in the Mediterranean theater could better contribute to the cross-Channel attack scheduled for the spring of 1944 by threatening the Germans in the Balkans or by menacing southern France. And this in turn depended on the forces assigned: what units were available in the theater, how many should be committed in Italy to attain whatever goals were set for the campaign, and the extent of the additional resources that could be obtained from the Combined Chiefs of Staff. These choices were affected by estimates of German capabilities and intentions, decisions on global strategy, and worldwide allocations of shipping, materiel, and troops.

A major confusion in reaching a decision for Italy was the CCS directive that governed the operations. In exploiting the conquest of Sicily, the Combined Chiefs had stated, General Eisenhower was to eliminate Italy from the war and contain the maximum number of German divisions. The first was accomplished. But the second was so vague as to defy definition. The CCS had set no geographical objectives, and as a result the Italian campaign became, in retrospect, according to General Alexander, “a great holding attack.”

Yet the fact was that objectives had to be selected. They would determine not only how far north the Allied forces would go but also how much in terms of resources they would require. A vigorous campaign waged up the entire length of the Italian peninsula would obviously necessitate more troops, equipment, and supplies than an effort to secure, for example, Rome. In the debate that preceded decisions, a debate that stretched over the summer and fall of 1943, the matter of resources was ever present. Quite apart from the logisticians’ calculations of requirements, those who directed the operations sought to obtain all they could get, the better to assure success.

Allied Intentions

Before the invasion of Sicily, Allied Force Headquarters planners had believed that an Allied occupation of all or most of Italy was possible. At that time they had thought it unlikely that the Germans would reinforce a collapsing Italy. In the event of an Allied landing on the Italian mainland, the Germans would withdraw to the Alps or, more probably, to a line just south of the Alps, delaying an Allied advance by destroying communications, perhaps even by concentrating five or six divisions south of Rome. But the Allied forces, the planners believed, could build up enough ground and air strength in southern Italy to push rapidly north. Beyond Naples, Rome, for its airfields and political advantages, was obviously the next important objective.

Beyond Rome, the ports of Leghorn and Genoa beckoned, but were hardly essential. The heel of Italy was far more important-it would give Allied naval and air forces control of the south Adriatic and Ionian Seas, make it possible for these forces to interfere with the movement of enemy supplies to Greece and Albania, facilitate support to the Yugoslav Partisans, and threaten the Balkans sufficiently to contain German forces there. Similarly, Sardinia and Corsica would give the Allies control of the Tyrrhenian Sea and pose the threat of a landing in southern France. Ten French divisions, expected to be ready in North Africa for operational use early in 1944, plus heavy bomber attacks and the threat of amphibious and airborne operations launched from Italy and North Africa, would constitute a real and grave danger to the Germans in southern France and in the Balkans. Thus, the Allied theater command would comply with the CCS requirement of containing the maximum number of Germans if Allied troops occupied southern Italy as far north as Rome and the islands of Sardinia and Corsica. Given the current estimates of German strength, a total of ten Allied divisions would be necessary to accomplish this goal, and the commitment of such a force was reasonable in terms of the available resources.

After the invasion of Sicily, Allied theater planners, with mounting optimism, began to see an occupation of Italy as far north as the Alps as both desirable and possible. From northern Italy, overland and amphibious operations against southern France and the Balkans would be feasible. The only limiting factors would be shipping, landing craft, and German strength, but these hardly seemed serious obstacles to success.

General Eisenhower looked to the Po Valley, from where he could move east or west and from where he could provide ironclad security for air bases established anywhere in Italy. The ten divisions that the Combined Chiefs at the TRIDENT Conference in May had made available to the theater would be sufficient-provided, of course, the German troop commitment in Italy did not increase appreciably over expectations. [n3-11-3]

Was it necessary, planners in Washington asked, to go as far north as the Po Valley to insure effective bombardment of southern Germany? The reply was affirmative-the security of airfields in the Rome and Naples areas required control of the ground at least as far north as the Pisa-Ancona line. By inference, the theater planners seemed to be saying the Po Valley was not much farther north and the Alps were not far beyond that. As for operations to be developed out of a successful Italian campaign, an invasion of southern France was feasible, the principal problem being air cover; an offensive in the Balkans, which had been discussed, though no plans had been drawn, would be difficult-if undertaken, it was generally agreed in the theater, a Balkan invasion should go across the Adriatic and through a beachhead in the Durazzo area.[n3-11-4]

[n3-11-3 AFHQ G-3 Memo, Opns Against Mainland of Italy, n.d. (probably Aug 43)]

[n3-11-4 Extract, Min, JPS Mtg, 7 Aug 43, dated 9 Aug 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec ).

American planners at the Joint Chiefs of Staff level believed that operations beyond southern Italy would be justified if the Allied forces gained air bases near Ancona from which to intensify the bombardment of German-held areas in Europe, if the Allies drove toward an invasion of southern France in support of the projected cross-Channel attack, and if they secured bases-perhaps even in Albania and Greece-from which to supply Balkan underground fighters. The Allied ground forces, in the opinion of these planners, should move overland to Rome in order to cover strategic and tactical air bases in southern Italy, then maintain “unremitting pressure” against the Germans with the possible aim of seizing and establishing air bases in the Ancona area. No major land operations, they believed, should be launched in the Balkans. Economic aid, they also recommended, should be provided to insure tolerable living standards among the Italian people.

[n3-11-5 JPS, Plans for Occupation of Italy and Her Possessions, 7 Aug 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec 2.]

Early in August, General Marshall informed General Eisenhower that he could expect to have for future operations at least twenty-four American, British, and French divisions. These were more than enough, Marshall thought, for occupying Italy up to a line somewhere north of Rome, seizing Sardinia and Corsica, and making an amphibious landing in southern France-the ends Marshall believed desirable for an Italian campaign. Ten divisions could contain the German forces in Italy, the others could execute the invasion of southern France. A secure position in Italy north of Rome, occupation of Sardinia and Corsica, nothing in the Balkans-these were President Roosevelt’s immediate aims. So far as the Americans were concerned, there was to be no march all the way up the Italian peninsula.[n3-11-6]

If the Germans intended to reinforce their troops in Italy, and there were some indications to that effect in mid-August, General Eisenhower believed that a firm grasp on the Naples area would be a respectable accomplishment. Yet it would be impractical, in his view, to limit the occupation of Italy to a line just north of Rome. A balanced equation-with an Allied army in central Italy, German forces in northern Italy, and a no man’s land between-was inconceivable. Either the Allies would have to drive the Germans out of Italy or be driven out themselves.

The comparative weights of the resources employed by the opponents would decide the issue. His own capabilities, Eisenhower informed Marshall, were limited more by the shortage of personnel and materiel replacements, particularly of shipping and landing craft, than by actual strength in terms of divisions.[n3-11-7]

[n3-11-6 Marshall to Eisenhower, n.d. (about 7 Aug 43), OPD Exec 3, Item 4: Memos, Marshall for Handy and Handy for Marshall, 9 Aug 43, ABC 384: Interv, Mathews, Lamson, Hamilton, and Smyth with Marshall, 25 Jul 49, OCMH.]

[n3-11-7 Eisenhower to Marshall, 13 Aug 43, OPD Exec 3,Item 5-178]

The Allied leaders meeting in Quebec in August for the QUADRANT Conference received a warning from General Eisenhower that the immediate build-up in Italy was likely to be slow and that the Allied forces might face prolonged and bitter fighting. A firm hold on Naples might be the practical limit of the invasion at Salerno. Beyond Naples, Allied troops might have to fight their way “slowly and painfully” up the peninsula. Early exploitation to the Alps was a “delightful thought but … not to be counted upon with any certainty.”[n3-11-8]

General Eisenhower’s planners nevertheless continued to believe that the Germans would withdraw at least as far north as Pisa to shorten their lines of communication rather than reinforce their troops in Italy. Since the Allied troops after the amphibious landing at Salerno would probably be in no condition to organize an effective pursuit, a small force, the planners thought, should be ready to proceed at once to Rome, while the rest of the Allied troops consolidated and then moved north to attack in the Pisa area.[n3-11-9]

Within this optimistic frame of reference and encouraged by the willingness of the Italian Government to surrender, the Combined Chiefs of Staff on 27 August instructed General Eisenhower to draw plans for invading southern France. The operation was to take place at some unspecified time during or after the Italian campaign. Despite the uncertainty generated by the forthcoming invasion at Salerno, planners at all echelons banked on a rapid advance up the Italian peninsula and an amphibious operation against southern France mounted from northern Italy. By the spring of 1944, according to AFHQ planners, the Allied forces would certainly have forced the Germans back to the foothills of the Alps and to the Piave River. [n3-11-10]

[n3-11-8 Smith to Whiteley, 15 Aug 43, OPD Exec 3. Item 5]

[n3-11-9 AFHQ G-3 Paper. Opns in Italy After a Bridgehead Has Been Established in Naples Area. 21 Aug 43]

[n3-11-10 AFHQ G-3 Paper, Availability of Forces in Spring of 1941 After Occupation of Italy, 5 Sep 43]

Not so General Eisenhower. Just before the Salerno invasion, he informed the Combined Chiefs that the strength amassed by the Germans in Italy would probably force the Allies into a methodical advance up the Italian peninsula during the coming winter months.[n3-11-11] A week later during the critical phase of the battle at Salerno, he began to think that a painstaking advance through the mountains of southern Italy might be too difficult to be worthwhile. Meeting the Germans on other ground might bring quicker results at less cost. To him, long-range planning for the conquest of all of Italy was debatable.[n3-11-12] Yet at the end of the battle of the Salerno beachhead, a cheerful General Eisenhower informed General Marshall that the Germans might be too nervous to make a stand and fight a real battle south of Rome.[n3-11-13]

British intelligence officers agreed. The Germans appeared to have no intention of getting involved in a decisive battle in southern or central Italy and were pulling their ground and air units out, probably to the Pisa-Rimini area. The first stage of their retirement would probably be to a line through Casino in order to cover Rome and its lateral communications and to deny the Allies use of the airfields near Rome. But because their evacuation of Sardinia and Corsica had exposed their mainland flank, the Germans were likely to make a rapid withdrawal. Confined to comparatively few roads and railways that were vulnerable to air and sea attack and to Italian sabotage, facing the risk of having a famished Italian population riot and attack their supply dumps and columns, the Germans would probably move quickly to the north.[n3-11-14]

[n3-11-11 Eisenhower to CCS, 8 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3. Item 5]

[n3-11-12 Eisenhower to War Dept. 15 Sep 43. OPD Exec 3, Item 3 See also AFHQ G-3 Paper, Possible Opns in 19H, 17 Sep 43.]

[n3-11-13 Eisenhower to Marshall. 20 Sep 43, Mathews File,OCMH.]

Signs early in October supported the view that the Germans intended to withdraw to a Pisa-Rimini line. But now it appeared that they would pace their withdrawal to gain time to complete fortifications along their main defensive line in the north, stabilize internal security in the country, inflict losses on the Allies while conserving their own strength, and delay as long as possible an Allied approach to vital German areas, perhaps even the airfields around Rome. The Germans would probably employ the bulk of six to nine divisions then in southern Italy in the region west of the Apennines. They might hold temporarily south of Rome along a general line from Anzio to Pescara. But above Rome, the terrain nowhere afforded good defensive positions short of the Pisa-Rimini line.

In driving the Germans toward the Pisa-Rimini area, the Allied ground troops would enjoy certain advantages. They would have close air support from tactical air units soon to be based in southern Italy, Sardinia, and Corsica. Part of the Northwest African Coastal Air Force was to operate from bases in the Foggia area and in the heel to protect shipping and military installations; strategic air forces based in the same areas, and later near Rome, would be available not only for attacking targets in northern Italy and southeastern Germany but also for disrupting German reinforcement and supply movements.

[n3-11-14 Memo, German Intentions in Italy, 27 Sep 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec 2.]

With more than adequate naval support, the Allied ground forces would also be able to make amphibious flanking attacks on the east and west coasts of Italy. Where then should the Allied command make the main effort? If strong forces moved up the east coast, they could cross the Apennines at any of several lateral roads and get behind the German positions along the western part of the peninsula. Yet the road net on the east coast would limit the size of any enveloping force to two or three divisions, and numerous rivers and deep gorges would enable relatively light German forces to delay the maneuver long enough for the enemy west of the Apennines to escape. Although the ground of the western coastal plain allowed the commitment of considerable troops, including a certain amount of armor, attacks in that region were bound to be slow and laborious frontal efforts. Even so, the western portion of the Italian peninsula seemed better for a main effort beyond the line of the Volturno and Biferno Rivers, attained at the end of the Salerno invasion, and air bases near Rome appeared to be the next logical objective. While bases were opened for heavy bombers, the ground troops, after securing the nearby port of Civitavecchia, would maintain pressure on the Germans, forcing them back to the Pisa-Rimini line.

A strong attack would be necessary to breach this line, and the attack would be followed by a drive farther north. From there, the Allied command would be able either to undertake operations against southern France or to maintain a strong threat against southern France for an indefinite period. The forces on the east coast, meanwhile, would advance to protect and assist the forces in the west, heading toward the port of Ancona, an attractive objective.

What was ominous was the relative inferiority of Allied ground strength. Because some units were leaving the theater while others were arriving, total forces in Italy were expected to number the equivalent of 15 divisions by mid-October, 17 a month later, and only 16 by mid-December. In contrast the Germans, according to estimates, could bring 26 divisions into the fight. Regardless of where the major effort was made, the Allied command would have to rely on air superiority to offset not only German ground strength but also the enemy’s ability to choose the terrain on which to defend. Unfortunately, winter weather would· reduce the effect of Allied air supremacy.[n3-11-15]

General Eisenhower’s personal belief in the efficacy of waging a vigorous campaign during the fall and winter months to capture the Po Valley underwent a startling change about 7 October. Expectations that the Germans would fight only delaying actions in central Italy vanished, along with optimistic hopes of driving quickly into northern Italy. German divisions were coming from northern Italy to reinforce the troops fighting in the south below Rome. If the Germans had decided to stand fast, they had a good chance of barring the Allied forces from the Rome airfields.

[n3-11-15 AFHQ G-3 Paper, Advance to Pisa-Rimini Line, 2 Oct 43, ABC 384, Post-HVSKY, Sec 2.]

[n3-11-16 Eisenhower to Marshall, 2 Oct 43, and Eisenhower to CCS, 9 Oct 43, both in OPD Exec 3, Item 3]

General Alexander’s 15th Army Group, with eleven divisions, was preparing an all-out offensive, “but dearly,” General Eisenhower informed the CCS, “there will be very hard and bitter fighting before we can hope to reach Rome.” Was it possible and would it be better to cancel the offensive and keep the troops along the Volturno and Biferno Rivers?

Apart from the obvious renunciation of Rome and the airfields, Eisenhower thought not. The Volturno-Biferno line, in his opinion, provided insufficient depth in front of Naples and Foggia to contemplate even a temporary stabilization of forces there. The minimum acceptable position was a secure line well north of Rome. And this, it appeared, was going to be difficult to attain.[n3-11-16]

General Alexander could well understand what he believed to be the new German decision. As he judged the situation, the Germans had recovered from the gloom occasioned by the Italian surrender.

The country was quiet, the internal security problem seemed slight, and better knowledge of Allied strength showed the Germans that they held a numerical advantage in ground troops that was likely to continue. The terrain south of Rome was admirably suited for defensive warfare. Autumn and winter weather would hamper Allied offensive operations on the ground and ease the impact of Allied air superiority. Since November 1942, starting from El Alamein in Egypt, the Germans had been retreating, and Alexander could see why they might feel it was time to stop. Troop morale alone would justify the decision.

But there was now also a political reason. The Germans had rescued Mussolini from his Italian captors and had established under his nominal authority a republican fascist government. Giving this government as much territory as possible to administer under German supervision and retaining Rome as its capital would strengthen the semblance of Mussolini’s restored status.[n3-11-17]

Whatever the reasons that motivated the Germans, the Allied command was convinced by mid-October that operations beyond the Volturno and Bifemo Rivers would encounter progressively stronger resistance. Yet General Eisenhower believed, and his senior commanders agreed with him, that nothing would help OVERLORD, the projected cross-channel invasion in the spring of 1944, so much as the early establishment of Allied forces in the Po Valley. He asked the CCS to approve the allocation of additional resources to the theater to make possible small amphibious and airborne operations in the enemy rear that would hasten the Allied advance up the peninsula.

The planners in Washington were unmoved. The Germans, they estimated, could resist in strength at only three places: the Pisa-Rimini line, the Po River line, and the Alps.[n3-11-19] Expecting the Germans to offer relatively little opposition south of Rome, they saw no reason to increase the resources previously allotted to the Allied command for Italy.

The QUADRANT decisions of August and September thus remained in force, and with respect to the Mediterranean theater, changed no decisions made at the TRIDENT Conference in May. The theater command was to withdraw seven divisions and send them to England for the cross-Channel attack, and to replace these in part by French divisions as they became ready for action after being equipped and trained; the theater was to lose by transfer about 170 bombers by December and a considerable amount of troop-carrying aircraft, assault shipping, and landing craft.

[n3-11-17 See Alexander Despatch, p. 2900.]

[n3-11-19 Memo, Smith for JCS, 13 Oct 43, ABC 384,Post·HUSKY, Sec 2. 10 War Dept G-2 :M emo, 19 Oct 43, ABC 384, Post-HUSKY, Sec 2.]

The planners at the QUADRANT Conference had allocated to the four chief theaters of operations all available landing craft and all expected from production. The priorities established gave precedence, within the European theater, to build-up in England for OVERLORD. Definite schedules were established for movement, during the fall of 1943, of a major proportion of the Mediterranean landing craft to the United Kingdom.

The Pacific, with its vast water distances, was to absorb better than half of the craft coming from American production. In addition, some craft were scheduled to move to India for an amphibious operation in the Bay of Bengal. What was to be left in the Mediterranean theater was likely to be insufficient for more than a one-division lift. In short, the Mediterranean theater was to be restricted in its resources, and consequently so was the Allied build-up on the Italian mainland. The principal effort was to go to the cross-Channel attack. Whether the Allied forces, against increased German opposition, had enough troops, equipment, and supplies to drive north in Italy fast enough to make the campaign worthwhile was a moot question. But they were going to try.

The German Decision

Hitler’s early strategy in Italy was concerned with insuring the security of the German forces in southern Italy. Kesselring as to withdraw from Calabria, hold at Salerno and Naples long enough to safeguard the routes of retirement to the north, then make a well-organized movement to central Italy, and finally fall back to the Northern Apennines where his forces would come under Rommel’s Army Group B. When Kesselring’s forces came within close proximity of the army group boundary, roughly the Pisa-Ancona line, Hitler himself would make the command change. Since Kesselring was in no danger of having his forces trapped as a result of the Allied invasion and the Italian surrender, Hitler saw no reason to reinforce him. Kesselring asked for no additional troops. And Rommel offered none.

In compliance with Hitler’s policy, Kesselring ordered his Tenth Army commander, Vietinghoff, to “fall back upon the Rome area” through a succession of defensive lines, one of them the “B” Line, later called the Bernhard Line, which crossed the Italian peninsula at its narrowest place between Gaeta and Oriona. If Hitler changed his mind and decided to defend in southern Italy, the ground along the Bernhard Line would serve admirably for a protracted defensive effort. Kesselring therefore instructed Vietinghoff to withdraw slowly in order to gain time for fortifying this line.

Kesselring advocated defending Italy at least as far south as Rome, and his argument gained considerable point after the Italian Army ceased to be dangerous and the Allies failed to land near Rome. A prolonged defense in southern Italy would delay an Allied invasion of the Balkans, which he, along with OKW, believed was the Allied strategic goal. Defending south of Rome would keep Allied bombers farther from southern Germany and the Po Valley and give Germany the obvious political advantages of retaining Rome. Kesselring estimated that he could defend in southern Italy with II divisions, even if he kept 2 mobile divisions in reserve for action against amphibious landings on his flanks; Rommel, in contrast, would need 13 to 20 divisions to defend a line in the Northern Apennines. Two defensive stands, at the Bernhard Line and in the Northern Apennines, were better than one, particularly since an Allied breach of the Apennines line would immediately threaten the Po Valley. Finally, a strong defense south of Rome would enable the Germans to mount a counteroffensive if the Allies should withdraw units from that front to launch a Balkan invasion. The only advantage offered by a quick withdrawal to the Northern Apennines, in Kesselring’s opinion, was an immediate saving of three or four divisions, which could be sent at once to the Balkans.

Rommel, on the other hand, saw a defensive line in southern Italy as too easily outflanked by Allied amphibious operations, its supply lines too vulnerable to sabotage and Allied air attacks. Favoring a concentration of forces, he recommended withdrawal from southern Italy and a simultaneous retirement from Greece.

To Hitler, Rommel seemed pessimistic, even defeatist. Kesselring’s optimism, earlier a source of irritation to Hitler, began to count in his favor. Kesselring’s resourcefulness and his unexpected success in coping with the defecting Italians and with the two Allied armies in Italy raised his stock in Hitler’s eyes. On 17 September he instructed Kesselring to make a slow withdrawal to the north, holding at the Bernhard Line “for a longer period of time.”

A few days later Hitler suddenly became aware of the importance of Apulia, the Italian heel. If the Allied command regarded southern Italy as a springboard for the Balkans, the Germans ought to deny it, and particularly the Foggia airfields. When Foggia fell into Allied hands before Hitler could act, he began

to consider a counterattack, a maneuver that seemed particularly attractive if launched to coincide with the expected Allied invasion of the Balkans. This idea gave immediate relevance to Kesselring’s concept of conducting the campaign, not in the north of Italy but in the south.

To resolve the conflicting strategies personified by the two commanders, Hitler called Kesselring and Rommel to a conference on the last day of September and listened to their views. He was particularly interested in their assessments of the prospect of regaining the Foggia airfields. Rommel expressed doubt. Kesselring was positive and optimistic.

Hitler was still unable to make up his mind. On 4 October he came La a tentative decision. He notified Kesselring to defend the Bernhard Line in strength. While Kesselring built up the Bernhard Line, Rommel was to construct a line of fortifications in the Northern Apennines. Although Hitler was not entirely convinced that Kesselring could carry out his promise to keep the Allies away from the Northern Apennines for six La nine months. he ordered Rommel to send Kesselring two infantry divisions and some artillery. It was the movement of these troops that Allied intelligence noted around 7 October.

On 9 October Hitler referred to the “decisive importance” of defending the Bernhard Line, but he continued to vacillate between the opposing strategies urged by Rommel and Kesselring. The strategy he selected would determine who would wield the over-all command in Italy.

Uninvolved in the strategic decision, the Tenth Army was making a fighting withdrawal toward the Bernhard Line, which Vietinghoff announced was to be the place for “a decisive stand.” Placing an engineer officer, Generalmajor Hans Bessel. in charge of constructing the Bernhard field fortifications, Vietinghoff specified that he wanted command Posts underground and the main battle line located on the rear slopes of hills in order to escape the devastating effects of Allied artillery fire. Advance outposts were to occupy the crests and forward slopes of the hills, and fields of fire were to be “ruthlessly cleared.” [n3-11-22]

After the reinforcing divisions arrived from northern Italy, Vietinghoff had nine divisions under two corps headquarters, a respectable force with which to oppose the Allies. Although he would have little air support-OKW considered Italy a secondary theater and not worth the risk of heavy air losses-Vietinghoff would enjoy the advantages offered by the terrain. Unless Hitler changed his mind, the German withdrawal was to come to an end in the mountains south of Rome.

[n3-11-22 Tenth Army Order 6, 4 Oct 43, Steiger MS.]

Allied Problems

While Hitler was making his tentative decision to defend in southern Italy, the Allied command was grappling with a variety of matters related to the Italian campaign. A prospective drain on forces came from a request made of General Eisenhower by General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson, the commander of the British Middle East theater, who had become involved in the Dodecanese Islands in the eastern Mediterranean. Garrisoned largely by Italian troops, the islands in the Dodecanese chain had seemed ripe for invasion after the Italian surrender and Wilson had seized Cos, Samos, and Leros with small forces. Rhodes now attracted Wilson because he believed that a strong Allied naval and air base established there might force the Germans to withdraw from Greece. Unfortunately, Wilson not only lacked the resources to take Rhodes but also, in his judgment, to retain, against menacing German movements, the three smaller islands he had already captured. He asked AFHQ for help.

Instructed by the Combined Chiefs to furnish whatever assistance he could, General Eisenhower conferred on 9 October with his senior commanders. They quickly decided that the available resources in the Mediterranean theater were insufficient, particularly in view of the indications of a stiffened German defense in Italy, to seize objectives in Italy and at the same time contribute toward operations in the Aegean area. General Wilson’s estimate proved to be correct. The Germans soon retook the islands he had seized, then strengthened their hold over the Dodecanese.[n3-11-23]

About the same time General Eisenhower and his principal subordinates were discussing possible ground action in the Balkans. Though convinced of the desirability of diversionary operations, they agreed that they had barely enough ground troops, base units, and assault shipping for the Italian campaign. The most they could do in the Balkans was to employ air and naval forces to help the guerrillas by furnishing them arms and ammunition to harass and contain the Germans.[n3-11-24]

Another problem that needed resolution was how Italy might contribute to the war. The Italian Fleet and Air Force had surrendered in accordance with the terms of the armistice, and the army had largely disbanded itself. The government, headed by Badoglio under the King, was established in the Brindisi area, but seemed apathetic, unable to unify the Italian people against Germany or to stimulate sabotage and passive resistance in the areas still under German occupation.[n3-11-25]

[n11-23 Eisenhower to CCS, 9 Oct 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3. For fuller accounts, see Gral1d Strategy, vol.V, ch. II, and Matloff, Strategic Planing for Coalit. Warfare, 19-13-19-IX.]

[n3-11-24 See AFHQ Ltr to Air CinC Mediterranean, Action in the Balkans Subsequent to the Capture of South Italy, II Oct 43.]

[n3-11-25 Eisenhower to CCS, 10 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 5; AFHQ Msg 17t6, 14 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-2 Jnl; Eisenhower to War Dept, 16 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3; Rpt on Activities of Special Opns Exec in Fifth Army Area, 9–27 Sep, dated 28 Sep 43, and 1st Ind, AG 336.2; Fifth Army Ltr, 2 Oct 43, AG 336.]

General Eisenhower believed that the participation of Italian troops in the ground campaign would be politically expedient and advantageous to the morale of the Italian people. But because Italian equipment was antiquated and supplies were lacking, and because AFHQ could equip and supply Italian units only at the expense of the Allied build-up on the Italian mainland, he decided to use only a token Italian combat force, a division at most. Much more valuable would be assistance in the form of service units-labor troops and military police to improve and guard Allied lines of communication and airfields and mechanics and repairmen for vehicles and other equipment.[n3-11-26]

When the Italian Government declared war against Germany on 13 October, Italy became an Allied cobelligerent, though not an ally. Army units capable of contributing to the war were rehabilitated, and service forces were reconstituted. A regiment of combat troops would soon join the Allied forces in their winter campaign.

The most important problem facing the Allies was the need to define the future course of the operations to be undertaken beyond Naples. The immediate objective was-by general understanding rather than by directive-the city of Rome. As early as July, Mr. Churchill had made evident his “very strong desire” for the capital. “Nothing less than Rome,” he had written, “could satisfy the requirements of this year’s campaign.” [n3-11-27] Behind the Salerno invasion, despite the immediate orientation on Naples, was the hope for Rome, a hope echoed by the AFHQ planning.[n3-11-28]

During the QUADRANT Conference in Quebec, the Allied leaders “appreciated that our progress in Italy is likely to be slow” but stressed “the importance of securing the Rome aerodromes.” [n3-11-29] In early September, before the Salerno invasion, Rome, according to one qualified observer, “was already looming large as an objective with General Clark and others,” while even General Marshall, who had reservations on the value of an Italian campaign, agreed that Rome ought to be seized as quickly as possible.

[n3-11-26 AFHQ G-3 Paper, Employment of Italian Forces, 3 Oct 43: Eisenhower Dispatch, pp. 217-28.]

[n3-11-27 Msg to Gen Jan Christian Smuts, 16 Jul 43, quoted in Winston S. Churchill, “The Second World War,” Closing the Ring (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1951), p. 36. See Matlofl, Strategic Planning for Coalition Warfare, 1943-1944, ch. VI]

[n3-11-28 See Memo, Brigadier C. S. Sugden, AFHQ Acting G-3, for Gen Smith, Assault in Rome Area, 14 Aug 43, and AFHQ G-3 Memo, Assault in Rome Area, 14 Aug 43.]

[n3-11-29 Whiteley and Rooks to Smith, 23 Aug 43. OPD Exec 3, Item 5]

On 1 October General Eisenhower[n3-11-30] expressed the hope of being north of Rome in six or eight weeks; three days later he believed, and General Alexander agreed with him, that Allied troops would march into Rome within the month. Although General Eisenhower had thought of moving his headquarters from Algiers to Naples, he now decided to wait until he could “make the jump straight into Rome.” [n3-11-31] Hitler’s decision to defend Italy south of Rome and the movement of German troops from northern Italy to the south dissipated the optimism but did little to blur the focus. With eyes fixed on Rome as the next goal, the Allied command was “pushing hard to get the necessary force into Italy to bring about the major engagement as early in winter as possible.”

[n3-11-30 Truscott, Command Missions, p. 247: Biennial Report of the Chief of Staff . .. July 1, 1941 to June 30, 1943 … , p. 20.]

[n3-11-31 Eisenhower to Marshall, 4 Oct 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3.]

Getting a large force into Italy was no easy matter. Logisticians who sought to advance the build-up in Italy had to jockey a variety of conflicting claims from commanders who clamored for additional combat units, for components needed to complete formations already in Italy, for tactical and strategic air forces, and for support troops. The need for combat troops competed with urgent requests for equipment and supplies, particularly Bailey bridges and bulldozers. The requirements for air and ground elements were not always compatible in the light of available shipping, and priorities changed constantly as logisticians and planners tried to remain flexible in meeting the demands of the campaign. [n3-11-33] The limited number of available landing craft and ships and the restricted capacities of Naples and the nearby minor ports imposed curtailments.

With logistical facilities overburdened, certain desirable movements became impractical. For example, the transfer of the British 10 Corps to the British Eighth Army presupposed the arrival in Italy of the U.S. II Corps headquarters and additional American divisions. The II Corps in Sicily was ready to move late in September but had no transportation. Consequently, the withdrawal of 10 Corps into reserve and its movement by degrees to the Eighth Army as General Montgomery could accept logistical responsibility for it, actions earlier planned to take place at the Volturno River, had to be deferred. [n3-11-34]

[n3-11-33 See Oct Msgs, 15th AGp, Master Cable File, VI.

[n3-11-34 Eisenhower to CCS, 18 Sep 43, OPD Exec 3, Item 3; 15th AGp Msgs, 1810, 16 Sep 43, and 2230, 29 Sep 43, Fifth Army G-2 Jnl; Msg, Fifth Army to Eighth Army, II Oct 43, and Msg, Alexander to Richardson, 13 Oct 43, both in 15th AGp Master Cable File, VI.]

The need for more landing craft was of particular concern to General Alexander -“to maintain rate of build-up, to allow flexibility in build up programme, for coastwise maintenance traffic, for further seaborne landings on either Coast” -and he repeatedly requested General Eisenhower to “press most strongly for retention all craft” in the theater.[n3-11-35] An immediate partial solution to the problem of building up the combat units would be to retain the 82nd Airborne Division in the theater instead of sending it to the United Kingdom as scheduled. But the opportunities for using airborne troops in Italy seemed to the planners to be too limited to warrant keeping the entire division. Only the 504th Parachute Infantry remained.[n3-11-36]

[n3-11-35 See, for example, Alexander to Eisenhower, 25 Sep 43, 15th :\Gp Master Cable File VI.]

[n3-11-36 Fifth Army to AFHQ, 14 Oct 43, and AFHQ to 15th AGp, 15 Oct 43, both in Master Cable File, VI.]

Finally, the command structure in Italy took permanent form in early October as General Alexander’s 15th Army Group headquarters released the Seventh Army headquarters in Sicily to AFHQ control, opened the army group command Post near Bari on the east coast of Italy, and took direct control of the ground operations and command of the Fifth and Eighth Armies. Separated by the Central Apennine mountain range, a barrier of summits more than 6,000 feet high that even early in October were tipped with snow, the two armies were compartmented. The achievements of one would have little effect on the other. Given the difficult terrain in Italy and the coming of winter, General Alexander defined the objective of the campaign about to get under way as “certain vital areas which contain groups of all-weather airfields, ports and centres of communications” bases from which to launch and support strong attacks. Specifically, he directed operations to take place in two phases, the armies to take two steps. The first, to make the Foggia airfields and the port of Naples secure by advancing to the Biferno and Volturno Rivers, was already in the process of being completed. The second was to be an advance to a general line well above Rome, a line from Civitavecchia, about fifty miles north of Rome on the west coast, to San Benedetto del Trente, about the same distance south of Ancona on the east coast.

[n11-37 Alexander Despatch, p. 2897; Alexander to Clark and Montgomery, 2330, 29 Sep 43, Fifth Army C-2 Jnl; Fifth Artillery History, Part II, pp. 75ff.]

Significantly. Alexander made no mention of Rome. Perhaps its importance was so all-pervading that the city as an objective was implicit in the campaign. More probably, he had issued his directive to the army commanders on the basis of the early intelligence estimates that had promised a quick advance into central and northern Italy. The new indications of a stiffening German attitude in southern Italy required no change in the Allied plans. The Allied forces in Italy were to drive northward, to Rome and beyond.

How long this would take, no one, of course, was prepared to say. Garibaldi’s campaign eighty-three years earlier offered certain parallels. Garibaldi had entered Naples unopposed on 7 September 1860, and then fought near Capua and Caserta, not far from the Volturno River. When he defeated the Bourbon troops, the entire Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, except for the towns of Capua and Gaeta, fell to him. It took him a month to capture Capua and cross the Volturno. On 21 November he was at Gaeta, where he besieged his enemy, Francis II. Not until 12 February of the next year did Garibaldi triumph. In 1943 and 1944, it would take the Allied forces somewhat longer to take Gaeta, to say nothing of Rome.

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

World War Two: Italy; Winter Campaign-The Volturno Crossing (ISC-3-12)

World War Two: Italy; Beyond Salerno (ISC-2-10)


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