Italy 1943 - 1945:
British Armoured Divisions
There were three British armoured divisions deployed during the Italian campaign, however, the mountainous spine of the country, and large number of rivers across the line of advance, mitigated against the use of tanks. The mountains and hills were obstacles that tanks found difficult to exploit, with the roads and tracks in these areas not suitable for heavy armoured vehicles, and the weather conditions in winter were atrocious.
vThe armoured formations were not employed as complete divisions, but formed battlegroups for specific operations. Such was the nature of the terrain that individual Regiments, or even just Troops, were all that could be used to support the infantry in attack and defence. In addition, some armoured units were deployed as infantry on occasions. For example, the 27th Lancers often had Troops operating as infantry in late 1944 onwards.
The first to be deployed was the 7 Armoured Division, which landed at Salerno on 15 September 1943. It then fought in the battle of the Volturno Crossing before being withdrawn from the front line on 13 November 1943. It sailed for the United Kingdom the following month to prepare for the invasion of Normandy.
The 6 Armoured Division landed in Italy on 18 March 1944, having remained in North Africa following the conclusion of the Tunisian campaign. The division fought in the battle for the Gustav Line, forcing a way up the Liri Valley, and then took part in the battle for the Gothic Line. When the German forces were defeated in May 1945, the division moved into Austria as part of the occupation forces in that country. This meant that this formation was the only British armoured division to fight throughout the Italian Campaign, whereas four (one specialist) were deployed in North-West Europe. This gives an illustration of the difficult nature of the Italian countryside, compounded by the atrocious weather. It was not until April 1945, when the Allied forces broke out into the plain of the River Po, that the armoured formations were able to fulfil their potential.
The last to arrive was the 1 Armoured Division, which landed in May 1944 having also sailed from North Africa. Elements of the division fought in the Anzio bridgehead, and then the division participated in the battles for the Gothic Line. Infantry casualties had been so heavy in Italy that the decision was taken in September 1944 to disband the formation, which was broken up in the following month.