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Italy 1943 - 1945:

Indian Divisions

Three infantry divisions from the Indian Army participated in the Italian campaign. The first one to land in Italy was 8 Indian Infantry Division, which had previously seen action in Iraq and Iran during the British invasion of those countries in 1941. This formation was followed by 4 Indian Infantry Division, which had seen active service in Egypt, Eritrea, Libya, and Tunisia. This formation, known as the ‘Red Eagles’ on account of its divisional insigna, had won General MONTGOMERY’s respect during the Tunisian campaign, where it was used to outflank two German defence lines by driving through mountainous country.

The 10 Indian Infantry Division had also seen active service in Iraq, and had also participated in the invasion of Syria. The Division was then ordered to drive from Iraq to Egypt, a distance of about 1,5000 miles, and was thrown in to attempt to halt the Axis advance into Egypt in 1942. After suffering heavy losses, the 10 Indian Division recuperated in the Egyptian Delta before being deployed to Italy.

What is worthy of note with all three Indian divisions, is the consistency in command throughout the formations. In addition, it has to be noted how the men from the Punjab, and Indian plains, coped with the extremely hostile conditions experienced in Italy. Even the Gurkhas from Nepal struggled with the heavy and persistent rain, and freezing nights in the Italian mountains. All three Divisions performed well in the Italian Campaign and were highly respected by the Allied and Axis commanders alike.

The 4 Indian Infantry Division was the first formation to leave India for service overseas in the Second World War, the first tranche leaving in August 1939. It had a very distinguished war record, having been central to the success of Operation Compass in December 1940, the Abyssinia campaign of early 1941, most of the major battles of the campaign in the Western Desert in 1941 and 1942, and the final victory in Tunisia. The 4 Indian Division arrived in Italy from North Africa on 7 December 1943. In mid December 1943, it moved to the Potenza area of Italy. On 9 January 1944, the division came under the command of XIII Corps, and moved into the line at Orsogna to relieve the New Zealand Division. In February 1944, it was transferred to the New Zealand Corps and deployed at Cassino. The division concentrated there by 6 February. The 7 Brigade relieved the Americans on 14 February at Cassino, with the opening attack on 16 February 1944. The second battle commenced on 15 March 1944. The division was withdrawn from Cassino during 25/26 March 1944. It was sent back to the Orsogna front. The division was engaged in operations there and along the line of retreat of the Germans forces. In July 1944, the division was involved in the operation in central Italy and the Gothic line battles from August to October. In December 1944, the division was sent to Greece.

The 8 Indian Infantry Division arrived in Italy from Syria via Egypt on 24 September 1943. The advance party arrived at Taranto on 3 September, with the main body arriving on the 19 September. On 19 October 1943, the division entered the line at Larino under command of V Corps and on 21 October 1943, it had its first action in the crossing of the River Biferno. It fought throughout the Italian campaign. Following the armistice in Europe, the division embarked for India from Taranto on 25 and 26 June 1945. The British battalions and artillery regiments did not go to India, and returned to the United Kingdom.

The 10 Indian Infantry Division was formed in Ahmednagar in India in May 1941. It was sent immediately to Iraq where it took part in the campaign to secure the oilfields in that country. Following the successful conclusion of that campaign, the division was split up across Iraq, Persia, and Syria. As the situation had deteriorated in Egypt and Libya, the Division was rushed to the desert where it suffered heavy casualties. The division then moved to Cyprus to refit before moving to Italy in March 1944. At the end of the campaign, it moved to Trieste in May 1945, staying there until August, then moving to Milan before leaving Taranto bound for Italy on 22 November 1945. It was disbanded at Rawalpindi in January 1947.

Indian Troops Experience Second World War

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