Italy 1943 - 1945
The Italian campaign opened with the invasion of the mainland across the Straits of Messina on 3 September 1943. The long slog up Italy ended with the cessation of hostilities with the German forces on 2 May 1945. The nature of the Italian campaign was determined by the geography of the country, the harsh weather conditions during the winter months, the dogged resistance by the German forces (supported by the pro-Axis Italian forces), and the international composition of the Allied forces. Whilst the majority of the Allied troops were American or British, there were contingents from Brazil, Canada, France, Greece, India, New Zealand, Poland, South Africa, plus the Jewish Brigade.
In terms of the overall strategic direction of the war, the campaign in Italy was secondary to that in North West Europe. As such it suffered from limited press coverage, and apart from the capture of Rome, rarely hit the headlines. The Allied commanders saw their resources taken away, firstly for the invasion of Normandy and then for the invasion of Southern France. In addition, troops were diverted to Greece to contain the civil war there and also sent to Palestine.
The Italian campaign can be broken down into phase. The first phase were the three landings, ‘Baytown’ across the Straits of Messina, ‘Slapstick’ at Taranto, and ‘Avalanche’ at Salerno. The latter was a close run thing, with the Germans nearly forcing the Allies to evacuate the beachhead. The second phase was the battle of the ‘Gustav Line’, including the first, second, third and fourth battles of Cassino and the landings at Anzio. The third phase was the advance up through central Italy; followed by the fourth phase which was the near breaching of the Gothic Line in late 1944. The fifth and last phase was the final offensive in April 1945, which broke through the Argenta Gap and into the valley of the River Po.
Despite the challenges, the Allies eventually defeated the German Army, but the cost was high. Casualties were severe and most formations suffered from a shortage of experienced infantry soldiers. The nature of the terrain was not favourable to the deployment of armoured formations, this was an infantryman’s battle. Often fought at close quarters, in atrocious weather, their determination and suffering deserves recognition, whatever their nationality.