The Italian Campaign
With North Africa in their hands the Allies turned their attention to Sicily and the invasion of Italy. On 10th July 1943 a combined British, Canadian and American invasion began with both amphibious and airborne landings at the Gulf of Gela by General George Patton's American Seventh Army and north of Syracuse by General Sir Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army. The original plan intended a strong advance by the British northwards along the east coast to Messina, whilst the Americans opperated in a supporting role along their left flank. General Montgomery's forces, however, got held up by stiff resistance in the rugged hills south of Mount Etna which opened the way for General Patton to advance northwest toward Palermo and then directly north to cut the northern coastal road. With the British making slow progress through the mountainous terrain, General Patton then advanced eastwards, skirting to the north of Mount Etna towards Messina. Supported by a series of amphibious landings on the north coast General Patton's troops entered Messina shortly before the first elements of General Montgomery's Eighth Army. The delay in capturing the island allowed a large portion of the German and Italian forces to escape across the Straits of Messina to the mainland.
With Sicily in their hasnds the Allies next step was to cross the Straits of Messina in pursuit of the enemy. General Montgomery's British Eighth Army landed in the 'toe' of Italy on 3rd September 1943 in Operation Baytown, the day the Italian government agreed to an armistice with the Allies. The armistice was publicly announced on 8th September 1943 by two broadcasts, first by General Dwight D Eisenhower which was followed by a proclamation by Marshal Pietro Badoglio, the Italian Prime Minister.
On 9th September 1943 Lieutenant General Mark W Clark's US Fifth Army landed in the face of heavy German resistance at Salerno in Operation Avalanche. At the same time, British forces landed at the Italian port of Taranto in Operation Slapstick, which was almost unopposed. General Montgomery's British Eighth Army was able to make relatively easy progress up the eastern coast to capture the port of Bari and the important airfields around Foggia. General Clark's US Fifth Army, however, suffered heavily at the hands of the German Tenth Army which came close to repelling the Salerno landings. With the Allied main effort being in the west, geared towards the capture of Naples, the stiff resistance of the German Tenth Army was a serious set-back for the Allies.
The Apennine Mountains that form the spine running up the Italian peninsula is a defenders paradise and was difficult terrain that held up the Allied advance. The spurs and re-entrants to the Apennines presented the Allies with a succession of ridges and rivers across their line of advance. The rivers were suseptable to sudden and unexpected flooding which constantly hindered and thwarted the Allied plans.
Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the German commander in Southern italy, convinced Hitler that the defence of Italy should be conducted as far away from Germany as possible thereby making the most of the natural geography of Central Italy. This would prevent the Allies seizing airfields ever closer to German as well as inhibiting an assault across the Adriatic Sea against the Balkens. Kesselring, who was subsequently made the commander of the whole of Italy, ordered the preparation of a series of defensive lines across Italy, south of Rome. The first two lines were intended to delay the Allies whilst the more formidable defences of the Winter line were being prepared. This latter line of defences proved a major obstacle to the Allies halting the US Fifth Army's advance on the western side of Italy at the end of 1943.
It would take four Allied offensives between January and May 1944 to break the German defences and open the road to Rome, which had been declared an open city by the Germans, and it was not until 4th June 1944 that the Allies finally entered that city. The German Tenth Army, however, were to slip through the Allies fingures and they would go on to wreak havock among the Allied forces in the weeks that followed.
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