Italian Campaign
Allied invasion of Italy
10 July 1943 - 8 May 1945
author Paul Boșcu, November 2016
During the invasion of Italy the Allied forces manged to establish a beached head in southern Italy. From there the Allied advance towards Rome started. Because of heavy German resistance at Anzio and Monte Cassino the advance was slow. When the German lines were finaly broken the Allied forces took Rome. Afterwards, the Germans retreated into Northern Italy, where they would eventually be defeated.

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The Italian invasion took place in the context of the victory gained in the battle for Sicily. The invasion of continental Italy was planned and carried out by Army Group 15. This group was under the control of Harold Alexander and was made up of two armies: the American 5th Army, commanded by Mark Clark, and the British 8th Army of Bernard Montgomery. The success of the Italian campaign marked Italy’s exit from the war, through the signing of an armistice and the death of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini.

The Germans disarmed and imprisoned all the Italian forces in their proximity. However, most of the Italian navy sailed from Spezia to Malta. Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham triumphantly reported to the Admiralty Board in London: ‘Be pleased to inform Their Lordships that the Italian Battle Fleet now lies at anchor under the guns of the fortress of Malta.’ In total, five battleships, eight cruisers, thirty-three destroyers, thirty-four submarines and scores of other war vessels surrendered, as well as 101 merchant ships. Over 168 merchant ships were scuttled in order to avoid capture by the Germans.

The Italian navy in Malta was later used against Germany. Its submarine fleet, the 10th MAS Flotilla, was especially used, whose ‘cold-blooded bravery and enterprise’ were praised by such an authority as Admiral Cunningham.

Concerning the landing area, the Allies had two options: one in the basin of the Volturno River, and the second at Salerno. Both places were within the action range of the Allied airplanes in Sicily. Salerno was chosen due to the fact that it was closer to the air bases in Sicily. At the same time, the navigating conditions on the water were better there. This location allowed transport ships to anchor much closer to the beach, and there was an excellent network of roads in the area. The landing had the codename Operation Avalanche.

Before the invasion of Sicily, the Allies had planned a limited invasion of Italy, in the instep of the Italian boot, at Taranto. They planned to advance to the southern part of the country. The overthrow of Mussolini’s regime made an even more ambitious plan possible. The Allies decided to supplement the landing of the 8th Army with the occupation of the port of Naples.

A preliminary operation codenamed Baytown was also planned. In this operation, Montgomery’s 8th Army left the port of Messina and landed close to Calabria. The small distance between Sicily and the continent allowed a very fast landing. Thus, the British 5th Infantry Division landed to the north of the ‘toe’ of Italy, while the Canadian 1st Infantry Division landed to the south.

The Allied plan was bold, but it was not faultless. The 5th Army landed on rather a narrow front, using only three divisions. At the same time, a force of American rangers, elite troops led by Colonel William O. Darby, was entrusted with defending the mountain passes leading to Naples. However, no plan was made to link these forces with the troops which would land later. Clark ordered a halt to the preparations being made to bomb the German coastal positions. Previous combat experience in the Pacific had clearly demonstrated that an initial bombardment was necessary.

The main invasion was made up of the American 5th Army, under the command of Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark. It was formed of the British VI and X Corps, with the 82nd Airborne Division in reserve. The main objective of this force was the occupation of the port of Naples. Thus, the supplying of the troops could be ensured, and they could cut off the Axis troops stationed along the coast, isolating them in the south. A second landing was carried out by the British 1st Airborne Division close to Taranto as a diversion. This action was called Operation Slapstick.

The Germans put six divisions into position in order to cover the possible landing places on the west coast, from Rome to the Italian ‘toe’. The German forces were made up of the ‘Hermann Göring’ Panzer Divisions 26 and 16, the Panzergrenadier Divisions 15 and 29, and the 2nd Fallschirmjäger - Airborne Division. Heinrich von Vietinghoff, commander of the 10th Army, especially placed the 16th Panzer Division close to Salerno.

As in the case of Sicily, the exact site of the landing was not known by the Germans. For this reason, the Germans had to spread out their forces along the western coast of Italy.

Field Marshal Albert Kesselring was in command of the German troops in Italy, and was Rommel’s superior. A bourgeois gunner turned pilot, originally from Bavaria, Kesselring was viewed with friendly disdain by the Prussian aristocrats under his command. However, no one challenged his authority. Kesselring surmised that the Allies’ next step would be to land with the aid of the amphibian vessels in the Gulf of Salerno, just south of Naples.

Sailing towards Salerno, the soldiers of the V Army were informed that Italy had signed an armistice, officially leaving the war. The news changed nothing in the way Clark’s soldiers were met by the Germans on landing. Later, Kesselring maintained that the defection of General Pietro Badoglio simply meant that ‘our hands were no longer tied’ and that he could now requisition anything he needed without having to carry out tiresome negotiations with the Italians over compensation.

During the landings, there was minor opposition, with the Italian units immediately surrendering. They left a lone German regiment to defend 27 km of coastline. The German General Albert Kesselring and his staff did not believe that the main invasion would take place at Calabria, where Montgomery’s troops landed ahead of the main Allied forces. Since the Salerno region and even the region to the north of Rome seemed to be much more logical choices, Kesselring ordered the Panzer 76 Corps not to engage the British 8th Army in battle, but to delay it by demolishing bridges on retreat.

Montgomery’s objections to Operation Baytown were proven to be right. The 8th Army could not surround an enemy which refused to fight. Furthermore, while retreating, the Germans created serious difficulties for the Allies in their advance, by destroying bridges. A factor which somewhat complicated the German forces’ situation was the surrender of the Italian forces to the Allies. Still, the German forces in Italy acted fast. They disarmed the Italian units and occupied the defensive positions they had held.

At Paestum, the Germans established artillery positions and machine-gun nests. They positioned tanks in the landing area, which made the landing very difficult. Up to that point, the 36th division had never been in combat. The soldiers of this division reorganized themselves with difficulty after landing. In this area, the 16th Panzer Division carried out a counterattack which caused heavy losses for the Allies, but which was repelled with the aid of navy fire. In the south, the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Regiment was stuck on the beach for the whole day due to intense fire.

In Operation Slapstick, British troops landed at Taranto, an important naval base. The Italians had surrendered the previous day and the Germans had very few forces in the area. As a result, the British troops made their landing straight from their warships into the port of Taranto. They did not use the amphibian assault they had planned. German resistance was minor, thus the city was captured quickly, with very few losses.

In spite of the difficult conditions, the American and British forces managed to meet up. They occupied a line which was 55-70 km long and 10-12 km wide in the interior of Italy. The German forces carried out a counterattack in the hope of pushing the 5th Army back to the landing beach. The Allies suffered heavy losses, especially the American troops, since they were too spread out to be able to resist a concentrated attack. The entire 2nd Battalion of the 143rd Infantry Regiment was caught between German tanks and destroyed. Then, the right wing of the 45th Division fell. The German forces were stopped by naval artillery.

Operation Avalanche involved X Corps, made up of the British 46th and 56th Divisions, a detachment of American rangers and a British commando unit. The rangers did not meet resistance, and rapidly occupied the mountain passes. The British commando unit met minor resistance and occupied Salerno. However, the two infantry divisions met determined resistance from the Germans. They had to use a naval bombardment in order to reach the shore. The intensity of the German resistance forced the concentration and organization of the British forces, thus stopping them from advancing south to meet the American forces.

The reconnaissance units of the American infantry were withdrawn beyond the La Caso River in order to reduce the length of the defensive lines. The new perimeter was defended with the aid of the 82nd Airborne Division, brought out of reserves. This division sent two battalions to the front: the 504th and 505th Regiments.

Due to the reorganization of their forces, the Allies repelled all the German attempts to find a weak point in the American lines. When it became clear that the Allies were too well organized for this kind of action, General Heinrich von Vietinghoff ordered the 10th Army to retreat north. Thus, the Allies had the opportunity to re-secure all objectives before beginning to pursue the German forces.

After the retreat of the German forces from the Allied landing area, the Anglo-American forces began to pursue the 10th German Army. The initial tactical goal of this pursuit was to capture the cities of Naples and Foggia. During this time, the American 3rd Infantry Division, recently landed, occupied the localities of Acerno and Avellino. After these objectives were attained, the Allies attacked a series of German defensive lines to the south of Rome.

The 5th Army began its attack on Naples. The 82nd Airborne Division, which had suffered serious losses up to that point, was redirected towards X Corps. This latter corps joined the American rangers and the British 23rd Armored Division in the area of the Sorrento peninsula. Their mission was to flank the German defense in Noura, which had been attacked by the British 46th Division. The 7th Armored Division had the mission of overtaking the positions of the 46th Division and advancing towards Naples. The attacks calmed down once the Germans withdrew their troops from southern Italy.

The Allies advanced rapidly, chasing the Germans who were in full retreat. The first Allied troops entered Naples on the first day of October. The entire 5th Army reached close to the Volturno River, which gave the Allies a natural defensive barrier. From this point on, the Allied advance through the German defensive lines was hard and costly. The Germans were forced to engage in a series of conflicts to delay the Allies, in order to complete their strong defensive positions to the south of Rome.

The Canadian 1st Division, part of the 8th Army, occupied the aerodromes of Foggia and reached the Adriatic Sea. From those flat fields, the Allied Air Forces of the Mediterranean, led by General Ira C. Eaker, could dominate the air battle in southern Europe. In three weeks, the 15th Airborne Force of the USAF was roaming free from southern Germany and Austria to the Balkans. The Americans bombed the Romanian oil fields in Ploiesti. This was where the Germans were getting a large part of their necessary fuel. The 12th Aerial Support Command of the United States also bombed the German forces in Italy.

The situation in Naples was terrifying, with revolts for food, epidemics of typhoid, Mafia crimes and lack of water. Prostitution for food was so widespread that special military hospitals had to be set up just to treat venereal diseases. A general fall of law, order and morality took place in the city. The most serious aspect concerning the future operations in the north was the fact that, in consequence of the German scorched-earth policy, the docks had been devastated. Many months passed before the city, put through great trials, returned to normality or at least decency.

Dwight Eisenhower and Harold Alexander put together a plan in which the 5th and 8th Armies would fight to occupy Rome. The 8th Army must gain Pescara and head west. The 5th Army would advance towards the Liri valley, helped by a strong landing force in the south of Rome, at Anzio. The troops from Anzio would annihilate the reserve troops on the Gustav Line and push all strategic reserves of the German troops towards the north. The Allies knew the German defensive plans before the beginning of operations, through the spy network.

The Allies were informed, through Ultra, about Hitler’s decision to support Kesselring’s plan to fight south of Rome. Ultra was the decryption machine of the famous Enigma, used by the Germans during the war to encode their messages.

Although Alexander had eleven divisions in Italy in December, Kesselring had nine to the south of Rome and eight other reserves in the north. While the Wehrmacht in Italy was homogenous, on the Allies’ side were 16 nationalities fighting together, including Poles, New Zealanders, Algerians, South-Africans, Moroccans, a contingent of Jews and even a Brazilian expeditionary corps. Many of these spoke different languages and used different weapons and ammunition. Also, Anglo-American rivalries once again came to the surface and became even more acute during the attempt to conquer the Eternal City.

In general, the British, exhausted after the campaigns in northern Africa and Sicily, seemed to the Americans to be too slow and excessively cautious. On the other hand, some of the American recruits gave the British the impression that their units were formed of novices and naives. There was tension between the superior officers of the two armies. Mark Clark became obsessed with the glory of being the general to march into the first fallen Axis capital city. Concerning this, General-Major John Harding later declared: ‘I think General Clark was overwhelmed by the wish to be the first into Rome, which he would have anyhow.’

With Rome as the next major objective, the Allies set out for the north. They quickly attacked towns and villages and crossed the rivers whose bridges had been destroyed. Rome was chosen as the objective for political and moral reasons rather than military ones. This city was declared by both camps as a demilitarized city. The terrible weather in the autumn of that year and the topographical defensive features of the Apennine mountains were a favorable context for General Fridolin von Vietinghoff to begin determined measures from the German rearguard. Thus, Allied air superiority was often negated.

Churchill was wrong when he compared Europe to a crocodile, and the Mediterranean as its ‘soft underbelly’. As Mark Clark declared, ‘I often thought what a tough old gut it was instead of the soft belly that he had led us to believe.’ Montgomery agreed with him. ‘I don’t think we can get any spectacular results,’ he reported to Alan Brooke, ‘so long as it goes on raining; the whole country becomes a sea of mud and nothing on wheels can move off the roads.’

Rain, sleet and frequent snowstorms during the winter campaign led to pneumonia, dysentery, respiratory diseases, fever, jaundice and fungal infections known as ‘trench foot’. This appeared when wet socks were not removed for days on end. By the end of the year, besides the 40,000 dead and wounded of the 5th Army, another 50,000 victims were recorded amongst civilians, and around 20,000 deserters.

The 5th Army crossed the rushing River Volturno, whose bridges had been destroyed by the Germans. Alexander ordered a short break to regroup and recuperate. In their retreat, the Germans had applied the scorched-earth policy, destroying all food stores and public utilities. Their actions were intensified when the Badoglio government, evacuated for safety from Rome to Bari, declared war on Germany.

Since the 8th Army was to the east of the Apennines and Clark’s 5th Army was in the west, there were few moments in which they supported each other. The Germans, while retreating north, tried to give as much time as possible to their colleagues, who were perfecting the defensive lines of Bernhard, Barbara, the Winter Line and especially the Gustav Line.

The autumn campaign in Italy consisted of a series of assaults on the German defensive lines installed to the south of Rome. Of these, the Gustav Line and the Winter Line proved the hardest to conquer. The Winter Line was a well-fortified outpost of the Gustav Line, which must be crossed in order for the Allies to assault the Gustav Line. During the attack in the area of the Winter Line, the battle of San Pietro took place. This was one of the bloodiest battles of the Italian campaign. The Allies managed to occupy this town after nine days of hard fighting.

Clark made a grave error by not directly attacking the Gustav Line, which was close by, as soon as the Winter Line was broken through. The 5th Army reached the rivers of Sangro, Rapido, Garigliano and the Gustav Line only after the New Year. Thus, the Germans had a month in which to prepare the defense of the Gustav Line, after the fall of the peaks of Monte Camino and Monte Lungo and the medieval town of San Pietro. The Battle of San Pietro was fought house by house, in three separate assaults of the 36th Division of the Texas National Guards against the 15th Panzergrenadier Division. The scars of this battle can be seen today, in a town which has been kept just as it was.

The German garrison at San Pietro could not simply be surrounded and isolated by the 5th Army which was heading towards the Gustav Line, since its observation posts subjected the advancing troops and their logistic support to constant, well-aimed artillery fire. As in the case of the Camino and Lungo heights, and the imposing hill on which the monastery of Monte Cassino is found, the only option was to occupy the hill.

The battles which took place between the attack at Camino and the final defeat of the Germans in San Pietro left the 5th Army worn out. The sleet and hail, which fell ceaselessly, reduced enthusiasm even further for an attack on the Gustav Line during the shortest days of the year. Also, due to the snow and low cloud, it was unlikely that air support could arrive.

‘The name of San Pietro will be remembered in military history,’ reads the Operations Report of the 143rd Infantry Regiment. In the end, this regiment took the town after two earlier attacks had been repelled. ‘We picked our way through fields ripped by mortars and shells and the still bodies of doughboys [GIs] who fell in the bloody, savage fighting… [in] this gray little town overlooking the valley approaches to Cassino. The soldiers call it Death Valley because death was on the rampage… as they stormed this enemy fortress ringed by fortifications, dug into terraced slopes commanding the Liri valley.’

Once the Winter Line was broken through, the Allies assaulted the Gustav Line, with the attack on Cassino being carried out from the west and south of the town. The Germans did not include the historic monastery of Monte Cassino in their defensive plans, but occupied defensive positions on Mount Cassino. The Allies had to occupy this mountain to be able to advance on Rome. This only happened after four attacks, which were considered the hardest battles fought in Italy. The first attack was planned by General Mark Clark, and was an Allied attack in three directions.

Then, as now, the town formed a horseshoe shape around the 518 m hill, on which the monastery is built. Situated under Mount Cairo, Cassino was the strongest part of the Gustav Line. Founded at the beginning of the 6th century by Saint Benedict himself, the monastery is the mother church of the Benedictine Order.

From Cassino to the Tyrrhenian Sea, there are a series of rivers, principally Gari, Garigliano and Rapido. These were major obstacles for the Allies. Here, but also at Cassino, the 5th Army had to fight, trying to break through the Gustav Line, during the four months of battles. The prize to be obtained by breaking through the Gustav Line was the Liri Valley. It was a flat, wide road which led straight to Rome, along which the Allied armored vehicles could advance with speed. After Cassino finally fell, the 5th Army managed to reach Rome in only three weeks.

The British X Corps attacked the left part of the German lines along a 30 km long front. The attack was carried out in the Garigliano Valley. The 46th British Infantry Division attacked at the junction point between the Garigliano and Liri valleys in order to help the American II Corps. The main central attack was carried out by the American II Corps, with the Texas 36th Infantry Division in primary role. This division had the task of advancing along the Rapido River towards the town of Cassino. At the same time, the French Expeditionary Corps, under the command of General Alphonse Juin, continued its way towards Monte Cairo, the key to the Hitler and Gustav defensive lines.

At the moment the Allies arrived at the Gustav Line, it was extremely well fortified. N.C. Phillips, official historian of the New Zealand forces in Italy, pointed out that ‘On its military merits alone, no competent soldier would have chosen to assault Cassino in March 1944. He would have looked askance at the very notion of trying to carry by storm the strongest fortress in Europe at the dead of winter by a single Corps unsupported by diversionary operations.’ Even so, taking into account the lack of geographical alternatives and the necessity of taking Rome before the Normandy landing, the Allies attacked the line.

In reality, Clark did not believe that it was possible to break through the German lines so soon. However, he hoped that this attack would draw the German reserve forces away from Rome. Clark wanted the Germans to send their backup forces to the Cassino area. Thus, the attack at Anzio, where the Anglo-American forces must make an amphibian landing, would have a greater chance of success. This is what happened.

The Germans resorted to a static defense on the positions of the Gustav Line, a line which was heavily strengthened with bunkers, machine-gun nests and artillery. Close to the coast, the British X Corps, with the 56th and 5th Divisions, forced a crossing of the Garigliano valley. Thus, the British gave General von Senger, responsible for the defense of the Gustav Line, serious doubts about whether the 94th Infantry Division could resist the enemy.

Kesselring ordered the Panzer Grenadier 29th and 90th Divisions from near Rome to come to the aid of the defenders. The two divisions stabilized the German positions, and the Allied attack failed. In one aspect, however, Clark’s plan succeeded, since Kesselring’s reserves were drawn south. The three divisions which made up X Corps suffered 4,000 casualties during this first attack.

The main attack of the American 36th Division began after sunset. Pressed by time, the Allies had not prepared a safe passage to the German positions, and the road leading to them was full of mines and rudimentary traps. At the same time, the American troops did not have the necessary experience to cross a river upstream. Although the 143rd Regiment and two companies of the 141st Regiment managed to advance to the southern and northern sides respectively, they became isolated from the rest of the American forces. The American tanks did not have the necessary means to be able to advance. Thus, the elements which managed to advance were very vulnerable to a counterattack. The attack failed.

The southern group of the American troops was pushed back after a day of fighting. Major-General Geoffrey Keyes, commander of II Corps, ordered a new attack. The two regiments of the group once again attacked the well-fortified positions of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. The 143rd Regiment managed to get two battalions over the river, but again, without the support of the armored vehicles, they were defeated by the German forces at daybreak.

The 141st Regiment of the American II Corps managed to get the equivalent of two battalions across the river. The American soldiers, in spite of the difficult operating conditions, managed to advance one kilometer. However, in the morning they were attacked in force by the German troops. Due to the German attack, the regiment was decimated and ceased to exist. Only 40 men returned to their own lines. The assault was a stinging defeat, with the Allies suffering 2,100 casualties in only 48 hours.

The Americans captured the hamlet of San Onofrio, 2 km from the monastery. The attempts made to attack Monte Cassino failed due to the overwhelming fire carried out by the Germans. After three days of assault on the monastery and the town, the American forces of the 34th Division, having lost 80% of their soldiers, retreated.

On the right flank, the French made initial progress against the 5th Mountain Division, occupying positions at the base of Mount Cifalco. Due to the backup received by the Germans, the French were pinned to the bottom of the mountain, advance having been made impossible. In these conditions, the 36th American Division had to fight in the southern sector to get into the Liri valley, so that the Allied forces could fall behind the Gustav Line. It was a very difficult task: the terrain was very difficult to cross and was laced with mines, traps and barbed wire. The Germans had had three months to prepare their defensive positions in this area and to lay in supplies of food and ammunition.

The majesty of the steep Monte Cassino has impressed historians as much as it impresses tourists today. However, the battles in the south and in the west were just as important and as costly. At the crossing of the Volturno River, the 5th Army recorded 26,000 deaths.

The American units were put into reserve to be reorganized. They were replaced on the front by the New Zealand Corps, formed of the 2nd New Zealand Division and the 4th Indian Division. The new troops were commanded by Lieutenant General Bernard Freyberg. At Anzio, VI Corps was under serious threat. Freyberg was pressed to launch an action at Cassino in order to ease the pressure on the troops in Anzio. Freyberg’s plan was to continue the first battle: an attack in the north on the peaks of the mountains in the area and an attack from the south-east, along the railway line. The objective was to capture the station found on the other side of the Rapido River.

Once again, the battle began before the attackers were completely prepared. Freyberg informed his superiors that, in view of the circumstances, the operation only had a 50% chance of success. Before the beginning of the first battle, Kesselring assured the Vatican that the Monte Cassino abbey would not be occupied by his troops. Even so, most of the treasures of the monastery were moved to Rome. Today, they can be seen in the monastery’s museum.

During the main assault, the Rajputana Indian rifle regiment replaced the Sussex Regiment, and two Nepalese Gurkha regiments carried out a direct assault on the monastery. Again, the battles were very brutal. No progress was gained this time either. After it became clear that the attack could not succeed against the German fortified positions, it was suspended.

The American command in the area did not evaluate the difficulty of stationing the 4th Indian Division in the mountains, with the problem of getting supplies to them. This is clear from the writings of Major-General Howard Kippenberger, commander of the 2nd New Zealand Division, after the war: ‘Poor Dimoline was having a dreadful time getting his division into position. I never really appreciated the difficulties until I went over the ground after the war.’

In the south, the two companies of the New Zealand 28th Battalion forced a crossing of the Rapido River. They managed to reach their objective. During the day, they were hidden under a barrage of constant smoke so that the German artillery on the top of the hill could not spot them. Even so, their own isolation and the lack of anti-tank weapons made their position vulnerable when the German Tigers counterattacked. Thus, the Allied troops retreated, although they were very close to reaching their objective. The Germans were alarmed due to the capture of the railway station in the area. They had not expected to succeed in the counterattack they had launched.

The first contact of the second battle of Monte Cassino took place the night after the bombing of the monastery. A company of the Royal Sussex Regiment attacked a key point of the defenders. The assault failed in the face of the well-organized German defense. The next night, the regiment attacked again. The battles were brutal, often man to man. The determined defense of the Germans prevailed, and the British were repelled.

After the battle, the commander of the German defense, General Fridolin von Senger, presented himself to Hitler to receive the oak leaf of the Knight’s Cross. This distinction did not impress the general, ‘now that hundreds of people wore the decoration’. Senger was even less impressed by the presence of the Führer himself, who he found ‘utterly depressing’, wondering what effect he could have on the other soldiers receiving medals that day. ‘He wore a yellow military blouse with a yellow tie, white collar and black trousers – hardly a becoming outfit!’

As time passed, more and more Allied officers believed that the Germans were using the monastery on Monte Cassino as an observation point. This had foiled all attempts the Allies had made up to that point to break through the Gustav Line. As a consequence, American airplanes dropped 1,150 tons of explosives and incendiary bombs on the monastery, reducing the entire complex of buildings into a smoking ruin. Between air raids, the artillery of II Corps bombed the mountain. The German defenders sent their troops and occupied the monastery, transforming it into a fortress.

The vandalism of the Allies offered an opportunity for a new propaganda hit for Dr. Goebbels, in spite of the fact that the ruins were almost as easy for the Germans to defend as the building had been. The bombing was a beneficial action for the morale of the Allied troops, however, they discovered that few Germans had died in the bombing. The Allies prepared to attack the monastery.

The commander of the defenders at Cassino, Fridolin von Senger, later claimed that ‘The bombing had the opposite effect of what was intended. Now we would occupy the abbey without scruple, especially as ruins are better for defence than intact buildings… Now Germany had a mighty, commanding strongpoint, which paid for itself in the subsequent fighting.’ The superiority of ruins over entire buildings, for defense purposes, had already been observed at Stalingrad.

‘I say that the bombing of the Abbey was a mistake, and I say it with the full knowledge of the controversy that has raged round this episode,’ wrote Mark Clark in his autobiography Calculated Risk, in 1951. ‘Not only was the bombing an unnecessary psychological mistake in the field of propaganda, but it was a tactical military mistake of the first magnitude. It only made our job more difficult, more costly in terms of men, machines and time.’ Clark was personally involved in the operation and approved Alexander’s and Freyberg’s decision to destroy the monastery.

Visitors to the magnificent rebuilt structure will be immediately impressed by the way the abbey dominates the hill, which, in turn, dominates the Liri valley. The monastery was effectively condemned from the moment that Kesselring chose it as a foundational part of the Gustav Line. A quick glance to the south, from the peak of the hill, made this an inevitable choice. The unlevel ground, crisscrossing rivers and, above all, the height of the mountains, made the tactical difficulties easy to understand.

The political price of destroying the monastery was considered too high, especially in New Zealand, whose troops formed the first wave. Freyberg, Clark and Alexander had to approve its destruction. It was a paradox that, in the western civilization’s crusade against Nazism, a remarkable jewel of civilization had to be destroyed by the Allies. Thus, they were forced to carry the final responsibility for an aesthetic and cultural tragedy.

For the third offensive, it was decided that two simultaneous attacks would be launched in the north, one towards the monastery and one towards the well-fortified town of Cassino. The attacks would be launched when spring arrived. In order to carry out this assault, it was necessary to have three days of good weather. Thus, the attack was delayed by 20 days. The morale of the Allied troops suffered, when Major-General Howard Kippenberger was wounded by an antipersonnel mine. He lost both legs and was replaced by Brigadier General Graham Parkinson. The third assault was also repelled by the German troops.

A third battle began when, after an initial bombardment, the New Zealand troops began their advance. Success depended on the ability of the Allied troops to profit from the paralysis of the German troops caused by the bombing. The German defenders however responded much quicker than the Allies had estimated. The Allied armored vehicles were pinned into the craters formed after the bombing. Due to the fact that the Allies reacted slowly and only ordered a new assault in the evening, the Germans had time to reorganize. The Germans once again resisted the attack of the Allied troops.

The final assault on the monastery was planned to take place on the first day of operations. A surprise attack from the 20th Armored Brigade was included in this attack. Even so, a German counterattack completely interrupted the Allied plans around the hill on which the monastery stood. During this time, the attackers had not made major progress in the town, and the initiative had been taken back by the Germans. The German positions close to the Castle Hill - the gate to the monastery - eliminated all hopes of an Allied success.

After two days of fighting, the situation improved for the Allies. The Nepalese Gurkha regiments captured an important point only 200 meters from the monastery. The New Zealand troops managed to capture an important railway station. Even so, the Germans were still able to send fresh troops into the town. They also managed to send snipers into parts of the city which the Allies had believed to be secure.

General Bernard Freyberg brought elements of the 78th Infantry Division out of reserves in order to increase the number of troops in the town and to prevent the Germans from infiltrating areas which had already been swept clean. Also, bringing in the 78th Division allowed the Allied positions close to the Castle Hill to be fortified. This was the route used by the Germans to send backup to the troops in town. The German defenders were well-organized, so the Allied attempt to block the German access into town failed. In Cassino, battles were fought over each house. The Allies were forced to retreat due to the stubborn resistance of the Germans.

More than 1,000 tons of bombs were dropped from 500 bombers on the town of Cassino. However, the American military aviation, which carried out two-thirds of the missions, often failed to coordinate their ground commanders properly. Those on the ground often didn’t know when the raids were programmed to end. Thus, the Germans always had time to occupy positions in the rubble of the ruins before the wave of assaults hit them. ‘I had climbed every single hill that offered a long view,’ recalled Senger of his 50-mile-wide sector based at Cassino, ‘and this gave me a complete picture of the fissured mountain terrain.’

‘What exceeded all expectations was the fighting spirit of the troops,’ German General Senger later wrote of his 1st Parachute Rifle Division, which fought against the New Zealanders in the town. ‘The soldiers crawled out of the shuttered cellars and bunkers to confront the enemy with the toughest resistance. Words can hardly do them justice. We had all reckoned that those who survived the hours of bombing and the casualties would be physically and morally shaken, but this was not so.’ As paratroopers, the soldiers had trained to fight in isolated, surrounded points of resistance.

General Senger especially liked the way in which the German paratroopers didn’t bother reporting small territorial losses, ‘because they hoped soon to recover it’. Senger later recalled the ‘jarring explosion of shells, the whistling of splinters, the smell of freshly thrown-up earth, and the well-known mixture of smells from glowing iron and burnt powder’. He felt these things while visiting the 3rd Paratrooper Regiment, at the divisional headquarters of General Richard Heidrich, the commander of I Parachute Corps.

The gradient of the Monastery Hill is 45 degrees, but terrible battles were also fought in other places in the town: The Continental Hotel - where a tank lay hidden in the foyer -, Castle Hill, the botanical gardens and the station. All these places witnessed violent hand-to-hand combat. The fighting in Cassino, a veteran recalled, ‘was at such close quarters that one floor of a building might be held by a defender while the next was occupied by the attackers. If the latter wished to use their artillery to soften up the building before storming it, they would have to evacuate this floor!’

General Harold Alexander met with his commanders. Some opinions were in favor of continuing the fight since a victory was possible. It was clear that the Indian and New Zealand divisions were exhausted. Freyberg was convinced that the fighting could no longer continue, so the attack was cancelled. The following three days were used to stabilize the front and evacuate the Allied troops which were in avangard positions. In the mountains, the Indians were replaced by the British 78th Division. In the town, the New Zealanders were replaced by the British 1st Infantry Brigade. Once again, the Allied efforts were dashed by the well-organized German defense.

The plan for Operation Diadem, the final battle of Monte Cassino, was drawn up by the Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Italy, Harold Alexander. The American II Corps would attack on the left, along the coast, up to Rome. The French forces, to the right of the Americans, would attack along the Garigliano valley. The British XIII Corps, in the center of the front, would attack in the Liri valley. The Polish II Corps, formed of the 3rd and 5th Divisions and commanded by Lieutenant General Wladyslaw Anders, must attempt a new assault on the monastery. This plan gave the Allies the victory at Monte Cassino.

In order to deceive the Germans, the Allies created the impression of a potential marine landing north of Rome, with the intention of forcing the Germans to stop sending troops into the Cassino area. The plan of deception was successful once again, as it had been in the landings in Sicily and Italy. As a consequence, the German defenders were taken by surprise by the great number of attackers. General Kesselring estimated that the Allies had six divisions which confronted the four German divisions. In fact, the attack was carried out by 13 Allied divisions.

The first assault on the town of Cassino opened with a massive bombing. Then, in an hour and a half, the attack began in all sectors. The American II Corps made little initial progress. However their colleagues from the 5th Army and the French troops met their objectives, gathering the German positions between them and the 8th Army. In the 8th Army’s sector, the XIII Corps carried out two determined crossings of the Rapido River. During this time, the Poles made little progress in the mountains for three days, with both sides suffering heavy losses.

The Polish troops resumed their assault on the monastery after a few days. Due to the breaking of the front in the other sectors, a reconnaissance group from the Polish troops found the ruins of the monastery abandoned. The last defenders of the monastery had been evacuated.

The bridgeheads established close to the Rapido River grew, while in the mountains and along the coast the agony of the Allied troops continued. The pressure put on the German lines began to take effect. The right flank of the German defenders began to give way in the face of constant attack. From that moment, the French forces were in a position in which they could flank the German forces opposing the 8th Army. In these conditions, the 8th Army advanced to the Liri Valley, while the 5th Army advanced along the coast up to the Hitler defensive line.

The four battles of Monte Cassino have been compared with the Battle of the Somme in World War I. In the first battle, for example, the 5th Army recorded 16,000 dead or wounded, especially from the 34th Division. In the second battle, the New Zealand army suffered the worst losses, while even more human losses were suffered in the third battle. During the battle for the Gustav Line, the Luftwaffe could hardly get planes into the air for regular reconnaissance flights, such was the evident superiority of the Allies. Anyway, the Luftwaffe only had 430 airplanes in the whole of Italy.

The role of Pope Pius XII in World War II remains extremely controversial. He deliberately decided not to publicly denounce the Nazi war against the Jews, in spite of the fact that he had detailed information about the nature and dimension of the phenomenon. His decision was based on his conviction - which proved to be founded - that the Germans harshly punished ecclesiastical authorities which intervened in the favor of the Jews. This would have reduced the opportunities to help in other, especially clandestine, ways. The Pope himself sheltered thousands of Jews in his properties in Rome and at the Gandolfo Castle, outside the city.

At the Vatican, the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Sir D’Arcy Osborne, reported to the Foreign Office during the battles at Cassino: ‘The Cardinal Secretary of State sent for me today to say that the Pope hoped that no Allied coloured troops would be among the small number that might be garrisoned at Rome after the occupation. He hastened to add that the Holy See did not draw the colour line but it was hoped that it would be possible to meet the request.’

A public condamnation from the Pope could not have stopped or slowed the Holocaust, which through its nature was not carried out by pious people. However, in retrospective, the Pope had a moral obligation to call an alarm on what was happening. The idea which has been spread, that the Pope himself was anti-Semitic or even a supporter of the Nazis, is false.

The Allies carried out two amphibious attacks on the towns of Anzio and Nettuno. The attacks had the goal of cutting off communications between Rome and Cassino. Thus, the Allies forced the German 10th Army to weaken or even abandon the western part of the Gustav Line. Once they landed, the Allied troops would be able to attack the flanks of the positions at Cassino. The operation was initially a failure for the Allies, who were stuck in the landing area for several months. After they managed to break through the German defense, the forces from Anzio reached Rome.

The landing was carried out by the American VI Corps, under the command of General-Major John Lucas. Participating in the landing was the 81st Special Force, comprised of 374 ships, under the general command of Rear-Admiral Frank Lowry. During this time, Rear-Admiral Thomas Troubridge was leading the subunits which were part of the Royal Navy.

Although there were initially several thousand Germans in the area, in the evening after the landing there were over 40,000. John Lucas was not the right man to command the landing which carried the codename Operation Shingle. He didn’t believe in the Allied plans concerning Operation Shingle. Planned by Churchill as a victorious campaign, the battle of Anzio was transformed into a drawn-out costly failure. The German ability to counterattack was not reduced, since Kesselring rapidly brought troops from the Gustav Line, from France, from northern Italy and from the Balkans.

The landings were a complete surprise to the Germans, who were caught unawares, since the attack had not been expected. ‘As our squad entered a gloomy narrow street,’ an American private later recalled, ‘I could see a pair of fleshy white buttocks wobbling in the opposite direction and I shouted “Halt!” as loud as I could. The man stopped, raised his hands and walked towards us… His thin legs were shivering below a great pot belly. It was my first encounter with the Master Race.’

Lucas was able to consolidate his beachheads on the beach, although he was under constant fire from German artillery and under the direct attack of the 16th Army. The latter was under the command of General Eberhard von Mackensen. The strengthening of the beachheads on the beach were difficult: digging deep trenches was impossible because the water level was too high. Also, as a veteran recalled, ‘Dig a slit trench, leave it for an hour, and the bottom would be black with beetles trying to get out.’

When the Allies began the landing, General Albert Kesselring sent the warning code ‘Case Richard’ to all German units. German forces rushed to arrive. The Allies extended the beachheads a little way on the narrow, exposed front lines. Their further attacks, however, were repelled both at Campoleone and at Cisterna. Immediately after the landing, Churchill told Alexander: ‘Am very glad you are pegging out claims rather than digging in beachheads,’ however he had spoken too soon.

Alexander and Clark both landed at Anzio on the first day, at 9am. They did not manage to order Lucas to rapidly take Campoleone and Cisterna regardless of the cost. During a visit made to the anti-tank platoon of the Grenadier Guards of the 5th Battalion, an 88mm shell exploded, covering Alexander’s fur-lined jacket with earth. ‘He brushed off the soil as he would the drops of water having been caught in a shower of rain,’ recalled a guardsman, ‘and continued on his way chatting to his aide, who looked as though he’d seen a ghost.’

The British attack on the station at Campoleone, a strategic point for the Allies, was a failure. The 1st Infantry Division of General-Major W.R.C. Penney began the assault. This had been delayed extensively due to an ambush which had caught a few important officers from the Grenadier Guard. Only one soldier from the 2nd ‘Sherwood Forest’ Battalion managed to cross the railway line, but he was later killed, together with another 244 of his comrades from his regiment, in only 10 minutes. Campoleone held out for three months.

John Lucas, known by his soldiers as ‘Foxy Grandpa’, established the general headquarters of VI Corps in the underground caverns of Via Romana in Nettuno, close to the landing area. He remained there, far from the British sectors, and at one point carried out an evacuation exercise. In the absence of progress, Lucas was replaced by the much more energetic Major-General Lucian Truscott. Both Harold Alexander and Mark Clark approved all of Lucas’ decisions, but they escaped criticism.

The British war correspondent, Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, wrote that Lucas had ‘the round face and the greying moustache of a kindly country solicitor’. Alexander and Clark were affected by the inheritance of a certain type of thinking. They refought the battle of Salerno at Anzio, without taking into account a few key differences between the two operations. The main element was the fact that the latter had the inestimable advantage of total surprise.

Alexander, due to his multinational forces, was obliged to be both mediator and commander. However, he should have fixed more specific objectives than he did, and left both Clark and Lucas less room for maneuver. Still, they were right not to rush immediately after the landing towards the Alban hills, to the south-east of Rome, as some maintained they should have done. Since his forces would have been ranged from Anzio to near the mountains, the German counterattack would have had no problems in annihilating Lucas.

If he had advanced straight towards Rome, Lucas would have had, in his own words, ‘one night in Rome and eighteen months in PoW camps’. Dick Evans, the adjutant of the 1st Battalion King’s Shropshire Light Infantry, agreed wholeheartedly with this assessment: ‘In the first two days we could have driven straight into Rome. Then we would have been slaughtered.’

The ports of Anzio and Nettuno, but also the fleet which was needed to supply the bridgeheads, were hit heavily by the Germans. In ten days from the landing, Albert Kesselring had brought from outside Italy a force of 140 long-range bombers and more than 60 craft from bases in southern France. The ships which were supplying the Anzio beachheads had to face German torpedoes, bombs and some terrifying new inventions, such as the radio-operated, rocket-powered glider bombs. All the manual torpedo attacks failed miserably.

The cruiser Spartan, destroyers Janus, Jervis and Plunkett and minesweeper Prevail, as well as a hospital ship and troop transporter, were all lost. However, over 68,000 soldiers, 237 tanks and 508 guns came ashore in the first week, a great achievement for the Allied armies working together. In all, no less than 500,000 tons of supplies were landed at Anzio. For a short time, this became the world’s fourth busiest port. Those who landed in that first week confronted 71,500 Germans, including members of crack troops from the 26th Panzer Division defending Cisterna.

23,860 Americans and 9,203 British soldiers were evacuated from the beach, having been wounded in the Anzio operation. Approximately 7,000 soldiers were killed there. According to the calculations made later by an officer, life expectancy was just six weeks. Those who fought at Anzio were witnesses to the entire horror which characterized the end of World War II.

An army surgeon, James A. Ross, described a scene which happened in an evacuation point inside the Anzio perimeter: ‘The wounded lay in two rows, mostly British but some American as well in their sodden filthy clothes… soaked, caked, buried in mud and blood; with ghastly pale faces, shuddering, shivering with the cold of the February night and their great wounds… some (too many; far too many) were carried in dying, with gross combinations of shattered limbs, protrusions of intestines and brain from great holes in their poor frames torn by 88-millimetre shells, mortar and anti-personnel bombs.’

The German land-based counter-offensive, Operation Fischfang, began in real force. General Mackensen’s intent was to push the Allies back towards the sea. Mackensen threw 125,000 soldiers in the battle against the 100,000 Allied men. The Allied naval artillery and cannons fired 65,000 rounds just in the first day of battle. In the road’s flyover at Campo di Carne, ferocious battles were fought, and the craters which were formed, together with mines and trucks full of concrete, blocked the way. By the time the Germans reached the end of the bridgehead, the chefs, drivers and clerks were fighting side by side with the infantry.

Close collaboration between the Allied artillery and infantry made the difference in a battle which the air forces could not support, due to reduced visibility. Even so, light reconnaissance planes were used with devastating effect. In total, at Anzio, 75% of the German losses were caused by the Allied artillery. This number, as Lloyd Clark, historian at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy stresses, is almost identical to the statistics from the Western Front in World War I.

Friedrich von Mackensen’s offensive, given a thrust by the bombing from the artillery and the tenacious resistance on the ground, only managed to reach a point 11km from Anzio. From that moment, in dry valleys, in swamps and streams full of mosquitos from the upper reaches of the Moletta river, the fighting continued for three months. Although the front lines were generally static, constant attacks were carried out against enemy trenches, which brought heavy losses. Usually, the battalions spent six days in the front line area and eight away. In the end, the Allies won due to the fact that they managed to break through the front at Monte Cassino.

In his war diary, subaltern Raleigh Trevelyan wrote about his battalion’s experience, surrounded on three sides by Germans: ‘I find it bewildering the way our own and the Jerries’ positions are so interwoven. There is no hard and fast straight line as the front between us… The men keep asking why we don’t press forward and drive the enemy back – any risk is better than our present conditions. The answer is that there are more wadis beyond, and at the expense of much blood we would only be in exactly the same predicament, but with lengthier lines of communication.’

After only five days spent in the dried up valleys of the front, the 1st Battalion of the Irish Guards had lost 94% of its troops. At the same time, the 2nd Battalion of the Sherwood Forest Regiment was reduced, in a similar period of time, from 250 officers and soldiers to just 30 men. Even so, the Germans were unable to break through the front, neither there nor at the road bridge close by.

In his novel dedicated to the battle of Anzio, Seven Steps Down, war correspondent John Sears Barker describes the Ranger attack on Cisterna: ‘The Rangers considered it a sheltered alley… That 800 yards would be over unprotected open land but the Rangers, advancing through the early morning shadows, counted on surprise. What they didn’t count on was the Hermann Göring Division, which had set up a three-point ambush. Machine gun emplacements, mortars, anti-tank guns, depressed antiaircraft guns, and Tiger tanks, hidden in farmhouses, ditches and haystacks, rimmed the ditch on all sides.’

Surprisingly, X Corps, which should have been freed by VI Corps from the trap in which it was caught on the Gustav Line, managed to break through the line on its own, in Operation Diadem. This, in the end, led to the freeing of VI Corps, which was then trapped at Anzio.

After the defeat at Monte Cassino, the Hitler Line could no longer resist in the face of the massive Allied assault. The Canadian 5th Armored Division created the first breach in the line. The Poles captured Piedimonte and the line collapsed completely. The American forces from Anzio, under the command of General Mark Clark, were ordered to capture the town of Valmontone, in order to cut off the German 10th Army’s retreat route. Clark ignored these orders and pointed his troops towards Rome. Clark’s troops entered a Rome abandoned by the Germans on the 4th of June 1944, just two days before the Allied invasion of Normandy.

The fact that the Allies put too much emphasis on the importance of tanks in the advance towards Rome may have been a mistake. These tanks, although many in number, were inferior to the German tanks, and had been for the entire war up until that point. The Sherman tank was nicknamed ‘Tommy-cooker’ - an oven for British soldiers - by the Germans, since the hit of an 88mm shell created enough energy to ignite the fuel in the tank. Even late in the war, the Germans had the advantage over the Allies in tank quality. The Allied tanks also often had very limited visibility.

At a press conference, Clark declared to the reporters: ‘I intend to take Rome, and to take it soon – nothing will stand in my way.’ At the time, it was presumed that he was referring to the Germans. The following day, Alexander ordered Clark to leave the Anzio pocket and move the 5th Army east, surrounding the 10th Army at Valmontone. The German army was trying to escape north. However, Clark did not obey orders. Instead, he deliberately reduced Truscott’s force, which he needed for capturing Valmontone. Thus, the 10th Army managed to escape.

The 10th German Army was retreating from the Gustav Line in an attempt to defend the Hitler and Caesar lines behind it. At the same time, Alexander had the opportunity to use VI Corps in Anzio, to hinder the Germans’ retreat. Since he had failed to capture a great number of Germans in Sicily and Salerno, he now had the chance to push them along Highway 6 to Valmontone and capture them.

Due to Clark’s orders, the American 34th and 45th Divisions abandoned their march towards Valmontone. They headed for Rome, aided by the 36th Division. Truscott was ‘dumbfounded’ and protested that ‘We should pour our maximum power into the Valmontone Gap to ensure the destruction of the retreating German army,’ but he was silenced. Clarks’ division commanders - especially Major-General Ernest N. Harmon and Brigadier General John W. O’Daniel - were also furious about the change of plan. Alexander himself was informed after everything was done, when it was too late to countermand.

Clark kept back most of his troops for the advance on Rome, which Kesselring had evacuated anyway. He took the city, almost without encountering resistance, two days before D-Day: thus, early enough to capture the interest of the entire world, before their attention was directed elsewhere.

Getting out of the perimeters of Anzio was not an easy task even then. By the end of the day on the 23rd of May 1944, VI Corps of the American 3rd Infantry Division had lost 955 soldiers. This was the greatest number of victims recorded by an American division in a single day, in the whole of the war. Lucian Truscott’s VI Corps advanced a long way towards Valmontone. In the end, more than four months after the Anzio landings, the two Allied forces in Italy joined up. Cisterna also fell the same day.

‘Alexander never gave orders not to take Rome,’ Clark said in his defense later, in a special plea, showing his own Anglophobia: ‘I know he was concerned about my maintaining my thrust to Valmontone, but hell when we were knocking on its door we had already destroyed as much of the German Tenth Army as we could ever have expected… One thing I knew was that I had to take Rome and that my American army was going to do it. So in all the circumstances I had to go for it before the British loused it up… We had earned it you understand.’

After the fall of Rome, the Wehrmacht reorganized to the north of Rome in new defensive positions. This was possible since the German units had escaped through the breach at Valmontone. Later, Harold Alexander blamed the pull of publicity created at the fall of Rome for the fact that Mark Clark ignored his orders. Thus, Clark allowed the Germans to escape from an encirclement which would certainly have made the last year of war in Italy much easier for the Allies.

Between the beginning of Operation Diadem and the fall of Rome, the XV Army Group suffered 44,000 losses. This sacrifice could have been better justified if the German army had not been allowed to escape in relatively good condition and continue the fight in central and northern Italy, especially on the Gothic Line. General von Vietinghoff himself had no doubt that ‘if the Allies, as in previous days, had directed their attack against Valmontone, the initially weak forces of the Hermann Göring Panzer Division would not have been able to prevent a breakthrough. The fall of Rome, the separation of both German armies, and the bottling up of the bulk of their units would have been unavoidable.’

Alexander limited himself, in his memoirs, to a caustic comment, claiming that he could ‘only assume that the immediate lure of Rome for its publicity persuaded Mark Clark to switch the direction of his advance’. To make things even more complicated, Clark informed Alexander that, if the British tried to reach Rome before the Americans, he would order ‘his troops to fire on the Eighth Army’. After Rome fell - or rather, it was evacuated in a relatively good condition by the Germans in retreat - the American military police did not allow British units to enter the city.

At the Tehran Conference, Churchill told Roosevelt and Stalin that ‘he who holds Rome holds the title-deeds to Italy’. However, he was wrong. The fall of Rome proved to be just another stage in the long and bloody road of conquering the peninsula. If Rome had fallen in autumn 1943, it could have been an important moment in the history of World War II. But, coming too late and so close to D-Day, it meant little more than a footnote.

The pursuit of the Germans towards the north, made by Harold Alexander, was hesitant. The pursuit took place where the Gothic Line was constructed, between La Spezia and Pesaro. The Germans managed to bring their forces to the Gothic Line without being overtaken. Also, they were protected by mini defensive lines, such as the Albert Line behind Perugia, the lines in front of the towns of Arezzo and Siena, but also the Arno Line, centered on Florence and Bibbiena. All these must be conquered before the Allies could reach the Gothic Line. Alexander’s plan was that the German divisions be destroyed in front of the Alps.

For the Allies it was an extremely difficult mission to cross the Apennines, before arriving in the fields of the Pad Valley. Alexander’s chances of making a breach in the Gothic Line fell drastically in August, when, six divisions were taken from his command, to take part in the invasion in southern France. At the same time, his German counterpart, General Albert Kesselring, received fresh troops.

The 5th Army crossed Arno at the beginning of August, and the 8th Army took Rimini in September. The main objective of the Second World War had been moved, however, to northwestern Europe. There, the death or survival of the Third Reich was decided. At the moment in which Romagna fell, the 8th Army was already celebrating one year of fighting in the mountains of Italy, and the autumn rain was making the conditions terrible. Even after the Allies reached north-eastern Italy, there were still a series of rivers to be crossed before Alexander’s plan, of destroying 21 German divisions in front of the Alps, could be realized.

The Gothic Line was vigorously breached, and the pursuit of the Germans was brilliantly thought out, from a tactical standpoint. Thus, the last stage of the Allied campaign had by far the best tactics. A great part of the merit for this must be given to Mark Clark, who commanded Army Group 15, to Lucian Truscott, commander of the 6th Army, and to Sir Richard McCreery, who had taken over command of the 8th Army from Oliver Leese.

Hitler refused to grant permission to General Heinrich von Vietinghoff to retreat to the Alps. Instead, he ordered his troops to ‘resist or die’. Thus, he condemned the already demoralized German troops to a battle fought to the north of Pad, where they were completely destroyed in spring 1945. In these conditions, Vietinghoff surrendered the South-West Army Group to Alexander, who was at the time supreme commander in the Mediterranean.

In spite of air inferiority and the fact that they were constantly on the defensive, Kesselring and Vietinghoff held the Allies off place for 19 months, before their final collapse. The Allies kept many German divisions away from the Western Front. However, except for this fact, it is hard to understand what was really obtained by the continued attacks from Rome to the Pad Valley, when the cost of the campaign is considered. The attritional war on the narrow peninsula - with a terrain seemingly designed for a long retreat - cost the Allies a total of 312,000 lives. The Germans recorded 434,646 dead and wounded.

The Italian campaign illustrated perfectly how well the Germans fought when Hitler did not interfere with strategy. Kesselring, Vietinghoff, Mackensen and Senger committed almost no grave errors during their retreat to the north, crossing the whole of Italy. If Hitler had allowed them to retreat to the Alps, they could have sheltered their armies even better. ‘May I give you a word of advice?’ General Fridolin von Senger joked to British historian Michael Howard ten years after the war ended. ‘Next time you invade Italy, do not start at the bottom.’

Looking back, the fact that each human loss recorded in these campaigns represents a tragedy of history is often too easily forgotten. In the Military Cemetery, 3km north of Anzio, for example, lies the grave of 25 year-old Sergeant Maurice Rogers, from the Wiltshire Regiment. He received the Victoria Cross after he took the German position on the north bank of the Moletta River with grenades and a bayonet. Rogers advanced alone against the enemy which occupied the highest part of the land. On both sides, soldiers fought with much courage and commitment. Many of them never returned home.

The London Gazette wrote of how, under a torrent of bullets, Rogers advanced almost 28 meters before being ‘blown off his feet by a grenade, and wounded in the leg. Nothing daunted, he ran on towards an enemy machine-gun post, attempting to silence it. He was shot and killed at point-blank range. The NCO’s undaunted determination, fearless devotion to duty and superb courage carried his platoon on to their objective in a strongly defended position.’

Rogers’ gravestone leaves aside the glory of winning the most important British medal for acts of valor and describes the grief of his wife: ‘In memory of my beloved husband. May we be together soon, dear. Peace at last.’

After the Allied landing in Sicily, Mussolini was arrested. Two months after these events, he was saved by an operation of German paratroopers. Up until the end of the Italian campaign, Mussolini was named dictator in Northern Italy, in what is known in history as the Republic of Salò. Upon the collapse of the Wehrmacht in Italy, Mussolini tried to escape to Switzerland with his mistress, Clara Petacci. The two were captured by Italian partisans and executed. Their bodies were taken to Milan, the birthplace of fascism, and hung upside down in the Piazzale Loreto.

Mussolini was saved by Hitler’s orders. He was taken from the hotel in which he was being kept prisoner, in a sensational operation carried out by gliders, commanded by Colonel Otto Skorzeny. ‘The liberation of the Duce has caused a great sensation at home and abroad,’ boasted Goebbels in his diary two days later. ‘Even upon the enemy the effect of his melodramatic deliverance is enormous.’ After his meeting with Hitler, Mussolini was proclaimed dictator in the so-called Republic of Salò, from Gargagno, on the shore of Lake Garda. He ruled for 19 months, up until the fall of the Germans.

Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, her brother Marcello and 15 other people were captured by Italian partisans while they were trying to escape, crossing the Swiss border. Mussolini and Petacci were executed by submachine gun, in front of a small stone wall, beside the gates of a villa near the village of Giulino di Mezzegra, on the shore of Lake Como. Killing such an attractive and non-political mistress seems an unlikely thing for the Italians to do, but such is war.

At Milan, Mussolini and Petacci’s bodies were beaten, spat on, urinated on, photographed, then hung upside down from a metal girder in front of the petrol station in the Piazzale Loreto. Their names were written on pieces of paper stuck to their feet. The women present at the event, who were joking and jumping around this macabre scene, were surprised to see that Petacci was not wearing underwear. She had not had enough time to dress, before being arrested and shot.