Allied Invasion of Italy | World War II

Allied Invasion of Italy | World War II

Overview

During World War II's Italian campaign, the Allied invasion of Italy was an amphibious landing on mainland Italy that began on September 3, 1943. General Sir Harold Alexander's 15th Army Group (which included General Mark W. Clark's American Fifth Army and General Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army) led the operation, which came after the victorious Allied Invasion of Sicily. Operation Avalanche, the primary invasion force, landed on the western coast around Salerno on September 9th, while two backup operations took place in Calabria (Operation Baytown) and Taranto (Operation Slapstick).

Background

Allied Plan

Following the downfall of the Axis Powers in North Africa in May 1943, the Allies were divided on what to do next. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, planned to attack Italy, which he described as "the soft underbelly of the axis" in November 1942. Churchill noted that popular support for the war in Italy was dwindling. An invasion would oust Italy from the Axis, diminishing Axis power in the Mediterranean Sea and allowing Allied traffic to flow freely. In addition, it would allow for a decrease in the amount of shipping capacity required to support Allied forces in the Middle East and the Far East when Allied shipping capacity was in short supply and an increase in British and American supplies to the Soviet Union. Furthermore, it would encircle German forces. The Soviet Union's Premier, Joseph Stalin, had been pressuring Churchill and Roosevelt to start a "second front" in Europe, which would divert the German Army's attention away from the Eastern Front, where the bulk of its forces was battling the Soviet Red Army in the world's most significant military conflict.

General George Marshall, the US Army Chief of Staff, and much of the American staff, on the other hand, wished to avoid activities that may delay the main invasion of Europe, which had been studied and planned since 1942 and culminated in Operation Overlord in 1944. In 1943, as it became evident that a cross-channel invasion of occupied France would be impossible, both sides agreed to a charge of Sicily, codenamed Operation Husky, with no commitment to follow-up operations. Following the highly successful outcome of the Sicilian campaign, both Churchill and US President Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed with the importance of continuing to combat the Axis in the lead-up to the start of the battle in northwest Europe. Accordingly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations (MTO), to proceed as soon as possible after the collapse of Italian Fascist Prime Minister Benito Mussolini in late July.

Despite the achievement of the Sicilian campaign, a large number of Axis forces managed to escape to the mainland and avoid arrest. Nevertheless, it was regarded as a victory by the Axis. More crucially, Mussolini was overthrown as head of the Italian government by a coup in late July, after which the Italian government began negotiating with the Allies. Therefore, it was thought that a fast invasion of Italy would speed the capitulation of the Italians and result in quick military victory over German troops who might be stranded fighting in a hostile nation. However, Italian fascist (and, to a lesser extent, German) resistance was relatively strong, and warfare lasted in Italy long after Berlin fell in April 1945. Furthermore, the invasion put the Allies in charge of distributing food and supplies to the captured area, which would have gone to Germany otherwise. Again, a hostile German force occupying Italy would have caused additional issues for Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the German Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C).

The Allies had intended to cross from Sicily into the Italian mainland's "instep" area (Taranto), imagining a limited invasion of the Italian "boot," from where they would proceed up the western coast, anticipating a solid German and Italian response. The Allies planned to make their invasion two-pronged by relating the passage of the British Eighth Army beneath General Sir Bernard Montgomery into the mainland with the simultaneous seizing of the port of Naples farther north after Mussolini and the Fascisti were overthrown. Although the Americans were aware of Napoleon's maxim that Italy should be entered from the top, the range limitations of Allied fighter planes based in Sicily limited their options to two landing areas: one to the north of Naples at the Volturno River basin and the other to the south of Naples at Salerno (though separated from Naples by the mountainous Sorrento peninsula). Salerno was chosen since it was closer to their airbases. Furthermore, Salerno had better landing circumstances; its harbour allowed transport ships to anchor close to the narrower beaches, allowing for faster exit road building. In addition, there was an excellent pre-existing road network behind them. On 3 September 1943, Operation Baytown was the first step in a strategy that would see the British Eighth Army embark from Messina, Sicily, cross the narrow Straits, and land near the point of Calabria (the "toe" of Italy). Because of the short distance, landing craft might launch straight from there rather than being transported by ship. The British XIII Corps' 5th Infantry Division (Major-General Gerard Bucknall) would land on the north side of the "toe."

In contrast, the 1st Canadian Infantry Division (Major-General Guy Simonds) would land on the south side at Cape Spartivento. Montgomery vehemently opposed operation Baytown. He anticipated that it would be a waste of time since it assumed the Germans would fight in Calabria; if they did not, the diversion would fail, and the Eighth Army would be positioned 480 kilometres (300 miles) south of the main landing at Salerno. Accordingly, after Operation Baytown, the British Eighth Army trooped 480 kilometres north to the Salerno area, encountering minimal resistance other than engineering impediments.

Allied airborne forces were used in various ways, but they were scrapped. The original plan to drop glider-borne troops in the Sorrento Peninsula's mountain passes above Salerno was scrapped on August 12. It was succeeded six days later by Operation Giant, in which two regiments of the United States 82nd Airborne Division (Major General Matthew Ridgway) would seize and hold Volturno River crossings. It was initially expanded to involve the entire division, including an amphibious landing by the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment. Still, it was then reduced to a two-battalion drop at Capua to block the highway. The cancellation of Operation Giant I, a reduction of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment on the airfields of Stazione di Furbara and Cerveteri, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Rome, was replaced by a drop of the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment Operation Giant II on the airfields of Stazione di Furbara and Cerveteri, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Rome. It was supposed to help Italian forces save Rome, probably the world's most historically significant city, from German razing, the Italian armistice condition. Because the 82nd Airborne Division was too far away from the Allied beachheads to receive any Allied support, Brigadier General Maxwell D. Taylor, the acting assistant division commander (ADC), was rushed into Rome to evaluate the willingness of Italian troops to cooperate with the Americans. Taylor believed the mission would be a trap. He recommended cancelling it late on the afternoon of September 8, after the pathfinders had already taken off aboard their troop carrier aircraft.

The main landings (Operation Avalanche) began on September 9th, with the main force landing around Salerno on the western coast. The US Fifth Army, led by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, would be made up of the US VI Corps, led by Major General Ernest J. Dawley, and the British X Corps, led by Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery, with the 82nd Airborne Division serving as a reserve, totalling eight divisions and two brigade-sized units. Its main goals were to secure the port of Naples to ensure resupply and cut over to the east coast to trap Axis troops farther south. Vice-Admiral Henry K. Hewitt was in charge of a naval task force consisting of 627 warships, merchant ships, and landing boats. Following the lacklustre air cover provided by land-based aircraft during the Sicily landings, Hewitt's command added four escort carriers and Force V of HMS Unicorn to the cruisers USS Philadelphia, Savannah, and Boise, well as fourteen destroyers. In addition, two fleet carriers with destroyers in support and Force H, a group of four British battleships, provided cover for the task force and was immediately subordinate to C–in–C Mediterranean Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham.

The importance of conquering the major port of Taranto in the "heel" of Italy was evident in the initial planning, and an assault was considered but rejected due to the strong defences there. However, the scenario changed when the armistice with the Italians was signed on September 3rd. It was decided to use British warships to transport Major-General George F. Hopkinson's British 1st Airborne Division to Taranto, secure the port and several surrounding airfields, and send Lieutenant-General Charles Allfrey's British V Corps many fighter squadrons. On 4 September, the airborne division was ordered to embark on 8 September after training operations in two locations 640 kilometres (400 miles) apart. Operation Slapstick was quickly dubbed Operation Bedlam with so little time to plan. Given the possibility of resistance from six German divisions, the Avalanche plan, which used fewer than half of the men landed during Operation Husky, was risky.

The Fifth Army would land on a 56-kilometre (35-mile) front with only three assault divisions, and the two corps were separated by a significant distance (19 km (12 mi) and the Sele River. Clark initially failed to provide troops to cover the river, allowing the Germans a straightforward approach to attack, and only afterwards landed two battalions to guard it. Furthermore, the terrain was in the defender's favour. The planning for the Salerno phase took only 45 days, compared to the months that could have been expected. A US Army Ranger force led by Lieutenant Colonel William O. Darby, consisting of two British Commando units and three US Ranger battalions (the 1st, 3rd, and 4th) led by Brigadier Robert Laycock was tasked with defending the mountain passes leading to Naples. However, there was no plan to link the Ranger force up with the final. Even though the tactical surprise was doubtful, Clark ordered no preparatory naval bombardment or naval gunfire assistance, despite evidence from the Pacific Theater that it was required. (Major General Walker, commanding the US 36th "Arrowhead" Division, considered Traugott Herr's LXXVI Panzer Corps' defenders were too dispersed to be effective.) The element of surprise was further hampered by the late discovery of naval minefields off the coast of Salerno, which required landing craft to traverse 19 kilometres (12 miles) from the transports to the landing beaches which took two hours. On the German side, Kesselring directed the strength to push back the Salerno landing, and he was denied the assistance of two panzer divisions from northern Italy.

Operation Avalanche was codenamed Top Hat, and it was backed up by Operation Boardman, a deception scheme that posed a false threat of an Allied invasion of the Balkans.

Axis Defensive Organization

Army Group B (Heeresgruppe B) under Erwin Rommel was activated in mid-August, with German soldiers in Italy as far south as Pisa. Albert Kesselring's Army Command South (OB Süd) continued to charge southern Italy. The German High Command established a new army headquarters to serve as Army Command South's main field structure. Heinrich von Vietinghoff's new German 10th Army (10. Armee) headquarters was activated on August 22. The German 10th Army had two subsidiary corps, each with six divisions, to cover potential landing places. The Hermann Göring Panzer Division, 15th Panzergrenadier Division, and 16th Panzer Division were under Hermann Balck's XIV Panzer Corps (XIV Panzerkorps); and the 26th Panzer Division (26. In addition, von Vietinghoff strategically placed the 16th Panzer Division over the plain of Salerno.

Battle

Operations in Southern Italy

Under General Bernard Montgomery's orders, the British Eighth Army's XIII Corps, led by Lieutenant-General Miles Dempsey and made up of the 1st Canadian and British 5th Infantry Divisions, began Operation Baytown on September 3, 1943. The landings were met with little resistance, and the Italian units surrendered almost quickly. According to Albert Kesselring and his staff, the central Allied point of attack would be the Salerno region or potentially even north of Rome, rather than the Calabria landings. As a result, Hitler ordered General Traugott Herr's LXXVI Panzer Corps to withdraw from the Eighth Army's combat, leaving just the 15th Panzergrenadier Regiment of the 29th Panzergrenadier Division in the 'toe' of Italy. By the 3rd of September, the majority of this unit was in position near Bagnara Calabra, some 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the landings, which it was ordered to hold until the 6th. They were then to withdraw to Castrovillari, some 130 kilometres (80 miles) to the rear, to attain the rest of the 29th Panzergrenadier Division. The 26th Panzer Division's Krüger Battle Group (two battalions of the 71st Panzergrenadier Regiment, the 129th Reconnaissance Battalion, and artillery and engineer detachments) would then be stationed at Nicotera, about 24 kilometres (15 miles) up the coast from Bagnara.

The British 5th Infantry Division landed in Bagnara Calabra on September 4th, hooked up with the 1st Special Reconnaissance Squadron (which had arrived by sea), and forced the 3rd battalion, 15th Panzergrenadier Regiment, out of its position. On September 5, allies bombarded all along the downstream area of Soveria Mannelli (central Calabria), where Nazi bases and storage were located. Fortunately, the metropolitan area suffered only minor damage. The Krüger Battle Group was contacted on September 7th. The 231st Independent Brigade Group, led by Brigadier Robert "Roy" Urquhart, arrived by sea at Pizzo Calabro on September 8, about 24 kilometres (15 miles) from the Nicotera defences. They were condemned from the north by the 26th Panzer Division's mobile force and from the south by the Krüger Battle Group, withdrawing from the Nicotera position. The Krüger Battle Group diverted away after an initial charge that failed, but the northern onslaught lasted throughout the day before the entire German force withdrew at dusk.

The Eighth Army slowed progress by collapsed bridges, roadblocks, and mines. Because of the nature of the countryside at the toe of Italy, bypassing impediments was impossible, and the Allies' speed of advance depended on their engineers' ability to clear obstacles. As a result, Montgomery's concerns about the operation were confirmed: the Eighth Army could not hold down German battalions that refused to fight. The terrain and German road and bridge demolitions were the principal roadblocks to their advance. In addition, Kesselring had determined Heinrich von Vietinghoff's 10th Army by the 8th of September, ready to respond quickly to any Allied landing.

Herr's LXXVI Panzer Corps had two divisions based in the Castrovillari district of Calabria. The 1st Parachute Division (1. Fallschirmjäger-Division) was sent to Taranto as its third division. BattleGroup von Usedom was the rearguard in the toe, consisting of a single battalion (1/67th Panzergrenadier Regiment) with artillery and engineer detachments. Meanwhile, with the Hermann Göring Division near Naples, 16th Panzer Division in the Gulf of Salerno, and the 15th Panzergrenadier Division to the north in the Gulf of Gaeta, Balck's XIV Panzer Corps was positioned to face probable maritime landings.

The renunciation of Italy to the Allies was announced on September 8th (before the main invasion), first by General Eisenhower and subsequently by the Italian government in the Badoglio Proclamation. The navy surrendered to Allied ports, and Italian units stopped fighting. However, the German forces in Italy were prepared for this, and Operation Achse was launched to disarm Italian units and take over critical defensive positions.

The 9th of September marked the start of Operation Slapstick. On four British cruisers, a US cruiser, and the British fast minelayer HMS Abdiel, the British 1st Airborne Division's first echelon arrived. On their way to Malta, the Italian battleships Andrea Doria and Duilio and two cruisers passed by. Because there were no Germans in Taranto, disembarkation went smoothly. The sole casualties came when the Abdiel, while at anchor, hit a mine and sank in minutes, killing 168 people and injuring 126 more. On September 11th, as patrols were being deployed further afield, there were several tense encounters with German 1st Parachute Division soldiers. Because most of its strength was assigned to the 26th Panzer and Hermann Göring Divisions at Salerno, the 1st Parachute could only skirmish and fall back. One of these operations claimed the life of Major-General George Frederick Hopkinson, the British 1st Airborne Division's General Officer Commanding (GOC). The ports of Bari and Brindisi, which were still under Italian control, were occupied on September 11th.

Salerno Landings

The main invasion of Salerno by the American Fifth Army, led by Lieutenant General Mark Clark, commenced on September 9, 1943, and the attack was launched without any prior naval or aerial bombardment to maintain the surprise. However, as amphibious force commander Admiral Henry Hewitt promised, the tactical surprise was not achieved. A loudspeaker from the landing location stated in English at 03:30: "As the first wave of Major General Fred Walker's US 36th Infantry Division reached the Paestum coast, a loudspeaker from the landing area announced in English: "Come on in and surrender. We've got you covered." Despite this, the Allies launched an offensive.

Major General Rudolf Sieckenius, the commander of the 16th Panzer Division, had divided his men into four mixed arms fighting groups, spaced around 10 kilometres (6 miles) apart and between 5 and 10 kilometres (3 and 6 miles) from the beaches. First, the Drnemann battle group landed just east of Salerno (opposite Major General John Hawkesworth's British 46th Infantry Division). Next, the Stempel battle group landed between Pontecagnano and Battipaglia (opposite Major General Douglas Graham's British 56th Infantry Division). Finally, the Holtey battle group landed at Persano on the Sele river, which formed the corps boundary between Maj and Lieutenant General Richard McCreery's British X Corps.

The British X Corps' landings included the British 46th and 56th Infantry Divisions and a light infantry force of US Army Rangers and British Commandos from Brigadier Robert "Lucky" Laycock's 2nd Special Service Brigade, elicited conflicting reactions. The US Rangers faced no resistance and seized their mountain pass objectives with the help of HMS Ledbury's guns. At the same time, the Commandos from No. 2 (Army) Commando and No. 41 (Royal Marine) Commando were also unopposed. They protected the high ground on both sides of the road through Molina Pass on the central route from Salerno to Naples. At first, light forces of No. 2 Commando advanced towards Salerno, pushing back a tiny staff of tanks and armoured vehicles from the 16th Panzer Reconnaissance Battalion. After a fierce battle, the British Commandos took the town of Salerno, costing 40 (Royal Marine) Commando and 41 Commando nine fatalities and 37 injured. The two British infantry divisions, on the other hand, encountered stiff opposition and had to fight their way ashore with the support of naval bombardments. Because of the depth and ferocity of German resistance, British commanders were forced to concentrate their forces rather than pursue a southern linkup with the Americans.

Two companies of the von Doering group provided fierce resistance to the 36th (Texas) Division's two lead battalions (from the 141st and 142nd Infantry Regiments) at Paestum.

German observers on Monte Soprano targeted the landing craft. Some LCTs and DUKWs sheered away to evade German shellfire, while LST 336 sustained 18 hits. The division had never been in combat before, and the soldiers were under the impression that the landings would be routine due to the Italian surrender. During the day, the 141st Infantry lost cohesion and failed to gain any depth, making it hard to drop supporting arms and supplies, leaving them without artillery and anti-tank guns. The 142nd Infantry, on the other hand, fared better and were able to press ahead with the help of the 143rd Infantry, the reserve regiment that had landed by 08:00. Soon after 09:00, minesweepers cleared a coastal path, allowing destroyers to steam within 90 meters (100 yards) of the shoreline and shell German positions atop Monte Soprano by late morning. Before the Salerno beachhead was secured, the USS Philadelphia and Savannah targeted their 15 cm (6 in) guns on concentrations of German tanks, starting a bombardment of naval munitions that would total eleven thousand tons.

The Fifth Army had made a promising start by the end of the first day, despite not achieving all of its objectives: the British X Corps' two assault divisions had pushed between 8 and 11 kilometres (5 and 7 miles) inland, and the special forces had advanced north across the Sorrento Peninsula. They were observing down on the Plain of Naples. Although the 141st Infantry was still confined along the beach, the US 36th Division had recognized itself in the plain to the higher ground to a depth of 8 km (5 mi) and the right of the Sele river. However, the XIV Panzer Corps commander-in-chief Hermann Balck observed the 16th Panzer Division's combat groups perform as expected. He ordered both the Hermann Göring Division and the 15th Panzergrenadier south to the action. Meanwhile, the 29th Panzergrenadier Division of the LXXVI Panzer Corps had been ordered to Salerno from the south. Neither side had taken control of the situation.

Luftwaffe Response

After X Corps seized the Montecorvino airfield 5 km (3 mi) inland later that day, destroying three dozen German planes, Luftwaffe planes began strafing and bombing the invasion beaches shortly after 04:00 on September 9th, but failed to seize the high ground inland gone the airfield within easy range of the German artillery and thus unusable by Allied aircraft. While serving as General Clark's headquarters, German bombers began attacking Admiral Hewitt's flagship USS Ancon on September 10th. In response to 450 Luftwaffe sorties, the flagship issued thirty "red alerts" over 36 hours. "The air situation here is serious," Admiral Hewitt said. The aircraft carriers were supposed to leave on September 10th. Still, they stayed with the invasion ships so that their Supermarine Seafires could provide the air cover invasion planners expected from Montecorvino. German bombs hit 85 Allied ships off the coast of Salerno.

On September 11th, Dornier Do 217s delivered Fritz X glide bombs that destroyed the USS Savannah and missed the USS Philadelphia. The following day, Clark relocated his headquarters onshore, and Hewitt and his staff went to the USS Biscayne, a tiny amphibious force flagship, so the big Ancon, with its prominent antenna array, could withdraw to North Africa.

Consolidation of the Beachhead

For three days, the Allies fought to expand their beachhead, while the Germans fought back tenaciously to conceal the build-up of troops for a counter-offensive. Clark surveyed the battlefield on the 10th of September and concluded that X Corps would not quickly push east past Battipaglia to join VI Corps. Instead, he opted to extend the VI Corps left-hand boundary north of the Sele river and deploy the bulk of Major General Troy Middleton's U.S. 45th Division into the gap because X Corps' main line of attack was to be north towards Naples. He also ordered a battalion-sized mixed arms detachment to reinforce the Rangers the next day, anticipating enemy reinforcements approaching north. German troops began to arrive on the battlefield at the same time. Due to transportation and other difficulties, units came piecemeal and were assembled into ad hoc fighting units for rapid action. All available reinforcements had arrived by the 13th of September, including additional teams from Generalfeldmarschall Kesselring's 3rd Panzergrenadier Division, released from farther north towards Rome.

In contrast, the Allied build-up was hampered by the limited transport available for the operation and a pre-determined build-up schedule based on how the conflict was expected to evolve during the planning phase. By the 12th of September, it was evident that the Fifth Army was low on men on the ground. General Sir Harold Alexander, commander of the 15th Army Group, reported to Chief of the Imperial General Staff (CIGS) General Sir Alan Brooke in London on September 12: "The situation at Avalanche does not satisfy me. The build-up is gradual, and they're tethered to a bridgehead with insufficient depth. Everything is being done to ensure that they receive follow-up units and materials. I anticipate a big German counter-offensive." By the 12th of September, X Corps had adopted a defensive posture because every battalion had been committed, and no reserves were available to mount an attack. The 36th Division made some advance in the south, but the 1st battalion, 142nd Infantry Regiment, was overrun by troops of the 29th Panzergrenadier Division at midday.

German Counterattacks

The German counter-offensive began on September 13th. While Hermann Göring battle units attacked the beachhead's northern flank, the main assault was on the line separating the two Allied Corps, which extended roughly from Battipaglia to the sea, with the VI Corps bearing the brunt of the attack. Major General Walker's 36th Division attacked and took Altavilla in the high hills 14 kilometres (9 miles) behind Paestum on September 13th, but a counterattack forced them to withdraw as darkness set. Two German battlegroups, the Krüger and the Kleine Limburg, attacked Persano. They overran the 157th Infantry's 1st battalion before crossing the Sele to combat the 143rd Infantry's 2nd battalion and almost wipe it out. The battlegroups continued south and southwest until they reached the confluence of the Sele and its large tributary, the Calore, where they were stopped by artillery fire over open sights, naval gunfire, and a makeshift infantry position covered by artillerymen, drivers, cooks, clerks, and anyone else Major General Walker could muster.

Clark's team devised several evacuation options. Clark and his 5th Army headquarters staff were to leave the beachhead and install headquarters afloat aboard the HMS Hilary as part of Operation Brass Rail. The British X Corps would be moved to Paestum with VI Corps under Operation Sealion, while VI Corps would be transferred to the X Corps sector under Operation Seatrain. The navy protested, claiming that it would be hard to reverse the landing operation since loading beached landing craft would make them weightier and incapable of withdrawing from the beach. Clark was persuaded to keep fighting by superiors and subordinates, and he later denied seriously considering evacuation.

The US VI Corps had lost the better part of three battalions by this point. Therefore both divisions' front elements were withdrawn to shorten the defensive line. The 45th Division entrenched in the Sele - Calore position, while the 36th Division took up high ground on the La Caso stream's seaward bank (which flowed into the Calore). Major General Matthew Ridgway's 82nd Airborne Division assisted in securing the new perimeter. Following the postponement of Giant II, two battalions (approximately 1,300 paratroopers) of Colonel Reuben Tucker's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) were assigned to carry out the final version of Operation Giant I in Capua on the evening of September 13th. Instead, they leapt inside the beachhead, directed by Rebecca/Eureka beacons, and advanced into VI Corps' right-hand line. With the crisis over, 2,100 paratroopers from Colonel James Gavin's 505th PIR parachuted into the beachhead the next night to reinforce the 504th's two battalions. When the 45th Division's final unit, the 180th Infantry Regiment, landed on the afternoon of September 14th, Clark was able to place it in reserve rather than in the line, indicating that the crisis had passed. On September 15, the 325th Glider Infantry Regiment landed by sea, reinforced by the 3rd battalion, 504th PIR. A night drop of 600 paratroopers from the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion in the neighbourhood of Avellino to disrupt German activity behind the lines was widely distributed and failed, resulting in many fatalities. 7th Armoured Division’s Major General George Erskine's British and the 23rd Armoured Brigade arrived in the X Corps zone.

The reinforced and reformed infantry troops repulsed all German attempts to identify a weak place in the lines on 14 September, thanks to powerful naval gunfire assistance from the Royal Navy and well-served artillery from the Fifth Army. Nevertheless, the Germans suffered heavy losses, particularly in tanks. Tedder ordered every available aircraft, including the strategic bomber force, to help the Fifth Army on September 14 and the following night. During daylight hours, about 1,000 tons of explosives were dropped. The 16th Panzer and 29th Panzergrenadier Divisions both went on the defensive on September 15, signalling the end of the push towards Paestum.

Further north, the Hermann Göering Division's Schmalz group surprised the British 46th Division's 128th (Hampshire) Brigade (comprising three battalions of the Hampshire Regiment, the 2nd, 1/4th, and 5th), on high terrain east of Salerno. The following armoured column was caught and forced back, leaving the German infantry vulnerable.

The Allied bomber operation and the naval bombardment continued on the 15th of September, albeit at a slightly reduced intensity than the previous day. The arrival of the British battleships Valiant and HMS Warspite, both equipped with 381 mm (15 in) guns, off the beaches provided a morale boost to the Allied troops, even though Valiant was not required to fire and Warspite's 29 rounds were impressive but insignificant compared to the 2,592 naval rounds fired that day.

On September 15, Kesselring reported to the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht that Allied air and naval dominance had put LXXVI Panzer Corps on the defensive. The offensive by XIV Panzer Corps would be crucial to a decisive victory. If this fails, the 10th Army will be forced to withdraw from the battle to prevent being mangled.'

The Schmalz group resumed its attempts on the X Corps front on September 16, but without result, even though No. 2 Commando incurred casualties, including 31-year-old Captain Henry Wellesley, the then-Duke of Wellington, who was killed. Nevertheless, the Allied air forces and navies continued to pound enemy targets. Finally, however, Warspite was struck and disabled during an airstrike by Dornier Do 217 K-2 bombers armed with Fritz X radio-controlled glide bombs, requiring her to be towed to Malta for repairs.

Eighth Army Ordered to Apply Pressure

Montgomery's formations were strung out along the coastal roadways in the 'toe' of Italy on September 9th. He was short of transportation because of the delayed build-up across the Straits of Messina. He decided to halt his formations on 9 September to reorganize before continuing. However, General Alexander responded on 10 September, "It is of the utmost importance that you uphold burden upon the Germans so that they cannot eliminate forces from your front and concentrate. Them against Avalanche." On September 12, Alexander's Chief of Staff, Brigadier A. A. Richardson, paid a personal visit to emphasize this point. [64] Montgomery had little choice but to send light forces along the coast while reorganizing the main body of his soldiers, reaching Castrovillari and Belvedere on September 12th, still 130 kilometres (80 miles) from the Salerno battlefield. On 14 September, he was able to begin a more comprehensive advance. Within 16 September, the British 5th Infantry Division had arrived at Sapri, 40 kilometres (25 miles) south of Belvedere, where forward patrols met up with patrols from VI Corps' 36th Division.

German Withdrawal

Von Vietinghoff informed Kesselring on September 16 that the Allied air and naval advantage was decisive and could not negate it. The 10th Army had prevented troops from being cut off, and continuing the combat would only result in heavy casualties. The Eighth Army's approach posed a threat as well. He suggested ending the war and pivoting on Salerno to build a defensive line in preparation for a withdrawal on September 18/19. Von Vietinghoff and Kesselring reached an agreement early on September 17th.

Salerno Mutiny

The Salerno Mutiny was started by roughly 500 men from the British X Corps. They had sustained over 6,000 fatalities and refused to be assigned to new units as battle casualty replacements on September 16th. They had assumed they would be returning to their teams, from whom they had been separated during the battle in the North African campaign, primarily due to injuries. Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery, the corps commander, eventually persuaded around half of the men to obey their instructions. The rest were sentenced to court-martial. Three NCOs were sentenced to death for leading the rebellion, but the punishment was never carried out, and they were subsequently allowed to rejoin their units.

Further Allied Advances

On September 19, after securing the Salerno beachhead, the Fifth Army launched an offensive on Naples from the northwest. Major General Ernest J. Dawley, the commander of the United States VI Corps, was relieved of his command by Clark the next day and replaced by Major General John P. Lucas. After suffering heavy casualties near Altavilla, the US 82nd Airborne Division was transferred to British X Corps, where it joined the US Army Rangers and the British 23rd Armoured Brigade to the Sorrento Peninsula to flank the German defences at Sant'Antonio Abate, Nocera Inferiore, and Angri, which the British 46th Infantry Division attacked. The British 7th Armoured Division was tasked with seizing Naples, moving through the 46th Division, while the newly arrived US 3rd Infantry Division occupied Acerno on September 22 and Avellino on September 28.

Despite German demolitions, the Eighth Army made good headway from the "toe" and hooked up with the British 1st Airborne Division at Taranto. On September 16, its left joined the Fifth Army's right. The Eighth Army advanced north along the Adriatic coast via Bari, concentrating its forces east of the Apennine Mountains. The Eighth Army took control of a big airfield complex in Foggia on September 27, a crucial Allied objective.

At the same time, the British X Corps made significant success, pushing through the Monti Lattari mountain passes and capturing a key Sarno River bridge at Scafati. After that, they encircled Mount Vesuvius and prepared to attack Naples. German troops' occupation of that city sparked a popular uprising on September 27. The Germans were compelled to flee due to the rapid approach of the X Corps and the revolt in Naples. The 1st King's Dragoon Guards' "A" Squadron was the first Allied regiment to reach the city on October 1st. On October 6, the entire Fifth Army, consisting of five American and three British divisions, arrived at the Volturno River's line. It created a natural defensive barrier, preventing a German counterattack on Naples, the Campanian plain, and the critical airfields. Meanwhile, the Eighth Army moved down the Adriatic Coast, forming a line from Campobasso to Larino and Termoli on the Biferno River.

Aftermath

The 10th Army was on the verge of defeating the beachhead at Salerno. The Germans' ability to replenish the 16th Panzer Division's battlegroups by land faster than the Allies could land follow-up forces by water or air had almost tipped the battle. The Fifth Army's planners had concentrated the bulk of their troops in X Corps on the left wing to achieve their principal goal of pushing on Naples. As a result, its right-wing was too thinly manned to protect X Corps' right flank, and a particular weakness near the corps border was exposed. In the end, the Germans were compulsory to make hurried and uncoordinated attempts to force a quick decision due to the limited time available to deal with the Salerno landings due to the inevitable entrance in due course of the Eighth Army and had disastrous to break through Allied lines and feat the gains in the face of total Allied air superiority, artillery, and naval gunfire support. The Allies were fortunate that Adolf Hitler had allied with General Feld Marschall Erwin Rommel, his Army Group commander in Northern Italy, and concluded that defending Italy south of Rome was not a strategic priority. As a result, Kesselring was banned from calling on Northern Army Group reserves.

The 10th Army's performance in inflicting enormous casualties, combined with Kesselring's strategic reasoning, convinced Hitler that the Allies should be retained away from German frontiers and prevented from obtaining access to the Balkans' oil resources. On November 6, Hitler withdrew Rommel to supervise the construction of defences in northern France and assigned Kesselring command of all of Italy to keep Rome in German hands for as long as possible. The Allied armies faced the Volturno Line, the first of a series of prepared defensive lines that ran across Italy from which the Germans chose to fight delaying actions, giving ground slowly and buying time to complete their preparations for the Winter Line, their most vital defensive line south of Rome, by early October 1943. The Allied armies faced a long and attritional fight against skilled, committed, and well-prepared defenders in terrain and weather circumstances that favoured resistance and limited the Allied advantages in mechanized equipment and air dominance in the next part of the Italian campaign. To scope the Gustav Line, the backbone of the Winter Line fortifications, it took until mid-January 1944 to fight thru the Volturno, Barbara, and Bernhardt lines, laying the stage for the four battles of Monte Cassino that took place between January and May 1944.

Clark's Award

For his front-line leadership throughout this crisis, Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, the commander of the United States Fifth Army, was given the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest U.S. honour for gallantry in battle. He was regularly observed rallying the troops in the most forward areas. But, on the other hand, "mistakenly assumed he had saved the Allied invasion by his leadership, but in fact, it was precisely his inexperience that prompted most of the issues the invasion force faced," according to historian Carlo D'Este.

Last updated: 2022-January-12
Tags: World War II
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