Backwater War: The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-1945

Backwater War: The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-1945

Backwater War: The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-1945

Backwater War: The Allied Campaign in Italy, 1943-1945


A year before the much-heralded second front was opened at Normandy in 1944, the Allies waged a campaign in Sicily and Italy- an assault that was marked by argument and dissent from beginning to end, highlighting the fundamental differences in strategic thinking between the Americans and the British. Winston Churchill favored scrapping what would become the Normandy invasion entirely, focusing instead on the soft underbelly of Nazi Europe, but American planners summarily rejected any plan that relied solely on a southern option. This is the story of this backwater campaign, a series of battles skillfully staged by the Germans and so botched by the Allies that their victory was achieved only as a result of German exhaustion.

During the hard-fought campaign, the Americans persisted in their suspicion that the British were trying to undermine the effort. For example, the imbroglio over the Benedictine monastery of Monte Cassino and the ineptness of the British assault, led by a commander already discredited by his role in the fall of Crete, would spur the Americans to overreact and destroy the monastery by bombing. This created a major propaganda victory for the Germans. Such incidents convinced both Washington and London that they were working at cross-purposes. Hoyt contends that, as the British argued at the time, Allied efforts would have been better-spent concentrating on the Balkans. The Normandy campaign was expensive, unnecessary, and ultimately lengthened the war.


It has been more than half a century since the end of World War II, and the real story of the conflicts among the Allied high command still has not been thoroughly explored. In hindsight it seems a wonder that the great alliance between the British and Americans did not founder in 1943. The only thing that kept it together was Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill’s willingness to sacrifice the British strategy for winning the war to the exigencies of keeping the Americans in the European war.

It was a very near thing, as this book will show. The Americans felt from the beginning of their war effort that the solution in Europe called for a direct drive at the German heart. The British believed that the Germans should be nibbled into defeat, with a major effort made in the Balkans. General George C. Marshall, the U.S. army chief of staff, was particularly distrustful of Churchill, and all the way along, even after Normandy, he shot down one Churchill plan after another for action in the south. As late as September 1944, when the British prime minister plumped for an invasion of Trieste and Adriatic Italy, Marshall intervened to stop it.

It is quite obvious now that the British were right and Marshall and the Americans were wrong. The speed with which Adolf Hitler acted to shore up his southern defenses every time they were threatened is the proof of it. When the British threatened in Greece in 1941, he delayed the invasion of Russia for weeks to deal successfully with the threat. Again in 1943, when the Allies feinted an attack in the Balkans, Hitler rushed troops to the area. The result of the Allied strategy of the Cross . . .

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