Rome 1943-1944; the Prize in a Bitter and Bloody Campaign
Byline: Peter Bridges, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The Allied campaign to take Italy in World War II has had less attention in recent years than the 1944 Normandy invasion or the great naval battles in the Pacific, although the Italian campaign was interesting - and difficult, and bloody, after the relatively easy conquest of Sicily and the lower part of the Italian boot.
Chester Carrs' 1948 history "From Salerno to the Alps" reported that in the less than two years between the Allied landing at Salerno, south of Naples, in September 1943 and the final German defeat at the edge of the Alps in April 1945, there had been 189,000 Allied casualties, well over half of them Americans. These included two badly wounded young lieutenants who would later serve in the U.S. Senate, Robert Dole and Daniel Inouye.
Dead and missing Americans totaled 29,000 in those 29 months, or half the American losses during more than a decade of fighting in Vietnam. As Martin Blumenson wrote in the U.S. Army's 1969 official history "Salerno to Cassino," the Italian campaign "would develop into one of the most bitter military actions of World War II."
The latest of several books on modern Italy by Robert Katz, "The Battle for Rome," focuses on events inside the Eternal City in 1943-44, as the fighting moved slowly north toward Rome. There had been a great debate among Allied strategists over what to do in the Mediterranean, after the eventually successful Allied campaign in North Africa that began in November 1942.
Beyond Sicily, where the Allies landed in July 1943, the Americans favored taking Sardinia and Corsica and invading southern France, as a diversionary measure when the main effort was to be a cross-Channel attack from England; it seemed unlikely that a march up the Italian peninsula, after taking Sicily, would knock out Italy as a belligerent. The British wanted a focus farther east, on the Balkans and Greece and Turkey, but could also imagine Allied landings quite far up the Italian peninsula, to capture not just Naples but Rome.
Unexpectedly, Mussolini was voted down in late July 1943 by his own Fascist Grand Council, and was interned by order of the little King,Vittorio Emanuele III, whom the pompous Duce had scorned earlier. The new Italian government announced that Italy was leaving the war. The Allies crossed from Sicily onto the toe of the Italian boot, and began to move north. Rome, until now one of the three Axis capitals, was a main target. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized an air drop by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division to secure Rome. The deputy commander of the 82nd, Maj. Gen. Maxwell Taylor (later Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff), went secretly into Rome to see the new prime minister, Marshal Pietro Badoglio. The drop might have worked, but Badoglio said it was too late - and soon fled south with his king.
The Germans had managed to move 60,000 soldiers from Sicily to mainland Italy in a sort of smaller Dunkirk, and other German divisions began to come down from the north. The Allies encountered increasing difficulties on their way north overland toward Rome. Their German opponent was an able commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.
In September 1943, the U.S. Fifth Army broke out from the German encirclement of its Salerno beachhead. Two weeks later the Allies took Naples, 100 miles south of Rome, but then were stopped for months by the Germans Gustav Line. This stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea inland across the Apennines, low but steep mountains that today's savvy hikers avoid in winter-a choice the Allies did not have in 1943. A young Canadian officer, Farley Mowat, wrote years later of the grim winter of 1943-44 in his "No Birds Sang."
In January 1944 the Allies made a second landing, at Anzio, only 40 miles south of Rome - and found they were unopposed - and might conceivably have taken Rome but for the caution of the American commander, Maj. …