The Allied invasion of Italy, was the Allied invasion of mainland Italy in September 1943, following the successful invasion of Sicily during the Italian Campaign. The main invasion force landed around Salerno on the western coast in Operation Avalanche, while two diversion operations took place in Calabria (Operation Baytown) and Taranto (Operation Slapstick).
In Operation Baytown on September 3 1943, the first troops ashore on the mainland were the British Eighth Army, which included British and Canadian troops, under General Bernard Montgomery. Opposition to the landings was light, as the Italian units surrendered almost immediately, leaving a single German regiment to defend 17 miles of coast. Kesselring and his staff did not believe the Calabria landings were the main Allied attack, the Salerno region or possibly even north of Rome being the more logical points of attack. He therefore ordered General Traugott Herr's LXXVI Panzer Corps to pull back from engagement with 8th Army and delay them with skillful demolition of bridges and other infrastructure. Thus Montgomery's objections to the operation were proved correct: the Eighth Army could not tie down German units that refused battle, and the main obstacle to their advance was the terrain and German demolitions of roads and bridges. By 8 September Kesselring had concentrated Von Vietinghof's 10th Army, ready to make a rapid response to any Allied landing.
On September 8, before the main invasion, the surrender of Italy to the Allies was announced. Italian units ceased combat, and the Navy sailed to Allied ports to surrender. However the German forces in Italy were prepared for such an eventuality and moved to disarm Italian units and occupy important defensive positions.
Operation Slapstick was launched on September 9, during which the British 1st Airborne Division were landed at Taranto, an important naval base. Due to the Italian surrender the previous day and since few German forces were in the area, the British troops were landed directly into the port from warships rather than carrying out an amphibious assault. Resistance was slight and the town and ports were captured almost immediately and quickly secured with few losses.
Operation Avalanche - the main invasion at Salerno - was launched on September 9 1943, and in order to secure surprise, the decision had been taken to assault without previous naval or aerial bombardment. Tactical surprise was however not achieved, as the naval commanders had predicted. As the first wave approached the shore at Paestum a loudspeaker from the landing area proclaimed in English: "Come on in and give up. We have you covered." The Allied troops attacked nonetheless.
The Germans had established artillery and machine-gun posts and scattered tanks through the landing zones which made progress difficult, but the beach areas were successfully taken. Around 07:00 a concerted counterattack was made by the 16th Panzer division. It caused heavy casualties, but was beaten off with naval gunfire support. Both the British and the Americans made slow progress, and still had a 10 mile gap between them at the end of day one. They linked up by the end of day two and occupied 35-45 miles of coast line to a depth of six or seven miles.
During September 12-14 the Germans organised a concerted counterattack with six divisions of motorised troops, hoping to throw the Salerno beachhead into the sea before it could link with the British 8th Army. Heavy casualties were inflicted, as the Allied troops were too thinly spread to be able to resist concentrated attacks. The outermost troops were therefore withdrawn in order to reduce the perimeter. The new perimeter was held with the assistance of 4000 paratroopers from the 82nd and 509th PIB who air dropped near the hot spots, from strong naval gunfire support, and from well-served Fifth Army artillery. The German attacks reached almost to the beaches but ultimately failed. Allied pilots slept under the wings of their fighters in order to beat a hasty retreat to Sicily in the event German forces broke the beachhead.
General Clark was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest US award for valor in combat, for his front-line leadership during this crisis. He was frequently seen in the most forward positions encouraging the troops. However, in the estimate of historian Carlo D'Este, Clark's poor planning of the operation caused the crisis in the first place. Clark later blamed the slowness of the Eighth Army for the beachhead crisis.
The Salerno battle was also the site of a mutiny by about 600 men of the British 10th Corps, who on September 16 refused assignment to new units as replacements. They had previously understood that they would be returning to their own units from which they had been separated during the fighting in the North African Campaign, mainly because they had been wounded. Eventually the Corps commander, McCreery, persuaded most of the men to follow their orders. The NCOs who led the mutiny were sentenced to death, but were eventually allowed to rejoin units and the sentence was not carried out.
Battle of Italy, 1943
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