With the invasion of North Africa, the United States Army in late 1942 began a ground offensive against the European Axis that was to be sustained almost pause until Italy collapsed and Germany was finally defeated. This was the largest commitment to battle ever made by the U.S. Army, some four million were to fight on the European continent and a million more in lands bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Alongside the Americans were British, Canadian, French, and other Allied troops in history's greatest demonstration of coalition warfare, while Soviet armies on another front were to contribute enormously to the victory. Highlighted areas were Salerno, Anzio, the Gustav Line and the war north of Rome.
In "From Salerno to the Alps," Chester Carrs reported that in the less than two years between the Allied September 1943 landing south of Naples at Salerno and the final German defeat at the edge of the Alps in April 1945, there had been 189,000 Allied casualties, with well more than half of them Americans. During those twenty-nine months, dead and missing Americans totaled 29,000, or half the American losses during more than ten years of fighting in Vietnam. In the U.S. Army's 1969 official history, "Slerno to Cassino," Martin Blumenson wrote that the Italian campaign "would develop into one of the most bitter military actions of World War II." And Robert Katz in "The Battle for Rome," focused on events inside the Eternal City during 1943-1944 as the fighting moved slowly north toward Rome. Among the Allied strategists there had been a great debate over what to do in the Mediterranean after the eventually successful Allied campaign in North Africa that began in November 1942.
In addition to Sicily, where the Allies landed in July 1943, the Americans favored taking Sardinia and Corsica as well as 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 to focus farther east on the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey, however, they could also envision Allied landings farther up the Italian peninsula to capture not only Naples, but Rome. When Mussolini was voted down by his own Fascist Grand Council and interned by order of King Vittorio Emanuele III in late July 1943, the new Italian government announced that Italy was leaving the war.
The Allies then crossed from Sicily onto the toe of the Italian boot, and moved north to Rome, until now one of the three Axis capitals, was a main target.
To secure Rome, General Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized an air drop by the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division. Major General Maxwell Taylor went secretly to Rome to meet with the new prime minister, Marshal Pietro Badoglio, however, Badoglio declared that it was too late and soon fled south with his king. The Germans had moved 60,000 soldiers to mainland Italy from Sicily, and other German divisions began to come down from the north. Therefore as the Allies made their way north overland toward Rome, they encountered increasing difficulties, however, in September 1943, the U.S. Fifth Army broke out from the German encirclement of its Salerno beach-head and two weeks later the Allies took Naples, one hundred miles south of Rome, yet were stopped for months by the Germans Gustav Line which stretched from the Tyrrhenian Sea inland across the low steep Apennines mountains.
The battle for Cassino was perhaps the most bitter struggle of the entire Italian campaign. "The dominating peak of Montecassino crowned by its magnificent but doomed medieval monastery was the key to the entire Gustav Line, a formidable system of defenses that stretched right across the Italian peninsula." This position completely dominated the Liri valley and Route 6, which was the strategically vital road to Rome. January through May of 1944 the Allies struggled amid inhospitable terrain and dreadful weather to dislodge the German paratroops that tenaciously defended the vital mountaintop.
The Allies made a second landing in January 1944 at Anzio, only forty miles south of Rome, and unopposed might have conceivably taken Rome but for the caution of American commander, Major General John Lucas, who as Mr. Katz says, "having seized brilliantly, kept on securing." On January 22, 1944, VI Corps of Lt. General Mark W. Clark's Fifth Army landed on the Italian coast below Rome and established a beach-head far behind the enemy lines. During the four months between this landing and Fifth army's May offensive, the short stretch of coast known as the Anzio beach-head was the scene of one of the most courageous and bloody dramas of the war. As the Germans threw attack after attack, the Fifth Army troops were put fully on the defensive for the first time, and although hemmed in by numerically superior enemy forces, they held their beach-head, fought off every enemy attach and built up a strong striking force that spearheaded Fifth Army's triumphant entry into Rome in June.
The main defensive barrier guarding the entrances to Rome was the Gustav Line, which extended across the Italian peninsula from Minturno to Ortona. The natural mountain defenses had been reinforced by enemy engineers with an elaborate network of pillboxes, bunkers, and mine fields, and moreover, the Germans had reorganized their forces to resist the Allied advance. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring took command of the entire Italian theater on November 21, 1943, dividing Army Group C. into tow armies, with the Tenth facing the southern front and holding the Rome area, and the Fourteenth guarding central and northern Italy, demonstrating how determined Hitler was to gain the prestige of holding the Allies south of Rome. Opposing the German forces was the Allied 15th Army Group commanded by General Sir Harold R.L.G. Alexander, with the U.S. Fifth Army attacking on the western and the British Army on the eastern sectors of the front. By the middle of December, the Fifth Army was fighting its way through the forward enemy defensive positions, which became known as the Winter Line.
By threatening or cutting German lines of communications to the Winter Line, the troops at Anzio were to facilitate Allied advance through the line and up the valley of the Liri River, the most obvious route to Rome. With support by a French corps equipped with American arms, General Clark pulled out the U.S. VI Corps under Major General John P. Lucas in order to make the envelopment. As the VI Corps, which also included a British division, sailed toward Anzio, the Fifth Army launched a massive attack with the intent of gaining access to the Liri valley, and although the VI Corps landed unopposed, the attack on the Winter Line gained little. During the remainder of the winter and early spring, the Fifth and Eighth Armies regrouped and built their combined strength to twenty-five divisions, mostly with the addition of French and British Commonwealth troops. Meanwhile, Eisenhower had relinquished command in the Mediterranean in early January in order to go to Britain in preparation for the coming invasion of France, and was succeeded by British Field Marshal Wilson. To break the Winter Line, the Fifth and Eighth Armies launched a new carefully synchronized attack, as French troops under General Clark's command scored a penetration that unhinged the German position.
When the Germans began to fall back toward Rome, the VI Corps attacked from the Anzio beach-head, however, they failed to make sufficient progress to cut the enemy's routes of withdrawal.
As U.S. troops entered Rome on June 4, 1944, On June 4, 1944, Normandy was only two days off and the focus of the Allied war against Germany shifted to France, and with this shift came a gradual diminution of Allied strength in Italy. Nevertheless, Allied forces continued to pursue the principle offensive, and when reaching a new German position in the Northern Apennines, the Gothic Line, they began a three-month campaign in August that achieved penetration, yet they were unable to break out of the mountains. During this period, General Clark became commander of the Allied army group and Lt. General Lucian K. Truscott assumed command of the Fifth Army.
The Fifth and Eighth Armies penetrated a final German defensive line in the spring of 1945 to enter the fertile plains of the Po River valley. On May 2, the Germans in Italy surrendered, the first formal capitulation of the war.
Although less generally acclaimed than other phases of World War II, the Italian campaign had a vital part in the overall conduct of the war. At the time of the Normandy landings, Allied troops in Italy were tying down twenty-six German divisions that could very well have upset the balance in France. Due to this campaign, the Allies obtained airfields useful for strategic bombardment of Germany and the Balkans, and the conquest of the peninsula further guaranteed the safety of Allied shipping…