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|The Italian Campaign, 1943-1944
from the invasion of Sicily to the capture of Florence
Allied control of North Africa ended Axis threats to Egypt and the Suez Canal, and to British oil resources in the Middle East. By June, 1941, British troops had forced the German-sponsored government in Iraq out of office, and British and Russian soldiers had jointly occupied Iran. Free French and British forces took over Syria and Lebanon from Vichy French troops.
On July 10, 1943, General Sir Harold Alexander's Fifteenth Army Group landed on Sicily. During the fighting, Benito Mussolini fell from power in Italy. On July 25, Marshal Pietro Badoglio became Premier of Italy. The Italian government imprisoned Mussolini, but he was later rescued by German paratroopers. The Allies occupied all Sicily on August 17. Badoglio's government signed an armistice with the Allies on September 3, and announced it five days later.
British and Canadian forces used Sicily as a springboard for invading the toe of the Italian peninsula. On September 3, 1943, the British Eighth Army crossed the Strait of Messina and landed in Calabria in southern Italy. Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark's U.S. Fifth Army landed at Salerno on September 9. After intense fighting, Clark's troops swept out of the marshy beachhead and linked with the Eighth Army.
Italy became a "co-belligerent" and declared war on Germany on October 13. The Allies hoped that Italian soldiers would attack German garrisons, but most Italians allowed themselves to be disarmed by the Germans.
The Allied drive up the Italian peninsula proved to be a slow struggle against a 400,000-man German army led by Field Marshal Albert Kesselring.
Early in November, 1943, the Allies reached a line about 75 miles south of Rome (the Gustav Line), but they could not pierce the German defenses. Naples had fallen to the Allies after landings near Salerno. Late in January, 1944, the Allies tried to outflank the German lines by landing troops near Anzio, but the Germans held the high ground and hemmed in the invaders on a small beachhead. It wasn't until the taking of Cassino, which stood about halfway between Naples and Rome, that the Allies were able to push northward. The Italians made Rome an open city by announcing that they would not defend it, and on June 4, it became the first Axis city to fall.
Two months later, the Allies captured Florence. The Mediterranean Allied Air Forces supported the ground forces by attacking German troops and supply centers, and the Allies finally reached the Gothic Line, a German defense system 4 miles deep across northern Italy.
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This page was last updated on 09/22/2017.