WW2 Controversies

|   7 September 2011

Why fight in Italy?

Florence – liberated in the summer of 1944

We’ve just added to the site for subscribers a video about the war in Italy.

I’ve always felt strongly about this campaign because my father-in-law fought in it. And the more I learn about this history the harder I find it to justify the sacrifice made by our soldiers. The fundamental problem the Allies faced in Italy had to do with the realities of geography. As Napoleon said, ‘Italy is like a boot. You have to enter it from the top.’

The strategic truth was that the mountainous region of southern Italy was ideal defensive territory. And the Germans knew just how to exploit this fact. As I write in the ‘Key Moments’ section of this website: ‘Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the overall commander of German troops in Italy, masterminded a brilliant – and slow – fighting retreat. So much so that Allied soldiers were still slogging their way through northern Italy when the Red Army had reached Berlin in April 1945. ‘Taking one mountain mass after another gains no tactical advantage,’ said Major General Frederick Walker, commander of the American 36th Division in December 1943, summing up the problem the Allies faced. ‘There is always another mountain mass behind with Germans on it’.’

I’ve thought for a long time that the chief reason why we were in Italy was to demonstrate to Stalin that Britain and America were actually doing something of stature in the war after the successful campaign in North Africa. It’s a classic example of political necessity taking precedence over strategic reality.

Napoleon was right – don’t invade Italy from the bottom.

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One Response to “Why fight in Italy?”

  1. Catweazle says:

    Seems a pity that politicians didn’t learn from history. All those deaths, all that suffering because they hadn’t studied napoleon. And schools seem to think that history is a waste of time. It’s a crying shame.