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Invasion of Italy

LAURENCE REES: So, let’s talk about the war in Italy. I certainly felt, when I filmed there recently in the mountainous territory south of Rome, and when I talked to people who fought in that campaign, that there was a lot of wisdom in Napoleon's maxim that 'Italy is like a boot, it should be entered from the top'. And so the problem the Allies faced was that instead of entering Italy from the 'top' - at the plains of Northern Italy - they invaded at the bottom and had to face the most horrendous landscape in which to fight an offensive war. Moreover, it isn’t even the case that the Allies were holding down large numbers of troops there…

ROBERT CITINO: We were in North Africa already because we weren’t going to be fighting Germans anywhere else. We’d done Staff studies on invasions on the Continent, Operation Sledgehammer, Operation Roundup and so on, and it was clear that it [ie D Day] was going to be a lot more difficult than we’d expected. They required specialised equipment that was not only not yet being produced, but had not yet been designed: landing ships for tanks and landing ships for infantry and so on. The decision was made to fight in North Africa and a pretty big victory was won in North Africa. And largely because of Hitler’s insistence on reinforcing the Tunisian bridge, after Allied armies had closed in on it, but a couple of hundred thousand prisoners had been taken.  And now, we’re in early 1943, and decisions have to be made about what to do next, is Operation Roundup ready to go? Of course not. It’s far from what will eventually become Operation Overlord, but it’s not ready to go. So where are we going to be killing Germans in the summer of 1943? Well, Sicily’s right here and Sicily was the next invasion: Operation Husky. And it ended relatively badly. There’s a famous mythology, partially true but partially overdone, about the race to Messina with Montgomery dawdling to Messina and then Patten racing clear around the island, driving through Palermo, points west, and eventually arriving at Messina ahead of the British. Of course what’s often lost there is that the Germans were gone, and the whole point of a race to Messina was to get there before the Germans did so they could not evacuate. Ok, so now it’s August of 1943 and where are we going to be fighting next? Is Roundup ready to go? No. Overlord will be in 1944 but we’re still a long way from that, a whole year away. It’s a hop skip and jump across from Sicily to Italy, from the Straits of Messina into the toe of the Italian boot, Calabria.

So Sicily’s just across the Straits of Italy and so Italy’s the next target. You know arguably there’s a certain strategic consequence; the invasion of Sicily leads to the overthrow of Mussolini and there are only 3 big axis powers: Italy and Japan and Germany and that’s one down and two to go. You could make a case that all the way up to Rome it was still the only place where we were engaged with the Germans. But of course General Mark Clark takes his famous jeep ride through Rome and there’s the famous photo of Clark in front of the Coliseum on June 5th 1944 and the very next day the war takes a very different turn with the invasion of Normandy. And from then on it is very difficult, I think, for me as a historian, an operational analyst, to support the furtherance of the Italian drive. It tied down some German divisions, but it tied down just as many allied divisions and caused massive casualties on both sides and destroyed much of Italy in the process. I think once again the campaign up to Rome and the campaign after Rome can be perhaps treated in two different ways.