Why Did the Allies Invade the South of Italy in 1943? | History Hit

Why Did the Allies Invade the South of Italy in 1943?

M24 Chaffee of the 81st Reconnaissance Squadron, 1st Armored Division passes through ruins of Vergato (Bologna, Italy) on 14 April 1945
Image Credit: Public Domain

The Italian campaign in September 1943 was the first proper invasion of the European mainland. If you asked the average person when the Allies arrived in Europe during World War Two, they would probably say D-Day.

In reality, however, nearly a year prior to D-Day, British Commonwealth and American Allied forces landed on the toe of Italy in 1943 and then, a few days later, at Salerno, in what were the main landings to really push towards Rome.

This article is an edited transcript of Italy and World War 2 with Paul Reed, available on History Hit .

Dan talks to Paul Reed about the significance of the Italian invasion in World War Two.
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Why did the Allies invade Italy?

The Italian campaign came about after the campaign in North Africa ended in May 1943 with the surrender of the Afrika Korps.

The Allies had discussed at Yalta the need to open a second front in the war to relieve pressure on the eastern front. However, the Allies were not then in a position to make a proper landing in France.

Salerno D-Day plan

Image Credit: Public Domain

The American belief was that the only way to defeat the Nazi regime was to land in France, go to Paris, to capture Paris, to push on to Belgium, to capture Belgium, and then to capture Holland – at which point the Allies would have a route into Nazi Germany.

But that wasn’t possible in the summer of 1943. So the compromise was to try and come in through the back door, an idea that British Prime Minister Winston Churchill believed in. Churchill called Italy the “soft underbelly of the Third Reich”. That’s what Italy was to him and indeed to others as well.

Last summer Dan was lucky enough to sit down with 101 year old Mary Ellis, a courageous and pioneering aviator. She talked about her love of flying and the incredible feats she undertook as a spitfire pilot. Mary Ellis passed away at the age of 101 on 25 July, 2018.
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The route through Sicily

There was a plan to attack through Italy on a second front, push up through Italy and into Austria, entering Germany that way. And it sounded easy. But by the end of the campaign, veterans called it the “tough old gut of Europe”.

Although the Allies had decided upon an invasion of Italy from North Africa, it wasn’t possible to do that directly. There wasn’t enough shipping or enough aircraft to cover an assault. Instead, it was going to be a two-step operation.

The Allies would go across the Mediterranean, capture the island of Sicily, and use that as a staging post to go to the Italian mainland.

When did the British and Commonwealth troops invade Sicily?

Troops from Sicily arrive under shell fire during the landing at Salerno, September 1943.

The landings at Sicily took place in July 1943, with British and Commonwealth troops arriving on one side of the island and the Americans landing on the other side. There was some tough fighting on the island of Sicily in the countryside.

The beginnings of a rivalry between Britain’s Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery and US Lieutenant General George S. Patton emerged and some have suggested that they over-focused on that rivalry, consequently allowing German forces to get away across the Strait of Messina.

While the Allies did capture Sicily, it wasn’t the complete success they had hoped for, and the fight for the rest of Italy was yet to come.

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History Hit Podcast with Paul Reed