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Thread: Italy first?

  1. #1
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    Italy first?

    Was the invasion of the Italian mainland a strategic success for the allies?

    Did it have a significant effect on proceedings in the eastern front?

    It seems apparent that the Germans utiilsed their available resources well in fighting a dogged defensive campaign, utilising Italian topography to their advantage and benefiting from poor winter weather, still did the Germans commit too much to Italy and despite tactical success, was Italy a strategic blunder for them?




    “The British Staffs favoured [sic] the Mediterranean and an attack upon Sardinia and Sicily, with Italy as the goal. The United States experts had given up all hopes of crossing the Channel in 1943, but were anxious not to be entangled in the Mediterranean in such a way as to prevent their great design in 1944. ‘
    Critics argue that getting bogged down in Italy was frustrating at best and unnecessarily costly in lives at worst. The war in Italy was also referred to as a “cul de sac”. Author Andrew Roberts in Masters and Commanders offers: “The Americans – who were indeed probably wrong to consider invading France in 1942 or 1943 – were right to insist on doing so by the late spring of 1944.”[6] There were strategic advantages and rewards for the Allies and the Italian campaign: “By holding the flank and attriting [sic] German forces with relatively few Allied divisions, the Italian campaign facilitated the task of Overlord. The decision to invade Italy was bound to favor the Allies in any case, because superior resources meant that they could threaten both the Channel and the Mediterranean. Hitler’s decision ultimately to commit fifty divisions to defend the Eastern Mediterranean at the expense of other fronts was a great boon to the alliance.”[7]
    Valuable experience and lessons learned from both Sicily and mainland Italy would pay dividends later: “The Italian campaign… was fought because it had to be fought… Certainly lessons learned in Sicily and southern Italy paid dividends later in the war, notably the expertise gained in complex amphibious operations and in fighting as a large, multinational coalition."
    Three years after the Anzio landings, Kesselring [German Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring] was quoted as saying: ‘I can say this, if you had never pitted your divisions in the Mediterranean, as at Anzio-Nettuno, you would never have won the victory in the West.’”[10] Proponents of the Italy first scenario argued that by entering Sicily and then mainland Italy, Germany would have to reallocate resources from the east and west.
    Following the war, Hitler’s German staff member Major-General Walter Warlimont wrote that his [Hitler’s] Mediterranean strategy “threw a far greater strain upon the German war potential than the military situation justified and no long-term compensating economies were made in other theatres.”
    Importance of Italian airfields...
    Winston Churchill, in his push for an Italy first campaign, cited the advantages of utilizing the airdromes and airfields in southern and central Italy....he newly formed US Fifteenth Air Force was able to strike at synthetic oil refineries in Ploesti, Romania from the Foggia airfields in May of 1944. This bomber offensive, along with flights of the US Eighth Air Force out of Britain, cut German petroleum production in half.[15] This came at a crucial time for the Allies since early June was the target date for Operation Overlord. As a result of targeting aircraft and petroleum factories in Germany, the Luftwaffe were forced to concentrate operations close to home in protection of their homeland and industrial base. This destruction in Germany enabled the Allies to achieve dominance of the skies over Europe, and importantly, the beaches of Normandy, France.
    US General George Marshall eventually aligned his thinking with Winston Churchill and added: “The fall of Foggia has come exactly at the time when it is needed to complement our bomber offensive now hammering Germany from bases in the UK. As winter sets in over northern Europe, our heavy bombers operating from the dozen or more (13) air bases in the Foggia Area will strike again at the heart of German production not only in Germany proper but in Austria, Hungary, and Rumania. For our bombers operating from England, this aerial ‘Second Front’ will be a great assistance.”
    The additional bombing missions flown from Italy were indispensible to the overall strategic bombing offensive that focused on the aircraft and petroleum factories. These Allied air attacks were responsible in closing down the war economy in Germany, as Williamson Murray and Allan B. Millet note: “German industry was collapsing, and the few weapons and ammunition being produced could not get through to the troops. Movement on the railways and waterways almost ceased, and German armies, starved of fuel and munitions, could not handle the rapidly moving enemy ground forces.”
    Tying up German forces
    From the memoirs of Winston Churchill:

    ... The Italian campaign had attracted to itself twenty good German divisions. I had called it the Third Front. If the garrisons kept in the Balkans for fear of attack there are added, nearly forty divisions were retained facing the Allies in the Mediterranean.
    A unique advantage of the ‘Mediterranean and Italy first’ plan of Winston Churchill was taking Mussolini and Italy out of the war early. This was rather easily accomplished after the invasion of Sicily...Had the invasion of Italy, the “cul-de-sac”, been avoided, Italian troops would have been fighting alongside their German comrades in France in an earlier version of Overlord.
    Historian Douglas Porch on the Allied-controlled Mediterranean Sea: “The opening of the Mediterranean with Husky [Invasion of Sicily] in August 1943 released a flow of Lend-Lease aid...
    the planning, implementation and subsequent invasion of Normandy in June of 1944 had benefitted as a result of the lessons learned from the logistics and planning, as bad as they were, from Sicily and mainland Italy
    .
    See article for detailed discussion of allied offensive in Italy.

    Retired Brigadier General John S.D. Eisenhower raises compelling questions as to the importance of the Italian campaign, following Sicily:

    When the Sicilian campaign came to an end in late July 1943, many Allied divisions were spread out in the Mediterranean from Morocco to Sicily, all of which would remain idle for the next eleven months if not employed in Italy or Sardinia. Even those troops scheduled for deployment to the United Kingdom would have no place to fight until the Allies crossed the English Channel in the spring of 1944. Could the Allies have left all those divisions idle? ... A suspension of Allied activity in the Mediterranean would have allowed the Germans to make use of some sixteen additional divisions in Russia or France. What would have been the effect of that situation on the Soviet Russians, who were fighting so valiantly on the Eastern Front, if the Americans and British were fighting absolutely nowhere in Europe?
    While Montgomery’s Eighth Army came ashore at the “tip of the boot” on September 3, Clark’s Fifth Army landed at Salerno on the ninth. It was at Salerno where the missteps by Mark Clark began with his decision to repeat the Allied mistake from Sicily of dividing his landing forces. Clark had landed his British X Corps ten miles from his American VI Corps, which was also separated by the River Sele. Clark ignored the observation of George Patton that the Germans would find and exploit the errant gap.[49] The eventual exploitation of this gap by the Germans was enough for Clark to consider a withdrawal until reinforcements parachuted in...A valuable lesson learned from the Allied effort in Italy at both Sicily and Salerno – do not separate your invasion forces in an amphibious landing.
    In conclusion...
    - The Soviets desperately needed relief from the powerful German offensives on the Eastern Front. The German soldiers were superior fighting men compared to the Soviets. What the Soviets lacked in ability they made up in sheer numbers of combatants.

    - A secure Mediterranean Sea was needed to allow the safe passage of Allied ships and shipping. Materiel destined for the Soviet Union from the Lend-Lease program was able to arrive more quickly via the Mediterranean Sea than the arctic route.

    - England was not yet prepared for a cross-channel invasion in 1942 or 1943. More time was needed to build up and train troops for Overlord and move them to England: “No oceangoing fleet was available to move a half million men from the African littoral to England, or anywhere else; nor could British ports, rails, and other facilities, already overwhelmed by the American hordes staging for OVERLORD, have handled such a force.”[85]

    - Eisenhower and his commanders were able to get a better look at their true capabilities in leading and fighting the Germans outside of North Africa. Combat in Sicily and mainland Italy was dramatically different from that of El Alamein, Oran, Morocco, Algiers, and Tunisia. Italy was a good proving ground for field commanders. Its extreme terrain and weather created the ultimate “field problem” for the generals and commanders. Patton and Montgomery succeeded in Italy – sadly, and tragically, Clark failed.

    - Italy possessed airfields which were essential to the Allied combined bombing efforts. Their proximity to Germany and Romania enabled the US Fifteenth Air Force to fly missions which ultimately destroyed the German war-sustaining factories and capability.

    - Allied airborne operations gained from the experience in Italy. This was vital for success on D-Day, June 6th. Allied paratroopers played a big part in destroying German artillery on the morning of the 6th.
    http://wwiihistorynetwork.com/page/t...ian-campaign-a

    A footnote for reflection to the Italian campaign (from a different article) on the late winter offensives and their wastefulness, when the strategic benefits of the campaign already achieved.
    If the decision to continue major offensive operators in Italy after the withdrawal of American and French divisions for Anvil-Dragoon is contested, what can be said of the decision to continue the struggle in the mud and misery of the Romagna plain? The British official history suggests that “the least said about the autumn battles in the Romagna the better”[22] but Canadians should not take such a detached view. Few of us have paid much attention to those who fought and died on the banks of the Lamone, the Senio or the streams in between, but an analysis of casualties raises important questions.

    Was there a case for continuing costly offensive action in Italy when the threat of such action was proving sufficient to hold German divisions south of the Alps? It seems to me that much of the impulse for action in the latter half of 1944 came from the grand designs of Churchill and Alexander who sought to pursue broader British strategic goals in the Mediterranean. These goals included a major victory that would be seen to be won in a British-dominated theatre of operations. Ironically, there were few British troops available to pursue these objectives. Only one of the six active divisions in 8th Army was British in late 1944.[23]

    The result was that the costly battles fought in December 1944 required Canada to pay a particularly heavy price. Geoff Keelan, a graduate student and Research Associate at LCMSDS, has developed a Commonwealth Forces Fatal Casualty database for Italy that allows us to analyse fatal casualties by division, brigade and battalion. It offers a much finer tool for comparing fatal casualties, including date and rank. Keelan’s figures show that 515 of the 799 fatal casualties incurred by 8th Army in December were Canadians.

    Where was the Canadian government or senior Canadian army officers in all this? Prime Minister King had informed the British government that Canadian troops could not be employed outside of Italy in the various missions underway in Greece, the Middle East and Yugoslavia. But, the army, apart from endorsing the view that 1st Canadian Corps ought to join their comrades in Northwest Europe as soon as possible, had no mechanism for expressing its view of the orders issued by 8th Army. The Corps Commander, Charles Foulkes, who in theory could have declined to commit his troops, simply followed orders. The Canadians in Italy, like the Poles, New Zealanders and Indians, functioned as Imperial troops pursuing an Allied holding action and the fading dreams of post-war British influence in the Mediterranean.

    When we construct a Canadian memory of the Italian campaign, there is room for examples of operational and tactical effectiveness, individual courage and a significant contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany. There are however other stories that need to be told about the nature, purposes and cost of the campaign.
    http://canadianmilitaryhistory.ca/so...ry-colloquuim/
    Last edited by tantalus; 20 Feb 16, at 21:01.

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    Would have been better to go in via Greece and clear the Balkans to Vienna. Both achieved the same end - to draw resources and manpower from other fronts so making the Soviets job and France easier.

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    One thing that has always puzzled me about the Italian Campaign is the logic dictating the Allied invasion of southern Italy and the long campaign fought 'up' the peninsula towards Rome.

    Operation Husky gave the the Allies control of Sicily commencing July 43. Corsica and Sardinia followed as mopping up operations in September that same year. An invasion of southern Italy then followed, leading to the long, arduous and bloody campaign northwards in the face of stiff German resistance. Anzio was supposed to be the Allied response to this resistance but it largely failed to achieve it's objectives and the the war in Italy continued unit the German surrender in 45.

    My question is, what, if any consideration was given (or should have been given) to alternate option, one that would appear on face value to be a more logical operation i.e.:

    Step (1) Husky followed by an 'invasion' of southern Italy designed to draw the German defenders south.

    Step (2) Corsica and Sardinia followed by:

    Step (3) an Allied invasion of Northern Italy (once the bulk of German forces in Italy had been drawn down towards the toe of Italy) - somewhere between say Nice and Livorno.

    The advantages appear obvious. The bulk of German forces in Italy German forces are immediately caught out of position and risk complete destruction/isolation. So I can't help wondering why this option was never considered - or if it was considered, discounted. (I have never read anything such a proposal, does anyone know if it existed on paper?)
    Last edited by Monash; 28 Feb 16, at 11:51.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Monash View Post
    One thing that has always puzzled me about the Italian Campaign is the logic dictating the Allied invasion of southern Italy and the long campaign fought 'up' the peninsula towards Rome.

    Operation Husky gave the the Allies control of Sicily commencing July 43. Corsica and Sardinia followed as mopping up operations in September that same year. An invasion of southern Italy then followed, leading to the long, arduous and bloody campaign northwards in the face of stiff German resistance. Anzio was supposed to be the Allied response to this resistance but it largely failed to achieve it's objectives and the the war in Italy continued unit the German surrender in 45.

    My question is, what, if any consideration was given (or should have been given) to alternate option, one that would appear on face value to be a more logical operation i.e.:

    Step (1) Husky followed by an 'invasion' of southern Italy designed to draw the German defenders south.

    Step (2) Corsica and Sardinia followed by:

    Step (3) an Allied invasion of Northern Italy (once the bulk of German forces in Italy had been drawn down towards the toe of Italy) - somewhere between say Nice and Livorno.

    The advantages appear obvious. The bulk of German forces in Italy German forces are immediately caught out of position and risk complete destruction/isolation. So I can't help wondering why this option was never considered - or if it was considered, discounted. (I have never read anything such a proposal, does anyone know if it existed on paper?)
    Operation brimstone to capture Sardinia was considered as a possible first action after Tunisia at the Symbol conference in Casablanca and apparently could have been conducted months earlier than Husky, but Husky won out, seems to be very little info on the detail on the different strategic scenarios discussed at the conference. The allies successfully deceived the Germans into thinking Sardinia was the target over Sicily. Either way, they executed brimstone later in 1943 (your step 2), and the french landed on Corsica. But at this point the landings at salerno were in motion, the allies had the foot in the door and Sardinia ceased to have the same strategic value.

    Havent seen anything on the idea of an early invasion of the north, but not sure the allies have the operational ability to conduct it safely without greatly increasing their investment in the campaign and it would take time. I have read of the speculation that that the Germans had a poor understanding of allied amphibious landing capabilities at the time so the threat of such landings further north or even on southern France could have had a significant effect on German deployment early in the campaign if Sardinia had been chosen over Sicily.
    Last edited by tantalus; 28 Feb 16, at 15:01.

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