Chapter 7: The Invasion of the Italian Mainland
3 September 1943
Early Proposals for Post-Sicilian Operations
Early on the morning of 3 September 1943 British and Canadian troops crossed the Messina Strait and began going ashore near Reggio Calabria. The landings were unopposed, and by the close of the day a firm lodgement had been secured.
To the general public, as well as to the majority of those taking part in the assault, the invasion of Italy must have seemed a logical sequel to HUSKY.*
* On 27 August 1943 the United Kingdom’s High Commissioner in Ottawa reported in a Ministry of Information Press Commentary: “All [Canadian] papers consider that attack upon Italian mainland is imminent”.1
But an examination of the pattern of the grand strategy of the war reveals that the two operations in fact belonged to distinct and separate phases. Viscount Alexander has pointed out that the conquest of Sicily marked the end of what may be called the North African chapter of strategy, which began in Cyrenaica with Mussolini’s declaration of war in June 1940. The invasion of Italy opened a European chapter which was to include within its pages the campaign in the west and the complete destruction of the German armies. In this new phase “the Mediterranean theatre would no longer receive the first priority of resources and its operations would become preparatory and subsidiary to the great invasion based on the United Kingdom.”2
The Casablanca Conference had not concerned itself with the question of operations which might be launched in the Mediterranean theatre after HUSKY; nor is it likely that agreement could have been reached at that time on such a contentious matter. The decision made at Anfa Camp represented a compromise between the divergent views of the London and Washington planners. In the words of General Eisenhower, it “avoided a commitment to indefinite strategic offensives in the area.”3 This was a most necessary safeguard in the opinion of the American Chiefs of Staff, who, while strongly pressing the claims of Northern France as “the scene of the main effort
against Germany”, had heard Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal declare that “it was impossible to say exactly where we should stop in the Mediterranean, since we hoped to knock Italy out altogether.”4
This single-minded adherence to the thesis that victory in Europe could only come by the direct defeat of Germany, and that strategical ventures in any other than the North-West European theatre must be regarded as regrettable if unavoidable diversions from this primary object, emphasizes what one Canadian observer*
* Maj-Gen. M. A. Pope, from 1942 to 1944 Chairman of the Canadian Joint Staff in Washington, was well placed to assess trends in British and American military thinking.
has described as “the greatest point of difference between the British and American military minds. The former hold that war is an art subject to broad principles rather than a science constrained by hard and fast rule. The United States High Command on the other hand appear always to be loath to vary a programme or scheme of things laid down and agreed on a previous occasion.”5 Yet as events turned out, the Americans, by accepting further commitments in the Mediterranean, were to prove more flexible than this characterization suggests; while the subsequent opposition of the British Chiefs to the invasion of Southern France exposes them in turn to the charge of inflexibility.
The argument was renewed at the “Trident” discussions in May 1943, when the largest conference of high-ranking Allied officials and officers that had yet taken place assembled in Washington.6 Since Casablanca the conviction had grown that there could be no landings on the shores of Western Europe in 1943; and at the first plenary session, held in the White House on 12 May, President Roosevelt put the most urgent question of the conference, “Where do we go from ‘Husky’?”7 The strong British delegation, which was headed by the Prime Minister himself, saw only one answer – further immediate blows must be launched against the Axis in the Mediterranean.
Specifically the British Chiefs of Staff regarded the elimination of Italy as “the main task which lies before us this year in the European Theatre”;8 as Mr. Churchill put it, “the collapse of Italy would cause a chill of loneliness over the German people, and might be the beginning of their doom.”9 They supported their case with compelling arguments. The defeat of Italy would oblige Germany to replace some 35 Italian divisions occupying Greece, Yugoslavia and Southern France, or let go one or more of these countries; elimination of the Italian Navy would release Allied naval forces from the Mediterranean; Corsica and Sardinia would become bases from which to mount an Allied threat against Southern France in the following spring in aid of Operation “Roundup”; and an Italian collapse would be a further inducement to Turkey to make common cause with the Allies. Above all, it seemed “unthinkable that we should be inactive during these critical months when
Russia is engaging about 185 divisions (not including 14 GAF divisions* on the Eastern front)”.10
* German Air Force Field Divisions (Luftwaffen-Felddivisionen) were originally formed in 1942 from surplus Luftwaffe personnel and mainly employed as “stop-gap” formations on the Eastern front.
These arguments did not at once convince the Americans, who had come to the Conference prepared to obtain a firm decision for a full-scale assault across the Channel in the spring of 1944, an immediate vigorous air offensive against Germany’s war potential, and the preliminary build-up in the United Kingdom of forces requisite to both these projects.11 With their eyes set on North-West Europe, they did not believe that any offensive in the Mediterranean in. 1943 could be on a large enough scale to draw off an appreciable number of German forces from the Russian front; and they feared that such a campaign would so dissipate Allied resources as to prevent the concentration in the United Kingdom which was to aid Stalin by compelling the withdrawal of German troops into Western Europe.12 They therefore proposed that after the completion of HUSKY only “limited offensive operations” should be conducted in the Mediterranean area. These would be designed “to destroy Italian War potential by continuing air attacks from Mediterranean bases; to continue support to Russia by the diversion of Axis forces in order to facilitate a cross-Channel operation; and to maintain the security of our positions and communications in the Mediterranean area.” The strength of the forces employed was to be so restricted as not to prejudice the success of an invasion of North-West Europe in 1944, and the American planners left no doubt as to their position regarding a crossing of the Messina Strait when they specified that “United States ground and naval forces will not be employed in the Mediterranean east of Sicily.”13
A possible basis for reconciling these differing views appeared in the attitude of each party towards an offensive in North-West Europe. The Americans opposed Mediterranean operations not in themselves, but only in so far as they might interfere with a cross-Channel assault. The British, on the other hand, agreed that such an assault should ultimately be launched, but they were concerned lest a narrow concentration on their main goal might cause the loss of an immediate opportunity for striking a damaging blow at the enemy. On one aspect of the problem both sides were of one mind: some employment would have to be found for the Mediterranean forces for the period from the end of HUSKY to the beginning of “Roundup”. Mr. Churchill expressed the British view:
Supposing that HUSKY were completed by the end of August, what should these troops do between that time and the date, 7 or 8 months later, when the cross-Channel operation might first be mounted? They could not possibly stand idle, and he could not contemplate so long a period of apparent inaction. It would have a serious effect on relations with Russia, who was bearing such a disproportionate weight.14
Eventually a compromise was reached. On the one hand the British agreed on the target date and the size of the forces required for a cross-Channel invasion (soon to be given the code name OVERLORD). On their part the United States Joint Chiefs withdrew their opposition to further operations in the Mediterranean, provided that these were strictly limited in scope. The final report to the President and the Prime Minister contained the resolution by the Combined Chiefs of Staff “that the Allied Commander-in-Chief, North Africa, will be instructed, as a matter of urgency, to plan such operations in exploitation of ‘Husky’ as are best calculated to eliminate Italy from the War and to contain the maximum number of German forces.”15
The list of limitations followed. The decision as to which specific operations should be mounted was a matter reserved to the Combined Chiefs. General Eisenhower would be given no additional forces in his theatre; indeed, four American and three British divisions under his command would be held in readiness after 1 November for transfer to the United Kingdom. He would lose the additional air forces which had been provided on a temporary basis for HUSKY; and his requirements in naval vessels would be submitted to the Combined Chiefs of Staff for approval. These reductions would leave him with an estimated 27 divisions available for garrisons and post HUSKY operations; for his striking power in the air he might count on 3648 aircraft of various types.16
On the conclusion of the Washington Conference Mr. Churchill, General Brooke and General Marshall flew to North Africa for discussions with Eisenhower at his villa in Algiers. The Prime Minister “was at his eloquent best in painting a rosy picture of the opportunities that he foresaw opening up” to the Allies with the capture of Sicily.17 No attempt was made to draw up a formal post HUSKY plan – this was to be left in Eisenhower’s hands.18 There was, however, general agreement that the exploitation of the Sicilian operation should lead into Southern Italy, and emphasis was placed on the value of the great Foggia airfields, and the necessity of securing a major port – Naples was named.19 The British representatives put forward no suggestion that operations might be extended into Northern Italy; for the American opposition to any undertaking that might weaken prospects of success in OVERLORD was well known, and Eisenhower and Marshall resolutely refused to commit Allied troops “to an all-out campaign for winning the war through the Italian approach.20 At the closing meeting, however, Churchill did suggest that “the capture of Rome, with or without the elimination of Italy from the war, would be a very great achievement for our Mediterranean forces.”21
From 26 May, the date on which the Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington instructed Eisenhower to prepare for post-HUSKY operations, planning proceeded apace. General Alexander’s staff (then known as Headquarters
Force 141) was fully engaged with the forthcoming invasion of Sicily; accordingly the Allied Commander-in-Chief charged Allied Force Headquarters with the responsibility of examining all the possible courses of action which the long and vulnerable Italian coastline invited. Since a definite decision as to which would be adopted would depend upon the progress and outcome of the Sicilian campaign, preliminary planning had to be flexible; and the possibility of an early conclusion to that operation placed upon the planners the additional demand of urgency. They began by seeking suitable points of assault in Italy, for though the directive from Washington had not specified that operations should be launched against the Italian mainland, and the presence of Mussolini’s troops along the entire northern Mediterranean coast from Thrace to the Pyrenees and in the many off-lying islands offered a wide choice of targets, it was clear that an invasion of the home peninsula was the course most likely to knock the southern Axis partner out of the war.22
One cardinal principle was immediately laid down: that no opposed landing could be contemplated outside the limit of fighter cover23 Allowing for their 180-mile radius of action, Spitfires (with long-range tanks) based on airfields in north-eastern Sicily were able to undertake operations within a circle which contained the whole of the Calabrian peninsula (the Italian “toe”), and cut the Tyrrhenian coast just north of Salerno and the shores of the Gulf of Taranto about fifteen miles short of Taranto itself (see Map 8). Thus the port and city of Naples and the naval base of Taranto lay out of reach, while within the accessible area the mountainous and unproductive regions of Calabria and Lucania contained no objective the loss of which would cause the Italians to sue for terms. From this situation two possible courses emerged: to make the short jump into the toe of the boot, and then begin a northward advance which the enemy, favoured by the ground, might block with minimum forces; or to stage the landings as far north as air cover would allow, where vital objectives were within easier reach. For the time being (this was at the end of May) consideration of the bolder of these concepts was postponed, for HUSKY had not yet tested Allied amphibious technique, nor assessed the worth of Italian troops fighting in defence of their native soil.24
A memorandum issued by AFHQ on 3 June set the pattern which detailed planning was to follow. It called for an assault on Reggio Calabria and the seizure (either by an advance overland or a seaborne attack) of the airfields and port of Crotone, a hundred miles up the east coast. These operations could be undertaken either by the formations engaged in HUSKY or by forces still in North Africa; though the Eighth Army’s commitments in Sicily made it advisable to proceed on the latter basis.25 Two spare corps headquarters were available in North Africa; and on 5 June these were put
under command of Force 141 and directed to prepare plans for the invasions of the mainland.*
* An “Analysis of Availability of Headquarters and Units”, issued with the AFHQ Memorandum of 3 June, shows the 1st Canadian Division with HUSKY, but lists the 1st Canadian Tank Brigade as available for operations against the Italian mainland.
Alexander designated the 10th British Corps for the assault on Reggio (given the code name Operation BUTTRESS), and the 5th British Corps for an amphibious attack on Crotone (Operation “Goblet”). The provisional target date for BUTTRESS was 1 September. “Goblet” would go in on 1 October, for it was intended to assist the overland advance from Reggio, and there were no illusions that this might not be difficult and slow.26
One more contingency was provided for. The AFHQ planners had considered what might be done if after the conquest of Sicily the enemy were found to be so strongly posted on the mainland as to make an invasion impracticable. They were also compelled to contemplate the unpleasant possibility of six Allied divisions (the maximum number which could be maintained in Calabria), having carried out the landings, being locked up for the winter in the toe of Italy by a superior enemy force massed on a strong defensive line. Accordingly the concept of the capture of Sardinia (Operation “Brimstone”), which, it will be recalled, had been considered and rejected at Casablanca, was now revived, and the Commanding General of the American Fifth Army was directed to prepare plans for such a venture. About the same time (15 June) General Henri H. Giraud (the Commander-in-Chief of the French Forces in North Africa and Joint President of the French Committee of National Liberation) was asked to nominate a commander and staff to plan the liberation of Corsica (Operation “Firebrand” ).27 In reporting these various alternative plans to the Combined Chiefs of Staff at the end of June, Eisenhower advised them that he could not give a firm recommendation as to the course to be followed “until the probable result of ‘Husky’ becomes apparent.”28
By mid-July the satisfactory progress of the Sicilian campaign encouraged the Allied planners to look for an early end to enemy resistance on the island and to contemplate bolder strokes than they had previously considered. On the 17th General Eisenhower held a conference at Carthage, attended by Alexander, Cunningham and Tedder. It was now appreciated that HUSKY would be finished by 15 August; accordingly thereafter quick action by the Allies would be needed to minimize German efforts to reinforce Southern Italy. To this end all commanders agreed to prepare themselves for several possible operations against the Italian mainland. To the full-scale assaults against Reggio (BUTTRESS) and Crotone (“Goblet”) already contemplated other proposals were added: a modified BUTTRESS, to take the form of a quick exploitation across the Strait by Eighth Army formations in Sicily, assisted by one or more divisions from North Africa; repeated outflanking operations up the coast of Calabria by small amphibious forces; the
introduction of a reinforcing force into Naples after the port had been captured from overland; and a large amphibious operation against Taranto (bearing the code name “Musket”),*
* Operation “Musket” had been considered earlier, but was rejected on 30 June by Eisenhower, on the grounds of probably unsuitable weather at the time of mounting (1 November), non-availability of sufficient landing craft, and doubts that Allied fighter cover would be adequate if the enemy air force were operating in strength from the heel of Italy.29
to be carried out by the American Fifth Army, which would turn over to General Giraud the responsibility of planning the attack on Sardinia.30
Such was the situation when on 25 July the fall of Mussolini introduced a new and unexpected factor into calculations. Although the planners had correctly estimated that the general Italian public was too apathetic to rise against the Fascist authorities, they had not foreseen that a small clique of military schemers would decide that the moment was opportune to pave the way to the capitulation of Italy by staging a “palace revolution”. These changed circumstances convinced the Allied Commanders-in-Chief, meeting at Carthage on the 26th, that greater risks might legitimately be taken. As early as 17 July the Combined Chiefs had signalled General Eisenhower that they were interested in “the possibilities of a direct amphibious landing operation against Naples in lieu of an attack on Sardinia”; they now cabled him to begin planning such an operation immediately.31 Next day AFHQ instructed General Mark W. Clark, commander of the Fifth Army, to make plans for seizing the port and the airfields nearby, “with a view to preparing a firm base for further offensive operations.” Target date for the operation (code-named AVALANCHE) was to be 7 September, and the site of the initial landing Salerno Bay. The forces available to Clark would be the US 6th Corps, previously allotted to the Sardinian assault, and the British 10th Corps, which was at the time assigned to Operation BUTTRESS.32
The Decision to Mount Operation BAYTOWN
During late July, while its chances of success were still being carefully assessed, the Salerno landing was regarded only as an alternative to a direct assault into the toe, which held top priority. The proposed operations against southern Calabria had now largely become the responsibility of the Eighth Army, whose commander had declared his intention to “carry the war into Italy on a front of two Corps; 13 Corps on the right about Reggio, 10 Corps on the left about Gioja,†
† Gioia Tauro, 35 miles up the coast from Reggio.
and [the latter] being mounted from Africa, the whole being a normal Eighth Army operation.”33 The assault by the 13th Corps was to be carried out in daylight, supported by all available air power and artillery fire. It was labelled Operation BAYTOWN, to distinguish it from the 10th Corps operation, which retained the name BUTTRESS.34
Resources in shipping and landing craft would not permit three separate assaults, however, and as the prospects for a successful AVALANCHE strengthened, support for BUTTRESS declined. On 7 August Eisenhower emphasized to Alexander “the great desirability of attempting ‘Avalanche’ “, pointing out that this depended upon “an ability to throw troops from Sicily into the Toe without using Ten Corps nor consuming too many of our scanty number of landing craft.” The Supreme Commander expressed his conviction that if it became necessary to undertake both BAYTOWN and BUTTRESS, it would be impossible to mount AVALANCHE in 1943, “and I would dislike very much to report such a conclusion to the Combined Chiefs of Staff and to the Prime Minister and the President.”35 Montgomery was urging the 15th Army Group Commander that his “demands on Ten Corps have priority”,36 but a meeting of the Commanders-in-Chief on 13 August reached general agreement “that every effort must be made to mount ‘Avalanche’ and with Tenth Corps so equipped with landing craft that it can be used either on that operation or on ‘Buttress’, if latter proves necessary.”37
The final choice was made at a Commanders-in-Chief conference held at Carthage on 16 August. The fighting in Sicily was all but over; indeed, next morning at dawn General Hube was to board the last enemy craft leaving the island. It was known that the survivors of the campaign were being heavily reinforced by new German troops pouring into Italy; yet despite this accelerated build-up and the uncertain Italian position, it was decided “to proceed at the earliest possible moment to a full-scale invasion on the lines of the boldest plan which had been considered.”38 At as early a date as possible (probably between 1 and 4 September, subject to General Alexander’s decision) the 13th Corps would land in Calabria. Then, on 9 September, the main assault would be launched at Salerno by the Fifth Army, employing the 10th Corps, commanded by Lt-Gen. Sir Richard L. McCreery, and the US 6th Corps, under Maj-Gen. Ernest J. Dawley. Operations BUTTRESS and “Musket” were cancelled, and the plan for the Crotone landing (“Goblet”) was left to be completed as far as practicable by the 5th Corps. (It was never undertaken.) Sardinia and Corsica passed out of the strategic picture; the need for General Giraud’s planning did not materialize, for in the event the Germans withdrew from both islands with a precipitancy which they probably later regretted. On 17 August the Fifth Army came under the command of the 15th Army Group, and Alexander’s headquarters assumed the responsibility for both Operations AVALANCHE and BAYTOWN.39
Two not unconnected incidents which took place on the day before the Allied Commanders decided on the Salerno and Reggio assaults may be recorded here. A document found among Mussolini’s private papers reveals that on 15 August a group of Axis political and military representatives.
headed by General Jodl, Chief of the German Armed Forces Operations Staff, and the Chief of the Italian Army General Staff, Roatta, met outside Bologna to discuss certain aspects of the defence of the peninsula jointly by German and Italian troops. They debated where the next Allied blow might be expected, and Jodl gave the German High Command’s appreciation:
Two courses seem open to the enemy and we cannot decide which is the more probable: to operate towards Calabria-Puglia with the Balkans as a later objective; or towards Sardinia-Corsica, with France as a later object. The OKW does not believe that the enemy plans to invade Italy bit by bit, beginning with Calabria and advancing along the ground.40
On the same day in Madrid, Roatta’s assistant, one Brigadier-General Giuseppe Castellano, called upon the British Ambassador with credentials proving that he came with full authority from Marshal Badoglio to say – as later reported by Mr. Churchill in the British House of Commons – “that when the Allies landed in Italy the Italian Government were prepared to join them against Germany; and when could they come?”41
The chain of political developments which Castellano’s visit set in motion, and which culminated in the signing of an armistice with Italy, will be described in a subsequent chapter. In general they did not affect the main Allied purpose of landing in strength upon the Italian mainland, preparations and planning for which went busily ahead.
As we have seen, the 1st Canadian Division had already been tentatively selected for participation in the Eighth Army’s assault. Formal approval by the Canadian Government was given on 16 August, when in reply to a query from General McNaughton, General Stuart signalled from Ottawa:
shortly after receipt your message intimation was received from highest level to highest level here that exploitation may be immediate and enquired if it was in order to use Canadians in extension of operations to Italy. Reply is being made that this will be in order.42
Canada had not been represented at the “Trident” Conference, and the summary of the Washington discussions which Mr. Mackenzie King received from London on 5 June used only general terms in describing the operations which the Combined Chiefs of Staff had “agreed on in execution of the overall strategic conceptions”. These included the resolution “to make available in the Mediterranean substantial forces for such operations as are best calculated to eliminate Fascist Italy from the war and to contain the maximum of Germans.”43 At a meeting with the British Chiefs of Staff Committee in Quebec on the opening day of the “Quadrant” Conference, however, the Canadian Chiefs of Staff*
* Vice-Admiral P. W. Nelles, Lt-Gen. Kenneth Stuart and Air Marshal L. S. Breadner.
were given an outline of plans for future Allied strategy. The necessity of continuing operations against Italy was impressed upon them, and they were told of the three possible
alternatives (BAYTOWN, BUTTRESS and AVALANCHE) which were then under consideration to exploit the conquest of Sicily.44 Mr. Churchill met Mr. Mackenzie King at the Conference; presumably this was the occasion of the exchange between the two “highest levels”.
Planning for BAYTOWN
The task given to General Montgomery for Operation BAYTOWN was “to secure a bridgehead on the ‘toe’ of Italy to enable our Naval forces to operate through the Straits of Messina” and to follow up an enemy withdrawal “with such force as you can make available, bearing in mind that the greater the extent to which you can engage enemy forces in the southern ‘toe’ of Italy, the more assistance you will be giving to ‘Avalanche’.”45 The Eighth Army Commander decided to use initially the 13th Corps only, assaulting on a two-division front north of Reggio – the Canadian Division on the right, and the British 5th Division on the left – heavily supported by air attack and naval bombardment and by artillery fire from the 30th Corps on the Messina side of the Strait. Preliminary Planning Instructions issued by General Dempsey’s headquarters on 14 August conveyed these assignments to the formations concerned, and provided the basis for detailed preparations at lower levels. The 5th Division would assault with two brigades; the Canadians would land on a single brigade front. When the beaches and the overlooking high ground had been secured, the divisions would seize the initial Corps objectives – the 5th the town of Villa San Giovanni, and the Canadians the town of Reggio and its airfield46 (see Map 6).
General Simonds’ outline plan, naming the 3rd Brigade to lead the Canadian assault, appeared on 17 August, and next day personnel of the Royal Navy pitched their tents at Divisional Headquarters and at Brigadier Penhale’s headquarters, and remained with them to complete the details of combined planning. The amenities of Norfolk House were entirely lacking. The sinkings in July had caused a shortage of tents, office equipment and telephones; and work was exceedingly burdensome in the intense heat, under the torment of innumerable flies. At night the temperature inside “blacked out” office tents rose to over 100 degrees. Nevertheless good progress was made, and when General McNaughton visited Sicily he was able on 24 August to attend an elaborate briefing of all officers of the Division down to commanders of battalions and equivalent units.47
The Calabrian peninsula, so soon to be the point of entry for the Allied Armies into the European continent, forms the instep and toe of the Italian foot. From the Castrovillari isthmus, marked by the western curve of the
Gulf of Taranto, the peninsula extends 130 miles to Cape Spartivento at its southern tip. The narrow Catanzaro isthmus, a comparatively low-lying neck of land between the Gulf of Sant’ Eufemia and the Gulf of Squillace, less than twenty miles from sea to sea, connects the mountainous region of the toe with the large massif known as the Sila, which fills the instep. Three great plateaux dominate the peninsula – the Sila in the north, the Serre in the centre, and the Aspromonte in the south. These granite formations are of impressive height, with steep, terraced sides; the huge hump of the Aspromonte covers a rough square, twenty-five miles on a side, and rises in the Montalto peak to 6400 feet above sea-level. Between the sea and the series of platforms which serve as foothills there is little room for coastal plains. The most extensive of these are the arable flats which face the gulfs on either seaboard; while on the Ionian flank, where the fall of the land is less precipitous, a long, narrow strip skirts the coast from Cape Spartivento to the Catanzaro isthmus.
The entire coastline from the shores of the Gulf of Taranto to eastern Sicily was once studded with the flourishing colonies of Magna Graecia; and the modem names of Reggio, Locri and Crotone recall the early glories of the city states of Rhegium, Locrium and Croton. By the middle ages the seaborne depredations of Vandal and Saracen had driven most of the coastal inhabitants to seek security in the interior. Some of their village strongholds they built a few miles inland, overlooking the sea from commanding sites along the lower mountain terraces; others they planted more remotely on almost inaccessible hilltops in the wilds of the Aspromonte and the Sila. With the coming of the relative security of modem times many of these “terrace towns” developed small hamlets or villages in the narrow coastal strip – some as agricultural or fishing settlements, others as beach resorts for the parent community, whose name each such “Marina” bears.
As might be expected, the topography of Calabria presented difficulties in the building of communications rarely surpassed elsewhere in the country. The State highway which encircled the peninsula – for the most part squeezed tightly against the railroad which hugged the entire shoreline – provided two main avenues of approach to the north. Two major lateral roads snaked their way over the great obstacle of the Aspromonte and the high saddle which joined it to the Serre formation, their gradients stiffer and their turnings mote frequent than in any part of Italy outside the Alps. The southerly of these, Highway No. 112, crossed from Bagnara on the west coast to Bovalino Marina on the east;– and although these two places were but 26 miles apart, the traveller by road journeyed 63 miles. Farther north the somewhat less tortuous Highway No. 111 joined Gioia Tauro with Locri. Supplementing these masterpieces of engineering a few minor roads served the interior of the peninsula; the most important was one which
climbed from Melito at the extreme southern tip to traverse the Aspromonte midway between the east and west coasts, and from which a connecting road wound down 3500 feet into Reggio.48
The Catanzaro neck was to be General Montgomery’s first main objective, and he intended that the 13th Corps’ main thrust would be made by the 5th Division along the western coastal road, while the Canadian Division struck eastward from Reggio into the mountains, and then advanced northward along the inland axis. There were not sufficient bridging resources to develop operations along the eastern coastal highway, where numerous river crossings, road tunnels and overhanging rock ledges would give enemy demolition parties unlimited scope; to secure his right flank against enemy interference the Army Commander therefore planned on a commando landing to destroy the road near Melito. (Reconnaissance patrols from No. 3 Commando were put ashore on three successive nights, but when owing to the failure of their wireless sets no messages came back from them the raid was cancelled on 30 August.)49
The selection of beaches in the area to be assaulted presented no great difficulty, for choice was limited. That part of the Calabrian coast washed by the Strait of Messina had virtually no coastal plain, for the Aspromonte spilled its foothills into the sea, and only a narrow shelf permitted the passage of road and railway. The steep mountain slopes were drained by numerous torrents known as fiumare, whose wide beds of sand and gravel, dry through most of the year, could be clearly seen from the Sicilian shore as white seams in the dark, densely wooded hillside. To avoid flooding during the rainy season, the Italians had protected their cultivated holdings on the fertile slopes by confining the lower reaches of these watercourses within concrete retaining walls – a practice which effectively precluded their possible use as exits for vehicles from the adjacent beaches.
From Villa San Giovanni – the eastern terminus of the Messina ferry and point of trans-shipment of trains for Sicily–Highway No. 18 followed the coastline to Reggio, seven miles to the south, crossing the dry, shallow mouths of two wide mountain streams – the Fiumara di Catona and the Fiumara di Gallico – and a number of smaller watercourses. South of the Gallico the coastline curved in two small well-defined bays separated by the walled Torrente Torbido, a fiumara which entered the sea about a mile north of the outskirts of Reggio. The sector chosen for the main 13th Corps landings extended approximately 6000 yards north from the city and embraced the two bays. The northern was assigned to the two assaulting brigades of the 5th Division (the 17th on the left, the 13th on the right); the 3rd Canadian Brigade would land in the southern bay, between the mouth of the Torbido and Santa Caterina, a suburb of Reggio.50
The Canadian sector bore the code name “Fox”, and was subdivided into “Amber” beach (north) and “Green” beach (south). Although narrow, these beaches fulfilled the main requirements of an assault landing. A stretch of firm sand of gentle gradient, 25 to 50 yards wide, extended southward about 750 yards from the mouth of the Torbido. Its suitability for landing craft was attested by air photographs which showed enemy lighters unloading there during the evacuation from Sicily. A stretch of low cultivated ground behind the sand-strip, wider in the “Amber” sector, where the shoreline curved outward to form the northern arm of the bay, provided space for the many and varied beach installations for which room must be found in the Divisional Maintenance Area. On the landward side this space was backed by the railway, which here ran along an embankment 20 feet high, with the highway beyond. Beach-exits, however, were not lacking, for a number of underpasses below the railway gave access to the highway. Indeed, here again the enemy answered the questions of the Canadian planners, for aerial reconnaissance revealed vehicle tracks leading to these exits from the water’s edge.51
According to the corps and divisional intelligence staffs, enemy defences between Villa San Giovanni and Reggio were not formidable, and were confined chiefly to pillboxes mounting machine-guns, with an occasional Italian 47-mm. anti-tank gun. Little wire was apparent on the 5th Division’s beaches, and none on “Fox”. Inland, the coast defence emplacements were reported to be either unoccupied or incapable of depressing their gun barrels sufficiently to bring fire to bear on the beaches themselves, for they had been designed for an anti-ship role and could only fire seaward. After the end of hostilities in Sicily these coastal batteries engaged in sporadic shelling of the coast road between Messina and Scaletta, but by 28 August the 30th Corps’ artillery had moved into positions near the Strait, and its counter-battery programme appreciably diminished the activity of the Italian gunners. The hub of the defence system in the immediate neighbourhood of Reggio – which was of principal concern to the Canadian Division – was to be found in two forts in the foothills, about a mile north-east of the town and immediately behind “Fox” beach. One of these was known to be unoccupied, but the more northerly, situated on a conical hill 305 metres high, subsequently proved to be equipped with Italian 280-mm. howitzers having a range of 8000 yards.52
Enemy Dispositions in Italy
Allied intelligence staffs had established the Italian order of battle in Calabria with an accuracy later verified by captured enemy documents. It was accepted that the Italians relied mainly, as in Sicily, upon a system of
static coastal defences manned by garrison troops,*
* According to Roatta there was only one coastal battalion for every 29 kilometres of coast from the French frontier to Bari.53
whose morale and fighting capacity could, in the light of experience, be judged weak.
The Italian forces in Southern Italy consisted of three Corps, the 9th disposed at Bari for the defence of Apulia, the 19th at Naples, and the 31st at Catanzaro, all under the command of the Seventh Army, with headquarters in Potenza. For the defence of Calabria the 31st Corps commanded four coastal divisions, the 211th, 212th, 214th and 227th, and a field division, the 104th (Mantova), which was stationed north of the Catanzaro isthmus in the Cosenza area, presumably in a counter-attack role. The doubtful honour of holding the front line in the Calabrian peninsula was given to the 211th Coastal Division, which had its headquarters at Cittanova, on the lateral road from Gioia to Locri. Its coastal battalions, interspersed with some dismounted cavalry groups (second-line troops formed into units about 500 strong), were spread thinly around the toe from the Gulf of Gioia to the Gulf of Squillace. Behind them a battalion of Blackshirt militia and a battalion of paratroops of the 184th (Nembo) Division†
† This division, formed late in 1942 from remnants of the 185th (Folgore) Parachute Division, which was destroyed in North Africa, was in effect an infantry formation. The Nembo Division’s tactical sign, appropriate to its designation, was a rain cloud breaking in sudden shower, just as that of the Folgore had been a thunderbolt.54
were stationed in the Aspromonte to provide some necessary stiffening. All in all these defence forces could not be regarded as formidable; the estimated strength at the “Fox” beaches was no more than two platoons of infantry, possibly supported by a machine-gun section.55
There were two questions to which the Allied planners sought answers. Would the Germans offer any determined resistance to a landing in southern Calabria? If so, would they repeat the mistake made in Sicily of allowing Italian coastal troops full responsibility for the beaches, while maintaining a German mobile reserve intact in the background? During the early stages of planning an affirmative answer appeared likely to the first question; for the second, it was generally appreciated that German units would be sandwiched together with Italian forces along the coast to stiffen the latter’s resistance and put a stop to the widespread desertions into the hills that were reported to be taking place. As D Day drew near, however, the reports of refugee civilians indicated a growing confusion in the ranks of the Italians, and less likelihood of a determined stand on the beaches by either Italians or Germans. An intelligence summary issued by HQ 1st Canadian Division on 31 August forecast a “German defence of the ground behind the beaches in the triangle Reggio–S. Stefano–Gallico” by not more than two infantry battalions.56 The estimate was not far wrong. A “Tactical Report” submitted by the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division at the end of
October showed that at the time of the 13th Corps landings the only German forces in the Aspromonte region were the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the 15th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which were deployed south of Bagnara, covering the main traffic arteries.57
In turning to the larger picture of the German dispositions throughout Italy at the beginning of September it is necessary to examine briefly the developments which had taken place during recent months in the enemy’s political and military strategy in the Mediterranean. German military commitments in Italy began on a very small scale late in 1940, when Hitler ordered air units amounting approximately to one wing to be assigned “for a limited time only” to operate against the British fleet from airfields in Southern Italy.58 When Rommel’s Afrika Korps went to Libya the following spring, Italy’s usefulness as a base for reinforcing operations in North Africa became apparent. At the end of 1941 the German High Command sent an air corps and anti-aircraft units to Southern Italy and North Africa, in order, as Hitler’s directive of 2 December declared, “to lay a foundation for the protection and expansion of our position in the Mediterranean theatre and to establish a concentration of the forces of the Axis powers in the central part of the Mediterranean.” The transfer of these German forces was made the occasion for the appointment of Field Marshal Kesselring as C-in-C South.59 By the spring of 1943 Axis disasters in Africa and the probability of Allied operations against Southern Europe had compelled the German High Command to strengthen its garrisons along the Mediterranean coasts. The Balkans received priority in reinforcements – as the framers of Allied deception plans had hoped they would – and by the end of May German forces there had risen from seven to thirteen divisions. In Italy, as we have seen, the German effort had been confined during the last stages of the fighting in Tunisia to the organization of the three formations (the 15th and 90th Panzer Grenadier and the Hermann Goring Panzer Divisions) to bolster the defences of Sicily, Sardinia and the mainland. At the same time preparations were well advanced, in spite of Mussolini’s objections, to move additional panzer and panzer grenadier divisions into the country, “to provide a backbone for the Italian troops.”60
This support was more than mere disinterested aid to a partner fallen into need (though Hitler’s loyalty to his old ally Mussolini was undoubtedly a contributing factor); there were impelling reasons for the continued inclusion of the Italian peninsula in the German scheme of defence. To abandon Italy would be to lose large numbers of useful auxiliary troops garrisoning the Balkans and Southern France; make available to the Allies a base for an offensive into the Balkans; give them airfields from which to extend the strategic air campaign against Germany; and deprive the Reich of the substantial Italian industrial production. That Italy might come to separate war terms with the Allies and drop out of the war was a contingency
not unforeseen by Berlin, although, as a retrospective appreciation by the High Command in July put it, “the adherence of Italy to the Alliance – and consequently some degree of readiness to watch and protect the coasts of the homeland – were assured as long as the Duce guided the fortunes of Italy.”61 In May the German Armed Forces Operations Staff had framed measures to meet the situation that would arise in the event of an Italian collapse, and when word of Mussolini’s downfall reached Berlin it appeared that the time for putting these into effect was not far distant. The High Command’s situation report for 25 July declared that
The Führer was firmly determined, should the need arise, to take over and hold the Italian positions with German Forces. The determining factor here above all was the conviction that the war must be kept as far as possible from the heart of Europe, and thereby from the borders of Germany.62
It was not the first time, nor would it be the last, that Hitler’s reluctance to yield ground without a fight had asserted itself.
The German reinforcement of Italy proceeded along lines suggested by this policy, and by 25 July the forces originally allocated for that purpose had been increased by five divisions and two corps headquarters.*
* HQ 14th and 76th Panzer Corps, the 16th and 26th Panzer Divisions, the 3rd and 29th Panzer Grenadier Divisions, and the 1st Parachute Division.63
Mussolini’s deposition accelerated the southward flow of German troops, and ten days later the total German strength, either in Italy or en route, had risen to fifteen divisions.64
On 8 August, acting upon orders from Berlin, Kesselring began organizing a subordinate Army Headquarters, ‘Armeeoberkommando 10’, to relieve himself of the increasing detail of tactical command and to tighten control of the German forces strung out in Southern Italy. The new Tenth Army embraced the 14th Panzer Corps, still in Sicily, and the 76th Panzer Corps (commanded by General of Panzer Troops Traugott Herr), on the southern mainland. On 22 August General of Panzer Troops Heinrich von Vietinghoff (after 1 September Col.-General) assumed tactical command, establishing his headquarters at Polla, forty miles south-east of Salerno.65 His allotted tasks were outlined in orders issued by the Führer on 18 August.
1. Sooner or later the capitulation of Italy before enemy pressure is to be expected.
2. In preparation for this, Tenth Army must keep the line of retreat open. Central Italy, especially the Rome area, is to be held until then by OBS.
3. In the coastal area from Naples to Salerno, which at first is the most threatened, a strong group consisting of at least three mobile formations from Tenth Army is to be assembled. All no longer mobile elements of the Army are to be moved to this area. At first fully mobile elements may remain between Catanzaro and Castrovillari to take part in mobile operations. Elements of 1 Para Div may be employed for the protection of Foggia. In the case of an enemy landing the area Naples-Salerno must be held. South of the defile of Castrovillari there is only to be delaying action ...66
As General Hube’s forces made good their escape from Sicily, HQ 14th Panzer Corps and its two hardest-hit formations – the Hermann Görings and the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division – moved into the Naples–Salerno area (which Hitler had personally told von Vietinghoff to regard as “the centre of gravity” ).67 Here they were joined by the 16th Panzer Division, brought over from Apulia (as its movement order stated) “to prevent an enemy landing in the Gulf of Salerno”.68 The 29th Panzer Grenadier Division and the 1st Parachute Division, neither of which, it will be recalled, had been fully committed in Sicily, were concentrated farther down the peninsula as part of the 76th Panzer Corps: the former as the southernmost German formation in Calabria, to fight a delaying action and protect the northward move of the 26th Panzer Division; the latter in Apulia to give security to the Foggia airfields.69
Thus, at the time of the BAYTOWN landings, the following were the German dispositions in Italy. As just noted, there were six divisions south of Rome. In the neighbourhood of the capital itself, but not under the Tenth Army, Kesselring held two formations in reserve – the 3rd Panzer Grenadier and the 2nd Parachute Divisions, ostensibly to reinforce the forces in the south, in reality to be in readiness to seize control of Rome and keep open the line of retreat in the event of Italian treachery;70 also under his command were the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division in Sardinia, and an independent brigade in Corsica. North of the Apennines a concentration of eight divisions was grouped into three corps*
* The 87th, the 2nd S.S. Panzer and the 51st Mountain Corps.
under Army Group “B”, which had appeared in the order of battle during the second week of August. In command was Field-Marshal Erwin Rommel, who since the end of the campaign in North Africa had been serving at Hitler’s headquarters as “military adviser.”71 His present responsibilities were Northern Italy, Slovenia and Croatia, but it was Hitler’s intention that “at a time yet to be decided” (in other words, when the expected Italian defection took place) Army Group “B” should assume control of all German forces in Italy.72
The introduction of these forces into Italy and the manner of their disposition had been the subject of considerable argument and not a little wrangling between the German and Italian military chiefs, for the Axis ties were by this time wearing pretty thin. A memorandum prepared on 6 August by General Vittorio Ambrosio, Chief of the Supreme General Staff, reveals the distrust which existed between the two nominal allies. Claiming the right of the Italian Comando Supremo to determine where the German divisions should be placed, Ambrosio pointed out the fixed Italian purpose to defend Southern Italy to the utmost. The German High Command had formally declared its intention of defending only the north, and yet had
made troop dispositions which were obviously directed to take over control of Central Italy, should that become necessary. Against this dual policy, both aspects of which were unwelcome to the Italians, Ambrosio protested “frankly, as is meet among Allies and soldiers.73 (It must be admitted that such “frankness” would make less demands on our credulity could we be assured that he was ignorant of the treachery which Badoglio was at that moment planning towards the German ally.)
The two conflicting plans for the defence of Italy were propounded at the Bologna conference on 15 August to which we have already referred. The minutes of the meeting bring out strongly the atmosphere of mutual suspicion which prevailed; and the tension was not noticeably lessened by Jodl’s declaration that “it is the duty of the High Commands to have a sense of distrust, which is, after all, merely a measure of precaution – not only towards their Allies but also towards their own troops.”74 The Italians proposed that of the twelve German divisions in Italy (this number excludes the four engaged in Sicily) nine should be in Southern and Central Italy, one in Corsica and only two in Northern Italy and Liguria. The German plan, on the other hand, called for a strong group of eight divisions in the north, from which movements to the south might take place as enemy intentions became clearly established; meanwhile there would be German mobile reserves of two divisions in Central Italy, and of six divisions, including the four brought back from Sicily, in the south.75
It is clear that the Germans had no intention of allowing the bulk of their forces to be drawn so far down the peninsula that at the moment of Italian treachery these would be a dangerous distance from their bases and dispersed in small groups.76 Nor did Hitler favour the idea of exposing his own divisions to the impact of an Allied attack in order to save Italian soldiers. The German High Command makes this clear in a long ultimatum subsequently prepared for presentation to the Comando Supremo (although the Italian capitulation came the day before the note was to have been delivered). It demanded the
Creation of a strong Italian front in Southern Italy, behind which the German Tenth Army must be assured of the necessary freedom of movement against landed enemy.
Creation of a strong system of coast protection between Rome and the French boundary by the Italian formations to be moved in from Northern Italy and the Alps; behind these formations as operational reserves to be Army Group “B” and the two German divisions near Rome.77
The conference ended without reaching agreement on the security measures to be adopted for Italy. By telephone Jodl reported to Field-Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of the Armed Forces High Command, “The previous causes of mistrust remain in full force. ...”78
One extract from the minutes of the Bologna meeting is of more than passing interest. The two leading protagonists were considering a map which showed the German dispositions in Italy.
Roatta: That line on the map bounding the southern border of the bivouac area of this concentration, and which runs south of Viareggio, Florence, Arezzo, and Rimini – is it an imaginary line or has it operational significance?
Jodl: Actually it is a holding line which must be reconnoitred on [the ground] and then fortified.79
Within a year the “operational significance” of this “holding line” was to be fully recognized by all the armies in Italy; for reconnoitred and fortified it was, and in breaking through the defences of this Gothic Line the Allied forces were to fight some of their hardest battles of the Italian campaign.
As might be expected, the failure to secure Italian acquiescence in the proposals it had put forward at Bologna in no way deterred the German High Command from pursuing its intended course. On 16 August Hitler ordered Rommel to move the Headquarters of Army Group “B” from Munich into Northern Italy;80 next day he received von Vietinghoff and instructed him, as we have already noted, in the conduct of the campaign in Southern Italy, including the direction that preparations “be made permitting the transfer of all troops to Central Italy in case of a special order to do so.”81
Prelude to Invasion
During the last two weeks of August, on the edge of the hot Catania plain the men of the 1st Canadian Division readied themselves for the forthcoming operation. The fact that the 3rd Brigade had not previously engaged in an assault landing made it imperative that its units should be given some practice in their role; but the acute overall shortage of landing craft (the arduous work of supplying over the beaches the armies in Sicily had caused a steady deterioration in the serviceability of the craft employed) meant that none was available for any lengthy period of training. From such improvisations as “embarking” in an imaginary “landing craft”, represented by a rectangular perimeter of stones on a Sicilian hillside, the troops progressed to a one day’s rehearsal with the actual craft and crews assigned to them for the operation. On 29 August, on a beach two miles south of Augusta, where assembly of the landing craft assigned for BAYTOWN had been completed two days before, the West Nova Scotia and the Carleton and York Regiments, the two battalions selected to assault “Fox” beach, practised loading into and disembarking from LCAs, while
the Royal 22e, which, as reserve battalion, was scheduled to follow from Catania, used the larger LCI(L)s.*
* Landing Craft Infantry (Large), a sea-going craft, equipped with bow ramps for beach landings, capable of carrying 200 men.
From this brief joint exercise with the Navy, which was carried on under General Simonds’ observation (not to mention that of some enemy aircraft making a surprise raid on Augusta harbour), the 3rd Brigade picked up several useful pointers, not the least enlightening of which was the discovery, as later disclosed by the Brigade Major, that in designating the assault beaches “the Naval staff were considering ‘Right’ and ‘Left’ in the reverse order that we were considering the terms.”82
The re-equipping of the Canadian Division proceeded smoothly in all matters but one. The non-arrival in time of some ships of a convoy bringing Canadian transport from the United Kingdom left several shortages in the scale of vehicles prescribed by the Eighth Army for Operation BAYTOWN. Already a number of vehicles had been withdrawn from the 2nd Brigade and certain units of low priority in the invasion, in order that the 3rd Brigade might have these in time to waterproof them for the assault. At the last moment it was found necessary to ask the Eighth Army to make up these deficiencies, and this was done by drawing from the 30th Corps. Most of the vehicles thus supplied had only two-wheel drive and had seen lengthy service in Africa; they did not rate highly in the eyes of the troops, who had learned to rely on Canadian-built vehicles. Accordingly, in expressing his appreciation for this timely assistance, the senior “A” and “Q” officer of the Division made it clear to his “opposite number” in the Eighth Army that the loan should be regarded as only temporary, and that the Division hoped to receive its own vehicles when the delayed shipment arrived.83
On 31 August, just seventeen days after starting its planning, the Canadian Division was ready for its part in Operation BAYTOWN. The beaches at Mili Marina, on the Messina Strait exactly opposite Reggio, had been selected as the point of embarkation for the assault battalions of the 13th Corps; the follow-up brigades would be ferried across from Santa Teresa, ten miles up the coast from Taormina84 (see Map 1). In the afternoon of 1 September the West Nova Scotias and the Carleton and Yorks moved in TCVs† from Francofonte to Catania.
† Troop-carrying vehicles.
As night fell they put to sea in LCIs and headed up the coast to Mili Marina. It was still dark when they disembarked next morning and sought shelter for the day in dry gullies that scored the bare hillsides. The Royal 22e moved in turn to Catania on 2 September, and there embarked in readiness to join the assault convoy on the morning of D Day. Units of the 1st Brigade, the follow-up brigade for the Canadian assault, went by road past the towering
mass of Mount Etna to their assembly areas between Taormina and Santa Teresa; the 2nd Brigade, following the same route from Militello, staged at Riposto, preparatory to taking its turn at embarkation on the Santa Teresa beaches. These various movements were executed under the most rigid traffic control to prevent any tell-tale congestion of vehicles on the coastal road, which was under continuous observation from Italy.85
Although the termination of hostilities in Sicily had brought to General Alexander’s armies a brief respite from fighting, there had been no abatement in the operations of the Allied naval and air forces. The Naval Force Commander for BAYTOWN was Rear-Admiral R. R. McGrigor, who had commanded Force “B” in the HUSKY landings (see above, p. 64); he had subsequently been appointed Flag Officer, Sicily, responsible for the organization of the ports captured in Eastern Sicily.86 While his staff busied itself with the detailed planning, units of the Royal Navy bombarded key points in the Italian toe. On four occasions between 19 and 31 August cruisers and destroyers of Force “K” (above, p. 64) engaged batteries from Reggio south to Point Pellaro; on the 31st coast defences around Reggio were shelled by the great guns of HMS Rodney and Nelson; and two days later Warspite and Valiant blasted targets in the vicinity of Capo dell’Armi. Under cover of darkness destroyers fired on shore batteries from Reggio to Cape Spartivento during this period, as part of the design to distract the enemy’s attention from the actual landing-places. Adding weight to this deception were the pre-D Day landings of the commando patrols at the southern extremity of the peninsula (above, p. 191), suggesting beach reconnaissances which would herald an Allied assault in that sector.87
On the Allied air forces, however, fell the chief burden of active preparation for the forthcoming landings. Their main tasks, prior to the launching of BAYTOWN and AVALANCHE, were to upset the enemy’s logistics by disrupting his lines of communication, and diminish his air effort by damaging his airfields and destroying his aircraft. During the last half of August heavy bombers of the Northwest African Strategic Air Force – aided by the Ninth US Air Force and two RAF squadrons based in Cyrenaica – struck vigorously at the overburdened Italian railway system. Apart from a few minor by-pass lines all rail traffic to Southern Italy was channelled through one of three bottlenecks – Rome, Naples and Foggia. It followed that attacks upon the marshalling yards in these areas and at a few other specified points would pay the greatest dividends. While the Sicilian campaign was still in progress the main yards at Rome and Naples had received their share of attention; now on 19 August Foggia, the principal rail centre for south-eastern Italy, felt the weight of 646 tons of Allied bombs. A coordinated attack by 162 Strategic Air Force Fortresses and
71 Liberators of the Ninth US Air Force cut the lines leading east, west and south from the city, inflicting considerable damage on the railway yards, repair shops and rolling stock, and nearby factories and warehouses. It was a crippling blow, and was followed later in the month by other heavy and medium bomber sorties, designed to hamper attempts at repairing the damage. Far up the peninsula the west coast system of railways received the second-heaviest attack of the period, when 152 Fortresses bombed Pisa on 31 August. There were 972 sorties by heavy bombers between 18 August and 2 September. They were supplemented by more than 2000 medium sorties made in the same period by aircraft of both the Strategic and Tactical Air Forces following up the work of the heavies on targets in the Naples, Salerno, Foggia and Taranto areas. In the Calabrian peninsula itself light bombers made a series of attacks on Castrovillari and Catanzaro and on other rail and road junctions and bridges throughout the toe. By night, meanwhile, a few Malta-based Mosquitoes prowled over Italy, successfully bombing and strafing trains, road traffic and railway stations.88
The heavy blows struck at the enemy’s Italian airfields before and during Operation HUSKY had so reduced Axis air resistance that it was not necessary to launch any general offensive against landing-grounds such as had preceded the invasion of Sicily. The most notable single attack on airfields was directed against the important Foggia group, where the main concentration of enemy aircraft in Southern Italy was based. On the morning of 25 August a combined raid by 140 Lightnings and 136 Fortresses dealt installations and aircraft on four of these fields a crippling blow. Photographs showed that in addition to the havoc wrought by the Fortresses’ 500-lb. bombs on hangars and runways, the strafing Lightnings had reaped a rich harvest on grounded enemy bombers and fighters, destroying at least 47 and damaging thirteen more.89 Closer to the scene and nearer to the time of the forthcoming invasion enemy positions in southern Calabria became targets for attacks by light bombers of the Tactical Air Force. In the week before D Day Bostons and Baltimores of the South African Air Force, RAF Baltimores and US Mitchells struck at gun positions in and near Reggio and Villa San Giovanni and enemy troops concentrated south of the Catanzaro isthmus. On D minus 1 the tempo of the offensive quickened. Eighty-two medium and light bombers concentrated on suspected enemy headquarters in the toe; another 81 bombed gun positions east of Reggio; 24 Bostons attacked troops at Bova, near the south coast.90
To all this activity the enemy made remarkably little reply. It was evident, in the last few days before BAYTOWN, that he had concentrated his fighter strength, his best pilots and his heaviest anti-aircraft defences in the Naples sector, leaving in Calabria only a few fighters and a mere
handful of anti-aircraft guns.91 In the two weeks that followed the evacuation of Sicily the decimated Luftwaffe managed to maintain regular reconnaissance of Allied ports, and there were a few hit-and-run raids on these; but strength was lacking for any effective blows on the harbours in which the invasion forces were assembling. By the evening of 2 September the air forces’ pre-invasion task was finished. Southern Italy, completely dependent on the north for its supplies, was virtually isolated,* its tenuous network of railways shattered beyond immediate repair, its airfields pitted by innumerable craters, and the majority of its coastal batteries beaten into silence. A more energetic and phlegmatic people than the Italians might well have quailed at such a prelude to the onset of the Allied armies. In Italy as it was then, disappointed, disorganized and disillusioned, the game was nearly up.
* On 15 August Roatta told Jodl that 35 trains daily were needed to supply German and Italian troops and the civilian population south “of Rome. He estimated that “to replace the railways to any extent we should need 5000 trucks”, and declared that these were not available from Italian or German sources.92
The Assault Across the Strait, 3 September
As darkness fell on the evening of 2 September the assaulting battalions of the 13th Corps came down from the hills behind Mili Marina, and formed up in their appointed groups along the beaches. The weather, in contrast to the rude welcome it had given the Allied invaders of Sicily, was ideal. The sea was dead calm, and the faint moonlight gave just enough visibility to disclose general outlines. Shortly before midnight the LCAs arrived from their concentration harbours and began touching down in a continuous line along the shore. The men, who had been resting on the sand, started packing themselves and their equipment into the tiny craft. By 2:30 a.m. the force was embarked – the battalions of the 3rd Canadian Brigade on the right, the 13th Brigade in the centre and the 17th Brigade on the left. Now the craft slid away from the beaches and began to form up for the seven-mile journey to the Italian mainland. In the meantime, at midnight the LCIs bearing the Royal 22e Regiment had slipped out of harbour at Catania and headed up the coast to keep their rendezvous with the rest of the Canadian brigade.93
When the sixteen LCAs assigned to carry the Canadian assault companies drew in to the Mili Marina beach, four LCMs† came with them, to embark the follow-up companies who were scheduled to land on “Fox” beach five minutes after the leading troops. To the soldiers
† Landing Craft Mechanized. The “Mark III” type (LCM(3)) used by the Canadians in BAYTOWN was a 50-foot ramped craft, built to carry 24 tons, and capable of landing a vehicle or stores in shallow water.
climbing aboard these larger craft the voices of the crews had a familiar ring – for they were Canadian sailors. The 80th LCM Flotilla, commanded by Lieutenant J. E. Koyl, RCNVR, had been detailed to provide part of the transport ferry for the 3rd Brigade – an all too rare example of operational partnership between the two Canadian services. The flotilla’s remaining six craft were assigned to the second wave. Lieutenant Koyl’s vessels and their crews performed their part in the D Day assault well, and for 32 days thereafter participated in the arduous work of the ferry service between Sicily and the Italian mainland. It will be recalled that a second Canadian LCM flotilla, the 81st, had been engaged with the 80th in ferrying operations during HUSKY (above, p. 77); but its craft were of an earlier design and less powerful than those of its sister flotilla (which used LCM (3)s of American manufacture, powered by diesel engines), and accordingly at a late stage in the planning it was left out of BAYTOWN.94
The miniature fleet bound for “Fox” beach moved in four parallel columns headed by its guiding launch. To the Canadians crouching in their box-like boats the Strait to the north seemed filled with the dark shapes of the craft ferrying the British troops, and the throbbing of so many motors alarmingly broke the stillness of the night. At 3:30 these sounds were drowned in the thunder of a mighty barrage which burst from the Sicilian shore and from warships lying in the Strait to the south of the main crossings. The fire came from 410 field and 120 medium guns under the command of the 30th Corps, including the 6th Army Group Royal Artillery (normally allotted to the 13th Corps) and some heavy guns of the US Seventh Army.95 Because the channel opposite “Fox” beach was wider than farther north, fire tasks in support of the Canadian assault were given to four medium regiments;*96 the field regiments with their shorter-range 25-pounders supported the 5th Division. One hundred and twenty naval guns added their weight to the bombardment, their calibres ranging from the great 15-inch pieces of three monitors (HMS Roberts was allotted to the Canadian Division) down to the two-pounders mounted by the support landing craft of various types which travelled on the flanks or in the rear of the assault brigade flotillas. As the leading LCAs reached a position about 1000 yards short of their destination, a devastating salvo of 792 five-inch rockets went hurtling towards the beach from the rocket craft (LCT (R)) behind each assault group.97 Overhead, Spitfires of the Desert Air Force patrolled at squadron strength.98 All in all the Allied cannonade was a remarkable display of power against defences which Intelligence had shown to be decidedly weak.
The objectives were now obscured by dense clouds of dust and smoke, which the early morning off-shore breezes carried out into the path of
* The 7th, 64th, 70th and 75th Medium Regiments RA.
the approaching craft. (The C-in-C Mediterranean Station protested later that “over 500 smoke shells had been included in the barrage without myself or any member of my staff being consulted.”)99 The resulting lack, of visibility and the presence of sharp tidal currents running south through the Messina Strait made navigation difficult, so that in spite of the aid of the fixed transit lights and searchlights installed on the Sicilian shore, and guiding lines of red tracer shells fired from 25-pounders and anti-aircraft batteries to mark the axes of advance, there was some confusion as – the assault craft deployed for the final run into shore; and in the Canadian, as in other sectors, landings generally were not made at the prearranged places.100
As to where and when each component of the assaulting Canadian companies went ashore there is conflicting evidence from participants, understandable in the excitement of the rapid onrush of events. Reports agree, however, that of the two units the West Nova Scotias suffered the greater dispersion. Although “A” Company reached “Fox Amber” without difficulty, two of the battalion’s eight LCAs went astray to the left and landed half of “B” Company on the 17th Brigade’s beach, nearly two miles north of “Fox”, while the unit’s war diary records that the rest of the company was carried to the right, and came ashore at Reggio.101 Fortunately these deviations from plan had no serious consequences, for the enemy. offered no opposition, and the Canadians landed on empty beaches from which even the expected mines and wire were missing. Scattered sub-units quickly joined their parent headquarters, and the two battalions prepared to move against their objectives farther inland. It was 4:50 a.m. when the Principal Beach Master with the Canadian flotilla had deployed his LCAs and given the order, “Go”, for the short run in to the beaches;102 a little more than an hour later a signal reached General Simonds’ Headquarters, “Success at Fox Green Amber at 0526 hrs”.103
As reports came back of the absence of resistance on the beaches, Brigadier Penhale decided to land his third infantry battalion and the rest of his brigade reserve at once. With his headquarters he went in on “Fox Amber” beach at 6:30 a.m., having crossed the Strait in Lieutenant Koyl’s own LCM.104 Half an hour later the Royal 22e began disembarking on “Fox Green”.105
The brigade tasks were already well on the way to fulfilment. The West Novas, with “D” Company in the lead, quickly mounted a steep, zig-zag track which led up to Point 305, and shortly after seven o’clock leading sections burst into the two forts, to find them undefended. The massive walls, in places twelve feet thick, had easily withstood the weight of the Allied bombardment, but the garrisons, with the exception of two Italian sergeants who were found in the north fort, had fled into the hills, abandoning their four 280-mm. howitzers and six smaller pieces, besides large supplies of
ammunition.106 On the brigade’s right flank the Carleton and Yorks made their way south through the suburb of Santa Caterina and crossed the Fiumara dell’Annunziata into Reggio itself. They met no resistance; at 8:10 their CO – Lt-Col. J. E. C. Pangman, who had succeeded Lt-Col. Tweedie in mid-August – reported that he had established his headquarters in the main square, and that two companies were on their way to Reggio airfield, south of the town.107 North-east of Reggio the Royal 22e companies struck inland, crossed the ravine of the Fiumara dell’Annunziata, and began climbing the steep slopes to two hill objectives overlooking the Reggio–San Stefano road. They too met no resistance.108
Brigadier Penhale’s position was now so favourable that General Simonds ordered him to extend his operations to include the prearranged objectives of Brigadier Graham’s follow-up brigade. By 8:10 the Carletons’ “A” Company had taken possession of the Reggio airport. Three miles inland the hill village of Gallina was secured shortly before midday by “B” Company, after a laborious ascent from the coast. The 3rd Brigade Headquarters moved into the Zoological Gardens at Reggio, where “the stiffest resistance of the day” came from an escaped puma which was “seemingly taking a fancy to the Brigade Commander.”109 The brigade’s vehicles were now catching up with them, and before the day ended, a flying patrol, consisting of two Carleton and York platoons, strengthened by a platoon of the Saskatoon Light Infantry’s Vickers machine-guns, had driven south along the coastal highway as far as Melito, accepting on its way the surrender of 1000 Italian soldiers in the vicinity of Point Pellaro.110
It had been Simonds’ plan that after the 1st Brigade had enlarged and secured the 3rd Brigade’s early holdings exploitation inland would be carried out by the 2nd Brigade. The lack of resistance, however, which had allowed Penhale rapidly to complete the 1st Brigade’s tasks as well as his own, resulted in the GOC ordering Graham about noon to assume the role previously given to Brigadier Vokes.111 Units of the 1st Brigade had already begun crossing the Strait; first to land were the 48th Highlanders, who came ashore at Reggio to the skirl of their pipes. They took the lead in the arduous advance up the winding road which climbed steeply up the Aspromonte from Reggio to San Stefano. In the early evening they passed through the Royal 22e positions at Terreti, thence pushing on half the night – now moving high up on the wooded slope of a deep ravine, now skirting the base of an oak-clad hill whose upper slopes disappeared into the darkness, but always steadily ascending. At 2:00 in the morning they halted near Straorini, a village five miles inland (although twice that distance from Reggio by road); on their right the Hastings and Prince Edwards bivouacked on the top of Mount Callea, 3300 feet above sea-level. So far the Canadians had encountered no resistance, and there had been no sign of any Germans. In accordance with Hitler’s instructions the Headquarters of the 14th Panzer Corps had
ordered its troops to withdraw inland;112 friendly civilians volunteered the information that a battalion of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division had moved eastward from the Reggio area two days before.113
The same story of satisfactory achievement had been repeated all along the Allied front during the first twenty-four hours of the landings. By the morning of D Day plus 1 General Dempsey’s forces were solidly established along the coastal strip from Point Pellaro to the southern outskirts of Scilla, and five miles farther up the coast Bagnara had been captured by a raiding squadron of the 1st Special Air Service Regiment.114 This main holding, although nowhere more than five miles deep, was strongly anchored to the high ground overlooking the Strait and included the ports of Villa San Giovanni and Reggio. An Eighth Army Port Construction Group was ready to repair the latter port, and Villa San Giovanni if required,115 but although Reggio had suffered superficial damage from bombardment and more serious havoc from German demolitions and Italian looting, its harbour facilities remained substantially unimpaired, and it was clear that the period of beach maintenance would not be prolonged for more than 48 hours. Equally gratifying was the speed with which Reggio airfield became available. A detachment of an Airfield Construction Group landed on D Day, and by nightfall the field was in good condition for fighters.116 All these Corps successes had been gained against only the most scattered or perfunctory enemy opposition. Rough figures showed 3000 Italians and three German prisoners of war taken over the whole front.117 Canadian casualties numbered two officers and seven men wounded (none of them from the assaulting infantry).
Over the Aspromonte, 4–8 September
Canadian operations now developed substantially along the lines of an outline plan communicated by General Simonds to his brigade commanders on 1 September.118 It will be recalled that General Montgomery had decided against using the eastern coastal axis, relying on domination of the high ground of the interior to deny to the enemy the communications along the Ionian coast. This end could be attained by securing control of the high ridge running north-eastward from Montalto in the Aspromonte to Mount Crocco in the Serre; accordingly, while the 5th Division worked its way along the west coast road, this inland rocky, spine became the centre line for the Canadian Division’s advance. At roughly equal stages along this uncompromising path Dempsey had assigned as successive objectives for the Canadians the junctions where lateral roads met or crossed the central route from Melito. These were, in order, the areas about Gambarie, where the inland
road was joined by the Reggio–San Stefano road; Delianuova, at the intersection with Highway No. 112 from Bagnara; the central Radicena–Cittanova portion of Highway No. 111 (see Map 7); and Cinquefrondi, five miles north of Cittanova. However desirous the Canadian GOC may have been for a speedy exploitation to these objectives, the absence of alternative routes compelled him to advance on a single road and to use only one brigade at a time.”119
By the evening of 4 September the 1st Brigade had made good the line of the Melito–Gambarie road, after the 48th Highlanders had engaged in a brief skirmish with Italian and German rearguards outside San Stefano and had seized the Gambarie junction from the headquarters of a Blackshirt Legion.120 Added impetus to the enemy’s rate of withdrawal was given by 24 Baltimores which came in on call to bomb a reported strongpoint in the hills near San Stefano.121 The Hastings reached the north and south road by a rough track over the broad plateau of the Campi di Reggio, and that night, high on the slopes of Monte di Reggio overlooking their captured objectives, their forward companies shivered in the groundsheets and gas-capes which formed their only protection from the chill mists of the Aspromonte. During the day the 1st Brigade’s operations had received effective assistance from The Carleton and York Regiment’s flying patrol. Moving north from Melito, this enterprising detachment ran into unexpectedly spirited groups of Italian paratroops of the Nembo Division, who strongly contested the tangle of ravines and barren peaks about the villages of San Lorenzo and Bagaladi before withdrawing eastward into the mountains.122 Brigadier Graham’s advance was now temporarily halted, for enemy demolitions near Straorini prevented any transport from moving forward from Reggio, and in the exacting terrain of the Calabrian hinterland there was a definite limit to what troops on foot might accomplish. Sappers of the 1st Field Company were hard at work constructing a one-hundred foot Bailey bridge at one of these gaps, and bulldozing a by-pass about a second, which their diary described as “a dandy – a series of switchbacks up the face of a cliff had a 70-foot section blown completely out.”123
Late in the evening of the 4th General Simonds issued his next day’s plan. As soon as the Engineers had restored communications, the Division’s reconnaissance squadron would move up to Gambarie and on to Delianuova. Marching troops of the 2nd Brigade (which had crossed the Strait that morning) were already on their way to relieve the 1st Brigade, and when their “F” echelon transport could reach them, they would follow the Princess Louise squadron. Once a firm base had been established covering the nexus of roads which traverse the northern slopes of the Aspromonte about Delianuova, Simonds hoped to develop the Division’s advance on two axes, putting in the 3rd Brigade on the left to strike north from Delianuova against
Radicena, and sending the 2nd Brigade on the right along a very dubious track which the map revealed following the extreme height of land to link Highways No. 112 and 111.124
In the early hours of 5 September the battalions of the 2nd Brigade, weary from a twenty-mile uphill march from the beaches, reached the Melito–Gambarie road in the vicinity of Monte di Reggio. There was little time for rest, and at eight o’clock the Patricias (who were now commanded by Lt-Col. C. B. Ware) pushed forward towards Delianuova, sixteen miles to the north. They were still on foot, for although the brigade’s transport had now begun to come forward along the track which the Engineers had developed across the Campi di Reggio, all vehicles were stopped by an extensive demolition on the main road two miles south of Gambarie.125
The need for establishing contact with the enemy and determining his strength was pressing. Since the reconnaissance squadron could not get its armoured cars past the demolition, “B” Company of the 48th Highlanders, postponing its relief by 2nd Brigade troops, pushed forward mounted on folding bicycles which had been found in an Italian Quartermaster Stores at Gambarie. Along the route, which skirted the eastern edge of the broad Piani di Aspromonte, this vanguard encountered many strongpoints of rock and concrete which the enemy had prepared against this very occasion, and then abandoned in the day of necessity. After laboriously getting their bicycles across two more deep ravines, in the bottom of which lay the remains of demolished bridges, the Highlanders pedalled into Delianuova in mid-afternoon, to receive a rapturous welcome from the inhabitants. Close on their heels came marching troops of the Patricias to take over the town.126 “Compo pack” rations*
* A box of composite rations, ranging in content from canned meat to matches, was designed to feed 14 men for 24 hours. Cooking, while normally desirable, was not essential.
were brought forward by dispatch-riders, who displayed remarkable skill in traversing the gaps at the blown bridges with their motorcycles – sometimes lowering them with ropes at difficult diversions. Motorcycle patrols explored far out on either flank, rapidly building up the divisional intelligence picture.127
To the men of the 1st Division, who had endured the blistering heat of sun-scorched Sicilian hills and valleys and the oppressive sultriness of the coastal plains, the bracing, rain-drenched air of the Calabrian mountains came in sharp contrast, bringing to many nostalgic memories of eastern Canada in late autumn. They found their shirts and shorts of khaki drill inadequate protection, and several units were quick to take advantage of a store of black shirts, obtained from the same source as the 48th Highlanders’ bicycles. But these discomforts the men bore well. “What a strange animal the Canadian soldier is”, wrote one diarist on 6 September. “We all wake up thoroughly soaked, and yet the men are just bubbling over with song.128 Many of the
troops while passing through the Gambarie area found temporary accommodation in a deserted ski-resort, patronized in the season by lovers of winter sport living in Reggio Calabria. Here amid the pleasant, though chilly, environment of the magnificent chestnut and beechwood forests clothing the mountain slopes, officers and men briefly enjoyed the unaccustomed amenities of the larger houses and chalets.129
After the main central road through the Calabrian peninsula joined Highway No. 112 between Cosoleto and Delianuova, it followed the extremely tortuous but generally easterly course of the lateral route for a dozen miles. Beyond the small village of Santa Cristina, at a point where the highway began to climb around the northern edge of the high Mastrogiovanni Plateau, the road broke away again to the north, pursuing a zig-zag course through Oppido to meet Highway No. 111 at Radicena. From their base at Delianuova the Patricias patrolled rapidly and boldly towards Oppido, Santa Cristina and Cosoleto, while the rest of the 2nd Brigade moved up from Gambarie. The only sign of the enemy came in the increasing number of road and bridge demolitions, which “were going off practically in our faces.130 On the afternoon and evening of 6 September successive orders reached Brigadier Vokes from Divisional Headquarters to occupy the Mastrogiovanni Plateau and to push on as fast as possible to Cittanova, one of the larger inland towns, situated on Highway No. 111 four miles east of Radicena.131 Two available routes opened the possibility of simultaneous parallel advances by two units. Yokes ordered the PPCLI to explore the inevitably demolished road through Oppido to Radicena; the Edmontons he sent eastward to secure the Mastrogiovanni Plateau, and then tackle the doubtful track which led north-eastward along the knife-edge of the divide to Cittanova.132 As the two battalions turned to these exacting tasks, however, decisions at Army level diverted the Canadian advance on to a new axis.
A variety of factors contributed to the change in Montgomery’s plan. In the first place, the speed of the German withdrawal had greatly exceeded expectation, and it was of vital importance for the Eighth Army to maintain contact in view of the impending blows at Salerno and Taranto and the prearranged surrender of Italy.*
* See Chapter VIII, below.
Secondly, all attempts to find routes from Reggio into the interior alternative to the much-demolished and traffic-congested road to Delianuova had been unsuccessful. Simonds’ forward units were without armoured support. The Calgary Regiment had been assigned to support the 1st Division in BAYTOWN (The Ontario Regiment was with the 5th Division on the left flank), but although a Calgary squadron had landed with the assault brigade on D Day and assisted in the capture of early objectives, no tanks had been able to get farther forward than Terreti.133 By contrast, the coast road from Reggio around the southern tip of the peninsula looked
inviting; a reconnaissance patrol from The Calgary Regiment had travelled it to beyond Cape Spartivento on the 5th, and reported no Germans south of Bruzzano. Finally, enemy resistance to the 5th Division in the Bagnara area, on which the German withdrawal had pivoted, had crumbled; by 6 September the 15th Brigade had established itself north of Gioia Tauro. Allied forces had complete command of the sea*
* On 6 September the Strait of Messina was open to Allied shipping for the first time since Italy’s declaration of war in June 1940.
and air, and the Aspromonte fortress was clearly lost to the enemy.134 Accordingly, late on the 6th the Canadian Division was directed to swing down from the mountains to Locri, and thenceforward make the coast road its axis. At the same time the 154th (Highland) Brigade and the tactical headquarters of the 51st Division, which had begun to cross the Strait to take over the Reggio area from the Canadians in order to free them for the exploitation inland, were ordered back to Sicily.135
There were certain precautions to take, however, before abandoning the high ground and adopting the new axis. The decision to clear the interior as far as Highway No. 111 was adhered to; and General Simonds gave orders for a strong mobile force to drive up the east coast road and capture Locri. Under Lt-Col. C. H. Neroutsos, the Commanding Officer of the Calgaries, a group consisting of three troops of the Calgary tanks, two lorry-borne companies of the Carleton and Yorks, and supporting 4.2-inch mortars, machine-guns and anti-tank guns, headed south from Reggio on the afternoon of 6 September. The column harboured that night at Melito, where it was joined by the armoured cars of the Princess Louise reconnaissance squadron, extricated with difficulty from the mountains. This completed the composition of “X” Force, as it was called, and next morning it pushed rapidly forward again along the edge of the Mediterranean. Occasionally small enemy rearguards were seen in the distance withdrawing through the hills, but the column met no active resistance. At 4:30 it rolled into Bovalino Marina, and before darkness fell two troops of tanks had reached the battered town of Locri, 64 miles from Reggio.136
In the meantime the 2nd Brigade had begun its arduous march towards Cittanova. The infantry was now out of reach of sapper assistance, and the frequent and extensive demolitions left by the retreating Germans had to be overcome by the ingenuity of the battalion pioneers, aided by the marching troops.137 On the twisting stretch of Highway No. 112 between the Oppido road junction and the Mastrogiovanni Plateau the Edmontons negotiated “an absolute maze of craters”.138 At one particularly well executed bridge demolition they constructed a diversion which dropped 200 feet into a chasm, and climbed out the far side. In a remarkably short time this masterpiece of battalion engineering was carrying the jeeps and motorcycles
on which the Edmontons’ ration supply depended. An all-night march brought three of Jefferson’s companies out on to the level plateau, where they snatched a few hours of much-needed rest.139
A gruelling journey over the rudimentary track which ran along the top of the great central ridge of the peninsula brought the Edmontons close to Cittanova by three next morning. The only enlivening incident en route was a brush with a group of Italian paratroopers which they had bumped into in the mountains, and from whom they had taken several prisoners before the remainder escaped in the darkness.140 At about the same hour the Patricias approached Cittanova from the north-west. Demolitions had forced them to cut across country to join the Oppido–Radicena road at Varapodio, thence following it downhill the remaining six miles to the junction with the lateral highway.141 Meanwhile, the Seaforth Highlanders had come up behind the Edmontons along the ridge route, and by last light on 8 September the three battalions of the 2nd Brigade were grouped around the town of Cittanova, with patrols pushed out to west, north and east.142 Here they rested, while the 3rd Brigade took over the lead.
During the 7th TCVs had carried Brigadier Penhale’s battalions forward from Gambarie to Delianuova, which was as far as road repairs had been completed. Accordingly at 5:30 that evening the West Nova Scotias set out on the laborious march up the badly broken highway, followed in order by the Royal 22e and what “X” Force had left of the Carleton and Yorks. Early next morning, as Lt-Col. Bogert’s leading platoons were snatching a brief sleep by the side of the road which skirted the Mastrogiovanni Plateau, they were attacked by a determined band of about 100 Italian paratroopers – apparently the same group encountered by the Edmontons a few hours earlier.143 These were later identified as members of the 185th Regiment of the Nembo Division. It transpired that their battalion commander, unwilling to surrender with the Italian coastal troops, had withdrawn his unit from Melito to join a rear party of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division in defence of the Gambarie crossroads. Then the swift retreat of the Germans had left them to fight alone in the hills about Delianuova.144 A fierce little skirmish developed in the half-light; when it ended the Canadians had killed six and taken 57 prisoners. The remainder had scattered, hurried on their way by a platoon of the Edmontons working on a road diversion nearby. The West Nova Scotias lost a company sergeant-major and a sergeant killed, and two officers and several other ranks wounded. The action marked the last Canadian encounter with the Italian Army. That evening the Rome Radio and the BBC announced the capitulation of Italy, and through the hills of Calabria the whole night was illumined by the rude pyrotechnics set off by the rejoicing villagers.145
In Locri the news was the signal for an unrestrained celebration among the inhabitants, and Italian troops seized the opportunity to embark on extensive looting. The explosions and flares with which the townspeople emphasized their joy were heard and seen by the battalions of the 3rd Brigade, which by this time, using a ferry system of jeeps – twelve or thirteen men made a good load for these adaptable vehicles – had reached the vicinity of Gerace, a “terrace town” four miles from the coast. Restoration and maintenance of order was more than the few advance elements of “X” Force in Locri could handle. They rushed all their available vehicles up the hill to Gerace, and soon the two Carleton and York companies there had been shuttled down to check the mafficking Locrians.146
The news of the Italian surrender was followed within a few hours by that of Allied landings in the Gulf of Salerno. Thus, between sundown on 8 September and sunrise of the 9th two heavy blows, none the less damaging because not altogether unexpected, had fallen upon the Germans in Italy. These and their effect upon the subsequent march of events are matters for consideration in our next chapter.