Chapter 15: Dissolution of the Rome-Berlin Axis
Badoglio’s First Moves
About 1700, 25 July, the Italian monarch summoned Marshal Badoglio, informed him of his appointment as Head of Government, and handed him the list of his cabinet members—civil servants without party connection or support—that the sovereign and the Duke of Acquarone had selected. As Head of Government, Badoglio was to be responsible for civil functions only. Victor Emmanuel III resumed the supreme command of the Italian armed forces, a power that Mussolini had exercised since 11 June 1940. Ambrosio was to continue as chief of Comando Supremo, Roatta as chief of the Army General Staff, Superesercito.
Badoglio accepted the situation and the conditions, including two proclamations already drafted, which the marshal issued over his own signature and communicated through the press and radio. The first announced Badoglio’s appointment and assured Italy and the world that “The war continues.” The second proclamation warned the Italian people, the Fascist organization, and other political parties against agitating the government with precipitate demands for wholesale political changes or for peace.1 The first was a clear, official announcement of the continued vitality of the treaty of alliance with Germany.2
Though the Badoglio government dissolved the Fascist party and began to incorporate the Fascist militia gradually into the Regular Army, the government was non-Fascist rather than anti-Fascist. The change of regime seemed to mark the first step toward a restoration of constitutional government, but the actual basis of Badoglio’s powers was in the Fascist constitutional laws. The King had been careful to maintain his role as a constitutional monarch, accepting Mussolini’s resignation and appointing Badoglio his successor as Capo del Governo, with all the powers of that office created by the Fascist laws of 1925 and 1926. But Badoglio refused to take any action without the explicit authorization of the King. In actuality, Italy reverted to absolute monarchy. At Badoglio’s insistence, whatever civil power he exercised was to be construed as a direct emanation of the King’s will. Whatever military commands and directives Ambrosio issued were in accordance with the King’s direct wishes.
Relieved of the Fascist burden, the country seethed with political excitement
and with the expectation of immediate peace. To check the unrest, Roatta transferred control of four divisions from himself to the Minister of War, Generale di Brigata in Riserva Antonio Sorice, who moved two from the interior of Italy to Turin and two from France to Milan. Eventually, Sorice controlled five divisions, all to be used for maintaining public order and therefore not available for defense against attack by either the Allies or the Germans.3
While awaiting the return to Italy of Raffaele Guariglia, Ambassador to Turkey, who was to become Minister of Foreign Affairs, Badoglio took charge of foreign policy. In accordance with the King’s wishes, the immediate aim was to avoid conflict with the Germans. Badoglio wished to end the war, jointly with the Germans if possible. At the least, he was to try to secure German consent to a dissolution of the Pact of Steel.4
At the carabinieri barracks where he spent his first night in captivity after his forced resignation, Mussolini received a note from Badoglio. The measures taken toward him, Badoglio explained, were in the interest of his personal safety, for a plot had been discovered against his life. Mussolini replied, thanking Badoglio for his consideration. He would make no difficulties, he added, but would, rather, cooperate to the fullest extent. Expressing satisfaction over the decision to continue the war, he wished Badoglio well in his task of serving the King, “whose loyal servant I remain.”5
Immediately after the Feltre conference, Hitler and the OKW had felt reassured over the situation in Italy. The Italian High Command had promised to commit four additional Italian divisions in the south: one in Sicily, two in Puglia, and one in Calabria. On 22 July, Hitler had released the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division for employment on Sicily. That same day, Ambrosio had accepted the conditions laid down by Keitel at Feltre and had formally requested two additional German divisions. Field Marshal Rommel, who had been designated to command Army Group B in the ALARICH plan, was on 21 July removed from this assignment and sent to Salonika to take command of German troops in Greece. The warning orders for operations ALARICH and KONSTANTIN were suspended.6 On 23 July, Hitler issued orders in accordance with Ambrosio’s request alerting the 305th and 76th Infantry Divisions for movement from France to southern Italy. Hitler entertained no suspicion whatsoever that his friend Mussolini might secretly be searching for contact with the Western Powers. General von Rintelen did report, however, that Comando Supremo had little confidence that Sicily could be held and, on 24 July, he indicated that tension in Italy had increased rather than diminished as a result of the Feltre conference.7
News of the political change in Italy
came as a surprise to the Germans. The first reports to reach Berlin on 25 July were not alarming. They indicated merely that the Fascist old guard had brought about the convocation of the Grand Council to urge the Duce to take more energetic measures against defeatism. Not until the next day did the Germans learn that Ciano and Grandi had led a revolt, that Mussolini had resigned, and that the King had appointed Badoglio in his place.8
Hitler could not believe that Mussolini had resigned voluntarily. He was sure that force had been used, and he felt that the convocation of the Grand Council had been a show carefully prepared by the King and Badoglio. He feared that these two, who in his opinion had been sabotaging the war all along, might already have done away with his friend.
Hitler’s first impulse was to strike with lightning speed—seize Rome with the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division (located near Lake Bolsena 35 miles north of the city), and the 2nd Parachute Division (to be air-transported from France to the Rome area); kidnap the King, the Heir Apparent, Badoglio, and the cabinet ministers; and discover and liberate Mussolini as the only means of rejuvenating the Fascist party. So extreme was Hitler’s anger and apprehension that he thought even of seizing the Vatican and the Pope. Goebbels and Ribbentrop, after lengthy argument, persuaded Hitler to drop this extreme measure.9
The main issue was whether to act at once in Italy with the forces available or to make more careful preparations that involved delay. Hitler favored immediate action, even if improvised, in order to capture the Badoglio government before it could consolidate its power. A quick, bold stroke, he believed, would restore the prestige of Fascism.
Rommel and others advocated caution. They feared that German moves would invite the Allies to establish themselves on the Italian mainland and that a blow against the King would turn the Italian officer corps against the Germans. Since Rommel concurred in the general belief that Mussolini’s overthrow had been carefully prepared, and since he believed that the new government had already approached the Allies with an offer of peace, Rommel thought it best to retire from Sicily, Sardinia, and southern Italy, but to hold northern Italy. He recommended that Kesselring withdraw his forces and consolidate with Rommel’s forces in the north, where all would come under Rommel’s command.10
The first German orders prompted by Mussolini’s overthrow were issued on the night of 26 July. The general framework and outline of Plan ALARICH were at hand but the German reaction to the new situation in Italy had a large measure of improvisation. Field Marshal von Rundstedt, OB WEST, was ordered to move two divisions toward the Italian border: the 305th Infantry Division toward Nice, and the 44th Infantry Division toward the Brenner Pass. He was to carry out two operations which had formed integral parts of the ALARICH plan: KOPENHAGEN, the seizure of
the Mount Cenis pass; and SIEGFRIED, the occupation of the southern coast of France in the area of the Italian Fourth Army. Field Marshal Rommel was recalled from Salonika to command Army Group B, with headquarters in Munich. Meanwhile, Ambassador von Mackensen, Field Marshal Kesselring, and General von Rintelen were instructed to learn all they could regarding the intentions of the new government.11
Plans against Italy began to develop at once in three main stages. First, Army Group B was to occupy north Italy. Behind the two initial divisions dispatched toward Italy, Rundstedt was to move up four more divisions from France. The II SS Panzer Corps, comprising two SS panzer divisions, was to be withdrawn from the Eastern Front to become part of Rommel’s new command. Second, Generaloberst Kurt Student was to fly to Rome, take operational control of the 3rd Panzer Grenadier and 2nd Parachute Divisions, seize the capital and the leading political personalities, and liberate Mussolini. Capt. Otto Skorzeny, personally selected by Hitler, was to have the special mission of locating and liberating the Duce. Because earlier ALARICH planning had designated Student to occupy the Alpine passes with his XI Flieger Korps (1st and 2nd Parachute Divisions), OKW assigned this task to General der Gebirgstruppen Valentin Feurstein, who was to use troops stationed at the Mountain Training School in Mittenwald, fifteen miles north of Innsbruck. Third, as soon as all was in readiness for the stroke planned against the Italian Government, Rommel was to take command of all German forces in north Italy. Kesselring was then to withdraw the German troops from the Italian islands and from south Italy and consolidate his forces with Rommel’s command in the north. At that time, Kesselring’s command in Italy would come to an end.
In connection with the third step, Hitler’s headquarters dispatched a naval officer to Frascati to explain Kesselring’s role in the plan. Kesselring was to halt all movements of additional troops to Sicily; prepare to evacuate all air units from Sicily, Sardinia, and Corsica, destroying, if necessary, their heavy equipment; concentrate in assembly areas the 16th and 26th Panzer Divisions and that part of the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division still on the Italian mainland, suspending thereby further movements to the south; alert the 3rd Panzer Grenadier and 2nd Parachute Divisions (the latter upon its arrival near Rome) to their mission; be ready to take over all the antiaircraft defenses in Italy, repossessing the flak material furnished Italian units; and send transport aircraft to France to carry the 2nd Parachute Division to Italy.12
Kesselring took a different view of the situation from that of OKW. Optimistic by temperament and inclined to trust those with whom he worked, he had called on Badoglio on 26 July, accompanied by the German Ambassador, Mackensen. Badoglio assured the Germans that he had known nothing of the movement against Mussolini until he was summoned by the King to take office. He had insisted, Badoglio continued, on maintaining the alliance with Germany as a condition of taking office, and his proclamation made clear that the war would continue. When
the Germans expressed some curiosity as to Mussolini’s fate, Badoglio showed Mussolini’s letter as proof not only of his personal safety but also of his intention to do nothing to oppose the new regime. When Kesselring turned the conversation to military matters and said it was necessary to overcome the sense of fatigue among Italian troops and to eliminate certain impediments to the military effort raised by the civil administration, Badoglio declared he would do everything he could to improve the cooperation of Italian civil officials. Problems of morale, however, concerned the military, and Badoglio urged Kesselring to take up the problem directly with Ambrosio, chief of Comando Supremo.
Kesselring and Rintelen called on Ambrosio, who assured them that the political change had no effect on military operations. Like Badoglio, Ambrosio emphasized Italy’s determination to continue in the war on the side of her ally. As to improving Italian troop morale, Ambrosio observed that this was not an easy matter, it would take time. Kesselring reminded Ambrosio that Hitler at Feltre had promised to send all the reinforcements Germany could spare, and he urged measures to restore the sense of comradeship between Italian and German troops.13
Badoglio’s and Ambrosio’s declarations conformed with the King’s basic policy—to avoid a unilateral breach of the alliance by Italy, and to take no action that would bring Italians into conflict with Germans. These assurances were not altogether dishonest. Kesselring, on his side, appreciated the Italian participation in the war. He respected Ambrosio and Roatta. Accepting the Italian statements in good faith, he bent his efforts toward maintaining the alliance.14
Though Goebbels cynically wrote that “Kesselring fell for a well-staged show,” Kesselring felt that more was to be gained by exploiting the current willingness of the Italian Government to cooperate than by precipitating a crisis that might lead to collapse and chaos. After receiving the instructions brought personally by the naval officer, Kesselring reported to OKW his belief that the Fascist party had lost out because of its own weakness and lack of leadership and that no support could be expected from it. He thought that the measures planned by Student and Skorzeny could be executed, but not without care and consequent delay. Action against the Italian forces guarding Rome would completely alienate, he felt, all who still bore some good will toward Germany. Furthermore, an armed struggle in the Rome area would disrupt all traffic to the south, halt the movement of supplies and reinforcements, and expose the German forces in Sicily and southern Italy to the danger of being cut off. In the interest of these troops at least, he urged, the Germans should exploit the willingness of the Italian Government to receive additional German units. In contrast with Rommel’s estimate, Kesselring believed that he could, if reinforced, defend all of Italy and the Balkans, and he recommended this course of action to Hitler.15
Kesselring’s representations had an effect. On 28 July, OKW suspended Student’s mission, ordering him instead merely to be ready to seize the Italian Government and liberate Mussolini.16 Student and Skorzeny were by then at Frascati, and the first lift of the 2nd Parachute Division arrived that day at Pratica di Mare, an airfield not far from Frascati. Roatta was curious about the sudden arrival of German paratroopers, but he accepted with seeming good grace Kesselring’s explanation—they were reinforcements for the 1st Parachute Division in Sicily. While the Germans thus set the stage for Hitler’s coup—kidnapping the Italian Government—Skorzeny threw himself wholeheartedly into the mission of finding Mussolini. Dazzled by the honor of having been summoned to Hitler’s headquarters, Skorzeny had fallen under Hitler’s spell. Mussolini, the Führer had said, was the last of the Romans and his only true friend. He would go to any length to save him from being turned over to the Allies. Skorzeny vowed to be worthy of Hitler’s trust.17
Meanwhile, on 27 July, Badoglio formulated his plan for a joint peace effort and presented it to the King, who authorized it as official policy. Badoglio then sent a telegram to Hitler proposing a meeting on Italian soil between the King and the Führer. His purpose was to explain candidly the need for a joint peace before the Axis bargaining power was diluted by divergent diplomatic courses.18
Because Alfieri, the Italian Ambassador at Berlin, had come to Rome to attend the meeting of the Grand Council, where he had voted against Mussolini, and had not returned to his post, the Italian Military Attaché at Berlin, Generale di Corpo d’Armata Efisio Marras, received instructions to fly to the Führer’s headquarters to reinforce the request for a conference. Without knowledge of Badoglio’s intentions, Marras did not know whether Badoglio was trying to secure a joint Italo-German peace move, though the idea was not excluded. According to his instructions, Marras was to establish contact with Hitler on behalf of the new Italian Government, read a copy of Mussolini’s letter indicating his continuing loyalty to the King, propose a meeting of the heads of state, and indicate the Italian desire to withdraw the Italian Fourth Army from southern France to Italy.19
The same day that Marras was getting ready to visit Hitler, 29 July, Kesselring was in conference with the Führer. There Kesselring reinforced his argument in favor of maintaining correct relations with the Badoglio government—at least until the Germans could introduce additional German divisions into Italy peaceably.
On the surface at least, Hitler accepted Kesselring’s program. He instructed Kesselring to direct all his dealings with Comando Supremo toward securing the movement of the maximum number of German troops into northern Italy. Actually,
however, Hitler was using Kesselring, Rintelen, and Mackensen—the “Italophiles” as they were called in OKW—to allay Italian suspicions and to keep Badoglio in the alliance while OKW made ready to take drastic action.20
Though all reports from Kesselring and Mackensen, and from Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, intelligence chief, as well, gave credence to the solemn declarations of loyalty to the Axis by the King, Badoglio, Ambrosio, and Roatta, the reports made little impression on Hitler. He was certain that the Italian Government was planning “treason.” A transatlantic conversation between President Roosevelt and Mr. Churchill intercepted by Germany on 29 July confirmed Hitler’s suspicions that negotiations between Italy and the Allies were under way, even though the conversation indicated no more than an expectation of receiving Italian overtures.21
Hitler received Marras at his headquarters on the morning of 30 July. Marras felt that Hitler suspected him of being Badoglio’s “torpedo” with the job of rubbing out the Führer. For while Marras delivered Badoglio’s message, he was conscious that Jodl, Generalmajor Rudolf Schmundt, and Ambassador Walter Hewel were facing him from three different points in the room, each with his hand on a revolver in his pocket. Marras remained rigid, not even venturing to make a move for his handkerchief. Hitler, who appeared calm, criticized the sudden Italian political change in the midst of war, and asked why a military attaché should be drawn into a political matter. Accepting Badoglio’s declaration that the war would continue, Hitler saw no immediate need for a conference with the King or Badoglio, particularly because of the recent meeting with Mussolini at Feltre. Hitler suggested rather that the ministers of foreign affairs and the chiefs of staff might examine the situation from the standpoint of continuing the war. He made no direct reply to the proposed withdrawal of the Italian Army from southern France. He admitted that it might be useful at a later date for him to confer with the King and Badoglio, in which case the Heir Apparent—Prince Humbert—ought also to be present.22
Marras submitted his report to Badoglio on 1 August, and on the same day a telegram arrived from Hitler proposing a conference of foreign ministers and chiefs of staff at Tarvis, just across the border from Italy, on the 5th or 6th of August. Badoglio accepted Hitler’s proposal.23
Hitler refused to confer on Italian soil or to leave Germany because he feared an attempt on his life. He proposed, instead, the meeting of second echelon officials in order to avoid a discussion of what Badoglio and others considered the fundamental issue: whether or not to make peace with the Allies. Badoglio, hoping for a frank talk with Hitler in the near future, declined to initiate any approach to the Western Allies until the Germans had clearly revealed their intentions.
By then, 1 August, OKW had a completely formulated plan, code-named ACHSE, to meet the possibility of an
Italian double cross. Like ALARICH, drawn up in the latter part of May in anticipation of political change in Italy, ACHSE was based on the premise of Italian defection. Upon receipt of the code word, German units in Italy were to take over the country by force.24
Events occurring on the Italian frontier during the last days of July seemed to indicate that the ACHSE button might be pushed at any moment.
Friction Along the Alps
In accordance with OKW instructions issued during the night of 26 July, Rundstedt started to move the 305th Infantry Division from the interior of France toward Nice and the 44th Infantry Division toward the Brenner Pass. At the border, transportation was to be arranged with Italian authorities on the assumption that the divisions were destined for southern Italy in accordance with agreements concluded with Comando Supremo. When on 27 July the leading elements of the 305th Infantry Division reached Nice, which was in the area controlled by the Italian Fourth Army, they learned that Comando Supremo objected to further movement into Italy because of a shortage of railway transportation. Comando Supremo refused to provide transportation on the following day, and on 29 July the Italians informed OKW that the 305th Infantry Division would have to wait at least several days before transportation could be made available to move it to southern Italy.25
Comando Supremo at least had a good excuse and perhaps a legitimate reason. Roatta, who as chief of Superesercito had operational control over all the ground forces, German and Italian, in Italy (except those Italian troops moved to the large cities to restrain civil disturbances), conferred with Kesselring on 28 July and reaffirmed that he wanted two more German divisions in the defense of southern Italy. But he explained that railway traffic was particularly congested because of the dispatch of an Italian division northward to check civilian unrest in Milan, Turin, and Bologna. German movements had to be halted temporarily, Roatta said, otherwise situations might occur wherein German troops would find Italian forces unexpectedly blocking their way. Roatta hoped to overcome the traffic problem by prohibiting all civilian travel, and proposed that half the train space be allocated for Italian movements, half for German. Kesselring seemed placated.26
On 29 July, Mussolini’s birthday, while a rumor swept Rome that the Germans were preparing to seize the Italian capital, while Ambassador von Mackensen brought greetings to Mussolini with inquiries as to his whereabouts, and while Kesselring carried a handsome set of the works of Nietzsche as a present from Hitler to Mussolini and asked to deliver it personally, the Italian Ministry of War received three alarming telegrams from Generale di Corpo d’Armata Alessandro Gloria, commander of the XXXV Corps
at Bolzano, forty miles south of the Brenner Pass. Gloria reported German troops assembling in the German Tyrol and at least one group moving on foot toward the Brenner Pass.27
While the Italians politely frustrated Mackensen’s and Kesselring’s attempts to discover Mussolini’s whereabouts, Comando Supremo prepared to resist the Germans on two fronts—to ward off a surprise attack against Rome and to oppose the incursion of unwanted German reinforcements into Italian territory. Summoning Roatta, Ambrosio informed him that providing for the defense of Rome against a possible German coup d’état had priority over protecting the coast against the threat of Allied landings. He also told Roatta to oppose the movement of German units across the frontier, except those specifically requested or permitted by Comando Supremo.
For the first mission, Roatta constituted a command called the Army Corps of Rome (the 12th (Sassari) Infantry Division, elements of the 21st (Granatieri) Infantry Division, police forces, African police troops, and depot units) under Generale di Corpo d’Armata Alberto Barbieri to provide for the internal security of the city and to reinforce General Carboni, who a week earlier had been placed in command of the Motorized Corps (the Piave Division, the Ariete Armored Division, the remainder of the Granatieri Division, and the 131st (Centauro) Division) in the outer defenses of the city. To augment the defenses of Rome still further, Roatta had the XVII Corps move the 103rd (Piacenza) Motorized Division to positions just south of the capital, leaving only two coastal divisions to guard the nearby shore area.28
For the second mission, Roatta on 30 July sent officer couriers to the Fourth Army in southern France, to the Second Army in Slovenia–Croatia–Dalmatia, and to the XXXV Corps in Bolzano, warning them to be ready to oppose by force unauthorized German incursions and directing them to place demolition charges along the railway lines to impede frontier crossings.29
The 26th Panzer Division, whose entry into Italy had been authorized earlier by the Comando Supremo, was not affected by these orders. About half of that division was already in southern Italy in accordance with the joint plans of Comando Supremo and OKW for the defense of the Italian peninsula. The remaining parts of the division crossed the Brenner Pass without incident during the late afternoon and early evening of 30 July. These troops reported evidence of demolition charges planted by Italian troops and the impression that the Italian forces in the frontier area had been reinforced.30
Hitler was outraged by this seeming manifestation of Italian perfidy. He directed the divisions moving to Italy to carry out their orders even if bloodshed resulted. Specifically, he wanted an assault group of the 60th Panzer Grenadier Division to move to the head of the 305th Infantry Division column in the Nice area and to fight its way, if necessary, across the border into Italy. But since the movement of the assault group to Nice required two days, the Nice area remained quiet.31
The test came, instead, in the Brenner area. OKW instructed Kesselring to notify Comando Supremo that divisions authorized and scheduled to enter Italy—such as the 26th Panzer Division—were still crossing the border; and that to avoid aggravating the railway congestion still further, the motorized elements of these divisions were planning to move by road. But Kesselring was not to tell Ambrosio that the 305th Infantry and the 44th Infantry Divisions, units not authorized to enter, had also been instructed to make a road march into Italy, an instruction passed along to these divisions the same day. Without awaiting the result of Kesselring’s discussions with the Italians, OKW directed OB WEST to begin moving the other divisions assigned to the Army Group B from France toward Italy.32
Shortly before midnight, 30 July, General Gloria, the XXXV Corps commander at Bolzano, received a message from General Feurstein who commanded the German Mittenwald Training School near Innsbruck. Feurstein said he was coming to Gloria’s headquarters the following morning to coordinate the arrival of certain troops. In accordance with the OKW-Comando Supremo agreement, Feurstein stated, German elements were reinforcing Italian garrisons along the Brenner railway line. Before replying, Gloria telephoned Rome for instructions.33
Ambrosio made the decision early the next day. He directed Roatta “to make certain that there enter into Italy only those elements authorized, that is, the remaining parts of the 26th Panzer Division and 30 antiaircraft batteries, and their 100–200 trucks.”34
When the leading elements of the German 44th Infantry Division reached the Brenner frontier on 31 July, Gloria refused to let them pass. Feurstein appeared at Gloria’s headquarters at 1000 and the two commanders conferred about an hour. Feurstein made two points. The 44th Infantry Division, he said, was to march from the Brenner Pass to Bolzano in three days on the basis of OKW-Comando Supremo agreements. Because the British were expected to bomb the Brenner railway line heavily in the near future, German antiaircraft batteries were to reinforce the protection of the pass. After a formal and polite discussion, Feurstein returned to Innsbruck, and Gloria reported a summary of the conversation to his immediate superior command, the Eighth Army, and to the Ministry of War in Rome. The report arrived in Roatta’s operations section before noon, and from there was transmitted to Ambrosio.35
Ambrosio that afternoon addressed a sharp note to Rintelen. He pointed out that the 44th Infantry Division was scheduled to move to southern Italy, not to guard the railway lines in the north. He made it plain that the congested railroads would make it impossible to move the 44th and 305th Infantry Divisions for at least ten days. He requested Rintelen to wait until rail transportation was clear before moving the German divisions into Italy.36
Kesselring called on Badoglio later that afternoon to clarify the situation. When Badoglio explained that military questions were outside his competence, Kesselring went to Ambrosio. He urged that the common war aims of the Axis Powers ought to make it possible for the two German divisions to be permitted to continue their movements. Ambrosio refused, but after a lively exchange he agreed to meet again with Kesselring the next morning. Rintelen then requested OKW to suspend the movements of the two divisions pending the outcome of the Kesselring-Ambrosio conference.37
Rintelen was deeply distressed by the growing Italo-German conflict. He knew beyond all doubt that Badoglio considered the war lost, and he found himself in sympathy with this point of view and with Badoglio’s policy of seeking to end the war in conjunction with the Germans. Not only the Italians, Rintelen was well aware, but also certain high-ranking German officers and politicians recognized that the Axis had lost the war. Before the Feltre conference some of them had secretly voiced the hope that Mussolini would take the bull by the horns, that as Hitler’s equal he would bring up the subject which they, Hitler’s subordinates dared not suggest—a compromise peace as the only way to save Europe from communism. Now they wished, and Rintelen with them, that Badoglio would speak the words to Hitler that Mussolini had not ventured to utter.
Disturbed by Hitler’s suspicions that Badoglio was already trying to make peace with the Allies, Rintelen urged Kesselring to resign his command rather than execute orders to occupy Italy. Plans ALARICH and ACHSE not only involved a flagrant breach of faith but also constituted a danger for the German troops in the country. How could the war continue? For certainly the execution of the plans to occupy Italy would throw the Italians into the Allied camp. Speaking by telephone with Keitel on 31 July, Rintelen requested an appointment to report personally to the Führer his views on the Italian situation. Keitel agreed.38
Next day, while Rintelen prepared to fly to East Prussia to see Hitler, a further crisis occurred in Italo-German relations. Momentarily expecting Hitler to give the code word ACHSE, OKW instructed Feurstein to continue to march the 44th Infantry Division through the Brenner Pass into Italy.39
In Rome, Kesselring met with Ambrosio at 0930. Following OKW instructions, Kesselring made an impassioned plea that the 44th Infantry Division be allowed to proceed, a unit being sent, he emphasized, in accordance with Ambrosio’s
promise of 22 July to defend Sicily to the utmost and in accordance with Ambrosio’s request of that same day for two additional German divisions for duty in southern Italy. Ambrosio turned a deaf ear. He insisted that the German division would have to wait at the frontier until railway transportation became available.40
Soon after the conference, Generale di Corpo d’Armata Giuseppe De Stefanis, Roatta’s deputy, telephoned Gloria at Bolzano. Gloria was to advise Feurstein to consult with OKW on the result of the conference at Rome. Gloria was to oppose the movement of the 44th Infantry Division into Italy, and he was to tell Feurstein that an outbreak of armed strife would be Feurstein’s responsibility. Gloria telephoned this information to Feurstein.41
Feurstein called back at 1550. He said that he had received word from OKW at 1100. OKW indicated that an agreement had been reached in Rome to allow the entry of the 44th Infantry Division. Twenty minutes later Feurstein called again. He reiterated the information that Rome had agreed to permit the German division to march. If Gloria opposed its movement, Feurstein said, the responsibility for initiating armed conflict would fall on the Italians.42
Though the Italians were actually in the process of changing their minds, OKW’s information was probably premature. The main factor modifying Ambrosio’s blunt stand was Badoglio, who was in frequent contact throughout the day with the Comando Supremo chief. Badoglio insisted that Ambrosio avoid any action that would bring about an Italo-German battle. He needed time, Badoglio said, to carry out his basic policy: make the Germans realize Italy’s plight and the need for a common effort to terminate the war.43
Having learned of Rintelen’s intention to see the Führer, Badoglio asked Rintelen, as an old friend, to call on him before leaving Rome. Rintelen did so, at 1600, and Badoglio explained his position. Fascism, Badoglio said, had fallen of its own weight. As an old soldier he had obeyed the call of the King. Now he wanted to meet with Hitler, who had rebuffed him. “I have given my pledge to continue the war and I stand by my word as a soldier,” Badoglio declared. “But for this I need the trust of my ally; it will go bad for both of us if we do not cooperate.” Pointing out the serious military situation, the preponderance of Allied resources, particularly in the air, which the bombings of Hamburg and Rome had made quite clear, Badoglio said that the Germans and Italians had to “work together to bring the war to an honorable conclusion.” Would Rintelen, Badoglio asked, communicate this to Hitler?44
Rintelen readily accepted the mission entrusted to him by Badoglio. Immediately after this conversation, Rintelen went home and wrote down a summary
of the discussion. He then consulted with Ernst von Weizsaecker, German Ambassador to the Holy See. Although both men could not completely exclude the possibility that Badoglio was acting merely to win time, they agreed that Badoglio’s wish to restore mutual confidence was probably genuine.45
By then, Badoglio had probably informed Ambrosio of his conversation with Rintelen, for at 1810, 1 August, Roatta’s operations chief, Generale di Brigata Umberto Utili, telephoned new instructions to General Gloria. Gloria was to permit the head of the 44th Infantry Division column to march to the nearest railway station and there await trains for further movement into Italy. Some train space would be provided on the following morning. But the division was not to march beyond Bolzano. The elements of the 26th Panzer Division, however, could proceed by road if they wished in order to rejoin the remainder of the division already in Italy. Less than three hours later, Gloria was conferring with Feurstein’s representative and making arrangements for the continued movement of the 44th Infantry Division into Italy by rail.46
Thus it was that Army Group B made its initial penetration with Italian consent. It was seduction, not rape.47
As quickly as Hitler was successful in this test case, and while Badoglio was still hoping that Rintelen’s mission would bear fruit, Hitler directed Field Marshal Kesselring to announce that two Panzer divisions would follow along the Brenner line, and that another infantry division would follow the 305th Infantry Division by way of Nice. To keep the passage clear for the other troops, the 44th Infantry Division held the sector of the railway line from Brennero to Bolzano. By 2 August the infiltration of Army Group B into northern Italy was in full swing, and the first lifts of the 2nd Parachute Division had arrived near Rome, a movement substantially completed after four days. Kesselring’s explanation to Roatta now was that the division was needed in that area because of the possibility of an Allied parachute attack.48
A day later, 3 August, OKW transmitted through Kesselring a formal note to explain its haste in reinforcing the troops in Italy. The Germans had feared, OKW said, that the political change in Italy might encourage the Allies to use an estimated thirteen to fifteen available divisions in a landing on the Ligurian or north Adriatic coast. OKW therefore thought it prudent to provide for the
security of all forces by moving divisions first into the north, then into the south. The 305th Infantry and 76th Infantry, under LXXXVII Corps, were to protect the Ligurian coast. The 94th Infantry, moving through the Mount Cenis pass, as well as the 1st SS Panzer Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler, the 2nd SS Panzer Division “Das Reich,” and the 65th Infantry were also to enter north Italy. OKW added that it was considering sending one or two additional armored divisions to Italy to form a reserve. It planned to reinforce the Mediterranean French coast defenses with the 715th Infantry and 60th Panzer Grenadier Division, plus two unspecified infantry divisions. All the details of coordination, OKW proposed, were to be settled at the conference scheduled for 6 August at Tarvis.49
Though the Germans had not mentioned the 94th Infantry and 65th Infantry before, the Italians accepted the note without demur. They bent their efforts toward effecting such a distribution of the German divisions as to make for the least threat to Rome and to the principal northern bases of the fleet—La Spezia and Pola—and for the most appropriate dispositions to resist an Allied invasion of southern Italy. The crisis having passed, Ambrosio and Roatta faced the Germans with seeming good grace. Italo-German discussions on 3 August were friendly. Ambrosio agreed to provide transportation in the Brenner area. Roatta urged that German reinforcements be sent to the south as quickly as possible. Roatta also complained that some German troops behaved as though they believed that the Italians sympathized with the Allies, an attitude he found insulting to Italian honor. “Italy,” he declared, “is not thinking of changing course.”50
So far as Roatta knew, he had made an honest declaration. What he did not know was that attempts had already been initiated to make contact with the Allies.51
On the same day, Rintelen was personally delivering Badoglio’s message to Hitler, with Keitel and Jodl in attendance. After listening to Rintelen explain Badoglio’s position, Hitler exploded. “This is the biggest impudence in history. Does the man imagine that I will believe him?”
“I have the impression,” Rintelen replied, “that he is honorably working for the establishment of trust.”
Hitler brushed this aside, remarking that the Anglo-Americans had probably repulsed Badoglio’s effort to make peace and that Badoglio was therefore again seeking German support. After a brief discussion of the conference scheduled in a few days at Tarvis, Hitler dismissed Rintelen without a reply for Badoglio.52
Later that day Rintelen received some sympathy from General der Infanterie Kurt Zeitzler, an old friend in the headquarters and Chief of Staff of the German Army. Zeitzler knew that Hitler’s
alleged proof of Badoglio’s negotiations with the Western Powers was not true. Rintelen also spoke with Keitel and Jodl and told them that fascism was dead, that Mussolini was a sick man, and that it was necessary to support the Badoglio government as a bulwark against communism. When Jodl mentioned this view to Hitler the next day, he was roundly cursed and abused. Rintelen, Hitler said, was a traitor.
Rintelen had already returned to Rome, where he went directly to Kesselring’s headquarters at Frascati. Richthofen, the air commander, was somewhat surprised to see him; he had been doubtful that Hitler would allow Rintelen out of Germany.53
Badoglio felt that his hand had again been refused. His initial steps to bring about a joint peace move or to secure German understanding of the Italian situation had ended in failure. Badoglio nevertheless continued to hope that he might yet obtain German consent to a dissolution of the alliance and thereby exclude any action that might bring on Italo-German conflict.54
The Italians, however, continued to work with the Germans to maintain the defense of Sicily and to prepare to oppose an invasion of the Italian mainland. At the same time they watched closely for a hostile German act against Rome and sought to make contact with the Allies. They were increasingly worried by the stranglehold the Germans had on Italy. The locations of the new German divisions offered no protection to the south, where an Allied threat was real and acute. Rather, the Germans were in position to seize the Italian naval bases, to occupy the north, and to grab Rome.55
The Italian Course is Changed
About the same time that the crisis of 29 July–1 August was being overcome by the decision of the Italian Government and High Command to accept unwanted German reinforcements, the assumption of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by Raffaele Guariglia gave a new impulse and a new direction to Italian foreign policy.
Brought from his post as Ambassador to Turkey, Guariglia was uninformed on the true state of affairs in Italy and as a result had indulged in some daydreams and wishful thinking. He fancied that Mussolini, out of love for Italy, had recognized that he himself was the greatest obstacle in the way of an approach to the Allies, and had therefore made the sacrifice of removing himself from power in order to save Italy from total disaster. Perhaps, Guariglia thought, a secret understanding with both Germany and the Allies had preceded Mussolini’s resignation. Assuming that the first step of the
Badoglio government would naturally be an approach to the Allies, he interpreted Badoglio’s proclamation of continuing the war merely as a method of gaining time. Before leaving Istanbul, Guariglia asked the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs to convey to the Allied representatives in Turkey Guariglia’s personal conviction that Italy had to change course as quickly as possible. Though he could make no commitment, he asked that the Allies have faith in Italy’s intentions and understanding of her plight. As an indication of their faith and understanding, he felt, the Allies should cease bombing Italian cities.56
After arriving in Rome late in the afternoon of 29 July, Guariglia took over his office, and then met with Badoglio. He agreed with Badoglio to limit knowledge of any negotiations for peace to the smallest circle of officials—the matter should not be discussed even in the Council of Ministers. But at this point he was rudely awakened from the dreams he had conjured up in Istanbul, for he found his position in the new Italian Government enormously prejudiced by certain stark facts: the war continued; there was no contact with the Allies. He learned also that his position had been prejudiced by Badoglio’s proposals to Germany through General Marras, and Badoglio’s acceptance of Hitler’s counterproposal of a meeting of foreign ministers, scheduled for 6 August.
Scarcely had Guariglia taken his oath of office on 30 July when General Castellano presented himself and tendered a memorandum from Ambrosio, chief of Comando Supremo. Identifying Castellano as an intimate colleague who had played a certain role in the developments leading to Mussolini’s dismissal, Ambrosio’s note said that it was absolutely necessary for Italy to conclude an armistice with the Allies and that therefore immediate contact had to be made with the Western Powers.57
Guariglia tried to do so that very evening. In the greatest secrecy he visited the Papal Secretary of State and asked him to request the British Minister to the Holy See, Sir D’Arcy Q. Osborne, to transmit a message to the British Government. Unfortunately, the British diplomatic code at the Holy See had been broken and was known to the Italians and the Germans. This ruled out that channel of communication. At about the same time, Franco Babuzzio Rizzo, a subordinate of Guariglia’s, was meeting with Harold Tittmann, assistant to Myron C. Taylor, Personal Representative of the President to His Holiness, the Pope. Rizzo wanted to get a message to the American Government. But the American office within the Vatican walls had no safe and speedy communication channel either. Though the American office could forward dispatches through Switzerland or Portugal in safety, this was a slow process.58
On the following day, 31 July, the crown council met at the Quirinal Palace. Guariglia vigorously advocated an immediate approach to the Allies for the purpose of concluding a separate armistice. He stated that he had already taken steps
in that direction by speaking to the Turkish Foreign Minister and by approaching the Allied representatives to the Holy See. As he understood the situation, the decision to approach the Western Powers had already been made by the King some days ago. The crown council formally decided to separate Italy from the alliance with Germany and to seek an armistice with the Allies.59
Guariglia implemented this decision by securing approval from the King and Badoglio to send an emissary to Portugal. He chose the Marchese Blasco Lanza D’Ajeta, Counselor of the Italian Embassy at the Holy See, who through Ciano had been kept informed of the movement to overthrow Mussolini. D’Ajeta spoke English, and was the godson of the wife of Sumner Welles, the American Under Secretary of State. Furthermore, he was of intermediate rank and his transfer from the Holy See would excite no German suspicions. Accordingly, the Foreign Office nominated D’Ajeta Counselor of the Italian Legation at Lisbon. Guariglia had D’Ajeta take along a large suitcase full of Foreign Office documents to keep them from falling into German hands. The gossip of polite circles in Rome promptly had it that D’Ajeta’s mission was to save the Countess Ciano’s jewels.60
D’Ajeta received his instructions on 1 and 2 August from Guariglia, Castellano taking part in the second session. Sir D’Arcy Osborne provided a letter introducing D’Ajeta to his cousin, Sir Ronald Hugh Campbell, British Ambassador at Lisbon. D’Ajeta was to make a full and candid explanation of the situation of the Italian Government, and point out that it was threatened internally by the Communists and by German occupation. He was to explain that the government wished to break with Germany, but that to do this the government needed help for its armed forces. He was to make it clear that he had no power to negotiate, but he was to suggest the desirability of military and political agreement by the Allies and the Italians in order to enable Italy to break with the Germans or turn against them. As a demonstration of faith, he was to inform the Allies of the German order of battle in Italy. Castellano carefully drilled D’Ajeta on the name, strength, and location of each German unit in Italy and of those expected to enter the country, and D’Ajeta committed this information to memory.61
D’Ajeta flew to Lisbon on 3 August, and presented himself at once to Renato Prunas, the Italian Minister. He sent his note of introduction to Sir Ronald, and the British Ambassador requested and received from his own government authorization to receive the Italian emissary. The conference took place the following day.
A trained diplomat, D’Ajeta carefully carried out his instructions. After giving a candid and detailed exposition of the Italian situation, he urged the ambassador to inform the British and American Governments that Italy was most anxious to escape the German yoke and to withdraw from the conflict. He pleaded for understanding in London and Washington of Italy’s tragic situation: Italy, he said,
was on the eve of a German military occupation. Besides the German divisions already in Italy, two more had begun to arrive from France on 2 August, bound for Turin, and about 200,000 German troops assembled around Innsbruck were occupying the Brenner Pass installations. Because Rome was in danger of immediate German seizure—an armored SS division with the most modern Tiger tanks was moving toward the capital—the King and the government had plans to escape to the island of Maddalena, off the coast of Sardinia. Some 300,000 Italian workmen were virtual hostages in Germany. After three years of warfare, Italy was on the verge of economic exhaustion. Italy, D’Ajeta continued, wished to negotiate. Hungary and Rumania would probably follow suit.
D’Ajeta then gave the exact locations of the German divisions as of 2 August. He explained that Italian troops had been moved to protect Rome, thereby leaving the coast of central Italy practically undefended. To maintain its independence, the Italian Government was resolved to defend the capital against German attack, even though the only good division in the area was the reconstituted armored Ariete Division, which had only enough ammunition to furnish a total of eighty-eight shells for each of its guns.
Emphasizing his lack of authority to negotiate, D’Ajeta urged that his disclosure of the German order of battle be the starting point for synchronizing Italian help with the Allied political and military plans. He requested a cessation of propaganda attacks against the King and Badoglio, a halting of bombings against Italian cities. He asked that Britain and America not misinterpret the impending Italo-German conference at Tarvis.
Ambassador Campbell listened attentively, asked several questions. D’Ajeta warned that the German armed forces were numerous and powerful. Reports of serious cleavage between the Nazi party and the military command, he said, were to be discounted. Campbell explained that he had no instructions except to listen. His personal opinion was that the Allies had already determined their military plans and had clearly announced their political views in the unconditional surrender formula.62
The Italian Government waited for an official reply to D’Ajeta’s overture. None came.
Meanwhile, on the day that D’Ajeta had left Rome for Lisbon, Guariglia and Badoglio decided to send another emissary to make contact with the British Government. They directed Alberto Berio, former Counselor of the Embassy at Ankara, to fly immediately to Tangier, there to replace Badoglio’s son as Consul General. Berio’s real mission was to inform the British Consul that Italy was willing to negotiate.
On the morning of 3 August, the day that D’Ajeta reached Lisbon, Guariglia gave Berio his detailed instructions. Berio was to make known the fact that because the Italian Government was a prisoner of the Germans, it would be useless and damaging to the Allied cause to demand of Italy an immediate and public capitulation. The Allied armies should attack the Balkans in order to draw German troops away from Italy, thereby making it possible for the Italians to join the Allies in clearing the Italian peninsula of German forces. Finally, the Allied press
campaign against the Badoglio government ought to continue in order to deceive the Germans.
When Badoglio briefed Berio later that day, he added the point that the Allies would find it to their interest to aid the Italian Government maintain itself against the internal threat of communism. In this connection, the Allies should cease bombing Italian cities. The Marshal’s son, Mario, who was present, made an additional suggestion: the Allies should land in Italy as soon and as far north as possible.63
In Tangier on 5 August, Berio at once made contact with Mr. Watkinson, temporarily in charge of the British Consulate. After carrying out his instructions, Berio wired Rome of his action and, like D’Ajeta in Lisbon, waited for an Allied reply.64