Chapter 24: The Italian Decision
What of Italian-German relations? After the Bologna conference of 15 August, the relations between the Axis partners continued to be as unsatisfactory as before. The only agreements reached had been to build German units in southern Italy up to strength and to reduce the forces of both nations in the Brenner area. From the German point of view, no satisfactory solution to the problem of command had been made, and no suitable agreement reached on the distribution of forces to defend against Allied invasion. The Germans remained suspicious of Italy’s intentions.1
The Italian declaration of Rome as an open city the day before seemed to be related in some fashion to peace moves, and of course boded no good for the Germans. OKW realized that the Allies would recognize the status of Rome as an open city only if all movements of troops and war materials through the city ceased. Because traffic to southern Italy could not bypass the capital, however, the Germans had no way of supplying their forces in southern Italy except through Rome.2
German anxiety lessened somewhat two days after the Bologna conference because on 17 August the evacuation of Sicily was completed. With some 40,000 German troops, plus their weapons and vehicles, withdrawn from Sicily to southern Italy, the Germans no longer had to suffer the fear that had beset them ever since the overthrow of Mussolini—that an Allied landing in Calabria would cut off the XIV Panzer Corps in Sicily. After the units that had fought on the island had had some rest and enough time to make up deficiencies in matériel, the six divisions south of Rome would be a strong bulwark against an Allied invasion in the south. On that same day, 17 August, Rommel and his Army Group B took command of all the German formations in northern Italy; Rommel moved his headquarters from Munich to Garda, not far from the Brenner–Verona railway.3
Hitler and OKW, for their part, had no plans to defend Italy south of Rome. They did not consider the task feasible without Italian aid, and Hitler still felt intuitively certain of the eventual capitulation of the Badoglio government to the Allies. Accordingly, all Army Group B unit commanders were warned to be ready to act against the Italians should the political situation change. The 71st Infantry Division was to occupy the city of Ljubljana and the Ljubljana–Tarvis pass.
German forces were to defend permanently the Pisa–Arezzo–Ancona line along the southern slopes of the northern Apennines.4
A new headquarters, the Tenth Army, would be activated in southern Italy to control the XIV and LXXVI Panzer Corps, and General der Panzertruppen Heinrich von Vietinghoff genannt Scheel was nominated commanding general on 8 August. As Hitler explained to Vietinghoff on 17 August, when the latter had been summoned to the Führer’s headquarters, “I have clear proof that Badoglio is already negotiating an armistice with the Allies.” It was possible, Hitler said, that Italian officers were not informed. Hitler believed that the Allies would soon invade the Italian mainland with large forces. The first mission of the Tenth Army after activation, therefore, would be to withdraw the German divisions in southern Italy as rapidly as possible to the area southeast of Rome. Vietinghoff was to be careful not to give the Italians any excuse for getting out of the war, and he was therefore not to withdraw prematurely. During the withdrawal toward Rome, Vietinghoff was to operate under Kesselring’s OB SUED. After the withdrawal to central Italy and the elimination of Kesselring’s command, Tenth Army was to come under Rommel’s Army Group B.5
As for Kesselring, the signal for the start of a German withdrawal from south Italy would be the seizure of Rome. This Kesselring was to achieve with the 3rd Panzer Grenadier and 2nd Parachute Divisions. But if Skorzeny located and liberated Mussolini, Kesselring was to act independently of Allied action: he would seize Rome, restore Mussolini to power, re-establish fascism, and induce loyal Fascist elements to cooperate with the Germans in defending northern Italy.6
About this same time, 17 August, Skorzeny learned that Mussolini, guarded by about 150 carabinieri, was being held on the Sardinian island of Maddalena. While he was preparing to raid Maddalena and liberate Mussolini, Skorzeny suddenly received orders from OKW to execute a parachute drop on a small island near Elba. There, OKW had been informed, Mussolini was being held. But the Italian secret service had planted this information, and Mussolini was, in reality, at Maddalena. Only after a personal appeal to the Führer did Skorzeny get OKW’s order revoked. This, however, delayed Skorzeny’s preparations, and when his plans for the Maddalena raid were completed ten days later, on 27 August, he learned that Mussolini had again been moved.7
Kesselring, inclined to believe the repeated declarations of loyalty to the alliance made by Badoglio, Ambrosio, and others, continued to view the problem of defending Italy differently from either Hitler, Rommel, or Jodl. Though he recognized the low combat effectiveness of the Italian units, he wished to gain as much as possible from Italian cooperation.
Along with Rintelen, he feared that Hitler’s and Rommel’s tactless and suspicious attitude might drive the Italians into needless overt hostility.8
Despite Kesselring’s Italophile views, OKW activated Vietinghoff’s Tenth Army headquarters on 22 August. Viewing the Naples–Salerno area as the one most immediately threatened, OKW gave Vietinghoff three missions: to concentrate as quickly as possible in the Naples–Salerno area a strong group of three mobile divisions, plus all units lacking organic transportation; to protect the Foggia airfields with part of the 1st Parachute Division; and to oppose strongly any Allied landing in the Naples–Salerno area, but to institute only a delaying action against an invasion of Calabria south of the Castrovillari neck.9
The day after Tenth Army activation, Vietinghoff made a formal call on General Arisio, commander of the Italian Seventh Army stationed in southern Italy. The two agreed that the six German divisions in southern Italy were to be under Vietinghoff’s command and not under Arisio’s, as before. Arisio also agreed that his Italian units would form the first line of defense along the coast, leaving the more mobile German divisions to constitute a reserve for counterattack purposes. In the event of an Allied landing, and in conformity with German principles, the stronger force would assume command of all the troops within the sector where the reserve force was committed. The two generals also agreed on maintaining close liaison and cooperation.10
To OKW Sardinia also seemed endangered, but the threat of an Italian capitulation to the Allies inhibited the Germans from sending additional troops to reinforce the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the six fortress battalions on the island. Considering a protracted defense impossible, the Germans prepared to evacuate Sardinia by way of Corsica and Elba. But the troops were not to be evacuated unless the Italians failed to cooperate or unless developments on the Italian mainland, for example an Allied invasion of the coast near Rome, threatened to cut off the Germans.11
Kesselring, by contrast, believed Sardinia in greater danger than the Naples–Salerno area. Flying to Hitler’s headquarters on 22 August, he urged that additional forces be moved to Sardinia, for the troops withdrawn from Sicily, he reasoned, gave the Naples–Salerno area sufficient protection. In effect, Kesselring was supporting a request by Comando Supremo for an additional German division for Sardinia. OKW refused. Instead, OKW instructed Kesselring to propose to Ambrosio that Sardinia be guarded exclusively by Italian troops so that German troops could take full responsibility for Corsica. The Tenth Army, OKW emphasized, was to make its main stand in the Naples–Salerno area, even if this meant giving up Puglia, the Italian heel.12
A day after Kesselring’s visit to Hitler, the Badoglio government sent a strong note of protest to Germany. Reports from the Italian Embassy in Berlin and from other sources indicated that certain Nazis were working closely with Fascists to overthrow Badoglio and re-establish a Fascist government in Rome. On the following day, 24 August, the Italian Government arrested several former Fascist leaders, including General Ugo Cavallero, who had been Ambrosio’s predecessor at Comando Supremo. Perhaps this action averted an incipient Fascist revolt. Whether it did or not, it had the effect of causing Hitler to postpone his projected stroke against Rome.13
By this time, though, another Italo-German crisis was in the making. The forces of Rommel’s Army Group B were carrying out their movement into northern Italy, a movement that Rommel planned to complete by the end of the month. But despite the peaceful German occupation of northern Italy, relations between the two governments and the two armed services worsened when friction developed during the relief of the Italian Fourth Army in France, a relief that began on 23 August: the Germans objected to the movement of the 7th (Lupi di Toscana) Infantry Division to Nice, and they insisted that Italian naval vessels evacuate Toulon.14
Then on 24 August, after guerrilla bands attacked a 24th Panzer Division supply train near Lubliana, OKW instructed Rintelen to protest to Comando Supremo and to indicate to the Italians that the Germans would have to reinforce the troops protecting the Tarvis–Feistritz–Ljubljana passes. Before Comando Supremo could reply, the German 71st Infantry Division on 26 August began to move to Tarvis and toward the passes of the Julian Alps, the only ones still held and controlled exclusively by the Italians. At first threatening to use force to resist German violation of the Tarvis agreement, Comando Supremo in the end consented to the German move, just as Ambrosio had earlier acquiesced in the German occupation of the Brenner Pass, the Riviera, and the Mount Cenis pass.15
Meanwhile, the question of who was to exercise command over Italian and German forces had again arisen to trouble both nations. On 20 August, OKW had made an elaborate proposal for all theaters fronting on the Mediterranean: southern France, Italy, and the Balkans. OKW proposed Italian supreme command in Italy, German supreme command in southern France and in the Balkans, with each having the power to direct the organization of defense and the conduct of battle in case of Allied invasion. The distribution of the forces of both nations in all three areas was to be regulated from time to time by OKW and Comando Supremo. In Italy, Army Group B and OB SUED were to be under the immediate command of the King, who would issue his directives through Comando Supremo. The Italian Fourth and Eighth Armies in northern Italy were to be attached to Army Group B. Four days later, on 24 August, Ambrosio accepted the proposal as it related to France—Italian units remaining in southern France were to be under the command of Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt as Commander
in Chief West. Ambrosio made considerable concessions in the Balkans. But in Italy, Ambrosio rejected the German proposal and suggested, rather, as he had before, a radical regrouping of German forces. For the time being there would be no change in the command structure of the two military forces in Italy.16
By the end of the month, the Germans had received increasing indications both of an impending Allied invasion and of the imminent Italian desertion. Which threat was the greater was difficult for the Germans to determine.
As aerial reconnaissance reports revealed extensive Allied troop loadings in North African ports, Kesselring’s original estimate that Sardinia was the area most immediately threatened by invasion changed; these preparations were much larger than an attack on Sardinia alone required. But the distribution of Allied shipping in North Africa and Sicily, plus the pattern of Allied bombing, still seemed to indicate several possibilities—Sardinia and Corsica; an attack on the southwest coast of Italy followed by a drive to cut off Calabria and to reach Naples; or an invasion of Puglia. Should the Italians abandon the alliance, the coastal region near Rome was not out of the realm of possibility, and this prospect was not pleasing. The German force near the Italian capital—two reinforced divisions—was considered sufficient to eliminate the Italian forces guarding Rome but hardly adequate to resist an Allied invasion aided by Italian cooperation.17
Though an Allied invasion was an ever-present danger, the Germans began to regard the prospect of Italian treachery as the graver threat. Kesselring, while not unmindful of the possibility that he could be wrong, continued to accept in good faith repeated Italian assurances.18 But Hitler had no such illusions. When he received from Kesselring and Rintelen favorable reports on Italian cooperation, he conjectured that Badoglio had approached the Allies, found their terms too severe, and swung back momentarily to the Axis. Convinced that the reporting of his “Italophiles” at Rome was not accurate, he sent General der Infanterie Rudolf Toussaint on 1 September to relieve Rintelen as military attaché and Rudolf Rahn to replace Ambassador von Mackensen.19
Two days before, on 30 August, OKW made what turned out to be its final revision of Operation ACHSE, the plan to seize control of Italy. German units were to disarm Italian soldiers, except those who remained loyal. Italian troops who wished to fight on the German side were to be permitted to come over to the Wehrmacht; those who wished to go home were to be allowed to do so. OB SUED was to withdraw German units from southern Italy to the Rome area, then conduct further operations in accordance with instructions from Army Group B. The latter headquarters was to reinforce the troops at all the passes leading into Italy, occupy Genoa, La Spezia, Leghorn, Trieste, Fiume, and Pola, and pacify northern Italy
through the instrumentality of a revived Fascist organization. The German Navy was to take over the tasks formerly performed by the Italian Fleet, and the German Luftwaffe was to do the same for the Italian Air Force; both were to cooperate to prevent Italian warships from going over to the Allies.20 By the beginning of September 1943, the Germans were ready to meet the twin perils of Italian capitulation and Allied invasion.
The Parleys at Cassibile
Even as the Germans were taking steps to counteract a possible Italian defection from the Pact of Steel, General Castellano and his interpreter, Montanari, reached the Termini Imerese airfield near Palermo a little before 0900, 31 August. Brigadier Strong met them, and an American plane took the party to the 15th Army Group headquarters at Cassibile.
Earlier that morning, General Smith, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Macmillan had flown from Algiers to Cassibile with General Zanussi, who again had the text of the long terms of armistice which he had originally received from the British Ambassador at Lisbon.
The Italian generals met at Cassibile, and their meeting was not altogether cordial. Resenting what he considered Zanussi’s intrusion into the negotiations, Castellano asked why Zanussi had gone to Lisbon. The reason, Zanussi replied, was the lack of a report from Castellano. Castellano then asked why Zanussi had requested a special plane for Lieutenant Lanza, who had not brought any important documents to Rome. The Allies, Zanussi explained, had taken the text of the long terms from him at Algiers, and had just now returned it. Zanussi seems to have briefly mentioned these additional conditions of armistice, but Castellano did not ask to see the document and Zanussi did not offer it. Castellano remained ignorant of the long terms.21
At Cassibile, Castellano, Zanussi, and Montanari conferred with Generals Alexander and Smith, Brigadier Strong, Commodore Royer Dick (Admiral Cunningham’s chief of staff), Maj. Gen. John K. Cannon (NATAF’s deputy commander), and a British army captain named Deann who served as interpreter. General Smith presided and opened the discussion by asking Castellano whether he had full power to sign the military terms of the armistice. Castellano replied in the negative, added that he had precise instructions, and read the memorandum furnished by his government: If the Italian Government were free, it would accept and announce the armistice as demanded by the Allies. Because the Italian Government was not free but under German control (as the result of the considerable increase of German forces in Italy since the Lisbon meeting), Italy could not accept the condition that the armistice be announced before the main Allied landings. The Italian Government had to be certain that Allied landings were in sufficient strength to guarantee the security of Rome, where the King and the government intended to remain, before it would hazard the announcement of an armistice. Because of the inferiority of their equipment, the Italians could not face the Germans alone. If they did, they would be quickly eliminated. Having eliminated the Italian military forces, the Germans could turn
their undivided attention to the Allied invaders. Therefore, the Italian Government insisted that the Allies make their main landings north of Rome and in the force of at least fifteen divisions.
General Smith bluntly declared the Italian proposal unacceptable. The Italian Government had two alternatives: it could accept the conditions or refuse the armistice. He explained that General Eisenhower had had great difficulty securing authorization from the Allied governments to undertake any discussions with the Italians, and these were restricted to military matters only. The Quebec Memorandum offered Italy an opening, Smith said, and General Eisenhower had full power to modify the conditions in accordance with the degree of support rendered by Italy in the war. If the Italian Government refused the offer of an armistice, with its proclamation on the day of the Allied landing—as had been planned by General Eisenhower with the approval of the British and American Governments—then General Eisenhower would have no power to treat with Italian military leaders or to conclude an armistice in the future. In this case, negotiations would have to be turned over to the Allied diplomats, who would necessarily impose much harsher conditions.
Smith was striking at Castellano’s essential program of military collaboration with the Allies by which the dynasty and the government might maintain themselves and save something from the disastrous wreck into which the Fascist regime had plunged Italy. Ruling out military discussions in the future meant the inability of Italy to participate in the war, the exclusion of any mitigation of terms in proportion to Italian aid. General Smith clearly implied that unless the Italian Government at once accepted all of General Eisenhower’s conditions, Italy’s role during the rest of the war would be passive, and her ultimate fate at the peace table would be determined purely on the basis of Allied wishes. As for the fifteen divisions that Badoglio regarded as essential, Smith said that if the Allies were in a position to land such a force, they would not be offering an armistice. The Allies intended to invade the Italian peninsula with or without Italian aid, and the Italians themselves would have to decide whether the struggle would be long and devastating or relatively brief.
Perceiving that the Allies planned to commit a total of fifteen divisions in Italy rather than to invade with that many, Castellano tried to secure a modification of the Allied plan to announce the armistice at the time of the main Allied landing. Castellano and Zanussi both tried repeatedly to gain some indication of the place and approximate time of the principal Allied debarkation, but General Smith refused to divulge any information.
Castellano then declared that he could say nothing further. He would have to refer the decision to his government, because he was obliged to follow his instructions strictly. He raised the question of whether the Italian Fleet might go to Maddalena, off Sardinia, rather than to an Allied port in order to soften the blow of its loss to the Italian people. Again Smith refused to modify the terms.
Still trying to learn when and where the Allies would invade the Italian mainland, Castellano asked how the Allies planned to protect the Vatican City, and when they hoped to reach Rome. To no avail. And when he made the threat that the Italian Fleet would not remain idle as it had during the Sicilian Campaign,
but would attack Allied convoys, Smith replied with stronger threats: whatever the German strength or the Italian attitude, the Allies would drive the Germans out of Italy regardless of any suffering on the part of the Italian people. Nothing could prevent Italy from becoming a battlefield, but the Italian Government might shorten the duration of the battle by accepting completely the Allied conditions.
The Italian generals faced a cruel dilemma. Italy’s refusal to accept the military armistice terms, with the possibility that later military collaboration might favorably modify the terms, opened the way to an overthrow of the dynasty and the disappearance of the regime. And yet, even more immediate was the threat that the Germans would occupy Rome and seize the government unless the Allies landed close to the capital. The course of the discussion revealed to General Smith and the others that Badoglio and his emissaries feared the Germans more than the Allies. At Lisbon, Castellano had given full information on German troop dispositions in Italy; at Cassibile, he refused to do so.
The conference terminated on an inconclusive note, though Smith had the impression that the Italian Government would not pluck up its courage to sign and announce the armistice unless the Allies gave assurances of strong landings in the Rome area as a means of protecting the government against the Germans.
While adamant during the conference, General Smith was nevertheless courteous. He invited the Italian representatives to lunch, where, after an initial embarrassing silence, discussion was resumed. Smith repeated that if Italy lost this opportunity, its situation in the future would be much more difficult. Castellano reiterated his government’s contention that it would accept the armistice, no matter how harsh the terms, if the proclamation were postponed. The Italian Government, he said, would gladly provide military cooperation, but Italy could not do this unless the Allies offered guarantees to make it possible. Now almost certain that the Allies intended to land south of Rome, Castellano remarked that Italian forces alone could not save the capital, the nerve center of the country. He urged the Allies, in their own interest, to furnish help: if Rome fell to the Germans, he warned, a costly battle would be necessary to regain the city.
When Smith mentioned the Italian divisions disposed around Rome as being able to resist a German attack, Castellano countered that their weapons were so inferior to those of the Germans that only an Allied landing near Rome in addition to the main landing could save the capital. Smith then asked Castellano to make a specific request, bearing in mind that the Allies could not change their general plan of operations because of the long and minute preparations required for an amphibious landing. In response, Castellano requested one armored division to debark at Ostia, the old port of Rome at the mouth of the Tiber River, and one airborne division to drop nearby.
After lunch, General Smith conferred with Generals Eisenhower (in Africa) and Alexander and with AFHQ staff officers, while Messrs. Murphy and Macmillan conversed with Castellano and Zanussi. The Allied political advisers urged the Italians to act immediately on what was the last chance of the Badoglio government to salvage something from the war. Otherwise, they said, the Allies would refuse
to deal with the King and the Badoglio government and would bomb relentlessly the major cities, including Rome. It was like preaching to the converted. The government of Rome remained more afraid of the immediate German threat than of the danger posed by the Allies. According to Castellano and Zanussi, the problem was to induce the cautious, fearful men in Rome to take the initiative against the Germans. Much as they yearned to be rid of the Germans, they feared that the Allies were not strong enough, even with Italian help, to take over and protect a large part of the country against the considerable German forces stationed there.
The German strength in Italy, which made the Badoglio government hesitate to accept an armistice, was precisely the factor that made the surrender of Italy essential to the Allies. General Eisenhower felt that the German forces in Italy had become so powerful as to change materially the estimates on which AVALANCHE had originally been based. The reserves concentrated in north Italy constituted a mobile threat, and though Allied air could delay their movement, it could not impose a paralysis on enemy traffic. The success of AVALANCHE, Eisenhower believed, might very likely turn upon gaining such a degree of Italian aid as would materially retard the movement of German reserves toward the battlefield. Eisenhower had no thought of abandoning AVALANCHE, but he needed every possible ounce of support from the Italians.
General Alexander, on whom would fall the immediate responsibility for the first large-scale invasion of the European mainland, was even more concerned than General Eisenhower. The Germans had nineteen divisions, he estimated, the Italians sixteen. AVALANCHE projected an initial Allied landing of three to five divisions, and a build-up over two weeks to a maximum of eight divisions. If the Italian units, fighting on their home soil, supported the Germans, the Allies might face a disaster of the first magnitude, a failure that would have catastrophic repercussions in England and in the United States. Literally everything had to be done, he told Mr. Murphy, to persuade the Italians to help the Allied forces during the landing and immediately afterwards.
In their anxiety to induce the Italian Government to surrender and provide military assistance, the Allies agreed to Castellano’s request for protective forces at Rome. They decided to send the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division to Rome at the time of the main invasion. Two plans for using the 82nd in AVALANCHE had not been approved—one, a plan to seize the inland communication centers of Nocera and Sarno to block the movement of German reserves (neither place was suitable for drop zones); the other, named GIANT I, to air-land and drop the division along the Volturno River to secure the north flank of the Allied beachhead (canceled because of the difficulty of supplying the airborne troops so far from the ground forces). The division was therefore available, and a new plan, GIANT II, was drawn up for a drop near Rome.
Designed to induce the Italians to surrender, a prerequisite on which the entire invasion of the Italian mainland seemed to depend, the projected airborne operation offered certain military advantages. In conjunction with the Italian divisions assembled around Rome, the Allies would thereby gain control of the Italian capital and cut off reinforcements and supplies from the German units south of Rome. The psychological effect of a
quick stroke against the city might be so stimulating as to cause the Italians to turn against the Germans. Caught by surprise, the Germans might pull out of south and central Italy at once. This was the basis of the decision made by General Eisenhower, in discussion with Generals Alexander and Smith on 31 August, to accede to Castellano’s request for protecting the government at Rome.
When Smith returned to the tent occupied by the Italian emissaries, Murphy and Macmillan departed, and the discussions continued on a military basis. Smith told the Italian generals that it would be very difficult to get an armored division to Rome but quite possible to obtain an airborne division—if the Italians could provide certain airfields. Castellano saw no difficulty in making airfields available, but he thought armored units necessary to give the whole operation what he termed consistency. If an entire armored division could not be committed near Rome at once, at least some antitank guns at the mouth of the Tiber were indispensable. Smith assured Castellano that he would study the feasibility of the project; perhaps an entire armored division could be landed at a somewhat later date.
The conference then came to an end, and both parties summarized the results: (1) The Italian Government might accept or refuse the conditions of armistice, but if it accepted it must accede to the method indicated by the Allies for the official declaration. (2) The Allies were to make a subsidiary landing on the mainland, and against this operation the Italian troops could not avoid offering resistance. (3) Soon afterwards, the Allies would make their main landings south of Rome, bringing the total forces employed in both landings to at least the fifteen divisions regarded as essential by Badoglio; at the same time, the Allies would land an airborne division near Rome and one hundred antitank guns at the mouth of the Tiber. (4) The Italian Government was to make known its acceptance of the armistice by radio within twenty-four hours of 2 September; if it refused, no communication was to be made.22
After leaving Cassibile at 1600 in an American plane, Castellano, Zanussi, and Montanari transferred to the Italian plane at Termini Imerese and arrived in Rome around 1900. During their flight, the two generals talked over the problem. Sharing Castellano’s conviction that the Italian Government could follow but one course—accept the armistice on the military conditions—Zanussi had supported Castellano at Cassibile. There was, however, little cordiality between the two men, because Castellano saw Zanussi as a rival. When Zanussi tried to explain the long terms, Castellano, believing them to be no different from those contained in the papers he had received at Lisbon, refused to listen. Zanussi did not insist and Castellano still remained ignorant of the long terms. When Zanussi expressed his fear that Castellano might not be able to persuade Badoglio to accept the armistice, he offered to support Castellano’s arguments.
Castellano was not particularly receptive. And when Zanussi offered to try to get Carboni to feel more favorably disposed toward Castellano, the latter was surprised. He had had no previous intimation that Carboni bore him any hostility.23
Both generals realized that the Allies had made but slight concessions regarding Badoglio’s requests for a landing of fifteen divisions north of Rome and for an announcement of the armistice after the landing. It was quite apparent that the Allies had completed their plans, that they would not land north of Rome or even in that latitude. Where and when the Allies would invade the Italian mainland were questions which had not been answered. Zanussi thought the Allies might come ashore in the Formia–Gaeta sector some forty-five miles northwest of Naples, and Castellano appeared to share his opinion. The memorandum the Allies had given to Castellano indicated only the possibility that the main attack would come within two weeks.24
Castellano had not quite carried out his instructions to get the Allies to land in strength north of Rome. The Allies, it was clear, planned a subsidiary landing far to the south and a main landing closer to the capital, but still not within immediate striking distance. The Allies, General Smith had said, would land “as far north as possible, within the possibility of protection by fighter planes.”25 The total of all the forces employed by the Allies would approximate fifteen divisions. The decision the Badoglio government had to make could be only in these terms. The Allies indicated not the slightest willingness to modify the plans they had formulated before Castellano had first contacted them, and they declined to make their invasion of Italy primarily an attempt to rescue the Italian Government.
As for the long terms, the Allies expected the Italian Government to be fully informed of them, for Zanussi had received them in Lisbon and carried a copy with him back to Rome. But Zanussi, who was Roatta’s subordinate, was to give his copy of the terms to Roatta on 1 September with the suggestion that the paper be passed to Ambrosio. Whether Roatta did so or not, Castellano continued uninformed of the comprehensive surrender conditions, and for the moment Badoglio too was to remain in ignorance of them.26
The Decision at Rome
Back in Rome on the evening of 31 August, Castellano hastened to Comando Supremo where he found Ambrosio and reported the results of the Cassibile discussions. Since Badoglio had retired for the night, Ambrosio made an appointment to see him the next morning.
Accompanied by Ambrosio, Guariglia, Acquarone, and Carboni, Castellano on 1 September presented his copy of the minutes of the Cassibile conference to Badoglio and gave a detailed account of what had been said. He admitted frankly that he had been unable to obtain what the Italian Government desired—postponement of the armistice until after the main Allied landings. The Allies, he stated, would not modify their plan to invade southern Italy. The Allied leaders,
he explained, considered the Italian units around Rome strong enough to defend the city. Only after he had made clear the absolute inferiority of the Italian troops in comparison with the nearby German troops had he obtained the promise of an American airborne division, one hundred pieces of artillery, and the subsequent commitment of an armored division. Sending these troops, Castellano said, would automatically entail the support of Allied aviation. Badoglio listened in silence until Castellano finished. Then he asked Ambrosio’s opinion. Ambrosio said he saw no course open other than to accept the proffered conditions.
At this point, Carboni spoke out in decided opposition. It was he, Carboni, who commanded the Motorized Corps of four divisions. It was he who would have to defend Rome against the Germans. He believed that the Anglo-American assurances were not to be trusted. They were oral promises rather than a written agreement. Furthermore, he said, his troops could not withstand a German attack because they lacked gasoline and ammunition.
Carboni’s remarks came as a disagreeable surprise to Castellano, for Carboni had favored Castellano’s mission to Cassibile, and he had not earlier mentioned his lack of ammunition and gasoline. But Zanussi had spoken to Carboni on the preceding evening and apparently had told him something of the discussions at Cassibile. Learning that he would have the unenviable task of defending Rome against the Germans with very little Allied assistance, Carboni had become depressed.
Guariglia, for his part, said there was nothing to do but accept the armistice. The Italian Government was committed, he believed, because so much of Castellano’s negotiations had been placed on paper, a fact which the Allies might use to precipitate an Italo-German conflict. Apparently uncertain, Acquarone said nothing. Badoglio expressed no opinion. He would, he said, refer the problem to the King.27
That afternoon Badoglio saw the King. The Italian monarch consented to the armistice. Badoglio informed Ambrosio, who notified AFHQ by a telegram: “The reply is affirmative repeat affirmative. In consequence, known person will arrive tomorrow two September hour and place established. Please confirm.” AFHQ received this message shortly before 2300, 1 September.28
Though this act had the appearance of a decision, Badoglio in reality had not made up his mind. He still hesitated, still hoped that the Allies would rescue him. Unwilling to make any move against the Germans, he made no suggestion to any subordinate to start planning for eventual cooperation with the Allies. Perhaps he was upset by the replacement that very day of the German Ambassador and of the military attaché, whom Badoglio could hardly expect to be so Italophile as the men, Badoglio’s good friends, they replaced.
Ambrosio also remained passive. He issued no orders, gave no word to his subordinates of the newly projected orientation of the government.
For both Badoglio and Ambrosio, it was one thing to tell the Allies that the armistice was accepted; it was quite another to take steps to meet the consequences of the decision. Perhaps more could not have been expected. To decide to capitulate, even half-heartedly and after much soul-searching, was in itself a traumatic experience that robbed them, at least temporarily, of further initiative.
It remained for Roatta to act. Without instructions from higher authority, he issued Memoria 44, an outline order prepared ten days earlier in anticipation of a German seizure of Rome and an attempted restoration of Fascist control. Italian troops, in the event of open German hostility, were to protect railways, command posts, and centers of communication, be ready to interrupt German traffic, seize German headquarters and depots, and sabotage German communications. Upon Roatta’s order or in case the Germans initiated hostile actions, the Italian forces on Sardinia and Corsica were to expel the Germans; the Seventh Army in southern Italy was to hold Taranto and Brindisi; the Fifth Army was to protect the fleet at La Spezia and at the same time attack the German 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division; the Eighth Army in the South Tyrol and Venezia Giulia was to attack the German 44th Infantry Division; the Fourth Army in Piedmont and Liguria was to cut the passes leading from France; and the Second Army in the northeast was to attack the German 71st Infantry Division.
Between 2 and 5 September, officer couriers carried the order to the generals who commanded the forces under Roatta. Each recipient, after reading the warning order, was to burn it in the presence of the courier except for the last page, which was to be signed as a receipt.29
Roatta’s was the only action taken by the Italian Government—and this at the third level of command—as a consequence of the decision to accept the armistice. Ironically, Roatta had been considered somewhat pro-German in sentiment.
The King, intent on playing the role of a constitutional monarch, took no further action once he had sanctioned Badoglio’s proposed course. Those immediately below him, Badoglio and Ambrosio, were timid, cautious, and undecided. Only at the third level and below were men to be found with a real appreciation of Italy’s predicament and some determination to seek a solution. It was the paralysis of will at the top which doomed Italy.