Chapter 25: The Armistice
When General Castellano, accompanied by Montanari as his interpreter, by Maj. Luigi Marchesi, an aide, and by Major Vassallo, the pilot of his plane, returned to Cassibile on the morning of 2 September, he found himself in a fog of misunderstanding. The Allies had wanted him to return to Sicily for a formal signing of the armistice terms. Castellano understood that the Italian Government had already formally accepted the armistice by means of the radio message Ambrosio had sent on the previous day. Castellano thought he had returned to Cassibile to arrange for Italo-Allied cooperation, specifically for the airdrop near Rome.1
General Smith disabused Castellano of this idea when the two met. Smith asked him at once whether he had full power to sign the surrender document. The reason for the blunt request was the growing Allied concern over the risks of invading the Italian peninsula. Montgomery’s Eighth Army was scheduled to execute Operation BAYTOWN on the following day—to cross the Strait of Messina from Sicily to Calabria in a subsidiary Allied landing. Though reasonably confident of success in this operation, the Allies had become increasingly concerned over the inherent hazards of Operation AVALANCHE, the main invasion that Clark’s Fifth Army was scheduled to make on 9 September on the beaches of Salerno. This amphibious assault posed many difficulties: the convoys transporting the ground troops from North Africa to the landing beaches would be vulnerable to German air and Italian sea power; the landing beaches were at the extreme range of Allied fighter aircraft; and the three initial assault divisions could not be reinforced quickly enough and in sufficient strength to meet the German and Italian troops on even equal terms. For these reasons, the Allies needed the help that the Italian surrender promised—neutralization of the Italian Fleet and the aid of Italian ground troops in diverting or at least interfering with the movements of German units to the landing sites. Because of the obvious indecision and fright among the members of the Italian Government, the Allies wished to make certain that the Italians would stick to their agreement to capitulate. The Allies wanted no misstep, no faltering at the last minute to jeopardize the already risky plans of their first re-entry into the European mainland.
To Smith’s question, Castellano answered that he did not have full power to sign the armistice terms.
Despite the summer heat in Sicily, the temperature dropped suddenly. The Allied officers departed. For several hours, the Italians were completely ignored.
They found that spending the day alone in their tent in the midst of an Allied headquarters was not without its embarrassing aspect.
Late that afternoon, General Smith returned to ask Castellano whether he wished to radio Rome for permission to sign the surrender document. Castellano agreed to do so. Smith also suggested that the Italian Government authenticate Castellano’s authority to sign by means of a message to Osborne, the British Ambassador at the Vatican.
That evening General Smith received a message from Comando Supremo indicating Italian acceptance of an airborne operation near Rome and suggesting the use of three specific airfields. But no word came in answer to Castellano’s request.
Again at 0400, 3 September, when the Eighth Army was crossing the Strait of Messina to invade Calabria, Castellano repeated his request. Would the government authorize him to sign the armistice?
In Rome that same morning, Badoglio summoned the chiefs of staff of the three military services. “His Majesty,” Badoglio announced, “has decided to negotiate for an armistice.” He then ordered each service chief to make appropriate dispositions of his forces, but he declined to put the order in writing because he feared that too many persons would learn of the decision.2
Sometime later Badoglio decided to authorize Castellano to sign the armistice terms. As a result, the Allies at Cassibile received a radiogram about 1400, 3 September. “Present telegram is sent from Head Italian Government to Supreme Commander Allied Force.” The affirmative reply dispatched two days earlier, Badoglio wired, had contained “implicit acceptance [of the] armistice conditions.”3
Implicit acceptance was not enough. The Allies wanted to be absolutely sure. And around 1700 Castellano finally received explicit authority to sign. “General Castellano,” Badoglio wired, “is authorized by the Italian Government to sign the acceptance of the conditions of armistice.”4
By then it was clear that Operation BAYTOWN was a success. The British Eighth Army had landed on the toe of Italy with the 13 Corps on a 3-brigade front, and had seized Reggio di Calabria and a nearby airfield. Virtually no resistance, Italian or German, had materialized.5
On that day, too, 3 September, the new German Ambassador to Italy, Rudolf Rahn, presented his credentials to Badoglio. Rahn took the occasion to bring up the matter of reorganizing the chain of command in the Italian theater so that the Germans would be in control of active operations. Declaring that he welcomed
Rahn’s proposal, Badoglio said that he could not intervene directly in military matters. He promised, however, to arrange an audience with the King and a meeting with Ambrosio for the following day.6
At Cassibile, at 1715, 3 September, General Castellano signed the text of the short terms on behalf of Badoglio, Head of the Italian Government. General Smith signed for General Eisenhower, who had flown over from North Africa to witness the ceremony.7
As General Eisenhower explained to the CCS, the signing of the short terms was absolutely necessary before specific plans could be made with Italian representatives to secure the maximum possible aid from the Italians, and to obtain the cooperation of the Motorized Corps for the 82nd Airborne Division’s projected operation near Rome. Formal signature of the long terms, he added, would take place later and be timed to fit Allied operational plans.8
After the signature of the armistice agreement, the Italians withdrew to their tent. Castellano sent a message to Rome to report his action, whereupon General Alexander appeared and invited him to dinner.9
Somewhat later, General Smith handed Castellano a copy of the long terms entitled “Instrument of Surrender of Italy.” He attached a brief note to explain that the document
Contains the political, financial, and economic conditions which will be imposed by the United Nations in accordance with paragraph 12 of the Armistice terms. The military conditions of the Armistice are contained in the document which we have just signed. The attached paper is identical with the one handed to General Zanussi by H. M. Ambassador in Lisbon.10
Having managed to avoid use of the humiliating unconditional surrender phrase in all his negotiations, and having been responsible for initiating a joint Italo-Allied operation to defend Rome, Castellano was painfully surprised to read the initial clause of the comprehensive terms: “The Italian Land, Sea and Air Forces wherever located, hereby surrender unconditionally.”
When Castellano protested, Smith said that Zanussi had received the document in Lisbon; the Italian Government certainly knew the conditions of the long terms. Castellano was not so sure. He doubted that his government would accept the additional clauses. When Smith reminded him of the modifying force of the Quebec Memorandum, Castellano said that it contained only general promises, that his government had no recourse if the Allies did not convey their promises in writing. Thereupon General Smith sat down and made the promise in writing. “The additional clauses,” he wrote for Badoglio’s benefit, “have only a relative value insofar as Italy collaborates in the war against the Germans.”11
At 2030 that evening, Castellano met again with Allied officers to discuss what the Italian Government should do now that it had concluded the armistice agreement. General Alexander presided, Generals Smith, Rooks, and Cannon, Brig. Gen. Patrick W. Timberlake (A-3, Mediterranean Air Command), Brigadier Strong, and General Lemnitzer (Deputy Chief of Staff, 15th Army Group) took part. After the meeting, Castellano received an aide-mémoire enumerating the general actions the Italian Government would take before the announcement of the armistice. Commodore Dick handed Castellano a memorandum containing instructions for the movement of Italian warships and merchant shipping to ports under Allied control.12
Planning GIANT II
The Allies also consulted Castellano on the plans even then being readied for the airborne drop near Rome. Before the signing of the armistice, while Castellano was waiting explicit permission to sign, the Allies had begun to plan the airborne operation. At 1430, 3 September, Castellano had met with several Allied officers to explore possible alternatives. Presiding at the meeting, Rooks, the AFHQ G-3, stated that the airborne division had the mission of cooperating with Italian units in the defense of Rome. Castellano then outlined how he thought the Germans might act against the airborne landing. The 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division, located between Viterbo and Lake Bolsena, could advance on Rome by three parallel roads and would probably make the main effort. Two Italian units stood in its way, the Piave Division, immediately north of the city, and the Ariete Division, some fifteen miles beyond. The commanders of these divisions, Castellano ventured, could defend just south of Lakes Bracciano and Martignano. The Sassari Division, stationed in Rome, could reinforce them. South of Rome, the Centauro Division could block the 2nd Parachute Division’s approach to the capital.
The Italians did not lack men, Castellano explained. They lacked firepower. The Ariete Division, for example, had no antitank guns at all and could hold the Germans back for perhaps twenty-four hours, no more.
General Ridgway, commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, who had suddenly been called to the conference, said that he had 57-mm. antitank guns able to penetrate Mark IV and VI tanks at ranges up to 500 yards, and still heavier weapons possibly might be landed. Furthermore, the proposed seaborne expedition to the mouth of the Tiber River could bring even more arms.
But Ridgway and the others were more concerned with protecting the airfields where the landings were to take place, and assuring that no Italian antiaircraft battery would fire on the incoming planes. Could Castellano give assurance that Italian antiaircraft batteries would not fire on the Allied planes?
Castellano gave several specific guarantees. The Italians would secure the fields. Antiaircraft defenses would not open fire. A route north of the Tiber River would pass over minimum antiaircraft defenses.
It was pointed out, and agreed to by Castellano, that sufficient time would have to be allowed to enable a specific order to get down to every gun. Castellano also promised that Italian officers of high rank would meet the commander of the airborne division on a field to be decided upon by the Allies. Navigational aids would be furnished. The airfields would be illuminated; the outlines of the fields in orange-red lights, the outlines of the runways and any obstacles within five hundred yards of the fields by means of red lights. Castellano also promised that the Italians would provide motor transportation for concentrating the airborne troops and their supplies. Finally, he gave assurances that all available intelligence regarding both German and Italian units in the Rome area would be furnished the Allies before the operation.
Castellano suggested six available airfields, none occupied by the Germans.13 He produced maps showing the location of German and Italian troops near Rome. He suggested troop landings at Centocelle and Littoria airfields, heavy equipment at Guidonia airfield. He recommended the Littoria airfield, just north of the city, as the point of concentration. Also, to reach these fields, which together formed a triangle with its base along the eastern outskirts of the Italian capital and its apex at Guidonia, the planes should fly in from the west-northwest.
During the meeting, certain other matters were briefly mentioned. General Rooks noted that consideration was being given to running two or three ships up the Tiber River with ammunition and supplies, and Commodore Royer Dick asked if the swing bridges could be opened. Castellano stated that the bridge at Fiumicino could be kept open, and that this would permit ships to go as far as the Magliano airfield where supplies could be landed along the banks. The Tiber River was thirty feet deep as far as the Littoria airfield, Castellano said, but the area south of the river was occupied by German troops armed with antiaircraft batteries. This was Castellano’s reason for recommending that the approach of the planes should be about eight miles north of the river. General Taylor, the 82nd Airborne Division’s artillery commander, felt that such a route would be more difficult to find at night than one directly up the river, and urged that the German troops south of the river be mopped up by the Italians as an initial move in the operation. Rooks then asked if a small planning staff from the airborne division could be sent to Rome in advance to complete the details of the operation; Castellano agreed, and offered to take two or three American officers with him on his return to Rome on the following day.
After some discussion on the availability of 100-octane gasoline for such Allied fighter aircraft as might be flown into the Rome area, General Ridgway said that he had enough information on which to draft his outline plan. The meeting adjourned.14
As General Ridgway worked with a small planning group on an outline plan for GIANT II, he grew increasingly concerned over the possibility that the Italian authorities might not be able to silence a sufficient number of the guns in Rome’s belt of antiaircraft defenses. Should too few be silenced, the unescorted C-47’s would be fat targets as they came in low to drop paratroopers or to land supplies. General Ridgway remembered how Allied fighters on 18 April had intercepted and shot down seventy-three Junker 52’s flying supplies into Tunisia, and recalled painfully the unfortunate experience during the invasion of Sicily when friendly fire had shot down twenty-three allied transport aircraft. He also felt that he could not rely on the Italians for other acts of cooperation in the degree “considered essential to success.”15
Late that night Castellano was called in for additional consultation. The Italian general was now less certain than he had been during the afternoon session, and under the pressure of questioning he admitted the enormous difficulty of silencing every gun in Rome’s antiaircraft defenses. Instead of following the instructions of his government and suggesting, as he had earlier, the Guidonia, Littoria, and Centocelle airfields, he admitted that the latter two fields lay in the midst of extensive flak batteries. He now proposed that initial drops be made at the Furbara and Cerveteri airfields, slightly to the north of Rome and on the coast. Located outside the city’s antiaircraft defenses, they were completely in Italian hands. The Lupi di Toscana Division, coming from southern France and scheduled to concentrate on 8 September between these two airfields, could provide additional ground security.
The airborne planners worked all night, and on the morning of 4 September they had an outline plan. Initial forces were to land on the Cerveteri and Furbara fields, followed during the next night by parachute drops on the Guidonia, Littoria, and Centocelle fields. The division was then to assemble in the western outskirts of Rome, not at Littoria. The plan carefully defined Italian responsibilities. The Italians were to secure and protect the five airfields. They alone, without German help, were to man all the antiaircraft defenses around those fields. The flak batteries were to have explicit orders against taking any aircraft under fire during the nights of the operation. Italian troops were to block avenues of approach open to the Germans, furnish local protection of the airfields and drop zones, and guarantee unmolested passage of naval craft up the Tiber River to Rome. The Italians were to have a horizontal searchlight beam pointing due west at Furbara airfield, and two Rome radio stations were to broadcast throughout the night as navigational aids. The Italians were to outline
the perimeter of each field with amber lights, the airfield runways with white lights; to remove or silence all antiaircraft guns in a 10-mile-wide corridor astride the Tiber and along a shorter, secondary, and more direct route from the sea to the Cerveteri and Furbara fields; to have a senior staff officer of the Motorized Corps meet General Ridgway at Furbara airfield and a senior staff officer at each airfield to receive the American troops; and to furnish one interpreter guide to each company.16
Castellano later claimed, incorrectly, that he had obtained an agreement for the American division to “be placed at the orders of General Carboni.”17 The 82nd Airborne Division was rather to “secure the city of Rome and adjacent airfields and prevent their occupation by German forces,” accomplishing this “in cooperation with Italian forces.” As General Taylor described the relationship:
The airborne troops upon arrival will cooperate with the Italians in the defense of Rome and comply with the recommendations of the Italian High Command without relinquishing their liberty of action or undertaking any operation or making any disposition considered unsound.18
The outline plan, a copy of which Castellano received, also stipulated the amount of logistical aid the Italians were to provide: 23,000 rations, 355 trucks, 12 ambulances, 120 tons of gasoline and oil, 12 switchboards, 150 field telephones, 100 picks, 200 shovels, 5,000 wire pickets, and 150 miles of barbed wire. A labor pool of 500 men was to be provided by the second day. The Americans would bring in rations for two days, gasoline for one day, medical supplies for the initial period, and ammunition for the entire operation.
Convinced by this time that any airborne drop in the Rome area would be a tragic mistake, General Ridgway protested strongly to Generals Smith and Alexander. Ridgway’s opposition led the Allies to send two American officers to Rome to confer with the leaders of the Italian forces around the capital about the final details of Italo-American cooperation. The real purpose of their mission was to assess the feasibility of the airborne operation.
Second Thoughts in Rome
After working with the Allied officers on the GIANT II outline plan, Castellano was informed that General Eisenhower wanted to have an Italian military mission attached to AFHQ, a mission composed of ground, air, and naval representatives headed by Castellano himself. Castellano radioed a request to Rome for authority to constitute such a mission, and canceled his plans to return to Rome. Other arrangements would be made for getting the two Allied officers to Rome.
During the early afternoon of 4 September, Smith visited Castellano once more. Castellano raised the question of when the Allied landing would take place and when the armistice was to be announced. Replying through the interpreter, Smith said: “I understand very well the great anxiety you have to know these dates, but unfortunately I can tell you nothing; it is a military secret which I must keep.” Then in a lower voice, “I can say only that the landing will take place within two weeks.”19 Smith then departed and that afternoon returned to Algiers.
During the afternoon Castellano saw several other Allied officers on the problems of coordinating various aspects of the armistice announcement. The Allies would notify the Italian Government what day the announcement was to be made by the secret radio link already established with Rome, and, as an alternate channel, by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The BBC would signal the day by broadcasting two special programs between the hours of 1000 and 1200, British time: a half hour of Verdi’s music and a two-minute discourse, during the British overseas program, on the theme of Nazi activities in Argentina.20
Castellano then prepared his reports to his government, reports to be flown to Rome on the following day, 5 September. While Montanari translated the documents from English to Italian, Castellano wrote a letter to Ambrosio. “Despite every possible effort to succeed,” he stated, “I have not been able to get any information on the precise locality of the landing. Regarding the date I can say nothing precise; but from confidential information I presume that the landing will take place between the 10th and 15th of September, possibly the 12th.”21
Castellano had reached the conclusion from Smith’s spoken statement. If the main Allied invasion was to be launched within one week, Castellano reasoned, Smith would not have spoken of two weeks. Therefore, he deduced that at least one week would elapse between the initial landing in south Italy—BAYTOWN into the tip of Calabria, launched on 3 September—and the main descent on the mainland. Since Smith had talked to him on 4 September, the main attack could not, according to this line of reasoning, be expected before the 11th. It could take place any time during the second week—10 to 15 September.22
Castellano’s aide and pilot flew his letter and documents, including the GIANT II outline plan, to Rome early on 5 September. The aide delivered the papers to Ambrosio, who read them and turned them over to Badoglio. Castellano’s date of 12 September for the Allied landing and the armistice announcement was only a guess, but Ambrosio accepted Castellano’s estimate as definite, and he told Badoglio so. As a result, all the Italian military and political leaders involved in the armistice expected the main Allied landing no earlier than 12 September, possibly later.23
General Eisenhower and AFHQ staff officers expected the Italians to make vigorous efforts to insure the success of the invasion—or at least of the airborne drop. But Badoglio, Ambrosio, Rossi, and Roatta remained doubtful of their ability to give real help, possibly because they felt that Badoglio had pledged the government to a course of action—the surrender of all of Italy to the Allies—that was beyond its power. The Italian Government and High Command therefore continued to be more interested in being rescued than in helping fight the Germans. While Castellano supported active cooperation with the Allies, the leaders in Rome remained,
in contrast, passive. Castellano had represented the Italian Army as hating the Germans and willing to turn on them. In this way, an American officer later remarked, he “sold the Allies a bill of goods.”24 Badoglio, Ambrosio, Roatta, and Rossi were hardly anxious to fight. Their primary aim was to secure Allied protection of the capital.
On 5 September, Roatta later maintained, he received notice from Comando Supremo that the armistice with the Allies was concluded, that the time of the armistice announcement was as yet undetermined but would not occur before 12 September, that in accord with the Italian request the Allies would land a force of six divisions in central Italy and within striking distance of Rome, an unknown number of troops by air, and nine Allied divisions in a subsequent landing perhaps farther to the north. Beyond this, the Italian Government had no details and awaited precise information regarding Allied plans.25
Two days earlier, on 3 September, while Badoglio was deciding to authorize Castellano’s signature of the armistice terms, Ambrosio had written a memorandum for his deputy chief, Rossi, to outline the instructions he wished issued to Superaereo, Supermarina, and Army Group East (controlling the Italian troops in Greece and in the Balkans). This paper, plus Roatta’s Memoria 44 (drawn on 1 September and in the process of dissemination to the commanders under his control), reached Rossi on 4 September. In compliance with Ambrosio’s wish, Rossi drafted several directives. Before they reached final form, Castellano’s documents arrived—on 5 September. This held up the instructions for another day. On 6 September, Comando Supremo issued Promemoria I, a general directive for each general staff—Army, Navy, and Air Force—that was, in effect, a complementary order to Roatta’s Memoria 44. Like the earlier Army order, the Comando Supremo directive did not refer to cooperation with the Allies. Rather, its chief purpose was to spell out Italian reaction to collective, general German aggression as distinguished from local, irresponsible German acts. Under the illusion that 12 September was the firm date for the Allied invasion and the armistice announcement, Comando Supremo intended subsequently to supplement these instructions.26
The intermixture of German and Italian headquarters in the Balkans and Greece made it appropriate to issue instructions to Army Group East as late as possible. Since Ambrosio thought of 12 September as the target date, he had a draft order (Promemoria 2) drawn on 6 September for that headquarters, intending to put it into effect later. The directive instructed the troops in Herzegovina, Montenegro, and Albania to withdraw toward the coast and maintain possession of the ports of Cattaro and Durazzo; the commander in Greece and Crete, before withdrawing his troops to suitable ports for evacuation, was to tell the Germans frankly that the Italians would not fight against them unless
the Germans resorted to violence. In the Aegean Islands, the Italians were to disarm the Germans to avert open hostilities.27
Thus, the only orders actually issued during the three days immediately following the signature of the armistice were essentially defensive. They indicated little intention of pursuing the aggressive action against the Germans that Castellano had described at Cassibile.
The role of the forces defending Rome was not quite so passive. The nucleus of this body of troops had begun to form on 20 July to protect the government against a possible Fascist reaction to Mussolini’s imminent overthrow. Since 29 July the troops had been alerted to act against the possibility of a German stroke against the capital. Under the immediate command of Roatta, chief of the Army General Staff, the force consisted of three corps. The Corpo d’Armata di Roma, controlling the Sassari Division, carabinieri, and service and school troops, was within Rome and had as its task the internal defense of the city against SS agents and other special German troops stationed there. The XVII Corps had small detachments of the 220th and 221st Coastal Divisions distributed along the coast from Tarquinia to the Volturno River—a distance of 125 miles—and the Piacenza Division interspersed among units of the German 2nd Parachute Division. General Carboni’s Motorized Corps controlled the Ariete Armored and Piave Motorized Divisions north of Rome, the Centauro Armored Division east of the capital, and the Granatieri Division south of the city.
As soon as Roatta learned from Comando Supremo on 5 September that the armistice had been concluded, he ordered the units regrouped. The Re and Lupi di Toscana Divisions were scheduled to arrive from the Balkans and from France as a result of the agreement reached on 15 August with the Germans—who believed the divisions were slated for commitment in southern Italy. Instead, the Italians planned to use the divisions, scheduled to arrive in Rome on 8 September, to reinforce the capital’s defenses. Roatta intended to have completed by the morning of 12 September the dispositions of these units, plus the deployment of a Bersaglieri regiment, scheduled to become available, as well as the final regrouping of the Motorized Corps. His faith in this date as the time of the Allied invasion and the armistice announcement was strengthened on 6 September when he received copies of the GIANT II outline plan. According to Generale di Divisione Aerea Renato Sandalli, chief of the Air Force Staff, who also received a copy of the plan and who discussed its implications with Roatta, Italian Air Force preparations to comply with the Allied requirements for the airborne operation would take at least a week. This confirmed Roatta’s belief in 12 September as the effective date of the armistice.28
As for the airborne plan itself, Roatta was flabbergasted. It appeared to assign missions to the Motorized Corps far beyond its capabilities. Four hundred trucks could be rounded up only by stripping the Piave and Ariete Divisions of all their vehicles (he did not think of collecting autos, buses, and trucks from the municipality of Rome, an expedient which Castellano had considered quite feasible). Instead of being a plan to defend Rome, it was, Roatta believed, a preliminary step for a future drive north from Rome, with the capital as the base of operations. Though he might have had no objection to this concept, he could not concur in the basic assumption as to the strength of his troops. If his forces were indeed strong enough to carry out all the actions assigned to them in the airborne plan, they would then be strong enough to defend Rome against the Germans without Allied assistance. The plan, therefore, did not project a rescue operation; rather it embodied Castellano’s concept of Italian cooperation with the Allies. What was most disappointing to Roatta was the lack of indication that the Allies would land six divisions within striking distance of Rome, a move which, he maintained, Comando Supremo had led him to expect.29
Something else seemed not quite right. Aerial photographs of the North African ports of Mers el Kebir, Oran, Arzew, and Mostagenem on 4 September and the knowledge that Allied ships were loaded with landing craft indicated an impending amphibious operation. Comando Supremo conjectured that the destination of the force might be Corsica. Two days later, Roatta had word of Allied convoys assembling in the open sea north of Palermo. Did this mean that the Allies were about to launch a subsidiary attack independent of and before the armistice announcement expected on 12 September? Or were the Allies getting ready to invade the mainland far south of Rome, or possibly, Sardinia?30
In any event, Roatta concluded that the Allies would be in no position to march directly on Rome at once. The Italians themselves would have to defend the capital. From this belief was to come contradictory and ambiguous conduct on the part of the Italian Government for the next two days, behavior that revealed the wide discrepancy between Castellano’s views and those of Badoglio, Ambrosio, and Roatta. Part of the trouble was the fact that the King gave no firm indication of his desire to turn actively against the Germans. Thus, Badoglio consistently took a passive attitude. For him, and for Ambrosio and Roatta as well, the armistice, the invasion, and the airborne operation near Rome comprised a multiple plan of rescue, not an opportunity for Italy to pay her passage with the Allies.
The thing that crystallized matters was an estimate of the situation that Roatta presented to Ambrosio during the late afternoon of 6 September. The location of Allied convoys, he averred, made possible only two conclusions as to Allied intentions. Either the Allies were about to make a landing independent of the armstice—like that of the British Eighth Army on the 3rd—or they were going to launch their main attack before 12 September, an invasion directed against south Italy or
Sardinia. In either case, there was little prospect of immediate help from Italian forces in the capital. Therefore, the plan for joint action with the Allied airborne division had to be adjusted to reflect the real capabilities of the Italian forces. Convinced that otherwise a fiasco would result, Ambrosio agreed to the necessity for modifying the GIANT II plan.31 Fortunately for the Italians, a way to get in touch with the Allies was at hand.
In response to General Eisenhower’s request that the Italians send a military mission to AFHQ, a request forwarded by Castellano on 4 September, the Italian High Command had selected eleven officers headed by Col. Paolo Decarli of the Military Intelligence Service. These officers were to leave Rome that evening, 6 September. Two hours before their departure several of these officers received instructions at Comando Supremo for modifying the Allied plans. There were three relatively minor proposals—a change in the text of Badoglio’s contemplated armistice announcement; a request that the Italian Fleet be permitted to sail to Sardinia rather than to Malta; and a request that maximum air support be sent to the Rome airfields immediately after the armistice announcement. But a fourth point was major—the Italians wanted the airborne operation to be executed two days after the main landing rather than at the same time.32
Carboni later asserted that he gave one member of the mission, Maj. Alberto Briatore, a memorandum completely repudiating the armistice and the airborne operation, and he accused Castellano of deliberately preventing Briatore from delivering it to the Allies.33 But Carboni’s memorandum was a fabrication.34 The Italians did not renounce their obligations in this fashion.
That night, at 2200, 6 September, after instructing the members of the military mission, Ambrosio left Rome by train for Turin. His purpose in going, he explained later, was to pick up his diary and other compromising documents.35 In his absence, Rossi was in charge of Comando Supremo, but Rossi felt that he could make no basic decision without the concurrence of his chief. During this time, for two days, Carboni, Roatta, and Rossi, with the full support and cooperation of Badoglio, repudiated Castellano’s commitments with respect to GIANT II and contrived to create a situation that struck the Allies as having every appearance of a double cross.
Why Ambrosio chose this moment for a trip to Turin is not clear. Perhaps he was thoroughly convinced that 12 September was to be the effective armistice date. Perhaps he did not altogether comprehend
Roatta’s alarm. Perhaps—though rather improbably, for he and Castellano were close associates—he had even misunderstood Castellano’s point of view.36
After Ambrosio’s departure, Roatta talked with Carboni, who not only commanded the Motorized Corps but also directed the Military Intelligence Service. Carboni confirmed Roatta’s low opinion of the strength of the Italian troops around Rome. The Motorized Corps, Carboni said, without reinforcements and more time for preparations, could not put up protracted resistance against the Germans, nor could it provide effective protection for the American airborne landings.
Embodying these objections to GIANT II in a memorandum, Roatta emphasized the danger in announcing the armistice before 12 September at the earliest. He also stressed the necessity of having the main Allied landing take place in accord with Italian expectations: the invasion would have to be made within striking distance of Rome.37
As director of the Military Intelligence Service, Carboni transmitted a copy of Roatta’s memorandum to Badoglio early on 7 September. Later that morning, Carboni spoke with Rossi. He told Rossi that he had conferred with Badoglio and had explained that his Motorized Corps had ammunition for only twenty minutes of fire, the Ariete Armored Division had fuel for about one hundred miles of movement. Alarmed, Rossi sought Roatta for confirmation. He learned from Roatta of Roatta’s discussion with Carboni the night before, and Roatta explained that the Lupi di Toscana and Re Divisions were necessary for the defense of Rome but would not now be available until 12 September, rather than 8 September as earlier expected. Rossi thereupon became convinced that it was essential for the armistice to become effective on 15 September if possible, in any case not before the 12th. Like Roatta, Rossi concluded that Castellano had not accurately presented to the Allies the true situation in Rome. At noon, Roatta and Rossi sent a message by the special radio. Comando Supremo, they radioed Castellano, would soon send a “communication of fundamental importance.”38
Not long afterward Rossi learned that the American officers who were coming to Rome to make the final arrangements for the airborne operation were due to arrive in the city that same evening. Ambrosio had already arranged for their trip to Rome, but he had not known their ranks or exact mission. When Rossi found out that one was a general officer, he telephoned Ambrosio urging him to return from Turin to Rome by plane at once. Ambrosio, however, did not return until 1000, 8 September.39
Meanwhile, on the previous evening, 6 September, AFHQ had sent two messages to Rome via the secret radio. The first read:
Please maintain continuous watch every day for most important message which will he sent between 0900 hours and 1000 hours, GMT on or after 7 September repeat seven September. It will be necessary for you to reply immediately when you receive this important message that it has been received and understood.40
In addition to all other arrangements for the Great (G) day the Italian broadcast transmitted by BBC will give two short talks on German Nazi activity in Argentina between 11:30 hours Greenwich time and 12:45 hours. This broadcast will indicate the Great (G) day. Telegram number 36. There will not be any special program of music as requested. Please acknowledge receipt.41
In response to requests for acknowledgement, the Italians replied; the messages acknowledging Italian receipt came in to AFHQ shortly after noon, 7 September.42
The Allied messages were a clear indication of the imminent approach of the invasion day and of the time for the surrender announcement. Obviously, both events were scheduled to occur soon after 7 September. Certainly, Carboni must have known because the secret radio given to Castellano at Lisbon was located in the Military Intelligence Service, which Carboni headed. Yet Carboni failed to make the information known to Badoglio, Ambrosio, Roatta, or Rossi.43
Thus, when two American officers appeared in Rome on the evening of 7 September, Ambrosio, chief of Comando Supremo, was absent on a personal errand in Turin, Roatta and Rossi were attempting to make fundamental changes in the arrangements concluded by Castellano, and Carboni was playing a dishonest game with both the Allies and his own superiors.