Chapter 28: The Dissolution
Like the rest of the Germans in Italy, Field Marshal Kesselring was surprised at the announcement of the armistice. While Hitler and OKW had been basing their calculations on the likelihood of Italian betrayal and were concerned chiefly with Badoglio’s suspicious behavior, Kesselring and his OB SUED staff had been primarily concerned with the Allies.
Aerial reconnaissance reported on 5 September that Allied landing craft previously assembled between Mers-el-Kebir and Tunis were moving eastward. On 7 September it was known that large numbers of landing craft had moved out of Bizerte and entered the latitude of southern Calabria. Because these flotillas appeared too large for mere tactical landings in support of the British Eighth Army, Kesselring looked for an imminent major invasion of the Italian mainland.
Where the Allied troops would come ashore was the question. The bay of Salerno seemed a likely place, but so did the Rome area—Anzio and Nettuno, possibly even Civitavecchia. Though the Rome area might be too far from their airfields for the Allies to gamble on, and though the Allies had until then displayed a conservative strategic approach, a landing near Rome was within the realm of possibility. So were landings near the northern ports of La Spezia, Genoa, and Leghorn, in Rommel’s Army Group B area. Nor could Kesselring ignore Puglia, the heel of Italy, for within striking distance in eastern Sicilian harbors were assembled numerous Allied landing craft.
Still, the greatest concern was the possibility that the Allies might land near Rome. The Rome area represented the German waistline—between the hip bulge filled by the six divisions of the Tenth Army and the overdeveloped bust containing Rommel’s Army Group B.1
Rommel’s forces in the north and Vietinghoff’s Tenth Army in the south were strong enough to handle the Italian forces and at the same time offer effective opposition to an Allied landing. But in the center, strong Italian units outnumbered Kesselring’s relatively small forces. Despite their smaller numbers, the Germans might well be able to handle the Italians alone. But should the Italians join with Allied troops coming ashore near Rome, what chance would the Germans have?
Around noon on 8 September, the Allies delivered a heavy aerial attack against Frascati, where Kesselring’s headquarters was located. The bombs wreaked havoc on the town, and several struck in the immediate area of the command post. Kesselring himself was uninjured—when
the last wave of bombers flew away, he crawled out from beneath the wreckage. But communications were disrupted except for one telephone line from General Westphal’s bedroom which remained in contact both with OKW and with Kesselring’s subordinate commands.2 The Germans judged correctly that the air attack, obviously meant to interrupt the exercise of command, presaged an Allied landing. After directing certain German units to help rescue civilians and clear wreckage, Kesselring sent Westphal and Toussaint to keep the appointment made earlier with Roatta.
While Westphal and Toussaint were with Roatta, Kesselring received his first intimation of the Italian surrender. Jodl telephoned from OKW headquarters to ask OB SUED in Frascati whether the Germans in Italy knew anything about the capitulation. OKW had picked up an English radio broadcast announcing the surrender. One of Kesselring’s staff officers, knowing that Westphal and Toussaint were consulting with Roatta, phoned the deputy military attaché and suggested that he put through a call to his chief. This was the telephone call that had come into Roatta’s office.
About an hour and a half after Jodl’s call, the German Embassy in Rome received Guariglia’s formal message from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: Italy had surrendered to the Allies. The deputy military attaché telephoned the information to OB SUED, and Kesselring issued the code word ACHSE, the signal to take the offensive against the Italian forces and seize Rome.3
Since the armistice announcement implied the close cooperation of Italian and Allied forces, the Germans expected an immediate invasion of the coast near Rome, including an airborne landing. The Germans acted with dispatch. Kesselring’s first task was to bring the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division from the area immediately north of Rome to consolidate with the 2nd Parachute Division, distributed for the most part south of Rome between the Tiber River and the Alban Hills. His major purpose was to seize control of the lines of communication and supply leading to the Tenth Army in the south, thereby securing the army’s withdrawal route to the north. At the same time, Kesselring sent a detachment of paratroopers to seize Roatta and the Army staff at Monterotondo in a coup de main.
Attacking adjacent Italian units immediately, the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division advanced rapidly along the two highways, the Via Claudia and the Via Cassia, leading from Lake Bracciano into Rome. The 2nd Parachute Division quickly overran some Italian defensive positions south of the city, the Piacenza Division making scarcely even a show of resistance. The paratroopers racing to Monterotondo had more trouble. They ran into Italian opposition, and, by the time they seized the Army headquarters the following morning, they found that Roatta and his staff had gone.4
Along with the combat, the Germans conducted a skillful propaganda campaign. Exploiting Italian confusion and lack of central direction, the Germans arranged local truces and appealed to the honor of Italian officers as former comrades for the prevention of bloodshed. They assured the Italian soldiers that the war was over and they might go home if they wished. The latter point of view seemed strangely similar to Badoglio’s announcement of the armistice, and many Italians threw away their weapons and disappeared.5
Though all proceeded favorably during the early hours of 9 September, German concern over Allied intentions continued until daylight. Only after news of the Allied invasion at Salerno came did the nightmare of an Allied amphibious envelopment vanish. The Allies had then, the Germans sighed in relief, run true to form after all. Their landing on the Italian mainland was a methodical advance beyond Sicily and well within range of Allied air cover—not an employment of their command of the sea and air that would threaten the destruction of the Tenth Army in south Italy. The invasion at Salerno was not an operation designed to take advantage of Italian cooperation. Nor was it designed, from the German viewpoint, to exploit fully the surprise and uncertainty arising from the armistice announcement.6
The Battle for Rome
At Tivoli, where Carboni arrived around 0800, 9 September, he found no orders waiting for him as he had expected. Nor could the members of the Army General Staff, who were establishing their headquarters at Tivoli, clarify the situation. General De Stefanis and Generale di Divisione Adamo Mariotti, immediate subordinates of Roatta, passed through Tivoli that morning en route to Pescara, but though they saw Carboni, they did not talk with him. Finding no message from Roatta at the carabinieri barracks, Carboni drove eastward along the Via Tiburtina in quest of a mission. At Arsoli, twelve miles beyond Tivoli, he learned that several automobiles containing high-ranking officers had passed through not long before. Deciding to return to Tivoli, Carboni dispatched two junior officers to find Roatta. After driving seven miles to Carsoli, they overtook the Army chief. They reported that Carboni was at Tivoli and that he had sent them to maintain communications between him and Roatta. Roatta listened but gave no orders. Leaving the problem of what to do with the forces around Rome to Carboni, Roatta—and Ambrosio—continued toward Pescara.7
On returning to Tivoli around 1300, Carboni took command. His first act was to start the withdrawal to the Tivoli area of the two most reliable mobile divisions, the Ariete and the Piave. The Ariete Division had that morning given the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division a bloody nose at Manziana (on the Via Claudia) and at Monterosi (on the Via Cassia), when the Germans had tried to rush tank columns through Italian strongpoints which were protected by well-placed road
mines and well-directed artillery fire. The Germans halted, regrouped, brought up infantry, and threatened an attack. During this interval, the Ariete and Piave Divisions withdrew, replaced in line by the Re Division. Unaware of the substitution, the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division commander maintained his threatening attitude but forebore launching an attack. By the morning of 10 September, the two mobile divisions were in the Tivoli area.8
South of Rome the Granatieri Division, unlike the Piacenza Division which no longer existed, refused two appeals from the 2nd Parachute Division for pourparlers to give the Germans the right of passage to the city. Exerting the strongest pressure against strongpoints guarding the Via Ostiense and the Via Laurentina, the paratroopers late in the afternoon knocked out several Italian artillery batteries. The Italians pulled back slightly but maintained a solid front. Carboni telephoned the division commander, Generale di Brigata Gioacchino Solinas, and encouraged him to continue his fight.
Meanwhile, Carboni had been discussing with Calvi di Bergolo, the Centauro Division commander, the problem of what to do. Calvi di Bergolo suggested that the Italian forces move eastward along the Via Tiburtina toward the Avezzano River basin and into the Abruzzi Mountains, there to establish a redoubt. Vehicles might be abandoned when they ran out of gasoline, but the units, Calvi di Bergolo recommended, should be maintained intact so far as possible.9
Calvi di Bergolo’s suggestion did not impress Carboni. What did make an impression were two other developments that afternoon. First, Calvi di Bergolo reported the erratic, disloyal behavior in Rome of Carboni’s chief of staff, Salvi. This was discouraging, for the only explanation of such behavior was a disheartening situation in the capital. Carboni asked his Chief of Engineers, Col. Giuseppe Cordero Montezemolo, to serve informally as Salvi’s replacement, an arrangement that continued even after Salvi appeared that afternoon at Tivoli. Second, a telephone call came from Generale di Corpo d’Armata Gastone Gambarra, who commanded the XI Corps in Fiume. Gambarra asked whether the order to put Memoria 44 into effect had been issued. At Carboni’s direction, Montezemolo did not mention the lack of communication between Carboni’s forces and Comando Supremo but said that on the basis of Badoglio’s proclamation and in consequence of the German attack on Rome, Memoria 44 should go into effect. The puzzling and discouraging thing about all this was that Gambarra’s question indicated that no Italian troops except those under Carboni were actively opposing the Germans.10
The Germans, meanwhile, continued their appeals to the Italian divisions to cease fighting their former comrades. These appeals had little effect on the Granatieri Division, which fought stubbornly and well.11 But they did find a receptive audience in the Centauro Division, which had thus far taken no part in the fighting. According to the Germans, the initiative for a truce came from the Italians. An Italian lieutenant who had known Westphal in North Africa appeared
at Kesselring’s headquarters to propose Italian capitulation. Westphal worked out the terms.
According to the Italians, the more plausible account, the initiative came from the Germans. At 1700, 9 September, a German parlementaire, Capt. Hans Schacht, presented himself at the Centauro Division headquarters at Bagni Acque Albule, about twelve miles east of Rome. Schacht brought an oral appeal from General Student to the Italian division commander, Calvi di Bergolo. Student sent an expression of personal esteem for Calvi di Bergolo, a declaration of faith in the friendly attitude of the Centauro Division troops, and a request that Calvi di Bergolo treat his German troops as friends. Whether this constituted a demand for surrender, a request to let the German forces pass unmolested to the north, or an offer of honorable capitulation, was not clear. But Schacht, in any event, declared that “within a few hours the Germans will be unopposed masters of Rome.”12
In reply, Calvi di Bergolo sent his chief of staff, Lt. Col. Leandro Giaccone, to Kesselring’s headquarters to learn exactly what terms the Germans would offer. Whether Calvi di Bergolo was preparing to surrender or whether he was trying merely to gain time is not clear. Whether Carboni knew of and approved Giaccone’s mission in advance is not clear either. In any case, when Carboni learned of Giaccone’s mission, he, as chief of intelligence, ordered Giaccone closely watched.
Accompanied by a lieutenant as interpreter, Giaccone reached Kesselring’s headquarters at 2100, 9 September. With Kesselring, Westphal, and Student, he carried on a protracted discussion of eight points, four formulated by Giaccone, the others stipulated by Kesselring. Giaccone proposed that the Germans continue to recognize the open city status of Rome and evacuate the capital; that one Italian division and the police force remain in the city; that other Italian troops lay down their arms and be sent away on unlimited leave; and that the Italians be permitted to surrender honorably. Kesselring insisted on having German troops occupy the German Embassy, the Rome telephone exchange, and the Rome radio station; the Italian division permitted to serve in Rome was to have no artillery; he wanted the Italian officer designated as commander of the city to render a daily report to Kesselring; Italian soldiers, after their discharge from active duty, were to have the option of taking up military or labor service with the Germans.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Kesselring said that the Italian situation was hopeless. He said he was prepared to blow up the aqueducts and bomb the city if the Italians refused his terms. Giaccone said he thought the conditions were acceptable. He proposed, and Kesselring agreed to, a three-hour truce to start at 0700, 10 September. At the end of the truce, Giaccone promised, the Italian reply would be delivered. At 0130, 10 September, he and his interpreter started back to Tivoli.
Giaccone reported to Calvi di Bergolo, who was quite uncertain what to do. He was disappointed and annoyed because the terms brought from Frascati comprised a surrender—quite different from Schacht’s verbal message from Student.
Yet Calvi di Bergolo could not overlook the difficult Italian situation, the unreliability of his own Centauro troops, and the impossibility of effectively opposing the Germans.
Calvi di Bergolo sent Giaccone to Carboni. Though Carboni later said he refused the terms (and though Giaccone later said Carboni accepted them), Giaccone at 0530, 10 September, sent his interpreter back to Frascati with a message accepting the German conditions. He, Giaccone, would follow later.
Whatever Carboni’s precise words to Giaccone might have been, Carboni had no intention of surrendering. Still hoping for Allied support, from sea or from air, he wished to stall by talking with the Germans, intending to break off the talks at the right time on some pretext. He told Calvi di Bergolo of his aims but the latter would have no part in this scheme.
Giaccone returned to Frascati, reaching Kesselring’s headquarters at 0700, 10 September. Carboni, meanwhile, ordered the Ariete and Piave Divisions, assembling near Tivoli, to attack the 2nd Parachute Division in order to relieve pressure on the Granatieri Division. While the divisions prepared to execute the attack that afternoon, Carboni left Tivoli about 0700 and went to Rome with several of his staff officers. He went in response to a telephone call from Sorice, the Minister of War.13
On his way to Rome, Carboni noted that all seemed quiet north of the city, but on the south the German paratroopers continued to press closer to the city limits.14
Sorice wanted to see Carboni because a peculiar situation had arisen in Rome. Maresciallo d’Italia Enrico Caviglia, an elderly officer who had been a rival of Badoglio for years, had taken what amounted to de facto command of the civil and military forces in the capital and had become what resembled the head of a provisional government.
During the spring of 1943, the King had considered Caviglia as a possible successor to Mussolini, but Caviglia had made no move to further the possibility.15 He had maintained his contact with the crown but had remained aloof from governmental matters until the summer of 1943, when he became increasingly concerned with what he judged to be Badoglio’s mismanagement of affairs. His impatience with Badoglio’s leadership had led him to arrange for an audience with the King. Scheduled to see Victor Emmanuel III on the morning of 9 September, Caviglia went to Rome on the 8th. While he was having dinner with friends that evening, he heard a recording of Badoglio’s announcement of Italy’s surrender. This confirmed his worst suspicions—Caviglia was certain that Badoglio had arranged to escape from Rome. But Caviglia never doubted the King and the high command. With faith that they would remain in Rome to meet the critical situation, Caviglia calmly went to bed.
The next morning, 9 September, Caviglia discovered the greatest confusion in the city. Only the doormen were on duty at the Quirinal Palace—no guards, no carabinieri. No responsible official was at the Ministry of War.
Caviglia’s mounting concern was heightened when he met Generale di Corpo d’Armata Vittorio Sogno, a corps commander
stationed in Albania who had come to Rome in civilian clothes to receive orders from Comando Supremo. Sogno told Caviglia that he had looked in vain for Barbieri, commander of the Army Corps of Rome. Barbieri was not at his office. Carboni, Sogno had learned, had been placed in command of all the forces around Rome, but Carboni had disappeared. Sogno had been at Comando Supremo but had found not a single general officer. Roatta’s office was empty. And Sogno had heard a rumor that the carabinieri and the service school formations had been dissolved. At the Palazzo Caprara, Caviglia ran into Colonel Salvi. His eyes red from weeping, Salvi declared he did not know where his commander, Carboni, had gone. After further efforts to find out what was happening, Caviglia made the painful discovery that the King had fled Rome in company with Badoglio and high-ranking officers. Shocked and depressed, Caviglia went back to the Ministry of War, where he met General Sorice.16
Sorice had been having no easy time. Badoglio had instructed him the previous evening, after deciding to leave Rome, to notify the civilian ministers of the government’s move. Sorice was to inform the ministers to meet the King and his party at Pescara. But Sorice did not get the civilian members of the cabinet together until the morning of 9 September, when, meeting at the Viminale Palace, with Caviglia present, they were startled by the news of the departure of the King and Badoglio. The first reaction of the Minister of Propaganda, Carlo Galli, was to summon a notary public and make an official record of his complete ignorance of the armistice negotiations. When Sorice advised the Minister of the Interior, Ricci, that Badoglio had invested him with responsibility for the civil government of Rome, Ricci declined the honor.17
At this point, Caviglia stepped into the breach. He tried to send a telegram to the King for authorization to assume full powers in Rome during the absence of the Head of Government. But he could not learn precisely where the King was and undertook to act on his own responsibility, deriving his power from his prestige as a marshal of Italy.18
Caviglia’s first thought was to spare Rome and its population the devastation of battle. To that end, he felt it necessary to pacify the Germans. From Generale di Divisione Umberto di Giorgio, who seemed to have succeeded General Barbieri in command of the internal defenses of Rome, he learned not only that the Italian troops could not stand up to the Germans but also that the available supplies for the civilians were sufficient for only a few days. He made repeated attempts, but in vain, to get in touch with Carboni. He tried to negotiate with the Germans, but the German Embassy staff had gone and Kesselring’s headquarters outside the city was hostile. To tranquilize the civil population, Caviglia had the Minister of Propaganda, Galli, issue bulletins over the radio and post billboard notices calling on the people to remain calm and assuring them that negotiations were being carried on with the Germans.19
When the broadcasts and public notices appeared on the morning of 10 September, they undermined whatever spirit remained among the civil population and the troops. Carboni’s plan for continued opposition to the Germans thus received a check even before Carboni could move over to the offensive.
When Carboni arrived at Sorice’s office in the Ministry of War that morning, he was ushered in immediately to see Caviglia. Out of respect to Caviglia, Sorice took no part in the discussion.20
Caviglia had never seen Carboni before, and even though Carboni, now in uniform, made a favorable impression, Caviglia was prepared to dislike him. Caviglia had not thought very much of the military articles Carboni had written for the daily press; Sorice had described him as headstrong and willful. And, finally, Carboni was a product of the Badoglio era of the Italian Army.
Despite these handicaps, Carboni persuaded Caviglia of his competence and of the sincerity of his intentions. He briefed Caviglia on the military situation, explained how he had received from Roatta the order to withdraw his forces to Tivoli for no apparent reason, and indicated that he could not simply leave the troops in Tivoli indefinitely. He had insufficient fuel to move into the Abruzzi Mountains. He was therefore turning the Ariete and Piave Divisions back to Rome to fight to save the capital from the Germans.
Still without authorization from the King for his assumption of quasi command, Caviglia expressed rather unclearly what Carboni construed as approval of Carboni’s intention to continue the fight. Sorice agreed that Carboni’s course of action was correct.21
Carboni then set up his command post in a private apartment in Rome—at Piazza dello Muse 7—which belonged to an employee of the intelligence bureau. Equipped with two telephones and with good observation of strategic streets, the apartment was well located for Carboni’s purpose. There Carboni began to urge civilian resistance against the Germans and to direct the operations of the military units.
Carboni approved General Cadorna’s final orders for the Ariete Division’s attack. He ordered Generale di Divisione Ugo Tabellini, the Piave Division’s Commander, who reported in person, to bring up his troops to support the hard-pressed Granatieri Division. He encouraged Generale di Brigata Ottaviano Traniello, the Re Division commander. He sent whatever separate units he could locate to reinforce the Granatieri Division, and he urged the division commander, General Solinas, to hold out at all costs.
As for getting the civilians to fight in defense of the city, four days earlier, on 6 September, Carboni had secured and set aside 500 rifles, 400 pistols, and 15,000 hand grenades for distribution to the population. Luigi Longo, leader of the Communist party, had taken charge of the distribution, and on 10 September Longo arrived at Carboni’s apartment home command post. Carboni urged him to get civilian fighters to support the Granatieri troops south of the city. A little later, around noon, Carboni sent Dr.
Edoardo Stolfi to tell the Committee of National Liberation that it was time to arm the population and to help the troops resist the Germans. The committee declined to take action, though a few individual citizens joined and fought with the military, particularly at Porta San Paolo.
There was nothing in Rome on 10 September even resembling a popular uprising. The Romans were disillusioned, fearful, and tired of war. They had welcomed the armistice with joy. Wanting only peace, they preferred to listen to Caviglia’s radio broadcasts and read the billboard announcements that were urging them to be quiet rather than to Carboni who offered only strenuous and dangerous adventure.22
Meanwhile, Giaccone and an aide had arrived at Frascati at 0700. Westphal met them. Giaccone stated that the Italian command had accepted the terms formulated the night before. He also complained that the Germans were not properly observing the truce, which was supposed to last for three hours, until 1000. Westphal at once dispatched two staff officers to accompany Giaccone’s aide in order to ensure observance of the truce by the German units.
At this point, around 0730, Kesselring appeared. He said that Italian resistance was altogether hopeless because the Allies had confined their invasion to Salerno, thereby leaving the Italian troops near Rome to stand alone. As a result, he presented a new set of terms—drafted by Westphal during the night—considerably more severe. Undeniably, these conditions meant capitulation, nothing less.23
Giaccone discussed with Westphal the new terms in detail and with care. At 1000 he departed for Rome, taking with him the surrender document in the German and Italian languages, both already signed by Westphal. Giaccone arrived at the Palazzo Caprara around noon, got the telephone number of Carboni’s command post, and phoned Carboni about the outcome of his mission.
Carboni ordered Giaccone to break off negotiations immediately. Replying that the situation was extremely delicate and serious, Giaccone requested an order in writing, or, he added, Carboni could make a direct and personal communication to Kesselring. Responding that the situation was indeed serious and delicate, Carboni declined to assume any responsibility. He recommended that Giaccone refer the problem to Sorice, the Minister of War.24
When presented with the problem and after listening to Giaccone’s estimate that no other course existed except to agree to Kesselring’s terms, Sorice did not feel up to the responsibility of making a decision.
He suggested that Giaccone lay the matter before Caviglia, the highest ranking military person in Rome. Sorice had that day found out the whereabouts of the King, and he had sent a telegram requesting authority for Caviglia to become the government representative in Rome. But neither Caviglia nor Sorice ever received the King’s reply, which was actually sent and which invested Caviglia with full powers “during the temporary absence of the President of the Council who is with the military ministers.”25
Giaccone, after leaving Sorice, found Caviglia at the house of a friend. Soon after Giaccone’s arrival, his commanding officer, General Calvi di Bergolo, appeared in search of Giaccone to learn the results of the second discussion with Kesselring. All three officers discussed the problem of whether to accept the German demands and capitulate. Caviglia said he had no authority to capitulate because he had not heard from the King. But he added that if his assumption of authority had been confirmed, he would decide in favor of accepting the German ultimatum. He did not believe that the military situation permitted further resistance—and this despite his approval of Carboni’s decision to resist. Caviglia advised Calvi di Bergolo to send Giaccone back to Frascati to accept the German terms.
The discussion was still under way when other guests were announced—Ivanoe Bonomi, Alessandro Casati, and Meuccio Ruini, politicians who were members of the Committee of National Liberation, and Leopoldo Piccardi, Badoglio’s Minister of Industry. Caviglia received them and explained his views. Accepting his estimate of the military situation, for the marshal was an acknowledged military expert, they concurred in the wisdom of Caviglia’s decision.26
This decided, Calvi di Bergolo and Giaccone shortly after 1400 returned to Sorice at the Ministry of War, where Calvi di Bergolo telephoned Carboni and asked him to come over. Carboni arrived in a matter of minutes.
The four officers argued over whether to accept Kesselring’s terms. Sorice and Carboni declared them unacceptable and refused to sign the documents Giaccone had brought. Calvi di Bergolo and Giaccone insisted that they had no alternative but to accept, particularly in view of Kesselring’s ultimatum. While the argument continued, machine gun fire sounded nearby. Upon investigation, they learned that German troops had made their way to the Via dell’Impero. Without further ado, Giaccone placed his signature on the documents.27
Almost immediately afterwards, Caviglia arrived at the Ministry of War. Carboni was still arguing in favor of resisting the Germans on the basis that the Allied invasion would soon force the Germans to withdraw north of Rome. Caviglia scoffed at the idea—such a belief, he said, was mere propaganda; the landings at Salerno could not free Rome. Only an Allied landing north of the capital, Caviglia said, could liberate Rome and northern Italy from German occupation. Carboni remained adamant. He refused to sign the capitulation papers. Saying that he knew the Germans well, he felt that they
would not honor even the harsh terms that they were imposing. Calvi di Bergolo said that he trusted the German officers. He had faith in their honor, and he urged Carboni to speak directly to Kesselring and get his personal assurance.
With some bitterness, Carboni said he would do nothing of the sort. Calvi di Bergolo’s Centauro Division, he said, had stood by idly while the Granatieri, Ariete, and Piave Divisions had fought and fought with distinction. If Calvi di Bergolo had such faith in the Germans, let him take command of the city and responsibility for the armistice. The others agreed.
Surprised by this turn of events, Calvi di Bergolo after considerable hesitation, acquiesced. Upon Calvi di Bergolo’s responsibility then, Giaccone returned to Kesselring’s headquarters with the surrender documents bearing his signature opposite that of Westphal. Giaccone reached Frascati at 1630, half an hour beyond the ultimatum’s expiration but in time to save Rome from bombardment and the Italian troops from further combat.28
Kesselring thus became, after two days, master of Rome. Playing his cards with great skill, he overcame more than five Italian divisions though he himself held only a pair, and in so doing he kept open his line of communications to the Tenth Army. By occupying Rome and dispersing the strong Italian forces in the area, he made possible a stubborn defense against the Allies in southern Italy.
In the meantime, the King and his party had reached Pescara on 9 September. That evening the monarch decided to continue the voyage by ship, and shortly after midnight, the party boarded a naval vessel and sailed to the south.29
During this time the King and his party were receiving only the vaguest kind of reports from the rest of Italy. Fighting seemed to be going on around Rome, and this caused concern. A message came in asking permission for Caviglia to assume full military and political power in the capital, and this caused puzzlement—what had happened to Carboni and to Ricci?30 For all the confusion, someone had nevertheless had the foresight to bring the radio and code for communicating with AFHQ. On the evening of 9 September, before the King and his party went aboard the warship, a message went out to the Allies: “We are moving to Taranto.”31
Around 1430, 10 September, the royal party debarked at Brindisi. There the members of the government stayed, and Brindisi became the new capital of Italy. There was some talk among the generals of sending an officer to Rome by air to discover the extent and results of the fighting. But before an officer could depart, news came that Caviglia had arranged for a cessation of Italo-German hostilities.32
Dissolution of the Italian Armed Forces
At La Spezia the main part of the Italian Fleet had escaped German seizure. Late in the afternoon of 8 September, the battleships Roma, Italia, and Vittorio
Veneto had left the harbor, the Germans having been convinced by De Courten that the ships were steaming out to meet and destroy the Allied convoys moving toward Salerno.33 Joined by cruisers and destroyers from Genoa, the fleet on the morning of 9 September was sailing, in accord with Allied instructions, off the western shore of Corsica. The ships passed south of Corsica to pick up other vessels at Maddalena. That afternoon, German aircraft based on Sardinia attacked the fleet and sank the Roma (the commander, Ammiraglio Carlo Bergamini, and most of the crew were lost), and damaged the Italia. Ammiraglio Romeo Oliva took command and turned the ships toward North Africa. At 0600, 10 September, this fleet of two battleships, five cruisers, and seven destroyers met the Warspite, the Valiant, and several destroyers which escorted the Italian ships to Bizerte. The same afternoon, the battleships Andrea Doria and Caio Duilo, two cruisers, and a destroyer, on their way from Taranto, reached Malta.34
The capitulation of the Italian forces around Rome to the Germans, rather than the surrender of the fleet to the Allies, proved to be the main pattern of Italian action. Paucity of matériel, declining morale, and lack of direction from Rome were the reasons why the half-million troops or more in north Italy and occupied France seemingly vanished into thin air. Four divisions of Rundstedt’s OB WEST—in a series of police actions rather than military operations—rounded up the Italian Fourth Army in southern France and Liguria. Some units of the 5th (Pusteria) Alpine Division resisted, but only briefly, at the Mount Cenis tunnel. A few soldiers of the Fourth Army in France accepted German invitations and volunteered to fight under German command. Some 40,000 Italians were taken prisoner and later sent north to Germany as labor troops.35
In the Brenner area, the German 44th Infantry Division, composed mostly of Austrians redeemed the South Tyrol with avidity, overrunning General Gloria’s XXXV Corps headquarters at Bolzano on 9 September, occupying Bologna the same day. The following evening, two thousand railway workers arrived from Germany and took over the major railroad centers in northern Italy.36
At La Spezia, German forces disrupted telephone communications, then appealed to the Italian units to disband, the men to go home. The Germans surrounded the Italian XVI Corps headquarters (which had been in Sicily), fired several machine guns, then walked into the main building and captured the corps commander and his staff. Enraged by the escape of the Italian warships, the Germans summarily executed several Italian naval captains who had been unable to get their ships out of the port and who had scuttled their vessels.37
The German takeover in northern Italy proved much easier than OKW had anticipated.
The initial reports showed such Italian confusion and paralysis as to make Hitler contemptuous and passionately vindictive. As early as 9 September, an order issued by Keitel on the treatment of Italian troops under German jurisdiction reflected Hitler’s feelings. Commanders in France, northern Italy, and the Balkans, the order said, could accept Italians who were willing to fight in German units but had to take all others as prisoners of war for forced labor. Skilled workers were to be assigned to the armament industry, the unskilled to help construct a contemplated East Wall. Rommel put the order into immediate effect. His subordinate commanders took Italian troops into custody, disarmed them, and prepared them for transfer to Germany.38
In southern Italy, the armistice announcement had taken the Italian Seventh Army completely by surprise. Less than six weeks earlier, when Roatta had thought that the government might decide to resist the unwanted German reinforcements, he told the army commander, Generale di Corpo d’Armata Adalberto di Savoia Genova, the Duke of Bergamo, to react energetically in case of German violence. He had repeated the order to General Arisio, who had succeeded to the army command in August—telling Arisio to act against the Germans only if the Germans committed acts of open hostility. Beyond that, there was no warning, no indication—not even the transmittal of Memoria 44 to Arisio—to suggest that the government was thinking of changing course.
In contrast to the developments in northern Italy and in the Rome area after Mussolini’s overthrow, there had been no acute friction between Italian and German forces in the south. The armistice announcement humiliated the Italian generals, who, led by Arisio himself, freely turned vehicles, supplies, and facilities over to the Germans and voluntarily gave German troops the good coastal positions they occupied. Only the 9th (Pasubio) Infantry Division suffered from German aggression—the division was torn to pieces as the Germans rushed toward Salerno to oppose the Allies. Only one commander suffered, General Gonzaga of the 222nd Coastal Division, who refused German demands that his troops be disarmed and was promptly shot. Only the 209th Coastal Division, stationed at Bari, remained intact. Except for this latter unit, a few elements of the 58th (Legnano) Infantry Division (in the Brindisi and Taranto area), a few units of the 152nd (Piceno) and 104th (Mantova) Infantry Divisions in Puglia, and some unspecified coastal formations—the forces under the Seventh Army, three regular divisions and six coastal divisions grouped into four corps—were disarmed, the men permitted to go home.39
In the Balkans, Greece, and the Aegean, the Italian ground forces, numbering more than 600,000 men, were with but few exceptions completely dissolved by 15 September, having offered little aid to the Allies on the Italian mainland and even less resistance to the Germans. On the islands of Sardinia and Corsica, though the Italians outnumbered the Germans by more than four to one, they were unable to exert a positive influence on the war. The Germans evacuated their troops, numbering a division and a half, from Sardinia to the mainland where, a most welcome addition to Kesselring’s forces, they participated in the battles south of Rome. A significant part of the Italian 184th (Nembo) Parachute Division went over to the German side and served actively with the German forces.
The ineptness of the Italian ground troops and the passivity of Badoglio’s government during the early and critical days of the Salerno invasion brought serious disappointment to AFHQ. During the afternoon of 10 September, General Eisenhower sent a message to Badoglio in the hope of galvanizing the Italians into action:
The whole future and honor of Italy depend upon the part which her armed forces are now prepared to play. The Germans have definitely and deliberately taken the field against you. They have mutilated your fleet and sunk one of your ships; they have attacked your soldiers and seized your ports. The Germans are now being attacked by land and sea and on an ever increasing scale from the air. Now is the time to strike. If Italy rises now as one man we shall seize every German by the throat. I urge you to issue immediately a clarion call to all patriotic Italians. They have done much locally already but action appears to be uncoordinated and uncertain. They require inspired leadership and, in order to fight, an appeal setting out the situation to your people as it now exists is essential. Your Excellency is the one man that can do this. You can help free your country from the horrors of the battlefield. I urge you to act now; delay will be interpreted by the common enemy as weakness and lack of resolution.40
General Eisenhower also recommended that President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill call on the Italian people to oppose fiercely every German in Italy—such opposition, he explained, would greatly assist Allied military operations.41 Accordingly, on 11 September, Roosevelt and Churchill made public a letter to Marshal Badoglio, calling on him to lead the Italian people against the German invaders. They instructed Eisenhower to convey the message directly to Badoglio.42
These efforts to prod the Italian Army into activity were like beating a dead horse. Perhaps the Allies achieved a final wiggle when on 11 September Roatta issued by radio a general order to all army commanders to consider the Germans as enemies.43 On the same day, Badoglio informed Eisenhower that he had, the day before, ordered all Italian armed forces “to act vigorously against German aggression.” For the Allies’ edification, he included a final appeal for an Allied landing north of Rome and an airborne drop in the Grossetto area.44
By then it was too late. Only a few Italian commands were still functioning actively. Indecision, fear of the Germans, and lack of communication with commanders in the field had doomed the Italian Army. Not only did this inaction facilitate Kesselring’s plans and permit him to give his whole attention to the Allied invasion at Salerno, but it also deprived the King and the Badoglio government of resources they might have used to gain a better bargaining position with respect to the Allies.
Everything seemed to be going Hitler’s way except for one thing, the rescue of Mussolini. If Skorzeny, under Student’s supervision, could locate Mussolini’s prison and kidnap him, Hitler felt that he would have a good chance of restoring fascism in Italy and regaining an ally. Skorzeny had missed getting Mussolini by one day, when the Duce’s captors had moved him from the island of Maddalena back to the Italian mainland just before Skorzeny could execute his planned raid.
Shortly thereafter, however, Skorzeny’s agents informed him that Mussolini had been moved to the Campo Imperatore on the Gran Sasso, a ski lodge completed shortly before the outbreak of the war and located on the highest peak of the Apennines. No military map carried its location. Not even mountain climbers’ charts identified the place. The only information that Skorzeny could get came from a German citizen living in Italy. He had once spent a holiday there, and he had a circular describing the hotel accommodations. This intelligence was hardly adequate for a military operation, so Skorzeny arranged to have a pilot fly him and his intelligence officer over the camp.45
On 8 September, while flying over the Gran Sasso in a Heinkel III plane, Skorzeny located the Campo Imperatore from the air and noticed a small triangular green area behind the hotel that might serve for an air landing operation. He and his intelligence officer tried to take pictures, but the camera built into the plane froze at 15,000 feet, and it was only with great difficulty that they managed to take some photographs with a hand camera.
This air reconnaissance was responsible for Skorzeny’s absence from Frascati during the Allied air bombardment of Kesselring’s headquarters. It was fortunate for him that he had left, for his quarters were badly damaged. As a result, he had to go to Rome to have his film developed. In the capital that evening, he pushed his way through joyous crowds of civilians who were celebrating the armistice, made known not long before by Badoglio’s announcement.
Before Skorzeny could go ahead with rescue plans, he needed confirmation of Mussolini’s presence at the ski lodge on Gran Sasso. He induced a German staff doctor to visit the lodge on the pretext that it might be suitable for use as a convalescent home for soldiers recuperating from malaria. The doctor started out that night and returned the following day. He reported he had been unable to get to the lodge itself. He had reached Aquila, the nearest village, and from there had gone to a funicular station at the base of the mountain. A detachment of Italian soldiers guarded the station. A telephone
call to the lodge disclosed that Italian troops stood guard there, too. Whether Mussolini was at the lodge was uncertain.
On the next day, 10 September, Student and Skorzeny discussed their problem. They felt they had to act quickly, for every hour that went by increased the possibility that the Italians might transfer Mussolini to Allied custody. Though they were not absolutely certain, they decided to act on the chance that Mussolini actually was at the lodge on Gran Sasso.
Because the capitulation of the Italian troops around Rome that day made the 2nd Parachute Division available for the new mission, Student thought it best to send first a battalion of paratroopers into the valley at night to seize the funicular station. But a ground attack up the side of the mountain was impractical. The troops might sustain heavy losses, the attack would endanger Mussolini’s life. A parachute drop in the thin air over the Gran Sasso was also dangerous. Student therefore decided to make a surprise attack on the top of the mountain with a company of glider-borne troops. He ordered twelve gliders flown from southern France to Rome.
Detailed planning for the operation was completed on 11 September. Paratroopers were to seize the cable car station in the valley and make a surprise landing on top of Gran Sasso. H-hour was 0600, 12 September. To help persuade the Italian guards to give up Mussolini without resistance, Skorzeny induced an Italian general to accompany him.46
Because the dozen gliders coming from France were late in arriving in the Rome area, Skorzeny postponed the operation for eight hours. The planes towing the gliders took off at 1300, 12 September. Though the paratroopers were well equipped with light arms, Skorzeny counted most on the element of surprise. He rode in the third glider in the hope that the men in the preceding two would have the situation well in hand when he arrived. But the two leading tow planes went off course, and Skorzeny’s glider was the first to land. It crash-landed to earth less than fifty yards from the lodge.
Piling out of the glider, Skorzeny and his men rushed to the hotel and scrambled to a second story window. Inside they found Mussolini. The Italian guards offered no resistance. Meanwhile four more gliders landed successfully on the little green area near the lodge.
With Mussolini safely in hand, Skorzeny demanded the surrender of the Italian garrison. The colonel who appeared to be in command asked for time to consider. He withdrew, but he soon returned with a flask of wine and saluted his conquerors. By then, the paratroop battalion in the valley, after a show of force, was in possession of the funicular station.
Skorzeny relayed a message to Student—by telephone to the valley, thence by scout car radio—advising that he had accomplished the first part of his mission. This message reached Student, but subsequent communications were interrupted, and Skorzeny was unable to consult with higher authority on the best way to remove Mussolini from the Gran Sasso.
Wishing to get Mussolini to Hitler’s headquarters as fast as he could, Skorzeny got in touch by radio with a small Storch aircraft flying overhead to observe the operation. He wanted the pilot, Captain Gerlach, to land on the mountain. With Italians assisting, the Germans cleared boulders from a short path to create a
runway. Gerlach brought his small craft down safely. But he was far from pleased at the prospect of taking off from the mountain top with so precious a passenger. Skorzeny’s insistence on accompanying Mussolini increased Gerlach’s take-off problem by adding to the weight. Skorzeny reasoned that if the little plane failed to get off the ground, he would not be around to explain his failure to an enraged Führer.
After a questioning glance at the little ship, Mussolini climbed into the Storch with Skorzeny and Gerlach. Paratroopers held the wings and tail of the plane as the pilot revved up the engine. Then, with much shaking and bouncing, the plane made its short run, barely cleared the rim of the escarpment, and leveled off only after a breath-taking drop below the mountain top. This was the last of the excitement. Without further incident, the plane proceeded to Pratica di Mare, where three Heinkel III aircraft were waiting to transport Mussolini to Germany. They took off at once, and shortly after 1930 that evening, Mussolini and Skorzeny were in Vienna. On the following day they flew to Munich; two days later, on 15 September, they were at
Hitler’s headquarters in East Prussia.
Despite his dramatic rescue from the possibility of standing trial before the Allies, Mussolini was but a hollow shell of his former self. Eventually Hitler established him in power to govern that part of Italy under German control. There he served as Hitler’s puppet and as the facade of a new government called the Italian Social Republic, which could not conceal the German military power that supported it.
No more than a mere symbol of the final brief revival of fascism, Mussolini, until his death in April 1945 at the hands of anti-Fascist partisans, nevertheless lightened Hitler’s problems of holding central and northern Italy. Spared the necessity of establishing a military government for the four-fifths of the Italian peninsula he occupied, Hitler, by rescuing Mussolini, also divided Italian loyalties. The Allies possessed one symbol of leadership in the King; Hitler held the other in Mussolini.
The surrender of Italy achieved by the armistice of Cassibile was not much more than a paper capitulation, for the Allies had neither the Italian capital nor the administrative apparatus of government. What the Allies had was a symbol of sovereignty scarcely one whit more appealing to the Italian people than the discredited Duce.