Chapter 29: The Second Capitulation
Mission to Brindisi
At Brindisi, the King and his entourage found it difficult even to find accommodations and to organize a mess. Clearly the government was one in name only. Four-fifths of the country was under German control. The Allies on the Salerno beaches seemed perilously close to defeat. Yet the Badoglio government could claim some legitimacy because surrender had brought it Allied recognition as the government of Italy.
Contact with the Allies, therefore, was of critical importance to the King and Badoglio. And fortunately, the royal party had the radio and code originally given to Castellano in Lisbon. This made it possible to communicate with AFHQ. But there were no real facilities at Brindisi for maintaining contact with the rest of the country—Radio Bari was so weak that its emissions scarcely reached Rome.
After receiving from General Eisenhower on 11 September the message from Roosevelt and Churchill urging him to lead the Italian people in a crusade against the Germans, Badoglio asked Eisenhower to send a liaison officer to help maintain close relations.1 Eisenhower agreed and promptly selected for the post Lt. Gen. Sir Noel Mason-MacFarlane, the Military Governor of Gibraltar. He directed Mr. Murphy and Mr. Macmillan, the American and British political advisers at AFHQ, to accompany Mason-MacFarlane, whose task would be the establishment of official contact with the Badoglio government.2
After expressing his pleasure over the choice, Badoglio suggested that Eisenhower and his staff meet with him and his military staff “to discuss further operations in Italy, a theater of war which we [Italians] naturally know perfectly.”3
The suggestion was not well received. Still grievously disappointed in the performance of the Italian Government from the time of the armistice announcement, Eisenhower was in no mood to confide his plans to members of that government. It seemed hardly logical, now that the Italian Fleet had surrendered and the Army had dissolved into virtual nothingness, for Badoglio to tell Eisenhower how to wage the war and for Eisenhower to listen. What seemed very clear was that “Castellano had been the moving spirit in military armistice,” not Badoglio or any member of
Badoglio’s cabinet. Why had Castellano brought the negotiations to a head? Probably, AFHQ speculated, “chiefly due to his treatment by the Germans who apparently ignored the Italians militarily and told them nothing about operations.”4 But whatever the reason, it was of little import compared to the problem of gaining some benefit from the surrender.
On the day when the Allies at Salerno were closest to defeat, 13 September, General Eisenhower wrote General Marshall to depict how hollow a shell the Allies had inherited as a potential ally:
Internally the Italians were so weak and supine that we got little if any practical help out of them. However, almost on pure bluff, we did get the Italian fleet into Malta and because of the Italian surrender, were able to rush into Taranto and Brindisi where no Germans were present. ...
The Sardinian and Corsican situations show how helpless and inert the Italians really are. In both those places they had the strength to kick the Germans into the sea. Instead they have apparently done nothing, although here and there they do occupy a port or two.
Badoglio wants to see me and has suggested Sicily as a meeting place. I am telling him he has to come here. He also wants to bring along some of his general staff but I can’t make out what his general staff can possibly be directing just now. A few Italian artillery units are supporting the British Airborne Division in Taranto. Aside from that there has been some local battling throughout the peninsula. This has, of course, served to keep the Germans preoccupied, but there has been nothing like the effect produced that was easily within the realm of possibility.5
Despite his low expectations, Eisenhower was not giving up in his effort to salvage something practical out of the surrender, and Mason-MacFarlane’s mission to Badoglio’s government was to be his instrument. Eisenhower defined Mason-MacFarlane’s task as the transmission of Eisenhower’s instructions to the Italian Government; the collection of intelligence information; and the arrangements “for such coordinated action as the Italian armed forces and people can be induced to take against the Germans.” Mason-MacFarlane and his subordinates were to bear in mind “the extreme importance of inculcating in the Italian Government, armed forces and people, the will to resist and hamper in every way the German forces in Italy and the Italian possessions.” Mason-MacFarlane received for guidance copies of the short military terms of the armistice and the long comprehensive conditions, but because the Italian Government had not yet officially received the latter, he was not to discuss the contents of the long terms.6
On the day that the mission established its first official contact, 15 September, the British Government proposed that the Allies secure Badoglio’s signature to the long terms and asked for Eisenhower’s views on the proposal. In reply, General Eisenhower
acknowledged the desirability of obtaining the signature but recommended delay. He also urged strongly the omission of the unconditional surrender formula, for he still had hope of gaining some practical benefits from the capitulation.7
For their part, the Italians were also disappointed. The members of the Italian Government had attributed extraordinary military capabilities to the Allies. They had entertained visions of an Allied landing in great strength near Rome. Thus, they felt that the Allies were responsible—at least morally—for the hasty abandonment of the capital. The Allies, they thought, had advanced the timing of the armistice announcement and had come ashore at the wrong place. “They all say we should have landed north instead of south of Naples,” Mason-MacFarlane reported. “On this point I tell them they know nothing about it and to shut up.”8
The impression made by the Italian Government prompted pity rather than confidence. The King appeared
pathetic, very old, and rather gaga; 74 years old; physically infirm, nervous, shaky, but courteous, with a certain modesty and simplicity of character which is attractive. He takes an objective, even humorously disinterested view of mankind and their follies. ‘Things are not difficult,’ he said, ‘only men.’ I do not think he would be capable of initiating any policy, except under extreme pressure, e.g. Mussolini’s march on Rome and the Communist threat, which led to his decision of 1920 [sic]; the hopeless state of the Fascist regime which led to his decision of July 25, 1943; the German threat to Rome, which led to his decision on September 9, 1943.
old, benevolent, honest and very friendly. Said all the right things. A loyal servant of his King and country, without ambitions. ... He is a soldier and clearly without much political sense, believing that he has the popular support at the moment and that it can all be concentrated in a military movement without a political side.
Ambrosio was “intelligent and friendly,” though “depressed and lacking in enthusiasm.” Roatta was “a good linguist” and “the perfect military attaché” but with questionable loyalty “to any cause that should show remote signs of becoming a lost one.” Zanussi’s “position in this rather dreary military hierarchy is rather low.”9
The prospect of getting help from the Italians did not seem bright. All that remained of the Italian Army were: in southern Italy—the Mantova Division near Crotone, the Piceno Division near Brindisi, part of the Legnano Division north of Brindisi, and some coastal formations; in Sardinia—four divisions in a “recuperative” stage; in Cephalonia and the Dodecanese—one division each. The rest of the Italian Army, according to Ambrosio, was “surrounded by the Germans and finished.” It could be “written off.” Of the divisions in southern Italy, all had “hardly any motor transport left,” their armament was “mostly 1918” type, they
had “practically no petrol,” very little ammunition, and were “very short of boots.” Except for the fleet, “the genuine military help we are likely to get,” Mason-MacFarlane estimated, “is going to be practically nil.”10
As for the political side of the picture, the Brindisi group was hardly worthy of being called a government. It was important only because of its unchallenged claim to legality—“except for the Fascist Republican Party now being organized in Germany by Mussolini and his gang, no other Government has so far claimed authority.”11
The Long Terms
While Mason-MacFarlane and the military members of his mission remained at Brindisi, the political advisers—Murphy and Macmillan—returned to report to General Eisenhower. On 18 September, after conferring with these men, Eisenhower informed the Combined Chiefs of Staff of the problem he faced at this juncture of the surrender developments.
The chief question, as Eisenhower saw it, and one that would have significant influence on Allied military operations in Italy, was the status to be accorded the Badoglio government. Determination of the status of Italy would dictate all “executive action” in the military, political, and propaganda spheres. Eisenhower had instructions covering support to be given to Italian units and individuals who resisted the Germans, and to this end he was planning to group three Italian divisions in the Calabria–Taranto area into a corps to be placed under British Eighth Army control for the purpose of defending ports, lines of communications, and vital installations; two or three divisions would become available in Sardinia, and Eisenhower contemplated using them for similar duties; Italian divisions in Corsica were collaborating with French forces landed there and conducting anti-German operations; two Italian cruisers were transporting troops and supplies from North Africa to Corsica “at considerable risk.” Yet all this activity, though desirable and even necessary to the Allies, was inconsistent with the terms of the armistice, which called for the Italians to be disarmed and disbanded. Because Eisenhower would soon have to confer directly with Badoglio, he wished to be able to reassure him on a number of matters Badoglio was sure to raise, matters having “a profound effect on our military relations with Italy during the period of active hostilities.” Instructions from the CCS, the dictates of military necessity, and his own judgment provided him the answers to most points. But these, Eisenhower found, were “not at all consistent with the provisions of the Long Term Armistice conditions” he was supposed to get Badoglio to sign. Badoglio, he had learned, did not understand the need to sign further terms, for additional conditions were illogical if the Allies expected active Italian cooperation in the war effort against Germany. Finally, drawing up an effective propaganda program to be addressed to the Italian people was impractical “until the government
structure and the Italian status are clarified.”12
His recommendation, Eisenhower continued, was to institute a new Allied policy toward Italy. Could the Allied governments consider giving the Badoglio administration “some form of de facto recognition ... as a co-belligerent or military associate” provided the Italians would strengthen the national character of the administration; restore the former constitution and promise free elections after the war for a constitutional assembly; consider possible eventual abdication of the King in favor of his son or grandson; adhere to whatever military requirements the Allies might decide on; and accept an Allied organization in the nature of an armistice commission, but with a different title, from which the Italian administration could accept guidance and instructions?
What prompted Eisenhower to make such a recommendation was the “hard and risky campaign before us.” Italian assistance might spell the difference between complete and only partial success. Since he could defer a meeting with Badoglio for not more than ten days, he wished answers to his questions as soon as possible. And because he realized that his suggestion would “provoke political repercussions” and perhaps “arouse considerable opposition and criticism,” he recommended that “the burden be placed upon us, on the ground of military necessity, which I am convinced should be the governing factor.”13
After another day of reflection, General Eisenhower dispatched another message to the Combined Chiefs. There were, he said, only two alternatives: either to accept and strengthen the legal government of Italy under the King and Badoglio; or to sweep that government aside, set up an Allied military government over an occupied Italy, and accept the heavy personnel and administrative commitment involved in the latter course. He recommended very strongly the first line of action. As a cobelligerent, the legal government would have to declare war on Germany and on the Fascist Republican Government. It would thereby become the natural rallying point for all elements wishing to fight against fascism.14
The first major indication of the effect of Eisenhower’s recommendation came on 21 September, when Prime Minister Churchill, speaking in the House of Commons, reviewed the war in the Mediterranean and revealed much of the Italian surrender negotiations. Justifying the conduct of the Badoglio government, and noting the threat of civil war arising from Mussolini’s escape to Germany, he urged the necessity “in the general interest as well as in that of Italy that all surviving forces of Italian national life should be rallied together around their lawful Government. ...”15
With the assent of his War Cabinet, Churchill on the same day telegraphed President Roosevelt. He recommended that the Allies build up the authority of the Brindisi administration and make it “the broadest-based anti-Fascist coalition
Government possible.” Rejecting an Allied status for that government, he felt that co-belligerency was sufficient. Yet he did not relinquish his wish for Badoglio to sign the full instrument of surrender.16
Churchill informed Stalin of his desires, perhaps as a bid in advance for Stalin’s support should Roosevelt be reluctant to have the comprehensive surrender terms imposed. “I am putting these proposals also to President Roosevelt,” Churchill wired the Russian, “and I hope that I may count on your approval.”17
President Roosevelt was, indeed, reluctant. Yet he appreciated Eisenhower’s need for a clear and firm directive. On 21 September, therefore, he sent Churchill his views in a message that crossed Churchill’s telegram to him. Except with regard to the long terms, the views of the two were similar. With Churchill’s concurrence, consequently, Roosevelt on 23 September laid down the basic policy for Eisenhower’s guidance in dealing with the Italian Government. Eisenhower was to (1) withhold the long term armistice provisions until a later date; (2) recommend from time to time the relaxing of the military terms to enable the Italians to fight more effectively against the Germans; (3) permit the Italian Government to assume the status of a trusted cobelligerent in the war against Germany if that government declared war on Germany and if it promised to give the people the right to decide the form of government they wished, though not before the Germans were evicted from Italian territory; (4) merge the functions of the Allied military government and of the contemplated armistice control commission into an Allied commission under himself, with the power to give guidance and instructions to the Badoglio government on military, political, and administrative matters; (5) make vigorous use of the Italian armed forces against Germany; and (6) inform the French military authorities of these new instructions to the “extent that you deem advisable.”18
President Roosevelt also forwarded to Eisenhower the text of Churchill’s views. And in response to Eisenhower’s suggestions, slight modifications were made in the text of the long terms. Furthermore, invitations previously issued to the other United Nations governments to send representatives to discuss the signature ceremony were not to be renewed.19
Upon receipt of the Presidential directive, Eisenhower instructed Mason-MacFarlane to make arrangements for a formal conference between him and Badoglio. The conference, to take place no earlier than 26 September, was to be restricted to the five basic items of the presidential directive. The long terms were not to be discussed. Badoglio was to be informed that additional terms or instructions of a political, financial, and economic nature would be communicated to him from time to time.20
Meanwhile, the naval members of the Mason-MacFarlane mission had worked out the disposition of the Italian Fleet and merchant marine. All ships were to continue to fly the Italian flag. The battleships were to go into a care and maintenance status. Cruisers and small craft, both naval and maritime, were to serve the Allied cause by acting in accord with instructions that Admiral Cunningham would issue to the Italian Ministry of Marine through a liaison officer attached to the Badoglio government.21
About this time, Mr. Macmillan sent a personal message to Churchill. He said he thought it might be possible, if the Allies acted promptly, to secure Badoglio’s signature to the long terms. With this estimate in hand, and with Stalin’s support, the Prime Minister again urged President Roosevelt to agree to Badoglio’s signing the comprehensive document. Informed of Churchill’s action, Eisenhower instructed Mason-MacFarlane to suggest the 29th of September as the day for his conference with Badoglio. By then, surely, the issue of the long terms would be settled.22
President Roosevelt had pretty much had his way in the directive of 23 September, and he had placed a heavy mortgage on the postwar continuance of the Italian monarchy. Although the Prime Minister made no secret of his preference for monarchical government, he had concurred in Roosevelt’s directive and had endorsed in the House of Commons the principle of free choice by the Italian people on their form of government at the end of hostilities. It was now the President’s turn to defer to Churchill’s enthusiasm in favor of the long terms. Late on 25 September, therefore, Roosevelt gave his assent to using the “long set of terms,” if Badoglio’s signature could be obtained quickly.23
The final decision having been made, General Smith, AFHQ’s chief of staff, decided to go to Brindisi himself, together with Murphy and Macmillan, and try to insure by careful preliminary discussion the smoothness of the Eisenhower-Badoglio conference. Instructing Mason-MacFarlane to arrange for his reception at Brindisi, Smith intended to have preliminary talks with the Italians in preparation for the formal meeting, scheduled for the 29th.24
By this time a rift had developed between the King and Badoglio. Victor Emmanuel III opposed the whole program that AFHQ presented, and the issue came to a head on 26 September, the day before
General Smith was due to arrive at Brindisi. On that day the King asked to see General Mason-MacFarlane alone.
In conference with Mason-MacFarlane, the King made known his opposition to an immediate declaration of war against Germany. He alone, the King said, could declare war, and then only if a properly constituted government upheld the declaration. The King did not feel he could declare war on Germany until he returned to Rome and constituted a new government. Otherwise, a declaration of war would be unconstitutional. Furthermore, the King was hardly in favor of letting the people decide the form of government they wanted. “It would be most dangerous,” the King said, “to leave the choice of postwar government unreservedly in the hands of the Italian people.” The King also wanted to know whether the Allies would insist on Badoglio as Prime Minister for the duration of the war. Mason-MacFarlane said he thought so. The King pointed out that it might be very difficult, in that case, to form a representative anti-Fascist government. The sovereign then stated his wish for Italian troops to be among the first when the Allies reached Rome. Mason-MacFarlane suggested that if the King desired to pursue these points, he should instruct Badoglio to raise them during the scheduled conference with Eisenhower.25
The King did more than consult with Mason-MacFarlane. Writing in his own name directly to the King of England and to President Roosevelt, Victor Emmanuel III made known his wish for the immediate status of an allied power. President Roosevelt replied that he considered the request premature. Churchill, replying on behalf of his King, stated that there had never been any question of an alliance.26
Badoglio’s position was quite different from that of the King. Badoglio saw clearly the necessity for Italy to declare war on Germany, not only to regularize the status of Italian soldiers who fell into German hands, but also as a prerequisite for improving Italy’s position with the Western Powers. Though Badoglio urged the King to make the declaration of war, the monarch refused. The King feared “that the Germans, who now occupied more than five-sixths of Italy, would certainly be induced to barbarous reprisals against the population.” And the King took comfort in the fact that Acquarone stood with him on this issue.27
Victor Emmanuel III did not easily grasp the implications of his new role as titular leader of the anti-Fascist effort for which he had been cast by Churchill and Roosevelt. To Badoglio’s chagrin, the first royal proclamation from Brindisi made no acknowledgment, implicit or otherwise, that significant changes had occurred—the sovereign issued the proclamation in the name of His Majesty the King of Italy and Albania, Emperor of Ethiopia. At Mason-MacFarlane’s insistence, the monarch agreed to refer to
himself only as the King of Italy. But Victor Emmanuel III insisted stubbornly that he could not surrender his titles without an act of parliament and such an act could not be passed until a constitutional parliament was elected and assembled.28
The Allied representatives at Brindisi had scarcely regained their equanimity in the face of this royal gaucherie when the King requested General Eisenhower to forward a message to Dino Grandi, believed to be somewhere in Portugal. Because Guariglia was in Rome, the King wanted Grandi to come to Brindisi to assume the portfolio of Foreign Affairs. According to the King, Grandi was a symbol of anti-Fascism, his presence in the Badoglio government would create a schism in the Fascist Republican ranks. Furthermore, Grandi could produce and develop an active pro-Allied propaganda program among the Italian people.29
Meanwhile, General Smith, accompanied by the two AFHQ political advisers, arrived at Brindisi on 27 September with copies of the long terms as most recently revised. Together with General Mason-MacFarlane, they had a lengthy conference with Badoglio that afternoon. Mason-MacFarlane presented two copies of the long terms document to Badoglio, reminding him that they were the additional conditions mentioned in the armistice terms signed at Cassibile. The signature of the long terms, he said, was to be the principal item at the conference with General Eisenhower scheduled for Malta on the 29th. The preamble, as the marshal would note, had been amended. But the Allies required the signature, Mason-MacFarlane explained, for two basic reasons: to satisfy Allied public opinion and to avoid any possibility of later misunderstanding. General Eisenhower had the power to modify the application of the terms as he saw fit, Mason-MacFarlane continued. Already the Allies recognized the course of events had outdated some of the clauses. In any case, the Allies would apply the terms as a whole in the spirit of the declaration made by the President and Prime Minister. Badoglio agreed to discuss the terms with the King that evening and to meet again with the Allied representatives the next morning.
General Smith then took up the other points on the agenda—the coming Malta conference with General Eisenhower, and the program for Italy as outlined by President Roosevelt in his directive of 23 September, which Mason-MacFarlane had discussed with the King the day before. In favor of declaring war on Germany, Badoglio appreciated Smith’s arguments; i.e., a declaration of war would give Italian soldiers regular status, and would prepare Allied public opinion for future modifications of the armistice terms. Smith suggested that such modifications might include changes in Allied military government and return of the administration of Sicily to the Badoglio government. The marshal was willing to accept the status of co-belligerency for his country. As for broadening the royal government, Badoglio felt it could be done effectively only
after the King returned to Rome. But Badoglio did not want a specific commitment giving the Italian people the right to choose their form of government after the war. He suggested that the Italian leaders pledge only: “It should be understood that free elections will be held after the war.” He did not think the King and his government ought to throw open by their own act the question of the monarchy. He doubted that the Italian people were adapted to a republican form of government. The monarchy, in his opinion, was necessary for maintaining the stability and unity of Italy.30
The King remained stubborn. Though authorizing Badoglio to sign the long terms, he refused to declare war on Germany, to make a pledge to broaden his government, or to promise to permit the Italian people to choose their own form of government at the end of the war. He repeated his request for Grandi to serve as Foreign Minister.
Nonetheless, his approval for Badoglio to sign the comprehensive surrender document was a significant step. As for Grandi, President Roosevelt had his own ideas of the type of man that Italy needed. On the day that Badoglio was meeting with Eisenhower at Malta, Count Carlo Sforza, a distinguished anti-Fascist politician who had fled Italy years before, got War Department clearance, at the President’s instigation, to go to England, thence to North Africa, and General Eisenhower was so notified.31
The last act of the Italian surrender was anticlimactic. Aboard the British battleship HMS Nelson, in Valetta harbor, Malta, around 1100, 29 September, Marshal Badoglio, accompanied by Admiral De Courten, Generals Ambrosio, Sandalli, and Roatta, and four officers of lesser rank, met General Eisenhower. The Allied commander had with him Lord Gort (the Governor of Malta); Admiral Cunningham; Generals Alexander, Smith, Mason-MacFarlane, and Maj. Gen. A. A. Richardson; Air Chief Marshal Tedder and Air Vice Marshal Keith Parks; Messrs. Murphy and Macmillan; and a number of lesser ranking officers. Badoglio and Eisenhower placed their signatures on the long terms.
General Eisenhower then handed Badoglio a letter, which read:
The terms of the armistice to which we have just appended our signatures are supplementary to the short military armistice signed by your representative and mine on the 3rd September, 1943. They are based upon the situation obtaining prior to the cessation of hostilities. Developments since that time have altered considerably the status of Italy, which has become in effect a cooperator with the United Nations.
It is fully recognized by the Governments on whose behalf I am acting that these terms are in some respect superseded by subsequent events and that several of the clauses have become obsolescent or have already been put into execution. We also recognize that it is not at this time in the power of the Italian Government to carry out certain of the terms. Failure to do so
because of existing conditions will not be regarded as a breach of good faith on the part of Italy. However, this document represents the requirements with which the Italian Government can be expected to comply when in a position to do so.
It is to be understood that the terms both of this document and of the short military armistice of the 3rd September may be modified from time to time if military necessity or the extent of cooperation by the Italian Government indicates this as desirable.32
Thus, the Italian Government surrendered unconditionally, but in the hope of redemption. The Allies had wanted the conference to serve as the point of departure for charting the new course of co-belligerency. But the conferees did no more than discuss the program outlined in President Roosevelt’s directive. The
Eisenhower-Badoglio conference was exploratory and reached no agreement. Still underlying the discussion was the frustration imposed by the obduracy of the King.
Badoglio opened the plenary conference with a general statement conveying his own desire to see the formation of a government with a broad, liberal base. But he made no commitment. He stated that the King would determine the new members of the government. Declaring himself to be only a soldier, Badoglio said he could not advise the sovereign with respect to politicians. And to General Eisenhower’s question whether the royal government would promptly be given a definitely anti-Fascist character, Badoglio avoided a direct answer. Eisenhower made it clear that the Italian Government would have to take on an anti-Fascist complexion before it could join the Allies in combat. Badoglio replied simply by saying that the King planned to invite the leaders of the political parties to take part in the government.
At the King’s direction, Badoglio renewed the request for Dino Grandi as Foreign Minister. Explaining that such an appointment would find no sympathetic response in Allied public opinion, Eisenhower made known the message he had received from Washington—the Americans desired Count Sforza to visit Brindisi in the near future. Badoglio said that the King had a distinct antipathy for Sforza because of Sforza’s remarks about the monarch.
Badoglio stated his own desire for a declaration of war against Germany as soon as the Italian Government returned to Rome. He added that until then he personally considered the Italian forces to be in a de facto state of war with the Germans in Corsica, Dalmatia, and elsewhere. Eisenhower again urged an immediate declaration of war and said he would turn over to Badoglio the administration of Sicily and other liberated areas if his government took such a step. The marshal would make no commitment. Under Italian law, he said, only the King could declare war.
Toward the end of the conference, venturing the hope that General Eisenhower considered him a complete collaborator, Badoglio asked to be initiated into Allied plans. He requested that Italian troops be permitted to participate in the entry into Rome, an event expected, not only by the Italians but by the Allies as well, to take place in the near future. Eisenhower was evasive on sharing military plans with the Italians, but he promised a token participation of Italian troops in the liberation of the capital if Italy declared war on Germany and cooperated with the Allies.
In conclusion, General Eisenhower expressed his thanks to Badoglio and said he hoped that great good would come from the meeting. In reciprocating, Badoglio referred to the situation prevailing in 1918, when the Italians, he said, gave the decisive blow to the Germans—operating with the Italian Army had been three British divisions and one American regiment, and all had cooperated closely to bring about the German defeat.33
On that day, 29 September 1943, Allied troops were at the gates of Naples, the Germans were withdrawing to the Volturno River and trying to establish a defensive line across the Italian peninsula. With the Germans retiring northward, with the Allies having established two armies on the Italian mainland (Clark’s U.S. Fifth and Montgomery’s British Eighth), the prospects for advancing rapidly to Rome appeared to be good. The Allies did not yet realize the extent to which the Germans could use the Italian winter weather, the Italian terrain, and the skill of their own outnumbered troops to deny the Allies, and incidentally the Italians, quick entry into the capital.
Crossing the Strait of Messina had been easy, securing a beachhead at Salerno more difficult. But no one could foresee the bitterness ahead of the fighting at the Volturno and the Sangro Rivers, on the approaches to the Liri valley, along the Rapido and Garigliano Rivers, in the shadow of Cassino, and in the Anzio beachhead. No one could anticipate the expenditure of men and matériel that would be necessary before Rome fell to Allied arms. Least of all the Italians, who on 13 October 1943 finally declared war on Germany.
What had the Allies gained by the surrender of Italy? A cobelligerent of doubtful value if judged in terms of material military resources—the Army was virtually ineffective; the Air Force was obsolete; only the Navy and merchant marine made substantial contributions to Allied power.
The surrender had eliminated a ground force of tremendous size that, even though ill-equipped and low in morale, had confounded and troubled Allied planners and intelligence experts. Had the Italian Government not surrendered before the Salerno invasion, the Italian units manning the coastal positions along the Salerno beaches, acting in concert with the Germans, perhaps might have increased Allied casualties. Unless, to take the opposite viewpoint, the Germans were relieved by the surrender because they no longer had to bother even to be polite to an ally of dubious worth. Did the Germans, therefore, resist the Allies more effectively without the Italians? Was this perhaps at least part of the reason why the landings at Salerno were more difficult for the Allies than those made on the beaches of Sicily?
What the Allies really achieved by the Italian capitulation was an enormous psychological victory, not only in the eyes of the world, but, more important, for the fighting man. One of the three major enemy powers had fallen to the combined weight of joint Allied arms, and this gave increasing hope that the end of the conflict would not be far distant.
This had been brought about by military diplomacy. Not a new phenomenon, this particular performance showed great ingenuity and unusual perception. A military command and staff had played the role of the diplomatist with considerable skill.
If the Allies were taken in during the negotiations by their belief that the Italian Government was eager to change sides in the war, it was because the Italian representatives—D’Ajeta, Berio, Castellano, and Zanussi—all of them, had misrepresented, perhaps unwittingly, the desires of their government. Though Churchill credited the King and Badoglio with the initiative in Mussolini’s downfall and the
subsequent switch to the Allied side, the real motivation was a desire to choose the lesser of two evils—to be crushed by Germany or to be redeemed by the Allies.
“If the Germans would [only] attack [us],” Badoglio had said late in August, “the situation would have a solution.” Along with his fear of German armed might was the question of honor. “We cannot, by an act of our own will,” Badoglio had said, “separate ourselves from Germany with whom we are bound by a pact of alliance.” Only a German attack could relieve Italian pangs of conscience and make it easy to go over to the Allies and “turn for aid to our enemies of yesterday.”34
As late as 3 September 1943, the day Castellano signed the armistice at Cassibile, the German naval attaché in Rome was reporting to his superiors: “In higher circles the opinion prevails that ever since he assumed office, Badoglio has been trying to bring the war to as favorable a conclusion as possible, but only with Germany’s consent, for Badoglio takes Italy’s honor as an Axis partner very seriously.”35
The King, too, felt this way. Despite the fears he expressed of German reprisals on the Italian population, he was also motivated by the desire to be a man of honor. Even after the Germans had destroyed most of the Italian Army, he refused to take the ultimate step of breaking with his former ally. And only as the result of continued Allied pressure, when his government was practically a prisoner of the Allies, did he make his final capitulation and declare war on Germany.
The campaign on Sicily that led to the capitulation of Italy proved several things. Like the invasion of North Africa, the Sicilian landings showed that Axis-held Europe was vulnerable to amphibious and airborne attack. It demonstrated the superiority of Allied weapons and equipment. It illustrated the resourcefulness and skill of the German foot soldier, who, despite numerical and technological inferiority, demonstrated once again the fundamental importance of terrain and its use in a struggle between ground forces. It gave the American field commanders in Europe experience, and particularly with respect to the British ally, a maturity not achieved before. Most of all, the Sicilian Campaign, by making possible the Italian surrender, marked a milestone on the Allied road to victory.