By Romeo Pavoni for War History Online
There are some events in the history of every nation that represent a turning point, for the Italian history this has been the most bitter.
It is necessary to analyze the events from a couple of months before. After expelling the Italian and German forces from Africa, the Allies invaded Sicily the 10 July 1943 and in two weeks almost completed the operation.
On 24 July was held a meeting of the Grand Council of Fascism where the Command of the Armed Forces was returned to the King, who arrested Mussolini the day after.
The functions of the Head of Government, Prime Minister and Secretary of State were taken by Pietro Badoglio. The appointment of Badoglio although could mean the end of fascism in fact did not mean the end of the war, which continued as Badoglio announced: “The war continues. Italy is hit hard in his invaded countries, in it’s destroyed cities is loyal to his pact, jealous guardian of its millenary traditions”.
The real intention of the Italian Government to end the war took the form of negotiations carried out by the General Giuseppe Castellano from 16 to 27 August in Lisbon, where during the war there were lot of spies and counterintelligence agents.
Castellano back to Italy announced to Badoglio that the Allies wanted to make a meeting in Sicily, in the meantime already conquered by the Allies, he went there on August 31. Here he asked to take Rome with a landing and an airborne operation. The Allies prepared then Operation Giant II, which included the launch of the 82nd Airborne on airports in Rome, but the allies were willing to go along with these conditions only in conjunction with the announcement of the armistice.
The day after Castellano reported to Badoglio who knew that the army in defense of Rome would have been ineffective due to lack of ammunition and fuel. Badoglio was then received by the King Vittorio Emanuele III, who decided to accept the armistice.
On September 2 Castellano left for Cassibile, where the armistice was signed the next afternoon.
The allies had planned an impressive landing at Salerno (Operation Avalanche) to be carried out as soon as the armistice had been made public but after several days Badoglio had not yet spread the news.
On September 7 an allied delegation went to Rome to inform Badoglio that the next day would spread the news and as required by Badoglio there would be an airborne operation on Rome airports. But Badoglio said that airports were under German control and that the Italian army would be powerless, so the armistice needed to be postponed of a few days. At that point, Eisenhower canceled the airborne operation (Operation Giant II) but because the landing operations at Salarno were already in progress, at 18.00 on September 8 the armistice was made public by Radio Algiers. At 18:45 Reuters informs the King Vittorio Emanuele III and Badoglio of what happened and finally at 19:42 the Italian Radio released this statement:
“The Italian government recognized the impossibility of continuing the unequal struggle against the overwhelming enemy power, in the intent to save more and more serious disasters to the nation has requested an armistice to General Eisenhower,supreme commander of allied Anglo-American forces.
The request was granted.
Consequently, any act of hostility against the Anglo-American forces must cease by the Italian forces in every place.
However, they will react to attacks from any other source”.
The morning after, King Vittorio Emanuele III and Badoglio fled from Rome to Pescara with their entourage and from there headed on a ship to Brindisi, which would shortly be the scene of an allied landing.
As you can see from the text of the announcement, there is no indication on how to deal with ‘ German ally, present in large forces in Italy.
An italian newspaper of the 9 of September saying “The war is over”
The Germans attacked Rome where there was only a spontaneous and uncoordinated defense by individual military units and armed civilians, although around Rome there was a strong military presence in Italian, but without precise orders and without a plan of defense they were defeated even if in a higher number but with inadequate weaponry. On 10 September at 16.00 General Calvi signed the surrender of Rome with Field Marshal Kesselring. Rome was retaken only 4 June 1944, two day before the Normandy operation.
The morning of the 9 of September the Royal Battleship “Roma” with many other battleships were at La Spezia, a harbour of the Tirrenian sea near Genoa and was going to protect the allied operation at Salerno, but due to the rules of the armistice it sailed heading to the british harbour of Malta. They had not air support due to the same Salerno operation. Around Sardinia german bombers trailed the them but the italian fleet did not open fire upon them, respecting the ambiguous statement of the broadcasted armistice. When the bombers attacked the Fritz X bomb, a new type of radio controlled bomb, was too late. The battleship sunk and over 1.200 mens died.
Fritz X bomb exposed at the Washington Air and Space Museum
The Germans begins the realization of Operation Axis, the invasion of Italy and disarmament of the Italian troops in Italy, France, Yugoslavia, Greece and the Aegean, where they disarmed over 1,000,000 of men.
The Italian Government would like to become a new ally after having fought the allies for over three years, it was instead attributed the inelegant status of “co-belligerent”.
The problem arises with Germany, loyal military ally since 1936 during the Spanish Civil War, germans were present in large numbers in Italy with light weapons and heavy armor better not only than Italians but also to the allies, who however were higher in number of resources available.
Cease a war against the allies on a precise front from south to north and start a new war with the former ally has exposed Italy to almost two years of war but also it was the birth of the Italian civil war, where fascist and in general people against the armistice were opposed to anti-fascist, mainly communists but also to fascists who changed their mind in order to seize new opportunities and who regrouped in partisans units, reclaiming the liberation of Italy and taking the most important political roles in the following years.
After the war, italians had chosen in a referendum the republic versus the monarchy and in 1948 was promulgated the new constitution, drawn up with the fear of the return of the regime. This constitution allows the opposition to speed down or to block innovation processes and this situation is still alive, blocking Italy’s reform will.
Choosing the easy option of the surrender and refusing to fight still means not giving an identity to the nation, which even today after 70 years is frightened to tell what happened as just historical facts, where anyone depicting the events must be careful of the terms used for fear of being held up as a fascist or anti-fascist like.
Germany, who chose to fight until the end, also mindful of the hardships of the surrender of 4 November 1918 and who starts from scratch now is the strongest nation in Europe, Italy that 8 September 1943 have chosen a different future.
By Romeo Pavoni for War History Online
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