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Into Italy in 1943

    Fighting was intense in late 1943 all over the world.  

    In the Mediterranean, you had an invasion of Italy and one off Greece.  In the ladder, the British and Greek navies lost 6 destroyers, 2 submarines, 10 minesweepers  and smaller coastal craft sunk, with 4 cruisers heavily damaged.  Germany lost 12 merchant ships and some 20 small assault craft.  The British Army exclusive of the Italian Front had lost some 4,800 troops, many as POWs, while the RAF lost 115 aircraft.  The Germans lost about 4,800 troops overall in Greece.  In the Pacific, beginning in November, the U.S was able to capture three small islands, one by the name of Tarawa, sustaining 3,000 casualties.  Staff Sgt. Norman T. Hatch and other Marine cameramen were present and obtained footage that would later be used in a documentary With the Marines at Tarawa.  The other island was Makin with the loss of 66 Marines, and the third at Bougainville at a cost of just under 2,000 casualties; however, a U.S. carrier was struck by a torpedo off Bougainville and sank carrying 644 officers and men.  A more thorough report on the invasion of Tarawa can be found here History link.  It was part of an Allied Offensive, a 2-prong attack against an Empire that spanned thousands of miles.  More on that later, including the air forces. 

    In Italy, when the invasion of it was first undertaken, both Hitler and Rommel had believed the Allied machine was poised to go into the Balkans.  They were convinced the Allied invasion of southern Italy was a trick and as a jumping-off point for an invasion of the Balkans. 

    No one in Germany wanted to give up the whole of Italy, mainly because from Italy the Allies could build up air bases from which to hammer at Germany.  Yet, neither Hitler nor Rommel wanted to divert German units from France.  Italy was always to have the minimal of forces, period.  Field-Marshal Rommel was retained in the Balkans when Italy was invaded on Sep. 5.  From the harbors of Oran and Palermo unwound the convoys holding the U.S. 36th and 45 Inf. Divisions. From the harbors of Bizerta and Tripoli unwound the convoys holding the British 46th and 56th Divisions.

    Ensued fighting was very intense and the Germans lost some 3,500 men to Oct first.  When the Salerno invasion of the west coast of Italy was over, and the Allies had finally captured Naples also by Oct 1, Allied troops of the U.S. 6th Corps and British 10th Corps sustained 2,000 killed, 7,000 wounded and 3,500 missing.  Naples, the biggest city of southern Italy, was free, but it was a port-city in ruins, a mass of rubble, choked streets, twisted girders, a city of time bombs with hungry inhabitants and with a port of sunken ships.  A more thorough report on the invasion of Italy 75 years ago can be found at this WW II History link.

    Pre-war Naples used to handle 8,000 tons of shipping a day.  Two weeks after the capture of Naples, some 3,500 tons of cargo was being slowly unloaded by Liberty ships, and with the help of a fleet of DUKWs the port of Naples was handling 7,000 tons daily from October on.  The British 8th Army was advancing pretty fast up the Eastern Coast of Italy...until everybody came to a halt in the mountains south of Rome and the river Volturno mid-October.  

    This was not sunny Italy as the tourist books tell you.  The skies over the southern hemisphere were not always sunny.  The mountains suffocated modern warfare.  The prized possessions in Italy were the highways, but all Allied frontline progress was checked.  Where was the World War II miracle of production?   Excerpt from A Toast For You and Me, America's Participation, Sacrifice and Victory:    

     "About the only things coming out were songs, and they were not exactly happy.  They signified the mood of the situation.  A famous ballad was held over since the early days of the war, Lili Marlene.  The British also added pretty good folk songs, which were widely played over the radio.  Why a folk song? Because they were made by the actual troops themselves, and they seemed to touch feelings more at that time than just a back-stage number."  One was D-day Dodgers (which sounds a little like Lili Marlene) and the other was Farewell Ye Banks of Sicily; sometimes you think it sounds like fair ye wee banks of Sicily.  (to be continued. Back to 1943)

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