Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945
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During the Second World War, the campaign in Italy was the most destructive fought in Europe – a long, bitter and highly attritional conflict that raged up the country’s mountainous leg. For frontline troops, casualty rates at Cassino and along the notorious Gothic Line were as high as they had been on the Western Front in the First World War. There were further similarities too: blasted landscapes, rain and mud, and months on end with the front line barely moving.
And while the Allies and Germans were fighting it out through the mountains, the Italians were engaging in bitter battles too. Partisans were carrying out a crippling resistance campaign against the German troops but also battling the Fascists forces as well in what soon became a bloody civil war. Around them, innocent civilians tried to live through the carnage, terror and anarchy, while in the wake of the Allied advance, horrific numbers of impoverished and starving people were left to pick their way through the ruins of their homes and country. In the German-occupied north, there were more than 700 civilian massacres by German and Fascist troops in retaliation for Partisan activities, while in the south, many found themselves forced into making terrible and heart-rending decisions in order to survive.
Although known as a land of beauty and for the richness of its culture, Italy’s suffering in 1944-1945 is now largely forgotten. This is the first account of the conflict there to tell the story from all sides and to include the experiences of soldiers and civilians alike. Offering extensive original research, it weaves together the drama and tragedy of that terrible year, including new perspectives and material on some of the most debated episodes to have emerged from the Second World War.
the French. Colonel Hamilton Howze’s Task Force was in reserve for the attack, but one man who was now back with the 1st Armored Regiment in Combat Command A was Private First Class Ray Saidel. His radio school had been moved from Naples at the beginning of the month, near to Lake Bracciano, north of Rome. Whilst there, Ray discovered his regiment were not far away and managed to get permission to go and find his company. He found the familiar Company G markings on the tanks and vehicles, but
troops, the King found time to hand out several VCs and to knight both John Harding, Alexander’s Chief of Staff, and Leese. ‘It was wonderful to be knighted in the field,’ wrote Leese to his wife, ‘and I was very proud.’215 It was a busy time for Ion Calvocoressi. The day after the King left Italy, they had to make another long and difficult move, this time north of Siena to Tavarnelle, where the soldiers of the Maori Battalion had raided the accordion factory. The moving of Leese’s Tactical HQ
man against man,’ he says, ‘but they had no experience. Once again, the older men were left and the younger men died.’ Any soldier can be killed or maimed by an unlucky shell or a chance bullet, but it was unquestionably the case that the greater the combat experience, the more one learned how to survive. Although, as Jupp says, ‘It’s more than experience. It’s a kind of sixth sense. When there was danger, I could smell it. The older ones were all the same.’ Sergeant Sam Bradshaw had been
watch from the smashed shopfront in Pisa. German troops also tended to pillage less wantonly, whereas the Allies, on the whole, regarded the fat of the land as the spoils of war, and the right of conquering liberators. One of the other big complaints about the Allies from the Italians was the apparently indiscriminate strafing of civilians by fighters and fighter-bombers. In April, the fourteen-year-old Fascist, Roberto Vivarelli, had been in a truck with a number of other Italians travelling
had meant more jabos about, and crossing over the Ronco at Meldola, a few miles to the south, had been a hairy experience. Franz had been glad to reach the edge of Forli safely. ‘The quarters not bad,’ he scribbled in his diary, ‘but from my experience, one doesn’t stay in these sort of quarters nearly as long as in the most desperate sheds that we have to lie in for weeks on end.’ His lugubrious infantry’s nous was to prove him right. That night they moved into a cellar of a house, and it