World War II Italian Campaign: Civilians


Figure 1.--Here we see a British medic aid an Italian boy wounded by artillery fire. The Tommies are dressing the boy's wounds in Lanciano, Italy. It is dated December 18, 1943. Note the officer wearing his visored hat with his helmet slung over his shoulder. Both Tommies are armed with short Enfield rifles. This photo was taken by a British combat photographer for the Office of War Information.

Italian civilians were except for committed Fascists not overly enthusiatic about the War. These was, however, no real resistance to the War. Allied flyers shot down would be turned in by the public. The situation became more complicated when Italy surrendered to the Allies. Then a Resistance began to organize. Civilians until the Allied invasion were relatively unaffected by the War, except through family in the military and increasing shortages that began to become severe by 1942. This changed with the Allied landings (Septenber 1943). As bad as the situation was for the Allied troops who were constantly forced to assault well prepared German positions, the suffering of the Italian civilians is especially sad. The Italians suffered from both German execution squads and Allied bombing. [Atkinson] The race-obsessed NAZIs were never overly friendly with the Italians. After the surrender, the Germans were outraged and looked on the Italians as traitors. There were several massacres of Italin civilans and countless uneported incidents. As the fighting gradually moved north up the Italian peninsula, Italian villages and towns were devestated with substantial civilian casualties. The basic problem fir the Italian people is that the campaign lasted so long. After the Normandy breakout in France, the country was liberated in 1-2 momths as the Allies mived north toward Germany. In Italy it took almost 2 years. Many towns and villages were left in rubbles as the Allies drove north. And even after the fighting moved north, civilians faced major problems with shelter, food, and warter.

Popular Attitudes toward the War

Italy did not declare war because there was any popular desire for War. It was a personal decesion taken by Fascist Dictator Benito Mussolini and supported by his Fascist supporters (June 1940). As the German Panzers raced through France, Mussolini was afraid of losing out on the spoils. Italian civilians were except for committed Fascists not overly enthusiatic about the War. And the countries Italy fought (Britain, Greece, the Soviet Union, and America) were not countries toward which the Italians had any illwill. There was in fact more popular animosity toward their ally--NAZI Germany. This was reflected in the perfrmance of Italian soldiers. And this only intensified when Italy declared war on America. Italians in particular had no desire to fight America. Many Italians had lived in America or had relatives there. These was, however, no real resistance to the War. Allied flyers shot down would be turned in by the public. The situation became more complicated when Italy surrendered to the Allies. Only then did a Resistance began to organize.

Shortages and Bombing (1943)

Civilians until the Allied invasion were relatively unaffected by the War, except through family in the military and increasing shortages that began to become severe by 1942. And the Allies began to bomb targets in Italy, although not with the ferocity of the raids in Germny.

Allied Invasion (September 1943)

The Allies began the Italiam campaign, putting land troops ahore on the European mainland (September 3). Units of the British 8th Army were the first to go ashore, landing at the toe of the Italian boot--Operation Baytown. The Allies hoped that the Germans would rush south to engage the British, but Kesserling did not take the bait. A British fleet sailed into the harbor of Taranto at the arch of the Italian boot--Operation Slapstick (September 9). The Germans were not present and the Italians having surrendered did not resist. The British were able to disembark troops onto the docks unimposed. The U.S. 5th Army commanded by Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark landed at the Gulf of Salerno in force--Operation Avalanche (September 9). The Germans occupied Fome (September 10). The Germans made no real effort to oppose the British landings in the south, but reacted in strength to the American landings. The Germans fought delaying actions in the south against the British and concentrated their forces on the Americans at Salerno.The situation for Italian civilians This changed with the Allied landings (Septenber 1943). As bad as the situation was for the Allied troops who were constantly forced to assault well prepared German positions, the suffering of the Italian civilians is especially sad. The Italians suffered from both German execution squads and Allied bombing. [Atkinson]

German Attrocities

The race-obsessed NAZIs were never overly friendly with the Italians. After the surrender, the Germans were outraged and looked on the Italians as traitors. There were several massacres of Italin civilans and countless uneported incidents. The Italian Army was interned. Units which showed any resistnce were shot.

Air War Casualties

Some 150,000 Italians are believed to have been killed during World War II. Most or some 125,000 Italiam civilians were killed after the Armistice and with the German occupation and Allied invasion (September 1943). The ensuing fighting took a heavy tole on civilians as fighting took place up the Itlalian Peninsula as the Allies fought their way north toward the Reich. The Germans were not gentle, seeing the Italians as trecherous for pulling out of the Axis Alliance and switching sides. German and Allied artillery also took a heavy tole. A sizeable amount of those losses, approaching half were due to air strikes. Sone 60,000 Italians were killed by air strikes, over 40,000 after the Armitice. [Instituto Centrale Statistica] The Allies began bombing Italy (1942). After the Armistice, tactical air operations commemnsed (1943). Unlike the Germans, the Italians had few air raid shelters, even in Rome and the other large cities. After the Armistice, tactical operations became increasingly important and unlike strategic operations were not largely resricted to cities. As the Germans turned small towns and village into fortified posutions, the Allied air forces began hammering them. As in other areas, this created a huge problem for the Italians. World War II air operations were notoriouisly inaccurate. Few bombs fell any where near the target which is one reason the RAF turned to area bombing. And even tactical bombing resulted in heavy civilian losses. The Allies unlike the Lufwaffe which just beginning to develop a CAS doctrine.

Devestation

As the fighting gradually moved north up the Italian peninsula, Italian villages and towns were devestated with substantial civilian casualties. The basic problem for the Italian people is that the campaign lasted so long. After the Normandy breakout in France, the country was liberated in 1-2 momths as the Allies mived north toward Germany. In Italy it took almost 2 years. Many towns and villages were left in rubbles as the Allies drove north.

Civilian Reaction to the Allies

As Allied armies bean moving north up the Italian Peninsula, they were gerally treated as liberators. The fact that Italy had been one of the Axis partners and a partner with the Germans was forgotten. A factor was the attrocities committed by the Germans as they seized control of Italy. The Italian population was never close to the Germans to begin with. The ferocity with which they ruled occupied Italy only confirmed the attitudes held by many. The Italians may not have had warm feelings toward the Britih, but their was no real animosity. Here the relations with British forces swas complicated by the many different nationalities (Canadians, French, Jewish, Moroccans, New Zealnders, Polish, and others) who fought with the British. The mericans were another matter. Most Italians were mistified s to why they were fighting the Americans. ManyItalians had been go America. (The Italians were the one immigant grop here manyafter earning a littlemoney returned hom.) Many others had reltives who emigrated to America and stayed. They wrote back home in glowing terms about America, causing more Italians to emograte. Thus Americans were freeted with considerable ethuism as they moved north. And none more than the Italian-Americansij the U.S. Army. It was like a home coming. The Germans would greet the advancing U.S. Army th sulen resignatin. This was not the case in Italy.

Basic Necesities

And even after the fighting moved north, civilians faced major problems with shelter, food, and water. Where ever the Germans made a stand there was devestation. The Allies used havy artillery and aerial bombing to duslodge the Germans. But even if the town and village was mot destroyed there were severe food shortages. Food was in short supply even before the Allied invasion, in part because so many farm sorkers wre vmobilized. After the invasion, the fighting further disrupted agriculture. In addition the Germans had internned the Italian Army and deported it to labor camps in the Reich. This meant there was a continuing shortage of farm labor. American food aid prevented starvation, but food was in short supply in both German controlled northern Italy and Allied-controlled southern Italy. In the North civilians had to fend for themselves as the Germans did nothing to help feed Italy. I'm not sure if they shipped food to the Reich as was their normal occupation practice. Wenote GI rations appearing in civilan hands in the south. We are not sure to what extent this was black market sales or Army policy. There were large shipmenbts of American food aid. The Germans destroyed basic city services as they retreated north. American and British engineers wirked to restore warter and other services. American food aid continued after the War. The Food for Peace was an outgrowth of the Marshall Plan to help rebuild war torn countries. Much of the food in the early years of the pogram went to Italy, Japan, Germany, Austria, England, and Finland.

Sources

Atkinson, Rick. The Day of Battle: The War in Socily and Italy, 1943-1944 (Henry Holt: 2007), 791p.

Instituto Centrale Statistica. Morti E Dispersi Per Cause Belliche Negli Anni 194045 (Rome: 1957).






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Created: 6:56 AM 2/6/2005
Last updated: 8:04 AM 8/11/2014