Salerno, Italy · September 9, 1943

On this date in 1943 in Italy, the Allies from their strong­holds in North Africa and Sicily invaded the Ital­ian main­land at Saler­no south of Naples (Opera­tion Ava­lanche), with diver­sionary land­ings at Cala­bria (Opera­tion Bay­town, Septem­ber 3, 1943), which lay on the “toe” of the Ital­ian Penin­sula, and Taran­to (Opera­tion Slap­stick, Septem­ber 9), which lay in the “in­step” of the Ita­lian heel (see map). (A landing farther north near the Ital­ian capi­tal of Rome would have been too far from Allied air sup­port based in Sicily.) Allied bombing mis­sions during the first week of September softened up the Salerno beaches and plain.

In land­ing on the Ital­ian main­land U.S. forces were returning to the Euro­pean conti­nent for the first time since 1918. The day before the Saler­no assault, Septem­ber 8, both Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower, Supreme Allied Com­mander, and Marshal of Italy Pietro Badoglio, former Chief of Staff of the Ital­ian Army and now Benito Mus­solini’s replace­ment as head of state, publicly an­nounced Italy’s uncon­di­tional sur­render, though the two sides had negoti­ated sur­render terms five days earlier. Im­medi­ately, King Victor Em­manuel III and the Ital­ian high com­mand for­sook Rome for the safety of Bari, directly north of Taranto.

After Mussolini’s fall from power six-and-a-half weeks earlier (July 25, 1943), Adolf Hitler declared declared the Ita­lians to be the “bitterest enemy.” He directed his armed forces to take over the defense of Italy and occupy Rome, fun­neling fresh divi­sions from Austria through the Bren­ner Pass into Italy since the start of August—this as a resur­gent Red Army made gains on Ger­many’s East­ern Front. Three days later, on Septem­ber 12, 1943, German com­mandos snatched Mus­solini from Ital­ian cap­tivity high in the Apen­nine Moun­tains and placed Il Duce (Italian, “the leader”) at the head of a puppet government in Northern Italy, the Ital­ian Social Republic (Repubblica Sociale Italiana).

The in­va­sion of the Ital­ian main­land unleashed 20 months of con­fusing and mur­derous tur­moil in Italy between Axis and Allied armies and Fascists and anti-Fascists. On April 27, 1945, as Allied troops advanced through North­ern Italy, Ital­ian par­ti­sans cap­tured Mus­solini trying to escape to Swit­zer­land, exe­cuted him the next day, and hung his corpse, along with a half-dozen other Fascists, from the girder of a gas station in the Piazzale Loreto in Milan.

Operation Avalanche: The Allied Invasion of Mainland Italy, September 1943

Operation Avalanche: Invasion of Mainland Italy, September 1943

Above: Breaching Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” Once established on the Ital­ian main­land, the Allies hoped to secure com­plete naval and aerial domi­nation of the Med­i­ter­ra­nean, secure stra­tegic ports and air­fields for future opera­tions against For­tress Europe, knock Italy out of the war, and force the Germans to retreat north of the Alps.

Operation Avalanche: U.S. Lt. Gen. Mark Clark during the Salerno campaignOperation Avalanche: Landing artillery on Salerno beach, September 1943

Left: Lt. Gen. Mark Clark, Commanding General, U.S. Fifth Army on board the USS Ancon during the landings at Salerno, Italy, Septem­ber 12, 1943. Clark’s con­duct of opera­tions through­out the Ital­ian cam­paign is con­tro­ver­sial, but Gen. Dwight D. Eisen­hower con­sidered him a bril­liant staff officer and trainer. Clark won many awards, including the Distin­guished Ser­vice Cross for extreme bravery in war, subordinate only to the Medal of Honor.

Right: Artillery being landed during the inva­sion of main­land Italy at Salerno, Septem­ber 1943. By sun­down on D‑Day, more than 50,000 Allies (out of a total of 189,000 on Septem­ber 16) were ashore and had pushed inland as much as eight miles. Their inten­tion was to cross the level Salerno plain, cross over the foot­hills to the moun­tain passes and through them to Naples, where they could use its port and airfields as a base for future operations in Italy.

German artillery pounds Salerno beachheadOperation Avalanche: British soldiers pass a burning German IV tank in Salerno area

Left: The Allies projected that the Germans might have 39,000 men facing them on D‑Day but on D+3 would have a force of 100,000. The Ger­mans suc­ceeded in placing mor­tars and artil­lery (like the one shown in this photo) on the high ground in a semi­circle covering the whole coastal area. On Septem­ber 13, “Black Monday,” Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army, pinned down to a bridge­head, desper­ately tried clawing its way out of the jaws of defeat. By the next night the crisis had passed with the assistance of airborne reinforcements.

Right: The Salerno beachhead was secured at the cost of 12,500 Allied casu­al­ties and MIAs on Septem­ber 16, 1943. On that date Gen. Ber­nard Law Mont­gomery’s British Eighth Army, moving up from the south (Monty’s forces had landed unopposed at Calabria on Sept­ember 3), linked up with Clark’s Fifth Army. On Septem­ber 19 the Amer­i­cans pushed north­west towards Naples. In this photo from Septem­ber 22, 1943, men of the 2/6th Queens’s Regi­ment advance past a burning Ger­man Panzer IV tank in the Salerno area. The regiment saw heavy fighting at Salerno, Monte Casino, and Anzio.

British Newsreel of Allied Naval Shelling and Amphibious Landing at Salerno, Italy, September 9, 1943