Munich, Germany · November 10, 1942

On this date in 1942, two days after Allied landings in Vichy-held Morocco and Algeria (Opera­tion Torch), Itali­an dicta­tor Benito Musso­lini sent his son-in-law, foreign minis­ter Gale­azzo Cia­no, to Munich in his stead to speak with Adolf Hitler. Mus­so­lini had wanted to meet the Fuehrer in Salz­burg, in the Austrian Alps, at the end month. But events at the top of the month in North Africa now totally con­sumed his atten­tion and pre­vented him from leaving the Ital­ian capi­tal. Ciano and Hitler, the latter looking tired and un­happy according to the Ital­ian dele­ga­tion, agreed to the im­me­di­ate joint occu­pa­tion of Marshal Philippe Pétain’s Vichy-ad­min­is­trated south­ern France and the Medi­ter­ranean island of Cor­sica (the so-called “Free Zone” in France). The next month, Decem­ber, at Fuehrer head­quarters in Rasten­burg, East Prussia, Ciano, again at the behest of an in­creas­ingly frail Mus­so­lini, coun­seled Hitler to nego­ti­ate an ar­mis­tice with the Soviets to avoid the deci­ma­tion of Ger­man and Ital­ian armies standing on the verge of an appall­ing dis­as­ter at Stalin­grad. It was clear to the Duce that the war in the east could no longer be won: The Soviets had just ham­mered their way through a sec­tor held by the Ital­ian Eighth Army, and the Ger­mans blamed their Axis part­ner for not holding the line. Pre­dict­ably Hitler rejected Mus­so­lini’s advice on shutting down the East­ern Front. Ital­ian for­eign minis­try offi­cials be­lieved Hitler to be “on the edge of mad­ness,” and the Ital­ian em­bassy in Ber­lin went so far as to pre­pare a plan to “dis­en­gage” Italy and pos­si­bly other Axis mem­bers, in­cluding Roma­nia, Bul­garia, and Hun­gary, from their alli­ance with Ger­many, “iso­lating” that coun­try and leaving it to its own fate, but “in such a way as to pre­clude any accu­sa­tion of trea­son.” Ital­ian minis­try offi­cials did not be­lieve Mus­so­lini had the cour­age to push the plan, which was true: The Duce fired Ciano and al­most all his other cabi­net minis­ters. It was not until after the dic­ta­tor him­self was over­thrown by the Grand Coun­cil of Fas­cism on July 25, 1943, several weeks after the suc­cess­ful Allied in­va­sion of Sicily (Opera­tion Husky), that a new Ital­ian govern­ment under Marshal Pietro Badog­lio could nego­ti­ate a success­ful switch of alle­giances. For the next four months, the Allies clawed their way up the Italian boot, only to be stymied at Anzio (see below).

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Battle of Anzio: The Drawn-Out Allied Effort to End the Stalemate in Italy, January–June 1944

Anzio beachhead in relation to Rome (due north)

Above: After the Italian armistices of September 1943 (there were two), the Allies, with the assis­tance of forces loyal to the new Ital­ian govern­ment, soon con­trolled most of south­ern Italy—this in the face of in­creasing oppo­si­tion from the Ger­mans, who had thrown them­selves into the battle to turn back the Allied advance up the Ital­ian boot. On Janu­ary 22, 1944, the Allies launched an amphib­ious inva­sion in the area of Anzio, 40 miles south of Rome (upper left corner of map). The inva­sion, code­named Opera­tion Shingle, was a bold plan pushed by British Prime Minis­ter Winston Chur­chill to end the stalemate in Italy.

Company A, 3rd Ranger Infantry BattalionU.S. soldiers landing at Anzio, January 1944

Left: Soldiers of Company A, 3rd Ranger Infantry Battalion, board landing craft that will take them to Anzio. Two weeks later nearly all would be killed or captured.

Right: U.S. Army troops landing at Anzio, late January 1944. U.S. Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas was given the task of out­flanking Ger­man strong points along the Gus­tav (or Winter) Line (on the map, thick rust-colored line mid­way between Naples and Anzio) so as to enable an attack on Rome, 40 miles north of Anzio. The divisions at Anzio would link up with Allied forces farther south and break the stalemate.

British Eighth Army Sherman tank, Anzio, Jan. 22, 1944Wounded Allied POWs, Nettuno, Mar. 6, 1944

Left: A Sherman tank of the 23rd Armored Brigade attached to the Brit­ish Eighth Army coming ashore from a landing craft at Anzio on the first day, Janu­ary 22, 1944. The Allies prac­ti­cally strolled ashore, taking the Ger­mans com­pletely by sur­prise. Unfor­tu­nately Lucas failed to take advan­tage of the ele­ment of sur­prise. Within 48 hours of landing, Lucas had snatched defeat from the jaws of vic­tory by ordering his two divi­sions to dig in instead of ordering a march on Rome.

Right: German soldiers take captured Allied wounded to a first-aid station near Net­tuno (not far from Anzio), March 6, 1944. German Field Marshal Albert Kessel­ring’s Tenth Army, which Maj. Gen. Mark Clark’s U.S. Fifth Army intel­li­gence severely under­esti­mated, quickly massed ten divi­sions of armor and men, several of them crack com­bat units. Not since the Blitz­krieg of spring 1940 had Ger­mans gathered such a large attacking force to do battle with the western Allies.

German artillery piece near Nettuno, 1944British mortar at Anzio, May 18, 1944

Left: German paratroopers position an artillery piece near Net­tuno. Because the Allies had failed to move inland and seize the Alban Hills, the Ger­mans were able to look down on each inch of the beach­head and on the town of Anzio itself.

Right: A 4.2-in mortar of 1st Infantry Brigade’s sup­port group, firing in sup­port of the 5th Northampton­shire Regi­ment in the Anzio beach­head, May 18, 1944. Several days later the regiment was on its way to Rome.

U.S. Fifth Army Report from the Anzio Beachhead, January–March 1944