ITALY’S DARKEST HOUR, A HISTORY OF FALL AND RISE – EPISODE 1: THE ALLIES LAND IN SICILY

Monday, 06 April 2020 12:56 Written by
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Italy had its most difficult time in history during WWII, Marcello tells the story of the occupation of Italy, until its liberation and the proclamation of the Republic, and how it was saved by a few courageous men.

Comparison in these last few weeks between the current, tragic times and some sad periods in our history, as we try and get a sense of this and, most of it, find a light at the end of this tunnel. And many comparisons are being made between what’s happening now and what happened in the last 2 years of WWII, when a civil war broke out in Italy. I think that that was our DARKEST HOUR, the time when everything seemed irremediably lost. Still we came out of it, and that was the time when our country started back from rubble, to become the nation it is today. So I have decided to tell you a story, the story of Italy’s fall and rise, a story of death, betrayal, despair, hunger, but also a story of hope, renewal, faith and hard work, because at the end of this story Italy was born again. So this is the story of Italy from 1943 to 1946: there will be soldiers, spies, scholars, politicians, traitors, but mainly honest people, who managed to find their own way through a tragedy which seemed endless. I hope you will like it.

 

The Allied are facing a coalition of 3 countries: Germany, Italy and Japan. Whereas Japan was fighting its own war in the Pacific, in Europe Italy and Germany were fighting together. We are at a turning point in the war in Europe. The allied conquered North Africa after 2 years, and now, what will be their next move? At the Casablanca conference in January FDR e WC take 2 decisions: 1) solemnly swear that the war will end only with unconditional surrender of Italy and Germany – 2) Attack Italy, starting from Sicily, because the road to Berlin passes from Italy The invasion of Sicily would be carried out by 2 armies, the 8th British army of Marshal Montgomery, the winner of the battle of North Africa, who would land in Pachino, and the American 7th Army under the command of George Patton, the volcanic general who liked foul language and loved to show off his belt with two western-type pistols with ivory handles. The Americans would land in Gela. MOVIE PATTON The plan does not take into account the key point of the operation: possession from the beginning of the Strait of Messina. The project lacked imagination and audacity, qualities completely absent in Montgomery's strategy. There’s another problem: the humiliation of Patton, virtually ousted from decisions. He had been reserved for a backup role. The conquest of Messina had been assigned to the British soldiers, it was only up to him to cover his march. There is a personal rivalry between Patton and Montgomery, who looks down on the American: he won at El Alamein, while Patton's army did not act well in the battles in Africa.

 

April 30th,1943: A body is found off the coast of Spain, it is an officer of the British Combined Operations HQ, Major William Martin, who drowned and has a bag full of confidential documents with him. Spanish officials passed the documents on to German intelligence: they show that the enemy is faking a landing in Sicily while the real target was Greece. The German high command took the documents seriously because they confirmed Hitler's predictions; the result was that 7 German divisions were transferred to Greece one to Corsica and one to Sardinia. It was a fake: Operation Mincimeat was carefully designed and put into action by the British Secret Service, who literally invented Major Martin: they created a false identity, picked the body of a unknown dead soldier, dressed him as a Major, boarded him on a submarine and stranded him off the coast with fake top secret documents. One of the most successful secret operations in the history of the war.

 

July 10: Eighth Army lands on the coast between Capo Passero and Capo Murro, the seventh American Army in the Gulf of Gela As the Germans fight fiercely, the Italians flee, many soldiers abandon their posts and throw their weapons away, some even begin to dress in civilian clothes. A real dissolution, the confirmation that army is no longer willing to fight for the war of Mussolini While the British find strong resistance in Catania, the Americans manage to break through the front and point to Palermo. But the advance on Palermo at that time made no sense: General Patton wants to be the first commander to enter a large European city, to take it away from Hitler, he already dreams of the big headlines and his photos as a victorious commander in a historic location, while the rival does not advance beyond Catania. On July 22, the Americans enter Palermo. Patton is conspicuously portrayed as a conqueror in the devastated city and receives numerous delegations of citizens at the Royal Palace, just like a king. He is an idol for his troops, and the echo of his deeds makes him a hero in the eyes of American citizens at home.

 

The Americans from Palermo then head to Messina, but the advance is very slow. Patton is eager to get to Messina before the British and pushes his soldiers, regardless of their needs and tiredness. Until August 3: Visiting a field hospital crowded with wounded people spots a soldier who does not appear to be injured; asks him why he is there the soldier answers "I think I can't do it anymore" Patton loses his temper, insults him and slaps him with a glove, then grabs him by the collar and pushes him out of the tent with a kick in the butt. Commander-in-Chief Eisenhower learns about it and orders Patton to apologize. Everything is silenced until November, when scandal breaks out and Patton will be laid to rest before being recalled for the Normandy landings.

 

In the following days, Germans and Italians were busy slowing down the Allies, to allow their troops to embark on the continent, and they did it well, with a few losses, almost all German troops crossed the Strait successfully. The race to Messina was won by the Americans on August 17 at 8:00 the colonel commander of the Messina contingent offered General Truscott the surrender of the city. But Truscott was in grave embarrassment because he knew Patton wanted to enter the city 1st, to appear as the real winner of the last Sicilian battle. The impetuous American commander arrived at about 10:00 a.m.; in a very elegant uniform, he took place on a Jeep and wandered through the devastated Messina. In the central square of the city he had a platform placed, from where he made a speech for American soldiers, dirty and hot under the sicilian august sun. So the campaign was over after 38 days. By now it is clear that the days od fascism are almost over: in the next episodes I will tell you about the fall of Mussolini and his escape.

 

In mid-July 1943 the king decided the fall of Mussolini There were already plans by the military to which he gave his assent. The anti-monarchist currents extended especially among young people and the monarchy would only survive with an action that meets national sentiment, now opposed to fascism and war. But the time has to be right. On July 19, Mussolini meets Hitler at Villa Gaggia, near Feltre, 50 km north of Venice. As Hitler presses Mussolini for the negative test of Italian soldiers in Sicily, the news of the bombing of Rome with the devastation of the district of San Lorenzo comes.

 

Only 9 days before, following numerous pleas by Pope Pius the 12th that Rome be spared, President Roosevelt had written the Pope that “churches and religious institutions will, to the extent that it is within our power, be spared the devastations of war during the struggle ahead”. But it was not possible to spare Rome. It was important to disrupt enemy communications and interdict the supply of German and Italian forces from Florence in Genoa into Rome; also the allied wanted to avoid the resupply from Rome to Sicily via Naples farther South; so they targeted the Littorio and Ciampino airdromes and the railway marshalling yards at Littorio and San Lorenzo. But the San Lorenzo railyards lay less than a mile and a half from Rome's most famous monument, the Colosseum, and immediately adjacent to one of the Seven Pilgrim churches of Rome, the Basilica di San Lorenzo fuori le mura. Rome was a target, and this could be a formidable push for Italians to get out of the war.

 

Starting from 11:00 AM, for more than 2 hours an enormous formation of more than 500 bombers skirted the Vatican to begin their bombing run from an altitude of more than 6000 meters the bombers released their payload Almost 1,000,000 tons of explosives targeting the airports and the railways. while the raid devastated the marshalling yards some bombs missed their target and hit adjacent University and hospital buildings, the nearby Cimitero del Verano, the Verano Cemetery, and the Basilica di San Lorenzo. More than 2000 people died. During the bombings the Pope stood at the window in his private study and watched it through binoculars. then ignoring security concerns he departed Vatican City for the San Lorenzo area and here, amid the rubble and a flock of desperate people he knelt down and prayed for the victims of this and other raids.

 

Everyone is waiting for something to happen, including the King who awaits the right opportunity to get rid of Mussolini, and this comes with the convocation of the meeting of the great council of fascism for the afternoon of April 24. Mussolini had summoned it because he was urged by the other leaders to discuss the progress of the war and the possibilities for Italy. A few days earlier, the agenda was drawn up calling for Mussolini's resignation and he became aware of it but decided to present himself because he thought he was still supported by the King and the majority of the leaders of fascism. It is a long meeting, Mussolini makes an account of the war and claims to still be able to win thanks to the sci-fi new weapons of the Germans, but instead the council votes for his resignation and asks Mussolini himself to present it to the King.

 

July 25th Mussolini asked the king to receive him in the afternoon convinced that after the night's rebellion the leaders were eager to repent and that a reshuffle of government seats would be enough. At the hearing, the king informs Mussolini that he has decided to accept his resignation and appoint Marshal Badoglio as Head of Government. Then he accompanies him out of Villa Savoia; waiting for him there is an ambulance that will take him to military base of the carabinieri. That evening in national radio address the King announced the acceptance of mussolini's resignation and badoglio's appointment as the new leader of Italy. A joy exploded on the streets of Italian cities that meant above all one thing: in the end of fascism the people saw the prelude to the end of the war. But Badoglio had also said that Italy keeps it word with the Germans, the war continues, even without Mussolini. What will happen next?

Read 1033 times Last modified on Monday, 29 June 2020 10:22
Marcello Cordovani

Marcello Cordovani is the founder and co-owner of VITORITALY. He is also the Tour Manager of the private tour of Italy

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