Tag Archives: Italy

Wartime Wanderers Revisited

2015-07-21 22.46.10_origianl goslin grave
Harry Goslin’s Original Grave (Courtesy W Goslin)

Last week, as the historian and guide for 103 Regiment (V) I took part in a special battlefield study to Italy, in the footsteps of the Bolton and Manchester Artillery on the battlefields of the Sangro and Moro Rivers and Monte Cassino, as part of Ubique 300. 53 (Bolton) Field Regiment were the nearest thing in the Second World War to the pals or sports battalions of Kitchener’s Army raised in 1914. In March 1939 Hitler reneged on the Munich agreement and invaded Czechoslovakia. The following weekend the team captain of Bolton Wanderers football club, Harry Goslin addressed the crowd and called for supporters to join the TA. It was not enough to deplore what was going on in the world. Hitler would need to be stopped. He and the team were joining up.

The story of what happened to Harry Goslin is told in an earlier post, written close to the 70th anniversary of his death. It was mainly based on general histories of the battle and material available on line.

Map showing the attack by the 8th Indian Division on 14 Dec  1943, updated to show the attack from the South . (1) The “Impossible” Bailey bridge, built from the enemy side. (2) Position secured before the attack (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack (4) Canadian attack on Casa Beradi on the same day.

updated to show the

updated to show the

A visit to the National Archives and the war diary of 53 Field Regiment revealed more details about the story and the experience of the soldiers.

We can interpret documents such as fireplans.  Harry Goslin, the Bolton Wanderers fotball team captain was killed as an artillery forward observer in this battle
Fireplan Trace overlaid on 1943 1:50,000 map sheet.

The maps in the general histories portray the attack mounted by the 8th Indian Division on 14th December as an arrow from Villa Rogatti west north west to to Villa Caldari. The fire plan in the 53 Rd Regiment War diary shows a barrage by the divisional artillery supporting an attack north from the road between these villages, which curves first west then north. When superimposed on the 1:50,000 map the first line of the barrage is 50 yards north of the candy stripe road, an obvious start-line. 52 and 116 Field Regiments fired the lines of the barrage. 53rd Field Regiment fired a flanking barrage, three lines of shells fired at right angles to the main barrage to protect the left flank of the attack, exposed to enemy fire from the lateral road. All points calculated by hand in damp, cold dug out command posts.

members of 209 (Manchester) Battery pay respects to a Manchester Gunner in Sangro War Cemetery
Major T J Fox BC and members of 209 (Manchester) Battery, and the Captain General’s Baton  pay respects at the grave of a fallen Manchester Gunner in Sangro War Cemetery

The war diaries referred to the abysmal quality of the maps, with features up to 500 metres from their true location. It wasn’t much easier to find locations on modern maps. It is hard to find maps with more detail than 1:200,000 and the information on different publications can be contradictory, and at variance with the features on the ground.

2015-07-22 14.50.40_cropped LR
After the ceremony, Major A J Gledhill, BC and members of 216 Battery pose behind Harry Goslin’s Grave photographed by Philip Mason Chaplain of Bolton Wanderers FC

But the 53 Field Regiment gun positions seemed obvious. Plotting the battery locations on the 1944 map showed East of the road between S. Vito Chietano and Lanciano. west of Treglia The best fit of the 1944 map with Google maps put the gun positions just to the side of what is now a road through the edge of a village. This made sense. The fire plans called for hundreds of rounds of ammunition per gun per day. The weather in December 1943 was bad with the fields and tracks reduced to mud. The War diary noted that it was difficult to extract the guns from their old positions and that it took six hours before two of the batteries were ready after moving a couple of miles. Gun positions would need to be close to the driest ground. An old lady remembered, “yes. The guns were just over there”. What is now an olive grove was a field in 1943.

Grave of Gunner Plummer, a 53 FGiled Regiment OP Signaller who fell on the same day as Harry Goslin.
Grave of Gunner Plummer, a 53 Field Regiment OP Signaller who fell on the same day as Harry Goslin.

There were also some VIPs. Harry Goslin’s son Bill and grandson Matt came to make a visit, their first to Harry’s grave, and to find out about what happened to him. Lieutenant Harry Goslin was mortally wounded as a forward observer, a task usually carried out by a captain troop commander. Harry’s normal role should have been on the gun position, either in a troop or battery command post or as a gun position officer. The command post officers were responsible for supervising the soldiers who calculated what direction the guns should point to hit any given target. This was difficult and tiring work, but not as dangerous as accompanying the infantry, with the higher risks from bullet, shell or mortar bomb.

Major John Young in the "Dorway to Valhalla"  The entrance to the German War Cemetery Caira
Major John Young in the “Dorway to Valhalla” The entrance to the German War Cemetery Caira

The 53 Field Regiment War Diary provides evidence of the pressure on the officers and soldiers who served at the sharp end. On1st December, after a week long battle on the Sangro Rover one battery commander had been evacuated with exhaustion The nearby 1st Canadian RCHA attacking on the right of the Indians lost four out of six FOOs over four days. Officers and signallers from the guns would have to take their turn at the OP. It was as a stand in OP Officer that Harry Goslin crossed the start line.

The Rapido Valley looing towards Cassino from Caira German War Cemetery
The Rapido Valley looing towards Cassino from Caira German War Cemetery

The attacks along the Adriatic coastal plain halted a month later on the next river line, the Arielli, with winter snow.  Four months later, the 8th Indian Division with the 52nd Manchester Artillery and 53 Bolton Artillery crossed the Apennine mountains  in secret to deploy South of Cassino.   Here the allies had tried battering a way through what was the strongest part of the German defences between December 1943 and March 1944.

2015-07-23 17.11.28_36 Texas Div Memoiral LR
Memorial to the 36th Texan Division which suffered heavy losses attempting to cross the River Gari in January 1944. Four months later the 8th Indian Division, supported by the 52 nd and 53rd Field Regiments crossed the river near here.

The allies concentrated both of their armies to break through the German army on the front facing Rome.  This time the allies assembled a force of 1600 guns, including those of 52 (Manchester) Field  and 53rd  (Bolton) Field Artillery Regiments. These blasted a path across defences which had stopped the allies over the preceding months. Not without a hard fight or losses. The commonwealth War

Down time in the Adriatic sea., close to the mouth of the River Sangro
Down time in the Adriatic sea., close to the mouth of the River Sangro

Graves Commission records list 184 members of the Royal Artillery who died in Italy during May 1944. 110 are buried or commemorated in the Cassino War Cemetery. Twelve of the dead served in the 52 (Manchester) or 53 (Bolton) Field Regiments.gunner tours logo white on brown

30 April 1524 – Death of the fearless and faultless knight


490 years ago, Pierre Terrail, seigneur de Bayard, the commander of the French rear guard at the Battle of the Sesia, was mortally wounded by an arquebus ball, on 30th April 1524. This French soldier, generally known as Chevalier de Bayard, was renowned by his contemporaries as the fearless and faultless knight (le chevalier sans peur et sans reproche). He himself preferred to be referred to as “le bon chevalier”, or “the good knight”. The death of a man famed for his chivalry at the hands of an anonymous arquibussier appear to symbolise a transition in warfare. However the Bon Chevalier was much more than just a symbol. While most of his military services was in Italy and the borders of France, there are parts of his story which touches British Military history.

From the insular Britain the reign of the Tudors is fairly peaceful, fgive or take the odd Scottish incursion or Yorkist plot. But the forty years from 1490 was a turbulent time in Europe, with France at war for most of the time with Spain and the Holy Roman Empire was fought in Italy and along France’s still ill defined boundaries. This was a period when military technology, organisation and tactics were changing rapidly.

The wikipedia entry on Chevalier de Bayard lists his military service over thirty years service for three successive French monarchs Charles VII, Louis XII and Francis I mainly in Italy but also in Flanders. He seems to have played an important role in many of the battles of the Italian wars, from Charles’ ,VII’s campaigns .

The Chevalier de Bayard seems to have combined the personal qualities expected of a medieval knight with the professional abilities needed in the new world of gun powder, and pike and shot. While his chivalrous deeds and gallantry charmed Kings and courtiers – and Lucretia Borgia, he was far more than a dashing knight. He was a good organiser and trainer. In 1509 he raised a body of horse and foot which set the standard for discipline and battlefield effectiveness in an army which had previously despised infantry as a mere rabble. As a commander he was known for his accurate knowledge of the enemy, obtained by skilled reconnaissance and efficient espionage. In 1521, with 1000 men he had successfully held the “indefensible” city of Mezieres in the Meuse valley against an Imperial army of 35,000

Chevalier de Bayard defends the Bridge over the Garigliano near Minturno 1509
Chevalier de Bayard on the Bridge over the Garigliano

In 1503 the re was a battle on the line of , with the Spanish Army assaulted the French Army across the the River Garigliano, via bridges of boats. One of the more famous incidents of the battle is the single handed defence of a bridge over the Chevalier de Bayard single handed held off a force of 300 Spaniards. This took place close to the village of Minturno, close to where the British Army attacked in a similar fashion in January 1944 and a few hundred metres from the Commonwealth War Cemetery.

Troops of the Fifth Army near the Garigliano river 19 Jan 1944© IWM (TR 1527)
Fifth Army crossing the Garigliano 19 Jan 1944© IWM (TR 1527)
Map showing the crossing by 2nd  Wiltshires in relation to the site of the medieval bridge over the Garigliano
Map showing the crossing by 2nd Wiltshires in relation to the site of the medieval bridge over the Garigliano

Ten years later Bayard fought at the battle of Guines, known by the English as the battle of the Spurs, in which a French cavalry force was defeated by the English. Fleeing from the field Bayard was trapped, but noticing an English knight un-armoured and resting he forced the man to yield and then in turn offered himself as a prisoner. This act of chivalry endeared him to Henry VIII who released him on parole.


On 30th April 1524 Bayard died in “the midst of the enemy, attended by Pescara, the Spanish commander, and by his old comrade, Charles, duc de Bourbon, who was now fighting on the opposite side. Charles is reported to have said “Ah! Monsieur de Bayard… I am very sad to see you in this state; you who were such a virtuous knight!” Bayard answered,“”Sir, there is no need to pity me. I die as a man of honour ought, doing my duty; but I pity you, because you are fighting against your king, your country, and your oath.”

That is an interesting view from a historic figure at a time which we assume is dominated by treachery, Machaivelli and mercenaries.

For more about Chevalier de Bayard check the following:-

His Wikipedia entry

The Battle of the Garigliano 1503 

and the Battle of the Garigliano in 1944

And the assault crossing 

The Battle of the Spurs 

and more documents on the battle of the Spurs

The Battle of the River Sesia 

To visit the battlefields of Chevalier de Bayard contact mus!


Lt Harry Goslin RA: a fallen Wanderer at the Moro River

The 18th December 2013 is the 70th anniversary of the death of Lt Harry Goslin RA of 53 Field Regiment.   He is buried in the River Sangro Commonwealth War Cemetery, in Cheti Province, Italy.  His story and that of the battle in which he died deserve to be remembered as they show a different aspect of the Second World War.  


Bolton Artillery – 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment football team – The Wartime Wanderers Standing: Danny Winter, Harry Goslin, Stan Hanson, George Catterall, (Lt Col G Bennet), Jimmy Ithell, Jack Hurst, (Capt J J Clavell QM) Front row: Albert Geldard, Donny Howe, Ray Westwood, Jack Roberts, Tommy Sinclair http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-09.htm (1)


Before the Second World War Henry “Harry” Goslin had been the captain of Bolton Wanderers Football Club.  On 1st March 1939 Hitler broke the terms of the Munich Agreement by invading the rest of Czechoslovakia.  On 14th March 1939, before the next home match Harry addressed the crowd with a megaphone urging them to join the Territorial Army. After the match, 32 out of 37 men on the playing staff joined the armed forces, 17 joining their local TA unit, the Bolton Artillery.   The idea of “pals” battalions of chums joining the same unit and serving together is much more associated with the First rather than the Second World War.  However the Wartime Wanderers joined together and served together in what was mobilised as 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA.  They served in France and Belgium in 1940, were evacuated at Dunkirk, then sent overseas serving in Iraq and at the second battle of El Alamein as part of the 8th Indian Division.  The Regimental football team was much in demand as an expert position matches. While the Regiment was based in the Uk, players continued to play for their own side and as guests for football clubs close to where the Regiment was stationed.  Harry Goslin played for Bolton in  4 out of 22 matches played in the 1939-40 season as well as appearing as a  guest for Chelsea and Norwich City.

Wartime Wanderers – Ray Westwood (foot on trail), Jack Hurst (tall figure at back) Ernie Forrest, Tommy Sinclair and Harry Goslin (just behind instructor) http://www.boltonswar.org.uk/i-ra-10.htm (1)


The 53rd (Bolton) Field Regiment RA was in direct support of the 21st Indian Brigade, comprising the 5th Battalion the Royal West Kent Regiment, the 3/15th Punjabi battalion and the 1/5th Mahratta.  Harry Goslin was a Forward Observation Officer attached to the 3rd Battalion of the 15th Punjabi Regiment. (3/15th Punjabi)  Divisions of the Indian Army were comprised of a mixture of British and Indian troops.  Two thirds of the infantry would be Indian, with the remainder from the British army, all the artillery would be British while the sappers and services would be Indian. The “Indian” units were still mainly commanded  by British officers but the proportion of Indians holding a Kings Commission rose during the war.  The divisional machine battalion of the 8th Indian Division was commanded by Lt Col D S Brar, one of the Indian officers to command a combatant unit in the field. (2)

8th Indian Division
8th Indian Divisional Badge worn on the upper sleeve and painted on vehicles (2)

The 3/15th Punjabi Regiment had originally been raised as the Rawlpindi Regiment in 1857, and served in the Second Opium War alongside some of the Dragon batteries, and then in Afghanistan and Somaliland. As the 27th Punjabi Regiment it served in France and Mesopotamia in the First World War, and was renumbered 3/14th when the Indian army was reorganised in the 1920s. After partition it was transferred to the Pakistan army where it still exists as the 11th Punjabi Regiment.  The Punjab countryside was fertile recruiting ground for the British Indian Army, with military service an attractive alternative to life on the land. In return the British values its soldiers for loyalty and hardiness.  These were some of the conditions which led British post war industry to attract workers from the Punjab to serve in the textile industry of the North of England.

The policy not to raise artillery units from the Indian population dated from the aftermath of the Indian mutiny, as a measure to prevent any future rebellion from having access to the firepower of the artillery.  The story of the Royal Artillery in the World Wars is that of the Indian as well as the British Army and its formations.  Three Indian Army Divisions served in Italy, the 4th, 8th and 10th and with them nine field regiments and three LAA regiments.  In September 1943 the 8th Indian Division and with it the Wartime Wanderers sailed to Italy to reinforce the 8th Army.


River Sangro Battlefield

The battlefields of the Sangro and Moro rivers do not attract as many visitors as those on the Garigliano and Rapido, conveniently between Rome and Naples with the focus of the historic cultural icon of the Abbey of Monte Cassino.  The Sangro battlefields took place in the Adriatic region of Chieti, which isn’t as accessible and further from the major cultural tourist sites.  The battle has also been overshadowed by the historic drama of the battles of Cassino and the Anzio landing.

But this battlefield does not deserve to be neglected.  These battles were the last battle fought by Montgomery as commander of the Eighth Army, and the largest set piece battle commanded by him on the mainland of Italy.  In late 1943 the allies stiller had hopes of capturing Rome. In October the Germans made the decision to try to stop the allies south of Rome and constructed the Gustav or Winter Line based on the Garigliano River flowing west and the Sangro River flowing east across the “calf” of the Italian boot. The Fifth Army under Mark Clark was to advance from Salerno and Naples via the West coast.  Montgomery with 8th army was to push along the Eastern Adriatic coast, break through the Gustav line on the coastal plan, press on the Pescara and then attack Rome from the east, across the ApennineMountains.   While the coastal strip south East of Pescara is much gentler country than the mountainous terrain around Cassino, the landscape played an important part in shaping the battle and is reasonably well preserved. 

The battle of the Sangro was a set piece battle mounted by the four infantry divisions of the Vth Corps, and started on the 20th November 1943.  Supported by 652 guns and the Desert Air Force the Eighth Army blasted its way across the Sangro River and almost obliterated the 65th German infantry division defending the sector and capturing its divisional commander. 

The operation took place under appalling weather conditions. “The winter rains had set in, and no reprieve from bitter cold, swollen streams, and sodden earth could be expected. The Sangro in spate averaged five feet in depth, and was of such turbulence that patrols on more than one occasion had been drowned. The infantry bivouacked miserably in boggy fields under pelting showers. Transport speedily churned the water-logged earth into mud soup; vehicles slithered and skidded uncontrollably on the greasy tracks. Heavy transport and guns were winched and manhandled into position by their shivering, mud-soaked crews. Sappers and transport services toiled unceasingly to keep the roads open, and to get supplies through to the advanced positions.”(3)   The 100ft wide Sangro River became a 1000ft wide torrent which washed away the initial bridges constructed by the Engineers.

After a week of fighting, which drew in the German reserves from across Italy, the German commander decided to fall back from the Line of the Sangro and the Gustav line defences and defend the next river line back, that of the River Moro. In itself this was an achievement as it took the 5th Army many more months to break through the Gustav line on the admittedly more difficult sector they faced.


(1) 8th Indian Divian build “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st  Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943.  This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seicze pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed Wesr of the village of Tregelia.
(1) 8th Indian Division build the “Impossible bridge “ across Moro River. (2) From 9th Dec 1943 The 21st Indian Brigade secures the ridge above the River Moro Crossing by 13th Dec 1943. This is where the 1/15th Punjabis and Harry Goslin would have been likely to have been. (3) 17th Indian Brigade attack Caldari and seize pt198 on the lateral road. (4) Attack by 1st Canadian Division on 14th Dec 1943 towards Casa Beradi. (5) The guns of the 53rd Fd Regt RA deployed West of the village of Tregelia.

Technically, Harry Goslin fell at the battle of the Moro River rather than the Sangro.  The title of the History of the 8th Indian Division is “One more River”. (1) The geography of the Italian peninsular meant that the campaign was the story of an assault on the inevitable hill between one river valley and the next. The Germans did not defend the river banks themselves. Instead they held the high ground dominating the exits from the river valleys and reverse slope positions beyond the ridgelines, while deploying snipers and patrols on the forward slopes.  Towns and villages on the ridges such as Orsogna and Ortona were often built on tactically important positions, which had withstood the ancient endemic risk of attack by pirates. The German defenders were drawn from the 26 Panzer Division, 90th Panzer Grenadier Division and the 1st Fallschirmjaeger Division.

25 Pdr Guns firing from a muddy emplacement on the Sangro Battlefield

In early December 1943, the 8th Indian division was deployed between the 2nd New Zealand Division and 1st Canadian Division which were intended to make the main attacks on the towns of Orsogna and Ortona respectively on the ridges.  Initially the 8th Indian division was tasked with making a diversion to distract attention from the attacks on their flanks. To this end very obvious preparations were made to build a bridge across the Moro.  The configuration of the approaches made it impossible to build from the home bank, so the sappers manhandled materials across the river and built the “Impossible Bridge” from the enemy bank.   On 8/9th December, as the flanking Canadian and New Zealand attacks faltered and the Indians were ordered to secure the village and the ridge line north west of the MoroRiver.  On the night  9/10th December the 3/15th Pubjabis with one company of 5th Royal Mahratta Machine-Gunners, and other supporting arms the Forward Observation Officer (FOO) parties from 53 Field Regiment Royal Artillery crossed the Moro to secure the bridgeheads.  FOO parties consisted of an officer, such as Harry Goslin, trained to control artillery fire, and soldiers providing technical and communications support.  It was on his judgment, and the competence of his signallers in maintaining communications to the guns 7km in the rear, that the survival of the infantry might depend. He and his men would move and live with the infantry sharing the dangers of the front line.  The presence of  FOO parties was sufficiently important that Montgomery himself took a personal interest that they were correctly allocated.  A few weeks earlier, at the Sangro crossing, one infantry company of another division crossed the river without an FOO party and found themselves unable to call for artillery fire and forced to retreat. This made Montgomery very angry and spoke severely to the Corps commander on the subject and obtained an assurance that it would not happen again. ()

“The Germans reacted violently to this incursion. From patrol clashes the fighting mounted into a tense struggle. The Punjabis went forward to clear a strong-point with the bayonet. That night, “Impossible Bridge” was strengthened, and next morning British tanks crossed to come up in close support of the Punjabis and Mahrattas. Mopping up continued, but the area remained unhealthy with enemy snipers and mortar teams infiltrating audaciously. In destroying these pests a number of cat-eyed, soft-footed Indians compiled remarkable individual bags. Havildar Badlu Ram of the Punjabis slew sixteen Germans, and others were not far behind his total. The ground was cleansed and a firm bridgehead established.“ (3)tiger06

On the 13th and 14th other troops from the Indian Division attacked towards Villa Caldieri and the lateral road on the ridgeline parallel to the Moro.  The Germans shelled the area heavily and counterattacked with infantry and tanks.  The war diary of the 53 Field Regiment made at 0250hours on the 14th  records that the Regiment had fired 170 rounds per gun ona  timed programme to support the advance of 17 Brigade through the Punjabis positions and then a series of defensive fires against counter attacks made at dawn by German tanks and infantry. (4)    

Later that day the diary noted “heavy enemy shelling of the Observation Post (OP) positions – an increase” and two serious casualties. One was Gunner Plummer an OP signaller killed by a sniper’s bullet.  The second was Harry Goslin, wounded by a shell or mortar round bursting in a tree above his slit trench.  The slit trenches customary in the Second World War provided protection against splinters from shells or bombs bursting on the ground.  However, without overhead cover they were vulnerable to splinters from exploding shells overhead. Prior to the invention of radar “proximity” fuses, it was difficult to achieve accurate air bursts.  However, if a shell struck a tree it would burst at the optimum height to inflict casualties.  Harry Goslin was caught like this and paralysed by a shell splinter in the back.  He was evacuated but died four days later and is buried 20 km south at the Sangro War cemetery in plot XV. Row C. grave 29.  He was the only member of the Wartime Wanderers to be killed in the Second World War, but two other members of the seventeen who served in 53rd Field Regiment were wounded during the war. 

tiger05The conditions under which the troops fought were atrocious, and closer to the popular imagination of the First World War than the Second.  The weather was vile.  According to the New Zealand histories, it took six men to carry a laden stretcher.  One Canadian soldier described the land beyond the Moro river as “ a landscape that seemed almost lunar in its desolation where men lived and died in unremembered ways.”  Brigadier Kippenberger, a New Zealander veteran of the First World War, wrote that  “I had not seen men so exhausted since Flanders.  Their faces were grey”

 The Battle of the MoroRiver was a significant battle, the last attempt by the 8th Army to break through on the Adriatic coast.  To the right of the 8th Indian Division the 1st Canadian Division attacked towards Casa Beradi and the crossroads leading towards the town of Ortona. The bitter house to house fighting in Ortona between the Canadians and the German paratroops which lasted until the New Year is the main episode remembered from the battle of the Moro River. The story of the Indians who fought alongside them and endured the mud and slit trenches in awful conditions, deserves to be remembered, as does that of the gunners who supported them.


A film is being made.It is great to see that it is about a bunch of gunners.

Wartime Wanderers teaser

More details here.


The View looking across the R Morro  from the track leading North from Frisa Cjhieti
The View looking across the River Morro from the track leading North from Frisa, (Gr 308081) on the 1:100,000 map

 Pescara is a good base for exploring the battlefields of the Sangro and the Moro. There are cheap direct flights from the UK to Pescara.  As a holiday resort it has ample accommodation and, out of Italian peak season it is easy to find accommodation.    It is possible to fly to Rome and travel over the Apennines by road or rail. The countryside is quite spectacular and illustrates why the Allied plan to take Rome via Pescara was doomed from the moment the Germans decided to stand South of Rome.  Ortona has a fine little military museum and the Commonwealth War Cemeteries, as everywhere, are well maintained and their staff helpful.

The battlefield is one of the battlefields that need to be visited to appreciate the micro-terrain, the tactically important minor features of what Montgomery described as “ridge and furrow” countryside.  Although Ortona has sprawled along the lateral road the battlefield is much less overgrown than the  Monte Cassino massif or litter laden and developed than Anzio. There are plenty of view points beloved for military studies and TEWTs.

 The area is less geared to battlefield tourism than around Cassino, but when aware of the purpose of a visit the local response can be humbling.  An explanation to the hotel owner of the purpose of the visit resulted in the owner telling the story of her father, taken prisoner in Sicily and her uncle who fought with the partisans alongside the British Major Lionel Wigram.  As soon as the occupants of the “manor House” in Casa Beradi had worked out that the group of people in German registered minibuses were British soldiers the hospitality was overwhelming.

 For more information about visiting the battlefield contact Gunner Tours www.gunnertours.com +44 207 387 6620


1.  Bolton Remembers the War 

2. One More River the story of the 8th Indian Division.

3. The Tiger Triumphs: The Story of Three Great Divisions In Italy; His Majesty’s Stationery Office For The Government Of India 1946

4.  War Diary 53 Field Regiment RA WO /170

70th Anniversary of the Second Front – Italy 3rd September 1943

Canadian Troops about to open the Second Front in Calabria
Canadian Troops about to open the Second Front in Calabria

The 3rd September was the 70th Anniversary of Operation Baytown, the landings by the 8th Army on the toe of Italy.  It was largely unremarked in the press, even in Britain.

Operation Baytown was the first landing in force by the western allies on the mainland of Europe.  The landing was largely unopposed and the Germans withdrew leaving blown bridges and felled trees. It has been overshadowed by the Anglo American landings at Salerno on the 9th September which faced  a week long battle before the Germans withdrew – as the 8th army drew close.

The Italian campaign lasted for twice as long as operation Overlord, the allied invasion of North West Europe, which overshadowed it.  The campaign cost the Allies around one third of a million casualties and the Germans over half a million, as well as an estimated 150,000 Italian lives.     The campaign included several controversial episodes, with the battles to prise the Germans out of their positions in the winter of 1943-44  giving rise to the battles for Monte Cassino and the destruction of the abbey and to the landing at Anzio.  The conditions around Monte Cassino were compared by several participants as reminiscent of the Western Front battlefields of the First World War.  Many commentators have been critical of Allied generalship in the campaign,  with US General Mark Clark and British General Harold Alexander singled out.


The value or otherwise of the actions and sacrifices of those who fought in the Italian campaign has been coloured by the counter factual debate about whether Italy should have been invaded at all.  From their entry  into the war in December 1941, the US Army Chief of Staff Marshal had been pressing for an allied  cross channel assault at the earliest possible opportunity and resisted British calls for activity in the Mediterranean.

This determination of the US Army to try to open a second front in Europe ASAP may have been influenced by several factors. 1) Europe was the only place that the huge 100 division US Army could be deployed. 2) If the Army did not put up a convincing argument that it would use the resources in a sensible time frame, the priorities would be switched to the US Navy or USAAF. It was politically unacceptable to argue “Germany first” while doing nothing for two to three years. 3) This was a coalition and the Red army, in 1941-43 looked as if it needed urgent help to defeat the Germans. The US army expected setbacks and to take losses and were prepared for initial failures. Their historic tradition and models were based on the US Civil War and “Bull Run” “Fredericksburg ” and Chancellorsville were part of a learning experience that led to Appomattox via Gettysburg and the Wilderness. The US had not been a major participant in WW1 and military planning could be quite callous by Western European standards.

Monte Cassino from Cassino War Cemetery
Monte Cassino from Cassino War Cemetery

Lets return to the C word. The US were part of a coalition, with the British as partners. The British were horrified at the risks the Americans proposed to run in 1942 and 43. (Brooke, who liked and admired Marshall, wrote of interrogating Marshal about what he wanted to do with a ten division landing in Northern France in 1942. What direction did he want to exploit? etc.) Brooke did not appear to grasp the scale and simplicity of the US plan: Mobilise and deploy 100 divisions to France where they can fight the Germans – France because that’s the only space big enough in Western Europe. If the first ten divisions were defeated there was another 90 and the resources of America mobilised for a crusade. This wasn’t an approach the British could afford to take. The British had already been kicked out of Europe on three occasions (France Norway and Greece), and were at the limits of their resources. To the British; the American plans all seemed to ask the British to deploy their last army in Europe on a series of risky ventures where the initial casualties would be disproportionately British.

Coalitions need to find plans which satisfy their partners or they fall apart. The compromise achieved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of two democratic governments was remarkably effective. The solution adopted was very successful, and worked out far better than the US planners might have expected. There was simply no prospect of a successful D day until the U Boats had been driven from the Channel, which was not until May 1943. It is hard to see a 1942 D Day as anything other than a bigger version of Dieppe, which is also the likely fate of a 1943 battle for Normandy mounted with the troops available in Europe in July 1943 and Italy still in the war.

Canadian Armour Ortona

The historic development of the war worked out far better. The North African campaign allowed the US Army to be blooded where the geography and resourced favoured the allies. The setback at Kasserine pass was not fatal. The US could deploy and test a First IX (Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Truscott, etc) with manageable numbers of troops. The rest of the Tunisian campaign allowed the US Army the time to learn and apply lessons. A similar set back on the French coastline might have ended up with the entire army in the bag. The invasion of Sicily allowed the allies to try out the techniques they would need for Overlord, against a modest outnumbered enemy. Op Husky was a huge strategic success. It was cited by Hitler as his reason for abandoning his 1943 offensive in Russia (Op Ziterdelle) at a point where some commentators have argued that his forces were on the brink of victory.

The Italian campaign was a second front on the mainland of Europe. The invasion of Italy took Italy out of the War and opened a second front which absorbed a German Army Group of 20+ divisions and forced the Germans to deploy a further 20+ divisions in SE Europe to to take on the occupation activities undertaken by the Italian army. The Italian campaign was fought in a geographically remote peninsular, which enabled the allies to deploy a single Army Group of 20 Divisions into Europe without the Germans being able to mass the resources to throw the allies into the sea.

British troops approach Austria May 1945
British troops approach Austria May 1945

The troops involved in the Italian “side show” disproportionately damaged the Germans more than the Allies. The key battle for Op Overlord was to secure a lodgment area where the remainder of the US Army could be deployed direct from the USA – the Normandy campaign. The balance of forces available in the Normandy campaign was the result of a race to build up forces between the Allies using sea and air and the Germans, by road and rail. The Allies had a lot more troops , but could only limited shipping. The Germans had fewer troops in total, but it was easier for them to be concentrated. The allies won the battle for the build up and after an attritional battle lasting seven weeks the Germans ran out of troops to plug gaps and the Allies broke out. The 20+ divisions German troops in Italy and the casualties incurred throughout the campaign were not available on D Day in France to fight the crucial battle. Even if the troops of the 15 AG not been deployed in Italy, they could not have been used at the lodgement phase of Op overlord, because the number of troops was limited by shipping capacity. Even at the end of the Normandy campaign there were many US Divisions forces still waiting to be deployed. (E.g. (99th 100th & 106th ID 9th, 10th & 11th AD). If there had been no Italian campaign there would just be more US troops waiting to be shipped.

There is a parallel with the US Civil War. Arguably the war was won in the West, with the Confederate states split and dismembered by larger Union forces. The Eastern campaign, (and various incursions along the coast) however inconclusive, tied down CSA troops that might otherwise have made a difference on the West. Given that the Union had the preponderance of forces, it made sense to deploy on as many fronts as the CSA could be forced to deploy their smaller resources.

PANO_20120808_151340Instead of looking at the Italian campaign as a side show, it might be more constructive to consider it as a successful diversion, which succeeded in tying down Germans which might have made a difference elsewhere. it did not matter to the allies for this purpose exactly where they were fighting the Germans in Italy. Sure the air force wanted bases near Foggia, but whether the battle was North or South of Rome only really mattered to Mark Clark – and the Italians themselves. Whatever faults there might have been in the execution of allied operations around Monte Cassino, the overall aim was achieved. On D Day there were hundreds of thousands of German combat troops in Italy and even some en route from France. The battles around Monte Cassino played their part in defeating the Nazis and liberate Europe.

I think this might be a better way to remember the remember the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought and died in the Italian Campaign.