Mussolini Excerpt Part 4

General Eisenhower

Today continues our publication of  Stacy Danielle Stephens’ Mussolini excerpt from her huge, amazing Historical work, which began a couple of weeks ago.

On the 18th , the Combined Chiefs of Staff instructed General Eisenhower to send two of his staff officers to meet with Italian General Castellano in Lisbon. Eisenhower sent his Chief of Staff, American Major General Walter Bedell Smith, and his Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence, British Brigadier Kenneth Strong, who went armed, if not to the teeth, then at least to the armpits, with a pair of pistols in shoulder holsters, and a second pair on his hips. In Lisbon, George Kennan, an administrative counselor at the US Embassy, drove the two men to their meeting with Castellano on the 19th. The discussion of terms lasted until dawn, when it was finally agreed that if the Italian Government accepted the terms, Castellano would meet with the Allies again, in Sicily, on August 31st.

In his report to Eisenhower, Smith categorized Castellano in demeaning racist terms, and noted, correctly, that the Italians anticipated German reprisals, and were paramountly concerned about the extent and brutality of such reprisals[1].

* * *

On August 21st, 1943, The London Daily Telegraph reported that an Italian official by the name of De Angelis was in Lisbon negotiating terms of the Italian armistice. That same day, Castellano sent messages to Rome from the Italian Legation in Lisbon. Since he was posing as a member of an economic mission to Chile, his coded messages detailed the difficulties he’d had exchanging currency. No one at the Foreign Office was aware of who he actually was, or what his messages actually meant, and so they were taken at face value and filed away. SIM received copies of these messages, but on August 18th, General Amé had been placed in command of an Infantry division garrisoning Lubiana, Slovenia. Since there was no one in SIM who knew the significance of Castellano’s messages, they were not forwarded to Commando Supremo, so it was not until the 27th, when Castellano himself arrived in Rome, that anyone in Italy knew he had met with Smith and Strong. For the next three days, Castellano, Badoglio and Ambrosio would bicker amongst themselves, struggling to formulate a counteroffer Castellano could take back to the Allies on August 31st.

* * *

It wasn’t yet nine o’clock on the morning of August 31st, 1943, when General Castellano’s Savoia Marchetti landed at Termini Imerese airport, twenty-four miles west southwest of Palermo. Brigadier Strong, in an American plane, was waiting for The General and his interpreter. These three men flew to an airfield near Syracuse, at the other end of Sicily. From there, they were taken by car to meet with General Smith at 15th Army Group Headquarters.

“If the Italian Government could act freely,” Castellano’s interpreter relayed for him, “we would accept your armistice terms, and announce them at once, just as you wish. But since we met in Lisbon, the Germans have reinforced their deployments in Italy. We are virtually an occupied country.”

Neither Smith nor Strong mentioned that it was the Italian Government’s failure to close the Brenner Pass which had enabled the Germans to do that. While this fact may have slipped Castellano’s mind, he certainly had nothing to gain by mentioning it himself. Instead, he mentioned the fifteen allied divisions Badoglio wanted to arrive in Italy. When this force had landed, the armistice could be announced without fear of German reprisal.

“If we could land a force that size,” Smith roared, his patience taxed beyond civility, “we wouldn’t have offered an armistice.” He realized even as the words sputtered from his lips that he’d spoken incautiously. He could also see that Castellano had some grasp of English. So he turned to Strong and began speaking rapidly, using random numbers interspersed with the words infantry, armour, and airborne. Strong caught on at once, and added to the deceptive smoke screen. It would be unwise to let the Italians know that there would be only seven divisions invading at three points[2].

Smith cleared his throat and the two stopped talking. Castellano resumed.

“You wouldn’t have to land the full force at one location,” the interpreter explained for him. Castellano had misunderstood Smith’s outburst. “A small landing first. We could pretend to oppose briefly. Then the real landing.”

“Our landings will succeed with or without Italian co-operation,” Smith said. “Our objective is Northern Italy, and we intend our initial landing to be as far north as we can make it, within the constraints of our air cover.”

Castellano heard what he wanted to hear, which is what Smith had hoped for. Short of actually saying “Salerno”, Smith could not have spelled out the invasion site any more clearly than he had. Castellano had never noticed that bombing raids against Italian cities had no fighter escort. He had no idea what was meant by the term air cover, and no inkling that British and American interceptor aircraft based in Sicily could not possibly patrol a beachhead so far away as Anzio or Fiumicino.

“Our Armoured Motorized Corps,” his interpreter conveyed his imploring frenzied staccato, “cannot hold Rome without immediate assistance.”

“We cannot bargain with you,” Smith replied. He waited to see that Castellano had heard and understood this. “Does Italy accept the terms of the armistice?”

Se Roma è perduto,” Castellano whined, “non sarà facile ripresa!

Smith understood that well enough, and asked what they would need to hold Rome against the Germans. As if he intended to provide it.

“Gasoline, rations, anti-tank guns,” was the response, “and reinforcements. An Armoured Division and an Airborne Division.”

“Why don’t we stop for lunch while I consider this?”

At five o’clock that evening, Castellano left, returning to Rome with the mistaken understanding that if the Italians signed the armistice, announced it before the Allied landing, and seized the airfields in and around Rome, an Airborne Division would land in Rome to help the Italians hold it until the other fourteen divisions landing near Nettuno arrived. Smith, of course, had promised him nothing, and plenty of it.

* * *

On the evening of September 1st, 1943, the Italians transmitted a prearranged radio message indicating that the King and Marshal Badoglio accepted the terms of the armistice. Had they known that plans to supply and reinforce the Italian Army in Rome were solely Castellano’s, they may have felt differently[3]. On September 2nd, Castellano and his interpreter were again speaking with Smith and Strong, who had been joined by two political advisors, Robert Murphy , and British Minister Resident in the Mediterranean Harold Macmillan .

“My government accepts the terms,” they were told, “but requests that it not be announced until September fifteenth.”

“Are you prepared to sign the armistice?” Smith asked.

“He reminds you,” the interpreter explained, “that he has not been given such authority. Our government has already expressed its acceptance of the terms.”

“I need a signature!” Smith shouted, like an inquisitor demanding a formal confession. “Now!”

Castellano refused, his interpreter repeating his previous statement. A radio message was sent to Rome, and Castellano and the interpreter were sent to their tent, where they were kept under guard for the next few hours.

General Alexander and his staff got into full dress uniform before coming to Castellano’s tent. The Italian, overawed by Alexender’s rank and glaring prestige, sprang to his feet and saluted.

Not returning the salute, Alexander said that he had come to accept the Italian surrender. Macmillan approached him, saying that Castellano did not have the authority to sign the agreement. Glaring at Castellano, Alexander said that there must be some mistake. “I’ve seen the telegram. From Marshall Badoglio. Authorizing–Arrest this man! He must be a spy!”

Castellano trembled, as did his interpreter, prattling franticly, quickly explaining this alarming development. Alexander slapped his gleaming boots with his riding crop, explaining that without an armistice agreement, the Allied Air Force would be compelled to flatten Rome at once. The increasingly terrified interpreter related this to Castellano, who shuddered in turn.

“We could do a damn sight more damage to Italy than the Germans would,” Alexander went on. “Without this guarantee of your government’s co-operation, we’ll have to settle for anarchy. But it’s all one to us. The only way out of this, as I see it, would be a telegram to Marshal Badoglio, confirming your authority to sign the armistice.”

Without waiting, Alexander and his staff left, followed by Smith, Strong, Murphy and Macmillan. The guards, however, remained.

* * *

Italina WW2 Tank

On September 3rd, a series of radio messages to and from Rome concluded with the British Ambassador to the Vatican confirming receipt of a signed note from Marshal Pietro Badoglio, authorizing Castellano to sign the armistice. Even as the British Ambassador was transmitting this message, at four in the afternoon, Badoglio was meeting with the German Ambassador, Rudolf Rahn.

“You’ve begun moving two divisions to Rome?” Rahn asked, his tone being the real inquiry, tacitly expressing the Germans’ continued concern about persistent rumours of a pending armistice.

“The Lupi and the Re, yes,” Badoglio answered him. “It was your General Keitel who requested we move our forces south, as soon as they’d absorbed fresh recruits and received new equipment. When these foot soldiers have taken positions around Rome, our mechanized forces can join Kesselring’s divisions, that we may continue fighting alongside you in our common cause.” Badoglio paused. “Your mistrust is incomprehensible. I’m one of the senior military men in Europe. I have given my word, and intend to keep it.” What Badoglio did not specify was that it was not Rahn, but Eisenhower, to whom he had just minutes earlier given his word.

Rahn met with the King early that evening. As had Badoglio, his Majesty insisted that Italy would continue fighting at the side of Germany.

Still later that same day, as the sun was setting, Castellano signed the armistice, and was immediately given the full text of the previously unspecified terms he had just agreed to accept. He gasped, then decided it would be best to say nothing about them, as it was now far too late for anything he might say to matter.

The next morning, Saturday, September 4th, Ambassador Rahn met with Italian Chief of Staff, General Ambrosio, who assured him, as had King Victor Emmanuelle and Field Marshal Badoglio, that Italy was committed to continue fighting at Germany’s side. Taken individually, these assurances would be meaningless enough, but the vigor and consistency with which they were coming, in a steady campaign, similar to an advertising slogan, made it clear enough that the Italians were about to do what they tirelessly insisted they were not about to do. Further, the cloying nonchalance of their coy, studied recitations made it painfully, pathetically obvious that they believed they could simply turn away when the moment came, the way an honour guard on a parade ground might carry out a left flank march.

“Spaghetti-eating mongrels,” Rahn muttered to himself as he stood at the window, watching Ambrosio step away briskly toward Commando Supremo. He had something to tell someone, and while Rahn could only guess whom, he need not guess what.

Ambrosio met with General Mario Roatta, commander of the Italian Army, and told him that an armistice had been signed, and would be announced on or after September 12th, when the Allies would make an amphibious assault near Rome, with the 82nd Airborne landing just outside of Rome, to assist the Italian defenses there while another fifteen Allied Divisions came ashore and drove the Germans north in short order[4].

* * *

In the early hours of September 8th, 1943, while the men of the US 82nd Airborne Division were getting themselves ready for a possible landing near Rome, tentatively scheduled to take place later that day, two of their officers, General Maxwell Taylor and Colonel William Gardiner, were meeting with Marshal Badoglio.

“The number of Germans now surrounding the city is too great for your parachutists to be an adequate deterrent,” he told them. “You will have to postpone all operations indefinitely.”

Of course, nothing was postponed. However, someone at AFHQ, presumably on Eisenhower’s orders, cancelled the secret notification that the invasion was underway. It was clear from their recalcitrance that the Italians would provide no assistance to the allied landings, and it still seemed possible they might attempt a double-cross.

* * *

In 1952, Congressman Richard Nixon would remind Eisenhower that “there comes a time when you piss or get off the pot!” When that time came to Marshal Pietro Badoglio, he tragically did neither. How does one make sense of his equivocation, his apparent unwillingness to stand and deliver when Italy was hanging in the balance?

Badaoglio’s duplicitous inertia can be understood easily enough if one supposes that he hoped to emulate Admiral Darlan, the de facto weathervane of Vichy North Africa, turning adroitly and perfunctorily with the winds of change. Yet if this was the hand Badoglio hoped to play, he profoundly misread the cards he’d been dealt. Darlan’s collaboration with Germany sprang from defeat, rather than a willing alliance, and the Allies’ complicity with him was both an embarrassment and an encumbrance to Eisenhower, Roosevelt and Churchill, who had no wish to be saddled with anything of the sort again.

* * *

At a few minutes after Noon, on September 8th, 1943, four groups of B-17s began dropping bombs on German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s headquarters at Frascati. Kesselring assumed that an amphibious landing near Rome would occur within hours, and feared that the US 82nd Airborne would seize Rome itself[5]. Accordingly, when he had emerged from the rubble, unharmed, he gave orders that units near Rome form a defensive screen, which might give the five divisions in Southern Italy time to move North, where they could join with the eight divisions under Rommel’s command, and forestall total disaster.

* * *

The King had called yet another conference to discuss the armistice, but General Roatta had already scheduled a meeting with General Siegfried Westphal, Kesselring’s Chief of Staff, concerning preparations for the pending Allied invasion, and it would hardly do to give the Germans any reason to suppose Italy had already made plans of her own in that matter. Westphal arrived at Monte Redondo just before six-thirty.

“Smiling Al wants me to move the Third,” he announced at once.

“That’s the Panzergrenadier Division?” Roatta asked. Westhphal nodded. “Can it wait until morning?” If the Germans knew what was happening in Rome, they wouldn’t wait. They’d be moving at once, and only asking leave to achieve surprise. The two generals shared in a momentously pregnant hesitation, each waiting to pick up what the other might let fall, but doubtful of his own sketchy information, and less certain of what his counterpart knew, or how much anyone suspected.

“No,” Westphal finally edged back, “Naval intelligence says the allies are steaming toward Salerno.”

“You’d be moving them south?” Roatta asked. “Away from Rome?” He hoped he sounded aghast, rather then relieved.

Knuckles rapped at the door, which opened at once. A junior officer, cold sweat beaded and dripping from his forehead, announced that there was an urgent telephone call for General Westphal.

“Was it private?” Roatta asked, “or can he take it here?”

“Put it through to this phone,” Westphal said, without hesitation. Italian intelligence would be listening anyway.

“Hallo?” he said as soon as he had the receiver to his ear. “I see,” he said before ringing off a moment later.

* * *

“This is Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower.” He spoke from Algiers, via United Nations Radio. “Commander in Chief of the Allied Forces. The Italian Government has surrendered its armed forces unconditionally. As Allied Commander in Chief, I have granted a military armistice, the terms of which have been approved by the Governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Thus I am acting in the interest of the United Nations. The Italian Government has bound itself to abide by these terms without reservation. The armistice was signed by my representative and the representative of Marshal Badoglio and it becomes effective this instant. Hostilities between the armed forces of the United Nations and those of Italy terminate at once. All Italians who now act to help eject the German aggressor from Italian soil will have the assistance and the support of the United Nations.”

It was 6:30 in the evening on September 8th, 1943.

* * *

“General Eisenhower has just announced an armistice,” Westphal said curtly, obviously awaiting an explanation. Roatta knew it had better be a damned good one. He shouted for General Zanussi, who came in immediately.

“Have you heard anything about an armistice?” Roatta asked him.

“Not a word, General[6].”

“Allied propaganda,” Roatta said. He shrugged. “Well, if you must move your men at night,” he went on casually, “let’s say you keep them about twenty miles from Rome itself. Everyone is nervous lately. Our navy has said that same thing about Salerno. If it’s true, Ariete and Piave will be alongside your units in a day. Two at the most.”

Seated as he was in an Italian Headquarters, in the midst of armed Italians, Westphal thought it prudent not to belabour the question. When the German had left the building, Zanussi entered Roatta’s office again.

“Well?”

“We are fucked,” Roatta explained quietly. The two of them began collecting the most incriminating or sensitive documents in the office, limiting themselves to what they could carry discreetly; nothing could be burned, as the smoke of a paper fire would be the surest possible indicator that the Pact of Steel had become a tissue of lies.

* * *

Italian Foreign Minister Raffaele Guariglia heard Eisenhower’s broadcast, and immediately went into Badoglio’s office to inform him of this sudden turn of events.

“We’re fucked!” Badoglio replied. Without fifteen American, British, and Canadian Divisions shielding him from the wrath and fury of Hilter’s army[7], Badoglio was reluctant to announce that he’d sought and agreed to an armistice, and tempted to officially deny it. However, Victor Emmanuelle was adamant that Italy’s word, once given, must be kept. Having delayed more than an hour, Badoglio broadcast a statement via Radio Rome.

“The Italian Government, recognizing the impossibility of continuing the unequal struggle against the overwhelming power of the enemy, with the object of avoiding further and more grievous harm to the nation, has requested an armistice from General Eisenhower, Commander in Chief of the Anglo-American Allied forces. This request has been granted. The Italian forces will therefore cease all acts of hostility against the Anglo-American forces wherever they may be met. They will, however, oppose attack from any other quarter.”

* * *

A few minutes later, General Jodl sent out the single-word signal, “Achse,” notifying German commanders throughout the Mediterranean theatre that it was time to disarm or destroy any and all Italian units which would not surrender. Plans to accomplish this promptly had been made well in advance. In just a few more minutes, Field Marshall Kesselring sent the signal, “Bring in the harvest,” notifying units under his command that this plan was be carried out at once.

* * *

Badoglio seemed still to hope that the Germans would politely tip their hats and march away; however, as a precaution, he and the King fled to Pescara, 120 miles East-Northeast of Rome on the Adriatic coast, taking the government with them. Anyone in authority who could not find space in the five-truck convoy simply left Rome. A few of the departing officials advised their staffs to leave as well, but none of them gave any instructions, nor made any arrangements for the transfer of civil authority to a provisional administration. No one knew whether it would be the Americans or the Germans seizing the city, and no one had any idea what to do in either event, but had no doubt that caught between the two rivals in this unfortunate turn of events, Italians would be considered, at best, opportunists without loyalty. Whether one was shot by a Colt or a Luger hardly mattered.

* * *

If anyone in Rome were more frenzied by Badoglio’s confirmation of the armistice than the Italian government, it was the German embassy staff. Expecting the sky above to fill with American silk at any moment, every one of them was seeking, at the very least, documentation allowing them to leave the city safely, and the higher ranking among them hoped for an Italian armoured column to escort them to an airport, from where they could leave immediately.

* * *

By the morning of September 9th, Kesselring realized that there would be no landing near Rome, or even north of Naples, and that the Italians in Rome would have no Allied support. The landing at Salerno could be contained by the five divisions in the south. So he ordered the 2nd Parachute and 3rd Panzergrenadier Divisions to regroup at once, and to advance on Rome as soon as they could.

[1] Italian concern was neither misplaced nor exaggerated. Within two weeks, more than 600,000 Italians would be taken prisoner by the Germans; the majority of them would be held until the end of the war. Further, throughout Greece, Italian garrison and coastal defense units would be promptly surrounded by Germans and ruthlessly annihilated, often after agreeing to surrender their weapons and withdraw. Such incidents were too numerous be described as isolated.

[2] The US 36th and 45th Infantry and British 46th and 56th Infantry at Salerno; The British 5th Infantry and Canadian 1st infantry crossing at Messina; the British 1st Airborne landing at Taranto.

[3] It is difficult to discern the extent to which Castellano knew he was misleading them. While the 82nd Airborne Division was preparing for a possible landing near Rome, there was no possibility of forces being diverted from the intended landing at Salerno, and little possibility that any supplies or equipment would be diverted. While one hesitates to suggest that Smith may have lied to him, it is safe to assume that Smith felt no need to correct any misinformation Castellano may have stumbled upon.

[4] Ambrosio was repeating Castellano’s grandiose suppositions, which he had no reason, other than rational common sense, to doubt. However, subsequent events make clear that he, as well as almost every other General in the Italian Army, was prepared for less optimistic possibilities.

[5] At that moment, General Taylor reported by radio that the situation in Rome was innocuous. This was a prearranged code indicating that the 82nd was ordered to stand down.

[6] Zanussi, of course, had been among those attempting to negotiate the armistice.

[7] The four strongest, best-equipped Italian divisions, two armoured and two mechanized infantry, were stationed in Rome. The two German divisions “surrounding” the capitol at that moment were, of course, taking up defensive positions in anticipation of an Italian attack supported by American paratroops. Badoglio’s complete lack of confidence in his own armed forces speaks volumes.

[1]

Aug 1943

[2]

American Consul in Paris from 1930 to 1936, and chargé d’affaires to the Vichy government. He was also the one-time State Department specialist on France.

In February 1941, Murphy played an instrumental role in forging the Murphy-Weygand Agreement, which allowed the United States to export to French North Africa in spite of the British blockade and trade restrictions in place upon the Vichy-governed area.

[3]

Prime Minister (1957–1963)

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