Battlefields Tour: The Italian Campaign (Part 1).

​November 6th, 2016

I would like to give a big thank-you to my friend Roger Maplethorpe who has supplied all the photos and most of the information contained in this article.

He has just returned from a twelve-day coach tour to Italy to see the Battlefields and trace the route taken by the Allies in WW2 once they had taken Sicily in operation “Husky”.

The coach tour commenced in the UK and had overnight stays in Northern France and then Cremona just south-east of Milan.

It would then head to Cassino, via a visit to Florence, where we would be based for six nights. From here we would visit Salerno, where British forces landed in 1943. We see the beach head and the Roman Ruins where the Americans fought. Travel to Caserta, visiting the War Cemetery.
Visit Monte Cassino, Snakeshead Ridge and Liri Valley before a day trip to Anzio.

On day nine we depart Cassino and head north traveling across the Apennines close to the Gustav Line to the Adriatic coast at Ortona and then continue Northward following Monty's route to an overnight stay in Ravenna just North of Rimini.
We then depart Ravenna and cross the area of the final battles in Italy in 1945, and the route of the final push to the Brenner Pass, stopping that night at a hotel in the Austrian Tyrol.

Then continue the journey home through Germany skirting Cologne, Aachen & the Ruhr for another overnight just south of Brussels.  2,692 miles plus about 400 to Dover and back in the UK - so total circa 3,100 miles.

On our route down to the South we diverted through Florence.   Florence was liberated later but as we were in the area we stopped at the Allied Cemetery. 

First reason – all holiday makers should stop at some of the hundreds of resting places – the very reason you are there on holiday is because of those people.   There are interesting and touching stories everywhere – note Raymond & Diana Manning – a Pilot and an Auxiliary Nurse who met whilst both serving in that area – decided to marry and were granted a few days leave. They were allocated seats on an aircraft to take them on a few days honeymoon but all 10 on board were lost when it came down just after take-off.  It was later disclosed she was about to join S.O.E. to gather intelligence on German High Command.

The 3 headstones positioned very close together were 3 men from the same unit killed the same day liberating Florence.  All were taken out by a German sniper.  Comrades who served in close knit units such as tank or aircraft crews are buried together with headstones positioned closely. No-one is sure why those of Raymond & Diana were not given the same honour – believed to be an oversight and visitors are signing the book of remembrance asking for this to be rectified.
A word on Cemeteries – Allied always where possible reflect an English garden with roses etc.  Those with graves totalling 40 or more have a cross of remembrance whilst those with over a 1000 also have a stone of remembrance.  Headstones are at a regulation distance apart to reflect a line of personnel on parade.  German cemeteries, as you will see later, are totally different.
A foot note about Florence.  The Germans blew all the bridges as they were pushed back – apart from one – the famous Pontevechio.  The Officer refused to carry out the order because it was simply too beautiful – his fate is not known !!
We then headed South to Cassino which was out base for the next six nights. I will continue my story in part two, but want to leave you with a bit of history of the World War 2 Italian invasion.
Background history:

The decision to invade Italy after the conquest of Sicily in August 1943 was
accelerated by the fall of Mussolini’s regime on 25 July. The Allied forces hoped to be able to
capitalize on the change in government to take Italy out of the war before the Germans could
reinforce the area adequately.

Monty's 8th Army Group landed on the Eastern Coast on the heel of Italy whilst the US Fifth Army Group under General Mark Clark came up the toe.  They should have listened to Napoleon who wisely said "to take Italy you need to go from the top of the boot downwards like inserting your foot in a boot" Churchill and others considered it to be "The soft underbelly of Europe". The Allies felt that by doing this it would relieve pressure on the Russians and draw German troops southwards.  

That was the basic thinking but several influences were felt.  US troops were not generally battle hardened apart from units under Patton which had experience in North Africa against Rommel.

So a very general overview.  Other factors were, horrendous weather in the winter of 1943 and the terrain was of course a defenders' paradise.  There were 400,000 experienced German troops including Paras & Panzer units. .

One footnote - many of the men who fought through Italy were incensed by alleged comments from Lady Astor at the time - she referred to them as D-Day Dodgers   - she later claimed she had been misquoted but only after one soldier wrote a song about it to the tune of Lily Marlene and it received quite a bit of air-play.   Many veterans said they would much have preferred going in via Normandy that Italy.  D-Day was of course in the planning that year and occurred 2 days after Mark Clark entered Rome.  More of him later.
Click here for part two.

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