WWII Curriculum – Day 4
Lesson Plan – Day Four
Phase Three (1943 – 1944):
The period of history in Europe and the Pacific as the conflict reached full intensity after both Germany and Japan began to suffer catastrophic setbacks.
The Student will learn facts and comprehend the events pertaining to:
- The First American Land Offensive of the War – Guadalcanal
- The Army Campaigns marching towards the Asian continent.
- The Marine Island Hopping Campaigns in the Gilbert, Marianas and Palau island chains.
- The Allied Landings on Sicily and Mainland Italy
- The Stalemate in Southern Italy and the Battle of Monte Cassino
- The Significance of the Allied Landings at Anzio
- Breaking the Gustav Line and the capture of Rome
Duration of instruction time required:
- 45 – 50 minutes
- World or American History Textbook
- Map of Europe
- Map of Asia
Supplemental materials (included):
- Letter from the mother of the five Sullivan brothers to the U.S. Navy Department
For many people the desire to serve the country in the time of war is paramount. Those who were of age would often enlist in the service of choice as soon as they became eligible. In some cases the family members would follow their own interests (separate services) or in other cases would ask to serve together in the same organization, unit or ship. The most famous instance is that of the five Sullivan brothers who served together on the U.S.S. Juneau and were all killed on November 14, 1942 naval battle off the coast of Guadalcanal. After this incident,
the U.S. military did not let family members serve in the same units or ships.
Question for the Students: Do you think it would be important to serve with your siblings during the war? How do you think that your parents would feel? What do you think was the reaction for Mrs. Sullivan when she learned that her five sons had died in combat? Answer: Many may feel that it is important to be with family during life and death situations, while others may feel that they would want to spare their parents any further grief if one of them was to die in battle. Remind them of the plot in “Saving Private Ryan”.
- Two Letters from the American Public on the General Patton “Slapping Incident”
The General Patton “Slapping Incident” occurred at the end of the Sicilian Campaign in August 1943. It was handled by General Eisenhower who relieved General Patton as Commander of the 7th Army and subsequently sent him to England in late 1943. General Patton was probably by this time the most well known of the American “combat” generals. When the incident became public in November 1943 there was a strong reaction among the American general public that demonstrated support for and against Patton. When the German high command learned of the outcry against Patton, they were quite surprised. One German general even remarked that if a German private had done such a thing he would have been shot without any further question. In the end, of the thousands of letters that ended up on General Marshall’s desk, nearly 77% were in support of General Patton while only 23% were negative, against General Patton.
Questions for the Students: Do you agree with the actions taken against General Patton? What do you think about the overwhelming support for General Patton from the American public? Answer: Responses may vary. Patton was one of the most successful and well known American generals at the time. He was known as a general who got results and won battles. The American public was generally supportive of Patton because this was a time when public morale needed victories because the outcome of the war was still not yet clear. Some of the letter writers as well as one of the soldiers he had struck felt that Patton himself may have been suffering from “Battle Fatigue/Combat Stress”.
- Stars & Stripes Newspaper, European Theater, December 24, 1943
Most news that came to the servicemen and women overseas was either by the mail or by the newspapers that the military had established in each particular theater of the war. In the majority of cases the soldiers would turn to the Stars and Stripes that was published locally to learn about events in the world. These papers and other magazines like “Yank” became some of the most well read publications in existence at that time.
Question for the Students: How important do you think that newspapers were for information in an age where there was no television or Internet? Do you think that the servicemen and women were more literate and read more than their own present generation? Answer: The students should be able to recognize that their generation is much more distracted with popular media activities than the World War II youth. Additionally, they should be able to add personal insight as to whether or not they are engaged enough in their own personal reading habit. Have they picked up a paper or magazine recently?
- Stars and Stripes Newspaper, Mediterranean Theater, November 11, 1944
As the Allies advanced further towards Germany, the Stars and Stripes developed separate issues for all the theaters of the war. The news that was presented was directed more specifically to their own area of the fighting as well as general information and news about what was going on in other theaters. This issue discusses the advance of the 5th Army in their drive to Bologna and the Po River Plain. Attention is also directed to the headlines that mentions the advent of the German V-2, the world’s first ballistic missile.
Question for the Students: If you were a soldier fighting in Italy, would you be concerned with news pertaining only to your own theater or rather all theaters? Answer: Students will probably indicate an interest in knowing what was going on in all areas, since the sooner the war would be over, the sooner they could go home.
- Japanese Invasion Money
The Japanese prepared the Invasion Money for each area and country that they conquered with the intent of attempting to control the economy. In each area the local citizens were ordered to exchange the quantities of their own currency for the new Japanese currency. Many people were reluctant to do so because they did not trust the motives of the Japanese. These people then hid or hoarded their personal savings, often under the penalty of death. As the war dragged on, the Japanese began to issue more and more currency without backing it up with any kind of value standard. Late in the war the Japanese were unable to determine how much currency they had actually printed. This would lead to the eventual collapse of various economies at the end of the war.
Question for the Students: How valuable is paper money to you? Do you think that bartering began to take place in order to provide some degree of value to economic controls? Do think that this would lead to the creation of an “underground or black market” economy? Answer: Responses may vary among students depending on their own financial knowledge. Anytime a forced conversion to a new currency occurs under wartime or occupation circumstances, the population is generally reluctant to participate. This will usually lead to an underground although inflated economy that is based on value that the citizens recognize due to the shortage of various commodities.
Allied Military Currency
As the American and British forces invaded and subsequently restored a legitimate government to each nation, there was concern that each countries economy would become stable as soon as possible. Allied leaders felt that a resurgent economy would help to put a country back on its feet in the shortest amount of time. In order to control inflation and set values specific currencies were created for each country that was either liberated or occupied. This military currency would provide stability and hopefully halt any inflation that might develop. This type of currency also assisted each country until their own currency could be created and issued to its general populace.
Questions for the Students: What do you think was the reaction of the U.S. soldiers when they were provided this currency in lieu of American dollars? Do you think that US military personnel would use this currency as a way to plunder goods and services from local inhabitants? Answer: Many soldiers had never seen any type of currency other than the US dollar and were very skeptical of the bills. Some were known to have treated it as “funny money” that did not have any real value. Later the soldiers would end up exchanging or trading it for a variety of goods and services as they advanced to and through Germany. Local citizens were anxious to obtain this currency because it represented something that had a real value attached since they were uncertain if the German or their own currency would retain any type of value once the Allies had occupied their area.
Instruction evaluation (included):
- Ten question multiple choice quiz
- Answer sheet
Topics to be covered:
1. Asian Campaign
- Island Hopping
- Disrupting Japanese Strategy
- Nature of the Warfare in the Pacific
- Savo Island/”The Slot”
- Gathering Critical Staging Areas
- New Guinea and the Northern Solomons
- Naval and Aerial Forces Strike Hard
- European Campaign 1943 – 1944
- North Africa
- Entering the “Soft Underbelly” of Europe
- Italian Peninsula
- Monte Cassino
- Capture of Rome
- German Response to Italian Partisans – Atrocity
- Shift Towards Northern Europe
3. Axis and Allied Economic Controls
- Japanese Invasion Money
- Allied Military Currency
4. War in the Atlantic
- Supply Convoy Operations
- German Threat
○ Surface Raiders
○ U-Boat Wolf packs
- Royal Navy / US Navy Operations
Instructor can provide copies of portions of the text to each student as well as copies of the related materials listed above and lead the students in a discussion of the events as they occurred chronologically and utilize the included documentary materials. Particular attention should be directed to what now seemed like a string of victories as the Allies began to advance slowly on all the fronts of the conflict.
Question for the students: Does it seem like the United States was the deciding factor in the change of fortunes for both the British and Russians in their battle against the Axis? Once the Allies began to advance in Southern Europe and the Pacific does it seem like they will be victorious in the end?
The instructor can select key points and one or two battles and discuss the idea of combat in World War II. This can be contrasted to the present situation throughout the world. Has ground or air combat changed since 1945?
This presents an excellent opportunity to gauge the spirit and feelings of the general public as they regarded the war. Based on the letter from Mrs. Sullivan, the two Patton letters, and the Stars and Stripes ask to students to write an essay as homework answering the following questions.
a. Did the general public seem to feel that the United States was fighting in a “just war”?
b. What is the overall tone of the letters?
c. With regards to the Stars and Stripes, how would you characterize the nature and slant of the articles that are presented?
Asian Campaign 1943 – 1944
Sitting in the South Pacific nearly a thousand miles northeast of Australia lays the island
of Guadalcanal. It was here in August 1942 that the United States launched what would be called the “first offensive” of World War II against the Axis powers. It would be a Navy and Marine operation at the start when the first landings were made. By the time that this campaign would end in February 1943, both the Marines and the Army would be fighting side by side as they pushed the Japanese forces from the island.
Beginning in the early stages of the American involvement of World War II, the Allied war strategy had been established for the European Theater to receive priority for personnel and equipment while the Pacific theater would hold their own with a reduced priority for these same resources. The Allied Pacific campaign would advance on Japan with the final thrust coming after the Axis powers had been defeated in Europe. Within the Pacific Theater a term was coined that referred to attacking selected islands and areas while bypassing and isolating those others that were not deemed to be of any tactical or strategic value. This was called “Island Hopping”. Guadalcanal was the first island that was to be the target of this new offensive action that would start pushing the Japanese back from their Pacific Empire.
Australian “coastwatchers”, that is those civilians, military and other personnel, who had become fixtures on the various islands, reported the movements of Japanese ships and landings to the Allied forces. These coastwatchers then became the eyes and ears of the Allies in their attempts to follow the advances of the Japanese. Nearly all were fluent and familiar with the local customs and dialects of the indigenous peoples and were able to enlist their aid in the war against the Japanese. On more than one occasion, the Japanese would try to ferret out the radio networks of the coastwatchers as they reported to the various headquarters with their vital intelligence.
Disrupting Japanese Strategy
Originally, the Japanese plans for the Pacific called for the capture and occupation of enough areas that could be used for staging future incursions into what would be Allied held territories. The Japanese strategic planning was intended to isolate and destroy the American fleet, establish a defensive perimeter around the expanded imperial conquests of the Pacific and secure enough installations that could be used to stage operations against the extended and vulnerable Allied supply lines. This concept would be based on the fact that the Japanese would resupply their own forces through internal lines of communication that would emanate from the home islands of the Japanese empire. For the Japanese, success would come from maintaining strong supply routes for their far flung outposts.
The intent of the Allied war planners for the Pacific was to maintain a foothold in several key areas that would allow for renewed operations as conditions and circumstances would allow. Recognizing that the Japanese appeared to be at the extent of their imperial conquests it was necessary to ensure that the “Southeast Asia Peninsula” would remain secure and protect Australia. Once that had been accomplished it would provide a starting point to advance to the west against Japan. The initial Allied advances were intended to provide a staging area that would allow for the start of a war of attrition against the Japanese. Additionally, it became clearly evident that the extended length of the Japanese supply chain was extremely vulnerable. In the Southwest Pacific Theater, the key Japanese supply base would be at Rabaul on the northern end of the island of New Britain in the Bismarck Archipelago. Rabaul would finally be rendered ineffective as a forward logistics base by the Americans in March 1944 after relentless aerial attacks by American army, naval, and marine forces. After this the Japanese would concentrate their supply operations to the north on the island of Truk. In the Central Pacific Theater the key Japanese supply base was at Truk which would eventually be neutralized by the Americans in the summer of 1944. Truk was geographically located centrally within the Japanese held island chains of the Caroline, Marshall and Gilbert islands. Once Truk was eliminated, any Japanese base in Micronesia would not be able to be supplied. In this fashion the Japanese held islands that had been bypassed by the American forces would “wither on the vine” from a lack of supplies.
Nature of the Warfare
For centuries the Japanese military had always followed what was known as “Bushido” or the way of the warrior. By the 19th century the warrior class or “Samurai” made up nearly 10% of the entire Japanese population. It was felt that the greatest thing a Samurai could do was to die for the emperor. In 1941 this became known as the “Soldiers Code” that was adopted for the Japanese military. It stated that it was ignominious to surrender or be captured in battle. This would result in dishonor and disgrace to the soldier and his family. This attitude would serve to fuel a fanatic and fatalistic attitude among the Japanese military (particularly among the officer corps) that was totally inconsistent and incomprehensible to the Allied forces that first engaged the enemy in 1942.
Again and again throughout the war in the Pacific the Japanese “Banzai” charges, refusal to surrender against overwhelming odds, emerging from hidden cave bunkers, kamikaze attacks, and other tactics would force the Allies to harden themselves with the notion that they had to fight without mercy or compassion. This was a new concept that the Americans in particular would quickly learn in order to survive the ordeal of Pacific combat.
In evaluating how the causalities were sustained among the Americans forces in both Europe and the Pacific Theaters there is a strong contrast which points out the difference between the natures of the combat in each theater. In Europe the majority of deaths among the American ground forces that came from enemy artillery shelling were identified at 58%. Deaths that were resultant of small arms in close combat were 19%. In the Pacific Japanese small arms claimed 32% of American lives while artillery claimed only 17%. This indicates the close nature of the war in the Pacific that brought the opposing sides into close proximity with each others and the invariable hand-to-hand duels that resulted. In the Pacific the warfare would be with very basic weapons that would be reminiscent of combat in earlier centuries. The final cause of injury and sometimes death was very unexpected in the Pacific. That was the specter of exotic and tropical diseases to include Malaria as well as the unusual wildlife that would attack both the Japanese and the Allies. While each side could prepare for the other in combat, it became much more difficult to prepare for dire medical situations. Early in the Pacific campaign Allied medical supplies were quickly exhausted and became more valuable than gold. As time went on, the Allied forces learned what to expect and how to deal with this particular threat. But, nonetheless, causalities would continue to occur from this source until the end of the war and even in the aftermath.
The result of the Japanese attitude of warfare would mark the Pacific campaign, when compared to the European campaign, as one that was a brutal fight to the death with no quarter being given by either side of the combatants. Allied prisoners of war in the Pacific were subsequently regarded as being dishonorable for allowing themselves to be captured and were therefore to be treated as slaves. The Allied prisoners of war being held by the Japanese experienced higher mortality rates than their counterparts being held by the Germans. Very few Japanese were taken prisoner throughout the war based on this ideal. Usually those who entered Allied custody had been wounded or disabled in such a manner that they could not continue the struggle. Those who would surrender on their own accord were at first very minimal. Although toward the end of the Pacific campaign in 1945 larger numbers of Japanese were actually surrendering as compared to their counterparts of 1942.
Forming the island chain called the “Solomons”; Guadalcanal marked the actual furthest island advance of the Japanese in World War II. Strategically, the Japanese had hoped to extend their reach even further so they would seriously impact the supply lines that stretched from the United States to Australia. The 19,000 men of the 1st Marine Division would land at Guadalcanal on the 7th of August 1942 and remain on the island until being relieved by one marine and two army divisions on the 9th of December 1942. The 2,700 killed and wounded causalities that the 1st Marine division suffered served to highlight what would be the brutal fact of the island fighting in the Pacific. The more men involved meant the greater the carnage. Of the 60,000 American army and marine ground forces involved in the campaign, 5,800 would be hit. The Japanese would send in nearly 38,000 men to the “Canal” and suffer an appalling loss of 25,000 who would be killed or wounded while less than 1,000 would be taken prisoner. The other remaining Japanese managed to be evacuated in order to fight again. Of these prisoners only a few would surrendered on their own. The “Canal” was finally declared secure on 9 February after a bitter six months. The Allied victory in this campaign had taken the offensive initiative from the Japanese forces.
The major focal point of the battle on Guadalcanal was the airfield that was subsequently named Henderson Field in honor of a Marine aviator who died at the Battle of Midway. Time and again the Japanese attacked to recapture this key feature and again and again they were repulsed. Initially, the Japanese underestimated the number of American forces on the island and sent in units that were outnumbered and doomed to failure. Only after repeated destruction of Japanese forces were larger units sent in to meet the same fate. At one point in the bloody combat, it appeared that the Allied naval forces would have to withdraw because of a threat of Japanese Naval presence. This left the marine defenders without a source of supply for their ammunition and food. Disease further wracked both sides with malaria and dysentery.
The Slot and Savo Island
Resupply by sea was clearly the decisive factor in this campaign. An area that ran between the islands of Bougainville and Guadalcanal would be christened as “The Slot”. It was in this area that the naval forces of each side would attempt to move in order to resupply their forces in the Solomon island chain. Off the northern coast of Guadalcanal was Savo Island. The area that was located between Guadalcanal and Savo Island would later be christened as “Ironbottom Sound” by the Americans because of the large number of ships that would be sunk in that area. The Japanese resupply efforts were given the nickname of the “The Tokyo Express” because they would make strong attempts to resupply their forces on Guadalcanal. These attempts would eventually end in failure. Throughout this naval campaign both sides did significant damage each others ships. The night of 12 November saw a David vs. Goliath struggle between a force of Japanese battleships and cruisers and an American force of cruisers and destroyers. The Japanese forces were intending to resupply their forces at Guadalcanal but were intercepted by the outnumbered Americans. The resulting fight saw the United States suffer significant damage and loss to 12 of the 13 ships (See included letter from Mrs. Sullivan about her five sons on the USS Juneau) while the Japanese loss was half of that. Over the next several days the Japanese continued to attempt to resupply Guadalcanal with men, but seven of their nine transport ships were sunk with a loss of nearly 6,000 men. With this action the Japanese gave up their attempt to hold out on Guadalcanal. The fighting would then continue for another two months before the remaining men were withdrawn and the first allied land victory in the Pacific obtained.
The experience gained and the lessons learned from the struggles on Guadalcanal and at Papua in the southeast corner of the island of New Guinea came at a high price. The Americans were not experienced in this type of jungle warfare and amphibious landings. Additionally, the American Navy had recognized that it would be necessary to develop a system that would ensure a continuous ability to keep ground forces supplied once they had been landed. The nature of the fighting revealed that superior American numbers and equipment would not necessarily guarantee victory. The Japanese had learned the value of weapons such as small caliber artillery and light tanks that were more adaptable to the jungle than the heavier and larger American equipment. Over time the Americans would learn to adapt to the challenges of warfare in which those who could move quickly and silently would often be the victor. Eventually the Americans would gain the upper hand once they had gained experience of jungle warfare. But that experience was initially paid for at a high price in the lives of men who were killed and wounded. Another factor that the Americans had not been prepared for was the effect that the tropical climate would have on the fighting ability of the soldier. Medical supplies were quickly exhausted and the effect of some diseases on the individual American fighting man was not always expected. Once these issues were addressed by the leadership the American forces would prove to be an even match for the Japanese defender. It should be noted that modification of the Joint Chief’s of Staff Pacific strategy would continually occur based on the results of this and future campaigns. General MacArthur would still continue pushing toward the Philippines from New Guinea while Admiral Nimitz would move his naval forces in the open ocean and advance through the Central Pacific toward the eastern coast of Japan.
Gathering Critical Staging Areas
With the victory at Guadalcanal and the successful conclusion of operations in the Papua campaign America began the westward march towards Japan. Because of the success of these two operations in pushing the Japanese back, the goal of making Australia secure from any possible future Japanese actions was nearly complete. This then set the stage for the simultaneous campaigns in New Guinea and the Northern Solomons. These campaigns would be directed against the neutralization of the fortified Japanese installations at Rabaul on the northern coast of the island of New Britain. Here the Japanese had a strong naval anchorage, a very large contingent of troops and supply facilities and five functioning airfields.
Rabaul served as the principal military supply base for the Japanese until finally in 1944 when it was rendered ineffective. Rabaul as a Japanese garrison would hold out to the end of the war. At that time it would surrender nearly 100,000 personnel, having never been attacked with ground forces as it had been bypassed. Any invasion attempt at Rabaul would have most likely cost the Allies a large number of casualties. With Rabaul neutralized, it ended any threat for possible Japanese actions directed against Australia. The fighting in this sector of the Pacific between early 1943 and early 1944 would also see the death of Admiral Yamamoto who was the architect of Pearl Harbor surprise attack. He was shot down over Bougainville in the Solomon’s after the Allies had learned of his movement through intercepted Japanese naval messages that had been decoded. Additionally, the commander of one of the American torpedo boats, PT-109, that was engaged in operations in the Solomons in 1943 would be nearly killed when a Japanese destroyer sliced his boat in half and he was marooned for six days. That man was to become the president of the United States in 1961, John F. Kennedy. By late 1944 and the conclusion of the campaign in the Solomon islands and on New Guinea, the Allies under MacArthur in the Southwest Pacific were now poised to begin their concerted efforts to assault the Philippines.
New Guinea and the Northern Solomons
Once MacArthur had secured Papua from the threat of Japanese expansion he began to plan for the conquest of the remainder of the island of New Guinea. This operation was to be coordinated with Admiral “Bull” Halsey who was the commander of the American forces in the South Pacific. Halsey was under the jurisdictional command of Admiral Nimitz in the Central Pacific. Because this operation also concerned the elimination of the Japanese base at Rabaul, MacArthur and Halsey met to discuss a movement up the Solomon island chain from Guadalcanal. This would then eventually culminate in a two pronged attack on Rabaul from both New Guinea and the Northern Solomons that would be codenamed “Cartwheel”.
Over the course of the next year MacArthur’s forces moved across the eastern and northern coasts of New Guinea in a series of amphibious operations that would bypass strong Japanese pockets of resistance. With support from the Army Air Forces of General George Kenney, MacArthur would be able to land ground combat forces and equipment where they were not expected by the Japanese. In a series of attacks from forward operating bases, General Kenney’s aircraft eliminated the threat posed by the Japanese army and naval air forces. The introduction of the improved range P-38 Lightning fighter escort, the B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator bombers were now able to knock out huge concentrations of Japanese aircraft before they were able to take to the air. This led to the American air superiority which gave a decided edge to the Americans on New Guinea. With a stroke of luck and some hard fighting the Americans were later able to capture the Admiralty Islands to the west of Rabaul, thus effectively cutting off western approaches to this fortified Japanese garrison.
Moving up from Guadalcanal the American forces being landed by Admiral Halsey’s fleet encountered severe Japanese resistance at the island of New Georgia and subsequently Bougainville. On each of these islands as the Americans advanced, the soldiers and Marines gained a better understanding of the nature of combat in the Pacific. This type of fighting saw the Americans land at a few isolated places and thus drive wedges into the Japanese forces and cut them off from their own supply system. In this fashion the Americans were able to keep the Japanese off balance and vulnerable. The Japanese proved to be a determined foe and on New Georgia they were relentless in their defense. Rather than stage huge suicidal attacks that would be seen towards the end of World War II in the Pacific, the Japanese when nearing defeat would disengage the American forces and evacuate up the island chain to the next fortified Japanese position. In this fashion, the Americans moving up the Solomon chain would continually face dug in and well prepared Japanese forces. The final stop of this particular campaign would be the struggle for the island of Bougainville. Here the Japanese forces would not retreat and the fighting would become very demanding when the Americans realized that they were facing nearly 40,000 Japanese defenders.
Bougainville was the island that marked the northern boundary of the Solomon island chain. Landing in November 1943, the American Army and Marine units quickly established a beachhead. Through the use of American deception plans, the Japanese held off attacking this force, thinking that the main invasion would come elsewhere. Finally in March 1944, a Japanese force of nearly 20,000 moved across the island and prepared to attack the Americans. Unlike previous American operations, when it was the Americans attacking the Japanese fortified positions, the roles were reversed. From November 1943 through March 1944 the Americans had established a strong defense posture with gun emplacements and fixed field fortifications. When the Japanese began their assaults in March 1944 they found themselves suffering appalling casualties with little to show for their efforts. By the end of March the Japanese were in retreat and ceased being a threat to the American presence. By December 1944, the Americans had turned the island over to the Australians who would continue to fight the Japanese on the island until the end of the war. With the reduction of the threat of Bougainville, the isolation of Rabaul became complete. The goal for the victorious Allies was soon to be advancement into the Philippines.
Navy and Aerial Forces Strike Hard
The year of 1942 saw the Allied naval forces blunt and end the expansion of the Japanese imperial ambitions. This was accomplished with strategic planning and sound military tactical operations in the Battles of Coral Sea and Midway. Allied attention now turned to the start of the island hopping campaign in the Central Pacific Theater. The overall strategic goal of the United States and their allies was to move closer to Japan by seizing areas that would serve two strategic military functions. The first would include capturing areas that would allow for the construction of air fields that could be used to stage aerial operations against targets deeper in the Japanese empire and eventually targets in the home islands. The second key goal was to obtain areas that would allow for safe anchorages for the Allied fleets that would allow for repairs, resupply and refueling. In deciding which areas to attack utilization of these facilities would be key factors in determining the next invasion site in the westward advance.
The island campaigns of the South Pacific, by contrast to the Southwest Pacific campaign would be short, but very costly. These island atolls were normally without vegetation and cover for concealment by an invading force. The Japanese would have the opportunity to fortify their defensive positions while the invading Marines and supporting Army troops would have little or no cover. Each island had it’s own distinctive feature such as being entirely of coral with no real protection or one that may have been volcanic and covered with ash that defeated any attempt for a marine to “dig-in”. Fighting on these islands would leave the military forces little room for maneuver and each foot would be contested by the defender. On some of the larger islands, particularly those with hills or mountains, the defenders would be able to dig underground caves from which to fight. While on others, the defenders would construct defensive positions that would literally be on the beach. It was in this scenario that the American forces advanced.
The original objective of Admiral Nimitz in the summer of 1943 had been to capture the fortified Japanese naval base at Kwajalein. This atoll contained a very large naval and air base that had been established on the world’s largest atoll. Tarawa was key to the American advance across the Pacific because of the airfield on it that could be used by the Japanese to interdict and disrupt American supply lines in the advance deeper into the Japanese Empire. Tarawa must be taken. The small island of Tarawa lies in the Gilbert Island chain less than 100 miles from the Equator. The island is in the shape of a triangle and is approximately three miles long and one mile wide. When the battle for Tarawa was over it would be forever remembered as “Bloody Tarawa”.
On the morning of 20 November 1943, the invasion of this small island by the Americans began. The Japanese defense comprised of soldiers as well as impressed Korean laborers who for the past 15 months fortified the island in minute detail. These defenders were estimated at approximately 4,800 and they would fight literally to the last man. When the battle was ended on the 23d of November 1943, there was only one Japanese officer and 16 soldiers left who became captives of the Marines along with approximately 100 of the Korean laborers. The Marines landing were the Guadalcanal veterans from the 2nd Marine Division. There were not new to island fighting, but they were not prepared for the carnage that would engulf them in this short four day period. At first they were truly fighting to gain a small toehold on the island. One of the Marine battalion commanders would radio back to the command flagship about the success of the landing when he said “unable to land, issue in doubt”. But with dogged determination, the Marines held on and began to be reinforced. Slowly and through incredible bravery and self sacrifice they pushed inward and conquered the island. At the end of the day on the 23rd the Marines had lost a total of 1,100 officers and men killed and another 2,300 who had been wounded from a total of 12,000 who had been involved in the fight. It was described as the entire Pacific campaign’s area of the “most concentrated violence” in so short a period of time. Americans at home were not use to this type of carnage in so short a period of time. But it would serve as a harbinger of the future island struggles yet to come. Tarawa in the end served as a bitter laboratory for the experiment of Marine tactical doctrine. Needs for improved landing craft were noted as well as the usefulness of naval gunfire and air attacks on an entrenched enemy. Most notably, the individual Marine realized what would be required of him in future landings.
In preparation for the next phase of operations it was realized that something would have to be done to counteract the threat that was posed by the huge Japanese Naval base at Truk. This island was often characterized as the Gibraltar of the Pacific because of the perceived defensive strength of its geography. The large natural harbor at Truk and the many Japanese airstrips had the potential to disrupt any plan in the Marianas. In the period of two short days, a new concept of war was introduced to the Pacific Theater. The war in the Pacific demonstrated the value of carrier based air power and that if it was used carefully and logically it could be very decisive. On the morning of the 17th of February and continuing through the 18th, the US Navy demonstrated that the Japanese could be defeated without a huge naval assault, land based air attacks or an amphibious landing. Utilizing naval aircraft from three carriers groups under the command of Admiral Mitscher, the Americans struck Truk at sunrise. Faced with continuous pounding on both the merchant fleet and warships in the harbor the Japanese realized that Truk had lost its strategic value. Of the 365 Japanese aircraft scattered on the Truk airfields, the majority were destroyed on the ground and those that rose to attack the Americans were easily shot down. A further demonstration of the advances in strategy and the capabilities of naval aviation occurred at Truk. It was at this opportunity that Admiral Mitscher’s carriers launched the first night attack by carrier based aircraft on shipping. Using radar that had been specifically developed for this purpose, the naval aviators managed to deliver 13 direct hits on a variety of Japanese ships. Clearly the value of carrier warfare and strong carrier groups was evident. The Japanese could not escape the American onslaught under the cover of darkness. The result of this two day aerial assault was that Truk was reduced in capability and ceased to be a strategic base. The Americans now could bypass the island without an amphibious invasion in their westward drive to Japan.
Buoyed by the bloody success on Tarawa and the lessons learned Admiral Nimitz now in the early summer of 1944 gazed westward toward the next major island chain in his path. This was the Mariana’s which was the next logical step in his advance. Earlier in February 1944 his westward advance had been strengthen by the conquest of the Marshall Island chain and the capture of key Japanese facilities at Kwajalein. Within the Mariana’s were three islands of significance; Guam, Saipan and Tinian. With the loss of these three islands, the huge Japanese supply base at Truk would be nearly cut off and would be isolated from the Japanese home islands. Further, the islands of Guam, Saipan and Tinian would provide airfields that would allow the Americans to utilize the new B-29 “Super Fortress” for bombing missions over mainland Japan. It should be noted that Col. Paul Tibbets departed from Tinian in August 1945 with the world’s first atomic bomb on his mission to Hiroshima.
The battle for Saipan began in mid-June 1944 and ended in mid-July. Using techniques that had been learned the year before the American forces were able to more effectively use both their equipment and manpower. While there were still problems in orchestrating naval gunfire and aerial support, the Marines of the 2nd and 4th Divisions and the soldiers of the 27th Division were successful. Facing a force of 27,000 Japanese, the Americans would suffer 3,100 dead and 13,100 wounded. Only about 2,000 Japanese would be taken as prisoners at the end of the battle. The commander of the operation, Marine Lt. General Holland “Howling Mad” Smith would eventually relieve the 27th Division’s commander, Major General R. C. Smith after the battle over the differences of military doctrines between the two services. The Marines favored a quick and decisive assault while the Army favored a more deliberate and prepared assault on enemy positions.
Meeting in Hawaii with President Roosevelt in July 1944 General MacArthur and Admiral Nimitz advanced two different plans that would lead to the final assault on the home islands of Japan. General MacArthur favored an approach through the Philippines while Nimitz favored a strategy that would lead the American forces to China and the island of Formosa. President Roosevelt settled the issue when he approved MacArthur’s plan. Now General MacArthur would focus on moving up the Philippine Island chain while Nimitz would move northwest and seize the islands of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. In order to protect the right flank of the forces under General MacArthur it became necessary to eliminate the Japanese forces in the Palau Islands. These Japanese naval and air forces had the potential to disrupt any American activity in the Eastern Philippines. With the isolation of Truk, the Palau Islands took on greater significance for the Japanese. In the planning for this invasion Admiral Halsey would be providing support for General MacArthur while remaining under the command of Admiral Nimitz. Halsey would question the need for the invasion of the Palau’s because he felt the Japanese strength had been greatly diminished. He was fearful of another “Tarawa like” invasion with its associated causalities. Unfortunately he was overruled by Admiral Nimitz, his superior.
Initially, it was thought that the main island of Peleliu would not be as difficult as others. The Japanese defenses had been hammered for nearly three days of naval gunfire and aerial bombing. When the initial wave of Marines hit the coral reefs on 17 September they found out how well the Japanese defenders had survived and were now ready to fight. The first three days of the struggle saw the Marines take horrific losses for very little ground gained. Units were isolated and out of touch with their adjacent Marine units and often feared that the Japanese would exploit the gaps in their lines. Fortunately that did not occur. Because of the huge losses elements from the Army’s 81st Division were landed on 23 September. With this help and the remaining Marine units the Japanese were finally eliminated by the end of October. The Japanese defenders had been well entrenched and had clearly thought out their defensive strategy. It now seemed to the Marines that the Japanese were beginning to change some of their earlier defensive techniques and avoid the suicidal “Banzai” charges that had been so costly. Instead the Japanese when overrun would retreat to alternative positions that were equally strengthened. Thus the fight on Peleliu would continue on well past what had been envisioned in the early invasion planning.
With the conquest of the Palau, Marianas and Marshall Island groups the noose was beginning to tighten around the shrinking Japanese Empire. The remainder of 1944 would see General MacArthur’s forces in the Southwest Pacific land and begin the campaign to reclaim the Philippines. Admiral Nimitz’s Central Pacific forces would now begin their preparations to capture islands within the inner ring of Japan’s bases. This next assault would bring Nimitz to within 600 miles of mainland Japan, and would make the name of a small volcanic island a household legend in America.
European Campaign 1943 – 1944
The Allied landings on the 8th of November (code named “Torch”) at three places in North Africa had caught the French as well as the Italians and Germans off guard. Initially the French had resisted to various degrees the Allied landings, but over the period of four days had accepted surrender terms that were offer. By the end of November General Eisenhower had at his disposal over a quarter of a million men on the shore of North Africa. Although separated by nearly 400 miles the three landing areas were to face two different operational goals. Within a few days after the invasion, the German forces occupied the remainder of France and the capital of unoccupied France at Vichy. Thus the northern coast of the Mediterranean would now pose a threat to the Allied advances. Because of this Eisenhower directed that the forces in the Western (Casablanca) and Central (Oran) landing areas remain and prepare for a possible attack by the German forces who had the potential to move through Spain and attack in the rear of Eisenhower’s forces. Once the threat from the north was discounted, the Western and Central forces would be marshaled and sent against the Germans. This initially left only the Eastern Task force to advance toward the city of Tunis and its ports.
At the onset of the Torch landings, Italy rushed two divisions of troops into Tunis while the Germans sent two armored divisions and one infantry division to halt the Anglo-American advance creating the Fifth Panzer Army. These forces were quickly strengthened and by February 1943 they exceeded 100,000 men. Lacking in the number of forces that would be necessary to penetrate the German and Italian lines, Eisenhower as overall Commander-in-Chief of all Allied North African forces had to wait. His inaction was also compounded by the weather that turned the terrain into fields of mud that would not allow the movement of armored forces and thus favored the defender. The Germans would bring to the Tunisian campaign the experienced General Von Arnim fresh from commanding a Corps in Russia. He would coordinate his efforts with Field Marshal Rommel who was retreating from the east in the face of the British 8th Army under General Montgomery.
North Africa was the first ground combat experience for the Americans in the war against Germany. The majority of the forces were untried and untested. Within a few months they would get their first taste of real combat against the Germans at a place known as the Kasserine Pass. From the end of November 1942 until February 1943, the Americans built up their forces and placed the II Corps to the south of their extended front. It was here that the Germans under Field Marshall Rommel launched an attack on the 30th of January against the French XIX Corps. The German panzers quickly broke through and subsequently halted American counterattacks. Pushing deeper into the Allied lines, Rommel’s forces gained enough ground until they threatened the American rear. The commander of the American II Corps, Major General Lloyd Fredendall was not effective in the deployment of his forces and they were piecemeal chewed up and many were captured. The final blow fell as the German panzers entered the Kasserine Pass and quickly cleared out the American forces. Fortunately, the Americans were able to withdraw and consolidate their positions with the British to the north and halt the German advance. Thus Rommel was halted and turned his attention to the approaching Montgomery to his rear.
The defeat of the Americans at Kasserine caused Eisenhower to relieve Fredendall and replace him with Major General George Patton who had earlier commanded the Western Task Force in the Torch landings. Within the period of ten days Patton was able to turn around the dispirited II Corps and reinvigorate its fighting spirit. In mid-March 1943 General Montgomery launched his final assault on the Germans in North Africa. After a week of hard fighting he was able to break through the German lines and push them up the Tunisian coast. To the west the Americans, now under Patton pushed back against the Germans and were able to penetrate the German positions in the west, thus forcing them to join their fleeing compatriots in front of Montgomery. Within a month the Allies had pushed the Germans and Italians to the northern cities and ports of Tunisia and Bizerte. Finally on the 9th of May 1943, the North African campaign came to a close.
The introduction of the Americans into the war was a tough learning process. In six months of fighting, 2,700 Americans were killed, 9,000 had been wounded and over 6,000 were missing and presumed to be prisoners of war held by the Germans. This was in contrast to the German and Italian forces who suffered a total of 200,000 battle causalities and nearly 280,000 prisoners of war. Americans from general officer on down to the private gained valuable experience that would serve them well in future campaigns.
North Africa would further serve to give General Eisenhower the combat field experience as a commander that would serve him well in June 1944. Rising from the American ranks were two general officers, George Patton and Omar Bradley, who would become American household names by the end of the war. It is interesting to note that at the start of the American advance in February 1943, General Bradley was Patton’s deputy. In April 1943, Bradley would replace Patton as commander of II Corps in order to allow General Patton to begin planning for the invasion of Sicily. Within war there is always a great deal of irony present. In the short period of 14 months General Patton would soon find himself serving under General Bradley in Normandy. This time General Patton would be commanding the Third US Army while General Bradley would be his superior commanding the 12th US Army group.
Entering the “Soft Underbelly” of Europe
In January 1943, President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Churchill met at Casablanca, in Morocco along with their staffs, to determine the next appropriate course action for their forces. After resolving some differences and disagreements in strategy it was agreed that Italy, through Sicily, would be the next target. The Americans, particularly under General George Marshall who was literally Roosevelt’s “right hand man”, wanted a cross-channel invasion of France and into Germany. He was overruled and plans were made to continue operations in the Mediterranean. Although not clearly stated, the goal was to take Italy out of the war. The commander for the operations was again to be Lt. General Eisenhower with all of his staff deputies to be British. Thus Operation Husky was born.
The invasion of Sicily was to be a significant invasion force of 3,300 ships. Much bigger than the forces that brought “Torch” to North Africa. The British forces would consist mainly of the 8th Army under General Montgomery while the American forces would consist of the 7th Army under the command of Lt. General Patton. Within Patton’s forces would be the 82nd Airborne Division who would see some heavy fighting as well as friendly fire losses over their drop zones. Facing the Allied forces, the Axis defenders were made up primarily of 200,000 Italian soldiers who were initially supported by 30,000 Germans. However, at the outset of the landings, the German commander of forces in Italy, Field Marshal Kesselring, would reinforce the German defenders bringing that total up to 50,000 Wehrmacht soldiers. The strategy was fairly simple. The British would land at the southeast corner of the island and push up the coast northward with an ultimate final objective of securing the Messina. They were to cut off the retreating Axis forces and prevent them from evacuating to the toe of Italy. The Americans were to land to the west of the 8th Army and push along a parallel track in order to provide flank security to Montgomery’s forces. Past the initial plan for the landings, details were not worked out that would provide further objectives for Patton’s forces. This failure would cause some interesting and contentious problems as the campaign would develop.
On the 10th of July 1943, the Allied forces hit the Sicilian beaches having been preceded by airborne and glider borne forces. The invasion forces met little real resistance and within the first day were firmly established in Sicily. The British forces quickly began their movement up the coast and captured the port cities of Syracuse and Augusta. To the west the center of the American landings was now being contested strongly by the German Herman Goering Division. On the second day of the battle Patton ordered the insertion of elements of his airborne forces being held in reserve in North Africa. Despite the great lengths of the American commanders to inform all beach and naval personnel of the airborne reinforcement some did not get the word. That evening saw 23 Allied transports shot down over the invasion area by nervous gunners at a loss of nearly 250 paratroopers. After the third day of operations the beachhead was firmly secured.
As Montgomery’s 8th Army began to reduce their rate of march due to stiffing German defenses a change was made in the operational boundaries that had been set between the American and British forces. The boundary was moved westward to allow Montgomery to flank the coastal Axis defenses. This shift caused a great deal of furor among Patton and his commanders. Not wishing to be relegated to a secondary role Patton and the 7th Army began to push westward to Palermo, the capital of Sicily. He also had General Bradley continue to move north through central Sicily and support Montgomery’s flank. Patton’s new advance moved with lightning rapidity and shortly captured the western tip of Sicily and now swung along the northern coast pushing eastward to the Strait of Messina. The 7th Army now had control of the western half of the island.
The fighting at this stage had a repercussion on Mussolini as he was ousted from power on the 25th of July. The Rome-Berlin Axis was now cracking. For Germany, this would eventually mean a need to strengthen Italy with even more German soldiers in order to halt the Allied advance. As the Sicilian campaign wore on over the next week the German forces began a withdrawal to the Italian mainland, recognizing that they could not hold on in Sicily. The final struggle ended on 17 August when elements of Patton’s 3rd Infantry Division entered Messina from the west, just as the last of the German troops were boarding a ship for the short ride to the Italian mainland. General Patton arrived on the scene and personally accepted the surrender of the city. As he did this a column of British units arrived in the city, much to their chagrin, Patton had captured their objective.
Two things that occurred in the Sicilian campaign would serve to provide controversy for the remainder of the war. The first was the myth of the rivalry that had developed and encouraged by the press between Montgomery and Patton. Both had large egos and both liked to be in the limelight. As a result of this campaign each was now the center of attention in their respective countries as the example of the fighting general. Each would be compared to the other and this would not be lost of the vanity of the two. However, for Patton his rise to public adulation would also serve to cause him great embarrassment and make him question his own future. This of course is the famous Patton slapping incidents. General Patton always made it a point to visit wounded soldiers was they were recovering in the ever present US Army field hospitals. On the 3rd of August Patton was visiting the 15th Evacuation Hospital where he threatened and slapped a soldier who had been admitted for battle fatigue. A week later on the 10th of August he slapped another soldier at the 93rd Evacuation Hospital. In each of these incidents Patton thought he was doing the “right thing” in his attempts to “shock” the soldiers out of their circumstances. These actions were reported up the chain of command and reached Eisenhower within the week. Eventually Eisenhower was able to handle the situation and deal with a hostile press that wanted to get rid of Patton. In the end Patton’s 7th Army was stripped of personnel and assets to reinforce the 5th Army for their upcoming invasion of Italy. Patton would now remain at Palermo in a state of Limbo in a very small headquarters. The furor further erupted in November 1943 when the slapping incidents became general knowledge to the American public through a nationally syndicated radio program. (See included response of American general public letters on Patton slapping incident) Within days the American public was either praising or despising General Patton. Fearing that his career was over he was dismayed. With Eisenhower, Marshall and others recognizing Patton’s value as a field commander he was finally recalled to England with the possibility of future command. General’s Eisenhower and Bradley had left the Mediterranean theater in January 1944 to assume their roles in the upcoming cross-channel invasion. Patton would see that his former subordinate, General Bradley, would now be his commander.
The assault on Sicily brought the downfall of Mussolini, but not the collapse of the Italian government. However, the successor to Mussolini, Marshall Badoglio, realized that the future of Italy was in serious jeopardy. By the 3rd of September, Italy had agreed to an armistice with the Allies that would take effect on the 8th of September. However, earlier Montgomery had landed on the 3rd of September at Calabria across the Strait of Messina while the remainder of the 8th British Army would land on the 9th at the Italian boot heel. This was simultaneously with the American 5th Army landings at Salerno also on the 9th of September. The departure of Mussolini in July from the Italian command structure forced the Germans to take quick and decisive action to keep Italy in the war. With the subsequently announcement of the Italian Armistice the German Wehrmacht began to expand their flow into Italy with even more additional men, material and equipment. Rome was quickly occupied and the Italian government was secured, although both King Victor Emmanuel III and Marshall Badoglio escaped to Southern Italy where they encountered the troops of Montgomery’s 8th Army.
The Allied landings in southern Italy met with mixed responses. The British faced little resistance and were able to link up with the Americans to the west within a week. Over the course of that week the 8th Army had advanced up the boot and by the end of the second week had secured the great airbases at Foggia. The American 5th Army under Lt. General Mark Clark had a very difficult time on the beaches at Salerno, just south of Naples. Salerno was important because it lead to Naples. The capture of the large port facilities at Naples was critical to the success of the campaign up the boot of Italy on the western coast. After ten days of fighting the beachhead was secure and the German forces began withdrawing to the North. By the 1st of October, American forces had entered Naples and pushed through the city. A week later the Allies would be at the Volturno River and linked together across the entire length of the Italian Peninsula. Within mid-October the Allies began to move across the river which had become swollen with rains. Progress was slow. By mid-November a frontage of over 20 miles had been gained.
The Germans had established three defensive lines that reached across the width of Italy. These were intended to slowdown and through attrition weaken the Allied advance. The first was the Barbara line, followed by the Bernhard Line and lastly the Gustav Line. By January 1944, only the Gustav Line remained to be breached. But it was here that the Allied forces would take a beating, not just from the German forces, but also from the weather. On some occasions more soldiers were injured from the mountainous terrain and the weather conditions than they were from German weapons. Anchoring the Gustav Line in the center was the 1,400 year old Benedictine Monastery of Monte Cassino. The heights of the Abbey of Monte Cassino allowed for a commanding view of all entry to the Liri Valley. It was clearly a strategic position that would evoke later controversy at the end of the war. After fighting up the peninsula of Italy, the troops were exhausted. It would now take a superhuman effort in order to break out past the Gustav line.
The strategy that was subsequently developed to break the stalemate along this winter front was focused on an amphibious landing at a coastal town to the north called Anzio. It was 40 miles to the south of Rome, afforded good beaches for landings and most of all was far enough from the Gustav Line to give the Germans pause for concern about being attacked from the rear. The operation had originally been scheduled for late November-early December. But due to the failure of the American 5th Army to advance far enough, it had been reluctantly called off. Now on Churchill’s insistence in December, 1943 the plans for the Anzio operations were resumed. (See included Stars and Stripes Newspaper, 24 December 1943)
On the 22nd of January 1944 elements of the 5th Army landed at Anzio in Operation “Shingle” with little opposition. The Germans were surprised. Within several days the Allied forces had expanded the beachhead to a depth of seven miles and landed nearly 50,000 troops. Concurrently the Allied forces on the Gustav Line began their push in their attempt to break through. Here was where the Allies faltered. The German forces under Field Marshall Kesselring quickly reinforced the Gustav Line and blunted the Anzio beaches where the Allies failed to aggressively advance. By early February the Allied were bottled up at Anzio facing huge casualties and the possibility they could be forced off the beaches. To the south the Germans were doggedly halting the allied advance.
It would not be until May 1944 when these forces would be able to break out of their positions. Over the next four months their perimeter would shrink and expand, and the German artillery would continue to rake the American facilities that would come to be known as “Hell’s Half Acre”. At Anzio the US Army had established field hospitals to treat the nearly 33,000 personnel that would pass through their tents. These hospitals were located on the beaches and were under constant threat of bombardment. Among the personnel were 200 female Army Nurses who provided a touch of home to many of the soldiers. Six of these nurses would lose their lives, while four would be the first ever women to be awarded the Silver Star for their heroism.
Another attempt to break the stalemate the across the waist of Italy was the controversial Allied bombing of Monte Cassino. It was believed that the Germans had occupied the heights of the mountain and were in the grounds of the abbey. From this strategic position, it was thought the German artillery was being directed on the advancing Allies as they moved up the boot of Italy. All attempts to take the abbey in late 1943 and early 1944 ended in failure.
The decision to bomb the abbey was not one that was unanimously approved by the Allies. The Commander of the American 5th Army, General Mark Clark, was not in favor of the idea when it was presented to the overall Mediterranean Theater Commander, British General Harold Alexander. The deciding factor was the psychological impression of the Gustav Line’s invincibility that existed among the Allied soldiers. The abbey was seen as the lynchpin of the German line and the key that had to be opened (destroyed) hopefully improving the morale of the attacking soldiers. With that in mind, General Alexander felt that the destruction of the abbey was of military necessity and was needed to spare Allied lives.
Over the course of two days, the 15th and 16th of February 1944 the Allies hammered the abbey with medium and heavy bomber strikes, depositing nearly 600 tons of munitions, literally turning it into a pile of rubble. Thinking that this would dislodge the German occupation from the 1,800’ height of the Abbey, the Allied ground forces advanced. Sadly this proved not to be the case and within hours of the bombing and artillery barrages, tough German paratroopers from the 1st Parachute Division occupied the ruins of the Abbey. It would take another four months before the Abbey was finally taken at yet a more terrible cost. On the 18th of May, 1944 Polish II Corps finally stormed the last defenders of the abbey. Afterwards they took stock of their losses. In the four months of heavy fighting the Poles lost over 4,000 men who are now buried on the Snakeshead Ridge Polish cemetery. But for the Poles who had been fighting the Germans since the 1st of September 1939, it was an appropriate ending.
On the 11th of May 1944, the Allies began their final attack on Monte Cassino and the surrounding countryside. Within a week the Gustav Line had been breached and several days later the Anzio beachhead finally broke free and moved to link up with the forces moving from the south. Fortunately as the Germans withdrew from the area, fearing encirclement, they decided to bypass Rome and subsequently declared it to be an “open city”. On the 4th of June the Allies marched victorious into Rome. This first of the Axis capitals had fallen. In the meantime, Mussolini had been rescued by a special German force from his Italian captors and had been installed in a puppet state in the North of Italy called the “Italian Social Republic”. This puppet state would continue the pseudo Italian war effort against the Allies from their newly established capital at Salo. The fighting in Italy would still continue through early May 1945. The capture of Rome did not really make the headlines or capture the attention of the British or the American public. This was because the Allied cross-channel invasion would occur on the 6th of June and the war in Italy would become a secondary point of interest. The campaign to gain Rome had cost the Germans and the British-American forces nearly an equal amount of casualties. The total would approach 30,000 dead, wounded and missing on each side. This would be in addition to the large number of non-battle casualties from disease and battle fatigue.
After Rome was taken by the Allies, the German forces began to form a new series of defensive fortified lines that would run from the “Dora Line” just north of Rome to the Genghis Khan Line south of Bologna. From June to September the allies were able to continue their advance northward, pushing the Germans toward the Alps. The fighting in the upper reaches of the Apennines would again be as brutal as it had been to the south. The Gothic Line was the last real barrier the Allies would face in Italy. The rapid advance saw the capture of Sienna, Florence and the ascent into the central Apennines. This came to a climax at the Futa Pass in late September 1944, where a determined allied push broke the Gothic Line and moved into the Po Valley, south of Bologna. (See included Stars and Stripes 11 November 1944) Hurriedly, the Germans rushed reinforcements and with the combination of an early winter the combined British – American armies were halted. A stalemate along the lines of World War I would emerge as each side took time to lick their wounds, regroup and rearm. It would not be until the 14th of April 1945 that the advance would begin again. This time against a German foe who knew that defeat was only weeks away.
From the period of 14 April to 29 April the Allied armies marched north and captured Venice, the entire northern Italian plain and were on the outskirts of the Alps in the north and at Trieste to the east. Rather than continuing the defense of Italy at the cost of more casualties the German forces began to surrender in droves, particularly in light of the announcement that Hitler was dead. One of the more interesting stories that emerged in this period was that of the SS Commander for Italy, General Karl Wolfe. Earlier he had been linked to a failed plot to kidnap Pope Pius XII from the Vatican. General Wolfe later stated he had defied Hitler’s orders and sabotaged the plan. In the closing months of the war he was also involved in dealing the American OSS representative Allen Dulles who was running espionage operations out of Switzerland. The final German surrender in Italy would occur on 2 May when Field Marshal Albert Kesselring would order the cessation of hostilities and formally end the Italian campaign.
German Response to Italian Partisans – Atrocity
The departure of Italy from the war with the armistice and surrender of the Italian forces in the fall of 1943 gave rise to increased partisan activities that were directed against the German occupiers. Some of these activities included destroying key installations, facilities, transportation networks as well as harassing and nuisance acts of sabotage.
After the Allies had passed Rome and the German forces began to retreat northward, the partisan activity became more aggressive. German convoys were ambushed, depot facilities were destroyed, and railroads were disrupted and in one case a set of German plans for the Gustav Line were captured. The main actors in this drama against the Germans were groups of individuals who were led by American OSS operatives or those who had been organized around charismatic individuals who were sometimes guided by Communist ideology. One of these groups was known as the “Stella Rossa” and would be the focus of what would become the worst German atrocity in Italy during the entire war.
As the Germans were falling back from Rome and moving through the Apennines they came more frequently under attack. Determined to put an end to these disruptive activities and improve the morale of the German soldier, Field Marshall Albert Kesselring directed that select units of the German military organization be utilized to deal with this threat. One of the areas where there had been strong Italian partisan movements was in an area south of Bologna that was known as Monte Sole. The summit of this range of the Apennines reached 2,000’. To deal with the partisans and to set an example of what would happen to those who fought clandestinely against the Germans, a group of SS units were organized to specifically ferret out and destroy the partisans.
On the 29th of September 1944 members of the 16th SS Panzergrenadier Division under the command of the one armed Major Walter Reder descended on the small town of Marzabotta and other small mountain villages. These communities had existed in the shadow of Monte Sole for centuries. Over the course of the next three days these SS men methodically moved over the terrain rounding up the citizens who consisted mainly of elderly men, priests, women and children and systematically killing them and burning their homes. By the end of the operation, very few people who had any involvement with the Italian partisans had been killed. Instead, the majority of the dead were innocents who only wanted to avoid the bloodshed of the war. At final count there were 1,830 civilians who had been murdered in this act of violence. This single event did more to stimulate hatred against the Germans, than reduce the efforts of the partisan movement in Northern Italy. This would later prove to be the largest atrocity by the German to take place in Western Europe during the war.
Shift towards Northern Europe
Beginning in 1942 efforts began to prepare for the eventual invasion of Northern Europe. The key to the planning for this invasion was to ensure that England remained in the war. With the decision to invade Northern Europe having been settled at Casablanca, the remainder of 1943 and the first half of 1944 would be seen as the final buildup of invasion forces. Various units were transferred from the Italian campaign and returned for England to help train the newly arriving units.
The key leaders for the invasion of Northern Europe had been assembled and Patton was now being held in reserve providing deception operations in the southeastern part of England. The Allied air forces were initiating a campaign that would begin to destroy the infrastructure of Northern France that would slow the ability of the Germans to provide any reinforcements to the landing areas. Daily aircraft missions were taking place all over Northern Europe as well as strategic bombing missions that were being directed at Germany.
The Italian campaign and the forces of both the American and British armies would now battle the Germans for the reminder of the war in the shadow of the Northern European campaign that would begin with the Normandy landings. The number of forces involved in Italy and the Mediterranean theater would decline as resources were focused to the north through increased priorities. Rome had been taken, and now it was seen that the quickest way to Berlin would be through Western Europe.
Axis and Allied Economic Controls
Japanese Invasion Money
When Japan invaded the areas of Asia that were controlled by the United States and the European powers they instituted economic controls that would, in effect, provide them with an economic advantage over these conquered countries. This gave rise to what was known as the Japanese Invasion Money or JIM. It was issued in the various denominations of the local currency in order to replace the countries “hard” currency with what would become at war’s end worthless money. In each of the countries that were occupied by the Japanese this process led to severe inflation and the potential for economic ruin. The hard currency that the Japanese collected was used to finance their own war production efforts through what became known as the “Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere”. The currency was not serial numbered and was printed in what became unlimited quantities. In the Philippines the Japanese money was listed in centavos and pesos, in Malaya it was prepared in Malaysian dollars, in Burma it was prepared in Rupees and in the Dutch East Indies it was prepared in cents and Guldens. (See included examples of Japanese Invasion Money) At the end of the war people in many countries had hoarded their original currency and brought it out for circulation. However, because of the severe inflation and the Allied decision not to recognize the Japanese currency, efforts were made to create a new currency that was backed by the Allied governments in attempts to stabilize the post-war economies.
Allied Military Currency
When the United States began to prepare for the invasion of the European and Pacific areas that were under the control of the Germans, Italian and the Japanese, a series of military currencies were prepared for each of these locations. The banknotes were actually printed in either the United States or England and were provided to the Allied forces as they entered the new countries. The intent was to help to stabilize the economy of each area, prevent American dollars or British pounds from falling into the hands of Axis power’s and hopefully to prevent inflation or black market activities in these local economies. This type of Allied Military Currency is often referred to as “Invasion Money”. The countries that saw a great deal of this type of currency was Italy, France, Austria, Germany and Japan. The currency was prepared in denominations that were based on the existing monetary system in each particular country. Each piece of military currency was only valid in that particular country. (See included examples of Japanese, Italian, French, German and Austrian military currencies that were prepared by the Allies) After the war ended these military currencies were converted to both new national currency issues and to military payment certificates. This was particularly important in post-war Germany due the Soviet reluctance to support stability controls for a new currency for occupied Germany and Austria.