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World War II: North Africa and Italy. Lesson 24. ID & SIG:. Anzio, Clark, Gustav Line, Kasserine Pass, Kesserling, LSTs, Lucas, Montgomery, Operation Torch, Rome, Rommel, Salerno, Sicily, “soft underbelly”. North Africa. Italian Presence in North Africa.

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World War II: North Africa and Italy

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id sig
  • Anzio, Clark, Gustav Line, Kasserine Pass, Kesserling, LSTs, Lucas, Montgomery, Operation Torch, Rome, Rommel, Salerno, Sicily, “soft underbelly”
italian presence in north africa
Italian Presence in North Africa
  • Since before World War II, Italy had been occupying Libya and had over a million soldiers based there
  • In neighboring Egypt, the British Army had only 36,000 men guarding the Suez Canal and the Arabian oilfields
  • On Sept 13, 1940, the Italians advanced into Egypt but halted in front of the main British defenses at Mersa Matruh
  • On Dec 9, the British counterattacked and pushed the Italians back more than 500 miles, inflicting heavy casualties
  • British troops then moved along the coast and on Jan 22, 1941, they captured the port of Tobruk in Libya
germany to the rescue
Germany to the Rescue
  • In the meantime, Germany sent forces across the Mediterranean to Tripoli
    • The Afrika Corps commanded by Erwin Rommel
  • Italy’s disasters in North Africa and elsewhere (i.e., Greece) were threatening to undermine the Axis position in the Balkans and the Mediterranean
  • Characteristically Rommel attacked and drove the British Commonwealth forces out of Libya except for Tobruk
  • With the situation in North Africa stabilized, Hitler turned his attention to shoring up Italy, leaving Rommel to deal with North Africa
  • One of Rommel’s biggest challenges would be his long, tenuous supply line
    • Between Oct and Nov the Allies sank nearly 80% of Axis supply ships crossing the Mediterranean
  • Rommel pushed the British deep into Egypt but British General Bernard Montgomery stopped Rommel at El Alamein in July 1942
operation torch
Operation Torch
  • While this was going on in Egypt and Libya, Americans acquiesced to British pressure and began planning Operation Torch– landings to occupy Algeria and Morocco and co-opt the Vichy French
    • The “Vichy French” had reached an agreement with the Germans allowing a French government headed by Marshall Henri Pétain to govern the French colonies and those parts of France not occupied by the Germans
    • The “Free French” established their own government in exile led by Charles de Gaulle
operation torch1
Operation Torch
  • The Anglo-American forces landed at Casablanca, Oran, and Algiers and then advanced by land and sea to Tunisia
operation torch2
Operation Torch
  • At first the Vichy French resisted, but eventually surrendered
  • Hitler began rushing troops to Tunis before the Allies could get there
  • Hitler was successful in winning “the race to Tunis” and therefore denying the Mediterranean to Allied shipping
    • However, he did so at a great price, committing Italian and German troops to an ultimately hopeless fight when they could have been better used elsewhere

Admiral Francois Darlan surrendered the Vichy forces in North Africa

kasserine pass
Kasserine Pass
  • After El Alamein, Montgomery had been unable to cut off Rommel and Rommel was able to retreat across Egypt, into Libya, and eventually reach Tunisia
  • Rommel developed a plan to sweep up from southern Tunisia and destroy the Allied supply dumps in eastern Algiers
  • Rommel attacked on February 14 and punched his way through the Kasserine Pass
  • It was a tactical victory, but Rommel was unable to continue with his larger plan and began withdrawing on Feb 22
germans defeated
Germans Defeated
  • Rommel then turned south against the British who were arriving from Egypt
  • Montgomery dealt Rommel a stunning defeat and Rommel personally left Africa
  • The Axis position in North Africa steadily deteriorated and in early May the Allies controlled Tunisia

American soldiers enter Kasserine Pass

first battle
First Battle
  • The Americans did not perform very well in their first combat experience and senior leadership was horrible
    • General Eisenhower was forced to relieve Lloyd Fredendall of command and replace him with George Patton

Lloyd Fredendall, commander of the American II Corps

results of north africa
Results of North Africa
  • The Germans had wasted valuable resources in an indecisive theater
  • Mussolini was severely weakened domestically
  • The Americans learned from their poor performance and made the necessary changes
  • The British and American coalition weathered a potentially threatening storm
casablanca conference
Casablanca Conference
  • After the Axis surrender in Tunisia, the Allies began planning the next phase of the war
  • Roosevelt and Churchill met in Casablanca, Morocco in January 1943
    • Stalin had been invited, but declined to attend because of Stalingrad
second front
Second Front
  • Since July 19, 1941, Stalin had been demanding the Allies open up a second front to relieve the German pressure Russia was facing
  • Invading Italy would help meet Stalin’s demand
strategic differences
Strategic Differences
  • US advocated a cross channel invasion to directly attack Germany
  • Churchill preferred an indirect approach, attacking through the “soft underbelly of Europe”
casablanca conference jan 1943
Casablanca ConferenceJan 1943
  • Britain
    • “the control of the Mediterranean meant… control of the Western world.”
    • Had imperial fortunes in Egypt, the Middle East, and India
    • Felt it was the Axis’ vulnerable point
  • Americans
    • “periphery pecking” would delay the cross-channel invasion that would strike the German jugular
what they agreed on
What They Agreed On
  • Forces from Operation Torch could continue on to Sicily once the North African Campaign was terminated
    • Churchill knew this would preclude a cross-channel invasion in 1943
  • At the end of the conference, Roosevelt announced that “peace can come to the world only by the total elimination of German and Japanese military power . . . (which) means unconditional surrender.”
trident conference may 1943
Trident Conference May 1943
  • Americans accepted the strategic goal of eliminating Italy from the war but demanded that the forces involved consist only of those already in the Mediterranean
  • Americans and British also agreed that planning begin for a cross channel invasion in May 1944

The Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC, site of the Trident Conference

the italian campaign
The Italian Campaign
  • Three amphibious operations
    • Sicily (Operation Husky)
    • Salerno (Operation Avalanche)
    • Anzio (Operation Shingle)
sicily 1943

Sicily, 1943

Failure to Plan Ahead

the commanders
The Commanders

General Mark Clark, American Fifth Army

General Bernard Montgomery, British Eighth Army

General Sir Harold Alexander, 15th Army Group


General George Patton, Seventh Army, coming ashore in Sicily

General Omar Bradley, commander II Corps

  • Allies enjoyed great tactical success in capturing the island of Sicily but did not have a good plan for what to do next
  • Germans were able to escape to the Italian mainland
  • The King placed Mussolini under arrest but the Allies were slow to exploit this diplomatic opportunity and Hitler shored up his defenses in Italy
so what next
So What Next ?….
  • “We can’t win a war by capturing islands.”
    • General Mark Clark, Fifth Army commander

One down, two to go: Cartoon on jeep shows Mussolini crossed out with Hitler and Hirohito next

salerno 1943

Salerno, 1943

Invading the Italian Mainland

the commanders allies
The Commanders: Allies

General Sir Richard McCreery, British X Corps

General Ernest Dawley, American VI Corps

the commanders axis
The Commanders: Axis
  • Albert Kesserling
    • A Luftwaffe officer
    • Supreme Commander “South” or O.B.S. (Oberbefehlshaber Süd)
    • One of Germany’s best generals
  • With the Italian Army on the verge of disintegrating, the assault on Salerno was designed to seize the port of Naples and the airfields of Foggia, followed by a drive to Rome
  • The Germans were ready for the invasion and the battle was a close call for the Allies
    • Massive naval gunfire, strategic bombers, and determined Allied ground forces saved the day

Gustav Line

  • The Germans withdrew to a defense centered on Monte Cassino astride the Liri, Sangro, Rapido, and Garigliano Rivers
    • Major position from which to defend Rome
  • Exposed the Allies to costly and slow mountain fighting that was getting them nowhere
    • Allies needed a way to alleviate the stalemate
anzio 1944

Anzio, 1944

Missed Opportunity

strategic situation in late 1943



Gustav Line


Strategic Situation in late 1943
  • Campaign stalled about 80 miles short of Rome and was beginning to resemble the trench warfare of World War I
  • A landing at Anzio would bypass German defenses around Cassino and put the Allies just 35 miles south of Rome
new commander
New Commander
  • Major General John Lucas replaced Dawley as VI Corps commander after Salerno
  • Would prove to not be the right man for the job
    • Tired from mountain warfare in Italy; appeared dispirited and discouraged.
ghost of salerno
Ghost of Salerno
  • “Don’t stick your neck out, Johnny (new VI Corps Commander John Lucas). I did at Salerno and got into trouble.”
    • Mark Clark, Fifth Army commander

Landing at Salerno

  • The Allies surprised the Germans at Anzio and had immediate success
  • However the close call at Salerno had left them with an overly cautious attitude and they let the Germans recover
  • “I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.”
    • Winston Churchill
Alexander’s guidance was to “Carry out an assault landing on the beaches in the vicinity of Rome with the object of cutting the enemy lines of communication and threatening the rear of the German 14 Corps”

“Cut the enemy’s main communications in the Colli Laziali (Alban Hills) area southeast of Rome, and threaten the rear of the 14 German corps”

Instead Lucas cautiously built up the beachhead which gave the Germans rush in reinforcements

“On January 22 and even the following day, an audacious and enterprising formation of enemy troops… could have penetrated into the city of Rome itself without having overcome any serious opposition”

Siegried Westphal, German Chief of Staff

Alexander had told Lucas to advance “on” the Alban Hills

Did that mean “to” or “toward”?

What was the commander’s intent?

legacy of anzio

Gothic Line


Legacy of Anzio
  • It wasn’t until June 4 that the Allies finally reached Rome in “a hollow triumph”
    • By then the decisive Allied effort had shifted to France
  • Most of the German Tenth Army escaped Clark at Rome and the Germans established a strong defense along the Gothic Line
    • Kept the Allies away from the Italian industrial area and the Alpine approaches to Germany
summary of the italian campaign
Summary of the Italian Campaign
  • Through the summer of 1943 it was an excellent training ground for Anglo-American forces
  • Casualties the Allies inflicted on German ground and air forces in Tunisia and Sicily were a significant return on the investment
  • “After that point, however, Italy cost more than it gained.”
    • Robert Doughty, American Military History and the Evolution of Western Warfare
  • Student Presentations
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