[p.253] THE ITALIAN ARMISTICE OF 1943
Denis Mack Smith
Mussolini was dismissed on 25 July 1943, but six weeks passed after that before Italy agreed to make peace, and this delay led to one of the great disasters of Italian history. Six weeks of indecision gave Hitler ample time to take over most of the country. Faced by this threat, Marshal Badoglio left the Italian army without orders, so that, early in September, it disintegrated almost without a fight. Almost as bad was that Mussolini was allowed to escape from prison and start a terrible civil war. And one further consequence was that the western allies, when they made their first invasion on the mainland of Europe, received little of the Italian help that had been promised, and thereby the landing at Salerno came close to failure.
Why these things were allowed to happen is my subject today, and it is a controversial as well as an important subject. Different explanations have been given for this collapse because much of the evidence had to be destroyed by the Italian government when the Germans occupied Rome in September. Italian historians have generally put the blame on Anglo-American policy. In particular they criticize the decision to choose Salerno for the allied invasion and not somewhere north of Rome which would have suited Italy far better; secondly, they blame the refusal to allow a negotiated armistice which would have permitted Italy to lay down conditions for her surrender; and thirdly, they argue that Eisenhower was wrong to reject well-meaning attempts by the Italian government to help the allied cause. Whether or not any of these accusations are justified, insufficient attention has been given to the actions of half a dozen Italian politicians and generals in Rome. These men had little experience of politics. Quite unexpectedly they found themselves appointed by the king to govern at an extremely difficult moment, and sometimes they took hasty decisions which in the course of these six weeks converted a difficult situation into a major tragedy.
With hindsight, one initial mistake may have been the king's refusal to turn against the Germans at once on 25 July when Mussolini was deposed. This [p.254] would have been a bold and dangerous decision, but at that moment there were few German troops in Italy except four divisions that were fully engaged fighting the Anglo-American forces in Sicily. Changing sides at once would have had the tremendous advantage of placing Italy at once on the winning side. It would have avoided the humiliation of surrender and given a tremendous boost to national morale. And according to most of the senior Italian generals, it would have succeeded and greatly shortened the war.
But there is no indication that Victor Emanuel ever contemplated changing sides. On the contrary, he was hoping to get out of the war altogether, without any more fighting, and preferably without provoking any German reaction. By now he was probably hoping that the western allies would eventually win the war, but he thought it prudent to continue for the moment as an ally of Germany and wait until an allied landing had shown which side would be successful: better leave Eisenhower to take the risks of an invasion, without offering to help until the issue was beyond doubt.
This, at least, is the only plausible explanation of the strange lack of urgency in asking Britain and America for an armistice. During the first week after 25 July the king did nothing at all except try to arrange a personal meeting with Hitler. Then, during August, six different Italian envoys were sent in great secrecy to contact the western allies in Portugal, Switzerland and Africa. But none of these six envoys was empowered to ask for an armistice; not one of them knew about the others; some of them represented the Italian foreign office; others the army, or rather they represented rival groups in the army, and sometimes worked at cross purposes.
But their task was not to negotiate an armistice; it was merely to find out what plans the allies had for an invasion; and to advise that the best place to invade would be France, or possibly the Balkans, so leaving Italy in peace. If it had to be Italy, then Eisenhower should preferably land when, and where, and with what strength it suited the Government in Rome, so that Badoglio could decide whether or not to help. There was certainly no whole-hearted commitment to the allied cause; on the contrary, other officials were sent simultaneously to discuss military plans with the German high command. The main intention of the Rome Government must have been to delay any commitment as long as possible. Otherwise they would hardly have acted so slowly and casually. This is shown by looking at the dates. General Castellano, who was the most senior and serious of the six envoys, did not leave Rome until three weeks after Mussolini fell. He was furthermore ordered to travel to Portugal by train, even though regular air services were still operating; and the train journey in those days took four days going, and four coming back.
[p.255] Castellano on 19 August was given Eisenhower's terms for a possible armistice, but only on 27 August was he able to return with them to Rome. If his mission had been thought truly urgent he would surely have been told to report by radio about Eisenhower's reaction, but he was ordered not to do so, despite the fact that the army intelligence services had just sent a new cipher to Lisbon for this very purpose; and anyway Rome had other means of ciphered radio communication with both the Italian embassy and the Italian navy in Portugal. Which suggests that the order not to send radio messages must have been another delaying tactic. And in fact it wasted another two weeks.
Odder still was the fact that Castellano had been sent to Lisbon with no credentials to act as an authorized intermediary, and no instructions except to find out allied invasion plans: which was surely an impossible instruction so long as Italy was still fighting on the German side. When presented with the armistice terms, he had to reply that he had no authority to discuss them. This left the British and Americans somewhat nonplussed and they could only assume that Badoglio had no intention of negotiating any settlement, but was determined not to surrender.
Another name I must introduce was that of Guariglia, who was Badoglio's foreign minister in Rome. Guariglia later explained why he refused to give any credentials to Castellano, and it was a damaging confession: his reason was that the Government in Rome wanted to be free to disown their envoy if things turned out badly. Guariglia, like Badoglio himself, had been a loyal servant of Mussolini, and long after the war was over he continued to boast of his t loyalty; yet neither of these two ex- ts could understand that Eisenhower would be suspicious of their past record and would become ever more suspicious as the weeks went by with no request to make peace. The Western allies badly needed a quick armistice. At the very least they wanted the Italians not to resist the invasion, and better still if they could obtain some active Italian help against Hitler; but they suspected (and correctly suspected) that Badoglio and Guariglia could not be entirely trusted, especially as Italian forces continued for all these 45 days to fight on the German side. Eisenhower had to wait until 27 August until his peace proposals were discussed in Rome; and then another ten days during which there was further evidence of calculated prevarication, and this prevarication is the substance of my lecture. Guariglia's first reaction on hearing the proposed terms was that Italy should refuse to sign any armistice and go on fighting against the allies. But others in Rome saw some virtue in fudging the issue. For example, General Ambrosio, as Chief of Italian General Staff, eventually persuaded Badoglio to give the allies an answer that was neither a yes, nor a no. But this fudged attitude of `neither yes [p.256] or no' hardly suggested that the Italians were in a hurry to make peace or assist the invasion.
After three more days of inconclusive discussion, Badoglio on 31 August decided that Italy might be prepared to accept an armistice, but only after an invasion had proved successful; and that invasion would have to be with at least 15 allied divisions; it would also have to take place north of Rome; preferably as far north as the Gulf of Genoa or at Rimini in the upper Adriatic - which of course might have allowed Victor Emanuel's government to remain unscathed in Rome.
Italian Intelligence must have been seriously defective if they made this request. Even the Normandy landing had only 5 divisions, and that operation needed a year to prepare. Nor did anyone on the Italian general staff calculate that the range of fighter planes indicated that the landing in Italy must be much further south. Badoglio simply assumed or hoped that Eisenhower had at least 15 divisions and could land them all at will; which would have allowed the Italian government to sit back and do nothing while the Germans were defeated. No one in Rome had any idea of the complexity of the amphibious operations when landing craft had to be assembled with precise timing from half a dozen different ports in Africa and Sicily. Nor that a Spitfire would have only 20 minutes of autonomous flying over Naples before having to return to Sicily for refuelling. Nor did anyone stop to consider that the timing of such a complex operation must be already settled and could not be changed. Nor could Eisenhower risk telling the Italians when and where it would take place. Nor could he let them know that he had only a few divisions available and the rest were being withdrawn to prepare for the Normandy landing. He also knew that the Italians would be even more reluctant to accept an armistice if he told them that his orders were not to spare Italy from the worst horrors of war, let alone land in France or the Balkans, but rather to draw as many German divisions as possible into the Italian peninsula so as to relieve the pressure on the Russian front and weaken possible resistance to the major allies landing in Normandy.
Castellano on 31 August flew from Rome to General Alexander's headquarters in Sicily with Badoglio's demand for 15 divisions and a landing in Northern Italy. In reply he was told that existing plans could not be changed. So the same day he was sent back to Rome with an ultimatum for Badoglio to decide in the next forty-eight hours whether or not to accept an armistice. He also took the message that the armistice must be signed before the main landing took place, because Eisenhower and Alexander needed to know whether any [p.257] help would be forthcoming; but they would keep its signature secret so as not to alert the Germans ahead of time.
Faced with an imperative demand by Eisenhower, Badoglio sent a telegram on 1 September accepting in principle an armistice - even though we now know that secretly he had plenty of mental reservations and was still playing for time. At a series of important meetings in Rome to discuss the question, Count Acquarone, speaking on behalf of the king, proposed merely pretending to accept an armistice, and then at the last moment repudiating it if the invasion went wrong. This still strikes me as a remarkable proposal in the circumstance, especially from people who accused Eisenhower of being deceitful. Another participant at these meetings was General Carboni, who was chiefly responsible for the final debacle. He intervened in the discussions to say that he was against the whole idea of making peace, and they should continue to remain on the German side. This man, Carboni, was the general in command of the defences of Rome, as well as head of the Intelligence services. In other words he was the most important soldier with an active field command. After Carboni had pronounced against the whole idea of an armistice, he would surely have been replaced in his command if the government had been seriously intending to change sides. But he was not replaced, and Badoglio continued to play a waiting , accepting the allied terms, but secretly determined, despite Castellano's promises, to defer any action until the decisive battle had been lost or won.
As part of this waiting , Castellano was sent to Sicily to say that Italy accepted an armistice; but he had to explain that he still had no authority to sign any document to that effect. This caused consternation at allied head-quarters, because the invasion was only a few days away. Castellano was therefore told to send an urgent telegram to Rome explaining that a formal signature was needed, and at once. But despite this telegram, another whole day went by without any answer from Rome to his message, and this cannot have been anything but a deliberate decision to gain more time. Even two days later, another stalling reply arrived from Rome to protest that there was no need for an actual signature, and to Eisenhower this was a further indication that Badoglio was waiting to see if an allied landing would succeed or not. Only on 3 September, after threats that bombing of Italian towns would resume, did Badoglio finally give way, and an armistice was signed in Sicily. Eisenhower agreed that the news of this acceptance would be made public only a few days later when the main invasion at Salerno took place. But, for the record, it must be said that Badoglio confessed in private that he had still no intention of honouring his signature if things turned out badly in the interim.
[p.258] In order to get this armistice, Eisenhower accepted one Italian request, for a landing by American airborne troops near Rome. This would have been a very risky enterprise, but it was accepted so as to encourage Italian resistance. And Castellano promised that Carboni's four divisions would keep open the airfields round Rome and use their superior numbers to contain the two German divisions in that area. It is important to stress that this dangerous airborne operation was by specific request of the Italian army: not only made by Castellano in Sicily, but simultaneously by General Zanussi at Eisenhower's headquarters in Algiers. It is also relevant to note that the operation meant seriously weakening the vital Salerno landing, because the one available airborne division would have to be diverted from Salerno to Rome. Which makes it all the more remarkable that the Italian general staff had no intention of giving the assistance that was promised. Indeed Castellano later confessed, or rather boasted, that he had himself deliberately exaggerated the extent of Italian help lest the allies should suspect that they were being led into a trap. What Castellano probably did not know was that General Carboni, who was detailed to command the whole operation, had already made up his mind to give no assistance at all.
But Eisenhower nevertheless decided to believe Castellano's assurances if this hazardous operation was the price of an Italian armistice, and his planning staff worked night and day to prepare the detailed orders for the new airborne operation. Yet it is hard to discern any military preparations at all by the Government in Rome. Badoglio on 1 September confirmed his support for an allied landing near Rome, but still did nothing for the next week, and Carboni remained in command of the Rome defences despite the fact that he had openly opposed the whole operation. Just one single and ambiguous order was sent out by the army staff - by the army staff, not by Ambrosio and the general staff, nor by the Government, in other words at the third level of command. This order just said that any attack by what were called "non-Italian forces" should be resisted. But nothing at all was said in this order about Germany being a possible enemy; and no-one was told that an armistice had already been signed with the allies, nor about the promise of military co-operation with the invading forces. Moreover, only six senior commanders received even this single reticent order. Nor was anything put in writing; or at least the order had to be burnt at once after being read. Nor - and this was perhaps the decisive point for my argument - nor was the order to be acted upon until a further instruction arrived; and this second instruction never did arrive. Apart from this one vague order known only by six people, nothing was done to prepare the Italian armed forces to help the allied invasion. There [p.259] was not even a unit set up to plan for a possible change of front, or otherwise the collapse of the Italian army on 9 September need never have happened. Another very important fact was that Carboni's armoured units round Rome, which would be needed to support the United States air-drop, were not even issued with the necessary reserves of petrol and ammunition. Subsequently the army claimed that this failure to provide petrol was a mere oversight, but such an excuse is barely credible and ample supplies were easily available if an order had been given. The fact that this failure was in violation of a precise clause in the signed armistice is perhaps a minor point.
Once again I conclude that Badoglio never intended to give any help until the allies had landed and shown that they could win on their own. This supposition, if true, would explain many other inexplicable facts. It would explain why six weeks were wasted in completely useless talks in Lisbon and Sicily; it would explain why Castellano was sent to Portugal without any instructions to negotiate, and by slow train, and ordered not to use radio communication to tell Rome of the armistice terms. It would also explain why nothing was done even at this last moment to prepare the army for changing sides; and why Guariglia and the king's personal representative advised pre-tending to sign an armistice with no intention of honouring their signature; and it would explain why Carboni was not replaced as commander of the army corps round Rome; and why Badoglio and Ambrosio, five days after signing an armistice, both said that their signature could still be denounced without dishonour. General Castellano had given the allies a promise of active help, by sabotage, by cutting German lines of communication, by defending airfields and ports to assist in the allied invasion. On the other hand, similar promises of help were being given simultaneously to the Germans. Badoglio and the king both continued to promise the Germans, on their word of honour as soldiers, that the alliance with Germany continued in full operation and would remain so. The king himself said this as late as 8 September, a few hours before the Salerno landing. Indeed in the afternoon of that same day the Italian battle fleet was ordered to get up steam for a final battle against the Anglo-American invasion that had already begun.
Another confirmation of my hypothesis can be seen in the very strange behaviour of General Ambrosio, the Chief of General Staff. Ambrosio was Eisenhower's opposite number and the effective commander of the three armed services. Ever since 1 September he had been told that the allies accepted the Italian request for an air-drop near Rome, and on 5 September he received from Sicily a detailed thirty-two-page plan that Eisenhower's staff had prepared; and he made no objection to this plan even now on 5 September.
[p.260] Yet this supreme commander of the armed forces did not authorize any serious preparations for carrying out the Italian side of the bargain. More to the point, instead of staying in Rome to study this complex plan and supervise Italian co-operation, Ambrosio chose this moment to go off to Turin, and was out of reach for the two vital days before the Salerno landing. He travelled to Turin by train, about a ten-hour journey, though his personal airplane was ready on the runway and he could easily have gone there and returned the same day. The excuse he gave for his absence was that he needed to destroy some documents kept at his home in Turin - which his wife could have done for him after a telephone call, or he could have sent his son from Rome to do it. The only plausible explanation, it seems to me, is that he wanted to be well away from his post of command in Rome, thus avoiding any responsibility for action, and completely out of contact with his own headquarters. And he cannot possibly have done this without authorization from the king and Badoglio.
Ambrosio later told a Commission of Enquiry that he would never have left Rome if he had suspected that the invasion would be in two days' time. But in fact he knew that the invasion had already begun. Before leaving for Turin he knew that Montgomery was already fighting in Calabria. From aerial observation he had been informed that other large allied convoys were assembling and moving towards the mainland from Africa and Sicily. Another fact that he knew was that an American officer was coming secretly to Rome to concert plans for the airdrop, and Ambrosio had himself ordered an Italian corvette to go to pick up this officer from the island of Ustica. The obvious explanation is that Ambrosio meant to avoid meeting this American so that he could avoid having to discuss the matter with him. At Turin on 7 September he was telephoned by his staff to say that General Taylor wanted to see him urgently and he should hurry back to Rome; but Ambrosio refused to return by air, and again travelled by train, which meant that the Chief of General Staff spent another ten hours incommunicado on the very day of the Salerno landing. He reached Rome only at 10.00 am. on the 8th, which was D day; and still refused to see Taylor, who left Rome only six hours later.
This visit to Rome by a United States general is a crucial fact; because Taylor was second in command of the airborne force that was due to land 24 hours later. Taylor was of course expecting to find Ambrosio in Rome and was astonished to find the Chief of General Staff five hundred miles away. He just found a lavish dinner laid on from the Grand Hotel for him to take by himself. There was no sign of Ambrosio's second in command, and no sign of the chief of army staff - who both were in Rome and could easily have been found and who knew he was coming. Eventually he saw only Carboni, the one senior [p.261] general who had opposed the whole airborne operation. Carboni was having dinner elsewhere in town even though Taylor's arrival had been expected. He was located after two vital hours. And let me repeat that this was just before an invasion on which the whole future of Italy depended. When Carboni finally arrived he was informed by Taylor that the invasion was imminent. And Carboni gave the devastating reply that the situation had changed and Italy must withdraw her offer of help. The Germans were now too strong, he said, and Badoglio would therefore have to disavow the armistice that had been signed four days earlier; so please would the allies cancel the airdrop and postpone publication of the Italian armistice. Taylor then insisted on waking Badoglio up at his home, only to discover that this was official policy.
We are left with the problem of explaining how such a change can have come about and also why no warning of it had been sent earlier. Carboni knew that the invasion fleet was already at sea - especially as he had a second job as commander of the three military Intelligence services. So he would have known that any postponement of the actual invasion was quite impossible, and the only thing that could be postponed was active Italian collaboration. Equally obvious, a mere corps commander such as Carboni would never have casually repudiated the armistice had Badoglio and Ambrosio not already agreed to do so. What they all needed above all was to persuade Eisenhower to conceal from the Germans that an armistice had been signed, so that they would not be in the firing line until after the allies had landed. Carboni even pretended to Taylor that the Germans had seized control of the particular airfields which the Italians had undertaken to defend for the airborne landing. But we now know that the airfields were all in Italian hands, and remained so for the next three days. Carboni incidentally threatened Taylor that if the allies tried to make difficulties they might well find the Italians still fighting against them.
The whole episode makes an extraordinary story. Carboni's excuse for demanding cancellation of the airdrop was that his armoured corps round Rome lacked petrol and ammunition; but he told other staff officers in private that he had purposely exaggerated this so as to deceive General Taylor. And in fact we now know that considerable quantities of pertol and supplies were available nearby in Italian hands. Yet nothing had been done to deploy these supplies during the week that elapsed since the airborne landing had been accepted, and this was Carboni's personal responsibility. It is hard to take this as anything else but a further indication that the army staff had no intention of fighting at any stage; or worse still, that he had made up his mind to refuse his help at the very last moment when it would do maximum harm to the allied [p.262] invasion. One further strange fact was that Carboni, when he emerged from the meeting with Taylor, was seen to be delighted over his clever piece of deception and at leaving the allies in the lurch. He was particularly pleased that Taylor had accepted quite inaccurate facts about Italy's inability to help.
Eisenhower was dismayed. He had little option but to cancel the airborne operation at Rome, and he was only just in time, as the planes were taxiing onto the Sicilian airfields ready for take-off. Half an hour later, and they would have gone to perhaps certain destruction. It is worth remembering, despite what some historians say, that Eisenhower and General Alexander, the two men chiefly responsible, believed that with Italian help an attack on Rome would have good chances of success; and so incidentally did the three German generals involved, Kesselring, Westphal and Student. All three of these German commanders said in retrospect that a surprise attack by this American division would probably have succeeded in defending Rome and forcing a German withdrawal to Northern Italy. The gain for Italy from such a withdrawal would have been incalculable. And even if the operation had not saved Rome, it would have diverted German divisions away from the main Salerno beachhead, and would have prevented reinforcements moving south for the few vital days when the Salerno landing was near to failure. It would also have placed Italians firmly and actively on the side of the victorious United Nations, which would have been another incalculable advantage for the country.
Eisenhower agreed reluctantly to cancel it, but then proceeded to ruin Badoglio's plan, by at once putting out on the Algiers radio that the Italians had signed an armistice and the document was in his possession. He had incidentally taken the precaution of having the ceremony of signature actually filmed. Astonishingly, this broadcast caught the Italians quite by surprise. The king therefore called an urgent meeting at the royal palace late in the afternoon of 8 September. At this meeting the attitude of the various participants is interesting. Guariglia, the foreign minister, maintained that, to avoid German reprisals, the Italians should now repudiate their signature on the armistice and pretend to Hitler that Eisenhower's radio message was a simple falsehood. General Carboni agreed with this, and also accepted that the Italian army should at least pretend to help the Germans against the allied landing. Carboni further suggested that Hitler might be placated if the king dismissed Badoglio as a scapegoat who had signed an armistice without royal authorization. Badoglio agreed that this was a possible procedure; which again suggests that he had never regarded the armistice as being a genuine commitment. The meeting then drew up a formal statement repudiating the armistice, just at the [p.263] very moment when General Mark Clark's troops were about to land. This document of repudiation was actually in process of being drafted when at the last moment a junior officer pointed out that it was absurd, especially as the signing of the armistice had been filmed: repudiation would decieve no one; Germans and allies alike would be outraged, and both sides might take terrible reprisals. This logic was so obvious that the king abruptly changed his mind and agreed to confirm the armistice with the allies, though clearly he did so with the greatest reluctance. And yet, even after this, there was still a strange lack of urgency. Badoglio went to the Rome radio station to broadcast the news, but decided not to interrupt the programme of light music and waited in the studio for another hour.
Even at this eleventh hour Badoglio could perhaps have saved the day by calling Italians to arms against the German oppressor and so claimed an honourable place among the United Nations. But instead he spoke as though he was merely resigned to a humiliating capitulation. Not even now did he issue any orders for people to be ready to fight against the Germans. And this was no mere oversight. Ambrosio was requested by a number of senior Italian generals to put out an order that Italy was changing sides. The fact was that no contingency plans were ready; no planning staff had been appointed to consider the alternatives if things went wrong; no communications network had been set up in a town outside Rome to which the army could have been ordered to fall back. And this was because none of the half a dozen people in the know at Rome had ever been expecting that they would have to fight seriously. Whereas the Germans had a precise plan for every contingency. Kesselring immediately took over the petrol dumps and disarmed the Italian coastal defences, and did so almost without loss of life. There was little resistance to him because the Italian army had simply been left without orders.
The airforce, too, was caught quite by surprise. Italian planes were already moving to attack the Anglo-American convoys off Salerno. At the last moment they were hurriedly recalled, but too late because some of these planes did not get the message and proceeded to bomb allied shipping. The navy behaved quite differently, and this throws an interesting light on what happened. Because the navy had been much less infiltrated by m: incompetent ts were often appointed as army and air force generals, but they could not be put in charge of warships, because that would have required serious technical expertise. The army generals - Badoglio, Ambrosio, Carboni - had all risen to the top through favouritism and their allegiance to m. But while the army under such leadership simply melted away on 9 September, the navy showed a sense of initiative and responsibility by obeying a clear order [p.264] from Admiral De Courten and sailing to Malta. And this was most important for the United Nations. Because the co-operation of the Italian fleet released great numbers of ships for use in the Far East and in Normandy. If the Italian fleet had attacked the invading forces, it is hard to believe that the invasion would have succeeded.
The army leaders, on the other hand, did almost nothing. Badoglio issued a further order that Rome should not be defended, though both the allies and the Germans thought that defence of the city would have been possible; and certainly its defence would have helped the crucial battle at Salerno. One possibility is that the Germans had successfully deceived Italian Intelligence about the real strength of their forces in the Rome area. At all events General Westphal later acknowledged that his men were heavily outnumbered at Rome and held few of the airfields round the city - even though Carboni had pretended the opposite. Westphal was Kesselring's chief of staff, and he added later that an operation by the American airborne division would probably have succeeded, since he had no idea which area and which airfields had been chosen for it.
Badoglio was admittedly in a very difficult situation. But if he had seriously intended to change sides and help an allied landing he had had six weeks to prepare for it. The one single important decision he took in the night of 8 - 9 September was to leave Rome and get away to safety in Apulia; and this was before any serious engagement had taken place. No doubt his departure can be defended so as to save Victor Emanuel from being captured. But quite indefensible is that he and Ambrosio left behind them no command structure, no clear indication about who was in charge, and no orders except the one fatal instruction that no initiative should be taken against the Germans. This was a panic decision. The other cabinet ministers were not even told that the King and the Prime Minister were leaving. Local army commanders rang up all night long asking for orders and information, but none came; so some commanding officers simply told their men to change into civilian clothes and go home. What made it all that much worse was that a hundred senior generals and staff officers discovered that the king planned to embark for the south at the port of Ortona, and there was an unseemly scramble to join the royal family on board. Without them, the large Italian army was left leaderless to fend for itself. In some areas there was fighting for several days, and some of it quite heroic, but then a million or perhaps two million soldiers simply disintegrated or surrendered to the Germans.
This was a truly tragic result. For one thing the great chance had been missed to force a quick German withdrawal to the North. For another thing, [p.265] Mussolini could easily have been taken to Apulia, and Italy might have been spared 18 months of civil war, but he was left in a place where the Germans could recapture him and his guards made no attempt at all to stop it. Another result was that, lacking Italian help, the landing at Salerno nearly failed, which was one of the most critical episodes of the whole war. Churchill and Eisenhower had been hoping that there would be widespread sabotage and an organized resistance movement at the very least; but the king refused to encourage any popular resistance, because he was more frightened of Communism than he was anxious to help the allies.
To complete the picture, I should explain that , since 1943, the generals have all blamed each other in book after book. Carboni said that Badoglio and the general staff should be shot for treason. Others blamed Carboni for culpable cowardice and incompetence. I should also explain once again that Italian historians have generally blamed Eisenhower for what had gone wrong, and it is worth going over their arguments. Some historians pretend that it was the allies who cancelled the airborne attack on Rome against Italian wishes. Others still argue that Eisenhower should have landed with fifteen divisions - though these were simply not available in the Mediterranean theatre. Badoglio's request for landings near Genoa and Rimini is still sometimes said to be strategically sound, though in fact it was widely unrealistic given the availability of landing craft and fighter cover. Another interesting argument still copied in almost all Italian books on the subject is that the allies cheated, by first promising that they would not land before 12 September, and then by breaking this promise and bringing forward the date before the Italians were ready. But Eisenhower's negotiating team never made any mention of any date. Ever since the middle of August the landing had been planned to take place on 9 September when the moon was full, as perhaps Ambrosio might have guessed. This universally accepted legend about bringing forward the date was a pure fabrication designed to give some explanation of the Italian collapse.
Another criticism often made is that it was wrong for Eisenhower to antagonize Badoglio by insisting on unconditional surrender. But the allies urgently needed a quick armistice if they were to invade before the winter, and this allowed no time for any prolonged negotiation. They needed a simple formula, because they could not hope to get agreement on a negotiated settlement between so many allied countries: and it was hard enough to get agreement even between London and Washington. Eisenhower was also sensitive about Stalin's reaction if he made a deal with a reactionary government in Italy. And even more Eisenhower feared opposition from France, Yugoslavia and Greece, all of whom were under Italian occupation, all of [p.266] whom were more reliable allies than Italy, and all of whom would have violently opposed any such deal that brought Italy on to the winning side too easily. Yet another fact is that the allies needed full powers once they landed; and their task would have been impossible had every step to be negotiated with a civil administration that was recognized as sovereign. The demand for unconditional surrender was no more than Italy herself had demanded of her own defeated enemies, and in any case it was mitigated by a written promise from Roosevelt and Churchill that the ultimate peace terms would be generous in proportion as Italy helped to defeat Nazi Germany.
Some mistakes were no doubt made on the allied side, but I cannot believe that the demand for unconditional surrender was one of them. My argument today has been that in the fight against Nazi Germany, Victor Emanuel and Badoglio did much less than they could have done and less than they had promised to do. This was the main reason for the catastrophe of September 1943. Ordinary Italians have often proved more sensible than their ruling class. They were badly let down by the political class imposed on them by Mussolini. And now they were let down again by a handful of inexperienced politicians and generals. Why King Victor Emanuel chose such people and allowed them to act as they did is another story.