September-October, 1943: Battle of Salerno Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

With Sicily secured and Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government collapsing, the Allies decided to invade Italy rather than attempt a 1943 cross-channel invasion of northern France. On September 9, 1943, a combined British and American amphibious assault (Operation Avalanche) led by General Mark Clark took place at Salerno, with the intent of drawing German troops to Italy and away from more potentially active and important invasion possibilities elsewhere.

With Sicily secured and Benito Mussolini’s Fascist government collapsing, the Allies decided to invade Italy rather than attempt a 1943 cross-channel invasion of northern France. On September 9, 1943, a combined British and American amphibious assault (Operation Avalanche) led by General Mark Clark took place at Salerno, with the intent of drawing German troops to Italy and away from more potentially active and important invasion possibilities elsewhere.

Although the Allies anticipated little or no resistance, German troops, led by Heinrich von Vietinghoff, put up a strong defense from positions in the mountains from which they could fire down on the attacking troops. Nonetheless, Allied progress was slow but steady until September 12, when the Germans unleashed a furious counterattack. However, necessary Allied assistance arrived, including two battalions of the Eighty-second Airborne, additional firepower provided by two British battleships, two thousand air sorties, and fifteen hundred additional troops from North Africa. The Germans retreated, and on October 1, Allied troops entered Naples.

After Allied troops drove the German occupation forces out of Salerno, some of the towns-people waded out into the surf to get closer looks at the unusual Allied landing craft. (AP/Wide World Photos)

British and American losses exceeded 15,000 men, German losses were estimated at 8,000. About 175,000 Allied troops, more than two-thirds of whom were British, and about 60,000 Germans and Italians participated in the battle.

Both Salerno in the southwest and General Bernard Law Montgomery’s invasion of Southeast Italy were the beginning of the Allied effort to drive the Germans out of Italy. A less than well-planned strategy engendered a great deal of controversy both at the time and later.

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