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Chapter 12
Hitler's Decision on the Defense of Italy

by Ralph S. Mavrogordato
(See end of file for information on author.)

Hitler's decision on the defense of Italy falls into the category of decisions made by a chief of state acting as commander in chief of the state's armed forces. In his decision on a counteroffensive through the Ardennes, [1] he overruled his military advisers; in his decisions on the defense of Italy, he chose between the conflicting recommendations of the two commanders best qualified to advise him.

The decision not to yield southern Italy after the Anglo-American invasion in September 1943 led to some of the bloodiest battles of the war. The Rapido River, Monte Cassino, and Anzio left an indelible imprint on the history of World War II. These battles became necessary when Hitler reversed an earlier decision to withdraw his forces to the northern Apennines. He had decided not to defend southern and central Italy while the Allies were fighting on Sicily, and when he already had reason to expect that the Italian Government, no longer directed by his Axis partner, would switch its allegiance from Germany to the Allies; he reversed himself only after Marshal Pietro Badoglio's government had defected from the Axis and the Allies had established their lodgment in southern Italy. [2]

[1] See von Luttichau, "The German Counteroffensive in the Ardennes," below. 
[2] The main sources for this study have been the captured documents of 
the German Army, copies of which are on file at the National Archives. 
The most important single source was the War Diary of the German Armed 
Forces High Command, Operations Section (OKW/WFSt, KTB). Extensive use 
was also made of manuscript chapters by Howard McGaw Smyth which will be 
published in a volume of UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II entitled 
Sicily and the Surrender of Italy. Other sources found useful and 
informative were the postwar manuscripts written by high-ranking German 
participants in the Italian campaign, including Field Marshal Albert 
Kesselring and his former chief of staff and the commander of Tenth 
Army, General von Vietinghoff (OCMH files). A translation of the 
notes of Hitler's conferences with Admiral Karl Doenitz, published by 
the Office of Naval Intelligence, and taken from the War Diary of the 
German Naval Operations Staff, provided important information on 
Hitler's thoughts and decisions and supplemented the War Diary of the 
Armed Forces Operations Section of the High Command.

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Not until almost a month after the Allies invaded the Italian mainland did Hitler make a final decision on the defense of Italy. His indecision reflected a conflict between two alternative courses of action, each proposed by a field marshal-on the one hand, Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, who was convinced that the Germans could and should hold only northern Italy; on the other, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, who was persuaded that a defense south of Rome was not only possible but also advisable.

In a situation already complex because of the necessity for anticipating possible Italian defection as well as estimating Allied offensive intentions, the presence of both field marshals in Italy-Rommel in the north and Kesselring in the south-complicated the problem of command. Hitler's choice of strategy in the final analysis determined his choice of commander.

The armistice between Italy and the Allies, announced 8 September 1943, on the eve of the Salerno landings, was no surprise to Hitler and the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (OKW), the German High Command. German distrust of Italian intentions long before the Italian surrender-as early as May of that year-had caused plans to be made for that expected event. Benito Mussolini's deposition from power in July and the assumption of power by the Badoglio government convinced Hitler, despite Badoglio's protestations to the contrary, that Italy had no intention of continuing the war. Yet Hitler was loath to take the first step in an open break between the two Axis governments or to give the Italians the slightest excuse for defection. As long as Italy remained a formal ally, there was still chance of cooperation, particularly since the Allies' insistence on unconditional surrender was well known.

By 1943 Hitler needed all the help he could get. Germany was on the defensive in the East as well as in the Mediterranean, and no strategic goal determined the German over-all effort-unless it was Hitler's resolve to hold on to every foot of occupied territory. (See Map 7.)

The basic prerequisite of a strategic defensive plan is a substantial strategic reserve, but after the German losses at Stalingrad during the winter of 1942-43 and in Tunisia in the spring of 1943 no such reserve existed. A reserve could have been made available only if even

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limited offensive plans in the East had been abandoned and a relatively short front established. But this required retrograde movements on a grand scale, and Hitler refused to consider them. The result was that one theater could be reinforced only at the expense of another.

During a conference between Hitler and Mussolini at Feltre on 19 July 1943, Marshal Vittorio Ambrosio, Chief of the Italian High Command, asked Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, Chief of Staff of the OKW, what was happening on the Russian front. Keitel could say no more than that the Germans were wearing the Russians down. "This," replied Ambrosio, "is not an active program but the renunciation of the initiative in operations. In substance the Axis is besieged, it is in a closed ring; it is necessary to get out. What prospects have you for doing this?" There were no prospects and Keitel eluded the question. [3] Nor did Hitler have a positive plan for victory. His belief in the Endsieg (final victory) was founded more and more on irrational hopes for which there was no positive foundation. First he wanted to wear down Russia by continuously reducing its strength in offensive operation; [4] later he merely hoped that a split between the Eastern and Western Allies would bring about a change in the fortunes of war.

By May 1943 North Africa was lost and with it over 100,000 Germans. One of the most serious consequences of the Allied conquest of Tunisia was its effect on Italian morale and determination to resist. Italy had never been prepared for the requirements of global warfare; now it had lost its best divisions in Greece, Russia, and North Africa. Criticism against Mussolini's conduct of the war mounted, particularly in army and monarchist circles. Hitler recognized the unstable internal situation in Italy and in May 1943 OKW began drafting plans to take over the defense of all of Italy and the Balkans in the event that Italian resistance should collapse or that the Italian Government should enter into a "treacherous" agreement with the Allies. [5] The Germans believed that further Allied offensive operations in the Mediterranean were imminent and, at the same time, that the Italians could no longer be relied on to contribute their share in the defense of their homeland or of the Balkans should either one be attacked-not a pleasant contemplation since only a few thousand German troops were on Italian soil in May 1943, troops that consti-

[3] Quoted by Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, Ch. VII.
[4] German Foreign Office Document: "Aufzeichnung über die
Unterredung zwischen dem RAM und dem Staatssekretaer Bastiani im Schloss
Klessheim." 9 April 1943 (OCMH files).
[5] For a detailed discussion of German-Italian relations during 1943
and for German plans relating to the possibility of Italian defection,
see Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, Chs. III, VII, and IX.

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tuted the backlog of soldiers originally scheduled for transport to North Africa. By contrast, less than one year ago, in the early summer of 1942, Hitler had had visions of his armored columns advancing through North Africa and the Caucasus and meeting somewhere in the Near East in a gigantic pincer movement.

Faced with the prospect of losing his strongest ally, Hitler contemplated several strategic alternatives. Germany could assume the defense of Italy and Greece (with the latter occupied primarily by Italian troops). Germany could surrender all of Italy to the Allies, thereby avoiding the commitment of additional troops in what could only be a secondary theater of operations. Or Germany could defend in Italy along a geographic line that would prevent the loss of the Po Valley and its rich agricultural and industrial resources.

Hitler never seriously considered evacuating all of Italy. In addition to giving up the resources of the Po Valley, withdrawal from Italy would have meant placing Allied armies on the southern border of Germany. Though the Alps provided an obstacle to invasion, the Allies would be able to establish air bases within easy striking distance of south and central Germany, and northern Italy would give the Allies an ideal staging area for amphibious operations against southern France or southeastern Europe. Withdrawal to the Alps might also suggest to Hungary and other Balkan satellites that they too could disengage from the none-too-popular war; finally, withdrawal from Italy might easily have adverse effects on Turkey's neutrality. Similar and stronger arguments existed against evacuating Greece.

The plan to occupy and defend all of Italy and the Balkans was the first plan adopted by Hitler. He charged Field Marshal Rommel with the activation of a skeleton army group headquarters in Munich to work out plans to occupy and defend Italy. [6] For Rommel's use, six good panzer (armored) or panzer grenadier divisions were to come from the East; two panzer grenadier and six infantry divisions (reconstituted units that had been virtually destroyed at Stalingrad) were to come from France. Furthermore, two parachute divisions were to be made available by the Luftwaffe. The secrecy surrounding these plans was such that not even the senior German general in Italy, Field Marshal Kesselring, was informed of the early discussions.

In June 1943, his fears concerning Italy temporarily eased, Hitler decided to carry out a limited offensive in Russia with the result that Rommel could no longer rely on the panzer divisions from the East for the execution of his task. Rommel thereupon informed Hitler that he could no longer undertake the defense of all of Italy with the troops

[6] OKW/WFSt/Op Nr. 661138/43, 22 May 1943, in Westl. 
Mittelmeer, Chefsachen (CRS H 22/290).

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expected to be available to him. [7] Hitler seemingly accepted Rommel's judgment, for subsequent plans envisaged the defense of Italy only in the Apennines north of Rome, and in July he stated unequivocally that "without the Italian Army we cannot hold the entire peninsula." [8]

While Hitler, Rommel, and the OKW made plans in anticipation of Italy's defection, Kesselring was planning for the further conduct of the war in cooperation with Mussolini and the Italian High Command, the Comando Supremo. In agreement with Comando Supremo, German forces in Italy had been built up independently of Rommel's plans in preparation for Allied attacks. By the time the Allies invaded Sicily in July, Kesselring had placed two German divisions on Sicily, one panzer and one panzer grenadier, both organized out of the troops that had been scheduled for North Africa before the Axis defeat. One panzer grenadier division, still in process of organization, was on Sardinia, and two panzer grenadier divisions and a panzer division recently transferred from France were in central and southern Italy. Though these units were officially under command of Comando Supremo, German strength and Italian weakness as well as the fact that German troops bore the main burden of the battle for Sicily made their subordination to Italian commands quite perfunctory. Kesselring, the senior German officer in Italy, was in fact the responsible commander. [9]

A natural optimist and political idealist whose Italophile views prevented him from a realistic appraisal of the Italian scene, Kesselring had, partly for this reason, not been taken into Hitler's confidence on plans to deal with Italy's possible defection. Kesselring was convinced that Italy would continue the war and that the Italian Army, though weak, would fight side by side with German troops. Hitler's distrust of the Italians was repugnant to Kesselring, and plans for the evacuation of southern Italy seemed to him less than necessary. Not only did he object strongly to Rommel's ideas concerning Italy and the Italians, but he resented the fact that while his own influence with Hitler had declined, Rommel's had increased. Kesselring's view was that all of Italy could and should be defended, even if Sicily had to be given up. [10]

[7] Walter Warlimont, "Die Strategic der deutschen obersten 
Fuehrung im zweiten Vierteljahr 1943," OCMH, MS P-049, p. 149. 
[8] Fuehrer Conferences on Matters Dealing with the German Navy, 1943,
 translation (Washington: Office of Naval Intelligence, 1947) 
(hereafter referred to as Fuehrer Conferences, 1943).
[9] Siegfried Westphal et al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," Part I,
Ch. IV, "Die Verstaerkung der deutschen Heereskraefte und die 
Entwicklung der Erdlage in Italien bis zum Abtall des Bundesgenossen."
OCMH MS # T-1a.
[10] Albert Kesselring, Soldat bis zum Letzten Tag (Bonn, 1953);
Siegfried Westphal et al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," 
Part I, "Abschliessende Bemerkungen," by Albert Kesselring. 
OCMH MS # T1a-K1. 

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When Mussolini fell on 25 July 1943, the King's appointment of Pietro Badoglio, Marshal of Italy, to be his successor shocked Kesselring; yet he believed Badoglio's solemn declarations that the war would continue. Hitler, Rommel, and the OKW worked under different assumptions. With the fall of Mussolini and Badoglio's assumption of control over the Italian Government, German plans covering an Italian collapse, rather vague and still in embryonic stages, suddenly acquired great importance and urgency. In his first excitement, Hitler-greatly disturbed over the fate of his fellow dictator-wanted to take immediate action by staging a coup d'état with German troops, arresting Badoglio and the King, liberating Mussolini, and re-establishing the fascist regime under German protection. Elements of the 2d Parachute Division were at once flown to Rome to bolster German strength. But caution, ignorance of Mussolini's whereabouts, and the apparent willingness of the Italians to maintain the alliance with Germany restrained Hitler. However, the idea was not dropped and General Kurt Student was charged with preparing the overthrow of Badoglio's government with the XI Air Corps, a parachute unit, now dispatched to Italy. At the same time Otto Skorzeny, a daredevil-type SS officer, received the mission of locating and liberating Mussolini." Instead of a sudden and dramatic move, Hitler decided to occupy Italy unobtrusively and gradually by increasing the number of German divisions in the country, if possible in agreement with Comando Supremo. [12]

Even before this time German strength in Italy had been increased because of the fighting on Sicily and the danger of further Allied moves.

On 1 August 1943 OKW issued a new and revised version of the plan to take over the country. Assigned the code name ACHSE, the plan recognized the danger to German troops in Italy that would come about from Italian defection and Allied landings on the Italian mainland. There were as yet no strong German forces in northern Italy and Rommel's headquarters was still in Munich. German forces in southern and central Italy and on Sicily had been increased to eight divisions. Of these, three divisions and part of a fourth were fighting on Sicily, one division was located on Sardinia, and an SS brigade occupied Corsica. At this time it was believed that Italian "treachery" could isolate all the German forces in southern and cen-

[11] Fuehrer Conferences, 1943, pp. 102-06; Hitler's 
Conferences (fragments of stenographic; notes taken at Fuehrer Hq), Nr. 
14 (1), 25 Jul 43 and Nr. 16 (1), 26 Jul 43 (OCMH files); Smyth, Sicily 
and the Surrender of Italy, Ch. VII.
[12] OKW/WFSt/Op Nr. 661763/43, 1 Aug 43, in Westliches Mittelmeer
Chefsachen (CRS H 22/290).

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tral Italy as well as those fighting on Sicily. Hitler, Rommel, and the OKW feared that Allied forces might attempt an amphibious operation against northern Italy, while strong Italian forces there might attempt to block the Alpine and Apennine passes. Even more likely seemed a landing near Rome where five Italian divisions could assist Allied operations, thereby cutting off all German troops south of the capital. Allied operations against Calabria and Apulia were equally possible; so was an invasion of Sardinia as a prelude to further operations against northern Italy or southern France, for which the airfields on the island would make fighter cover possible. An invasion of Calabria with or without Italian cooperation would cut off German forces fighting on Sicily, while the air bases at Foggia in Apulia would simplify Allied operations against the Balkans. A landing in the Naples-Salerno area was not seriously considered during the first days of August because other areas seemed to offer greater tactical and strategic advantages to the Allies. [13] Moreover, a large-scale invasion of the Italian mainland was not thought likely, except by prior agreement with Italy to utilize opportunities which that country's defection might bring about. The strategic goal of the Allies was thought to be the Balkans and not primarily Italy. In this, all responsible German generals and military advisers of Hitler, including Kesselring, Rommel, and Admiral Karl Doenitz, agreed. On 17 July Hitler had informed the Commander-in-Chief Navy, Admiral Doenitz, that "at present it appears that the next enemy landing will be attempted there [in the Balkans]. It is as important to reinforce the Balkans as it is to hold Italy." [14] The reasoning behind the opinion that the Balkans were more immediately threatened than the Italian mainland included political, economic, and military factors. Placing himself in the position of the Allies, a spokesman for the OKW argued that a campaign in Italy would meet with the immediate and strong reaction of German-Italian forces which could utilize the extensive and functioning network of communications to counter any Allied move. In Greece, on the other hand, all Axis reinforcements and supplies would have to be shipped over the one existing railroad line of limited capacity, 1300 kilometers long, and vulnerable to attack both from the air and by partisans. Political repercussions on Germany's southeastern allies, Hungary and Rumania, would be likely, while Allied pressure might persuade Turkey to give up her neutral status. Proximity of the Balkans to the vital Rumanian oil-fields and Germany's economic depend

[13] Siegfried Westphal et al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," 
Part 1, Ch. IV, "Die Verstaerkung der deutschen Heerestraefte und die 
Entwicklung der Erdlage in Italien bis zum Abtall des Bundesgenossen."
OCMH MS # T-1a.
[14] Fuehrer Conferences, 1943, p. 94.

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ence on the bauxite, copper, and other economic resources of the southeast were further reasons for fearing an invasion of that region. [15]

In addition to the difficulties of supplying German forces in Greece, other military factors seemed to favor the Balkans as an Allied goal. In Italy the Alps formed an insurmountable barrier to an invasion of Germany proper; the Ljubljana Gap, on the other hand, had provided the classic invasion route into central Europe throughout history. Finally, an invasion of the southeast would enable the Western Allies and Russia to join hands and coordinate their military strategy, while the presence of Western troops would constitute a check against Russian ambitions in the southeast, a point thought to be of particular concern to Great Britain. Thus Plan ACHSE was divided into two major parts, one for the Balkans and the other for Italy and southern France. The number of German divisions in the Balkans had been increased from five in January to more than thirteen in July. [16]

Hitler, as yet, did not entertain the idea of defending Italy anywhere south of Rome in case of Italian defection. According to Plan ACHSE, effective on order from OKW, Rommel was to occupy all the important passes, roads, and railroads leading out of Italy, disarm Italian Army units, and secure the Apennine passes. Kesselring was to withdraw his forces toward northern Italy, disarming the Italian Army and crushing any resistance. The island of Sardinia was to be evacuated by transferring the troops to Corsica and from there to the mainland. Rommel was to assume command over all German forces in Italy as soon as "the movements in northern Italy should become operationally connected with those in Southern Italy." [17]

Under the impact of the Italian change of government and the increased danger of concerted action by Italy and the Allies, Hitler approved the plan to withdraw to the northern Apennines. Although he was always reluctant to give up ground without fighting "to the end," it is possible that his recent experiences at Stalingrad and in Tunisia had momentarily inclined him to be less rigid. Both times he had listened to the advice of optimists. For Italy, he listened to Rommel, who had learned to be more cautious.

During this time Kesselring remained convinced that all was well in Italy; he saw no danger to his troops or to his lines of communications. He continued to clamor for reinforcements in the south for the defense of Calabria and Apulia. On 5 August he sent a memorandum to Hitler and OKW in which he stated: "At the moment it is certain that the Italian leadership and armed forces want to

[15] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 9 Jul 43; 
Fuehrer Conferences, 1943, p. 117.
[16] Warlimont, "Die Strategie der deutschen obersten Fuehrung," 
MS # P-049, p. 135.
[17] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 1 Aug 43.

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cooperate with us.... I repeat my previously expressed opinion that Calabria and Apulia are not sufficiently secure. Also in view of the strategic importance of these regions as a springboard to the Balkans, I ask again for reinforcements of German troops in southern Italy." On 19 August he still thought that Italian "commands and troops will do everything possible to frustrate [Allied] attacks." [18] Actually a few days earlier, on 15 and 16 August, Brig. Gen. Giuseppi Castellano with full powers from Badoglio had secretly entered into contact with the British Ambassadors at Madrid and Lisbon to negotiate an armistice with the Allies and to offer active military assistance to any Allied venture on the mainland. [19]

Hitler refused to accede to Kesselring's wishes and to commit additional troops in the south. According to General Alfred Jodl, Chief of the Armed Forces Operations Staff of OKW, additional forces in the south would only increase the difficulties of supply. The security of the forces in southern Italy could be strengthened, Jodl argued, only by evacuating Sicily and thereby augmenting the defensive potential of Kesselring's forces. Jodl never doubted the necessity of withdrawing north in case of Italy's defection. [20] Hitler's disregard of Kesselring's views and the knowledge that Rommel was eventually to succeed him in command prompted Kesselring to submit his resignation on 14 August. Hitler refused to accept it. [21]

On 1 August 1943 Rommel's divisions began their infiltration into northern Italy. Some crossed the border with the consent of Comando Supremo, others despite Italian opposition. As a result of these movements tension between OKW and Comando Supremo increased considerably, but as yet neither wanted to assume responsibility for an open break. Italy felt too insecure as long as no agreement with the Allies had been reached, while Germany wanted to commit as many troops in Italy as possible before open hostility made such movements more difficult. Besides, there was still a possibility that Italy might remain in the war, although Hitler was convinced that he had positive proof of Italy's armistice negotiations. During August OKW dispatched five infantry and two panzer divisions to northern Italy and on 16 August Rommel's headquarters moved to Lake Garda in northern Italy and assumed open command as Army Group B. Comando Supremo and the Italian Government were in no doubt that Army Group B constituted in effect an occupation force, but they felt too weak to protest and pretended to accept the German version that Army Group B was

[18] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 5 and 19 Aug 43.
[19] Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, Ch. IX.
[20] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 5 and 19 Aug 43.
[21] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 14 Aug 43.

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to be a strategic reserve for the Balkans, southern France, or Italy in case of Allied landings at any of these points. [22] Comando Supremo urged OKW to utilize the German divisions in the north to strengthen the defenses in southern Italy where, on the assumption that Italy would remain loyal to the Axis, an Allied attack was much more likely, while OKW applied pressure on Comando Supremo to withdraw its divisions from the north for the same reason. [23] Neither trusted the other and neither wanted to take the first step. After the German divisions were firmly established in northern Italy, OKW no longer feared an Allied invasion north of the Apennines.

During the second half of August the German position in southern Italy had also become more secure. By 17 August all the German troops in Sicily, exceeding 60,000 men, had been evacuated with their equipment. On 22 August the newly activated Tenth Army assumed command over German units in the Gaeta-Naples-Salerno region (the XIV Panzer Corps with three divisions) and in Calabria and Apulia (LXXVI Panzer Corps with two divisions and elements of a third). Two divisions and part of a third were grouped near Rome under the direct command of Kesselring. [24] Yet, despite the more favorable German position in Italy, Hitler did not change his plans. He personally informed General von Vietinghoff, Commanding General, Tenth Army, that Italian defection was only a matter of time and that the most important task was a safe withdrawal of the army to the north. Despite the weakness of the Italian Army, Hitler still feared that in cooperation with the Allies it could place German troops in the south in a very precarious position. [26] The army was to withdraw first to the Rome area and from there to the northern Apennines.

Even before General Castellano's offer of an armistice the Allies had definitely decided on an invasion of the Italian mainland to secure the important port of Naples as a base for further operations in Italy. The Allies too had been aware that Italy was about to collapse and

[22] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 16 Aug 43.
[23] Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, Ch. IX.
[24] General von Vietinghoff, who commanded Tenth Army,
considered it a costly mistake on the part of the Allies not to have
attempted an invasion of Calabria before the close of the Sicilian
campaign. Overcoming the resistance of the one and one half German
divisions in Calabria, was, he believed, well within Allied 
capabilities. Such a landing would have cut off German troops on Sicily 
from their sources of supply, thereby shortening the length of time they 
could have resisted, and, most important, evacuation of German troops 
from Sicily would have been impossible. Without these forces, 
Vietinghoff maintains with considerable logic, the Germans could not 
have attempted resistance in southern and central Italy. Westphal et
 al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," Ch. VI, "Die 
Kaempfe der 10. Armee in Sued- und Mittelitalien" (written by
Vietinghoff), p. 13.
[25] Westphal et al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," Ch. VI; Memo, "
Vermerk ueber Besprechung Beim Fuehrer am 17.8.43" in Tenth Army,
 KTB, Anlagen X. VIII-12.9.43, (CRS, AOK 10, 42803/2).

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the invasion of the mainland had originally been intended to deliver S the knockout blow. Shortly after General Castellano started negotiating with the Allies, German reinforcements and the successful evacuation of German troops from Sicily had changed the picture substantially. Italy was no longer master in its own house and needed Allied help even to effect its surrender. At the same time the Allies needed the assurance that Italy would offer no resistance to a landing operation. [26]

Allied concentration of troops and shipping in the western Mediterranean indicated to the Germans preparations for amphibious operations in the near future. Since northern Italy was no longer considered a likely target, OKW now regarded the region of Naples-Salerno and the island of Sardinia most threatened, while the Rome area was thought of as particularly endangered in case of Allied landings and simultaneous defection of Italy. Kesselring recognized the possibility of a landing near Naples-Salerno, but showed greater concern for Apulia with its air bases at Foggia and suitability as a staging area against the Balkans. Hitler admitted the possibility of an invasion at Apulia, but he refused to permit Kesselring to dissipate his forces in order to reinforce that area and also brushed aside new demands by Kesselring to commit more troops in the south. [27] Hitler reaffirmed his views, which OKW passed on to Kesselring in the form of an order dated 18 August 1943. Overriding his objections, the order instructed Kesselring-in his deployment and movement of Tenth Army-to take into account the fact that Italy would capitulate sooner or later. The army was to put itself in a position to assure its withdrawal to central Italy even in case of Allied landings and active or passive resistance of the Italians. The order further directed the Tenth Army to defend the most threatened coastal area of Naples and Salerno with at least three mobile divisions and to hold it against Allied landings. Only mobile forces were to remain in southern Calabria and they would execute a fighting withdrawal to the north. In case political developments made a continuation of the fight in southern Italy impossible, Tenth Army would fall back to the Rome area, Sardinia would be evacuated, and further action would be taken in accordance with ACHSE. [28]

Events now rapidly approached a climax. On 30 August OKW issued a final revised version of ACHSE which adhered to the original concept but provided instructions more detailed and in closer accord

[26] Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, Ch. VIII. 
[27] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 13 Aug 43.
[28] Order, OKW/WFSt Nr. 661966/43, 18 Aug 43, in Westliches 
Mittelmeer, Chefsachen (CRS H 22/290). 

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with existing German troop dispositions. The directive still envisaged Kesselring directing a withdrawal to the Rome area which was to be held until all troops had escaped from the south and from Sardinia. The Germans were to disarm the Italian Army in the process and to treat evacuated territory as hostile country. Rommel was to secure and occupy all the Alpine and Apennine passes as well as the major northern ports. The Italian Army was to be disarmed and the region of northern Italy pacified with the help of fascist organizations. Other sections contained instructions to the Commander-in-Chief-Southeast for taking over the defense of the Balkans and disarming Italian troops in that region. [29]

Hitler's strategy in Italy on the eve of the Allied invasion can be summarized as follows. As long as Italy at least outwardly maintained the alliance, German troops in southern Italy were to execute a fighting withdrawal from the tip of Calabria; they were to hold the Naples-Salerno area to secure vital routes of communications to the north; only weak German units were to assist the Italians in Apulia. Deployment of all troops in southern Italy was to be such that lines of communications to the north were secured. As soon as Italy surrendered, the overriding consideration would become the safety of German troops in southern Italy and their best chance of survival was seen in a well-organized withdrawal to central Italy where all troops under Kesselring would be assembled in preparation for a final withdrawal to the northern Apennines.

Allied intentions were somewhat clarified on 3 September when the British Eighth Army crossed the Strait of Messina into Calabria. In accordance with the instructions from OKW, Kesselring ordered Tenth Army to delay the Eighth Army while withdrawing its troops from Calabria to the north. [30] Five days later, the armistice was announced and ACHSE went into effect. The next morning the 16th Panzer Division fought troops of the Fifth U.S. Army on the beaches of Salerno.

Unknown to the Germans, Italy had signed an unconditional surrender on 3 September and reached agreement with the Allies that the armistice would not be announced until just before the planned invasion.

The moment Hitler, Rommel, and the OKW had feared and anticipated had come: Italy had surrendered while two Allied armies were establishing themselves on the mainland. Kesselring was faced with the dual task of opposing the Allied armies and rendering the Italian armed forces ineffective. In this mission he was aided by the

[29] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 29 and 30 Aug 43.
[30] Order, Tenth Army, "Armeebefehl Nr 2," 4 Sep 43, in 
Tenth Army KTB, Anlagen 8.VIII.12.IX.43 (CRS 
AOK 10, 42803/2).

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lack of Italian fighting spirit and poor planning on the part of Comando Supremo. In the Tenth Army sector Italian troops all but disappeared overnight; near Rome Kesselring needed only two days to convince the five Italian divisions located there to go home; in the north Rommel methodically disarmed and dissolved all Italian Army units. Italy had ceased to be an ally, but she also ceased to be a threat. Unhampered by the previously necessary regard for the sensitivity of Comando Supremo and the Italian Government, the Germans proceeded to conduct the defense of Italy with no considerations except their own self-interest. [31]

Kesselring's and Hitler's great fear-an Allied landing near Rome and active resistance of Italian forces near the capital-proved groundless. Neither Kesselring nor Hitler knew that such a course had been definitely abandoned by Italy and the Allies. The 82d Airborne Division was to have landed on the airports of Rome to occupy the city and prevent the Germans from assuming control. The operation was canceled at the last minute because Italy failed to guarantee the security of the airfields for the time the operation was scheduled. [32]

The announcement of the armistice occurring simultaneously with the landing at Salerno might have resulted in a very grave situation for all German troops in the south. By a quirk of fate it probably had much to do with making necessary the long and costly campaign of the Allies in Italy. Only the day before, on 7 September, Hitler had finally decided to cut the knot of Germany's entangled relations with Italy by sending an ultimatum to the Italian Government to accede to German demands. The demands themselves were not new, but up to that time the Italian Government and Comando Supremo had been evasive without refusing outright to make the demands the basis of discussion. Hitler instructed OKW to have the draft ready for his signature by 9 September. The more important points of the ultimatum, as drafted by OKW, included demands for (a) complete freedom of movement for German troop units-this was particularly directed against Italian reluctance to allow German troops near major ports; (b) withdrawal of all Italian troops from the German-Italian border area and subordination of Italian divisions in the Po Valley to Army Group B; (c) creation of a strong Italian front in southern Italy behind which Tenth Army could gain sufficient freedom of movement to counterattack against an invading enemy; (d) joint leadership (meaning in effect German leadership) of all armed forces. In case of Italian refusal the draft ultimatum stated that Germany would have to take

[31] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 8 and 9 Sep 43.
[32] Smyth, Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, Ch. IX.

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steps it considered necessary to assure the safety of its troops. [33] There seems no doubt that these steps would have included withdrawal of Tenth Army at least to the Rome area. Because of the announced armistice on 8 September the ultimatum was not sent. Curiously, the Italians too were caught by surprise by the announcement of the armistice; they did not expect it until 12 September and had failed to give precise instructions to their officers, including army commanders. By 12 September Germany would probably have delivered the ultimatum and Italy-having already signed the armistice-could only have refused or stalled for time. There is at least the possibility that Tenth Army would have been in the process of withdrawing if the invasion had been delayed for a few days. [34] Thus the German defense of Italy south of Rome at the time of the Salerno landings was due, first to Hitler's reluctance to give the Italians an excuse for defection by withdrawing his troops to the north before an Allied invasion and as long as there remained the slightest possibility that Italy might remain in the war, and later to the timing of the invasion and the announcement of the armistice, which prevented Germany from delivering its ultimatum to the Italian Government.

Kesselring's resourcefulness and unexpected success in coping with the Italians and the two Allied armies during the first days after Salerno gained him at least temporary control over the conduct of operations. On 12 September Hitler informed Kesselring and Rommel-in response to Kesselring's request for clarification of the command situation in Italy-that Rommel was not yet authorized to issue directives to Kesselring; this authorization was to be issued by Hitler personally only after the forces of Commander-in-Chief South came within close proximity to the territory of Army Group B. [36] The dividing line between the two army groups was the line Pisa-Arezzo-Ancona. Kesselring's advocacy of a defense of Italy as far south of Rome as possible had gained considerable force after the Italian Army ceased to be dangerous and after the Allies had failed to land in the area of Rome. But Hitler did not yet see his way clear to accepting Kesselring's strategic concept. Kesselring complied with the letter of OKW's instruction by ordering the Tenth Army on 14 September "to fall back upon the Rome area" after completion of the operations at Salerno, regardless of whether the Fifth Army had been forced back into the sea or not. "The objective," the order continued, "is to gain time for the evacuation of important materials as well as for the destruction of lines of communications and war industries." [33]

[33] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 7 and 8 Sep 43.
[34] Smyth Sicily and the Surrender of Italy, Ch. VII, p. 16.
[35] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 12 Sep 43.
[36] Tel, Commander-in-Chief South to Tenth Army, Nr. 
6159/43, 14 Sep 43, in Tenth Army, KTB Anlagen 
12.IX-20.IX.43 (CRS AOK 10. 42803/3). 

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Still anticipating withdrawal, Hitler saw as yet no need to reinforce Kesselring and thus enable him to make a permanent stand in the south. Kesselring asked for no reinforcements from Rommel and received none. After it had become obvious that the Germans could not dislodge the Fifth Army from Salerno and were threatened with envelopment by the Eighth Army, he directed the Tenth Army to withdraw to a succession of defensive lines, one of which was the "B" line, later called the Bernhard or Winter Line. This line crossed the narrowest sector of the Italian peninsula roughly between Gaeta and Ortona. Kesselring's written and oral directives and orders indicated that the Bernhard Line was but one of a series of defensive lines to be occupied by Tenth Army in the retrograde movement toward Rome. In a postwar account Kesselring maintained that he had never had any intention of complying with the "absurd" idea of withdrawing to the north. He accused OKW and Rommel of writing off his forces. With two more panzer divisions, which Rommel could well have spared, Kesselring in retrospect claimed he would have been assured of success at Salerno. [37] He also accused Hitler, in the same postwar account, of being inconsistent. If Hitler refused to send reinforcements to southern Italy, he should have withdrawn the Tenth Army before the Italian armistice. [38] In this argument Kesselring forgot that he more than anyone else had assured Hitler that there was no danger from the Italians as long as Germany was willing to assist in the defense of Italy. A German withdrawal from southern Italy before the armistice would have given the Italians every reason to break the alliance, since they were in no position to defend southern Italy without German help. In order to defend a line south of Rome-still a self-imposed mission-Kesselring instructed Tenth Army to fight to gain time for building up the Bernhard Line. [39]

It is a matter of conjecture when Hitler first entertained the idea that a more permanent defense of the Bernhard Line would serve Germany's greater strategic interests in the Balkans and in France. The belief that the Balkans remained the strategic goal of the Allies was still held throughout September and October. On 15 September Kesselring informed OKW that he expected the next Allied attack to be launched, not against central or northern Italy, but against the Balkans after the air bases at Foggia had been taken. [40] Similar ideas were expressed by the Armed Forces Operations Staff of OKW, by Ad-

[37] In postwar accounts General Siegfried Westphal, Kesselring's 
former Chief of Staff, and Kesselring himself, claim to have requested 
the transfer of two panzer divisions from Army Group B to 
Salerno. Available records do not indicate that such a request was made 
by Commander-in-Chief South. Westphal et al., "
Der Feldzug in Italien," Chs. VII and K1. [38] Westphal et 
al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," T1a-K1.
[39] Westphal et al., "Der Feldzug in Italien,"
[40] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 15 Sep 43. 

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miral Doenitz, by Rommel, and by Hitler himself. Kesselring and Doenitz believed that a prolonged defense of southern Italy would delay an Allied attack against the Balkans, while the Armed Forces Operations Staff was of the opinion that withdrawal to the Apennines north of Rome would save three to four divisions which would be needed to reinforce the Balkans against the increased danger of an invasion. [41] Kesselring thought it of utmost importance to deny the Allies the undisputed possession of a staging area against the Balkans. Also a defensive line in the south would keep Allied bombers farther from southern Germany and the Po Valley, thus making strategic bombing more difficult. The Bernhard Line could be held with 11 divisions, including 2 mobile divisions in reserve on both flanks to prevent amphibious flanking operations, while estimates for holding the Apennine line in the north ranged from 13 to 20 divisions. [42] Defending the Bernhard Line would enable German forces to execute a delaying action including, if necessary, a withdrawal to the northern Apennines. Immediate withdrawal, on the other hand, would endanger the vital Po Valley, for once the Allies breached the Apennine line, no terrain suitable for defense was available short of the Alps. An additional advantage, in the eyes of Kesselring, lay in the possession of Rome. To prevent the Allies from occupying this city, he argued, would deny them the opportunity to exploit this fact for propaganda purposes. Finally, holding the Bernhard Line would make it possible for the German Army to execute a counteroffensive against Apulia, in case Allied preparations for an attack against the Balkans resulted in a withdrawal of Allied forces from the Italian front. The latter argument probably had considerable impact on Hitler, for later in October he summoned both Kesselring and Rommel to his headquarters to hear them express their views on the feasibility of a counteroffensive. [43] The arguments presented to Hitler in favor of a northern stand were less dramatic, but probably equally valid. Rommel may have overestimated the amphibious capabilities of the Allies and he felt that a line too far south represented a great danger for which he would not want to assume responsibility, even though he admitted that the Bernhard Line could be held with half the divisions necessary in the northern Apennines. [44] Rommel probably shared the opin-

[41] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 8 Sep 43. 
[42] LI Mtn Grps, Ia Nr. 579/43, 4 Nov 43, in 
Italien-Verschiedenes-Allgemein. (CRS H 22/145); Westphal et 
al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," Ch. VII.
[43] Westphal et al., "Der Feldzug in Italien," Ch. 
VII, "Die Auffassung der Heeresgruppe"; B. H. Liddell Hart (ed.), 
The Rommel Papers (New York: Harcourt, Brace Company, 1953 p. 446.
[44] Siegfried Westphal, Heer in Fesseln (Bonn, 1950), p. 237; 
Liddell Hart, The Rommel Papers, p. 446.

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ion of some members of the Armed Forces Operations Staff that withdrawal from southern Italy meant simultaneous withdrawal from Greece in order to avoid dispersal of German forces over a large area vulnerable to attack. [45] Hitler refused to consider withdrawal from Greece and gradually turned toward Kesselring's view. On 17 September Hitler informed Kesselring that he approved his plan for a slow withdrawal northward and indicated that it was important to hold the Bernhard Line "for a longer period of time." [46]

Kesselring had not succeeded in forcing the Fifth Army from its beachhead, but German troops had exacted a heavy toll in men and equipment. They kept the port of Naples in their hands throughout September, and the Allies seemed checked. Thus, while Kesselring successfully delayed the Allied advance north, Hitler gained time to consider and reconsider arguments for and against a permanent defense of the Bernhard Line. Kesselring's optimism, a source of irritation to Hitler before the Italian surrender, now turned in his favor. Rommel, in contrast, appeared too pessimistic, as Hitler indicated later. Probably somewhat bitter over the outcome of his North African campaign, Rommel did not relish the danger of exposing another army to annihilation by flanking attacks from the sea. On the other hand, Hitler apparently had never forgiven Rommel his "unauthorized" retreat at El Alamein. [47]

Such considerations may well have passed through Hitler's mind on 24 September 1943 when Admiral Doenitz presented his estimate of the situation. Southern Italy, Doenitz argued, was especially important to the enemy as a bridgehead to the Balkans. "Therefore," Doenitz continued, "it is necessary for us to do all in our power to block this route as long as possible.... Sicily ... was worth every sacrifice from this point of view. Now another opportunity for determined resistance presents itself in Apulia. To prepare, follow through, and secure a beachhead for a possible assault on the Balkans the enemy needs the air ports near Foggia. This was the pattern followed in Sicily and at Salerno. If these air fields remain in our hands, the attack on the Balkans will be effectively delayed." Hitler agreed with these observations and informed Doenitz that he would "issue directives for the conduct of the war accordingly." [48]

Hitler was coming closer to Kesselring's point of view. A few days later the force of Doenitz' argument was considerably lessened when the airfields at Foggia fell into British hands. Yet his argument remained valid if the airfields could be recaptured in a counteroffensive

[45] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43 and 1.X.-31.XII.43, entry 
of 8 Sep and 4 Oct 43.
[46] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 17 Sep 43.
[47] Hitler's Conferences (fragments) Nr. 46, 31 Aug 44.
[48] Fuehrer Conferences, 1943, p. 140.

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timed to coincide with an Allied build-up against the Balkans. Kesselring and Rommel on 30 September expressed their opinions on the chances for a counteroffensive, and, though their views were not recorded, it seems more than likely that Kesselring expressed himself positively in accordance with his earlier statements, while Rommel, at the very least, expressed doubt. [49]

As a result of the conference with Kesselring and Rommel, Hitler definitely decided to reverse his earlier plans in favor of the defense of the Bernhard Line. [50] Though a formal order to this effect was signed by Hitler and issued on 4 October, the two commands in Italy-Kesselring's and Rommel's-remained active, both continuing to function directly under OKW. Hitler did not yet completely accept Kesselring's optimistic prediction of being able to hold the Allies away from the northern Apennines from six to nine months, for the same order that instructed Kesselring to build up and hold the Bernhard Line charged Rommel with the construction of a defensive line in the northern Apennines. For planning purposes, Rommel could still count on all his forces as well as those of Kesselring. However, for the first time since the invasion, Rommel's army group was ordered to send reinforcements to Kesselring consisting of two infantry divisions and some artillery units. 51 Rommel was not yet out of the picture but Kesselring had won a major victory in the battle of concepts. Kesselring would hold on to Rome and tie down Allied divisions in a battle of attrition, thereby keeping them, he thought, from attacking the Balkans.

The political role assigned Italy after the Italian armistice and the dissolution of the Italian Army may have strengthened Hitler's decision of 4 October 1943 to hold on to Rome and to defend the Bernhard Line. On 12 September Otto Skorzeny realized Hitler's wish to liberate Mussolini. [52] With Mussolini liberated and the Italian Army disbanded, the road was open for the establishment of a fascist puppet regime and for the activation of some Italian Army units to be composed of loyal fascist volunteers. The chief of the new army was to be Marshal Rodolfo Graziani who was invited to a conference with Hitler on 9 October to discuss means by which Italy could again share in the conduct of the war. During the course of the conference Hitler and Graziani agreed that German-occupied Italy was to be treated as a

[49] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 1 Oct 43; 
Liddell Hart, The Rommel Papers, p. 446.
[50] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 1 Oct 43.
[51] Order, OKW/WFSt/Op Nr. 662409/43, 4 Oct 43, in Westliches 
Mittelmeer, Chefsachen (CRS H 22/290).
[52] OKW/WFSt, KTB 1.VII.-30.IX.43, entry of 25 Sep 43.

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"friendly" country in which the fascist government was to be given some measure of independence, excepting large areas designated as "zones of operation," and that the loss of Rome would seriously impair any chance of establishing Mussolini's puppet regime. Therefore, Hitler concluded, "the intended defense of the [Bernhard] line is of decisive importance to the continuance of a joint struggle." [53]

While it is doubtful that Hitler took any strategic risks for the sake of his former ally, it is true that he felt considerable loyalty toward Mussolini. Moreover, the cooperation even of a puppet government would simplify coercive measures to obtain labor and economic products for Germany. The decision to defend the Bernhard Line was probably strengthened by these considerations. In turn it not only expedited the establishment of a fascist government but also made possible the later propagandistic exploitation of its existence.

Between 4 October and 6 November Hitler vacillated in his decision as to whom to give supreme command in Italy. He seemed to swing from Kesselring to Rommel and back to Kesselring. Both commanders were again summoned to present their views. Asked whether he thought he could defend the Bernhard Line and hold on to Rome and central Italy, Rommel, according to a postwar source, expressed himself negatively. [54] By 6 November Hitler had the draft of two orders in front of him, one appointing Rommel, the other appointing Kesselring. On that date, he signed the latter with its detailed instructions regarding the defense of Italy which affirmed that "the Bernhard Line will mark the end of withdrawals." [55] Hitler had made the final decision regarding the strategy to be followed in the defense of Italy. Rommel was transferred out of the theater on 21 November and Army Group B discontinued as an active command, while Kesselring's command, now comprising the entire Italian theater, was re-designed Commander-in-Chief Southwest and Army Group C. [56]

Hitler's decision to hold and defend the Bernhard Line set the stage for the bloody battles of the Rapido River, Monte Cassino, and Anzio. Without Hitler's decision to reappraise the strategic defense of Italy, these places probably would have fallen to the Allies after light skirmishes or perhaps even unopposed. Kesselring's capable leadership made the decision pay off at least in time gained. The Allies did not take Rome until 4 June 1944.

[53] Tel, OKW/WFSt/Op Nr. 66274/43, 10 Oct 43, in Westliches 
Mittelmeer, Chefsachen (CRS H 22/290).
[54] Westphal, Heer in Fesseln, p. 236; Liddell Hart, The 
Rommel Papers, p. 446.
[55] Order, OKW/WFSt/Op Nr. 6123/43, 6 Nov 43, in H.Gr.C., 
Grundsaetzliche Befehle (CRS HGr C 75138/12).
[56] For further details concerning Kesselring's appointment see Lucian 
Heichler, "Kesselring's Appointment as Commander in Chief Southwest," 
OCMH MS # R-3. 
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Hitler's decision was a gamble. He could not be sure that the Allies would not commit stronger forces in the Mediterranean in an attempt to cut off and annihilate the German forces in the south, as they did in their abortive attempt to cut the lines of communications at Anzio. Ironically enough, Hitler decided to hold the Bernhard Line primarily to prevent the Allies from going into the Balkans. The Allies had no intention of going there, although rapid conquest of southern and central Italy might have tempted them into such a venture.

The validity of Hitler's decision is difficult to test. Kesselring's best claim for success can only be that he lost a campaign more slowly. The time Kesselring may have gained for Hitler could not be put to use to change the fortune of war. Possibly Rommel felt at the time that the chances for winning the war were negligible and that, therefore, needless sacrifice of blood for the sake of gaining time was pointless. Yet from a military point of view, defense of the Bernhard Line was perhaps the better choice, even though some of the basic assumptions, such as the counterattack against Apulia, could not be tested. Psychologically, the slow progress enforced on Allied armies advancing on come was not without detrimental effects on the Allied soldier and possibly even on the neutral nations, especially Turkey, and on Germany's southeastern allies.

RALPH S. MAVROGORDATO, Staff Member, Special Operations Research Office, American University. B.A., Bucknell University; graduate study in political science and history, Duke University; staff member, Bureau of Applied Social Research, Columbia University. U.S. Army Medical Corps, World War II; Intelligence Analyst, G-2, Headquarters, U.S. Forces in Austria, 1948-51. Historian, OCMH, 1955-58. Author: Narratives in support of volumes in UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.