“Tutte le strade portano a Roma.” II “All roads lead to Rome.”
On the afternoon of September 8th 1943, news organizations around the world broadcast a most astounding, and to almost all, unexpected announcement; the flash reports stated that Italy had officially broken ties with her Axis partner Nazi Germany, and had signed an Armistice agreement with the Allied nations. The inhabitants of the war torn planet now collectively wondered what this momentous announcement would mean in regards to the raging conflict that was engulfing the globe.
Some of those left speculating as to what would now transpire had a direct life and death stake in the issue; they were the combatants of the war whose destinies had brought them to the hard fought Mediterranean theater of battle. Through approximately three years of bitter conflict here, the two opposing sides had ridden the up and down waves of momentum as they battled for dominance in this critical sector of the global struggle. As Italy’s capitulation was announced to the world, the Mediterranean theater appeared to be approaching its cataclysmic crescendo.
Many of the common Allied soldiers in the Mediterranean, most of whom become aware of the Armistice while sailing amongst an enormous invasion armada aimed squarely at the southern half of the Italian peninsula, now entertained fanciful hopes that the fight of their lives that they had been expecting would now be the proverbial ‘walk in the park’. The transports packed with troops and supplies were now also filled with wild hope for what the soldiers would encounter as they stormed the beaches of Salerno to initiate the main phase of the Allied assault on Italy. Many a soldier know dreamt and joked amongst themselves that they would simply be able to stroll off of their landing crafts and onto sandy beaches packed with smiling Italians welcoming them with bottles of wine and bread. The reality of course would prove much different.
The soldiers of the Italian military, from the top down, were perhaps the ones with the most questions as to what was to transpire next after word of the Armistice was announced on Italian radio. The unexpected announcement, while welcomed by most, had caught nearly everyone in uniform by surprise. The chronically undersupplied and under armed Italian forces had been weakened over the past years of battle by absorbing the best the Allied nations had thrown at them on the land, the sea, and in the skies. With the backdrop of a civilian populace speaking out in anger against the war, and the might of the Allied colossus ready to strike a military blow as brutal as Italy would ever endure, the shocking announcement of the Armistice must have seamed like a last second reprieve from the gallows for many.
But the circumstances that the Italian soldier found themselves in as the news of the Armistice broke were far from ideal. Italy was in fact already occupied by the German military, who literally up to that moment had been their partner in the war. How would Italy extract itself from the current situation? Only a meticulously crafted and executed operation would suffice if the plan of Italian politicians to end their alliance with Germany was to be implemented sucsesfully to achieve the desired results. This would prove not to be the case.
Unfortunately there would be very little information disseminated to the Italian military from their leadership on what had transpired leading up to the Armistice, and of even more dire importance, what actions they were to now take as their soldiers were merely hours away from clashing with an enemy force that was already entrenched amongst them. In fact out of all the participants in this confusing chapter of the War, the only belligerents with a clear course of action from the onset of the surrender decree was the fastidiously prepared, and now scorned, soldiers of the German war machine.
The impetus for Italy to sign the Armistice had begun over a month previous, at an emergency meeting held by the Italian Fascist Grand Council. At this session, the Council approved what was in essence a vote of no confidence against the country’s leader, Benito Mussolini. Mussolini, who had chaired the emergency Council session, stood and addressed it’s members after the vote against him was confirmed; staring out at the men who had just passed judgment on him, Mussolini calmly stated “Gentlemen, with this proposal you have opened the crisis of the Regime”. The die was now cast for the events that would shape Italy for decades to come.