Indians in Italy

Stories of the Second World War

On 10th July 1943, with the campaign in North Africa successfully concluded, a combined Allied force of Commonwealth and American troops invaded Sicily. The third largest contingent, after British and US forces, came from India - the 4th, 8th and 10th Indian Infantry Divisions and the 43rd Gurkha Infantry Brigade.

By 3rd September they were on the Italian mainland. The Italians, who would shortly make peace with the Allies and re-enter the war on their side, offered little resistance but German opposition was vigorous and stubborn.

Progress through southern Italy was rapid but by the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position, the Gustav Line, which stretched across the country from coast to coast, 100 miles south of Rome.

World War 2 Defense Lines World War 2 Sangro River Memorial

The Sangro River War Cemetery contains many of the soldiers who died attacking the eastern end of the Gustav Line. It also contains a cremation memorial commemorating more than 500 Indian servicemen.

In January, 1944, Allied troops landed behind enemy lines, at Anzio, with the intention of diverting German troops from the Gustav Line. However, it wasn't until May 18th 1944 when the big breakthrough came, at Monte Cassino.

World War 2 Monte Cassino World War 2 Second Battle

Prior to that, a number of assaults on this strategically important German stronghold had proved costly to the Allies, Indian forces featuring prominently in the attacks and subsequent losses.

For example, Point 593 (593 metres above sea level) was a prominent peak, just above Monte Cassino, on the same ridge. It was fortified and would need to be taken by the Allies to minimise German artillery fire when the main assault took place.

On the night of February 17th the 4/6th Rajputana Rifles began the assault of point 593.

In the meantime, the 1/2nd Gurkha Rifles and 1/9th Gurkha Rifles launched a direct attack on Monastery Hill. This was across appalling terrain of treacherous slopes and ravines but it was thought that the Gurkhas, with their experience of the mountainous landscape of Nepal, would succeed. Sadly, they didn't. The fighting was brutal, but no progress was made and casualties were heavy.

The Rajputanas lost 196 officers and men, the 1/9th Gurkhas 149 and the 1/2nd Gurkhas 96.

Here are just two of those soldiers killed on that day, commemorated by the CWGC at Cassino.

Jai Parshad Limbu of the 2nd Gurkhas was just 18. He came from Sulu Bung, Nepal. He is buried at the Cassino War Cemetery.

Sheo Karan Ram came from Jaipur. He served with the 6th Rajputana Rifles. He was 21. His name is on the Cassino Memorial. This link shows films about Monte Cassino from the Indian perspective - click About Us then The British Indian Army

Oh bury me at Cassino
My duty to England is done
And when you get back to Blighty
And you are drinking your whisky and rum
Remember the old Indian soldier
When the war he fought has been won!

(Poem attributed to an Indian Soldier)

Once Cassino was finally taken, in May, the Allies advanced on Rome, entering the city on June 4th.

A full account of the conflict at Monte Cassino can be downloaded here

As the German withdrawal northwards continued, they made successive stands on a series of defensive positions, the Trasimene, Arno and Gothic Lines.

Once again, Indian troops played a significant role in many of these actions. Their advances, sadly, can be tracked by the cemeteries where their dead are commemorated. Their graves and memorials can be found all over Italy but two cemeteries are of special significance.

The Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery holds the graves of those men of the 4th and 10th Indian Divisions killed in the severe fighting in the autumn of 1944. Rimini fell on 21st September, but the line was very little advanced during the following winter. The cemetery also contains a cremation memorial commemorating more than 170 Indian servicemen who died fighting in this sector.

The 10th Indian Division came into the line in the Adriatic sector south of Cesena at the beginning of October 1944. Forli Indian War Cemetery contains nearly 500 graves. There is also a cremation memorial commemorating nearly 800 Indian servicemen who died fighting in the sector.

Rimini Gurkha War Cemetery Forli Indian War Cemetery

Five soldiers from Undivided India were awards the Victoria Cross for outstanding acts of courage in the Italy Campaign. Two of those died in the action.

Read about them all on the Military Honours page

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