The Italian Campaign was fought from the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943 to May 1945. Commonwealth forces played a key role in some of the hardest fighting of the war in Europe including a series of amphibious landings and battles in the mountains, most famously at Monte Cassino.

Background

During a conference in Casablanca in January 1943, Allied forces agreed to an invasion of Italy. Their aim was to draw German attention away from other fronts and eliminate Italian support for the Axis war effort, securing the Mediterranean Sea.

Landings

On 10 July 1943, combined Allied forces invaded Sicily. Codenamed Operation Husky, the invasion began with airborne and amphibious landings on the island’s southern shores. Within six weeks, the Allies had pushed Axis troops out of Sicily and were poised to invade mainland Italy.

Allied forces began to land on the Italian mainland in September 1943. Italian forces offered little resistance and soon made peace with the Allies, but German opposition was fierce. Progress through southern Italy was rapid but by the end of October, the Allies were facing the German winter defensive position, known as the Gustav Line. This stretched across the country from coast to coast.

Monte Cassino

By the end of 1943 Allied forces were advancing in eastern Italy, but attempts to breach the German defences in the west had been unsuccessful. In January 1944 Allied troops landed at Anzio, behind the German positions. They met fierce opposition and could not break out of their landing areas. After four major offensives between January and May 1944, Allied troops finally broke through the German line at Monte Cassino. Commonwealth forces including British, Canadian, Indian, New Zealand and South African troops all fought in one of the iconic battles of the campaign. The Allies then advanced on Rome, entering the city on 4 June 1944.

Final Battles

German forces conducted an organised fighting withdrawal, making successive stands on several prepared defensive lines. An Allied offensive on 10 September 1944 breached the formidable Gothic Line, but the advance stalled on the mountainous spine of Italy. Progress was better on the Adriatic coast where the Allied advanced to Ravenna.

Little further progress was made that winter. With the land campaign in North West Europe making increased demands on Allied resources, the offensive in Italy was not renewed until 9 April 1945. After a week’s heavy fighting, the German front broke. On 25 April, when the Allies crossed the River Po, there were popular uprisings in the cities of northern Italy and partisans seized control from many German garrisons. On 2 May 1945, German forces in Italy surrendered.

Aftermath

The campaign in Italy was brutal and costly, much of it fought in treacherous mountain terrain. Both sides suffered heavy casualties. Commonwealth forces lost almost 50,000, most of whom lie buried in 37 war cemeteries. Almost 1,500 Indian servicemen whose remains were cremated are named on memorials in three cemeteries.

related Cemeteries & Memorials

Cassino War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of more than 4,270 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom more than 290 remain unidentified. Within the cemetery stands the Cassino Memorial which commemorates more than 4,040 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, who died in Italy and who have no known grave.

Sangro River War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of more than 2,610 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom more than 70 remain unidentified.

Beach Head War Cemetery contains the graves and memorials of more than 2,310 Commonwealth servicemen of the Second World War, of whom more than 290 remain unidentified.