AFRICA AND ITALY: WW2
American servicemen had been in action in Europe as early as August 1942 when a small, symbolic, force of US Rangers were attached to the British and Canadian troops who landed at Dieppe in Operation Jubilee. They would become the first American soldiers to be killed in action and also the first to take the war to Nazi Germany on land.
On November 8, 1942 in Operation Torch, American forces landed in three location in Morocco and Algeria. In the fighting that followed in February 1943 they would suffer a humiliating defeat in Tunisia at Kasserine Pass but in less than a year in Sicily and Italy US troops and their commanders would demonstrate courage and flexibility. The airborne and seaborne landings on the Italian island of Sicily in July 1943 code named 'Husky' saw the British and Canadian 8th Army and American 7th Army landing in two locations. A rivalry between the two commanders generals Montgomery and Patton would last through the war in Europe.
By the close of the fighting that ended with the capture of the key Axis evacuation port of Messina the Allies had suffered 24,820 casualties (5,837 killed, 15,683 wounded, 3,326 captured and the Germans around 20,000 casualties while Italian losses were 147,000 of whom many were prisoners. Valuable lessons had been learned that would pay dividends on D-Day about one year later.
The American performance in Sicily showed that they were now an effective and flexible force and the next step would be the invasion of mainland Italy.
This was a three phase operation with troops of the 5th Army under general Mark Clark landing at Salerno on September 9, while six days earlier the 8th Army crossed the Straits of Messina. The 5th Army was held close to the beaches by two German Panzer Corps and it was not until September 16 that it broke out and linked up with the 8th Army.
The British Prime Minister Winston Churchill had described Italy as the "soft underbelly" of the German and Italian Axis – for the soldiers the peninsula would be remembered as the "tough old gut".
Heavy fighting on the German Gustav Line with the dominant feature of the monastery of *Monte Cassino held the Allies south of Rome and in an attempt to break the impasse Anglo American forces landed at Anzio. They achieved total surprise but once again were held in a beach head. The German 14th Army under General von Mackensen launched fierce attacks against Anzio and it is appropriate therefore that the American dead of Sicily and Anzio are buried close by at the Sicily-Rome Cemetery and memorial that has the graves of 7,861 of American military war dead and the names of 3,095 who have no known grave.
*The hilltop abbey of Monte Cassino, founded in 529AD was criminally destroyed by allied bombing raids in a colossal blunder by the Allies. (One theory was that a mistake in translation by a junior British Intelligence Officer) caused the destruction - even though the Pope was promised by both the Allies and the Germans it would be safe. The ruins from the bombing actually gave the small deployment of German paratroopers defending it superb cover and made the task of taking it near impossible for the allies.
It was especially bad for the NZ and Gurkha troops that took the brunt of the battle taking the ruins. During their time on the Cassino front line the 4th Indian Division had lost 3,000 men and the New Zealand Division 1,600 men killed, missing and wounded. It was restored in the 1950s and is a shrine for relatives of the estimated 183,000 soldiers on all sides who lost their lives in the battles around it.
When the breakthrough came in June 1944 General Clark was keen that the US 5th Army should liberate Rome which they did on June 5, 1944. His moment of personal glory was eclipsed one day later by the news of the D-Day landings.
In Italy fighting would continue to the last months of World War II and it was on April 15, 1945 that Private First Class Sadao Muemori of Company A, 100th Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team that was made up of a Nisei or Japanese Americans would win the posthumous Medal of Honour, for his courage in an action near Seravezza.
Back in August 1944 French and American troops were diverted from Italy as part of Operation Dragoon, the landings along the southern French coast between Toulon and Nice. It was here that a young Audie Murphy who had already seen action in Italy, would win the Medal of Honour, America's highest combat award in an action in which he seized a German machine gun and used it against its original owners. His one man assault on the German position was driven by anger at the death of his friend Lattie Tipton – killed by the machine gunners.