Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

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Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Alpini Arditi » 16 Jan 2022 21:09

If the Armistice hadn't happened, could the Italians have instigated a serious defence (with or without German help) against the Allies on mainland Italy in 1943? They reportedly had 26 divisions on the peninsular on 8th September, though morale and lack of equipment would surely have played a part, together with the fact that the Regia Aeronautica had been decimated. Apparently, there was actually combat which involved the 185th Paracadutisti Regiment 'Nembo' and Canadians during Operation Baytown between 3rd and 8th September in Reggio Calabria, the only clash between Italian and Allied forces on the mainland prior to the surrender and then formation of the RSI. If the will to fight hadn't evaporated by mid-1943, could the Regio Esercito have mounted a stubborn defence?
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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 16 Jan 2022 21:17

Alpini Arditi wrote:
16 Jan 2022 21:09
If the Armistice hadn't happened, could the Italians have instigated a serious defence (with or without German help) against the Allies on mainland Italy in 1943? They reportedly had 26 divisions on the peninsular on 8th September, though morale and lack of equipment would surely have played a part, together with the fact that the Regia Aeronautica had been decimated. Apparently, there was actually combat which involved the 185th Paracadutisti Regiment 'Nembo' and Canadians during Operation Baytown between 3rd and 8th September in Reggio Calabria, the only clash between Italian and Allied forces on the mainland prior to the surrender and then formation of the RSI. If the will to fight hadn't evaporated by mid-1943, could the Regio Esercito have mounted a stubborn defence?
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After the events of 25 Luglio? Why?

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Alpini Arditi » 16 Jan 2022 21:28

Yes, politically it wasn't feasible or a viable option. Militarily, it was possible, especially if the Italian High Command had given into fears of what the German reaction to surrender would be. But then, they probably feared the Allies even more by that time.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Jan 2022 01:12

Alpini Arditi wrote:
16 Jan 2022 21:28
Yes, politically it wasn't feasible or a viable option. Militarily, it was possible, especially if the Italian High Command had given into fears of what the German reaction to surrender would be. But then, they probably feared the Allies even more by that time.
Given the effort the various Italian decision-makers went to to get rid of Mussolini so Italy could join the Allies in 1943, remaining in the Axis after the loss of Sicily is up there with a successful SEALION. If the Allies had not followed up the victory in Tunisia with HUSKY, presumably Mussolini could have held on; it took the Soviets at the gates in Bulgaria, Romania, Finland, and Hungary (almost) for any of those to join the Allies.

Interesting question would be if the Allies had (for example) chosen Sardinia and Corsica as their targets in Q3 of 1943, as opposed to Sicily, if losing there, along with air raids, etc., would have been enough for the Grand Council to take the "no confidence" vote, and the king to act...

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Alpini Arditi » 17 Jan 2022 02:12

I think the Allies were always going to go for Sicily, as it strategically was better placed for them to conduct military operations against the mainland. Not to mention the psychological impact, as again re proximity to Italy. If the Italians had lost Sardinia to an Allied invasion, then I doubt if Mussolini would have fallen, at least when he did. The island was too far from the peninsula to warrant immediate panic. If the Allies then invaded Italy, I think there would have been significant resistance, to begin with anyway. I'm sure the Allies would have thought about this in their planning, and decided to side-step Sardinia and Corsica, which would be cut off from Axis help, much as the Americans did with certain Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, and the British did with the Channel Islands.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Jan 2022 02:59

Alpini Arditi wrote:
17 Jan 2022 02:12
I think the Allies were always going to go for Sicily, as it strategically was better placed for them to conduct military operations against the mainland. Not to mention the psychological impact, as again re proximity to Italy. If the Italians had lost Sardinia to an Allied invasion, then I doubt if Mussolini would have fallen, at least when he did. The island was too far from the peninsula to warrant immediate panic. If the Allies then invaded Italy, I think there would have been significant resistance, to begin with anyway. I'm sure the Allies would have thought about this in their planning, and decided to side-step Sardinia and Corsica, which would be cut off from Axis help, much as the Americans did with certain Japanese-held islands in the Pacific, and the British did with the Channel Islands.
'
Agree, if the 1943 objective was Italy, invading Sicily made sense as a first step. If not, however, Sardinia and Corsica make sense as interim steps toward southern France; and if so, is losing Sardinia and much of the Italian 5th Army as much of a shock - and subsequent reality check - as the loss of Sicily (and much of the 6th Army, for that matter) was, historically?

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Sheldrake » 17 Jan 2022 11:14

As with many ATL discussions, this draws heavily on hindsight. One concern the Allies had was the tough resistance offered by the Italian army in Tunisia. Some Italian units carried after the Germans surrendered.

One factor which influenced the choice of Sicily was the possibility that the Italians would have fought even harder for Italian soil. With hindsight it can be argued that the losses in Tunisia and Russia in early 1943 broke the will of the Italians. By summer 1943 individually many Italians were looking for a way out of the war, including politiicans and military leaders.

Without peace feelers from the Italians it is quite possible that Eisenhower would not have become embroiled in the apparent opportunities offered by Italian defection. Had the Italians rearmed and acted with defiant support for eventual Axis victory it is likely that there would not have been an invasion of Italy or even possibly Sicily.

In turn this might have led to that perenial ATL - a cross channel assault in the late summer of 1943. That might just have created the circumstances for a German victory in the west and the ultimate ATL, how Italians delivered a 1000 year Reich. :thumbsup:

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Alpini Arditi » 17 Jan 2022 13:26

It seems that the disillusionment of the Italians in mid-1943 was the key factor in determining the Allied strategy, yes. The Italians probably saw the losses at El Alamein and Stalingrad, especially the latter, as shattering German invincibility, and they may well have started to have second thoughts about the Axis alliance. The defeat in North Africa, and the failure of the Kursk offensive on the Eastern Front, at the same time as losing Sicily, must have been the final nails in the coffin for the Italians. With their surrender, the Germans in turn could not hope to win the war. A pivotal stage for the Allies in World War 2.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Jan 2022 19:24

Alpini Arditi wrote:
17 Jan 2022 13:26
It seems that the disillusionment of the Italians in mid-1943 was the key factor in determining the Allied strategy, yes. The Italians probably saw the losses at El Alamein and Stalingrad, especially the latter, as shattering German invincibility, and they may well have started to have second thoughts about the Axis alliance. The defeat in North Africa, and the failure of the Kursk offensive on the Eastern Front, at the same time as losing Sicily, must have been the final nails in the coffin for the Italians. With their surrender, the Germans in turn could not hope to win the war. A pivotal stage for the Allies in World War 2.
To be fair, thanks to German "leadership," and their Italian sycophants, the Italians had lost - essentially - the 1st, 6th, and 8th armies by the fourth quarter of 1943, as well as East Africa, Libya, and Sicily, and Rome and every other Italian city was wide open to Allied air power.

I don't know that I'd call that "disillusionment": more like accepting reality, as opposed to the listening to the ravings of a group of military lunatics, both German and Italian.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 17 Jan 2022 19:42

Sheldrake wrote:
17 Jan 2022 11:14
As with many ATL discussions, this draws heavily on hindsight. One concern the Allies had was the tough resistance offered by the Italian army in Tunisia. Some Italian units carried after the Germans surrendered.

One factor which influenced the choice of Sicily was the possibility that the Italians would have fought even harder for Italian soil. With hindsight it can be argued that the losses in Tunisia and Russia in early 1943 broke the will of the Italians. By summer 1943 individually many Italians were looking for a way out of the war, including politiicans and military leaders.

Without peace feelers from the Italians it is quite possible that Eisenhower would not have become embroiled in the apparent opportunities offered by Italian defection. Had the Italians rearmed and acted with defiant support for eventual Axis victory it is likely that there would not have been an invasion of Italy or even possibly Sicily.
Given that the Axis alliance under Germany's leadership had lost the Italian 1st and 8th armies, as well as East Africa and Libya, and basically laid most of southern Italy wide open to Allied power (air, land, and sea) by the summer of 1943 (even before HUSKY), seems their will was already pretty much broken, as the multiple plots against Mussolini and the general reluctance of the 6th Army to fight to the death in Sicily makes pretty clear.

The realities of how the armed forces split between the Allied and Axis camps after the Cassibile armistice seems quite strong evidence of their relative affection for the Axis cause, as well.

As far as what happens in an ETO where the Allies do not invade Italy in 1943, the pattern of the Bulgarians, Finns, Hungarians, and Romanians in 1943-45 seems pretty clear; fight - after a fashion, tell the Germans what they want to hear, and try and make a deal with the Allies as soon as possible, where the Allies would both allow autonomy and fight off the Germans. The Finns and Italians both managed that; the Bulgarians, Hungarians, and Romanians, not so much.

As far as an Italy that "rearmed and acted with defiant support for eventual Axis victory," that would have required:

a) an Italian government that had the confidence of the Italian people, which is pretty much a non-starter by 1943, if not 1942 or earlier;
b) Italian industry that could function, and provide sufficient POL to both industry and the armed forces - also n/a by 1943;
c) A German government and war economy that was able to supply the Italians with everything the Italians couldn't provide themselves - also pretty much n/a by 1943.

So other than the above, sure, why not ... ;)

If the Allies had not invaded Sicily and Italy in 1943, is it likely the Fascists and the Royalists would have teamed up to dismiss Mussolini? Probably not.

Does that mean the Italians contribute much more to the Axis war effort in 1943 (and onward) than what they did in 1943 before the armistice, historically? Also - probably not.
Last edited by daveshoup2MD on 18 Jan 2022 06:25, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Alpini Arditi » 18 Jan 2022 04:09

daveshoup2MD wrote:
The realities of how the armed forces split between the Allied and Axis camps after the Cassibile armistice seems quite strong evidence of their relative affection for the Axis cause, as well.
Very true. I think the RSI, between 1943-45, had at least 60,000 men under arms, of all descriptions, regulars and para-militaries. The Italians had roughly 200,000 troops on the mainland at the time of the Armistice, so the RSI total equates to around 30% of them.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 18 Jan 2022 06:32

Alpini Arditi wrote:
18 Jan 2022 04:09
daveshoup2MD wrote:
The realities of how the armed forces split between the Allied and Axis camps after the Cassibile armistice seems quite strong evidence of their relative affection for the Axis cause, as well.
Very true. I think the RSI, between 1943-45, had at least 60,000 men under arms, of all descriptions, regulars and para-militaries. The Italians had roughly 200,000 troops on the mainland at the time of the Armistice, so the RSI total equates to around 30% of them.
'
And the Royalists/Co-belligerents/etc. included most of the operational Navy and Air Force as well, correct?

And there's also the issue of the Italians who, essentially, came down on the "co-belligerent" side, but because of where they were stationed (Greece, Yugoslavia, etc.), basically got killed fighting the Germans or were treated as POWs (or worse) by the Germans after September-October, 1943.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Frollo » 18 Jan 2022 08:58

Alpini Arditi wrote:
18 Jan 2022 04:09
daveshoup2MD wrote:
The realities of how the armed forces split between the Allied and Axis camps after the Cassibile armistice seems quite strong evidence of their relative affection for the Axis cause, as well.
Very true. I think the RSI, between 1943-45, had at least 60,000 men under arms, of all descriptions, regulars and para-militaries. The Italians had roughly 200,000 troops on the mainland at the time of the Armistice, so the RSI total equates to around 30% of them.
You are off by an order of magnitude - the RSI had at least 600,000 troops of all descriptions (between 300,000 and 550,000 troops in the Army, depending on the source, 140,000 in the National Republican Guard, 110,000 in the Black Brigades, 20,000 in the X MAS, plus the Navy, the Air Force and the miscellaneous "autonomous" units such as the Muti and so on). But a large part of these were drafted under threat of death (death penalty for draft dodgers was decreed since February 1944) and deserted at first occasion, by late 1944 the desertion rate in the RSI Army was, going by memory, around 20-25 %.

There were also far more than 200,000 troops in Italy at the time of the armistice. The German commands reported disarming 517,000 troops in Italy proper (415,000 in the North, 102,000 in the South), and then you have to add those who escaped capture and returned home or became partisans, and those (mostly in Calabria and Apulia) who were not disarmed and who remained loyal to the royalist government, making contact with the Allies.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by Alpini Arditi » 18 Jan 2022 15:05

I was thinking more of the four infantry divisions raised by 1944. But, that figure of 600,000 just shows how the RSI had the manpower, even if the majority were conscripted. I wonder what percentage of them fully supported the new regime? There was obviously the will, amongst many, to go on fighting with the Axis.

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Re: Could The Italians Have Organised An Effective Defense Against The Allies On Mainland Italy in 1943?

Post by daveshoup2MD » 18 Jan 2022 20:11

Alpini Arditi wrote:
18 Jan 2022 15:05
I was thinking more of the four infantry divisions raised by 1944. But, that figure of 600,000 just shows how the RSI had the manpower, even if the majority were conscripted. I wonder what percentage of them fully supported the new regime? There was obviously the will, amongst many, to go on fighting with the Axis.
On paper, sure. Same for the Romanians, Hungarians, Finns, and (even) the Bulgarians in the same period, who all kept to their German-directed "assignments," but were also all looking for a way out; and as soon as the Allies showed up in strength on their doorsteps, so to speak, they pretty much all bolted. After the Italian disasters of 1941-43, not sure that really suggests Italy's war effort would have gone significantly differently, even with Mussolini still in power.

Given the original question, of course, the Italians still would need equipment and POL, which seems unattainable in terms of Italian resources, and very unlikely in terms of German sources ... so it still comes down to a large number of poorly equipped infantry, with some coast artillery and AA artillery, presumably, and very little mobility, tactically or otherwise, within the Italian peninsula.

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