A Timeline of Events in Italy During World War II

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1936 – Mussolini formed an Axis with Nazi German – The Rome Berlin Axis Pact

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Mussolini and Hitler

September 1937 – Mussolini paid a visit to Germany

Hitler put on a major display of military might and by the end of the visit, Mussolini was convinced that Germany was the power he should ally with. He believed that an alliance with Germany would lead to Italy becoming more powerful throughout Europe. Mussolini considered himself to be an equal partner of Hitler.

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12 March 1938 – Germany Occupied Austria

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15 March 1939 – Germany Invaded Czechoslovakia

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Italian Troops Saluting Mussolini

April 1939 – Italy Invaded Albania

Mussolini had amassed a huge army and had designs to enlarge his own empire.

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Signing of the Pact of Steel

22 May 1939 – Germany and Italy Signed “The Pact of Steel”

A Pact of Friendship & Alliance between Germany and Italy. It was a declaration of continuing trust and co-operation between the two countries.

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1 September 1939 – Germany invaded Poland

This was the official beginning of World War II. After Hitler invaded Poland he fully expected Mussolini to back him and join in the war. However Mussolini chose to hold back and watched from the side lines.

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10 June 1940  – Italy Entered The War On The German Side Declaring War on Britain and the Allies

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19 August 1940 – Italian Forces Occupy British Somaliland in East Africa

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Allied Forces Landing in Sicily

10 July 1943 – The Allied Forces invaded Sicily – Operation Husky

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25 July 1943 – Benito Mussolini attended a meeting with King Victor Emmanuel of Italy

Mussolini was told by the King that the Grand Fascist Council had just resolved by nineteen votes to seven to remove him from office. As he left the meeting Mussolini was arrested.

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Italian Armistice

3 September 1943 – Marshal Pietro Badoglio of Italy secretly signed an Armistice with the Allied Forces

This was an unconditional surrender signalling an immediate cessation of all hostile activity by the Italian armed forces.  Initially there was rejoicing amongst the Italians, following the armistice, however this was to be short lived, as it did not mean the end of the war for the Italian people. This was signed at Cassibile in Sicily.

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3 September 1943 – The Allies Land on the mainland of Italy

The XIII corps of the British 8th Army, under the control of General Bernard Law Montgomery crossed the Straits of Messina and set foot in Reggio Calabria on the mainland of Italy, without meeting much resistance.

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8 September 1943 – Hitler launched Operation Achse / Operation Axis

This was the codename for the German plan to forcibly disarm the Italian armed forces after the Italian armistice with the Allies. Ever since Mussolini had begun to falter, Hitler had been making plans to invade Italy to keep the Allies from gaining a foothold. German troops were ordered to move down from Northern Italy.

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9 September 1943 – German troops entered Rome

General Badoglio & the Royal Family fled to Brindisi.

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Allied Landing at Salerno

9 September 1943 – The US Fifth Army landed at Salerno

Operation Avalanche was the code name for the landing. It was controlled by Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark. The troops encountered an unexpected strong resistance by the Germans. Meanwhile the US 8th Army (under General Leese) made their way up the Adriatic side of Italy. However the British and Americans were eventually able to advance towards Naples and the Germans decided to retreat to positions in central Italy.

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Abbey of Montecassino

Monte Cassino

The German Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, or “Smiling Albert” as he was known to his troops, was a highly skillful commander. He planned a series of fortified defense lines to counter attack the advance of the Allies and block the routes north to Rome. One of these lines was known as the Gustav Line.  It stretched 100 miles from the mouth of the Garigliano river, on the west coast, crossing through Cassino and continuing eastwards over the natural geographical barrier of the Apennines to the mouth of the river Sangro on the Adriatic. This line was defended by 15 German Divisions and its stronghold was Monte Cassino which dominated the surrounding terrain.

Here there was an ancient Monastery founded by Saint Benedict of Norcia in 529 AD. The Abbey was built on the ancient ruins of a Roman fortification, and for centuries had become renowned as a place of great holiness, culture and art. Kesselring ordered his troops not to include the Abbey in their defensive system. The Germans also organized that many ancient books and treasures be moved from the abbey to the Vatican for safe keeping.

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10 September 1943

The first bombardment of the town of Cassino was carried out by the Allies which targeted specific points along the Garigliano River.

The Allied troops fought their way up the peninsula of Italy but their progress was slow, hindered by the difficult mountain terrain, fast flowing rivers and the inclement winter weather. Thus the plan to capture Rome by October 1943 had failed. The main route to the eternal city was the Highway 6 that ran through the Liri Valley.

When they finally arrived at Monte Cassino they were faced by the formidable German defences that had been put in place along the Gustav Line. The Germans had the advantage of occupying the higher ground. Yet the Allied commanders hoped that the Germans’ fortitude was ebbing. The Allied leaders formed a strategic plan.

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17 January 1944 – The First Battle of Monte Cassino 

A multi pronged attack on the River Garigliano and  Cassino was planned to take place over a period of few days.

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Allied Landing at Anzio

22 January 1944

These operations were to coincide with “Operation Shingle”, a surprise landing of British and American Allied troops at Anzio, just 30 miles south of Rome. The plan was to conquer the nine-mile stretch of beach that seemed to have been left somewhat under-defended, and to then progress onwards to seize Rome, outflanking the Germans.  This was also designed to distract to distract the Germans from their defensive positions at Montecassino, forcing them to withdraw some troops from Cassino to tackle the new threat. 

The Allied attacks on Cassino were all unsuccessful with heavy casualties. At Anzio mistakes were made by General John P. Lucas when he delayed the advance of his troops which gave the Germans time to muster reinforcements and organise a counter attack. This lead to a long drawn out battle on the Pontine Plain that raged for 125 days. It resembled the trench warfare of World War I.

The Allied leaders claimed that the Germans were utilising the Monastery at Monte Cassino as a German artillery observation post or intelligence station.   This lead to another major offensive.

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Ruins of the Abbey of Montecassino

15 February 1944 – The Second Battle of Monte Cassino

There were several hours of indiscriminate bombardments by the US / British air forces.  1,150 tons of high explosives and incendiary bombs were dropped on the town of Cassino, Monte Cassino and the abbey.  The monastery was reduced to a smouldering  ruin, and once more there were many civilian casualties.  The decimation of this holy bastion gave rise to a massive public outcry.

Ironically, following its destruction, the Germans stood their ground. Paratroopers of the German 1st Parachute Division consequently occupied the ruins of the monastery and began to use it as a fortress.  Also, the intense bombing had left huge craters and piles of rubble everywhere, which severely hindered infantry movements and obstructed the path of tanks.

There followed another month of inconclusive fighting and the inclement Italian any further Allied offensives possible for a month. The Allied troops were then pulled back from the front in preparation for yet another bombing assault.

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Bombing of Monte Cassino

14th March 1944 – The Third Battle of Monte Cassino

At 8 am the bombardments commenced, attacking German positions on Monte Cassino and also the town below. 775 aircraft were involved in the four hours of carpet bombing. 1,250 tons of high-explosive bombs were dropped.  The last bomb exploded at 12.30 and was immediately followed by the artillery bombardment. 195,969 shells were fired from 748 guns in just seven and a half hours.

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19th March 1944

There was another assault on the town of Cassino and the Abbey but little progress was made.

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Allied Troops Firing Shells Near Monte Cassino

11 and 12 May 1944 – The Fourth Battle of Monte Cassino – Operation Diadem

General Alexander’s plan in Italy was to force the enemy to use the maximum number of divisions in Italy. With the arrival of the spring weather, it would be possible to use large groups of troops and armour.

The plan was that U.S. II Corps on the left would attack up the coast. The French Corps would attack across the Garigliano and proceed over the Aurunci Mountains. British XIII Corps in the centre right of the front would attack along the Liri valley. On the right Polish II Corps (3rd and 5th Divisions) would attack the Abbey.

The combined assault on Cassino began at 23.00 on the 11 May with a heavy artillery bombardment by British, American, Polish, New Zealand, South African, and French guns. By the 12 May some Allied units had made significant advances and a bridge was installed over the River Rapido. Also during the 12 May, Polish troops briefly captured Monte Calvario, but by the end of the day the position was lost to the German paratroopers.

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Allied Troops in the Liri Valley

13 May 1944

The Germans lines began to collapse under pressure as French troops captured Monte Maio, while the US 5th Army took over several German positions in the Liri valley. As German positions along the River Liri began to steadily fall one by one.

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Polish Troops at Monte Cassino

17 May 1944

Troops of the Polish Corps launched another brave attack on Monte Cassino.

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Polish Flag Erected After the Liberation of Monte Cassino in Italy

18 May 1944

They finally succeeded in taking the abbey ruins of Monte Cassino thus enabling the Allies to continue their march towards Rome.

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American Troops in Rome After The Liberation

5 June 1944

Rome was liberated. The four month-long campaign for Cassino cost the Allies approximately 55,000 casualties. Though defeated, the Germans only suffered about 20,000 casualties.

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Last Updated Oct 2018