The Pittsburgh Press (September 3, 1943)
British veterans seize bridgehead on shore of boot
By Reynolds Packard, United Press staff writer
Berne, Switzerland –
Advices from the Italian border today said German troops are hurriedly evacuating the tip of the Italian boot in fear that they will be cut off by further Allied landings on the peninsula.
Opening a second front in Europe, the British 8th Army today landed on the toe of the Italian boot near Reggio Calabria (1). Meanwhile, Flying Fortresses cut the Brenner Pass railway and bombed Bologna in northern Italy (2).
Allied HQ, North Africa –
The British 8th Army opened a second front on the continent of Europe today, swarming across the Strait of Messina aboard hundreds of invasion craft and landing on the toe of Italy.
Military sources in London said that the invasion force established a bridgehead on the extreme southwestern coast of Italy in the first few hours of fighting, but warned that heavy Axis resistance was still to be expected.
Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery’s veterans of the African and Sicilian campaigns blazed the Allied trail to the Axis-held continent, opening the Battle of Europe with a landing which a dispatch from Sicily said was made “not without difficulty.”
Allied paratroops have dropped behind several strong Axis coastal positions in South Italy, reports from the Italian frontier said today according to a Madrid dispatch. The reports said the invasion forces were advancing in the direction of vital railroad junctions.
The frontier advices also told of renewed peace demonstrations in all major Italian cities.
The amphibious assault was carried out under cover of tremendous land, sea and air bombardment. It was made across the narrow strait against the Italian beach in the regions of Reggio Calabria and Scilla.
Searchlights on the Italian coast tried to pick out targets for the Axis guns as the invasion fleet moved across the Strait, but they were dealt with quickly by the British Navy.
Mortars in the first wave of assault boats carpeted the landing zones with smoke shells, making the dark night even blacker and turning the Axis fire into a confusion of blasts instead of precision gunnery.
The warships maintained a deadly fire which knocked out some mainland guns before the first landing boars crammed with helmeted infantrymen and sappers crunched onto the beaches.
A Scottish pilot, returning from a flight over the new front, reported troops still pouring ashore from landing barges more than five hours after the initial assault.
The first Axis radio reports of the invasion said the Allies had landed on both sides of Reggio Calabria; that the landing forces was about a division strong.
Although a dispatch from 8th Army headquarters in Sicily said that “our first foothold in Europe has been established,” a spokesman emphasized the difficult nature of the landings and urged against any feeling that the attack would be a walkover.
The 8th Army veterans will probably meet more German troops in Italy than they ever have before, a headquarters commentator said.
Indicating that some delay might be expected in the issuance of an official account of the invasion, the spokesman said that the next communiqué would probably be issued at noon Saturday.
After Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had flown to a Sicilian invasion port for a final checkup with Gen. Montgomery and Gen. Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, British and Canadian troops struck out across the strait and hit the beaches before the mountainous Calabrian area at 4:30 a.m. CET (10:30 p.m. Thursday ET).
It was a moonless night, and only the stars were alight as the invasion force – “vast numbers” of men who had been streaming into the takeoff ports for 10 days – headed out over a sea that had been calm for more than a week.
Practically every man of the battle-tried force had landed on enemy soil before, and the invasion barges and Mosquito fleet were the same as those that carried the Allied force to Sicily.
Official reports of the invasion credited the land operations entirely to the 8th Army, making no mention of Lt. Gen. George S. Patton’s U.S. 7th Army which teamed with the 8th in the conquest of Sicily.
The communiqué announcing the landing was issued at 7:10 a.m. CET (1:10 a.m. ET) at Allied headquarters to a group of 50 Anglo-American correspondents summoned for a special announcement.
It consisted of only two paragraphs:
Allied forces under the command of Gen. Eisenhower have continued their advance.
The British 8th Army, supported by Allied sea and airpower, attacked across the Strait of Messina early today, landing on the mainland of Italy.
Allied land infantry mounted on the northeastern shore of Sicily and presumably the big guns of the Allied navies paved the way for the landings with a terrific bombardment of the Italian shore across the strait beginning shortly before dusk last night.
The rain of high explosives and armor-piercing shells knocked out one Axis artillery battery after another.
Overhead ranged clouds of Allied fighter-bombers that shuttled back and forth across southern Italy, blasting and strafing enemy troops and transport concentrations.
Then, some two hours before dawn, the first wave of assault boats moved out from Messina and the adjacent shoreline under the umbrella of planes and shells. Tensed in the blunt-bowed craft were thousands of British and Canadian shock troops, some of whom had waited more than three years for a chance to meet the enemy again on the continent of Europe.
As the boats grounded on the beaches opposite Messina, troops swarmed out with bayonets set. Successive waves of landing craft brought artillery and tanks.
Thus began the battle of Italy only 18 days after the Allies had completed the conquest of Sicily in a record 38-day campaign.
Some of the bitterest fighting of the war lay ahead. The mountainous terrain, ideal for defense, enables the German and Italian armies to rake the beaches below with murderous mortar and artillery fire.
Aerial reconnaissance indicated that the Axis command had moved the bulk of its forces north of Naples to prevent their entrapment by an Allied thrust across the Italian waist, but it was obvious that sizable and well-prepared rearguards had been left behind to make the best fight possible.
Besides Reggio Calabria and Scilla, other towns on the Italian tip opposite Sicily include San Giovanni, Villa and Pellaro, while elsewhere on the Calabrian Peninsula coast are the large towns of Crotone, Catanzaro and Cosenza. Reggio Calabria and San Giovanni were termini for a ferry line from Messina.
The Allied offensive to soften up the Italian mainland for invasion began in the final days of the Sicilian campaign and reached a climax Tuesday, when the 16-inch guns of the British battleships Rodney and Nelson along with the lesser armament of an escorting cruiser and nine destroyers sent 1,500 tons of shells crashing into the coastal defense batteries along the eastern shore of the Strait of Messina.
An Allied spokesman disclosed that even ground forces participated in the softening-up offensive. Commando units were revealed to have made several reconnaissance landings, during which they knocked out a number of enemy gun batteries.
One such commando landing was reported by the German radio to have occurred last Sunday southwest of Reggio Calabria. The broadcast claimed that all but 30 of the landing party of 400 troops were captured or killed. The survivors were said to have escaped into the mountains.
U.S. warships also participated in the bombardment of southern Italy by shelling the northern coast of the Italian toe.
But the brunt of the offensive fell on the Northwest African Air Forces, assisted by aircraft from the Allied Middle East Command.
Almost without respite, four-engined Flying Fortresses, Liberators and Halifaxes, Mitchell, Marauder and Baltimore medium bombers and Lightning, Warhawk and Spitfire fighter-bombers and fighters had bombed and strafed Italy from Reggio Calabria as far north as Bologna during the past month.
The thousands of tons of Allied bombs were believed to have completely disrupted all troop movements by railway in southern Italy. Traffic in the Italian toe was thrown into such chaos that the German and Italian commands were forced to resort to the use of barges to move troops and equipment around blocked rail lines.
Allied commanders had hinted at the impending invasion on at least two occasions in recent weeks.
Gen. Sir Bernard L. Montgomery told the Canadian members of his 8th Army last night that they would soon be on the march again and Lt. Gen. Andrew McNaughton, commander of the Canadian forces overseas, also said they were being prepared for “future operations.”