Rome Falls Again


On the day Rome fell, 8 million GIs were in uniform, and this was a fivefold increase since Pearl Harbor. It included twelve hundred generals and nearly a half million lieutenants. Half the Army had yet to deploy overseas, but the U.S. military already had demonstrated that it could wage global war in several far-flung theaters simultaneously.

Hitler had decided to rebuild Kesselring’s army group with eight more divisions and to continue fighting for Italian real estate, while construction battalions turned the Gothic Line into a barrier as formidable as the Gustav Line had been. Although Allied intelligence revealed that four German divisions had were “mere shells,” and seven others were “drastically depleted. Night continued to give the retreating Germans “a privileged sanctuary” since Allied air fleets had only a few dozen aircraft capable of night attacks. “The cloak of darkness saved the German armies from destruction,” an Air Force study later concluded.

The stress in Fifth Army on capturing Rome led to a palpable deflation once the capital fell. Doctors in the 1st Special Service Force reported that men in the unit were “listless, perilously close to exhaustion, and infested with lice,” a diagnosis valid for many other units as well. On July 4, the 1st Armored Division reported that only half of its tanks remained functioning and that the division in six weeks had lost thirty-eight company commanders. Partisan ambushes and assassinations increased, as did brutal reprisals: under Kesselring’s orders, ten Italian deaths were exacted for every German killed. By early fall, an estimated 85,000 armed partisans roamed the mountains, with another 60,000 in Italian towns. Atrocities were happening everywhere and all the time.

The 608-day campaign to liberate Italy sent 312,000 Allied into the lists of casualties, equivalent to 40 percent of Allied losses in the decisive campaign for northwest Europe that began at Normandy. Among the 250,000 American troops to serve in Italy, total battle casualties would reach 120,000, including 23,501 killed.

German casualties in Italy remain uncertain, as they were in North Africa. Alexander put German losses at 536,000, while the official U.S. Army history tallied 435,000, including 48,000 enemies killed and 214,000 missing, many of whom were never accounted for. Fifth Army alone reported 212,000 prisoners captured in the campaign. An OSS analysis of obituaries in seventy German daily newspapers found a steady increase in the number of 17-and 18-year-old war dead; moreover, by late summer 1944, nearly one in ten Germans killed in action was said to be over thirty-eight years old.

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