Incompetence, Stupidity, and Cowardice: The Royal House of Savoy and the Governance of Italy, 1861-1946

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General Giuseppe Castellano

PART 24

The Americans suspect that Prime Minister Badoglio is trying to double cross them. He doesn’t want to make an unconditional surrender. He wants to have an armistice. Sort of a fig leaf to preserve a little dignity for Italy, as if that country had any dignity left. The Americans say “no.”

To this, Badoglio’s man, General Castellano, reluctantly agrees but with the following proviso: since the Italians are afraid of what the German soldiers in Italy might do to them, the Americans must agree, in writing, to give the Italian army some backup. A bit of stiffening. A helping hand.

The Americans can certainly do that. How many American GIs do the Italians want? A lot. Castellano demands the entire 82nd airborne division be sent into Rome to help protect the Eternal City, the government, and the king from the vengeful Germans.

To get the Italian surrender, Eisenhower reluctantly agrees to send the 82nd Airborne to Rome if the Italians promise to meet the following conditions:

  • Italian troops must protect three airfields around Rome. That way the bulk of the American troops can be brought in by transport planes with only a battalion dropped in by parachute the day before to set up an HQ;
  • The Italians must provide all the transportation required by the Allied troops;
  • And last, the Italian Army will have to fight off the Germans who will undoubtedly be sent to occupy Rome once they learn the Americans are there. And really fight them. It’s their country. Their capitol. American forces will be there to help. Not do all the fighting.
General Maxwell Taylor

Can you do that, the Americans ask? Can you really, really promise on behalf of the Italian government that you can and will meet these conditions? Most certainly, says General Castellano. Not to worry. He assures the Americans that Marshal Badoglio is behind this one hundred and ten percent. Call it a deal. Castellano signs on the dotted line. It is 3 September 1943.

Yet the Americans are still very suspicious of the Italian Army’s willingness to fight. So suspicious, in fact, that in one of the most daring episodes of the entire war, General Maxwell Taylor, assistant commander of the 82nd Airborne, is smuggled into Rome to meet with the Italian generals. However, to protect the time of place of Allied landings, Taylor can only go to Rome twenty-four hours before the Allied invasion in case he is captured and tortured — the thought being he could hold out for twenty-four hours.

While the Germans have not occupied Rome, there are plenty of German and SS troops in the city. One has to say that General Taylor has guts. At 0400 on 7 September 1943, a British motor torpedo boat with Taylor and an aide aboard leaves Allied occupied Palermo in Sicily and proceeds at high speed to the Italian island of Utica, forty miles northwest of Sicily.

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[Image courtesy of Wikimedia.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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