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A map showing the location of Ustica, Italy, in the Tyrrhenian Sea in relation to nearby Palermo, Sicily.
Early morning of 7 September 1943 finds US Brigadier General Maxwell Taylor and his adjutant, Colonel Gardiner, on the island of Ustica, which is Italian territory. Hence the two US paratroopers are actually far behind Allied lines on the soil of a country technically at war with the United States. To avoid being shot as spies should they be captured by the Germans, both men are in uniform and both are armed with .45 caliber pistols.
In an example of military efficiency and secrecy never before seen in Italy, the two men are put aboard an Italian navy corvette and taken to Gaeta, a small port on the mainland, seventy-five miles south of Rome. It’s quite a distance from Ustica, as you can see on the inset of the map, and the two men do not disembark until 6:30 pm. Incredibly, no one blabs the secret. I don’t know this for a fact, but I presume Allied air forces were given orders not to attack Italian naval vessels in that area because the corvette spent many hours at sea without an air attack.
Italian soldiers bundle the two Americans into an ambulance, drive them seventy-five miles to Rome then whisk them inside a building just opposite the Italian Ministry of War. Colonel Salbi, Chief of Staff to General Carboni, the Italian garrison commander in Rome, is there to meet them.
This being Italy, the two Americans are served dinner. I don’t know about you, but I would have become irritable in the extreme at this point. There are German troops a block or two away, we are technically at war with Italy, the two men are there to meet with Badoglio himself, and first they have to eat dinner. Where is General Carboni, the garrison commander? Ah, they will meet with him in the morning. In the morning? We want to see General Carboni now! The great man is summoned and arrives about 9:30 pm.
Presumably after polite greetings, the General says that Italy is filling up with heavily armed German soldiers and that if American paratroops land in Rome the Germans will be very angry and attack Rome and kill everyone. Further, the Germans took their gasoline so Italian troops can’t be transported anywhere and besides all of that, the Italian troops around Rome don’t have much ammunition.
At this point I either would have pissed in my pants or shot General Carboni or both. General Taylor demands they meet with Marshal Badoglio.
Although unknown to the Americans or the Italians, the German High Command had that day issued orders to German troops in Italy to begin disarming Italian forces.
[Image courtesy of Wikimedia.]