The Battle of Salerno: Operation AVALANCHE (9-16 September 1943)
The Allied invasion of Italy begins.
The landing at Salerno in September 1943 initiated the Allied Invasion of Italy. Following the Allied success in Norther Africa and Sicily, the Allied supreme command determined that an invasion of Italy would shatter Italian support for the war and help shift forces away from the Eastern Front. While the Battle of Salerno was a tactical success, controversy surrounds the invasion’s poor planning taken, which almost resulted in the Allies being thrown back into the sea.
Operation AVALANCHE began on the morning of 9 September 1943. Despite lessons learned from the Pacific Theatre, the landing was not preceded by a naval or aviation bombardment in an effort to achieve total tactical surprise. Unfortunately for the Allies, total surprise was not achieved as the forces of the U.S. Fifth Army—commanded by GEN Clark— landed ashore and were met with varying degrees of resistance along the 35-mile landing front. After the beaches were successfully taken, a counterattack conducted by a panzer division forced the Allies to consolidate their positions—leaving a ten-mile gap between the American and British landing beaches. By the end of the second day, the allies had successfully linked up all their beachheads and maintained a strong toehold several miles deep. Beginning on 12 September, the Axis forces under the command of Gen Albert Kesselring launched a counterattack of several divisions, forcing the Allies back into a secured perimeter protected by naval gunfire, artillery, and para dropped reinforcements. Despite almost getting thrown back into the sea, the U.S. Fifth Army withstood the determined assault and was able to link up with the British troops for the Eighth Army who had landed at the heel of Italy—thus forcing the Axis onto the defensive. In total, the landings in southern Italy resulted in 3,500 Axis casualties with the Allies suffering over 12,000 total casualties.
The strategic goal of Operation AVALANCHE was to secure the city and port Naples whilst cutting off the line of retreat for the Axis forces positioned in southern Italy. The landings at Salerno, conducted by the U.S. Fifth Army, occurred simultaneously with two British landings conducted on the toe and heel of Italy—Operations SLAPSTICK and BAYTOWN, respectfully. Despite initial issues following the landing at Salerno, the Allies were able to capture Naples in early October as well as several vital airfields, thus solidifying Allied control of southern Italy. However, further advances stalled as the Allies approached the Volturno Line: the first of a series of fortified positions designed to slow the advancing Allied forces. Consequently, the Battle for Italy devolved into a war of attrition, as the Axis forces utilized the terrain to mount of determined defense despite the numerically and materially superior Allied powers.
The Invasion of Italy
Struggle at Salerno September 9-14, 1943
Southern Italy, 1943 Allied Invasion of Italy and Operations to 25 September 1943
Fifth Army Beachhead 2400 11 September 1943
The Salerno Plain
The Mediterranean Theater of Operations: Salerno to Cassino
Center of Military History
From Salerno to Rome: General Mark W. Clark and the Challenges of Coalition Warfare
Major Glenn L. King
New Zealand Army
Salerno American Operations From the Beaches to the Volturno
Center of Military History
Tactical and Operational Innovations in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, 1943-1944
Maj Matthew G. St. Clair
School of Advanced Air and Space Studies