Neglected: The Sicilian and Italian Campaigns (1943-1945)
When taking stock of all of the Second World War’s military campaigns, some appear, for lack of a better term, neglected. Such is the case for the events that occurred in the Mediterranean theatre of operations, in particular the landing of allied forces in Sicily and the ensuing Italian military campaign. For example, we know that “D-Day” refers to the Normandy landings on June 6, 1944. This amphibious operation is one of history’s most significant events. A collective psyche has developed due to the iconic scope of D-Day and its related events and is expressed through numerous films, documentaries, and an expansive historiography. Can the same be said for the Sicilian and Italian campaigns? The impression is that, in spite of all of the military assets deployed, these campaigns garner far less attention from academics, the media, and the general public. Moreover, there are differing opinions with respect to the strategic utility of these campaigns. Those who participated (including Canadians) would say that they made it possible to divert a great number of high-quality enemy divisions from deployment in other theatres of operations. However, Sicily and Italy represented vastly more complex challenges, considering that this time, the Italians would fight on their home soil and that there were reputable German units on the island. Moreover, numerous Canadians participated in these campaigns, with approximately 75,000 soldiers deployed. From this number, there were nearly 25,000 casualties, including almost 6,000 killed between July 1943 and February 1945. In short, we are dealing with a theatre of operations where the extent of the violence and the extreme conditions of its battles remain to be discovered. Faced with a determined, well led and equipped enemy, the rate of Canadian losses skyrocketed at certain points (i.e. at Ortona in December 1943) and more resources were required to make up for those losses. Paradoxically, as of 1944, reinforcements were sent to the Italian Front sparingly, due to the needs of the Normandy campaign. All of the above brings us to the question: should the Allies have chosen to fight in Sicily and Italy? In reality, the Mediterranean theatre was the only available option in 1942-1943. At the least, these campaigns made it possible to test inter-allied cooperation and hone certain tactical doctrines before Normandy. To conclude, Sicily and Italy are some of the Second World War’s “forgotten” campaigns. For the men on the ground, the extreme environmental conditions, the savagery of combat in the mountains, alley ways, and vineyards combined with other horrors and human miseries of the battlefield and, additionally, led to the destruction of many sites of invaluable historical significance.
I have the most beautiful porcelain rabbit sent to me in 1944 from my uncle in Italy, where he was serving in the Canadian Army. He made a wooden box to protect the rabbit. I appreciate information about the important role played by Canadians on the Italian front at this time.