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1943 continued

On 12 June the Allies attacked the Italian island of Pantelleria, which was defended by 12,000 Italians, but they surrendered the first chance they got. The next step was to invade the mainland, but the Allies were unsure of where to land. Western Europe was too difficult to land in, so they looked to the south, what Churchill called "the soft underbelly of Europe." With a victory in North Africa and Italy teetering on the edge of collapse, the stage was set for the next invasion: Sicily. Called "Operation Husky," it would involve General Patton’s 7th Army and General Montgomery’s 8th Army. Knowing that the way to Italy was well-defended, the Allies came up with a diversionary tactic. They planted a dead soldier with false plans to invade Greece, which the Germans discovered floating in the water. Believing that the plans were authentic, Hitler massed his troops along the Greek coasts and largely ignored southern Sicily. Early in July Pantelleria and Lampedusa islands were bombed to pave the way for the invasion on the eve of 10 July, but it did not all go according to plan.

1200 British paratroopers aboard 144 glider planes ran into high winds and were dropped in the wrong place. 200 drowned in the Mediterranean Sea and only 73 made it to their destination: the bridge at Point Grande near Syracuse. The Americans did not fare much better, because out of the 2781 paratroopers in 226 C-47s, only 200 landed in the right place at Licata. The British amphibious landing was more successful, because their 2500 ships and 180,000 troops scared off the Italian defenders. The Americans ran into trouble at Gela, however, when the German Tiger tanks counter-attacked on 11 July. Patton called in reserve paratroopers, but 220 were mistakenly killed by Allied anti-aircraft fire. Still, the invasion was a success because the Allies moved into Sicily and met up with each other in force. On 13 July they made progress but could not break through, because the Canadian division interfered with Patton’s sector, which frustrated him very much. Over the next month they gradually pushed the Germans out, but failed to outflank them because of ineffective Allied air attacks. The Axis left the island by 17 August, leaving Sicily entirely under Allied control at the cost of 31,000 casualties. The Germans had escaped, but the invasion of the mainland was not far off.

When the Allies landed in Sicily it was obvious Italy would fall soon, and Italy’s military was reduced to nothing. On 19 July Mussolini met with Hitler as Rome was bombed, and once again was convinced to stay in the war. On 24 July Mussolini met up with the Italian Grand Council, who called for his immediate resignation. The next day he met up with General Paolo Puntoni and King Emmanuel, who also wanted him removed from power. Mussolini finally accepted political defeat and stepped down after 21 years of tyranny. Upon hearing the news that he was incarcerated, the entire nation of Italy celebrated. The King proclaimed Badoglio as the new prime minister, who quickly appointed General Giuseppe Castellano as a mediator to seek peace with the Allies before they decimated their country. Overall, the Allies were somewhat divided on accepting an Italian friendship. On 15 August Castellano met with British diplomats, saying they would join the Allies if they received full support to combat the German occupation. The Allies, however, refused to deal with any enemy until they unconditionally surrendered to them. The Italians agreed to a surrender but wanted more time to prepare for the German response, which did not go over well with the Allies. They told Italy if they did not surrender immediately, they would be attacked in force as an Axis enemy. Just as all of this was happening, Montgomery landed 2 divisions on the shores of Italy.

There was considerable discussion among the high command as to what Germany's next step was. Hitler insisted that he could only trust "politically reliable" units, which of course meant the SS. He was adamant about keeping Italy's Fascist regime in place because he knew if he lost his grip on the Italians they would immediately turn against him. Therefore he placed the highest importance on getting his SS Corps out of Russia and into Italy, boasting "the SS corps equals 20 Italian divisions." Naturally, his staff scoffed at the idea of pulling troops and armor from the already depleted Russian front. They suggested strategic withdrawals, but Hitler was against retreat because he would have to fall back eventually, when the Soviets launched their usual winter offensive. He was also "completely convinced" that his Hitler Youth, made up of increasingly younger Germans, would fight bitterly to the last man. At the same time he desperately wanted to hold onto the Crimean peninsula in the Ukraine and wanted to stop the Soviets from an amphibious landing at Novorossisk. Kluge tried to tell Hitler that Soviet armor was "far superior" to their own, but Hitler merely replied that the Soviets were taking losses as well. On 2 August radio and air reconnaissance tipped the Germans off that the Soviets were planning a new offensive to the south. They didn't have long to prepare, as the first shots were fired the next daybreak, just west of Belgorod. The 4th Panzer Army & Army Group Kempf were caught off guard and had little to hold off such an attack. Manstein, frustrated that he had not received the reinforcements he wanted, believed the situation to be hopeless and ordered a retreat. He realized that the petty bickering among the high command--arguing "whether such and such a division could be spared"-- would not stop the advancing Red Army. They hit Kharkov especially hard, and as usual, Hitler demanded it be defended at all costs, fearing a collapse in that sector would turn neighboring countries on Stalin's side. Field Marshal Manstein's response was that he had "no intention of sacrificing an army for Kharkov" and abandoned the city on 22 August. For that retreat General Kempf was replaced with General Wöhler, something Manstein did not object to.

The disasterous losses at Kursk had not gone unnoticed by Nazi officials. Many, including Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler, were now certain Germany would lose the war and that action must be taken to prevent the entire collapse of the state. On 26 August, several high-ranking Nazis discussed the validity of Hitler's authority, including Himmler, Karl Wolf, Johannes Popitz and Carl Langbehn. A power struggle was brewing amongst the Nazi leadership and the string of lost battles only made things worse. Although there is no surviving record of Himmler's comments, it seems that he was not opposed to removing Hitler from power. Langbehn was less ambivilant and set out for Switzerland in search of the Allies' feelings towards a change in command. Specifically he tried contacting American & British officers, who then relayed a shocking telegram back to London: "Himmler's lawyer confirms the hopelessness of Germany's military and political situation and has arrived to put out peace-feelers."

This was intercepted by German agents of the Abwehr and SD, which sent up a red flag to the SD commander, Walter Schellenberg. Schellenberg had Langbehn arrested upon his return to Germany and saw to it that Hitler read the telegram. Out of revenge and to make an example, Langbehn ended up in a concentration camp where he was tortured to death with unspeakable brutality. Himmler, however, walked free with his reputation untarnished. The writing was on the wall, and Hitler's growing unpopularity could no longer be ignored. During the last half of 1943 there were no less than 5 failed assassination attempts. While it is unclear if he was aware of any or all of these, Hitler was no fool. He knew his authority and even his life were in jeopardy, and could no longer trust anyone around him. His most dedicated military officers like Rommel and Manstein had failed him as commanders, and his staff had failed him in loyalty. He felt isolated and insecure, but would never accept defeat. In his mind, he and the German state were one and the same--if he fell, Germany would fall. It was this twisted mentality that needlessly ended the lives of millions more before the war's end.

On 3 September the southeastern tip of Italy was invaded by the British, who had been part of a pre-meditated Italian invasion campaign. The Italians promptly surrendered to join the Allies, signaling the go-ahead for more landings. General Mark Clark commanded the US 5th Army, who were given the difficult task of occupying enough of Italy to secure a pathway to Rome. Rommel returned to the Wehrmacht in northern Italy while Field Marshal Albrecht Kesselring took charge of the south and General Heinrich von Vietinghoff’s 10th Army met the Allied invasion on 9 September. The landing at Salerno, called "Operation Avalanche," was met with heavy German resistance, and the British forces did not advance much either, although their 1st Airborne division was already marching inland. The next day, however, the Luftwaffe punished the invading Allies with radio-controlled bombs, preventing them from capturing any hills. General von Vietinghoff turned his Panzers on the US on 12 September, forcing them to retreat, and they had only gained 2 miles. The Germans then focused their attention on the British, who were better armed and the Germans took enough losses to allow Allied reinforcements in. On 20 September, General Montgomery met up with the Americans and 2 weeks later they captured Naples. The Germans skillfully retreated (only after certain defeat) into the northern mountains.

Up until 1943, Norway and Denmark were occupied by German forces, but were allowed to keep their own governments. However, as early as February of 1943, the Danish and Norwegian resistance was growing and Germany took control of their governments. Danish strikes ceased governmental activity, so the Germans disarmed the Danish military and increased their occupational forces there, much to the Danes’ dislike. The current German ally Finland, on the other hand, now wanted out of the war completely. Finnish Marshal Mannerheim began Finland’s de-militarization by taking out a battalion from the SS, then asking General Dietl to release his Finnish troops. Dietl refused, but returned 4 battalions to keep good relations with the Finns. Mannerheim then wanted to make a new defensive line behind the Germans, should they pull back their troops, and also to defend against any Soviet advance. Jodl told Mannerheim they would be under Soviet rule if they left the German "protection," but in reality the Germans needed Finnish forces up north to meet the advancing Soviets around Leningrad. On 18 November Mannerheim began construction on his defensive line; the Germans did not intervene.

When Hitler found out about Italy’s surrender, he was furious but Field Marshal Kesselring persuaded him not do overreact with his forces because there was not enough German military strength there to back it up. Still, they swarmed into Italian military positions and shot any resisters, while taking 65,000 prisoners and sent them to slave labor. When the Allies landed in force, Hitler expected Rome to be a primary target so he tried to put large quantities of troops there in defense. The Italians, especially the Jews, suffered greatly under the German rule and all the suffering under Mussolini now paled in comparison. Food, clothing and jobs were rare and arial bombing by both the Germans and Allies put many towns in ruins. One positive note is that many of the persecuted Italians were saved by thoughtful priests, who hid them in Rome’s many religious buildings and saved 4700 Jews.

Within just a few months of Kursk, Field Marshal Manstein had lost 133,000 men to casualties but was only given 33,000 men to replenish his ranks. Using Hungarian or Romanian divisions was largely ineffective because they tended to fight amongst themselves, so they were separated and assigned to fight partisans. The Panzer units were much weaker than they should have been because they kept forming into new divisions. It appeared that Germany had more than existed, and since new divisions usually received new supplies, veteran tank crews weren't as properly equipped as they should have been. In addition, the SS wanted to hoard the new Panther tanks and assault guns for themselves, leaving the Wehrmacht dangerously weak. Their enemy, however, was churning out hundreds of T-34 tanks per month because of their simplified production scheme: one army, one main battle tank. The Soviets were making improvements on the T-34 and also designed a series of tank destroyers, but they all were essentially the same chassis and were perfect for mass production. They had also taken advantage of all the American lend-lease equipment that was flowing in to their ports. Without all the American field equipment, trucks and food, they never would have been able to maximize production of their own weapons, which were usually far better than anything else available. Their manpower was also steadily increasing, while Germany could only hope to maintain their current strength. The growing dissention between the OKH and OKW and complete lack of vision among the top level commanders left Hitler as the only bridge between them.

Hitler alone is to blame for Germany's actions after Kursk, but his behavior was nothing short of a paradox. Transcripts of his meetings clearly show he was quite capable of rational thought and very knowledgable in the situations at hand. His decisions and strategy, however, were illogical and unrealistic. His overall vision was to hold ground at all costs, frustrating the Allies into dissention and perhaps even break up the coalition all together. This was one key reason he was willing to transfer units from the east to defend against the upcoming invasion of France. He still thought of the Soviet military in terms of summer 1941, when they were a disorganized mass of inferior machinery. Yet any German who had met them in battle knew they had the advantage in armor, infantry, supplies, and most recently, in the air. Hitler fought every idea his staff had and wondered aloud why none of his Generals could attack. The simple math was that Germany could barely hold ground, much less advance any further. Manstein was forced to defend a front line 450 miles long, largely because of Hitler's orders to hold Dnepropetrovsk, Kiev, Kremenchug, and Zaprozhe. Instead of a major operation unfolding, the last half of 1943 on the eastern front was primarily a series of small, morale-draining fights. In November Manstein received an infantry division and 5 panzer divisions as reinforcements, but they could not be concentrated because nearby railyard junctions had been captured.

In 1943 the Soviets produced 24,000 tanks from 8 million tons of steel and 90 million tons of coal. In contrast, the Germans only produced 17,000 tanks from 30 million tons of steel and 340 million tons of coal. Clearly there was a problem here, and it was due to Germany’s war production methods. In the days before "Operation Barbarossa," the Germans sought for a "nuclear family" structure with the men working and women staying at home. They hated mass production and assembly line methods, claiming that it was an Anglo-American method for producing inferior goods quickly. They preferred small manufacturing firms to make custom-built weapons, which meant they were the best in the world, but there were too many varieties and they were more expensive. After the failure at Moscow, Germany began to change its ways and adopt the assembly-line method of production.

The Soviets, on the other hand, were the exact opposite of the Germans. They made as much as possible as quickly as possible, and as a result they were always ready to meet whatever Germany could throw at them, even if the quality was not as good. When the war broke out, they wisely moved their plants east for protection. However, the workers were under miserable conditions: long hours, no holidays and terrible working atmospheres. They received little food or breaks and many starved. Still, the Soviets worked for the good of the country and triumphed accordingly. They might not have been able to do it without the help of the Americans, because the Soviets received all kinds of weapons, food and clothing and supplies from the United States. Desperately needed were trucks, which were stripped of any identification that might say "Made In The USA" so the Soviets would think they were Russian-made goods. In all, the US produced 2/3 of the total Allied materials, and 30% of the equipment used by the British was American-made. Having enough goods to reinforce heavy losses was vital to the eventual Allied victory.

Another important element in the Allies’ victory was the use of strategic bombing. Early in the war, Britain decided it would be a central component of defeating Germany, along with their blockade of German ships. They could not put troops on Europe yet, so they had no other way to fight the Germans and had to prove that they were still in the war. Overall, the bombing was done strictly for political reasons and was intended to keep morale up even though they were losing the war. For the Germans, civilian targets like London were left alone because Hitler knew the British could fight back, unlike most of the other targets they had destroyed. Allegedly the first British city to be bombed was by accident due to poor navigation, but Britain soon retaliated against German cities. This sparked a massive campaign on each side to shake the other's nerves to the point of breaking. In fact, Hitler hoped that by bombing the British ceaselessly, their society would collapse and rebel against the government, thereby taking Britain out of the war. However, nothing could be further from the truth--the British were only galvanized into a more cohesive fighting unit.

After France fell, the Germans had a convenient place to attack Britain from, using captured French airfields. The British tried to retaliate by attacking at night, but their planes were so inaccurate it hardly made a difference and even confused the Germans as to their original targets. In early 1942 the British declared that their new target would be the German morale and that bombing civilian locations would be called "de-housing." This massive aerial campaign was led by Arthur "Bomber" Harris, a WWI veteran who transferred to the RAF and became the head of Bomber Command. Although morally questionable, the idea was to prevent German workers from producing anything that could be used to support Hitler's war, which meant both factories and residences were fair game. If the Germans didn't show up to work, they couldn't build tanks and planes. Soon after the US entered the war and gave resources like aircraft and munitions to help the war effort. The US planes landed in Britain in 1942 but the Americans did not help the bombing campaign until 1943. Harris made bigger and bigger raids, culminating in the attack on Cologne in the spring of 1942, destroying 600 acres and 30,000 died in another raid on Hamburg. Even though the British improved their weapons and tactics, they still suffered heavy casualties because they had to fly through anti-aircraft flak and the Luftwaffe.

America felt they could be a successful force without fighter escorts as long as they had enough bombers. The British, on the other hand, had learned that bombing raids in the day without escorts led to certain death. They continued their night bombing, but the US started day attacks in "Operation Pointblank," targeting industrial cites. They soon learned from their mistakes that fighters were essential to guarding the bombers that slowed the German war machine. In early 1944 the P-51 Mustang fighter was introduced and because of its extended range, powerful engine and lethal armament, bombing resumed full-scale. The Mustang did not win the war or even the air war alone, but it certainly gave the Allies the upper hand in bomber defense. German planes were a match for their Allied adversaries, but by this point in the war their pilots were not. Between January and May of 1944, Germany lost the equivalent of their entire pilot force and could barely scratch together enough replacements to keep the planes in the air. The once superior Luftwaffe was now on the defensive, trying desperately to stop the swarms of Allied bombers. The Allies defeated the German planes by driving them out into combat, then striking them down. By late 1944, the Allies had run out of obvious targets and began bombing anything reasonably worthwhile. On 13 February 1945 they attacked Dresden in a fiery maelstrom that killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians. The only reason this bombing continued is because no one in the high command ordered them stopped. The Allied bombers suffered high casualties as well: the US Army Air Force lost 30% of its crew every month, nearly self-destructing their squadrons. For example, on 14 October 1943 they had 198 out of 228 of their bombers shot down or seriously damaged. In the end, the US Army Air Force lost 29,000 men, while 55,000 British lost their lives.

Strategic bombing may not have been 100% effective, but it was instrumental in winning the war. Before the bombing, there was no indication that German civilians were ready to quit before the German army was. Later on, the bombing succeeded in hurting morale and caused many German workers to skip work out of fear. It is true that German production was just as strong after the bombing as it was before, but this indicates that without the bombing the Germans would have produced even greater amounts of weapons, which may have prolonged the war. Additionally, the bombing campaign made the Allies feel like they were accomplishing something and let the Germans know that just because they ruled the continent didn't mean they had won the war. Germany spent so much of its resources on trying to harass British civilians that its own previously effective Luftwaffe was rendered useless. Germany spent too much time on terrorist weapons like the V-2 rocket, designed to attack London, and wasted their technological advantage of the the Me-262. The jet could have been used against the swarms of Allied bombers over Germany, but Hitler only wanted them used as a bombers themselves.

Early 1943


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