Monday, August 9, 2010

New Blog

As my interests have developed, I have started a new blog. Please go to

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Much is being made of the anniversary of the Normandy Landings in the press which is good and helps to keep the memory of this event alive. However, as usual, the Italian campaigns have not had a mention. It may have only been a secondary theatre to the Allied command, but a huge number of men fought and died there and they should have an equal place in our memories. When the survivors of the war in the Mediterranean, who keep the memory alive through groups such as as the First Army, Italy Star and Eighth Army Associations, finally pass on, who will carry the torch then? Branches of these associations close almost weekly because there are so few left to keep them going!

It should also remembered because not only British and Americans fought side by side but Jews, Moslem's, Hindu's and such diverse counties as Brazil, South Africa, Italy, Poland did also. With history taking an even more back seat in the National Curriculum particularly WW2, if for no other reason than events in Italy show the fact that these nations and religion's can work together, WW2 and the Italian campaign should be taught in schools and not forgotten.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Review of secondary sources for the Italian Campaign

Whilst researching my dissertation I found that there have been many contributions to the historiography of the Italian Campaign. The general histories are numerous, however, to compress the campaign into a single volume (often including the campaign in Sicily), and to include both British and U.S. fronts inevitably means much of the detail is excluded. As a consequence, the majority of historians only mention river crossings in passing. It is also a peculiarity of the campaign that whilst there has been a large number of books written about the campaign up to the capture of Rome, there are few after. Perhaps, this is due to the many contemporary authors and historians’ apparent pre-occupation with the events of the Normandy landings and subsequent operations[1]. Even books about the Italian campaign itself seem to have this predisposition. For example, the acclaimed Tug of War[2] dedicates 344 pages to the eleven-month period from the initial landings on 3 September 1943 to July 1944 but only 49 pages for the remaining ten months of the campaign. However, it was during this later period that some of the fiercest fighting took place including Operation Olive, the seizing of the Gothic Line and Operation Buckland, the final major offensive in Italy. Of the general histories, Lord Carver’s The War in Italy[3] primarily confines itself to anecdotes from the men themselves, consequentially because of its microscopic viewpoint, it is of small value to a discussion of tactics. British historian Eric Morris examines the whole campaign in his book Circles of Hell[4], although it is primarily concerned with strategy, for the most part, takes the American point of view, which is reflected in his choice of sources. A whole chapter is devoted to the U.S. 36th Division’s failure to cross the Rapido[5], whilst the crossing of the Sangro is condensed to a little over a paragraph[6].

Another book that concentrates on strategy is G.A. Shepperd’s The Italian Campaign 1943-45: A political and military re-assessment[9]. Once again it concentrates on the first half of the campaign but does offer useful insights on the Volturno and Garigliano crossings. The semi-official The Campaign in Italy[10] by Eric Linklater is of a similar vein but much more balanced as far as time scales are concerned although. However, the book also includes the campaign in Sicily, therefore, little of the campaign is studied in any detail. Not being constrained by the need to include events in the U.S. sectors, Richard Doherty in the recently published Eighth Army in Italy: The Long Hard Slog [11] concentrates far more on British tactics throughout the campaign. Although it gives sufficient insight into the pre-Rome river crossings, Doherty writes little of the river crossings during Operation Olive and after. Two further minor criticisms are that he focuses far more on the Irish battalions that took part[12], and that he calls the Rapido River the Gari. Of all the general histories, only the five volume, official History of the Second World War – The Mediterranean and Middle East[14] examines all the river crossings in depth. Each volume includes not only details of the planning but also the part played by the infantry, armoured, artillery, engineers, airforces and navies in any river crossing. They are also the only books to include a detailed description of the tactics involved in a river crossing[15].

From the first half of the campaign many of the books focus on either the assault on Monte Cassino or the landings and subsequent battles around Anzio. Two such examples are Lloyd Clarke’s book Anzio: The Friction of War[16] and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s Anzio[17]. More relevant examples are Cassino: The Hollow Victory by J. Ellis[18], Cassino: Portrait of a Battle by veteran Fred Majdalany[19], and Cassino by Matthew Parker[20]. The first is of particular value because of its detailed account of X Corps crossing of the Garigliano and second crossing of the Rapido River by XIII Corps. Similarly, Jackson’s The Battle for Rome[21] examines the second Rapido crossing in detail.

The Volturno crossing is particularly significant not only because it was the first major opposed river crossing undertaken by the Allies but also because it was a joint British and American operation. The assault involved two infantry divisions and an armoured division from the British X Corps and one American infantry division under the command of the US 5th Army. Despite this, only one book discusses it any detail, Countdown to Cassino: The Battle of Mignano Gap by Alex Bowlby[22]. Curiously, the chapter on the crossing opens with “The facts about the Battle of Volturno are well known” [23]when it is probably one of the least known, however it continues to describe the battle, particularly the planning in some detail. As Lt-General Richard McCreery, commander of X Corps (later Commander 8th Army) left no records and X Corps War Diaries are more concerned with logistics[24], our only other sources are divisional War Diaries and histories.

The first major operation of 1944 was the assault on the Gustav Line with two British divisions on the left (Garigliano River) and a British and an American division on the right (Rapido River). Jackson describes the Garigliano crossing as having all the hall-marks of a well planned, professional river-crossing operation[25]. The Rapido crossing was a complete disaster, the British failing to cross and the Americans troops cut to pieces[26]. As it was primarily a U.S. operation there has been little study of the subject by British historians, however it is of major importance to the dissertation as an example of what can go wrong and as a combined U.S./British operation. The main secondary sources for this battle are Martin Blumenson’s Bloody River[27] and the U.S. 5th Army Commander Mark Clark’s memoirs Calculated Risk[28].

Of the few studies of the second half of the campaign only The Gothic Line[29] by Douglas Orgill and The Impossible Victory[30] by Brian Harpur examine river crossings in sufficient detail to be of value to the dissertation. The later is also invaluable as it contains the only known interview with Richard McCreery and details his tactical theories[31].The latest addition to the historiography of the Italian campaign is James Holland’s Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-45[32], which examines the later part of the campaign in considerable detail, although because it concentrates of personal experiences, particularly those of the Italian partisan and civilian, has little to offer a dissertation concerning tactics.

Of all the personal histories written after the war, most offer a too microscopic view to be of real use to a study of tactics beyond company level. Books such as Regimental histories are equally of little value, except for battalion and small unit level tactics. For example, A History of the 58th 1939-1945[33] gives a detailed account of the Regiment’s part in the Garigliano crossing. However, as it was only one of the twenty-seven Regiments that took part, it is impossible to determine the overall plan.

Divisional histories offer valuable insights into the tactics. The Story of 46 Division 1939-45[34] gives a detailed account of both the Volturno crossing and the failed Rapido crossing. Whilst it does not analyse the crossings, it does tell the story of each one from the 46th Division viewpoint. The 5th Division 1939-1945[35] is a detailed account of the 5th throughout the war; however the only major river crossing that they took part in was the Garigliano. This on its own is of importance to the dissertation because the division crossed at the tidal mouth of the river. Of all the divisions that fought in Italy, only the 78th (Battleaxe) Division has been studied in any detail in recent years. The most comprehensive history is Algiers to Austria: The History of the 78th Division 1942 - 1946[36] written by Cyril Ray whilst the more recent Battleaxe Division: From Africa to Italy[37] by Ken Ford has more personal stories. However, both chart the whole history of the division starting with Operation Torch, the invasion of Algeria in November 1943 and continuing through Tunisia, Sicily and Italy until they reached Austria, in 1946. So once again, to fit so much into one volume means that in places much of the detail is missing. Many of the later offensives involved at least one of the three Indian divisions that were in Italy. Little has been published on their history or achievements, so for details the only major work that is available is The Tiger Triumphs[38] published by HMSO in 1946.
[1] Rome was captured on 5 June 1944, the next day the allies landed on the beaches of Normandy in force.
[2] D. Graham & S. Bidwell Tug of War (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military Classics. 2004)
[3] Field Marshal Lord Carver, The War in Italy (Oxford: Pan, 2002)
[4] E. Morris. Circles of Hell, (New York: Crown Publishers Inc, 1993)
[5] Ibid, p. 223
[6] Ibid, pp. 245-255
[7] Ibid, p. 250
[8] A. Bowlby. Countdown to Cassino (New York: Sarpedon, 1995) p.19
[9] G.A. Shepperd The Italian Campaign 1943-45: A political and military re-assessment, (London: Arthur Baker Ltd, 1968)
[10] E. Linklater, The Campaign in Italy. (London: H.M.S.O. 1951).
[11] R. Doherty, Eighth Army in Italy: The Long Hard Slog, (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books Ltd. 2007)
[12] Doherty is an Irishman by birth and the majority of his previous works have had an Irish slant. For example Irish Generals: Irish Generals in the Second World War, (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2004), The North Irish Horse, A Hundred Years of Service (Staplehurst, Spellmount, 2002) and Clear the Way! A History of the 38th Irish Brigade, 1941-1947, (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1993).
[14] C.J.C. Molony, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol V, The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and the Campaign in Italy 3rd September 1943 to 31st March 1944, (Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press, 2004)
[15] C.J.C. Molony, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol V, The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and the Campaign in Italy 3rd September 1943 to 31st March 1944, (Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press, 2004) p. 439.
[16] L. Clark. Anzio, The Friction of War. (London, Headline Publishing Group, 2006)
[17] Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, Anzio (London: Pan Books, 1968)
[18] J. Ellis, Cassino:The Hollow Victory (London: Guild Publishing, 1984)
[19] F. Majdalany, Cassino: Portrait of a Battle, Cassell Military Paperbacks edition, (London: Cassell, 1999)
[20] M. Parker, Monte Cassino, (London: Headline Book Publishing,2004)
[21] W.G.F. Jackson, The Battle for Rome, (London: Batsford, 1969)
[22] A. Bowlby. Countdown to Cassino (New York: Sarpedon, 1995)
[23] Bowlby, Op, Cit, p.
[24] Bowlby, Op Cit. p. 19
[25] Jackson, Italy, Op Cit p. 176.
[26] Ibid, pp 180 –182.
[27] M Blumenson, Bloody River: The Real Tragedy of the Rapido, Texas University Press Edition (Boston, Texas University Press,1998)
[28] Mark Clark, Calculated Risk, Panther Edition (London: Panther Books Ltd, 1956)
[29] D. Orgill, The Gothic Line: Paperback Edition (London: Pan Books Ltd, 1969)
[30] Brian Harpur, The Impossible Victory, A personal account of the Battle for the River Po. (London: Coronet Edition, Coronet, 1988)
[31] Harpur, Op Cit, pp. 139 - 146
[32] James Holland, Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-45 (London: Harper Press, 2008)
[33] Anon, A History of the 58th 1939-1945. (Aldershot: Gale and Polden Ltd, 1947).
[34] Anon, The Story of 46th Division (np, Graz, 1945)
[35] G. Arris, The Fifth British Division 1939 to 1945. (London: The Fifth Division Benevolent Fund, 1959)
[36] C. Ray, Algiers to Austria: The History of 78 Division 1942-1946 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1982)
[37] K. Ford, Battleaxe Division (Stround: Sutton Publishing.2003)
[38] Anon The Tiger Triumphs (HMSO, London, 1946)

Friday, October 3, 2008

Thats it!

Well, after shedding lots of sweat and tears as well as lots of late nights, I have finished the MA and await my mark. Now I need to find employment (or funding for phD), so I think the hard bit now follows! Also it has been hinted at that I am too old to do this (45!) we shall see.....
Any suggestions or advice greatfully received.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

And so we reach the end

Well thats it. Essays all finished. It is actually quite sad that for the most part, the course is over. However I am now hurling myself at the disertation. The subject - The Tactical Development of River Crossings in Italy. There has been suprisingly little wrote on the subject but a check at the PRO shows there is a lot of documents to be found - so guess where I am spending my summer! Much to the consternation of my family.

Morale in Italy

Here is my modified essay on morale in Italy

Throughout 1944 General Harold Alexander, commander of allied troops in Italy had been increasingly worried about the level of morale in frontline troops[1]. When Lieutenant-Colonel John Sparrow, Secretary of the Morale Committee visited Italy in the summer of 1944, he too was concerned by the size, urgency, and difficulty in solving the problem of desertion[2]. The importance of desertion in solving the problem of morale because it had long been established that desertion rates were a good indicator of the state of morale[3],

Before examining morale in Italy in detail, the question of what is morale first has to be answered. There are many definitions of morale today although a definitive one remains elusive. What makes it and what breaks it is a matter of opinion, and no two psychologists seem to be able to agree. Steven Hart describes it as a nebulous and highly complex phenomenon that is dynamic and rapidly changing. He also says that due to its complexities “historians can reach few concrete conclusions”[4]. There has also been plenty written on the Italian campaign and several on various aspects of the British Army although few give much more than one or two pages to morale[5].

Measuring morale is fraught with difficulty and the only true test is whether a soldier will stand and fight or refuse to fight. One of the major problems of identifying this is that few if any units are going to admit that they turned and ran. For example, a member of 2nd Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment recall’s that at Anzio a Scottish regiment turned and ran, dropping their weapons as they went, after a failed assault on a section of the Fortress in late April 1944[6]. The Fifth British Division 1939 to 1945 describes the attack; however, all it says is that it was not a success[7]. Therefore, the event cannot be substantiated. There was only one major refusal to fight during the campaign and this occurred at Salerno in September 1943, when almost 200 men were arrested for refusing orders[8].

One measure of morale is the relationship between battle exhaustion[9] and morale. Although the Army Council had recognized its existence in 1915[10], throughout most of World War One, it was the general consensus of the military hierarchy that it was not influenced by morale, and was a manifestation of cowardice[11]. With the outcry over the number of executions for cowardice that followed the armistice and, to guard against the re-occurrence of its effects, a War Office Committee of Enquiry into Shell Shock was set up during 1920[12]. Chaired by Lord Southborough, the committee found that there was a direct correlation between shell shock and morale, which then necessitated a definition of morale itself. It concluded that morale was:-

“Confidence in one’s self and confidence in one’s comrades. It is a collective confidence, the spirit of a good team at football. Morale can be, and has to be, created. It is the product of continuous and enthusiastic training”[13].

Little had been done to implement the changes when war broke out again. However, after the series of defeats that cumulated in the fall of Singapore, it was feared that the morale of the army was dangerously low. As a result, the Morale Committee was formed in March 1942 with Brigadier E.J. O’Donnell in command and Lt. Col. Sparrow its Secretary[14]. The Committee expanded and updated the findings of the Southborough Committee and detailed the factors that it believed affected morale (see Appendix 1.) Sparrow would also offer an updated definition of morale as “the attitude of a soldier towards his employment”[15]. Colonel Penton, the author of The Study in the Psychology of Desertion and Absenteeism in Wartime, and its relation to the Problem of Morale, a survey of 2000 deserters, noted, “once morale was sufficiently low, a soldier either would become ill with battle exhaustion or would evade battle by other means, usually desertion”[16]. In the seminal work on battle exhaustion in the Canadian Army, the Canadian Corps Psychiatric Advisor in Italy, Lieutenant- Colonel Doyle is quoted as saying that:-
“When neuropsychiatric casualties reach 20% of total battle casualties, (killed, wounded, taken prisoner, missing) the formation concerned is tired and morale is dropping seriously”[17].

The number of incidents for 1944 also includes figures for the Normandy campaign where morale was equally suffering. During this time, the only recorded incident of a whole battalion being disbanded due to low morale occurred. The 6th Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s had joined the battle on 13 June and by the end of the month had suffered 373 casualties. Each time men were wounded or killed, more became casualties through battle exhaustion and there wereas at least five cases of self-inflicted wounds in just three days[19]. Desertion numbers were considerably less than the previous war; the overall number in World War Two dropped considerably from 10.26 per thousand in World War One to 6.89 per thousand[20].

Throughout the war, no one defined what an acceptable level of desertion was. In Italy, only 0.1% of the total forces there had deserted[21]. However as the majority of these were front line infantry, and manpower shortages were reaching critical levels, their absence was far more noticeable. Lieutenant-Colonel Wigram commandant of the GHQ Battle School suggested that the average number of deserters during any campaign was 40-60. Brigadier Scott-Elliot, on the other hand, suggested that there were as around 300-400 absentees in a division in any six month period in Italy[22]. Although this cannot be broken down to battalions, assuming there wereas nine infantry battalions per division, this comes close to Wigram’s estimate. Desertion actually peaked twice during the campaign (see Appendix 3.), oncethe first during the Anzio battles and again during the winter of 1944-45. The high command recognised the importance of morale and some of the reasons it was suffering, as the War Office publication, Notes from Theatres of War, No 20: Italy 1943/1944 acknowledges:-

“Morale is the most potent factor in war and it is largely dependant on adequate periods for rest, reorganization, and training, of keeping units and formations up to effective fighting strength and on maintaining adequate supplies of ammunition and of the latest pattern equipment. These conditions have not always been obtained in Italy and morale has suffered as a consequence[23]”.

In June 1944, the AFHQ Morale committee was formed in Italy to study morale and prepare quarterly morale reports to the War Office[24].

To understand how morale related to the conditions in which the men fought and what factors affected them (as Appendix 1.), it is necessary to take a closer look at one of the infantry divisions. The division with the highest desertion rate during the last few months of 1944 was the 78th ‘Battleaxe’ Division, these high numbers causing enough consternation to make it necessary to bring psychiatrists in to examine the troops[25]. It is this division; therefore, that makes an obvious choice for further scrutiny.

The 78th Division was formed in June 1942 and by the end of October the same year, was ere heading for the Mediterranean and Operation Torch[26], the only infantry component of the First Army. They were organized as a standard infantry division (see Appendix 5. for the organisation mid 1944) with three infantry brigades each of three infantry battalions with full supporting arms. Each infantry battalion hadving the full war establishment of 801 men divided into four infantry companies and one support company; although of these only around 400 would be front line infantry.

On May 8 1943, exactly six months to the day after they landed at Algiers, the men of the 78th marched into Tunis. It had been six months of hard fighting through valleys and over mountains with little rest and was marred by shortages of men and equipment[27]. Whilst resting after the campaign, it was decided that the division would be joining the Eighth Army and when Montgomery told them that they should be proud to join them, the temperature dropped below freezing in a second[28]. On 10 July 1943, the invasion of Sicily commenced, the 78th being held in reserve. As the fighting moved into the mountains, the Eighth Army became bogged down and the 78th were brought into the line, having the most experience of mountain warfare. Despite a fanatical defence by the Herman Goering Division, (which was described by as Alexander as the best in Sicily), the capture of Centuripe followed soon after[29]. It established their reputation and praise was heaped on them from all sections of the high command.

On 21 Sept 1943, the division landed at Taranto in Italy. By this time, the drafting of infantry by regiment had broken down and regiments overseas were allotted a draft of twenty men per month from their own regiment, any deficiencies to be made up with men from other regiments[30]. The 5th Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, for example, were receiving reinforcements from the Suffolk, Hampshire, East Yorkshire and Leicestershire Regiments[31]. By December 1943, the 78th Division had been in almost constant combat for over a year. Its losses had been heavy, and replacements were not always forthcoming, as the table below shows.

The 8th Battalion, The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders alone had lost 156 officers and 1000 men since Operation Torch and from those that landed in Algeria with the 5th Battalion, The Royal East Kent Regiment (Buffs), only two or three remained. Despite this, Cyril Ray claims that morale was high although the men were tired[33]. However, in the 5th Battalion, The Royal East Kent Regiment (Buffs) at least, things were different as Captain Julius Lipetz’s diary attests:-
Thursday November 4th. Again a big Medical Inspection room with lots of nerve cases…it is very difficult to decide who should be pushed back on to M&D (medicine and duties) and who are entirely exhaustion (sic) and must have a rest…it is extremely important keeping the unit up to strength and in preserving the ‘nerve’ strength of the men[34].

To help ease the manpower shortage, men from non-combatant units were re-trained and converted to infantry. The majority of these came from Anti-Aircraft Regiments who, due to the air superiority enjoyed by the allies, they had not been needed for some time[35]. Due to operational reasons, the training programme was just two months long. The British History Section monograph on desertion laid the blame for the low morale in Italy on these recruits and their quality. Despite having good records in their old units, a number were unhappy at becoming infantrymen and this waswere a source of discontent[36].

In February 1944, The Adjutant General gave his opinion as to the causes of desertion (see Appendix 4.) with the main one being that the men had been in the line to long. The Journal of Neurology reported in 1942 “a man reached his peak effectiveness in the first 90 days of combat. After this his efficiency fell away…”. Doctors in Tunisia also found that after thirty days continuous fighting 98 percent of infantrymen would break down. However it was not just the duration of the fighting that affected the men but also the type. Static warfare was proving to have a detrimental effect[37].

In January, the Division moved into positions in the mountains above the Sangro Valley. The 30-mile front was snowbound and at heights that typically ranged from 3,000 to 5,000 feet there wereas frequent blizzards. Although there were no major engagements, it was a time of patrolling; the exposed forward positions were across such a wide front that there were huge gaps in between through which the Germans would infiltrate. The intense cold meant that artillery pieces and automatic weapons often froze and there werewas over 100 cases of exposure and numerous cases of frostbite. On more than one occasion, the forward positions were snowbound by drifts of up to twenty feet that formed overnight and had to be re-supplied by air[38]. Whilst in the mountains there was 81 desertions, but once they came down the number soared to 207.

On 11 February, the Division began their move from the River Sangro to the Rapido River in the Cassino sector. Snow, sleet and icy winds slowed the journey down to a crawl and it was was further hampered by poor roads through the mountains. After a period of training, the Division moved into the mountains again. The German front line was just 90 metres away and no-man’s land was littered with decaying bodies. The British forward positions were on solid rock where no trench could be dug so stone built sangars was the only cover. The makeshift positions were under constant surveillance by the Germans on the higher ground. In daylight, the slightest movement would be greeted by a sniper bullet, restricting any movement to after dark and at night any noise would be answered by a salvo of mortar shells. During the day, only tea heated on Tommy cookers could be taken hot and food was haversack rations. Hot food was brought up at night, however owing to the three and a half hour journey by mule it had to travel, this was only luke warm by the time it arrived. Empty boxes were the only form of latrine, which once again could only be emptied at night. At night, rats could be heard tearing at the bodies and as the weather improved, the smell got worse[39]. Both sides respected the Red Cross and the Regimental Aid Post was in full view of the Germans., Tthe Advance Dressing Station, however was at the bottom of the mountain and a casualty had to be carried down on a stretcher and, as already noted, this involved a three and a half hour, often painful, journey[40], which had to be carried out in daylight[41]. Cyril Ray described the 78th Division’s time at Cassino as :-
“perhaps the dreariest and unhappiest in its history, for the losses and the hardships it had suffered had been – it seemed – to no purpose. No victory had crowned its sufferings, and men had been lost not in a major battle but in nameless and apparently purposeless forays”.[42]

Throughout their stay on the Rapido, there wereas another 137 desertions. General Leese, then Commander Eighth Army, said that the Division “have been driven a little beyond bursting point” although “The spirit of the Division is high”[43].

As Appendix 2. shows, these desertion rates were the highest for any division during the same period and although the numbers of deserters from Anzio are comparable, they are over a much longer time frame. However, they are still at the lower end of the scales suggested by Wigram and Scott-Elliot. The question that remains is why were they higher than the other divisions? To answer it, the common factors from Appendix 1. and 4. have to be identified. Out of all of them, the following were key and at low levels:-
Successful outcome of operations in which they were involved.
Their own appreciation of their particular military situation and their hope that their own side, – especially the artillery, would destroy the enemy before they could retaliate.
Knowledge that if wounded medical assistance would be prompt and efficient.
Good rations while in line.
Confortable living conditions.
Sufficient hot food.
Washing facilities.
Regular contact with home through a steady supply of national and local newspapers, radio broadcasts, and letters to and from loved ones.
The majority of these factors were due to the poor weather conditions.; Iin addition, the Division had been overseas for over sixteen months, most of this time being spent in the line. Like Anzio, they were also periods of static warfare, which, as we have already seen , can have a major impact on morale. One question now remains, why the number of desertions should increase once the Division came out of the mountain? This can only be due to the limited opportunities available to a would be deserter.

Morale had been badly bruised by hard fighting and high casualties. On 1 May, the Division commenced training for river-crossings, street fighting, and co-operation with armour. General Keightley, the Divisional Commander, believed that there was no better morale-builder than intensive training. The intention being that it enabled each man to do his job so well that he was better than his enemy was[44].

By 15 May, they were back in the line again taking part in the crossing of the Rapido and Lake Trasimeno. Then, at the end of July 1944, they were taken out the line. It was intended that they would first move to Egypt for a month of rest then on to Palestine for two months training. However, they had only been in Egypt for two weeks when they were ordered to return to Italy, but not before they had been brought up to strength again with men from Anti-Aircraft and Anti-Tank Regiments with officers from the Royal Army Service Corps[45]. The majority of these came from Anti-Aircraft Regiments who, due to the air superiority enjoyed by the allies, had not been needed for some time[46]. However, due to operational reasons, their re-training programme was just two months long. The British History Section monograph on desertion laid the blame for the low morale in Italy on these recruits and their quality. Despite having good records in their old units, a number were unhappy at becoming infantrymen and were a source of discontent[47].
Before they left Egypt, the Division received an order from the Eighth Army that each battalion should be re-organised on a three-company basis. Cyril Ray notes that:-
“This was most unpopular with all battalion commanders, whose experience was that the fourth company had often turned the day in previous battles”[48].

Eventually it was decided that the battalions would reduce to three companies once the establishment fell below 33 officers and 701 other ranks. In addition, whilst in Egypt the Divisional Commander, Major-General Keightley was promoted and replaced with Major-General Butterworth[49]. The Southborough Committee between the wars had established the importance of leadership in terms of morale[50]. It is therefore not surprising that the appointment was seen as a calamity as Butterworth had no combat experience, having only commanded a lower establishment division. To the battle hardened, seasoned officers he was a complete novice. As Major White recalled, “Even the most junior officer knew more about the Germans…battle procedures and…Italian Topography…I shall never forget sensing the disappointment and dropping of morale”[51]. The division was to befall one final set back before they left – the 6th Inniskillings were to be disbanded to be replaced by 2nd Inniskillings from Fifth Division[52].

And so, the Division went back into the mountains for their third winter, with a new battalion, a large number of raw recruits, new officers from non-combatant units, and a commander that was disliked by all under him. However, that was not all, they found themselves transferred from the Eighth Army to the American Fifth Army. Mark Clark, the American Commander in Italy believed that the Eighth Army was worn out and was incapable of anything more than secondary operations and sidelined the British forces under his command[53]. For the next three weeks, the Division took part in a series of complex moves and battles in the mountains north of Firenzuola in support of the Americans. The fighting was not easy, the 2nd Inniskillings taking four attempts to capture a spur east of the River Santerno. The 5th Northampton’s attack on Point 508 on 13 October would also be a disaster, first running into an anti-personnel minefield before being accidentally shelled by allied guns for ten minutes after they fired into the wrong area which forced the attack to be cancelled. The next attempt by the Lancashire Fusiliers was also a failure with seven killed and fifty-three wounded or missing. A second attempt by the Northamptons faired little better, ‘C’ Company managed to reach the top only to be chased off by Germans with flamethrowers whilst ‘B’ Company, who were in support ran out of ammunition before they reached the top. By this time, the Battalion fighting strength was down to just 135 men, and they were officially reduced to three companies. It took a further two attempts by the East Surreys to capture the point for another huge loss of life[54]. Another problem that beset the Division was an ammunition shortage crisis[55]. In November, the guns were reduced to twenty rounds per day and in January; it was reduced further to just five rounds[56]. For an army that relied heavily on its artillery, it must have had a profound effect.

On 27 October, the Fifth Army suspended operations until the spring and the Division was left in the mountains. Whilst this was occurring, dissention began to bubble in the senior commanders, and there was in effect a palace revolt, with Major-General Arbuthnott, Commander of 11 Brigade, assuming command of the Division, which was made official on 27 November[57]. The official story being that Butterworth was sent home due to ill health[58].

The conditions in the mountains are described by the East Surreys official history as:-
“…possibly the worst ever encountered by the Battalion in the campaign. Heavy rain continued, and it was bitterly cold, the troops had no adequate shelter and there was mud everywhere. In December, there was heavy snowfall: the temperature fell to minus nine degrees Centigrade, and there were blizzards, gales and icy sleet. With the mountain tracks deep in mud, and later covered in ice, the maintenance of the forward troops…became increasingly difficult…food, ammunition and all other requirements had to be carried on the back of fatigue parties”[59].

There was to be no respite from the weather and for the Northamptons at least, they spent forty of the next sixty days in the line[60]. The effect on morale of fighting in the mountains in winter have been discussed for winter 1944, so with the additional problems that the division had faced since Egypt, the desertion figure of 927 men for October to December[61] is a little more understandable. It can be seen in Table 3. that desertions were higher in the East Surreys and Northamptons but it is these battalions from 11 Brigade, who bore the brunt of the weather and the fighting throughout the winter. Both 36 and 38 Brigades having been given a lot more time out of the line[62]. The mountains and the weather alone could not have caused the high desertion rate as the British 1st Division who was also part of the Fifth Army was in a similar position further along the line[63] and had only 626 deserters in the same period[64].

No research has been carried out as to the length of service of those who deserted, and may have been some of the cause. However, a lot of the blame must be laid with events in Egypt. Gregory Blaxland hinted at the main cause when he later wrote:-

“Arbuthnott had in fact steered 78th Division through a crisis brought about by a conflict between the operational ambitions of Fifth Army and some unimaginative decisions by the Military Secretariat and Staff Duties Directorate”

Despite this, Blaxland argues that there was no overall breakdown of morale[67].

In January, the Division moved back to the Eighth Army who by this time had a new commander, Lieutenant- General Richard McCreery. Doherty states that it was McCreery that gave the Eighth Army its greatest boost to morale. So that they were ready for the spring offensive in April, he gave the men intensive training, allowed them adequate time to recuperate and introduced new equipment such as the Kangaroo personnel carrier to protect the men[68]. Stiffer penalties also played their part. In late 1944, a rumour was circulating that an amnesty would be granted to deserters after the war and may have contributed to all the overall desertion numbers. A public contradiction in December did little to staunch the flood and it was not until it was announced that all deserters would forfeit all previous service for reckoning towards release that numbers began to fall[69].

Space precludes inclusion of a number of potential factors that relate to morale for example esprit de corps, why men fight, and the effects of sickness on morale, as they had a limited effect on the 78th Division. In the end, it was the effect of poorly trained replacements, poor senior command and the promise of a three-month break that was taken away when it was in their grasp that brought on the high rate of desertions. Being reduced to a subservient role (when they had previously enjoyed the status of an elite infantry division) and a third winter in the harshest conditions did not help the situation. However, does this mean that morale was low? If the senior command and various commentators are to be believed – no! Certainly, the numbers of deserters are above Wigram’s estimate of normal desertions but as they did not refuse to fight or turn and run, they should be believed. We must also remember that the desertion levels in all the other campaigns were similar and the real crisis in morale had occurred two years before they even landed in Italy.

However, we still need an explanation for the desertions that occurred and for this we should go to Clausewitz. He wrote that morale was made up of a number of forces, the most important being spirit, he continues:-
“This spirit can only be generated from two sources, and only by these two conjointly: the first is a succession of wars and great victories; the other is, an activity of the army carried sometimes to the highest pitch. Only by these, does the soldier learn to know his powers…The soldier is as proud of overcoming toil, as he is of surmounting danger. Therefore it is only in the soil of incessant activity and exertion that the germ will thrive, but also only in the sunshine of victory. Once it becomes a strong tree, it will stand against the fiercest storms of misfortune and defeat... It can therefore only be created in war, and under great generals”[70].
He also warns us not to confuse spirit with temper (mood) which was transient[71]. Therefore, for the majority the spirit was strong, however it had not had time to grow in a few replacements and in others, poor mood brought about by adverse conditions caused the desertions, consequentially whilst the morale, for the most part, although not exceptionally high was acceptable.

Appendix 1.
The Morale Committee factors influencing Morale
The general and immediate military situation.
Confidence in leadership (at unit level and high command).
Efficiency in training and weapons.
Efficiency of unit administration.
Dicipline in the unit.
Pride in the unit and esprit de corps.
Fitness for the job in hand and understanding what it was.
Efficient “Q” services (quarters, mail, rations etc.).
Efficient “A” services (medical, entertainment, newspapers, and canteen).
Efficiency of the machinery of the supply of reinforcements.
The administration rules and routine regulations.
For front line infantry
Successful outcome of operations in which they were involved.
Low casualty rates.
Their own appreciation of their particular military situation and their hope that their own side – especially the artillery would destroy the enemy before they could retaliate.
The ability of officer’s and NCO’s to lead them effectively and maintain good levels of training and discipline.
Efficiency of weapons.
Knowledge that if wounded medical assistance would be prompt and efficient.
Speed and quality of reinforcements.
Strong esprit de corps, comradeship and small group cohesion.
Good rations while in line.
Confortable living conditions.
Sufficient hot food.
Washing facilities.
Entertainment and Leisure time out of the line.
Regular contact with home through a steady supply of national and local newspapers, radio broadcasts and letters to and from loved ones.

Source: C. Bielecki British Infantry Morale during the Italian Campaign 1943-1945 Unpublished PhD Thesis, University College, London, 2006, pp.

Appendix 4.
Reasons for Desertion – The Adjutant-General. February 1944

a) Five percent are criminals who have no interest or intention to fight.
b) Men desert who are nervous and should never have been in the line at all.
c) They desert because they have been overseas to long.
d) Because they have been in the line too long or consider they have had too much continuous fighting.
e) They are sent as reinforcements to strange regiments or battalions in which they have no friends and find they cannot make friends.

End notes
[1] D. Graham & S. Bidwell Tug of War (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military Classics. 2004), p. 185
[2] Ibid, p. 180
[3] C. Bielecki British Infantry Morale during the Italian Campaign 1943-1945 Unpublished PhD Thesis. (London: University College, 2006) p. 22
[4] S. Hart, Colossal Cracks, (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole Books: 2007) p. 21
[5] For example: P. Addison & A. Calder (eds), Time to Kill: The Soldiers Experience of War in the West 1939-1945 (London: Pimlico,1997), D. French, Raising Churchill’s Army: The British Army and the War against Germany, 1919-1945 (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 2000), and T. Harrison Place, Military Training in the British Army 1940-44 (London: Frank Cass, 2000).
[6] Authors interview with Tom Knott formerly 2nd Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment, 13 June 2006.
[7] G. Arris, The Fifth British Division 1939 to 1945. (London: The Fifth Division Benevolent Fund, 1959) p 223. The regiment in question was the Seaforth Highlanders.
[8] The event, now known as the Salerno Mutiny is recounted in Saul David, Mutiny at Salerno 1943. (London: Conway, 2005)
[9] Battle exhaustion was commonly called shell shock during World War One, the soldiers themselves knew it as ‘bomb happy’.
[10] Bielecki, op. cit., p.20
[11] Ibid, p. 13
[12] Ibid, p. 13
[13] Ibid, p. 14
[14] Ibid, p. 17
[15] Ibid, p. 12
[16] Ibid, p. 23
[17] Terry Copp and Bill McAndrew Battle Exhaustion. Soldiers and Psychiatrists in the Canadian Army, 1939-1945, (Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press,1990) p.103
[18] D. French. Discipline and the Death Penalty in the British Army in the War against Germany during the Second World War. Journal of Contemporary History. SAGE Publications, London, Vol 33 No 4, p. 541. accessed 5 March 2008
[19] C. D’Este, Decision in Normandy, (London: Collins, 1983) pp. 282-283
[20] C. D’Este, Fatal Decision, Anzio and the Battle for Rome (London: Arum Press, 2007) p.311
[21] General Sir W. Jackson, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol VI, Victory in The Mediterranean, Part II June to October 1944 (London: HMSO,1987) p. 376
[22] Bielecki, op. cit., p. 178
[23] Notes from Theatres of War, No 20: Italy 1943/1944 p18
[24] Bielecki,op. cit., pp 292-293
[25] Ibid, p. 88
[26] C. Ray, Algiers to Austria: The History of 78 Division 1942-1946 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1982), pp. xvii-xx
[27] Ibid p. 54
[28] French, Raising Churchill’s Army, op. cit., p. 150
[29] Ray, op. cit., pp. 64-68
[30] D. French, Raising Churchill’s Army: The British Army and the War against Germany, 1919-1945 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000),pp. 145-146
[31] Ian McKee, 5th Battalion The Northamptonshire Regiment: Operations with the 78th Battleaxe Division During World War Two (Austria: Joseph Bruchhauser, 1945) p.6
[32] Bielecki, op. cit. p.136
[33] Ray, op. cit., p. 107
[34] Quoted in K. Ford, Battleaxe Division (Stroud: Sutton Publishing.2003) p. 153
[35] Bielecki op. cit p. 152
[36] Ibid, p. 154
[37] Ibid, p. 21
[38] Ford , op. cit., pp. 182-187 and Ray, op. cit., pp. 108-110
[39] McKee, op. cit., p. 19
[40] Ibid, p. 24
[41] Ray, op. cit., p.120
[42] Ibid, pp. 120-121
[43] Bielecki, op. cit., p. 189
[44] Ray, op. cit., p. 122
[45] Ray, op. cit., p. 155
[46] Bielecki, op. cit., p. 152
[47] Bielecki, op. cit., p 154
[48] Ray, op. cit., p. 155
[49] Ford, op. cit., p. 248
[50] Bielecki, op. cit., p. 246
[51] Ibid, p. 249
[52] Ray, op. cit., p. 155
[53] R. Doherty, Eighth Army in Italy: The Long Hard Slog, (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books Ltd. 2007), p. 184
[54] Ford, op. cit., pp 251-253 and Ray, op. cit., pp. 159-170
[55] The shortage came about as a result of a miscalculation in 1943 when stocks were high. James Holland, Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-45 (London: Harper Press, 2008) p.428
[56] Ray, op. cit., p. 179
[57] G. Blaxland. Alexander’s Generals: The Italian Campaign 1944-45, (London: William Kimber, 1979), p. 223
[58] Ray, op. cit., p. 157
[59] Quoted in Ford, op. cit. p. 253
[60] McKee, op. cit., p. 79
[61] Bielecki, op. cit., p. 211
[62] Ray, op. cit., pp. 179-190
[63] Jackson op. cit., p. 34
[64] Bielecki, op. cit., p. 211
[65] Bielecki op. cit., p. 199 & p. 211
[66] Ibid, p.223
[67] Blaxland, op. cit. p.223
[68] Doherty, op. cit., p181
[69] Ibid
[70] Carl von Clausewitz. Translation by J.J. Graham, On War, (Ware:Wordsworth Classics,1997), p. 156
[71] Ibid, p. 157