Allied invasion of Italy - Operations BAYTOWN, AVALANCHE and SLAPSTICK.

Friday, 3 September, 1943 - Tuesday, 5 October, 1943
Salerno Landing AVALANCHE Fifth Army
Op AVALANCHE - Salerno Landing Plan, Fifth Army

The Allied invasion of mainland Italy by General Alexander's 15th Army Group, comprising General Clark's Fifth ((US) Army and General Montgomery's Eighth Army, began when Montgomery launched his XIII Corps on Operation BAYTOWN on 3 September 1943, crossing from Sicily to Calabria on the toe of Italy. Operation AVALANCHE, the land invasion at Salerno by General Mark Clark's US Fifth Army (which included the UK's X Corps) and Operation SLAPSTICK, the 1st (UK) Airborne Division sea landing at Taranto and Brindisi, followed on 9 September.

Taranto (Left, Op SLAPSTICK, British airborne troops approaching Taranto in a landing craft, during the invasion of Italy, 14 September 1943)

Despite the surrender of Italy, the landings would be opposed by the Germans, especially at Salerno, where Field Marshal Kesselring, the German regional commander, was expecting the main Allied assault to be in the vicinity of Naples to the north of Clark's landings. He had already positioned the 16th Panzer Division at Salerno.

IWM NA6828By 11 September, four of the Fifth Army's divisions were ashore, but five Panzer Divisions of the German Tenth Army were ready to resist their advance. The British X Corps, the Northern Attack Force, were unable to break out towards Naples. The US Sixth Corps, the Southern Attack Force, could not break out to the south and the Salerno landing, with its extended 35 mile front, meant that these two attack forces being too widely spread were unable to support each other effectively.

(Right, Salerno, 9 September 1943 (Operation Avalanche): A British mortar crew in action)

Kesselring counterattacked Clark's landings along the line of the River Sele on 12 September and almost succeeded in splitting the beachhead in two. However, Allied air and naval firepower held back the German attack. On 14 September, The Germans withdrew north and the Salerno beachhead was secure. Meanwhile, the Eighth Army was continuing to advance north against little resistance and on 20 September, Montgomery and Clark's armies met at Ponte Sele and by the 5 October, the Allies were entering Naples.

The Sele River in ancient times was known as Silarus. This river was the location of the battle of the Silarus in which Hannibal won a major victory over the Romans, and it is also where Spartacus died fighting the Romans.