This Day In History: The Allies Land At Salerno and Tarranto in WW II

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On this day in 1943, the allies landed on mainland Italy, they successfully established beachheads at Taranto and Salerno. They had previously landed in Sicily and had in a matter of weeks managed to sweep the Germans from the island. Only a few days earlier the Italian Government under Prime Minister Marshal Badoglio surrendered. However, the Germans had quickly occupied the country and with their hardline Fascist allies, they make plans to resist any Allied takeover of Italy.  The allies launch Operation Avalanche, the land invasion of Salerno, and Operation Slapstick, the British airborne invasion of Taranto, both in southern Italy on this date .

The U.S. 5th Army under Lieutenant Genera Mark Clark landed along the Salerno coastline. They experienced little or no resistance. This was because the Germans had been unsure of where the invasion would be and that they were still in the process of taking over Italy. This, together and the fact that they are still recovering from their recent defeat in Sicily meant that they could not effectively oppose the landings.   British Commando units and their American special forces, the U.S. Rangers, landed on the peninsula itself at Salerno and secured a beachhead for the main invasion force. It had been chosen as the site for invasion of mainland Italy because it was the most northerly point to which the Allies could fly planes from their airfields in Sicily to provide air support to the invasion force .  The main invasion force was landed after the Commandos and Rangers had secured the area.  Fire from warships provided cover and the beach landings went relatively smooth, with practically no opposition. It was not until 48 hours later that the Germans  mounted a heavy counterattack on the beachhead.  By this time the Americans and the British were dug in and General Clark called in the American 82nd Airborne Division for support. With the help of the Paratroop Division the Allies not only beat back the attack but they were also able to press on and take Salerno. Here the allies are welcomed at liberators.

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American forces coming under fire at Salerno (1943)

Meanwhile, the British 1st Airborne Division had successfully landed at Taranto, after which they captured the airfield at Foggia.  The British experienced practically no opposition from the Germans and the local Italians were in the main delighted to see them. The British used Taranto, which was also a major naval port as a base to press north. The Allies managed to press north with little or no opposition. However, they are soon to meet stiff German resistance at Monte Casino. The war in Italy was to become a war of attrition with the Germans under their wily commander Kesselring adopted defensive tactics to slow down and halt the Allies advance under Generals Clarke, commander of the American forces and General Alexander, commander of the British and British Empire forces.

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British mortar team in action near Salerno (1943)
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