This week in the War, 19–25 July 1943: Mussolini is fired by the King

Benito Mussolini with King Vittorio Emanuele III (centre), on friendly terms in 1941 [Public domain]

Benito Mussolini with King Vittorio Emanuele III (centre), on friendly terms in 1941 [Public domain]

This week in the war saw Rome bombed for the first time by the Allies (on 19 July 1943). The week also saw the Italian Grand Council of Fascism vote against Mussolini’s continued rule. (Mussolini’s son-in-law, Count Ciano, was one of those present and voting against the Duce.)

On the following day, 25 July 1943, the Duce was summoned to the royal palace. King Victor Emmanuel told Mussolini that he had been replaced by Marshal Pietro Badoglio and Mussolini was arrested as he left. There was rejoicing in the streets of Rome.

The man who had sided with Hitler and taken Italy to war, first against Haile Selassie’s Abyssinia, then against France and Britain, then Greece, the Soviet Union and the USA, the man who had once eyed Egypt and planned to parade through Cairo in triumph, was no longer at the helm. Italian cities were being bombed. Italian workers were striking. Hitler’s promises were proving hollow and Sicily had been invaded.

To the Italians, the fall of Benito Mussolini meant peace was finally in sight.

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This week in the War, 12–18 July 1943: Hitler calls an end to the Battle of Kursk

Panzer VI (Tiger) tank of the Waffen-SS Division 'Das Reich' near Kursk [Bundesarchiv_Bild_Zschaeckel-207-12]

Panzer VI (Tiger) tank of the Waffen-SS Division ‘Das Reich’ near Kursk [Bundesarchiv_Bild_Zschaeckel-207-12]

This week in the war, on 12 July 1943, Hitler summoned two of his generals, Günther von Kluge and Erich von Manstein, to his headquarters in East Prussia (the Wolf’s Lair) and ordered them to end the massive tank battle raging near the Soviet town of Kursk, some 450 kilometers southwest of Moscow. The German plan had been to attack the bulge in the Soviet line, the ‘Kursk salient,’ simultaneously from the north and south, thereby cutting off and destroying the enemy infantry and armoured forces trapped within.

The Battle of Kursk had begun on 5 July and most Germans, particularly Hitler, had been expecting to win—in part because of the massive force of tanks they had assembled. These included the new Panthers and Tigers.

Within days, it became clear that the battle could end in failure. The German panzer force was suffering irreparable losses but still failing to advance deeply enough into Soviet territory. Despite the continued optimism of von Manstein, whose troops had been performing well, Hitler called an end to the offensive. He was already worried by the recent Allied invasion of Sicily and was intent on moving troops from the Eastern Front to Italy.

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This week in the War, 5 July–11 July 1943: The invasion of Sicily—Operation Husky

Canadian troops of the Carleton & York Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade, move inland from the beaches, Sicily, July 1943 [Public domain]

Canadian troops of the Carleton & York Regiment, 3rd Infantry Brigade, move inland from the beaches, Sicily, July 1943 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on the night of 9/10 July 1943, the Allies launched Operation Husky, an amphibious and airborne invasion of Sicily that foreshadowed the similar but much larger invasion of Normandy (D-Day). The aim of the Sicily/Italian campaign was to knock Italy out of the war. Preparations had been extensive and included a clever deception plan, Operation Mincemeat.

The joint force of British and Canadians (both under the command of General Bernard Montgomery) and Americans (commanded by Lieutenant General George Patton) landed on the southern shores of the island and began fighting their way north, aiming in the end for the Straits of Messina that separate Sicily from the ‘boot’ of Italy. Most of the troops opposing the Allies were Italian. Although smaller in number, the German forces included the Hermann Göring panzer division and the 15th Panzer Grenadiers.

Sicily [Public domain, author: Gigillo83]

Sicily [Public domain, author: Gigillo83]

For the soldiers of Montgomery’s Eighth Army, Sicily was a change from the desert. There were orange and lemon trees and wine aplenty, courtesy of a friendly population. There were also mosquitoes that carried malaria and caused many casualties amongst the troops, despite preventive measures.

Victory for the Allies was achieved by 17 August but most of the German forces were able to escape across the water to the Italian mainland.

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This week in the War, 28 June–4 July 1943: The United States Women’s Army Corps

WWII recruitment poster for the Women's Army Corps [Public domain]

WWII recruitment poster for the Women’s Army Corps [Public domain]

In the USA this week in the war, on 1 July 1943, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corps was renamed the Women’s Army Corps and the organization was granted full status.

Possibilities for employment within the WAC included telephone operator, baker, seamstress, and also (expanding into the then more male domains) mechanic and armorer.

Despite resentment from some male colleagues (and some male colleagues’ wives) the WACs played an important role in the war, not only on home territory but also in Europe, North Africa and New Guinea. General Douglas MacArthur was a staunch fan.

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This week in the War, 21–27 June 1943: Baldur von Schirach falls from grace

Happier days: Baldur von Schirach (centre) with Japanese boy scout leaders in Bremen, 1937 [Public domain]

Happier days: Baldur von Schirach (centre) with Japanese boy scout leaders in Bremen, 1937 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 24 June 1943, the one-time Hitler Youth Leader (Reichsjugendführer) Baldur von Schirach quarreled with Hitler over the need to make peace with the Allies. Although Hitler did not dismiss him from his post of Gauleiter of Vienna, the rift between the two men was permanent.

Von Schirach had been appointed head of the Hitler Youth in 1933 and had featured prominently in the Nazi hierarchy and in the Nuremberg rallies. When he left Germany to fight in the Battle of France, he lost his Reichsjugendführer position to Artur Axmann but returned home to be appointed Nazi chief in Vienna.

After the war, during his trial at Nuremberg, he condemned Hitler and the Nazi regime. (As did Albert Speer.) Even so, he served over twenty years in prison for his role in sending Viennese Jews to the extermination camps in the east.

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This week in the War, 14–20 June 1943: The Tuskegee Airmen

Tuskegee Airmen in the Mediterranean theatre, WWII [Public domain]

Tuskegee Airmen in the Mediterranean theatre, WWII [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 18 June 1943, six American P-40 Warhawks, piloted by some of the soon-to-be-famous Tuskegee Airmen, were attacked by German Focke-Wulfs over the Mediterranean island of Pantelleria—which had recently fallen into Allied hands.

The ‘Tuskegee Airmen’ was the name given to the African-American pilots who flew fighter planes or bombers during World War II. They trained at the Tuskegee Army Airfield near Tuskegee, Alabama, and were all graduates of Tuskegee University.

Tuskegee Airmen receive Congressional gold medals from US President George W. Bush, Washington DC, 2007 [Public domain]

Tuskegee Airmen receive Congressional gold medals from US President George W. Bush, Washington DC, 2007 [Public domain]

The 18 June 1943 encounter was the Tuskegee Airman’s first taste of combat. They fought off the attack by the dozen or so enemy fighters and both sides returned to their bases without suffering any losses.

The Tuskegee Airmen would serve in Italy and central Europe and many received DFCs for their bravery. They shot down a large number of enemy planes including, near the end of the war, some of the Luftwaffe’s most up-to-date jet fighters.

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This week in the War, 7–13 June 1943: Pantelleria

Men of The Duke of Wellington Regiment on Pantelleria, June 1943 [Public domain]

Men of The Duke of Wellington Regiment on Pantelleria, June 1943 [Public domain]

This week in the war, on 11 June 1943, the garrison of the Italian island of Pantelleria surrendered when troops of the British 1st Division landed. The tiny island of Lampedusa surrendered the following day.

Pantelleria is 100km southwest of Sicily, which the Allies had already marked down as the target to be invaded next. (See Operation Mincemeat.) The occupation of Pantelleria (Operation Corkscrew) was an essential step in assuring the success of the Sicily Invasion (Operation Husky).

Round-the-clock bombing of Pantelleria had begun in May and had continued until early June.

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