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Kingfish

Invade the boot, or Sardinia / Corsica?

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Yes, another what if.

Assume that instead of invading Italy outright, the allies instead went after both Sardinia and Corsica in seperate operations. Both are relatively large islands, capable of holding several divisions, and are fairly close to not only central and northern Italy, but southern France as well.

Now assume that these were captured and converted into large staging areas for the invasion of southern Europe. What effect would such a move have on possible allied plans? Would they even bother with landings at Salerno, Taranto and Calabria? Would they instead be planning a possible direct seaborne attack on Rome? Or maybe even farther north in the Pisa / Genoa area? Southern France?

What about the axis? How would such a move affect their overall defensive strategy for southern Europe?

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I suscribe to the armchair general school that teaches that doing the Italian campaign as written was strategically silly. What do you want to achieve? Cut off Germans and force Italy out of the war. How can you do that? Hit the islands exactly as you describe, then stage over to Rome for a quick blow to Italy, get her out of the fight, establish lines north and south of Rome, cut off whatever German forces remain in the Med.

And then of course, as you say, you are well-positioned for landings on the Southern coast of France.

-dale

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Glad to see one of my own favorite what-ifs taking off. Seems to me that taking Sardinia and Corsica puts a whole lot of Mediterranean coastline at risk and poses a pretty problem for the Axis.

I think going into the mainland via Calabria and Taranto is still on because those operations were so easy. But Avalanche seems superfluous. Going for Rome might be a good idea if the stance of German forces allows it. Then again, it might not. Trapping the Germans on the penninsula might be harder than it looks. But harassing the hell out of them as they withdraw might be easy.

I hope this discussion goes somewhere.

smile.gif

Michael

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One of the main reasons for landing in Italy was to appease Stalin's demand that the Western Allies open up an actual second front in Europe.

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IIRC, the only sizeable German force on either island at the time of the Salerno landings was the 90th PG div in Sardinia. I'm not familiar with the Italian garrisons, but by this time they were of questionable value (and maybe even a threat to the Germans). The only unit I can think of that could have reinforced the 90th was the 2nd FJ near Rome, much like 1st FJ did in Sicily, but doing so would have cut by half the forces available to cover Rome and the supply / withdrawal routes to the south.

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Originally posted by Webs:

One of the main reasons for landing in Italy was to appease Stalin's demand that the Western Allies open up an actual second front in Europe.

The main reason was that Sardinia and Corsica are both on the wrong side of the boot from the bloody Balkans, and Churchill wanted to focus on the bloody Balkans.

-dale

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Kingfish,

The reason the Allies invaded at Salerno was that it was within Allied air range, especially with the new Sicilian bases. To invade Corsica and Sardinia would have put us at extreme air range and the Germans at optimum air range (ie our fighters can stay over the area for 5 minutes and theirs can stay for 30 minutes - kinda like Battle of Britain in reverse).

DavidI

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Originally posted by David I:

Kingfish,

The reason the Allies invaded at Salerno was that it was within Allied air range, especially with the new Sicilian bases. To invade Corsica and Sardinia would have put us at extreme air range and the Germans at optimum air range (ie our fighters can stay over the area for 5 minutes and theirs can stay for 30 minutes - kinda like Battle of Britain in reverse).

But in the final analysis, I'm not sure this argument holds much water. There is no indication that Hitler intended to make much of a stand on either island. In fact, German forces were being pulled out already. I know that Corsica, for instance, was occupied by a relatively small contingent of Free French landed by the USN.

The Allies certainly had enough naval and ground forces to take both islands at will. It would have been possible to use aircraft carriers to provide cover for Sardinia, as well as some ground based air from Tunisia, and ground based air flying then from Sardinia to cover an operation aimed either at Rome or at Corsica.

There's another aspect I wonder about. Hitler was all for abandoning Italy south of the Tyrol straight away. It was Kesselring who convinced him that defense of the penninsula farther south was practical. How much harder would Kesselring's task of convincing Hitler have been had the Allies already been in Corsica?

Michael

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Originally posted by Michael Emrys:

There's another aspect I wonder about. Hitler was all for abandoning Italy south of the Tyrol straight away. It was Kesselring who convinced him that defense of the penninsula farther south was practical. How much harder would Kesselring's task of convincing Hitler have been had the Allies already been in Corsica?

Michael [/QB]

And how, how much harder Kesserling's task would be, had the American executed the planned airdrop on Rome immediately after the Italy's armistice, assisted by the Italian army?

Here the question is political, not strategic, but in the mix of greed, misunderstanding and incompentence, all dressed with a great dose of cynism that characterized the armisticial negoziations lies the great missed opportunity of the campaign.

Koenig

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italy_sm04.gif

David,

Distance from either Palermo or Messina to Salerno is roughly 350 miles as the crow flies. Distance from Bizerta to Cagliara (southern tip of Sardinia) is roughly 200 miles. Distance from Cagliara to the nearest point in Italy (Rome area) is close to 400 miles.

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A 3 division invasion force, in conjunction with airborne forces dropped to secure the routes out of Cagliara, would have secured the city inside of 72 hours, far faster than the capture of Naples. The close proximity to bases in NA would have allowed for rapid reinforcements (not that they would have been needed). The Italian garrison would have already surrendered, and with almost no naval assets to speak of the Germans would have been hard pressed to evacuate their own troops from the islands.

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IIRC the decision to invade Italy and not Corsica was for political reasons as well as strategic ones.

The western allies were under a great deal of pressure from Stalin to open up a second front, and the British where under pressure from their US allies for an invasion of the Atlantic coast in 1943. Haunted by their experience in the first world war, Allan Brooke and Churchill were fearful of such an invasion, as they believed the western allies, specifically the US army, did not have sufficient experienced troops to be able to successfully invade France, and that such an invasion in 1943 would fail, with catastrophic consequences.

However, the British had to come up with something to appease both the US and Soviet govt. It is doubtful that anything less than an invasion of mainland Europe would have been enough to placate Stalin.

Corsica or Sardinia would probably not cut the mustard with either Stalin or Marshall, who already had doubts about the British will to win.

Also, the invasion of southern Italy would allow bases for the strategic bombing of central Europe, such as the mining of the Danube, central and eastern Germany etc. Remember, at the time (1942 – 43) there was still a belief by many that strategic bombing could be the decisive factor in the capitulation of Germany. Corsica or Sardinia may not have provided the Allied air force with such bases.

Thirdly, they (the British) probably thought it was a soft underbelly, and that it would be easy.

Cheers

Ed

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Kingfish,

Point taken on Sardinia. Quite frankly I think the eye was on taking Rome, the first Axis Capital to fall. As I recall Salerno was as far up the peninsula that the Airforces were willing to go with airfields in Sicily. Hence no invasion of Naples or Rome.

David I

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Originally posted by Eddy:

It is doubtful that anything less than an invasion of mainland Europe would have been enough to placate Stalin.

OK, I know I've just snipped one bit of quote (sorry Eddy!), and I know this might be a little off topic, and possibly a stupid question, but I've come accross this idea of "pressure" from Stalin before, and I'm just wondering what that all really entailed.

I know the Russians certainly ardently desired the Western Allies to open a second front ASAP, but what means of pressure did they really have to get the Allies to do so promptly?

It seems to me that at the time they would've had limmited cards to play. Threaten to quit fighting the Germans? I mean, really, was that a possibility (making a seperate peace, I mean)?

What other leverage did they have to push the UK/USA to move forward (and not accept a "we'll get around to it when we feel like it" sort of answer)?

Sorry if this is kind of a hijack. That sub-topic just struck a kind of interesting chord with me... ;)

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With Clusters,

I seem to recall it was diplomatic pressure. I think it was in Roy Jenkin's excellent biography of Churhill.

It was nothing as explicit as threatening to break friends, more like sniping at Churchill at the conference in Moscow (IIRC) and to the British ambassador in Moscow (whose name escapes me) nearly all the time.

Churchill also had the problem that around this period the Murmansk convoys were stopped, further giving Stalin a stick to beat Churchill with.

Churchill was desperate to keep what he would see as Britain's status as a world power, and possibly he felt that if Britain looked like it was letting the side down, it would undermine this position.

Anyway, in answer to your question I would say diplomatic pressure, with adding complaining and sniping.

Cheers

Ed

P.S. Churchill probably felt far more pressure to keep the US happy. They could have changed their policy from Germany first to a Japan first, as Admiral King and I think Gen. MacArthur were pushing for.

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Imagine the reception FDR and Churchill would have received at Yalta if they told Stalin in '43 "Screw you, we will open up a second front when we damn well please"

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I think the risk with Stalin was a separate peace with the Germans.

Before Kursk it was not seen as completely impossible.

After the failure of the offensive the Russians felt strong enough to refuse any compromise.

Koenig

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Originally posted by With Clusters:

It seems to me that at the time they would've had limmited cards to play. Threaten to quit fighting the Germans? I mean, really, was that a possibility (making a seperate peace, I mean)?

Stalin allowed strong hints to be floated that a seperate peace was possible. This was done well into 1944 IIRC. That was a threat the Western Allies were in no position to ignore. If carried out, it would have been a disaster for them as Hitler would then have been able to concentrate the bulk of his forces in the west.

But as we now know, probably after Stalingrad and certainly after Kursk, Stalin had no serious intention of making peace until at a minimum all Axis occupied Soviet territory had been liberated. And after the summer of '44 I doubt that he would have stopped before liquidating the Nazi state altogether. That's assuming he had the means to do so.

Michael

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As well as the seperate peace, as Michael and Koenig have stated, there were a few other, more subtle, levers with which he could apply pressure.

The first was specifically the question of Poland after the Nazis had been ejected. This had been the catalyst for the the UK's declaration of war so was still important. Churchill hoped that if he kept Stalin sweet, the London poles would have a say in the post war Poland. And for Poland you could read all of Eastern Europe in general as well.

The second, and probably more important, was that the US and UK wanted Stalin's help with defeating Japan, after victory had been achieved in Europe. Japan had been very careful not get into hostilities with the Soviets. If Britain and the US had been tardy in opening a second front, Stalin could very well be tardy in opening a front with Japan.

So the amount of pressure he could apply was considerable.

However, it works both ways. The western allies and specifically the US could apply pressure back by through logistics. They shipped a staggering amount of material to the Soviets e.g. 13 million winter boots ( very handy ), 2000 locomotives, 5 million tons of food, 427000 vehicles, and loads more boring numbers.

Cheers

Eddy

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Back on topic, what advantage could be gained by going to Sardinia/ Corsica?

I suppose it allows the allies to invade further up the Italian coast, as well as threatening southern France.

Here's the but...

IIRC part of the idea of invading Italy was to draw some troops away from the Eastern front, as well as providing strategic airbases. As such, does it matter where you invade as long as German troops are sent to Italy and your bombers can reach central Europe?

And as for France...

I don't know the terrain in central France. Is it be favourable for the kind of sweeping tank battles the allies envisaged for the liberation of Europe? Or are there areas where an invasion force could become bogged down. One thing I can say is it's an awfully long tail from southern France to the German border, and a long way for the air forces from Britain to support them. Also open to flank attacks form western, or north western France.

Just a few thoughts.

Cheers

Eddy

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Interesting to note that in January 1943, after attending the Casablanca Conference, Eisenhower had his staff draw up a tentative plan for the invasions of Corsica and Sardinia. He was evidently under the impression that they were the next objective after Tunisia. It wasn't until sometime in May that he got the word that Husky would aim for Sicily.

Even so, I believe there was still some talk of going after Corsica right after Sicily. (I suppose once Sicily fell, and the Italian government began secret negotiations for surrender, going the long way around seemed superfulous).

But I see yr point, and I'd have to agree it makes strategic sense. But when it comes to Churchill's Hellenic jones, "strategic sense" are two words that never seem to apply.

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Originally posted by Eddy:

Here's the but...

IIRC part of the idea of invading Italy was to draw some troops away from the Eastern front, as well as providing strategic airbases. As such, does it matter where you invade as long as German troops are sent to Italy and your bombers can reach central Europe?

It does if, on the one hand, it complicates your opponent's situation while easing your own.

By ocupying these two islands you force the Germans to defend the entire western coast of Italy as well as southern France. That is a huge manpower drain on German reserves, at almost no cost to the allied side.

At the same time the allies would enjoy greater flexibility in choosing where to land on the European continent. The two islands could be converted to huge springboards for the upcoming invasion, complete with multiple airbases to support the landings.

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It seems like a heckuva good idea to me. And as KF suggested initially, Sardinia and Corsica are not destinations in themselves, but jumping off points toward somewhere else. So the politically and strategically necessary attack somewhere on the European mainland would shortly follow. The point being that--once airbases were established on the two islands-- that invasion point could really be anywhere along the western coast of Italy, or also in Southern France. Thus, the strategic problem for the Germans of where to defend and how becomes immediately very difficult. Whereas, the Germans easily guessed that Salerno was the target on the Italian boot, because that was the furthest extent of Allied fighter range from Sicily. And from there on they made life very tough on the Allies.

The timing here is interesting. The Allies invaded Salerno on Sept 9 and Taranto on Sept 10. Meanwhile, Hitler was evacuating Sardinia and had completely pulled out by Sept 18. Corsica was invaded on Sept 20 by a small Free French force, and was shortly in Allied hands. So, the Allies quickly had these islands, anyway. BUT, because they had already invaded in southern Italy in force, they were already committed and could not exploit these new bases. The Germans knew they had the Allies pinned down in the S. Italian mountains and didn't have to worry about an attack elsewhere. By taking the islands first, the Allies would leave the question of the next step open, and, by only slightly delaying the mainland invasion, they gain what would appear to be a significant strategic advantage.

My own vote would be to secure the Corsican airfields ASAP, and then land in great force either at Anzio (the problem with the later invasion there was not the location but the insufficiency of force) or at the best available beaches just north of Rome. This would trap existing German forces south of the invasion point--or force their extremely hasty retreat up the east coast. It would bypass some of the worst Italian terrain, and possibly force the Germans out of Italy post-haste.

Southern France would remain an intriguing possibility and threat.

[ December 08, 2004, 07:43 AM: Message edited by: CombinedArms ]

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