The President’s Personal Representative in North Africa (Murphy) to the President
My Dear Mr. President: In accordance with the instructions of the Commander-in-Chief I departed from Algiers on August 31st with General Walter B. Smith, the Chief of Staff, Mr. Harold Macmillan, British Minister Resident at Allied Force Headquarters, and General Zanussi, the second emissary sent to Lisbon by General Ambrosio, arriving at Cassibile airport, near Syracusa (this is a landing field which our forces carved out of an almond grove and is a splendid piece of work), and stopped at Fairfield Camp nearby. We arrived simultaneously with Brigadier General Strong, Assistant Chief of Staff G–2, who had gone to Palermo in advance to meet Giuseppe [Page 1276] Castellano, who, accompanied by Signor Montanari (of the Italian Foreign Office acting as interpreter—his mother is an American), arrived from Rome that morning. Castellano, you will recall, was the first emissary sent by Marshal Pietro Badoglio to Lisbon. Castellano and Montanari were the emissaries at Lisbon with whom General Smith and Brigadier Strong conferred two weeks ago. In the party at Fairfield were also Brigadier Sugden (G–3 at Allied Force Headquarters), Commodore Dick, Chief of Staff of Admiral Cunningham, General Joseph Cannon and General Lemnitzer, both of whom are now with the 15th Army Group.
General Zanussi and General Castellano got together for a few minutes and then entered into a military conference with General Smith and the others above-mentioned, Macmillan and I staying in another tent with General Alexander who had come over from the headquarters of the 15th Army Group.
This meeting lasted until about 2 p.m. According to General Smith, General Castellano’s attitude had stiffened considerably since his meeting in Lisbon. Both General Smith and Brigadier Strong attributed this to the arrival in Italy of increased German forces which now amount to nineteen divisions. It was apparent that in the minds of the Italians the great question was not the character nor the harshness of our armistice terms (you will recall that the British Ambassador in Lisbon1 had communicated to General Zanussi informally the complete armistice terms),2 or even the question of unconditional surrender. The outstanding factor is that the Italians are not free agents at liberty to do as they please. It is a nice balance in their minds whether we or their German allies will work the most damage and destruction in Italy. They are literally between the hammer and the anvil.
The Italian representatives in this first conversation at Fairfield insisted that they could do but little and were not prepared to sign anything, long or short terms, unless we could guarantee an Allied landing north of Rome—even a little bit north of Rome. They asserted that if we only land south of Rome the Germans will take the city and everything north of it. In their minds the slaughter, pillage and destruction would be too awful to contemplate.
General Smith made no commitments but said there was a possibility of our landing—for example, a force of airborne troops north of the Eternal City. The Italians said that in such a case their forces would guarantee no opposition to the landings on the Rome airfields and would aid our forces in holding them.
There was lengthy discussion of the military situation, eventual German plans, the possibility of a German deal with Russia and also [Page 1277] the question of the Italian fleet. Commodore Dick appeared confident that the Italians are prepared to yield on the fleet and come over. There was considerable question of an operation in Taranto which was subsequently developed and now contemplates the landing of the First British Airborne Division in cooperation with the fleet and with the promised cooperation of the Italian forces.
After the military meeting, Macmillan and I had a brief conversation with Generals Castellano and Zanussi. We impressed on them the urgency of stimulating their government to take immediate steps, reminding them that this is their last chance. The Allies, we pointed out, had not bombed the city of Rome as yet, but there was no reason to defer such action. We suggested that if the Italians declined now to accept and sign, three things were indicated:
- The King and the present Italian Government would be all through as far as the Allies are concerned.
- We would be obliged to incite disorder and anarchy throughout Italy, even though it might not appear that it would be in our interest to do so and from the military point of view such a state of affairs might present certain disadvantages.
- We would obviously be obliged to bomb relentlessly and on a large scale until all the major Italian cities, including Rome, would be reduced to ashes and piles of rubble.
The reaction of the Italians remained the same and in a sense it was like preaching to the converted. The fact remained that the Rome Government still appears more afraid of the immediate German peril than of the Allies. Generals Castellano and Zanussi both said that it is a question of inducing the cautious and frightened men at Rome who, as much as they yearned to be rid of the Germans, lack the bold initiative to act against them, especially as they are not entirely convinced that the Allies are strong enough to take immediately a major part of Italy, even with Italian help, and protect the country against the large German forces. The latter, in their fury against the Italians, they believe, would unquestionably destroy ruthlessly.
Generals Castellano and Zanussi were permitted to depart from Sicily about 5 p.m. August 31st, returning to Rome by Italian plane via Palermo. It was understood between them and General Smith that if Allied Force Headquarters had no reply indicating Italian acceptance by midnight September 1st, the Allies would find it necessary to bomb Rome heavily.
That evening we dined with General Alexander and after dinner General Smith, Brigadier [Major General] Richardson, Macmillan and I went with General Alexander to his trailer for a discussion. General Alexander, as he had done in our earlier conversation that day, emphasized the weakness of the Allied position and the danger that unless the Allies are actively aided by the Italians in landing in Avalanche and elsewhere, the operations might fail or at least gain a [Page 1278] limited success at a very heavy cost of lives. It was obvious that in his mind, as well as that of Macmillan, a disaster at the present time would have a catastrophic effect in England even to the extent, they say, of causing the fall of the British Government and seriously compromising Britain’s determination to remain in the war. They talked much of the fatigue, both of the British people as well as of the soldiers, many of whom have been away from home over three years. General Alexander pointed out that the Germans now have at least nineteen divisions in Italy which, added to the sixteen Italian divisions, makes a total of thirty-five divisions. Avalanche contemplates an initial landing of three to five divisions and a build-up over two weeks of a maximum of eight divisions. He also emphasized that a landing on a hostile shore is the most dangerous of military operations. General Alexander, therefore, is positive that literally everything must be done to persuade the Italians to help our forces, both during the landing as well as afterwards. Without that aid he would have no assurance of success. There would be, in his opinion, a grave risk of disaster. He urged that nothing be neglected to persuade the Italians to cooperate and said that he would be quite willing to risk his reputation and, if necessary, to retire from the army should his Government disapprove his insistence on immediate signature by the Italians of the short armistice terms, and Allied acceptance of Italian military cooperation.
On September 1st a radio message was sent from Allied Force Headquarters to Rome, in accordance with the recommendation of Generals Smith and Alexander, that Allied airborne forces should land in the Rome area incident to Avalanche . This was done after Brigadier Strong, Commodore Dick and Brigadier Sugden returned to Algiers and reported to General Eisenhower, who considered their recommendations, as well as that of Admiral Cunningham, who has always vigorously supported the idea of an operation in the Rome area.
We therefore waited at the Fairfield Camp, which is pleasantly situated in an olive grove, making a side trip to Palermo (one hour by air) to inspect the Allied Military Government organization there. Incidentally, we found that the Allied Military Government has performed remarkably well and we greatly admired both the efficiency as well as the fine spirit of both the American and British officers who are engaged in that task.
After dinner September 1st, we received a radio message from Rome saying that the emissaries would return on the morning of September 2nd. This was most encouraging and General Smith decided to go to the Termini airfield to meet their plane. On August 31st the Italian plane had landed at the Palermo airport by mistake and caused somewhat [Page 1279] of a sensation. It had been expected at Termini, a more isolated airport which is a bit east of Palermo.
Early on September 2nd General Smith met the Italians at Termini and accompanied them to Fairfield—General Castellano, Signor Montanari, Major Marchesi and the Italian pilot who, incidentally, knows the Rome airports well.
General Smith ascertained from the Italians that they were not yet authorized to sign either the short or the long armistice terms, but that they were instructed to discuss the matter of military cooperation with the Allies. They suggested that the signature be postponed until after the Allied landing on the mainland. This sounded bad and General Smith indicated great dissatisfaction. The Italians had brought with them considerable military data—maps showing the disposition of the German forces, etc.
It was decided at this point that General Alexander should make an impressive entrance in full dress uniform, approach the Italians, who were in a tent which had been assigned to them at Fairfield, and indicate that he was coldly furious that they had returned unprepared to sign, thus wasting our time. He went through with this performance very well, making thereafter a stern exit, and the Italians seemed impressed. General Alexander insisted also afterwards, in discussing the matter with us, that under no circumstances were the Italians to leave Fairfield unless and until they signed. General Smith missed no opportunity to impress on the Italians the terrible destruction and chaos which their country would suffer if they failed.
Shortly thereafter the Italians requested the transmission of a radio message to Rome in which they urgently recommended that immediate authorization be given them to sign and discuss afterwards the details of military cooperation with the Allies. This was done about noon.
It was decided also that, in the interval, it would be best to let the Italian representatives “stew in their own juice” and all conversation with them was avoided.
General Alexander, in a conversation with us, reviewed again the disproportionate situation of fighting thirty-five Axis divisions with an initial five or six divisions available in the first days of Avalanche , and those not even landed but faced wth the perilous test of getting ashore under the fire of several first class German divisions. He again and again said that our forces needed every possible aid we could induce by hook or crook the Italians to extend. He said he was ready to stake his military career in the effort to prevail upon the Italians to come over to our camp, employing any ruse or subterfuge to gain this end. Everyone agreed that the odds against the Allies without Italian aid are unreasonably great and were determined to prevail on [Page 1280] the Italians to sign the short terms and then work out the details of military cooperation.
In the afternoon of September 2nd we were greatly relieved to receive from the Commander-in-Chief a message saying that you and the Prime Minister were agreed that our dealings with the Italians should be governed by military considerations alone.3 We had all been disturbed over the thought that it might be believed that the stage was all set for a public Allied–Italian armistice ceremony, forgetting that the Italians are living in the cage with the tiger and are not free agents. Military necessity required that the negotiations be conducted with the Italians in the greatest secrecy.
During the afternoon I participated in a conference attended by Generals Cannon, Timberlake, Lemnitzer and Taylor, who are engaged in the preliminary planning for the landing of the 82nd Airborne Division on the Rome airports. They all agreed that it is a hazardous undertaking which could only succeed if the four Italian divisions in the Rome area, or part of them, actively cooperate in resisting the German Panzer forces said to be six hours distant. They all thought the risk was worth taking, even if the divisions were lost.
No news was received from Rome late September 2nd because the last message from Allied Force Headquarters despatched from Castellano to General Ambrosio was only transmitted at 9 p.m. due to atmospheric difficulties. In that message General Castellano informed General Ambrosio that it was urgently necessary that he be authorized to sign immediately and that Marshal Badoglio transmit to the British Minister in the Vatican4 a document confirming the authorization to accept the terms unconditionally and to sign the short armistice terms.
We received on the morning of September 3rd an encouraging message from Rome saying that the matter was under consideration. At 4:30 p.m. a radio message was received from the Badoglio Government granting General Castellano the necessary authority and stating that the deposit of the document confirming the authorization had been made. The British later received advice that the document had been deposited with the British Minister in the Vatican.
In the meantime General Eisenhower had arrived on a visit to Sicily in connection with the Baytown operation and conferred with General Smith, several officers, Macmillan and myself. He approved General Smith’s signing the armistice terms as his representative as a strictly military arrangement which must be regarded as highly [Page 1281] secret until announcement can be made a few hours before the Avalanche operation.
At 5:30 p.m. on September 3rd, at Fairfield. Camp, the short armistice terms with Italy were signed in behalf of Field Marshal Pietro Badoglio, Head of the Italian Government, by Brigadier General Giuseppe Castellano, and in behalf of Lieutenant General [General] Dwight Eisenhower, Allied Commander-in-Chief, by Major General Walter B. Smith, Chief of Staff.
After congratulations and amenities, General Eisenhower informed General Castellano that the latter had acted in the best interests of his country. General Eisenhower stated that in the case of the Italian people, as had been the case of all other peoples determined to combat Nazi Germany, the Italians could count on the Allies for full cooperation to this end. General Eisenhower thereupon bade General Castellano goodbye and departed for North Africa.
Thus, precisely four years after Great Britain and France declared war on Germany, the duly constituted Italian authorities acknowledged Italy’s defeat, surrendered unconditionally to an American General acting as Chief of Staff to another American General, the Allied Commander-in-Chief. But the Italians went further and agreed to place the resources of their country in the fight on the side of the Allies against Germany. It is truly an historic milestone.
Incidentally, the signature occurred under an olive tree and I enclose a branch of the olive tree as a souvenir.
General Alexander arrived immediately thereafter and a discussion of Italian military cooperation with the Allies ensued between the Italians and Allied staff officers through the night.
Before the military conversations several questions were asked by General Castellano and Montanari regarding the possibilities which would face the Italian Government in the event of a German spearhead movement to seize Rome. General Castellano talked of the Italian Government and King proceeding to Corsica or Sardinia or Sicily, but expressed a preference for Albania. Macmillan and I took no position but mentioned that possibly in such an event the Palermo region of Sicily might be considered should circumstances require, in which case the Allied forces might delimit a region where Italian sovereignty would be maintained. It was pointed out, however, that the Italian mainland would be available after the future Allied military operations, the details of which, of course, had not been disclosed to the Italians, had been successfully completed.
Immediately after the military surrender terms had been signed General Smith, in accordance with your instructions,5 handed General [Page 1282] Castellano the text of the full armistice terms6 with a covering letter which made it clear that these terms must be accepted. It is our thought that as soon as direct contact with the Italian Government can be established after landing, the complete armistice can be signed with appropriate ceremony on behalf of the United Nations and in the presence of their representatives.
At this point I want to speak a word of sincere praise for the superb manner in which General W. B. Smith has handled these negotiations under the intelligent supervision of General Eisenhower. It is an excellent example of what our military men are capable when put to the test.
General Castellano seemed perturbed over some of the conditions, but a detailed discussion of them was avoided.
Macmillan and I also discussed with General Smith the matter of setting up a program for the radio announcement by the King and Badoglio of the signing of an armistice. This would be made immediately prior to Avalanche . Macmillan made the point that the announcement should be prepared and registered on phonographic discs so that they could be given immediate and widespread publicity by radio stimulating the maximum aid for our military operations from the Italian people and armed forces. It was agreed to order General McClure to Fairfield immediately to work out the details of this program.
Among the miscellaneous items of information we gathered from the Italians was that Farinacci left Rome wearing a German uniform by the German Embassy plane, which took him to Germany. They also informed us that von Rahn, a German diplomat with the rank of Minister, arrived in Rome four days ago. We recalled his odorous reputation in French affairs. He was the agent who proceeded to Syria in 1941 and was one of the most effective German elements in France after the armistice. We believe that his arrival in Rome may portend the imminence of a German political spearhead involving an effort to capture the King and the Badoglio Government, looking to the establishment of a Farinacci Quisling régime. The Italians stated that Farinacci has absolutely no popular support.
The Italians told us also that over 600,000 additional persons, refugees from the northern bombed cities in Italy, especially Turin and Milan, are now in Rome, because they believe that Rome will be protected from Allied bombing. This is one of the weak points of the Italian position and explains the Italian reaction to our suggestion that it would probably be necessary to bomb the city if prompt and favorable action were not immediately undertaken. It would appear that not much would be necessary to create complete demoralization [Page 1283] of a surplus population of hundreds of thousands who have literally no other place to go.
General Castellano informed me in strictest secrecy that Mussolini is now in Maddalena (a small island off the northeast corner of Sardinia). Ciano has departed from Rome but Castellano does not know his whereabouts. Castellano also indicated that during the course of Mussolini’s last meeting with Hitler at Verona,7 Hitler promised numerous German divisions from the Russian front but said they could not arrive in Italy before October when the mud in Russia would reduce operations in that area.
All of the Italians said that food conditions in Italy are unsatisfactory, largely due to the prevailing lack of transportation. There are important supplies of food in the country, resulting particularly from the excellent cereal crop, but inadequate distribution reduces the supply in urban centers. There is a flourishing black market.
You may have heard the story of General Patton at Licata. The Podestà at that place pointed out to General Patton the ruins of a former Greek temple, saying that it had been destroyed in the last war. General Patton expressed surprise and said that he had not realized that Licata had been shelled in the 1914–18 war. The Podestà explained that he was not referring to the 1914–18 war, but that by the last war he meant the second Punic War.