Roosevelt Papers: Telegram

Prime Minister Churchill to President Roosevelt1

top secret

Prime Minister to President Roosevelt, Personal and Top Secret, number 772.

General Alexander received a telegram from SHAEF asking for efforts to be made to prevent the withdrawal of more divisions from the Italian Front. This of course was the consequence of the great weakening of our Armies in Italy and has taken place entirely since the attack on the Riviera.3 In all, four divisions have left including a very strong Panzer en route for Chalon. However, in spite of the weakening process Alexander began about three weeks ago to plan with Clark to turn or pierce the Apennines. For this purpose the British 13 Corps of four divisions has been placed under General Clark’s orders and we have been able to supply him with the necessary artillery of which his army had been deprived. This army of eight divisions—four American and four British—is now grouped around Florence in a northerly axis.

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By skinning the whole front and holding long stretches with nothing but anti-aircraft gunners converted to a kind of artillery-infantry and supported by a few armoured brigades, Alexander has also been able to concentrate ten British or British controlled divisions representative of the whole British Empire on the Adriatic flank. The leading elements of these attacked before midnight on the 25th and a general barrage opened and an advance began at dawn on the 26th. An advance of about nine miles was made over a large area but the main position, the Gothic Line, has still to be encountered. I had the good fortune to go forward with this advance and was consequently able to form a much clearer impression of the modern battlefield than is possible from the kinds of pinnacles and perches to which I have hitherto been confined.

The plan is that the Eighth Army of ten divisions very heavily weighted in depth will endeavour to pierce the Gothic Line and turn the whole enemy’s position entering the Po Valley on the level of Rimini but at the right moment depending on the reactions of the enemy Mark Clark will strike with his eight divisions and the elements of both armies will converge to Bologna. If all goes well I hope that the advance will be much more rapid after that and that the continued heavy fighting will prevent further harm being done to Eisenhower by the withdrawal of divisions from Italy.

I have never forgotten your talks to me at Teheran about Istria4 and I am sure that the arrival of a powerful army in Trieste and Istria in four or five weeks would have an effect far outside purely military values. Tito’s people will be awaiting us in Istria. What the condition of Hungary will be then I cannot imagine but we shall at any rate be in a position to take full advantage of any great new situation.

  1. Sent by the United States Military Attaché, London, via Army channels.
  2. According to Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, pp. 122–124, he sent this message from Naples on August 28; it was relayed via London.
  3. i.e., the Allied landings which took place on the southern coast of France on August 15, 1944 (Operation Dragoon).
  4. See Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy, p. 63, and Foreign Relations, The Conferences at Cairo and Tehran, 1943, p. 493.