The Forgotten Army, Italy 1943-1945



I have used the above heading as something that was used to describe the fighting that was going on in Italy during WW2; after the launch of the D-Day Landing on the Normandy Coast in 1944. There were two armies fighting in Italy at that time, predominantly the United States (US) 5th and the British 8th. The only reporting has been about the US 5th Army on the Mediterranean side of Italy by the Snow family on BBC television. There seems to have been no mention of the fighting on at the Adriatic side. I am going to try to correct that situation by covering the landing into Taranto on the toe of Italy, through to Trieste at the northern end of the Adriatic coast.


The invasion of mainland Italy started with the British 8th Army landing at Taranto on 3rd September 1943 and an operation named “Baytown”. As a matter of interest, the US 5th Army landed on the 9th September 1943 against heavy German resistance at Salerno in operation “Avalanche”. The 8th Army were able to make relatively easy progress for a while up the eastern coast, capturing the Port of Brindisi, Bari, as well as airfields around Foggia, which provided a base from which US bombers were able to exploit the opportunity to bomb oil fields in Romania and various places in northern Germany. There was an interesting episode by the American Air Force who rescued 500 POW’s after landing in Yugoslavia with the assistance of the Italian Partisans.


What has never been reported is the raid by German bombers on the port of Bari on the evening of 2nd December 1943. A small number of planes succeeded in destroying 17 Allied merchant ships and killing well over 1000 military personnel, merchant seamen and many local civilians. The Commonwealth Cemetery in Bari contains 2128 graves. It is reported that every available docking space was occupied, with ships anchored out beyond the jetties jutting out into the Adriatic. The dockyards had become such a beehive of activity that unloading was carried out during the night under the glare of lights. The German bombers had a perfect target – it was described as a “cake walk”. The ships already in the harbour contained a great store of ammunition, along with trucks, bales of clothing and hundreds of canvas mail bags for the troops. Alongside them was a US Navy tanker with half million gallons of high-octane gasoline on board. One ship, “John Harvey”, carried as part of its cargo, 100 tons of mustard gas bombs. It was thought that Germany were going to use mustard gas in attacks during the campaigns in Italy, they did not!


With successful Allied landings completed at Taranto units established themselves in various camps and carried out training in preparation for the fighting that lay ahead. As the Allies advanced northwards encountering increasingly difficult terrain, characterised by a succession of fast flowing rivers and intervening ridges running at right angles to the line of advance, this prevented fast movement and provided ideal defences for the Germans.

On 11th November 1943, Pte Duncan of the Parachute Regiment was awarded the George Cross posthumously for bravery. On 12th November 1943, Major W Hargreaves of the Parachute Regiment was awarded the Military Cross. The 2nd Parachute Brigade, together with other Commonwealth regiments made their way up the coast to the Sangro River, through icy winds and torrential rain, living in improvised shelters, and eating cold rations. During December 1943 the troops managed to establish a bridge across the Sangro River which had widened considerably due to heavy rains. The 2nd Paras moved inland up the Sangro Valley to establish Battalion HQ in a school in Casoli from where they patrolled the local area including the villages of Fara, Lama and Torricella.

One of these patrols met with German soldiers at the Melone crossroads, an intense firefight ensued resulting in the death of Sergeant Alf Goldman and wounding Lt Stewart, who died at a later date. My cousin Trevor Warden, was shot in his back and was rescued by New Zealand medics and eventually to a UK hospital. During brigade stay in Casoli two English Ladies came into the HQ together with several POWs who had escaped from the prison camps. They were able to offer valuable information about the German positions.


The next obstacle was the German Gustav Line where a battle ensued to secure Ortona. Blizzards, drifting snow and zero visibility at the end of December 1943 caused the advance to grind to a halt. By the middle of December 1943, Canadian troops at the front of the 8th Army had reached Ortona, a coastal city occupied by German troops. The armies clashed for nine days outside that city, with many casualties on both sides. Canadian troops finally won the terrain, but the Germans still held the city. The Canadians and German soldiers then battled within Ortona in fierce door-to-door fighting. After a week, the Germans retreated. These battles damaged or destroyed most of Ortona’s buildings and ravaged surrounding countryside. Ortona was secured on 28th December 1943. River Moro War Cemetery is where 1615 service personnel are buried; mostly Canadian, but it also contains other Allied service personnel as well. Sangro River War cemetery has 2617 burials, with a memorial commemorating more than 500 Indian service members who died fighting in the sector. In addition, the cemetery contains the graves of a number of escaped prisoners-of-war who died whilst trying to reach the Allied lines. Sangro cemetery is the second largest cemetery in Italy after Cassino. There are 2117 different regiments buried there, 279 from the Royal Artillery, 352 from New Zealand, 837 from the Combined Indian Regiments and 62 from the Parachute Regiment.

General Montgomery (Monty) halted the 8th Army in order to conserve resources for the spring campaign. Monty then handed over command of the 8th Army to General Oliver Leese in Vasto and flew to England to prepare for the invasion of France, scheduled for mid-1944.

In the meantime, the Canadians, New Zealand and Polish troops moved north along the coast towards Pescara. After reaching Pescara, the Indian, Canadian and Polish Regiments were moved across Italy to support the American 5th Army who were in deep trouble attempting to take the Benedictine monastery on Mount Cassino. Eventually the Polish regiment took Mount Cassino, which to the Polish fighters was satisfying, in return for Germans invading Poland in 1938. Most of the Polish fighters came from units that had found themselves in the UK after escaping from Poland at the beginning of the war.

Editors note: Information received from Michal Smal and confirmed by Roy Quinten.   “The Polish 2nd Corps (2 Korpus Poliski) 1943-1947 was a major unit o the Polish Armed Forces in the West, commanded by General Wladyslaw Anders. The training site for the 2nd Corps in the Middle East was Khanaqin-Quizil Ribar in Iraq (1943-1944) and was composed of the soldiers who had been released from exile in the USSR, the Carpathian Rifle Brigade, the 12th Podolski Lancers and 15th Poznan Lancers. Re-organised, the Polish 2nnd Corps comprised two infantry divisions each of which had 2 brigades and 2 light artillery regiments. General Anders also formed the Polish women’s Auxiliary Corps (Pomocznicznz Wojskowo Sluzba Kobiet) and they largely trained as heavy vehicle drivers. Approximately 80% of the Polish 2nd Corps came from Poland’s pre-war Kressy or Eastern Borderlands. In 1944 the Polish 2nd Corps were transferred to Italy where they were an independent unit of the British Eighth Army under General Oliver Leese. The Polish 2nd Corps took part in major Italian Campaigns- the Battle of Monte Cassino, the Battle of Ancona and the Battle of Bologna. Three previous Allied assaults on Monte Cassino had failed and Monte Cassino was a major victory fro the 2nd Polish Corps. With it, the road to Rome was at last open.”


The 8th Army continued fighting along the Adriatic coast; sadly this created the need for cemeteries at Ancona 1029 burials, Castiglione South African, 502 burials; Montecchio 582 burials; Gradara 1191 burials; Coriano Ridge 939 burials; Rimini Gurkha 618 burials; Cesena 775 burials; Medola 145 burials; Forli 1234 burials plus a cremation memorial for nearly 800 Indian servicemen; Ravenna 955 burials; Villanova 955 burials; Villanova Canadian cemetery 212 burials; Faenza 1152 burials; Santerno Valley 287 burials; Bologna 184 burials; Argente Gap 625 burials; Padua 513 burials.

Fighting along the Adriatic section of Italy was quite intensive and continuous from Bari in the south to Milan in the north. The CWGC estimate that the Commonwealth lost nearly 50,000 dead in Italy during World War II most of whom lie buried in 37 war cemeteries, and over 4000 soldiers whose graves are not known but remembered by name on the Cassino memorials. Almost 1500 Indian servicemen, whose remains were cremated, are remembered on three memorials in various cemeteries. The purpose of this article is to demonstrate that the 8th Army had a difficult time fighting the Germans over very difficult terrain along the Eastern Adriatic coast of Italy. It seems only the Mediterranean side of Italy that is reported on, maybe it is because the American 5th Army proved to be more attractive to the TV producers or they had better PR service personnel?! In addition, they had wanted to be “first” into Rome! It is interesting to note that in the film “Anzio” showed two American soldiers entering Rome to find no Germans there. Having reported back to the American generals they decided not to follow-up on the information fearing it was a trap by the Germans. In fact the truth is that it was two British soldiers that were first to drive into Rome, not the Americans. I wonder if the two British soldiers are still alive and remember the occasion.


An interesting situation developed when a New Zealander, Lt. Titchener, with a patrol of eight men set out for Casoli. “Before they set out an Italian who spoke English informed them that the Germans had vacated, or were vacating, Casoli and he offered to take them there by a back road. His offer was accepted. There were no Germans in the first village, Altino, so they moved into Casoli. The Italian led the way, with Lt Titchener armed with a tommy gun immediately behind him, waiting to deal with him if the whole thing was a trap.

The patrol descended a steep hill, which they had to do in stages marvelling all the while at the untiring pace of the Italian guide, a short stumpy man. At last, on reaching the top of the hill they were greeted by a farmer and his family, offered chairs and given a glass of wine each, we moved on again however, and refusing repeated offers of wine and food, we came to the main street. It was a big town of 9,000 inhabitants and at first, the people did not seem to realise who we were. Then it suddenly struck them, they rushed out, shook our hands and as we neared the centre of the town started clapping, cheering and many of the women wept, Lt Titchener said he felt very embarrassed.”


Should any member of the Italy Star Association like to have a photograph of a relative buried in Italy, they can get in touch with the program director of the War Graves Photographic Project, Steve Rogers ( requesting a copy of a photo. There will be a small charge to cover postage and packaging. Please state the name of the service person, together with service number, and name which cemetery the person is buried at.


As it is, just over 70 years since 1942 and a considerable number of service personnel who died in Italy were no more than 20/21 years old. Many of them are about 90 years old now. Does anyone remember any of the occasions I have mentioned?


We are aware of the D-Day remembrance programmes that were promoted but sadly, nothing was highlighted about the fighting in Italy, even though the fighting stopped in Italy at the same time as fighting on D Day 1945. This is why I headed this article “The Forgotten Army “, remembering the 50,000 Commonwealth personnel that died in Italy! It is very interesting to note that The Far Eastern Association asked the same question! They also seem to have been forgotten!!


Any British Ex-Pat living in Italy reading this article, who would be interested in adopting a Cemetery in Italy near where they live, and be prepared to lay a wreath at a cemetery in November each year to remember those who are buried there and not forgotten, please do contact me. I would love to hear from them.

Thank you,

Bernard Warden




Some of the following books may be of interest to readers.

“The Forgotten 500” The story of how the Americans rescued the 500 POW’s in Yugoslavia.

“Ortona” The Canadian efforts to capture Ortona.

“The Allied Forces in Italy 1943 – 1945” – Guido Rosignoli

“Italy’s Sorrow”. Fighting in Italy – James Holland.

“Travel Guide to WW2 sites in Italy” Including cemeteries – Ann Saunders.

“Rome remembers her Liberators” Story of Anzio and the role Italian Partisans played during WW2. – H Shindler

“4th Battalion Parachute Regiment – War Diaries, November 1943 – December 1943”.


  1. Frank de Planta


    I am constantly amazed that some people continue to believe that Normandy was the start of the British, Canadian and US assault on mainland Europe. They seem ignorant that since Sep 43, these nations had been taking the war on land to the Germans in Italy – and suffering horribly as a result.

    I do not think that Hollywood helps.



  2. Terry Addington

    Hi would anyone know what other duties the driver of a HAA battery would do while serving as my father did with the 72nd Hampshire regiment 393 battery in Italy

    Regards Terry Addington

  3. Frank de Planta


    Other than driving the vehicle, he would have done guard duty. A driver was a very busy chap. In addition to helping with the loading and unloading of ammunition and stores, he would have been responsible for all the daily maintenance jobs on the vehicle.

    72 HAA Regt RA directly supported Eighth Army in Italy from Sep 43-Feb 45 when it was disbanded. There was practically no air threat so the soldiers were sent to other units – usually infantry.

    In Sep 39, 72 HAA Regt RA had three gun Btys – 217, 218 & 310. 393 Bty may well have been HQ Bty so, as a driver, he would have been in the Motor Transport Troop.



  4. Terry Addington

    Hi Frank thanks for your quick reply its interesting to read these articles on different troops who served in Italy amd Africa as most people talk about the European theatre ie D Day, as you said he was transfered to the 51st London HAA in early 1945

    Thanks again Terry

  5. Barbara Cutts

    A few years ago we bought a house in Palombaro, next village to Casoli. During its restoration our builder found two live British hand grenades, Previously, another two had been found near the house. We were told the opening on the back of the house was a shooting hole used by the British troops as the Germans had moved into Pennapiedimonte We would love to know any stories from men who may have stayed here. I have a photo of the live hand grenades before they were disposed of.

  6. Stephen McCabe

    My dear Granda Paddy Monaghan served as a Royal Horse Artillery man in the 8th Army. He was wounded in Monte Cassino and spent a week or so in hospital and went back to the front line. Subsequently he fell on Jacobs Ladder near Rassinata for the liberation of Arezzo on the 17th July 1944 and my family have made many pilgrimages to the area as a result

  7. Frank de Planta


    Are you sure that he was wounded at Cassino. 2 RHA supported 1 Armd Div but the Div were not at Cassino. They were still in North Africa for the Fourth Battle of Cassino in mid-May 44.



  8. Angela Weatherill

    My Grandfather served in Sicily and Italy during WW2, 1943 -5. I would like to find out the route his battalion/ regiment took, and possibly retrace his steps.

    Grandads details:

    6/11/41 called up
    Charles W Harvey. T/1066 3820
    ‘B’ Coy No 2 Tng.Ben (drivers) RASC

    1/2/42 Posted to 425 G.T. Coy RASC Bn
    27/6/43 embarked UK 8th Army PT 425 Coy (not too sure about this as not very clear)
    19/7/43 Disembark Sicily

    Grandad died before I was born, he survived the conflict, the fact that he served in Italy, is common family knowledge, but little is known of his time there.
    Having bought a holiday home in Northern Tuscany 17 years ago, I would very much like to find out more. Especially as there are a number of local references to the conflict. We pass part of the Gothic Line en route to Pisa Airport.

    Apparently Grandad wrote home to say he was stationed near a place with the ‘ same name as our cockerel’. The cockerel was called Leghorn, which I believe is also a name for Livorno.

    I hope someone could advise me, or at the least this is of interest.
    We have 2 photos of Grandad in Italy.

    Many thanks
    Angela Weatherill.

  9. Frank de Planta


    You really need to start by getting his Service Record. This shows which units he served in and where and when. Go to and, in the Search box type in ‘How do I obtain a Service Record. Simply follow the instructions.

    From the info that you have provided he had a spell in 425 General Transport Company which was part of the Royal Army Service Corps. That is good because a Company is 100-150 men, rather than a Battalion which is 800-900 men, so he is more likely to be mentioned in the Company’s War Diary. Under King’s Regulations, the Company had to keep a diary of where they went, what they did, who joined, who left.

    The Service Record will tell you wish units he served in and so then it is just a matter of sourcing the right War Diaries..

    A General Transport Company was largely made up of supply trucks. Their job was to deliver stores wherever they were required – fuel, ammunition, food, clothing and spares. If not being used for supplies, they also moved troops and their equipment.

    Get me through if you need more info.



  10. J Herbert

    Hi, My father has, among others, the Italy Star. I have his service records but only the fact that he Embarked O/seas and then Evac and Disembarked Home. Originally with the 58th Field Regt RA, who did not go to Italy, but then his records show him on the x-list, so cannot find main unit name. However, his records state unit as 2 Light Scout Car Coy, and this is during the period he would be in Italy. I have searched as best I can, and cannot find any references to such a unit. Long shot, but can anyone shed any light on this please.


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