The Italians had not had a good war. Even though Mussolini was in alliance with Germany in the ‘Pact of Steel’ he had still not entered the war until he thought both France and Britain were beaten and he could grab a little of the spoils of victory. All his other military adventures had ended in disaster.
He had been thrown out of East Africa. In the Balkans his attempt to invade tiny, poor Albania had seen a reverse campaign which put him on the defensive. Humiliatingly Germany had had to come to his rescue both there and in North Africa, where the British had achieved stunning victories until the Afrika Korps arrived. On the Eastern Front Italian troops had suffered grievously in the retreat following Stalingrad.
Now it did not need much Intelligence from captured Italian prisoners for the Allies to judge the state of morale amongst Italians and Italian troops. The Sicilian troops on Sicily were not making making valiant attempts to defend their homeland, as had been hoped. Instead in many places they were putting up a merely nominal fight before surrendering. Others were ‘self- demobilising’ as they returned to their homes around the island and found civilian clothes.
Now Roosevelt and Churchill appealed directly to Italians to try to edge them out of the war. It was a message re-inforced with threat – Rome would be bombed for the first time on 19th July. This was the carefully worded text that was dropped, in hundreds of thousands of leaflets, on Rome and other Italian cities on the 17th July:
This is a message to the Italian people from the President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister of Great Britain. At this moment the combined armed forces of the United States and Great Britain, under the command of General Eisenhower and his Deputy, General Alexander, are carrying the war deep into the territory of your country.
This is the direct consequence of the shameful leadership to which you have been subjected by Mussolini and his Fascist regime. Mussolini carried you into this war as the satellite of a brutal destroyer of peoples and liberties.
Mussolini plunged you into a war which he thought Hitler had already won. In spite of Italy’s great vulnerability to attack by air and sea, your Fascist leaders sent your sons, your ships, your air forces, to distant battlefields to aid Germany in her attempt to conquer England, Russia, and the world. This association with the designs of Nazi-controlled Germany was unworthy of Italy’s ancient traditions of freedom and culture – traditions to which the people of America and Great Britain owe so much.
Your soldiers have fought, not in the interests of Italy, but for Nazi Germany. They have fought courageously, but they have been betrayed and abandoned by the Germans on the Russian Front and on every battlefield in Africa from El Alamein to Cape Bon.
Today Germany’s hopes for world conquest have been blasted on all fronts. The skies over Italy are dominated by the vast air armadas of the United States and Great Britain. Italy’s seacoasts are threatened by the greatest accumulation of British and Allied sea-power ever concentrated in the Mediterranean.
The forces now opposed to you are pledged to destroy the power of Nazi Germany, which has ruthlessly been used to inict slavery, destruction, and death on all those who refuse to recognise the Germans as the master race.
The sole hope for Italy’s survival lies in honourable capitulation to the overwhelming power of the military forces of the United Nations. If you continue to tolerate the Fascist régime, which serves the evil power of the Nazis, you must suffer the consequences of your own choice.
We take no satisfaction in invading Italian soil and bringing the tragic devastation of war home to the Italian people; but we are determined to destroy the false leaders and their doctrines which have brought Italy to her present position. Every moment that you resist the combined forces of the United Nations – every drop of blood that you sacrice-can serve only one purpose: to give the Fascist and Nazi leaders a little more time to escape from the inevitable consequences of their own crimes.
All your interests and all your traditions have been betrayed by Germany and your own false and corrupt leaders; it is only by disavowing both that a reconstituted Italy can hope to occupy a respected place in the family of European nations.
The time has now come for you, the Italian people, to consult your own self-respect and your own interests and your own desire for a restoration of national dignity, security, and peace.
The time has come for you to decide whether Italians shall die for Mussolini and Hitler – or live for Italy, and for civilisation.