Since Mussolini had been deposed the Allies had been in communication with the new government led by Badoglio. Even before the appeal made by Churchill and Roosevelt, it was not difficult for many Italians to accept that they were fighting the wrong war. Unconditional surrender was readily agreed.
More problematic was how the Italians would deal with the Germans. The Italians wanted to wait until the Allied troops had arrived before declaring their hand. The first landings by the Allies, at Reggio, were not opposed by the Germans. They anticipated that further landings, probably at Salerno, would be where the armies would meet.
So it was only at the last moment that the main Allied invasion force, this time including U.S. units, learnt that half their enemy had already surrendered. What that actually meant was less clear.
Mortimer Wheeler, in civilian life a noted archaeologist, now commanding a brigade, had done his best to prepare his men for battle. He was now on a Landing Ship Tank, heading for the Italian shore:
There was a cool sun on this Sunday morning, and, in the absence of a chaplain, the commander and I mustered all hands to the fore peak for a short ship’s service, with the usual adjunct of a Union Jack spread precariously across a packing-case altar. For the lesson I chose Joshua i. 6-9; and I can still hear my voice seemingly disembodied and echoing strangely from the stark and alien steelwork and the skyward guns of the little ship as the solemn sentences followed one another into the gusty air.
‘There was a cool sun on this Sunday morning, and, in the absence of a chaplain, the commander and I mustered all hands to the fore peak for a short ship’s service, with the usual adjunct of a Union Jack spread precariously across a packing-case altar. For the lesson I chose Joshua i. 6-9; and I can still hear my voice seemingly disembodied and echoing strangely from the stark and alien steelwork and the skyward guns of the little ship as the solemn sentences followed one another into the gusty air.
‘Be strong and of good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them.
‘Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all the law… Turn not from it to the right hand or to the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest…’
The Union Jack rose in a sudden draught and subsided askew upon its box. The bare heads and blue and khaki forms in front of me stood rigid save for the slight swaying of the ship.
‘…Have not I commanded thee? Be strong and of a good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed: for the Lord thy God is with thee whither- soever thou goest.’
The fine resonance of the Old Testament had ever the stuff of battle in it, with just that hint of the theatre which helps a man through the first impact.
Northwards we fared across the Tyrrhenian Sea, line upon line of L.S.T.s, with larger ships and cruisers between us and the invisible coast of Italy, and a busy screen of destroyers, anti-submarine trawlers and motor launches all about us.
During the night there had been gunre over Sardinia away to the west. From the bridge beside the commander the scene was picturesque but quiet, ordered and intelligent.
A signal was climbing the mast of the leading ship, and I put out my hand for the code-book. Spelling out the signal with unaccustomed eyes, I wrote on the pad ITALY HAS SURRENDERED, and turned to the commander. ‘Do you see what I see P’ I said to him. He took the book from me, glanced at it, and replied ‘Yes, I expect so. Now what are we going to do ?’
I picked up the megaphone and ordered all hands aft. Army and Navy packed in below the bridge, and I told the news. There was a moment’s pause, then a wild burst of cheering that was echoed from ship to ship as the word spread.
The cheering died and I again put up the megaphone. ‘Well, that’s that. Now I am going to ask you to do a little thinking. What does Italy’s surrender mean to you and me? It means just this. It means that, instead of a reception committee of a few half-hearted Italians on the beach at Salerno, we shall find a first-class German armoured corps with its back well up. We shall beat it, but to-morrow’s battle will be a trie tougher than it might have been. Each one of us…’ They dissolved slowly into serious little discussion-groups.
In the gathering darkness we altered course and, leaving the commander on the bridge, I went down to his tiny cabin underneath, took off my boots and immediately fell asleep…
A penetrating jolt, as though the ship had struck a rock, nearly threw me from the bed and a second jolt brought me to my feet. We had been closely straddled by two bombs, and as I climbed to the bridge hell was let loose. Rocket-ships were hurling blazing salvoes at the unseen coast; monitors, cruisers and destroyers were blasting the blackness and intensifying it by their lightning flashes. The first landing-craft, including one of my light batteries, were groping shorewards. The flickering night was alive with hidden activity.