Less than a month after the fall of Sicily, the Allies began their quest to liberate mainland Italy. On September 3, 1943, the British undertook simultaneous landings in the Calabria “toe” region of Italy. About a week later, on September 9, 1943, the Americans launched Operation Avalanche near the port of Salerno. The operation began the 20-month mainland Italian campaign of brutal fighting.
Salerno is about 170 miles north of Calabria. The objective of the British landings was to divert German troops south, thus leaving the port of Salerno undefended. This would make it quick work for the U.S. Fifth Army, thus enabling it to link up with the British the next day.
To maintain the surprise, it was decided to not carry out the usual pre-invasion naval or aerial bombardment. As the troops prepared to land, word spread throughout the convoy that the Italians had surrendered the day before. Confidence rose among the ranks who mistakenly believed that the landing area would not be defended.
Yet, as the first wave approached the shore, troop confidence went to hell in a handbasket. Rather than a deserted shore, the landing crafts were greeted by loudspeakers blaring in English, “Come in and give up. We have you covered.” Without pre-landing bombings, the German heavy fortifications were unscathed. Strategically positioned artillery and machine guns covered the zone. Several German divisions allowed to retreat from Sicily were positioned in the landing area and beleaguered the landing forces. In addition, the defenders did not fall for the bait of the British landings, thus maintaining their strength.