Institution Granting Degree
University of Virginia
German, Nazi, Conquest, Exploitation, Italy, World War II, Occupation
The view that German and Allied forces fought a senseless campaign for Italy during the Second World War prevails in many histories of that conflict. They present the battle for Italy as a bitterly-contested, prolonged fight up the peninsula, wasting Allied men and resources.
Evidence contradicting this judgment shows that Italy's political, economic, geographic, and military assets between the years 1943 and 1945 made it a prize worth winning . Allied leaders never grasped this fact nor made an effective effort to deny Germany this valuable asset.
The German defense of Italy secured the loyalty of Axis allies in Eastern Europe and permitted the establishment of a Fascist Italian puppet state under Benito Mussolini.
Moreover, Germany reaped an enormous harvest of agricultural and economic products in Italy. German estimates that Italy contributed between fifteen and twenty-five percent of total output in late 1944 show that it was truly a prize worth winning . The Italian economy provided large quantities of consumer goods for Germany, freeing up industrial plants in the Reich for military production. In late 1944, Italian manufacturers shifted operations and directly supported German forces fighting in Italy. Italian skilled labor contributed substantially to the German 'economic miracle' of 1944.
The battle for Italy further aided Germany in pressuring Switzerland to supply vital goods and keep open rail lines through the Swiss Alps without which German troops could not have survived in Italy. The Swiss, surrounded by German forces, used their isolation as a convenient reason to reject Allies entreaties that they reduce assistance to Hitler.
Occupation of northern Italy also kept Allied air forces far from the Reich's southern boundaries and allowed the continued German exploitation of the natural resources in the Balkans, a key asset that fed the German war machine. Finally, Germany enlisted substantial numbers of Italian laborers and troops who supported its fighting forces and served in antipartisan units. Italian workers kept vital rail lines repaired while Fascist Italian divisions supplemented defenses in coastal and Alpine sectors. Moreover, Italian military equipment captured in 1943 assisted in rebuilding German units crippled in the summer campaign of 1944.