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World War 2 Historical Sites in Italy, Part 1: Allied Forces

As we all know, Veteran’s Day was recently celebrated in the US, honoring the many veterans who have fought in wars in order to protect the freedoms of others. In view of this, we’re running a two-part series on the various locations in Italy that have been witness to significant events during one of the major wars of the past century, World War II.

Benito Mussolini | Tour Italy Now

In this part, we’ll be talking about the route that the Allied forces took as they made their way to Rome in order to recapture the capital from the dictator Benito Mussolini. For travelers, retracing the steps of the valiant troops, and visiting these various historical sites in Italy will allow them to relive some of the key moments of this huge event.

Due to its role in the Second World War, Italy’s landscape is dotted not just by ancient Roman ruins, but also by structural reminders of this tumultuous period. It isn’t uncommon to come across old crumbling fortifications, war museums, memorials, as well as cemeteries that are the final resting places of soldiers who have perished during the War.

In Italy, World War II is often remembered by referring to the various phases of its development. If you speak Italian (or better yet, the local dialect) it won’t be too hard to find elders who will tell you his or her firsthand experience with “Il Ventennio”, referring to the 20 years in which the Fascist Party was in power; “La Liberazione” or the arrival of the Allied troops near the end of the war; and if you’re up North past Emilia-Romagna, “La Repubblica di Salo” which refers to Salo’s Republic, the puppet government that was put in place by Germany after Mussolini was ousted. Many of these elders will also probably tell you about “La Resistenza” (“The Resistance”), the communist partisan guerrilla movement that fought Nazi fascism throughout the war – something that we will also do in the next installment of this series. For now, we’ll focus on the Allied landings.

First Landing in Sicily: Gela and Syracuse

Allied Invasion of Sicily | Tour Italy Now

If you want to reconstruct the picture of the war as it happened in Italian soil, it’s best to start with the first landing of the Allied forces in the George S. Patton | Tour Italy Nowsouth, particularly on the island of Sicily. While its beaches are mostly known these days as tourist hotspots, it should also be remembered that at some point in history, they were battlegrounds.

On July 9, 1943, Allied troops touched down on the shores of Sicily near the small towns of Gela and Syracuse. Among the prominent people who joined this part of the invasion was British General Bernard Montgomery and the American General George Patton, both of whom played decisive roles throughout the entire campaign.

The battle for Sicily was a grinding affair that was exacerbated by the tensions between the two generals, but by August 17, they were able to expel the opposing German forces and their followers out of the island. The battle has left Sicily with a rich number of old fortifications, memorabilia, and small cemeteries and monuments. The best way to see most of it is to ask the locals, and to peruse the countless small shops in the town of Gela and Syracuse. There are also small war museums and sites that can be visited for free.

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery  | Tour Italy Now

The Push North

Anzio and Nettuno

Allied Troops in Battle of Anzio | Tour Italy Now

After the successful landing of the Allies in Sicily, the next point of entry into the country of Italy was at the coastal city of Anzio, located about 60 kilometers south of Rome. The landing here also signaled a turning point of the war because a short time later, Mussolini was deposed and arrested in July of 1943, and Italy signed an armistice afterwards.

Nowadays, at Anzio can be found two important war cemeteries, namely The Commonwealth Anzio War Cemetery where lies the remains of Allied troops of various nationalities, particularly that of Canadian soldiers from the 1st Division; and the Beach Head War Cemetery Anzio Sicily Rome Cemetery | Tour Italy Nowthat is dedicated to fallen American soldiers. Both locations are open from 9pm to 5pm on weekdays with a 1pm to 2pm lunch break, and both locations can be visited for free.

Meanwhile, in the town of Nettuno which is a short distance to the south of Anzio, is the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and Memorial where about 7000 graves of American soldiers can be found. It is one of the most important US war cemeteries on Italian soil. The site can be visited from 9am to 5pm daily, except on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and also remains open during American holidays. There is a Visitor Center where the staff on duty can answer questions and escort relatives to graves and memorial sites.

Cassino

Infantry of the East Surrey Regiment | Tour Italy Now

Cassino is another small town at the foot of the similarly-named Mount Cassino. An abbey overlooks the area, and it was the backdrop for one of the fiercest World War II battles in Italy. Nowadays, the town holds special significance to Polish people as it hosts the only Polish war cemetery in Italy, the Monte Cassino Polish War Memorial. There are three other war cemeteries and memorials in the area, and those can be found at Liri Valley, which is dedicated to Italian soldiers; at Rapido Valley; and to the west of the town, dedicated to Polish War Cemetery Cassino | Tour Italy NowCommonwealth troops.

It should also be noted that during the war, the abbey was destroyed during the battles, and all the ancient manuscripts that were housed within were carried away by Germans forces during their retreat from the Allies. After the war, the abbey was completely restored and it now hosts a small but well-furnished war museum.

On a more colorful note, many people in the area may tell you stories of the troops who served at Monte Cassino, one of whom was a bear from Iran, named Wojtek. Wojtek was raised by and enlisted into the 22nd Artillery Supply Company of the Polish II Corps, and his task was to carry artillery shells during the battle.

Rome

World War 2 Historical Sites in Italy Rome Tank | Tour Italy Now

And finally we make it to the capital itself. The fall (or as Italians would say, the liberation) of Rome is one of the most iconic moments in World War 2 in Italy. It signaled the fall of a regime and also renewed hope for the country’s citizens that what they saw as a pointless war that ravaged their homeland and threw them into poverty would finally come to an end.

The event has been immortalized in many songs, movies (of which “Roma Citta’ Aperta”, “Il Federale”, “La Ciociara” are all prime examples), and books, and its importance is felt throughout the city proper and its surroundings with small memorials and cemeteries, as well as small shops that sell World War II memorabilia. There are many guides and tourist information offices that will be able to point you to the landmarks, but really getting the feel for the history will require to ask around and venture in the small alleys and less beaten paths of the city.

Allied Forces in Rome, Italy | Tour Italy Now

After the liberation of Rome, historians will recall that the Allied forces continued to push forward to the Gothic Line, where more major events of the war were set to happen. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Continue Reading:

World War 2 Historical Sites in Italy, Part 2: Italian Resistance

 

 

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By Priscila Siano (264 Posts)

Priscila Siano is the Marketing Director of Tour Italy Now, an online tour operator specializing in Italy travel. She's a respected expert on making dream Italy vacations a reality for clients.

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