10 September 1944–4 April 1945
By the end of the first week of August 1944 members of theBritish Eighth Army stood on the Ponte Vecchio, bridging the ArnoRiver in recently liberated Florence, Italy. The Eighth Army had justcompleted a campaign, in conjunction with the U.S. Fifth Army, thathad kept Axis forces in Italy in full retreat, unable to halt the Allied drive north of Rome that had begun with Operation D
the previ-ous May. For the first time since the Italian campaign had begun,Allied leaders were optimistic that they were on the verge of pushingthe Germans out of the northern Apennines and sweeping through thePo Valley beyond. After that, many hoped for a rapid advance into theAlps, the Balkans, and perhaps into Austria, before winter and theenemy could stem their advance.
The Italian campaign thus far had been long, arduous, and frustrat-ing. In September 1943 the armies of the United States and GreatBritain and the Commonwealth, fresh from victories in North Africaand Sicily, invaded the southern Italian peninsula at three locations.Allied predictions that the German Army would quickly retreat to theAlps after Italy left the war on 8 September proved wrong. Axis forcestenaciously defended every mountaintop and valley amid deterioratingwinter weather from behind a series of fortified lines that stretched across Italy from the Tyrrhenian Sea to the Adriatic. After spending thewinter of 1943–44 stalled at the Gustav Line and within a small beach-head at Anzio south of Rome, the U.S. Fifth and the British EighthArmies succeeded in overwhelming enemy defenses in May, advanced up the Liri Valley, and liberated Rome in June. Then, in a two-month-long summer campaign that was very uncharacteristic of Italian opera-tions until that time, Allied forces pushed the enemy 150 miles north tothe Arno River by mid-August. Axis forces, however, began new preparations to frustrate any continuation of the Allied drive by build-ing another belt of fortiﬁcations, the Gothic Line. The new line gener-ally consisted of a series of fortiﬁed passes and mountaintops, some ﬁf-teen to thirty miles in depth north of the Arno River and stretched eastfrom the Ligurian Sea through Pisa, Florence, and beyond. Farther east,along the Adriatic coast where the northern Apennines sloped down