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ITALY and the ITALIAN CAMPAIGN, including Sicily, Salerno & Anzio Landings


Allied soldier wearing British battledress and aiming
Thompson sub-machine gun, Cupa, Italy (US)

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Each Summary is complete in its own right. The same information may therefore be found in a number of related summaries

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1922 - Benito Mussolini and his Fascist Party came to power in Italy.

1935 - Following border disputes between Italian Somaliland and Abyssinia, Italy invaded in October. League of Nations sanctions had little effect and by May 1936 the country had been taken over by Mussolini's forces.

1936 - The Spanish Civil War started in July; Italy and Germany became aligned with one side and Russia with the other

1939 - Italy invaded Albania in April; in May, Germany and Italy joined forces in the Pact of Steel.




Italy - declared its neutrality




JUNE 1940

Italy Declares War - Italy declared war on Britain and France on the 10th. Two weeks later France was out of the war. Still on the 10th, Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand and South Africa declared war on Italy.

France - Later in the month Italian forces invaded southern France but with little success.

Italy - On the 12th, the RAF made its first attacks on Italian mainland targets.


JULY 1940

Sicily - Swordfish from carrier "Eagle" attacked Augusta harbour, Sicily on the 10th. Destroyer "Pancaldo" was torpedoed, but later re-floated and re-commissioned.


Axis Powers - Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact in Berlin on the 27th. They agreed to jointly oppose any country joining the Allies at war - by which they meant the United States.

Sardinia - Aircraft from Force H's "Ark Royal" attacked targets in the Italian island of Sardinia.


Fleet Air Arm Attack on Taranto - Carrier "Illustrious" launched two waves of Swordfish biplanes, some belonging to "Eagle" against the southern Italian naval base of Taranto. For the loss of two Swordfish, Italian battleships "CONTE DI CAVOUR", "CAIO DIULIO" and the brand new "LITTORIA" were hit. All three sank at their moorings and "Cavour" was never recommissioned.


Sicily - The German Luftwaffe's X Fliegerkorps - including Ju87 Stuka dive-bombers - was ordered to Sicily and southern Italy to bolster the Italian Air Force.




Air War - RAF Wellingtons raided Naples and damaged Italian battleship "Giulio Cesare".

Sicily - The arrival of the German Luftwaffe's X Fliegerkorps altered the balance of power in the Central Mediterranean. The first casualty was carrier "Illustrious" badly damaged in attacks on Malta convoy "Excess".


Genoa, Italy - Force H 's "Ark Royal", "Renown" and "Malaya" sailed right up into the Gulf of Genoa, northwest Italy. The big ships bombarded the city of Genoa while "Ark Royal's" aircraft bombed Leghorn and lay mines off Spezia, all on the 9th. An Italian battlefleet sortied but failed to make contact.

MAY 1941

Sicily - The transfer of many German aircraft from Sicily for the attack on Russia brought some relief to Malta.



JUNE 1942

Sicily - The Germans once again transferred many of their aircraft back to Russia. This, together with the arrival of yet more RAF fighters, eased the burden on Malta.


North Africa - With the Second Battle of El Alamein, Gen Montgomery started the last and decisive British campaign against German and Italian forces in Egypt. The battle was won by the 4th November


French North African Landings: Operation 'Torch' - Anglo-American landings in Morocco and Algeria aimed at eventually joining up with Gen Montgomery's forces, and driving the Germans and Italians out of North Africa.

Sicily - On news of the 'Torch' landings, the first German troops were flown across from Sicily to Tunisia on the 9th and within two days started a large build-up.


Italy - In the first USAAF raids on Italy, Italian light cruiser "ATTENDOLO" was sunk and others damaged at Naples on the 4th.

Sardinia - At the end of the month British submarine "P-311" sailed for Maddalena, Sardinia with Chariot human torpedoes for an attack on the cruisers based there. Her last signal was on the 31st December and she was presumed lost on mines in the approaches to the port.




Casablanca Conference - Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt with their Chiefs of Staff met for this important conference. Major areas for discussion included the European invasion in 1944, landings in Sicily and Italy after the Tunisian campaign, the bombing of Germany and the continuation of the war in Burma and the Pacific. Losses due to U-boats and the shortage of shipping would prove to be significant constraints on Allied plans. At this time the two Allied leders announced a policy of unconditional surrender of the Axis powers.

APRIL 1943

'The Man Who Never Was'- Submarine "Seraph" released the body of a supposed Royal Marine officer into the sea off Spain. His false papers helped to persuade the Germans that the next Allied blows after the capture of Tunisia would fall on Sardinia and Greece as well as Sicily.

MAY 1943

North Africa and Tunisia - The Axis surrender came on the 12th and nearly 250,000 Germans and Italians were taken prisoner. All North Africa - French and Italian - was under Allied control after nearly three years struggle.

JUNE 1943

Pantelleria & Lampedusa - After heavy sea and air bombardments these two Italian islands to the north-west and west of Malta surrendered to the Allies on the 11th and 12th June respectively.

JULY 1943

10th - Invasion of Sicily: Operation 'Husky'

The Americans still wanted to concentrate on the cross-Channel invasion of France, but at the Casablanca Conference somewhat reluctantly agreed to go ahead with the Sicily landings. Amongst the benefits would be the opening of the Mediterranean to Allied shipping. The final plan was approved in mid-May and not much more than a month later the first US troop convoys were heading across the Atlantic for an operation even greater than the French North African landings the previous November.

Allied Commander-in-Chief - US Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower

Allied Naval Commander Expeditionary Force - Adm Sir Andrew Cunningham

A grand total of 2,590 US and British warships (table below) - major and minor were mostly allocated to their own landing sectors, but the Royal Navy total included the covering force against any interference by the Italian fleet. The main group under Vice-Adm Sir A. U. Willis of Force H included battleships "Nelson", "Rodney", "Warspite" and "Valiant" and fleet carriers "Formidable" and Indomitable". Seven Royal Navy submarines acted as navigation markers off the invasion beaches. Many of the troops coming from North Africa and Malta made the voyage in landing ships and craft. As they approached Sicily with the other transports late on the 9th in stormy weather, Allied airborne landings took place. Sadly, many of the British gliders crashed into the sea, partly because of the weather. However, early next day, on the 10th, the troops went ashore under an umbrella of aircraft. The new amphibious DUKWS (or "Ducks") developed by the Americans played an important part in getting the men and supplies across the beaches

There was little resistance by the Italians and few Germans, and the counter-attacks that were mounted were soon driven off. Syracuse was captured that day and within three days the British Eighth Army had cleared the south east corner of Sicily. The Americans meanwhile pushed north and northwest and captured Palermo on the 22nd. By then, Eighth Army had been checked south of Catania. Nevertheless, at month's end the Allies held the entire island except the north-eastern part. As the capture of Sicily progressed, important political developments took place in Italy.

On the 25th Mussolini was arrested and stripped of all his powers. Marshal Badoglio formed a new government, which immediately and in secret sought ways to end the war. By August the surrender of Italy was being negotiated with the Allied powers. German and Italian aircraft sank and damaged a number of warships and transports in the invasion area including a US destroyer on the 10th. On the 16th carrier "Indomitable" was damaged by Italian torpedo aircraft.

Landing Areas:

Gulf of Gela, S coast

South of Syracuse, SE coast

Forces landing:

US 7th Army - Gen Patton
66,000 troops

Eighth Army - Gen Montgomery
115,000 British & Canadian troops

Departure from:

United States, Algeria, Tunisia

Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Malta; Canadian division from Britain

Naval Task Forces:

Rear-Adm H K Hewitt USN

Adm Sir B Ramsey

Naval Forces
Other warship
Troopships, supply ships, LSIs etc
Landing Ships and Craft (major)



British & Allied



435 USN

930 RN

Plus Landing Craft (minor)

510 USN

715 RN

Axis submarines had fewer successes than the attacking aircraft in and around Sicily. Two British cruisers were damaged, but in return 12 of their number were lost over the next four weeks into early August: 11th - "FLUTTO" off the southern end of the Strait of Messina in a running battle with MTBs 640, 651 and 670. 12th - "U-561" torpedoed in the Strait of Messina by MTB-81; Italian "BRONZO" captured off Syracuse by minesweepers "Boston", "Cromarty", "Poole" and "Seaham"; "U-409" sunk off Algeria by escorting destroyer "Inconstant" as she attacked a returning empty convoy. 13th - Italian "NEREIDE" was lost off Augusta to destroyers "Echo" and "llex"; and north of the Strait of Messina "ACCIAIO" was torpedoed by patrolling submarine "Unruly". 15th - Transport submarine "REMO" on passage through the Gulf of Taranto during the invasion was lost to submarine "United". 16th - Cruiser "Cleopatra" was torpedoed and badly damaged off Sicily by submarine "Dandolo". 18th - "Remo's" sister-boat "ROMOLO" was sunk off Augusta by the RAF. 23rd - Cruiser "Newfoundland" was damaged off Syracuse by a torpedo from "U-407", and as Italian "ASCIANGHI" attacked a cruiser force off the south coast of Sicily she was sunk by destroyers "Eclipse" and "Laforey". 29th - "PIETRO MICCA" was torpedoed by submarine "Trooper" at the entrance to the Adriatic in the Strait of Otranto. 30th - "U-375" was lost off southern Sicily to an American sub-chaser.


Sicily - As the Germans and Italians prepared to evacuate Sicily across the Strait of Messina, the Allies started the final push - US Seventh Army along the north coast aided by three small amphibious hops and Eighth Army up the east side from Catania with one small landing. Gen Patton's men entered Messina just before Gen Montgomery's on the 17th. Sicily was now in Allied hands but 100,000 Axis troops managed to escape without any serious interference.


Italy - Surrender and Invasion

The Italian surrender was signed in Sicily on the 3rd, but not announced until the 8th to coincide with the main Allied landing at Salerno, and in the forlorn hope of preventing the Germans from taking over the country. Before long they controlled north and central Italy, were fighting a delaying action in the south, had occupied Rome, regrouping their main forces near Naples, and disarmed - often bloodily - Italian forces in the Dodecanese islands and Greece. Meanwhile the invasion and occupation of southern Italy got underway. A start was made on the 3rd when British and Canadian troops of Gen Montgomery's Eighth Army crossed over the Strait of Messina from Sicily in 300 ships and landing craft (Operation 'Baytown') and pushed north through Calabria, eventually joining up with forces landed at Salerno. Early on the 9th, in conjunction with these landings, the Eighth Army's 1st Airborne Division was carried into Taranto by mainly British warships (Operation 'Slapstick'). Shortly afterwards the Adriatic ports of Brindisi and Bari were in Allied hands. 9th - Around midnight in Taranto harbour, cruiser-minelayer "ABDIEL", loaded with 1st Airborne troops, detonated one of the magnetic mines dropped by E-boats "S-54" and "S-61" as they escaped, and sank with heavy loss of life.

Off the west coast of Italy, the Germans decide to evacuate the more southerly island of Sardinia by way of Corsica starting on the 10th. French troops landed in Corsica in mid-month, but by early October the Germans had gone. Both islands were now in Allied hands. Following the announcement of the Italian surrender, the bulk of the Italian fleet sailed for Malta - three battleships, cruisers and destroyers from Spezia and Genoa, and three more battleships and other vessels from Taranto and the Adriatic. As the first group came south, battleship "ROMA" was sunk by a FX1400 radio-controlled bomb (unpropelled unlike the Hs293 rocket-boosted, glider-bomb), but next day the remaining ships were escorted into Malta by battleships "Warspite" and "Valiant". Over 30 submarines headed for Allied ports. On the 11th, Adm A B Cunningham fittingly had the honour of signalling to the Admiralty the arrival of the Italian battlefleet in Malta. On the 12th the arrested Benito Mussolini was rescued from his Italian captors in the Abruzzi Mountains by German Col Otto Skorzeny's paratroops and flown to Germany. Later in the month he proclaimed the establishment of the Italian Social Republic.

9th September - Salerno Landings, Operation 'Avalanche'

Landing Areas:

Gulf of Salerno, S of Naples

Forces landing:

US 5th Army - Gen Mark Clark
55,000 British & US troops
with 115,000 follow-up

British 10th Corps

US Sixth Corps

Departure from:

Tunis, Libya


Naval Attack Forces
and Commanders:

Vice-Adm H K Hewitt USN

Cdre G N Oliver

Rear-Adm J L Hall USN

Naval Assault & Follow-up Forces

British & Allied








Other warships



Troopships, supply ships, LSIs etc






Landing Ships and Craft (major only)


In addition to the grand total of 586 Allied naval units directly engaged in the landings, most of which were in their respective British or American sectors, Adm Cunningham as C-in-C provided a strong Royal Navy cover force and carrier support group. The cover force was again Force H under Adm Willis with battleships "Nelson", "Rodney", Warspite", "Valiant" and carriers "Formidable" and "Illustrious". Rear-Adm Vian commanded the support carriers with light carrier "Unicorn", escort carriers "Attacker", Battler", "Hunter" and "Stalker", three cruisers and destroyers.

Most of the troops were carried to Salerno via Sicily in the landing ships and craft, and, early on the 9th, without any preliminary air or naval bombardment, landed in the face of strong German resistance. By the end of the day, with the support of the covering warships and carrier aircraft, both the British and Americans had established bridgeheads but with a gap in between. Over the next few days the Germans counter-attacked and on the 13th and 14th came dangerously close to breaking through the Allied lines and reaching the beaches. They were held, and much of the credit went to the supporting warships, especially "Warspite" and "Valiant" which arrived on the 15th. On the 16th, the threat of dislodgement was over. 13th - All this time German Do127 aircraft using both types of guided bombs were attacking Allied shipping laying off the beaches. On the 13th, cruiser "Uganda" was damaged as she provided supporting gunfire. 16th - On the 16th, after "Warspite" had done her most valuable work, she was hit and near-missed by three or four guided bombs. Damaged, she had to be towed to Malta.

On the 16th the German troops started pulling back from Salerno towards the line of the Volturno River, north of Naples. That same day, units of Fifth Army from Salerno and Eighth Army coming up through Calabria made contact to the east of the landing area. They both headed slowly north - Fifth Army on the west side of Italy and Eighth on the east. At the end of the month the Allies approached Naples.


Italy - British units of the US Fifth Army entered Naples on the 1st as the Germans fell back, ready to make the Allies fight long and hard for every gain over the next eight months. They were holding the line of the Volturno River in the west and the Biferno River in the east. Meanwhile, they prepared their main defences - the Gustav Line - along the Garigliano and Rapido rivers below Monte Cassino, and on to Ortona on the Adriatic coast. On the west, Gen Mark Clark's Fifth Army managed to fight its way across the Volturno by mid-month and then came up against the formidable defences in front of the main Gustav Line. On the east, Gen Montgomery's Eighth Army had to cross a number of well-defended rivers before reaching the Line. By the end of the month he was over the Biferno and starting to cross the Trigno. While the struggle continued, Italy declared war on Germany on the 13th.


Italy - In the west, Fifth Army struggled to make progress towards the main Gustav Line but was still short of the Garigliano River and Cassino. To the east, Eighth Army was over the Trigno and preparing to attack new German positions behind the Sangro River. A major offensive was launched on the 28th led by British and New Zealand troops with the aim of breaking through the East End of the Gustav Line and taking Ortona. Luftwaffe Field Marshal Kesselring was given command of all German forces in Italy. Right through until the end of 1944 he was responsible for the stubborn and skilful defence of the country against strong Allied attacks


Italy - Fifth Army continued its bloody struggle in the west of the country towards the Gustav Line, but had only just reached the Garigliano River and was still short of Cassino and the Rapido River. Meanwhile Eighth Army had breached the Line in the east and the Canadians had taken Ortona, where the Allies remained until June 1944. Gen Montgomery, Eighth Army commander now returned to England to prepare for his part in the Normandy invasion. Gen Eisenhower also headed for England and Gen Sir Henry Maitland Wilson succeeded him as Supreme Allied Commander, Mediterranean. Later, in November 1944, Field Marshal Alexander took over this post.

War at Sea - With the surrender of the Italian fleet, the big ships of the Royal Navy were released for the Eastern Fleet and to prepare for the landings in Normandy. The remaining smaller vessels continued to escort the convoys needed to supply the Allied forces in Italy, and to support both Fifth and Eighth armies on their seaward flanks. The RN also went over to the offensive against Germany supply traffic down the west coast of Italy and also from the northeast through the Adriatic to Yugoslavia. From bases such as Corsica and Bari, light and coastal forces struck regularly at shipping, and also at land targets along the coast of Yugoslavia in support of Tito's partisan armies. A major disaster marred these successes on the 2nd when an air raid on Bari blew up an ammunition ship, with 16 more merchantmen lost in the resulting fires.




Italy - Four months after the Salerno landings the Allies had only moved a further 70 miles north and were still well short of Rome. Both Fifth and Eighth Armies had suffered badly and, in an attempt to break the deadlock, the decision was made to go ahead with landings at Anzio to coincide with fresh attacks on the Gustav Line and Monte Cassino. As the landings got underway, British units of Fifth Army in the west managed to get across parts of the Garigliano River and the French over the Rapido, but in the centre in the First Battle of Cassino, US troops were badly mauled. The Germans held all attacks.

22nd January - Anzio Landings, Operation 'Shingle'

Landing Areas:

N and S of Anzio town

Forces landing:

US 6th Corps - Gen Lucas
50,000 British & US troops
with 115,000 follow-up

British 1st Division

US 3rd Division

Departure from:


Naval Assault Forces
and Commanders:

Naval Commander
Rear-Adm F J Lowry USN

Rear-Adm T Troubridge

Rear-Adm F J Lowry USN

Naval Assault & Follow-up Forces

British & Allied








Other warships



LSIs, landing craft & ships (major only)






Grand Total


The British and US warships were not strictly allocated to their own sectors and two Royal Navy submarines provided the usual navigational markers. Landings took place early on the 22nd and were virtually unopposed. By next day the beachheads were secured, but by the time Sixth Corps was ready to move out on the 30th, powerful German reinforcements were ready to stop it in its tracks. For over a month until early March the Allies were hard pushed to hold on to their gains. Supporting warships were heavily attacked from the air: 23rd - On patrol off the beaches, destroyer "JANUS" was torpedoed and sunk by a He111 bomber. 29th - Six days later, cruiser "SPARTAN" was hit by a Hs293 glider bomb and capsized with many casualties.  


Italy - Before the Second Battle of Cassino, the decision was taken to bomb the monastery of Monte Cassino on the 15th, but the only result was to provide the Germans with even better defensive positions. This time it was the attacking Indian and New Zealand troops that took heavy losses for zero gains. Throughout the month the Germans launched more attacks at Anzio to prevent the Allies breaking out of the beachhead. By early March they had exhausted themselves and move over to the defensive. Royal Navy ships continued to suffer casualties during the Battle for Anzio: 18th - Returning to Naples, the seemingly indestructible cruiser "PENELOPE" (HMS 'Pepperpot') was torpedoed and sunk by "U-410". 25th - A week later destroyer "INGLEFIELD" was hit off the beaches by a Hs293 glider bomb and went down.

MARCH 1944

Italy - In the middle of the month the Third Battle of Cassino was fought again by the Indians and New Zealanders of Fifth Army. Once more they lost badly. The Germans still held stubbornly on to Monte Cassino. Now there was a lull as Eighth Army was brought across from the east to add its weight to the struggle.

10th - In operations against Allied shipping bound for Italy, three U-boats were lost together with one Royal Navy destroyer. On the 10th off Anzio, 'Hunts' "Blankney", "Blencathra", "Brecon" and "Exmoor" and US destroyer "Madison", sank "U-450". The same day south of Sardinia, anti-submarine trawler "Mull" sank "U-343". The destroyer and third U-boat were sunk at the end of the month

30th - In support of Allied shipping bound for Italy, destroyers "Laforey", "Tumult" and 'Hunts' "Blencathra" and "Hambledon" located a U-boat north of Sicily. As the search proceeded, "LAFOREY" was torpedoed and sunk, but the remaining ships found and finished off "U-223".

MAY 1944

Italy - With the help of Eighth Army, the Allies at last pierced the Gustav Line with an offensive starting on the 11th. British, Indian and Polish troops of Eighth Army went in around the Cassino area, followed up by the Canadians. Nearer the sea, both US and French divisions of US Fifth Army attacked. It was the French in the centre who made the first decisive push, but it fell to the Poles to finally take the heights of Monte Cassino on the 18th. US Sixth Corps started its breakout from the Anzio bridgehead on the 23rd and met up with the advancing Fifth Army two days later. The Germans first retreated to a line south of Rome, but as the Allies headed towards the city, they fell back to the north of the capital.

21st - U-boats gain their last success of the war in the Mediterranean. East of Sicily "U-453" attacked Taranto/Augusta convoy HA43 and its Italian escort and sank one merchant ship. Destroyers "Termagant", "Tenacious" and the 'Hunt' "Liddlesdale" were brought up and sent her to the bottom.

JUNE 1944

Italy - On the 4th, units of Gen Mark Clark's US Fifth Army entered Rome. The Germans now withdrew, fighting as they went, to the Gothic Line running north of Florence and across the Apennine mountains to the Adriatic, and with its forward defences along the River Arno in the west. They reached there by mid-July as the Allies came up and prepared for their main attack at the end of August. On 17 June, Royal Navy and US warships landed French troops on the island of Elba.

18th - Destroyer "QUAIL", damaged by a mine in the southern Adriatic seven months earlier in November 1943, foundered off south-eastern Italy on tow from Bari around to Taranto.


Italy - On the eastern, Adriatic side of Italy, the Allies launched the first part of an offensive against the Gothic Line on the 25th, with Eighth Army attacking towards Rimini. By the end of the month they were breaking through the Line, while to the west, US Fifth Army was crossing the Arno.


Italy - To the east, Eighth Army crossed the Gothic Line but was coming up against increasing German resistance south of Rimini, which was captured by the Canadians on the 21st. However, the Allies still had to cross a whole series of rivers before reaching the River Po, after which they could break out into northern Italy. To the west, Fifth Army was across the River Arno and had broken through its end of the Gothic Line, but was stopped from reaching Bologna by the German defences.


Italy - Fifth Army's attack in the centre towards Bologna ground to a halt in the wintry mountains, but over the next three months Eighth Army to the east continued to push its way slowly and painfully to the southern edge of Lake Comacchio. Although fighting carried on through to March 1945 the Allies would not start their final offensive of the Italian campaign until the better weather in April.

12th - Returning from bombarding shore targets on the northeast coast of Italy, destroyer "LOYAL" was mined in the Adriatic and not repaired.


Strategic Situation - Mediterranean - All the Mediterranean except the Ligurian Sea to the north of Corsica, the northern part of the Adriatic and some of the Greek islands were now under Allied maritime control




Italy - Eighth Army continued to push slowly forward on the east near Lake Comacchio in preparation for the Spring offensive.


17th - Italian battleship "CONTE DI CAVOUR", sunk in the 1940 Fleet Air Arm attack on Taranto and salvaged but not recommissioned, was finally destroyed in RAF raids on Trieste

MARCH 1945

18th - Two ex-Italian torpedo boats and a destroyer minelaying off the Gulf of Genoa were engaged by destroyers "Meteor" and "Lookout". In the last Royal Navy destroyer action of the Mediterranean, torpedo boats "TA-24" and "TA-29" were sunk.

APRIL 1945

Italy - The last and decisive Allied offensive aimed at clearing the Germans from Italy got underway with commando assaults near Lake Comacchio on the 1st. In these operations the Royal Marines won their only VC of the war. + Cpl Thomas Hunter, 43 Commando, was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross for gallantry in action against German forces on the 2nd. Eighth Army started towards the Argenta Gap on the 9th, and by the 18th was through. US Fifth Army moved on Bologna on the 14th and a week later captured the city. British, Brazilian, Indian, New Zealand, Polish, South African and US divisions of Fifth and Eighth Armies then reached the River Po and raced across the north of Italy. By the end of the month, Spezia, Genoa and Venice had been liberated.

Death of Mussolini - Throughout the campaign Italian partisans waged a bloody war behind German lines. Near Lake Como on the 28th, Benito Mussolini and his mistress were captured and executed.

German Surrender in Italy - Since February senior German officers had secretly negotiated with the Allies to end the war in Italy. On the 29th April and without reference to Berlin, a document of unconditional surrender was signed to take effect from 2nd May.

MAY 1945

Italy - Conclusion - As agreed, the cease-fire took place on the 2nd just as the Allies reached Trieste near the Yugoslavian border. On the 6th they arrived at the Brenner Pass into Austria in time to meet units of the US Seventh Army coming from the north through Germany.


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