Operation Achse

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Operation Achse (German: Fall Achse, "Case Axis"), originally called Operation Alaric (German: Unternehmen Alarich), was the codename of the German plans to forcibly disarm the Italian armed forces after their expected armistice with the Allied forces in 1943. Several German divisions had already entered Italy after the fall of Benito Mussolini in July 1943 (the Grand Council of Fascism had deposed Mussolini on 25 July), while Italy was officially still an ally of Germany, despite the protests of the new Italian government under Pietro Badoglio.

The Armistice of Cassibile (signed on 3 September 1943) was made public on 8 September. Then, the German forces moved rapidly to take over the Italian zones of occupation in the Balkans and southern France, and to disarm Italian forces in Italy. In some cases, the Italian troops resisted the Germans, most notably in the Greek island of Cephalonia, where over 4,500 men of the 33rd Acqui Division were executed after running out of ammunition and surrendering. In other cases, individual soldiers or whole units, like the 24th Pinerolo Division in Thessaly, went over to the local resistance movements. Only in Sardinia, Corsica, Calabria and in the southern part of Apulia were Italian troops able to offer resistance until relieved by the arrival of Allied forces.

Disarmed Italian soldiers marching to captivity in Bolzano

According to German accounts, the Italian forces disarmed totalled 1,006,370. Broken down by region, they were:

  • 415,682 in northern Italy
  • 102,340 in southern Italy
  • 8,722 in France
  • 164,986 in Yugoslavia
  • 265,000 in mainland Greece and the Aegean islands

The disarmament of such a large army resulted in the confiscation of large numbers of weapons and military-related equipment:

  • 1,285,871 rifles
  • 39,007 machine guns
  • 13,906 MAB 38 submachine guns
  • 8,736 mortars
  • 2,754 field guns
  • 5,568 other artillery pieces
  • 16,631 vehicles
  • 977 armoured vehicles

Only 197,000 Italian soldiers continued the war alongside the Germans. Some 94,000, mostly fascists, chose this option right away. The rest, some 103,000 men, chose during their detention to support the Italian Social Republic to escape the harsh circumstances in the German labor camps. Between 600,000 and 650,000 remained in German labor camps, where between 37,000 and 50,000 of them perished.

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