22nd October 1941
While the British attacked Sicily more British and Allied units, the bulk of the Allied Expeditionary Army, prepared to drive northwards before the Soviets and the Germans managed to fortify their positions. General Alexander had two options: One, attack northward towards Salerno and Naples or eastwards towards Foggia thereby cutting off the German-Italian Forces near Taranto and forcing the Italian Navy out to sea lest it be captured. General Alexander quickly came to the conclusion that attacking Foggia was the best option, because not only would it allow him to create a coherent frontline that crossed the Italian Peninsula, but also because the Regia Marina was the biggest threat to his supply lines and had to be neutralized if not totally eliminated. Meanwhile Rommel was still busy sorting out the mess that was the Axis side of the line, but he came to the same conclusions as Alexander and moved the the entirety of the German Italy Corps and the arriving Soviet 257th Rifle Division to block the approaches to this city. At this stage and on the narrow confines of Italy it was nearly impossible to achieve any sort of strategic surprise, because with the situation in the air still undecided both sides received accurate intelligence of what the other was up to. The Polish 1st Armoured Division that had replaced the 6th British Armoured Division in General Ironside's Corps was directly facing the German 15th Armoured Division, and reconnaissance carried out by Polish Cavalry units quickly revealed the German Plans, so that General Alexander had a pretty good idea of what he was facing. He contemplated calling off the attack but quickly dismissed the thought. Wars weren't won by only attacking when one had strategic and tactical surprise, so he ordered the attack to go ahead. I (UK) Tank Corps was to attack to the north of Avigliano, with II Tank Corps covering their northern flank and rear areas. General Ironside had carefully assembled what intelligence was to be had and decided that attacking Avigliano directly was practicable, but the Italians had dug in a Division of Infantry inside and around it. While this Division had been bloodied in the Battle that had brought the British to this current position it was still very much capable and motivated, and even though they were short on anti-tank weapons Ironside did not feel like he could afford the delay of smashing the Italians directly instead of just scooping them up when they realized they were surrounded. Instead he would use the 2nd Armoured Division to hold them down and and send the rest of his Corps onwards towards Foggia. Normally this was a job for the Infantry, but the two motorized Indian Infantry and the six Divisions of III Corps were busy holding down the the Italians in the province of Salerno and manning the line where it faced Taranto. Alexander's greatest fear was that the Axis might try a coordinated attack to cut the salient that he had formed from the landing beaches and harbours through which his supplies arrived from North Africa.
So making the salient strong was his overriding priority in these days, and for that reason he kept a majority of his troops back guarding the base of the salient, and until the situation had been resolved these were going nowhere. The morning of the 22nd was nice, sunny and warm and the birds and other animals that lived and thrived in the countryside had no idea about the carnage that was about to unfold, unlike the Humans. The roads north were clogged with refugees that constantly feared being strafed by Allied planes, even though only few such cases are on record. The plains between the frontlines were quiet, but the animals grassing there raised their heads one after another as they heard something inaudible to human ears. Soon however a low rumble could be heard, growing louder and louder and it was joined by a rattling noise. The Animals fled and the machines of war and destruction took over. The first to see combat was the 1st Polish Armoured Division, or rather the 24th Polish Lancers Regiment ( 24 pułk ułanów im. Hetmana Żółkiewskiego ) under Lt.Col. J. Kański, which was an armoured Regiment despite the name. The troops were very motivated, because for the first time since 1939 Polish troops with Polish markings and under the Polish Flag went into battle against the Germans, they had something to proof to both friend and foe alike. Their tanks ran into a company of Italian horse cavalry and promptly engaged the enemy. The result was pre-determined, but it was as if it had busted a dam, because now the rest of the Division began to go around the Italian position in Avigliano like a wave around a breakwater on a beach and raced towards Faggio where the 'real' enemy was waiting: Germany's Italy Corps. The Poles smashed into the 15th Panzerdivision with a rage and speed that was unprecedented and forever dispelled any notion about them being poor soldiers. Pitched Armoured Battles raged for several hours as the two divisions smashed against one another again and again without anyone gaining a clear advantage, even though the superior guns in the Polish Cromwells slowly began to turn the tide.
Gen. Stanisław Maczek (top left), the division commander, directing the Battle
Just as the Germans were slowly beginning to retreat towards Foggia, the German 7. Panzerdivision came to the aid of the beleaguered 15th and together they managed to hold the Poles, but fierce and determined resistance by the same bogged down three improvised counterattacks that day. Meanwhile the 7th Armoured was having a similar scuffle with the German 90th Light, supported by a Brigade of Soviet KV1s and elements from the Littorio Division while the 1st Armoured was currently probing northwards to try and find the German flank. The attack had not bogged down yet, but was in the danger of doing so. However Air Support provided by the Belgian and Dutch Squadrons that had already landed in Italy began to turn the tide even though the Soviet KV1s proved to be very hard to kill from the air. Lt.General von Arnim was finally forced to order a fighting retreat towards the main defensive position around Foggia that Italian, Soviet and German Pioneers were preparing. The British slowly followed as they had to throw off various spoiling attacks by the Italian Infantry and Cavalry Divisions that tried to break into the flank of the Corps. Initially Ironside had planned to drive all during the night, but on that day something happened that would influence the course of the Battle: General Ironside suffered a heart attack and was unable to retain command of 'his' Corps any longer. Even though his Second in Command took over, the attack during the night did not take place, and this allowed the Germans to disengage and slip away. When Alexander heard of this, he ordered Ironside's replacement to be flown in from North Africa as soon as possible. Lt. General Brian Horrocks' head was still swimming with being promoted to Lt. General overnight and flown to Italy to take over the Corps when he assumed command on mid-day of the 23rd. His first action was to sack Ironside's old 2IC who had failed to continue the attack even though standing orders had compelled him to do so. His second action was to order 'all units, attack the enemy wherever he can be grasped' and to follow the plan. This time however the going was even worse than yesterday because Rommel had ordered the adoption of tactics that would haunt the British Army all during the Italian campaign. Wherever British tanks advanced, they ran into cleverly laid ambushes by hidden anti-tank guns. Behind every bush, behind every bend in the road and behind every building they encountered which not only began to take it's toll on morale but also slowed the British down who began to blast even the slightest obstacle with a few rounds before advancing anywhere. Still, even though they began to take considerable ( when compared to the losses in North Africa ) attrition losses the British Tank and Infantry Regiments advanced, and by the end of the 24th the 7th Armoured and 1st Polish Armoured Divisions had reached a line from which they could comfortably shell the the outer defence perimeter around Foggia.
Polish Tanks advancing on Foggia
There however the real Battle began. For this we must however look at the situation in Rome first. Rommel had been trying to get Mussolini to at least consider withdrawing the prime Italian units that defended Taranto, but the Duce refused to give up the jewel of what remained of his Empire, and instead promised to order the two Tank Divisions that were in fighting trim to go and 'smash through the English lines'. Rommel was going to take what he would get even though he doubted the fighting value of the Italians, not because they were not motivated, but more because their equipment was already so obsolete that the British hadn't bothered with taking the Italian tanks they captured in North Africa into their own service. Mussolini would most certainly make sure that his units fought, so putting them into reserve instead of sending them against seasoned and experienced troops with equipment that was among the best on the Battlefield was no option. Instead he asked for half a day to 'integrate the excellent Italian Units' into his defensive strategy for the city. He moved them to the flank of the British advance where the 1st Indian Division ( motorized ) was setting up flanking positions after having been relieved by the 7th Airborne Division in the south. The Indian soldiers were still redeploying to their new positions when the Italians attacked, and as a result of this most of their 17 pounders were somewhere along the long line of vehicles. The Infantry men where however used to fighting much superior tanks from Belgium and France with even fewer AT weapons than they had on this day. The Italians had only surprise and a disorganized enemy going for them, and they made good use of that. They managed to pierce the line of the 22nd Kashmir Rifles, but began to suffer great losses from flanking PIAT fire when they moved through the pockets of resistance that assumed hedgehog formation and refused to surrender.
The attack bogged down, but neither side was really able to break the other. Tactically the attack was a failure, but it achieved the grander goal as it forced Horrocks to halt the attack on the Germans and send three Regiments of the 7th Armoured Division to reinforce the Indians and drive the Italians out of their line. The Italians were hit by the wrath of the Royal Armoured Corps as the light began to fade, and a confused night action followed during which the British managed to push the Italians back at the cost of great losses in men and material, as the Italians began to use field Artillery pieces in the anti-tank role for the first time. When the morning dawned the lines had been re-established, and the fields of Italy were strewn with destroyed vehicles and dead men. The Italians had suffered the worst, but they had achieved their mission as the delay had allowed the Germans and Soviets to retreat to a line to the south and west of Foggia, even though now all that stood between the British and the shore of the Adriatic Sea where Blackshirts, exhausted Italian regulars and exactly one platoon of Motorized Infantry.
Both sides halted on the next day to rearm and give their soldiers rest after the heavy fighting of the last two days and nights, but later on the Peshawar Lancers probed eastwards from the most forward position of the 7th Armoured and suddenly found themselves standing at the coast, watching the Adriatic Sea. The Italian units to the south were cut off.
The new Commander of I (UK) Tank Corps
[Notes: Due to a shitty timetable I will always be insanely busy on Monday and Tuesday, so I will always try to get something posted on Sunday.]