Operation Baytown (i)

This was the Allied first amphibious landing in mainland Italy, in which formations of General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army crossed the Strait of Messina from Sicily to land near Reggio di Calabria (3 September 1943).

This was just a few hours after the signature (but before the implementation) of the armistice between the Allies and the Italian government of Maresciallo d’Italia Pietro Badoglio, which had been formed after the overthrow of the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, on 24 July. The armistice was not declared openly until the time of the ‘Avalanche’ landings in the Gulf of Salerno six days later.

In ‘Hammer’ (iii) on 31 August the battleships Nelson and Rodney, light cruiser Orion, and destroyers Offa, Petard, Quail, Queenborough, Quilliam, Tartar, Troubridge, Tyrian and Polish Piorun had carried out a preparatory bombardment of positions along the coast between Reggio di Calabria and Pessaro, and on 2 September the bombardment was repeated by the battleships Valiant and Warspite, light cruisers Orion and Mauritius, some of the above-mentioned destroyers as well as Faulknor and Loyal, monitors Erebus, Roberts and Abercrombie, and gunboats Aphis and Scarab.

On 3 September the assault elements of Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s XIII Corps were transported in 22 tank landing ships and 270 smaller landing craft across the Strait of Messina in the face of little resistance, and landed near Reggio di Calabrio and Villa San Giovanni. The landing was supported from across the Strait of Messina by artillery located near Messina and by the guns of the three monitors, two cruisers, two gunboats, and destroyers Loyal, Offa, Piorun, Quail, Queenborough and Quilliam.

From north to south, the landings were undertaken by Brigadier G. W. B. Tarleton’s 17th Brigade and Brigadier L. M. Campbell’s 13th Brigade of Major General G. C. Bucknall’s 5th Division, and Brigadier H. M. S. Penhale’s 3rd Brigade of Major General G. G. Simonds’s Canadian 1st Division within the XIII Corps, which would then cross in force, the object being to pin Generalmajor Walter Fries’s 29th Panzergrenadierdivision by means of a British advance along the north coast of Calabria and a Canadian advance along the southern coast. The strategic objective was to draw in German reserves from the north, thus facilitating ‘Avalanche’.

However, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Süd’, was not taken in by the Allied deception and therefore kept most of his strength in the area of Salerno where he felt, correctly as proved by events, that the main Allied blow would fall.