This was the Allied transfer of major land and air force elements from the Mediterranean theatre to the Western Front via the south of France in accord with agreements finalised at the ‘Argonaut’ conference in Yalta (early 1945).
The most significant of these elements was Lieutenant General C. Foulkes’s Canadian I Corps, which was transferred from Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery’s British 8th Army in Italy to General H. D. G. Crerar’s Canadian 1st Army in the Low Countries. By 8 February the Allied Force Headquarters’ plan for the movements had been almost finalised, and its priorities were the delivery of two fighter groups and one service group of Lieutenant General John K. Cannon’s (from 2 April Major General Benjamin W. Chidlaw’s) US 12th Army Air Force (delivered by 18 February), the headquarters of the Canadian I Corps and a proportion of its corps troops (25th February), Major General B. M. Hoffmeister’s Canadian 5th Armoured Division (3 March), Brigadier W. C. Murphy’s Canadian 1st Armoured Brigade (8th March), Major General R. A. Hull’s British 5th Division from the Middle East (11 March), Major General H. W. Foster’s Canadian 1st Division (23 March) and Major General C. E. Weir’s British 46th Division (from Greece when available).
The basic scheme was for advanced parties to be flown to Belgium while the main bodies travelled from Livorno and Naples on the west cost of Italy by LST, ‘Liberty’ ships and personnel shipping in a shuttle service to Marseille, where the French provided transit accommodation.
The scheduled rate of discharge at Marseille was 40 tanks, 50 carriers, 650 wheeled vehicles and 3,700 men per day. The movement of the I Corps began on 13 February, when the corps headquarters and about half its corps troops left Ravenna for Naples. By the end of March 57,972 men of the I Corps had reached Marseille, from which they were moved north to Belgium through France by road convoys or by rail with flatcars used for the tracked vehicles. The corps headquarters became operational in Belgium on 15 March, the Canadian 5th Armoured Division came into the line at Arnhem at the end of March, and the Canadian 1st Division was grouped in preparation for operations on 3 April.
An elaborate and successful deception operation was undertaken as 'Penknife' to conceal the Canadian transfer, and this deception was continued by radio and other means to maintain the supposed Canadian presence in Italy until the formations had been identified on the Belgian front. This undertaking disguised the weakening of the Allied strength on the Italian front for as long as possible, and also prevented German air and naval efforts from the area of La Spezia and Genoa area to intercept the shipping shuttling between Naples and Livorno in Italy and Marseille in France.
The 5th Division started to arrive in Taranto from the Middle East in the middle of February. The embarkation of two brigades and divisional troops from Naples (the third brigade did not disembark) started on 8 March and the concentration of the division in the Ghent area had been completed by 19 March, by which time about 13,000 men had been transferred.
The ‘Goldflake’ movements of US air units took place during February when the six squadrons of Lieutenant Colonel William R. Nevitt’s 27th Fighter Group and Colonel Earl E. Bates’s (from 14 February Lieutenant Colonel George T. Lee’s) 86th Fighter Group and 319th Air Servicing Group, departed for France.
The total sea movement associated with ‘Goldflake’ during February and March amounted to 110,000 men and 30,000 vehicles, of which 1,200 were tanks, and required 222 tank landing ships and 85 ship sailings. The movement of large numbers of line of communication units to the North-West European front continued after the departure of the fighting formations, and was not completed until the third week of April.
The withdrawal of these units reduced the Allies’ operational flexibility on the Italian front, but became a significant factor only after the German loss of the area to the south of the Po river, when the drive of Lieutenant General Sir Richard McCreery’s British 8th Army across north-eastern Italy toward Trieste was significantly slowed by severe transport shortages. The British chiefs-of-staff continued to press for the transfer of a second British infantry division to strengthen Lieutenant General Sir Miles Dempsey’s 2nd Army on the Western Front. But Field Marshal the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander’s Allied Armies in Italy command argued that all of its divisions had been allotted key tasks in the plan for the ‘Buckland’ spring offensive.
Toward the end of March Alexander despatched Major General Alfred M. Gruenther, the chief-of-staff of Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s 15th Army Group, to London to press this claim. It was only on 28 March that Alexander was finally informed that there would be no further withdrawals from Italy.