WW II: Allies' Missed Opportunity in Italy

Gen. George S. Patton called it “the unforgiving minute”– that moment in combat when opportunity for success at little or no cost occurs – a moment that must be seized boldly and swiftly or it is lost, with terrible consequences. Such a moment occurred following Italian dictator Benito Mussolini’s overthrow on July 25, 1943. New Prime Minister Marshal Pietro Badoglio promised Italy would honor its Axis commitment. No one believed him. For both Germany and the Allies, time was of the essence. The first side able to fill that unforgiving minute and capitalize upon the surrender of Italy with decisive action would dictate how war would be waged in the country.

When Supreme Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower heard the news about Mussolini, he wanted to broadcast an announcement praising the Italian people for deposing Mussolini, offer them peace with honor, and quick repatriation of Italian prisoners of war. Unfortunately, his British and American political advisers, Harold Macmillan and Robert Murphy, pointed out his idea was a political decision, not a military one; he needed Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Franklin Roosevelt’s permission before he could act.

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