Later in June, the 517th was taken off the line, getting some much-needed rest and joining the IV Corps reserve. The Mediterranean High Command had this RCT penciled in for the coming invasion of Southern France.
Here, they would repair equipment, refit, rearm, train and orient fresh troops replacing casualties. Having fought well in just over a two-week battle and winning their first battlefield engagement against the enemy, they had earned this brief rest and relaxation
They remained there until early July.
It would be the first Axis capital to be captured during World War II.
In addition to this, Rome’s status as a great and ancient city of culture and history was symbolically important. The Allied leaders knew that the possible destruction of the city could have had a hugely negative impact on the morale of the Allies.
The city of Rome was of great strategic importance, primarily because of its airfields and extensive road and rail networks. Both General Eisenhower and Prime Minister Churchill saw the liberation of Rome as being hugely significant in regaining a strong foothold in Europe.
Rome had been under German occupation for nine months since September 1943. It had previously suffered damage from Allied bombers while still in allegiance with Germany and, to a lesser extent from its former allies after its surrender. While under occupation by the Germans, Rome had been declared an open city. This signaled to the invading armies that it would not offer resistance, thus ensuring that the minimum force would be used to take control of the city. This was also a welcome relief after the heavily fought campaign at Cassino. Roman architecture was largely untouched by war, although some amount of bombing craters and street fighting bullet holes were visible.
While not the romantic comedic movie acted out by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn years later, this Roman holiday was for the troops a chance to take in the sights, watch USO shows, eat some PX rations versus those stale canned rations fed to them in the field. Coca Cola was plentiful, cold beer allowed. The American GI had come to town!
Men always find a way to play their favorite sport.
Baseball games popped up in the streets and on open fields. Boxing matches offered opportunities for the soldiers to stay in shape and vent without getting thrown in the brig for unauthorized fist-a-cuffs.
Liberated by the Allies less than a month earlier, Italians were quickly removing all symbols, posters, and any indication that a German occupation army had recently been on the Apian Way.
Then, there was that tour of the Vatican.
Pope Pius XII led the Catholic Church during the tumult of World War II and when the Vatican heard that American parachutists were camped near Rome, the Pope, criticized by historians for his silence during the Fascist and Nazi occupation, invited the troopers in for an audience. They saw St. Peter’s Basilica, untouched by the war, the Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Cupola di San Pietro, the statues, the magnificence of the architecture, visited with the Pope and for the Catholic soldiers, celebrated Mass in the chapels.
Some also visited the sites around Rome; Corso Umberto, the Coliseum, Roman Forum, Victor Emmanuole Monument, the Pantheon, Arch of Constantine, the Appian Way, the ancient Roman aqueducts and catacombs. For most GI’s, this was their first time in a major city, away from home, in a foreign country, seeing places they had only read about in their history books.
Next Up: Funzafire! USO and Warm Food
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