During World War II, Winston Churchill called Italy the "soft underbelly of Europe." Therefore, it was selected as the first place the United States and England chose to directly attack the Axis Powers in Europe. The Allies invaded Sicily and then landed at Salerno on the Italian mainland. From there they fought their way up the Italian Peninsula for the next year and a half until they reached the Brenner Pass in the Alpine mountains bordering Germany.
That strategy accomplished two things. It eliminated 600,000 soldiers of the Italian Army when Italy formally surrendered in September of 1943. But more importantly, over 1,000,000 German soldiers and support troops were transferred to Italy. Of this total 556,000 became casualties. A total of 25 German panzer, paratrooper and army divisions were diverted from other fronts and used to defend Italy. Imagine what 25 more divisions could have done to stop the Normandy Invasion or change the outcome of the battles in Russia?
Hitler's propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels was quoted as say-ing that if the German Army had another 15 or 20 divisions to throw into the Eastern Front, "we would undoubtedly be in a position to repulse the Russians. Unfortunately, we must put these 15 or 20 divisions into combat in the Italian theater."
My father, Frederick J. Kraics II, was a soldier in one of the allied divisions which fought its way up the Italian Peninsula. A map traces the route of Fred's division from its landing in Naples to Minturno, Cassino, Rome, Volterra, Firenze, Bologna, Verona, Vicenza, Trento, and Bolzano up to the Brenner Pass in the Alpine Mountains.