D-Day Dodgers, The
DESCRIPTION: "We're the D-Day Dodgers, out in Italy, Always on the vino, Always on the spree." The soldiers describe their allegedly safe and luxurious life: "Salerno, a holiday with pay," etc. They point out the nonsense of Lady Astor's remarks
AUTHOR: Hamish Henderson?
KEYWORDS: war battle death
July 10, 1943 - British and American troops attack Sicily (Messina falls on August 17, but the Germans have evacuated)
Sept 9, 1943 - Allies invade the Italian mainland
June 4/5, 1944 - Allies enter Rome
June 6, 1944 - D-Day. Invasion of Normandy begins
REFERENCES (4 citations):
Hopkins-SongsFromTheFrontAndRead, p. 110, "D-Day Dodgers" (1 text, tune referenced)
Scott-TheBalladOfAmerica, pp. 358-359, "D-Day Dodgers" (1 text, 1 tune)
Silber/Silber-FolksingersWordbook, p. 282, "The D-Day Dodgers" (1 text)
Pete Seeger, "The D-Day Dodgers" (on PeteSeeger39)
cf. "Lili Marlene" (tune, plus cross-references to songs of the Italian campaign)
cf. "O'er the Hills of Sicily" (subject: the Italian campaign)
NOTES [1937 words]: Lady Astor, an American-born member of the British parliament, was reported to have criticised the Allied armies in Italy as "D-Day Dodgers." In fact they were some of the hardest-suffering troops of the war; they fought well-entrenched Germans and never received enough equipment or reinforcements. The troops in Normandy were, comparatively, lucky; casualties were lighter and conditions were better.
As Stokesbury, p. 299, says, "Italy became the theater of fighting that most resembled the horrible static trench warfare of World War I. Few soldiers of World War II experienced the kind of deadening, soul-destroying fighting that had characterized the earlier war, but most of those who did experience it fought in Italy."
Keegan, p. 254, says, "The bloodiness of the Italian fighting was felt all the harder by the Allied Mediterranean force because,by a chance of assignments, so many of its divisions were drawn from narrowly localised recruiting areas. The US 36th and 45th Divisions were respectively Texas and mountain states formations of the National Guard, while the British 56th and 46th Divisions came from London and the North Midlands. The two Indian divisions, 4th and 8th, were raised from the 'martial race' minority of the Raj, while the 1st Canadian was formed of volunteers from a dominion which, after the tragedy of a failed raid on Dieppe in August 1942, harboured ill-concealed suspicions about the freedom with which British generals shed its soldiers' blood. Three other groups of soldiers under [theater commander Harold] Alexander's command, the 2nd New Zealand Division and the French Moroccan and Polish II Corps, were renowned for their hardihood.... However, in the prevailing circumstances, all three lacked any easy means to make good the losses they suffered at the front." So not only were the costs high, but the soldiers lost even more of their close comrades and squad-mates than in most of the other campaigns of the war.
This song is how the troops answered Lady Astor.
When the Allies had finished their conquest of Sicily (for which see "Banks of Sicily (The 51st Highland Division's Farewell to Sicily)"), there was the question of what to do next. The Sicily victory had been relatively easy (Botjer, p. 25), which if anything made the choices harder. They could go for Italy. They could go for Corsica or Sardinia. Or they could save troops for the invasion of France, which was of course the ultimate objective. But even if they put all their energies into France, they couldn't hope to invade before early 1944. So they would be out of contact with the Axis in the west for at least six or seven months, letting Germany throw everything it had into stopping Russia.
So the Allies made a last-minute decision to move on from Sicily into Italy. The fall of Sicily had caused the overthrow of Benito Mussolini, but for the time being, the Italians were still in the war -- at least nominally.
Salerno was one of the many instances of the Allies having a good idea and executing it miserably. The larger part of the Italian invasion force went across the straits of Messina to the very "toe" of Italy, but the Allied plan was to land additional troops closer to Rome so that they could cut off German troops in the south and reach the capital more easily. They would have liked to pick Naples, since they needed a good port, but Naples was too far away for their fighters to control the air. So they picked Salerno, which was about as far north as they could go and still retain air control. Parts of two corps, under the rather vain American general Mark Clark, landed on September 9, 1943 -- only to find the 16th Panzer right on the scene. (The 16th Panzer that had been rebuilt after Stalingrad, so it was pretty green, but the Americans were green, too; Botjer, p. 52, and the 16th Panzer was one of the few German units up to strength; Atkinson, p. 203.) The invaders were caught by a rapid German counterattack and stuck in their tiny beachhead. Clark -- who had committed his thin reserves far too early (Atkinson, p. 214) -- thought he would have to pull out, but the Allies managed to send in enough additional forces that he could survive until British forces came up from the south to break the German siege. (It helped that Hitler had withheld two divisions that German General Kesselring had wanted.) But the Allies were no nearer to Naples than when the affair started; Salerno surely more costly than it was worth (Wheal/Pope, pp. 415-416).
As witness the fact tat the Allies lost 8659 killed and injured and several thousand prisoners, plus damage to several ships; the Germans suffered total losses of 4102 (Botjer, p. 59).
The mess was so bad that the general in control of the American sector on the ground, Ernest J. Dawley, was not only relieved but demoted to colonel, although the judgment of history is that the fault is mostly Clark's, not Dawley's (Botjer, pp. 57-58; members of a Texas division that suffered badly actually tried, but failed, to get court-martialed to clear their records; Botjer, pp 71-72. Atkinson, p. 212, points out that General Clark was actually junior to Dawley in permanent rank, and younger as well; Clark had done all he could to sideline Dawley (who wasn't even supposed to go ashore in the first phase of the landing) -- then blamed the junior officer for his own and other officers' decisions). Dawley was apparently almost happy to be out of there, even though it cost him his ranking; he said later, "I can't work with Clark. He made decisions off the top of his head" (Atkinson, p. 235). And they were bad decisions; some subordinates, sick of his autocratic ways, apparently christened him "Marcus Aurelius Clarkus" (Atkinson, p. 237), because he was a tyrant trying to control Rome.
Although the Germans did not push the invaders into the sea, they were successful enough that the German high command made the decision to hold Italy rather than retreating to the Alps (Botjer, pp. 60-61), turning the Italian campaign into a long-drawn-out struggle. And the Germans continued to be far better planners than the Allies -- the Anglo-Americans didn't even realize that winters in Italy were cold and that the men would need to be equipped for that, and would have to deal with the almost un-navigable Italian mud (Atkinson, pp. 252-253).
There seem to have been a few in the Allied high command who thought Italy really was a picnic; at Christmas 1943, along with useful supplies for the holidays, the troops received such things as ping-pong balls, tennis nets, and masquerade costumes (Atkinson, p. 312). Needless to say, they went unused.
The next Allied attempt at using an amphibious assault as a shortcut, at Anzio, also produced tremendous casualties and relatively poor results (Botjer, p. 72ffff.)
The soldiers in Italy suffered terribly: "Men cycled out for rest in Naples after only ten or twelve days of living in ditches and tramping through brambles and thorn bushes on the mountainsides, much of the time soaked through from the chilly rain, were a sight to behold as they waited for trucks to bring them back to civilization. Their uniforms were tattered and filthy; often even their boots were torn. Behind several days' growth of beard were green-yellow complexions, decidedly unhealthy even by the standards of Patton. Bloodshot, bleary eyes showed their lack of sleep. Many shivered incessantly, for the damp cold had penetrated to their inner depths. Few could stand or sit still, unless they were very sick with heavy colds or pneumonia. These were men who had been pushed to the limit" (Botjer, p. 82).
As an example, the American third division, in the two months after it came to Italy, suffered 8600 casualties. The infantry portions of the division lost 70% of their men (Atkinson, p. 261). Apart from the sheer human tragedy, a unit hit that hard simply wasn't going to function well in any area. Plus, by November 1943, men were suffering thousands of cases of "cold ground trauma" and trench foot (Atkinson, p. 265). The term "Post-traumatic stress disorder" hadn't been coined yet (it wouldn't become an official diagnosis until the 1980s), but psychiatric casualties were very high after months spent in continuous combat, and there was no real way to treat them (Atkinson, pp. 506-509).
And with almost all available men and equipment being devoted to the Normandy invasion, there was little the local generals could do to speed up the campaign or improve the men's lot (Botjer, p. 103). It wasn't until June 4/5 that Rome finally fell to the allies. That the city was relatively undamaged was only because of an informal agreement between the Allies and the German commander Albert Kesselring not to demolish it (Botjer, pp. 107-108). The men even often found themselves using mules for transport, because motor transport couldn't move in the Italian mountains (Botjer, p. 122).
Even General Lukas, who replaced Dawley, recorded, I wish so many things were not done on a shoestring. This campaign was poorly planned in many respects. We should have at least twice as many troops" (Atkinson, p. 265).
The Italian campaign didn't finally end until the spring of 1945, even as the Russians were pounding Berlin; the last German troops were forced into retreat, and Mussolini was captured by partisans as he tried to flee to Switzerland and was killed without trial (Botjer, pp. 192-194). The Germans actually held on better in Italy than anywhere else -- on a tactical level, they exceeded what they hoped for in the Italian campaign. Botjer, p. 196, concludes, "Neither side lost in Italy [except, of course, all the bombed, brutalized, kidnapped, starving civilians]. But that only highlights the real tragedy of the Italian campaign. Nobody lost because, from a military standpoint, it wasn't all that important. It really didn't have to happen."
And the soldiers suffered for a long time. Think of it this way: The distance from Normandy to the Elbe is almost exactly the same as the distance from the toe of Italy to the plains of Milan. The soldiers in Normany covered that distance in eleven months. For the soldiers in Italy, it took twenty.
According to Atkinson, p. 581, Allied casualties in the Italian campaign totaled 302,000. American casualties were about 120,000 (23,501 killed), or about one man in six -- which doesn't sound horrible, but that's one in six Americans in the theatre, not one in six men in the fighting units! The casualties were less than half those in the Normandy-to-Berlin campaign, but the forces involved were much smaller; as a percentage, American losses in Italy were far worse.
And the Italian campaign seemed to promote atrocities. The Allies brought gas, which got loose; they bombed civilian sites such as the Monte Cassino monastery; there were many rapes. It was an ugly, ugly part of the war, and the Americans had perhaps the dirtiest hands of all.
Some have argued that the Italian campaign caused D-Day to be delayed (though I can't imagine it being scheduled before May 1944, so if there was a delay, it wasn't much). So the "D-Day Dodgers" in fact spend some nine more months in combat than those who went to Normandy. Better, then, to speak of the troops in Normandy as the "Italy Avoiders," or some such.
The Folksinger's Wordbook credits this to Hamish Henderson, which is possible, as he wrote other "anonymous" songs of World War II. But I know of no actual proof, and many authors treat the song as anonymous. Hopkins-SongsFromTheFrontAndRead implies he got it from Canadian troops, which at least implies oral tradition. - RBW
Last updated in version 5.3
- Atkinson: Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (being Volume Two of The Liberation Trilogy), Henry Holt and Company, 2007
- Botjer: George F. Botjer, Sideshow War: The Italian Campaign 1943-1945, Texas A & M University Press, 1996
- Keegan: John Keegan, The Second World War, Viking, 1989
- Stokesbury: James L. Stokesbury, A Short History of World War II, William Morrow & Company, 1980
- Wheal/Pope: Elizabeth-Anne Wheal and Stephen Pope, The Macmillan Dictionary of The Second World War, second edition, Macmillan, 1997
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