The Salerno mutiny was a rebellion during the Second World War by about 200 British soldiers who, on 16 September 1943, refused assignment to new units as replacements during the initial stages of the Allied invasion of Italy.
It was, specifically, men from the 50th (Northumbrian) and 51st (Highland) Infantry Divisions, both of which had served as part of General Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army, and were veterans of the North African Campaign. About 1,500 of them had sailed from Tripoli, on the understanding that they were to join the rest of their units, at the time based in Sicily and soon to return to the United Kingdom in preparation for Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion of Normandy. Instead, once aboard ship, they were told that they were being taken to Salerno, Italy, to join the British 46th Infantry Division (Major-General John Hawkesworth) and 56th (London) Infantry Division (Major-General Douglas Graham), which had both suffered heavy losses. Both divisions were serving as part of Lieutenant-General Richard McCreery's British X Corps, which itself was fighting as part of Lieutenant general Mark Clark's U.S. Fifth Army. Many of the soldiers felt they had been deliberately misled.
Matters were made worse by the complete lack of organisation when they reached Salerno, leaving them angry and frustrated. Most of the soldiers, a thousand or so fresh recruits, were taken off to join new units, leaving 500 veterans, 300 of whom were moved to a nearby field. They were still there by 20 September, refusing postings to unfamiliar units. They were addressed by Lieutenant-General McCreery, the General Officer Commanding (GOC) of the British X Corps, who admitted that a mistake had been made, and promised that they would rejoin their old units once Salerno was secure. The men were also warned of the consequences of mutiny in wartime.
Of the three hundred in the field, 108 decided to follow orders, leaving a hard core of 192. They were all charged with mutiny under the Army Act, the largest number of men accused at any one time in all of British military history. The accused were shipped to Algeria, where the courts-martial opened towards the end of October. All were found guilty, and three sergeants were sentenced to death. The sentences were subsequently commuted to 12 years of forced labour and eventually suspended, although the men faced constant harassment for the rest of their military careers.
References[edit | edit source]
- David, Saul (2005). Mutiny at Salerno: An Injustice Exposed. London: Conway Maritime Press. pp. 240 pages. ISBN 978-1-84486-019-7. "Fifty years on, Saul David became the first military historian to gain access to the court martial papers normally restricted for 75 years"
- Whicker, Alan. Whicker's War HarperCollins 2005 pp87-8 ISBN 0007205074
- Bainton, Roy (August 2003). "The Salerno Mutiny of 1943". History Magazine. BBC. Archived from the original on September 4, 2006. https://web.archive.org/web/20060904002439/http://www.cabarfeidh.com/mutiny%20salerno.htm. Retrieved 2007-06-28.
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