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Photomosaic Maps of the Allied Invasion of Italy

The following post is by Ryan Moore, a cartographic specialist in the Geography and Map Division.

In World War II, the Allies opened an offensive against Fascist Italy in 1943 after successfully defeating German and Italian forces in North Africa. The Allies first captured Sicily and then launched Operation Avalanche, a plan devised to seize the port of Naples, thus ensuring the Allies could resupply, and then to cut across to the east coast of the Italian boot, thereby trapping the German troops further south.

The Geography and Map Division holds rare photomosaic maps used in the planning of the invasion. The S. R. Carvo World War II map collection contains two rare photomosaic maps of the western Italian coast, along with numerous road maps of Italy. Carvo’s personal connection to the materials and his role in the war have not been ascertained by the Library.

Photomosaic map of Italian coast at Gulf of Salerno noting Axis defense positions and coastal features.

“Operation Avalanche; Defense, Beach, and Underwater Information; Uncontrolled Mosaic [Sheet 8],” Joint Army Navy Intelligence Section, 1943. S. R. Carvo World War II Map Collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

The photomosaic maps were created by the Joint Army Navy Intelligence Section in July of 1943 in advance of the Allied landings in September. They illustrate safe passage for landing craft in the Gulf of Salerno to the Italian shore. The depth of water and the presence of sandbars are noted. Beyond the shore, information about vegetation, inland hydrography, and routes from the beach inland are illustrated. German defensive positions such as machine gun nests (noted as M.G.), pillboxes, supply dumps, anti-aircraft guns (A.A), and fire trenches are indicated.

Photomosaic map of Italian coast at Gulf of Salerno noting Axis defense positions and coastal features.

“Operation Avalanche; Defense, Beach, and Underwater Information; Uncontrolled Mosaic [Sheet 7],” Joint Army Navy Intelligence Section, 1943. S. R. Carvo World War II Map Collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

During the war, such detailed information was restricted to a small circle of military officials. This explains the marking in the lower left corner: “SECRET-BIGOT.” The term “BIGOT” was a designation for highly secret military information that was compartmentalized among a limited circle of planners and decision makers. Limiting distribution and access to only segments of a plan minimized the risk that a spy could learn the details of the complete operation.

The landings commenced September 9th, and although the Allied forces quickly seized the beachhead, the Germans launched numerous and tenacious counterattacks that nearly overran the Allied troops. The Allies held the line, and by October, the whole of southern Italy was under Allied control. Soon the Allies were landing reinforcements and supplies for their drive north to Rome.

U.S. Coast Guardsmen swing an Army truck overside as their combat transport lies off a bridgehead

“U.S. Coast Guardsmen swing an Army truck overside as their combat transport lies off a bridgehead established by the Americans at Paesternum [i.e., Paestum], just south of Salerno, [Italy]. Coast Guardsmen waiting in a landing barge alongside the transport will take the truck ashore,” Oct. 1943. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

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