General Tylor’s diplomatic and language skills resulted in his secret mission to Rome to coordinate an 82nd Airborne para drop with Italian forces. General Dwight D. Eisenhower would later say that “the risks he ran were greater than I asked any other agent or emissary to take during the war.”
To tell the story of General Taylor’s secret mission to Rome we need to go back a bit and look at the situation in Italy from July – September 1943.
On 25 July, the Grand Council of Fascism voted to limit the power of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini and handed control of the Italian armed forces over to King Victor Emmanuel III. The next day Mussolini met with the King, was dismissed as prime minister, and was then imprisoned. A new Italian government, led by General Pietro Badoglio and Victor Emmanuel III, took over in Italy.
Although they publicly declared that they would keep fighting alongside the Germans, the new Italian government began secret negotiations with the Allies to come over to the Allied side. On 3 September, a secret armistice was signed with the Allies at Fairfield Camp in Sicily.
On 3 September, British troops crossed the short distance from Sicily to the ‘toe’ of Italy in Operation Baytown. Two more Allied landings took place on 9 September at Salerno (Operation Avalanche) and at Taranto. The Italian surrender meant that the Allied landings at Taranto took place unopposed, with the troops simply disembarking from warships at the docks rather than assaulting the coastline.
One of the conditions agreed upon in the armistice was that the Allies would support the Italians in saving Rome from the Germans. For this plans were made for an operation called Giant II. This involved the 82nd Airborne which was to be landed over several nights in increments on five airfields near Rome.
They could not land closer to Rome due to the presence of several anti-aircraft batteries that had to be avoided by the troop carrier aircraft.On the ground, they would be supported and transported to Rome by Italian forces and would then aid the Italian in saving Rome from the Germans.
For this mission to succeed the Italians had to provide hundreds of trucks to move the 82nd Airborne to Rome, protect the airfields and suppress all anti-aircraft batteries that would threaten the slow moving transport aircraft. In the negotiations, the Italians accepted all these requirements without much hesitation which made General Ridgway, then commanding the 82nd Airborne, and General Taylor, commanding its artillery, very nervous.
They went to their superiors and proposed to send two representatives, one for the 82nd and one for the Troop Carriers, to Rome to determine the feasibility of the operation. General Taylor and Air Force Colonel Gardiner were selected to go to Rome and look things over.
The Secret Mission to Rome
For fear of being captured before Allies landed at Salerno, they were not to leave for Rome until shortly before September 9th, D-Day. They departed at 2 AM on September 7th, in full uniform, and boarded a British patrol boat which met up with an Italian corvette off an island. They moved to the Corvette with their baggage, which included a radio to strengthen the link between the Allies and the Italian high command.