General von Senger surrenders to General Clark at Fifteenth Army Headquarters. Note General von Senger, an anti-Nazi, gives the correct German Army salute and not the – mandatory after the July 20, 1944 assassination attempt – Heil Hitler arm salute.
A series of formal secret negotiations thus opened between the western Allies and Wolff’s representatives in March and April. With the overwhelming success of Allied offensives everywhere robbing the Axis negotiators of any remaining bargaining power, German emissaries arrived at the 15th Army Group headquarters in Caserta, Italy, on 28 April to arrange a cease-fire and the unconditional surrender of the remaining Axis forces south of the Alps. They signed the appropriate documents at 1400 hours the next day and agreed to a cease-fire along the entire Italian front at 1200 hours on 2 May 1945. The devastating impact of the Allied offensive in April, however, had so shattered Axis communications and unit cohesion that the 15th Army Group agreed to withhold announcement of the cease-fire for three days, until late on 2 May, to provide enemy commanders the opportunity to notify their scattered units. In the meantime, the fighting continued.
By 28 April Truscott’s Fifth Army stretched from the French border in the west to the Verona area in the east, curving in and out of the Alpine foothills. His forces still fought battles between 28 April and 2 May, and men still died, but for the most part American and Allied troops rolled across northern and north-western Italy without encountering serious opposition. The stream of prisoners taken since mid-April turned into a deluge during the last days of the campaign, and several combat units left the front lines to guard the tens of thousands of Axis soldiers swelling makeshift prisoner-of-war camps throughout northern Italy.
To the north the 10th Mountain Division continued to advance up Lake Garda’s eastern shore, through the Alpine valleys leading to the Brenner Pass, the narrow defiles often blocked by last-ditch enemy rear guards. On 30 April, in response to reports that Benito Mussolini and other top Fascist officials were in a villa on the western shore, elements of the division crossed the lake to discover that their intelligence was false. Indeed, the Americans soon learned that Communist partisans had executed Mussolini near Lake Como on 28 April, his body later being strung up by its heels on the Piazzale Loreto in nearby Milan. The American 10th Mountain troops reached the northern end of Lake Garda on 30 April, where Colonel Darby was killed by a random enemy artillery shell, just days before the end of hostilities. By the time of the final surrender on 2 May, the division had taken the towns of Riva, Torbole, and Nago, and was ready to advance into the Alps.
Immediately south of the Alps, the 1st Armored Division continued to drive westward on 27 April, meeting Italian partisans from Milan who reported that they had already liberated the city, a fact U.S. troops confirmed two days later. On the afternoon of 30 April General Crittenberger and a composite command representing the entire IV Corps entered Milan, the largest city in northern Italy. In the meantime, the 1st Armored Division had moved west and southwest of the city, clearing small pockets of resistance and reaching out twenty miles farther west to the Ticino River by 2 May. Behind it, the 34th Division continued its clearing operations until it relieved the 1st Armored Division north of Milan, sealing off any Axis elements still attempting to withdraw north. South of Milan, the Brazilian Expeditionary Force bottled up the 148th Grenadier and Italia Bersaglieri Divisions on 28 April. On the following day the German commander surrendered; during the next twenty-four hours the Brazilians collected over 13,500 prisoners.
By 1 May clearing operations had ended, and a Brazilian task force joined the 92d Division at Alessandria, forty-five miles southwest of Milan, while the Japanese-Americans soldiers of the 442d Regimental Combat Team entered Turin, about fifty miles farther west, later that day. By 30 April the last organized Axis force in northwest Italy, the Ligurian Army, composed of the German LXXV Corps and the Italian Corps Lombardia, capitulated. For the next forty-eight hours, as the appropriate orders trickled down from the headquarters of what remained of Army Group C, the Ligurian Army’s subordinate units surrendered piecemeal to IV Corps troops.
In north-eastern Italy the 88th Division left the Adige River for Vicenza, arriving on 28 April. Soldiers of the division cleared the city in bitter house-to-house fighting before moving farther north, stretching out along Highway 11 between Verona and Vicenza. There they captured thousands of retreating enemy soldiers before sealing the last escape route north. On the last day of April, Truscott transferred the 85th Infantry Division from IV to II Corps, and on the following day both the 85th and 88th Infantry Divisions began a northward advance, moving along the Piave River toward the U.S. Seventh Army moving south from Germany, a juncture accomplished on 4 May. Elsewhere, the 91st Infantry and the 6th South African Armored Divisions protected the flank of British Eighth Army forces driving north and northeast, the latter reaching Trieste where they joined Tito’s Yugoslavian Communist partisans on 2 May.
That evening the 15th Army Group headquarters transmitted the cease-fire orders throughout northern Italy, and the remaining Axis forces laid down their arms within the next forty-eight hours. On the afternoon of 3 May 1945, Generals Truscott and McCreery attended a ceremony at 15th Army Group headquarters in Caserta, where Lt. Gen. Fridolin von Senger und Etterlin, Vietinghoff ’s representative, formally surrendered the remaining Axis forces in Italy to General Clark, which ended World War II in the Mediterranean.