Major road routes in Italy during the war

Discussion in 'Italy' started by Chris C, Jan 23, 2021.

  1. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Hi all,

    What I'm looking at right now about 1st Canadian Infantry Division in NE Italy (October 1944) touches on the use of Route 9. How well made were Italy's major road routes during the war, and when were they constructed? What materials were used and how much better were they than ordinary roads? How important were they for Allied supply transportation? (On a scale of "useful" to "vital"?)

    Mostly just curious!

  2. hutt

    hutt Member

    This is a fascinating subject and I've given it a bit of thought to try and imagine the sorts of roads and conditions that my father would have driven over in the RASC. Probably the best source so far has been actual photos from the campaign and the legend of the maps I have available. Here is an extract from the 1:100000 GSGS Map Sheet 88, Imola that has Route 9 (I believe) crossing it. The legend specifically mentions Route 9 and it would appear to fall in the category of 6m wide metalled. The higher grade immediately above are rarely seen on this map series so must have been pretty unusual although having said that where did the Italians drive their wonderful pre war cars!
    I have tried to work out exactly which routes my father would have driven and its still a work in progress, most though, would probably fall in the second and third group on the legend and I suspect they also had to use the 'other roads and cart tracks' as well.
    I have some route maps in an AGRA diary that actually sets out the route to be used by the Regiments and their RASC support and I have also found maps in the Corp of Millitary Police diaries and it is obvious that where routes were particularly constrained, one way systems or limits on the types of vehicles allowed to use them were defined. These were then policed with significant penalties over and above the usual rules governing convoy traffic.
    Its a fascinating area and with a bit more attention I think I can progress my research further. As for when they were constructed, I suspect there would have been an impetus by Mussolini in his drive to modernise the country but I'm not an expert on Italian road building history.

    As for value, I'd put them on the scale as 'vital' and again I have seen evidence that the RE were constantly having to keep pace to ensure they were passable either after German demolition or simple damage through heavy allied traffic, especially if it was unavoidable for tanks to traverse them. Somewhere I think I have seen something to suggest that tanks were often forbidden so the presumption must have been that they were transported by lorry wherever possible and in terms of simple mechanical preservation, I guess that makes sense.

    Legend Sheet88.JPG
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2021
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  3. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Fascinating insights, Hutt, thank you for sharing them!

    I haven't found anything online about when the road would have been upgraded, but I gather that you are right to label that road as such in your map - it is still "SS9" and runs from Milan to Rimini. And in Roman times it was the Via Aemilia, Via Emilia today.
  4. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    Vital I would say if you are trying to get an infantry division on the move. My father was in the Reconnaissance Regiment for the 78th Infantry Division and his war diaries contain countless examples of them having to find routes around demolished bridges that the Germans had blown on their retreat.
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  5. Temujin

    Temujin Member

    Good day Chris......the best source to research road routes (or to answer your “just curious” question.....are RCE and RE sources. In specific, the History of the Royal Canadian Engineers Vol II, give you a lot of information on routes, bridges, maintenance, culverts etc etc in support of the movements of the Canadian Corps in Italy.....I’ve posted a few maps from that source......but the War Diaries of CRE in Italy also gives you more maps etc that show you the priority routes in the Corps/Division areas

    Just a couple of maps below from Vol II......but if you are “MORE curious”.....I can give you more information from the War Diaries

    This first map shows you ALL the Engineer bridges, culverts, road repairs etc etc for the MSR and other roads in the Lori Valley

    This is a more “general map”......but shows you the ROUTE NAMES etc of the MSR etc


    Some more “fun facts” about the Italy Campaign in respect to Engineers

    Between 1943 and 1945 the combined British/Commonwealth and US 15th Army Group completed 2,832 fixed span Bailey bridges of some 45 miles long, 120 floating Bailey or Treadway bridges, 490 railway viaducts and an incredible 430 permanent bridges.

    The longest bridge completed during the Italian campaign was the 343m (1,126ft) high level Class 30 Bailey Bridge over the River Sangro

    Sangro high level bridge under construction

    One of my favourite “bridge stories” in the Italian Campaign was the “Impossible bridge”
    The 69th Field Company Bengal Sappers carried out an incredible feat of military bridging over the River Moro, the Impossible Bridge (as it was called) was built by crossing over to the enemy side and building the bridge in reverse direction, to overcome a lack of construction space on the home bank. The word ‘impossible’ stems from the opinion of Royal Canadian Engineers who did the initial “Recce” on the bridge site; the Indians of course saw this as a challenge and resorted to manhandling all the parts of the bridge across the river. Bengal Sapper pride retained, signage with appropriate wording completed!

    AND, importantly, their just wasn’t “roads” that required repair and use, the Railway System was Integral in moving supply’s etc. The link below is an excellent source detailing the Railway Repairs, bridges and operation during the Italian campaign

    Railway reconstruction Italy 1943-1946 - Contents
    Last edited: Jan 23, 2021
  6. JimHerriot

    JimHerriot Ready for Anything

    Here you go Chris, pdf attached, pre-war construction, politics, and a couple of pictures within. More than "jerry built"!

    Kind regards, always,


    Attached Files:

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  7. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Thank you everyone especially Jim for the PDF

    This all stemmed from seeing the Carleton and Yorks reporting that Route 9 was available up to Cesena for two-way traffic.
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  8. TTH

    TTH Senior Member

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  9. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    From The Royal Engineers Journal in September 1946 issue, in an article 'An Outline of Engineering Work in the Italian Campaign':
    References to road building and yes, bridges abound. Later there is this passage:

    There is a good map too of roads etc, not suitable to copy to here - with my skill level.

    I expect there could be other Journal articles, I only searched for Italy.
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  10. hutt

    hutt Member

    For information as to its date, here is the corner of Sheet 88. Details of the Italian series maps, their sources and other details are in a booklet called Notes on G.S.G.S Maps of Italy.

    Notes GSGS.JPG


    Here is a snippet from 505 Provost Company, October 1944, mentioning Canadians and RE inspecting main routes. Several other references to bridges becoming unusable and requiring diversionary routes.


    Also there is quite a lot in 'The Campaign in Italy' British War Office 1945. Published by Military Library Research Service.
    Last edited: Jan 27, 2021
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  11. Tony56

    Tony56 Member Patron

    A day in the life of a Reconnaissance squadron:
    Bridge rA593239
    Bridge rA576296
    Bridge rA570302
  12. hutt

    hutt Member

    I've added the link to the G.S.G.S document on the web
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  13. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Returning to this subject. Does anyone know if History of the Royal Canadian Engineers Vol II is available online? (Free and legally, that is.) It doesn't seem to be the case, which is a shame. It just occurred to me that it would be interesting to know about Canadian bridging efforts at Cesena after it was captured.

    It looks like I will have to add this to my list of library reference books to consult when COVID is over.
  14. Uncle Target

    Uncle Target 25 pdrs 67th Field Regt Bou Ficha Tunisia 1943

    Students of the movements of 1st British Infantry Division will be aware of Arrow Route so called due to the American monopoly of the main Route 65 Florence to Bologna. EVERYONE else had to use minor roads via routes marked by Divisional signs (Arrows) unless they had express permission from the Americans.
    Anyone going north to Faenza (Modern SR302) Lamone Valley (Marradi), Palazzuolo sul Senio (SR306) through the Senio Valley or north to Monte Grande (Sillaro Valley) or all stops to the Gothic Line from Florence should be aware of it.
    Does anyone have an official map showing this route (or routes).
    Last edited: Feb 17, 2021
  15. Chris C

    Chris C Canadian researcher

    Uncle Target, you might try looking at page 45 of the NZ Sappers' PDF in post #9. It does seem to show the major roads. I guess that's not an official map though.
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