On 8 September 1943 Italy's head of government Pietro Badoglio announced the armistice with the previous war opponents, the United States of America, Great Britain and the Soviet Union. Italy was transformed from an ally of the Germans into an enemy. The Wehrmacht had already strengthened its troops in Italy in August. Now it disarmed the Italian army on the Italian mainland and in the territories occupied by Italy in southern France, the Balkans and Greece.
The Italian king and the state and military leadership fled Rome. The Italian army remained without a clear order to resist. The numerically inferior Germans occupied the peninsula and captured a total of about 800,000 soldiers, mostly without a fight. Only a few Italian units resisted.
"The children threw stones at us and the women spat at us... We were bad people, the traitors, the scum of humanity. This contempt hurt us almost even more than hunger"
Settimo Bosetti, 1998
In his calendar - a gift from his fiancée - the lawyer and captain Mario Zipoli (1911-1991) noted down the experiences during his capture in France, on the transport to Germany and in the German prisoner of war camps:
"September 8, Wednesday at 8 pm, the Division Command informs us that an armistice has been signed; September 9, Thursday, After a stormy night, the Germans have imprisoned us; September 10, Friday, ... Today is a quiet day. They left us without lunch; 11 September, ... Even today without lunch and dinner. At 16 o'clock departure to the railway station ..., on foot. Departure by train at around midnight with unknown destination; 12 September, Sunday, At 6 pm we reach Marseille. It is hot and thirsty. Tongue and lips are dry: The thirst is really terrible."
Propaganda photographers accompanied the occupation of the Italian mainland by the Wehrmacht. Their photographs were intended to show that Germany had the situation under control despite the landing of the Allies. The Germans promised the Italians that they would be released back home. Officers were even allowed to keep their weapons for the time being. The ordinary soldiers were happy about the supposed end of the war.
The announcement of the cease-fire with the Allies by Italy on 8 September 1943 was interpreted by National Socialist Germany as "treason". The newspapers were outraged by Pietro Badoglio, head of the government, and the Italian royal house's resignation of the German-Italian alliance. National Socialist propaganda compared Italy's change of sides with its behaviour during the First World War. In 1915 Italy had declared war on its partners Germany and Austria despite an alliance agreement. In its publications, however, the German press also tied in with older prejudices about the Italians that had existed since the early 19th century. The propaganda had clearly negative consequences for the treatment of Italian soldiers in German captivity.