The Battle of Belvedere was one of the battles fought by the French Expeditionary Corps (C.E.F.) in Italy. The C.E.F. played a very active role within the Allied army in Italy, which consisted mainly of American and British troops.
Although it included several divisions of Free French, it is important to understand that the C.E.F. derived essentially from the African Army, which was totally reorganised after the Casablanca conference and the setting up of the Anfa Plan by Roosevelt and General Giraud (14-24 January 1943), who deserved most of the credit for the plan. His insistence in dealings with the Americans was unwavering, and in order to make a more forceful impression, his statements sometimes bordered on the basic "Just give us weapons!" he was heard to shout at Roosevelt.
The rearmament of the African Army was slow; not due to reluctance on the part of the Americans, but because technical information had to be translated into French, instructors sent to North Africa, training organised, etc, all of which took time. In addition, the American army was only just able to cover its own needs. In consequence, it is difficult to blame it for not satisfying the needs of the African Army immediately.
During the first half of 1943, the French did not always make a very good impression on the Allies. The conflict between Giraud and de Gaulle exasperated Roosevelt and Churchill (who referred to de Gaulle as their "problem child"). This dispute was not without repercussions at the level of the soldiers, and the behaviour of the Free French vis-à-vis the African Army, which was suspected of sympathising with the Vichy regime, did not make things any easier (poaching, intimidation, etc). The first Free French Division refused in particular to march alongside the African Army at the end of the Tunisian campaign on 20 May 1943. And so the merger of the African Army and the forces of the Free French only became effective on 1 August 1943 and was not without second thoughts on both sides. Juin was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the new army. Indeed, the historical facts cannot be ignored: the creation of the C.E.F. and the participation of the African Army in the Italian campaign and, later, in the Provence landings, owed little to the Free French or to General de Gaulle.
The Americans were still backing Giraud at the beginning of 1943 but without much conviction.
Roosevelt even confided :
He is a hopeless administrator. He will be a hopeless leader."
Giraud also made some surprising remarks that did not always inspire confidence among the Allied leaders.
In Casablanca, for example, he said that Corsica and Sicily could be taken within the next two months while the British and Americans did not envisage landing before the month of August.
Visiting Clark at the front in Italy, he criticised the position of Clark’s H.Q. saying :
En 14, quand je commandais un régiment, j'étais à 1 kilomètre et demi, en 40, quand je commandais une armée, j'étais à 2 kilomètres derrière mon armée, je vous trouve trop loin."
Clark scathingly replied :
Yes, General, but don’t forget you were taken prisoner twice."
It was only in the summer of 1943 that the Allied general staff envisaged using French troops in the Italian campaign. The process that brought the C.E.F. into the fighting was long and hazardous for the French general staff based in Algiers. The decision owed much to the obstinacy of General Juin. The defeat of 1940 did not recommend the French as allies and many British and American officers considered the addition of French troops to their own forces as totally pointless. When operation Avalanche was launched at Salerno, on 9 September 1943, there were no Frenchmen in the landing craft.
But the French spared no efforts: the general mobilisation in French North Africa after operation Torch produced a contingent of 176,500 men, or 16.4% of the total French population of French North Africa (a higher proportion than that recruited in metropolitan France in the first World War). The indigenous population provided 233,000 men, or 1.58% of the population.
The C.E.F. could have supplied as many as thirteen divisions, given the manpower that could have been recruited in Africa, but finally it provided eight, which meant that troops could be left in French North Africa. The C.E.F. counted nearly 115,000 men, 12,000 vehicles and 2,500 horses and mules. In addition a women's contingent - the A.F.A.T. (Army Auxiliary Female Personnel) - was incorporated in the C.E.F. Thus France was the only country to fight in the Italian campaign with forces including women.
From summer 1943, General Juin concentrated on equipping and training General du Vigier’s 1st Armoured Division, General Blaizot’s 9th Colonial Infantry Division (9th D.I.C.) and General Dody’s 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division (2nd D.I.M.) that were stationed in the Oranie region [north west Algeria] and in eastern Morocco.
The undisputed superiority of the Allies could be seen in the technique of amphibious operations, an area in which the American marines, with their modern equipment, excelled. France, having been reduced to inactivity by the events of 1940, was very far behind. Juin, however, managed to revive the combative spirits of his men and in a few months the African Army was transformed from what it had been under the yoke of the Armistice commission.