The German Counter-attack
Despite these additions, the Fourteenth Army outnumbered the Allies at Anzio by 4 February. But the German force was a hodgepodge of rapidly thrown together units. All were critically short of ammunition, training, qualified leaders, and reserves. Allied air attacks had disrupted communications, hampered troop and supply movements, and caused morale problems. From the outset Mackensen had doubted the available force could eliminate the Anzio beachhead, but he prepared a forceful counterattack nonetheless.
The 4th Parachute and 65th infantry Divisions of the I Parachute Corps were to pinch off the Campoleone salient and recapture the Factory at Aprilia. The same units would then break through to the sea along the Albano Road. Elsewhere the LXXVI Panzer Corps, consisting of the 3d Panzer Grenadier, 715th Motorized Infantry, 71st Infantry, Hermann Goering, and 26th Panzer Divisions would attack south of Cisterna along the Mussolini Canal and attempt to breach the Allied perimeter and advance on Nettuno and Anzio.
The counterattack opened with an artillery barrage on 3-4 February, followed by armored and infantry assaults which smashed into the partially prepared British 1st Division defenses in the Campoleone salient. The British held, despite suffering 1,400 casualties, but their dangerously exposed position prompted Lucas to order their withdrawal to one mile north of the Factory and Carroceto on the night of 4-5 February, a retreat of about 2.5 miles. Although the salient was eliminated, the Germans failed to break the Allied line or retake the Factory. The undulating and soggy Albano Road area was just as inhospitable to German armor and infantry as it had been to Allied forces the week before.
However, the critical situation the Germans created in the Allied center convinced Lucas to form a beachhead defense line running from the Moletta River in the north, through the fields of the central sector, to the Mussolini Canal in the south. He issued orders to all Allied troops that this was the final line of resistance to be held at all coststhe shallow beachhead precluded any further retreat.
The Germans renewed their attacks on 7 February in the weakened British 1st Division sector and, in two days of bitter fighting, pushed the British troops from the Factory and Carroceto. Although battered and exhausted, they managed to maintain a coherent line and were reinforced on 10 February by the 1st Armored Regiment, CCA, 1st Armored Division (itself at 50 percent strength), the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, the 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment, and the 179th and 157th regiments of the U.S. 45th Infantry Division. Ordered to counterattack and retake Aprilia on 11 February, the 179th Infantry and 191st Tank Battalion began a two-pronged attack seeking to outflank the Germans holding the Factory. In two days of costly, hand-to-hand fighting, the Americans failed to retake the lost ground, but inflicted heavy losses on the enemy. Lucas still expected further attacks in the weakened central sector and removed the British 1st Division from the line, replacing it with the British 56th and U.S. 45th Infantry Divisions. As an added precaution, VI Corps artillery was strengthened and Allied tactical air attacks were stepped up.
Spurred by the elimination of the Campoleone salient, the Germans continued their counterattack on 16 February by moving down the Anzio-Albano Road on a four-mile front. The brunt of the assault hit the 45th Division sectors held by the 157th and 179th Infantry regiments. The initial attacks by the 3d Panzer Grenadier and 715th Motorized Infantry Divisions were beaten back with heavy losses, allowing only minor penetrations, while the 180th Infantry rebuffed lighter attacks. Just before midnight, however, enemy persistence paid off. A gap was created between the 179th and 157th Infantry, which was promptly exploited by three German regiments supported by sixty tanks. By dawn the Germans had driven a two-by-one-mile wedge in the center of the 45th Division and were poised to break the Allied line, threatening the entire beachhead. Compounding the already critical situation, the 179th Infantry attempted to withdraw in full view of the enemy the following afternoon and suffered heavy casualties. All through 16-17 February the Allies scrambled to plug the gap with hastily redeployed 90-mm. antiaircraft guns, naval gunfire, and units of the 1st Armored Division. The XII Tactical Air Command flew 730 ground support sorties and later claimed that the total weight of bombs dropped and the number of bombers employed was the greatest ever allotted up to that date in direct support of ground forces.
The Germans launched a more intense assault against the 45th Division at dawn on 18 February and destroyed one battalion of the 179th Infantry before pushing the remainder of the unit back a half mile farther to Lucas' final defensive line by midmorning. Fearing that the 179th Infantry was in danger of giving way, Lucas ordered Col. William O. Darby to take command of the unit and allow no further retreat. The regiment held, later counting 500 dead Germans in front of its positions. Elsewhere, the 180th and 157th regiments also held their positions in spite of heavy losses during three days of German attacks. By midday, Allied air and artillery superiority had turned the tide. When the Germans launched a final afternoon assault against the 180th and 179th regiments, it was halted by air strikes and massed mortar, machine gun, artillery, and tank fire. Subsequent enemy attacks on 19 and 20 February were noticeably weaker and were broken up by the same combination of Allied arms before ground contact was made The crisis had passed, and while harassing attacks continued until 22 February, VI Corps went over to the offensive locally and succeeded in retaking some lost ground.
The Germans could ill afford the loss of the 5,389 men killed, wounded, and missing during their five-day counterattack. Enemy troop morale plummeted, and many units lost their offensive capability. The 65th Infantry Division's combat strength had dropped to 673 effectives by 23 February, and one regiment of the 715th Motorized Infantry Division numbered fewer than 185 men. Allied casualties numbered some 3,496 killed, wounded, or missing in addition to 1,637 nonbattle casualties from trench foot, exposure, and combat exhaustion. Allied commanders at Anzio often claimed that losses would have been lower if soldiers were periodically rotated away from the lines, but replacements simply were not available. All 96,401 Allied soldiers were required to hold the 35-mile perimeter against an estimated ten German divisions in the Fourteenth Army, totaling 120,000 men by 12 February.
At midnight, 28 February, German artillery signaled the commencement of the new attack. But VI Corps and 3d Division artillery responded in mass, returning twenty shells for each one fired by the Germans, expending 66,000 rounds on 29 February alone. When the enemy infantry advanced at dawn at a half-dozen points along the 3d Division front, only one attack made any progress, penetrating 800 yards northeast of Carano before being halted with heavy losses. The other attacks fared less well amid a hail of American artillery and mortar fire. Attacking on too broad a front, the Germans lacked the overwhelming strength needed to break through anywhere, and by the end of the day they had barely dented the American line. Over the next several days, the well-entrenched Americans, supported by closely coordinated artillery, armor, and air support, shattered subsequent German attacks. Even though the 7th and 15th Infantry regiments and the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion often were hard pressed and suffered heavy losses between 1 and 4 March at the hands of the 715th and the 16th SS Panzer Grenadier Divisions, all three units held their positions and beat back successive enemy assaults. The Germans continued to seek a breakthrough, but their efforts gradually weakened. Mackensen realized that the Fourteenth Army had spent itself in a costly and futile offensive after a last German assault failed on 4 March.
The final five-day German counterattack cost 3,500 men killed, wounded, and missing, plus thirty tanks destroyed. It had failed to eliminate the beachhead, and 3d Division counterattacks quickly reclaimed all territory. From then, the Germans went over to the defensive, clearly incapable of mounting any further serious offensive action.
posted on 06/05/2004 12:21:17 AM PDT
(Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
After six weeks of continuous bombing, shelling, and fighting, the men of the VI Corps were as exhausted as their German adversaries. Following the collapse of the final enemy drive on 4 March, a three-month lull began. During this time both armies limited their operations to defending the positions they held at the beginning of March, while they conducted limited counterattacks and raids and marked time until the renewal of offensive operations on the southern front. Although the reinforced Fourteenth Army, totaling 135,698 troops by 15 March, considered another offensive, plans were shelved in early April in favor of conserving troop strength to counter an expected Allied spring offensive.
During March, all of April, and the first part of May 1944, recalled one veteran, the Anzio beachhead resembled the Western Front during World War I. The vast majority of Allied casualties during this period were from air and artillery attacks, including fire from "Anzio Annie," a 280-mm. German railway gun which fired from the Alban Hills. During March, shrapnel caused 83 percent of all 3d Division casualties, and other units experienced similar rates. The Anzio beachhead became a honeycomb of wet and muddy trenches, foxholes, and dugouts. Yet the Allied troops made the best of a bad situation, and one soldier recalled that during these months the fighting was light and living was leisurely.
On the night of 11-12 May, the Fifth and Eighth Armies launched their long-awaited spring offensive against the Gustav Line. Stymied in attempts to break through at Cassino in February, March, and April, the Allies initially encountered little success in their new drive. Nonetheless, the Germans abandoned Monte Cassino after a week of heavy fighting by Polish forces, and the French Expeditionary Corps and U.S. II Corps succeeded in breaking the Gustav Line by 15 May. The II Corps continued its drive north toward Terracina, which fell on 23-24 May, and raced toward the Anzio beachhead against rapidly crumbling German resistance as enemy troops began withdrawing northeast toward Rome.
At 0545, 23 May, a 45-minute Allied artillery barrage opened on the Cisterna front, followed by armor and infantry attacks along the entire line from Carano to the Mussolini Canal. Although resistance was very stiff, by evening the 1st Special Service Force and 1st Armored Division had breached the enemy main line of resistance, while the XII Tactical Air Command completed the last of 722 sorties. The following day VI Corps forces cut Highway 7 above Cisterna and encircled the town, the scene of continued heavy fighting by desperate enemy forces. The town finally fell on 25 May at the cost of 476 Americans killed, 2,321 wounded, and 75 missing.
Earlier on 25 May, at 0730, troops of the 91st Reconnaissance Squadron, 85th Infantry Division, U.S. II Corps, racing north from Terracina across the Pontine Marshes, met soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 36th Engineer Combat Regiment, from the Anzio beachhead, effecting the long-planned and longer-awaited link-up between Fifth Army forces. With the physical juncture of the II and VI Corps, the beachhead ceased to exist and the formerly isolated soldiers became the left flank of the Fifth Army. Clark personally greeted the II Corps troops three hours later.
Meanwhile, the breakout west was proving costly to the VI Corps. The 1st Armored Division lost 100 armored vehicles in the first day alone, while the entire corps took over 4,000 casualties in the first five days of the offensive. Allied troops, however, counted 4,838 enemy prisoners, including 1,000 in Cisterna, and destroyed or damaged 2,700 enemy vehicles.
On the same day that the Fifth Army front merged with the Anzio beachhead, General Clark also split Truscott's forces into two parts, sending the 3d Division, the 1st Special Service Force, and elements of the 1st Armored Division toward Valmontone. This thrust, however, proved insufficient, and most of the Tenth Army escaped north to fight again. In the meantime the 45th and 34th Infantry Divisions, along with the rest of the Fifth Army, joined in the hot pursuit of German forces falling back on Rome, a scarce thirty miles distant. Americans liberated the Italian capital on 4 June 1944.
During the four months of the Anzio Campaign the Allied VI Corps suffered over 29,200 combat casualties (4,400 killed, 18,000 wounded, 6,800 prisoners or missing) and 37,000 noncombat casualties. Two-thirds of these losses, amounting to 17 percent of VI Corps' effective strength, were inflicted between the initial landings and the end of the German counteroffensive on 4 March. Of the combat casualties, 16,200 were Americans (2,800 killed, 11,000 wounded, 2,400 prisoners or missing) as were 26,000 of the Allied noncombat casualties. German combat losses, suffered wholly by the Fourteenth Army, were estimated at 27,500 (5,500 killed, 17,500 wounded, and 4,500 prisoners or missing)figures very similar to Allied losses.
The Anzio Campaign continues to be controversial, just as it was during its planning and implementation stages. The operation clearly failed in its immediate objectives of outflanking the Gustav Line, restoring mobility to the Italian campaign, and speeding the capture of Rome. Allied forces were quickly pinned down and contained within a small beachhead, and they were effectively rendered incapable of conducting any sort of major offensive action for four months pending the advance of Fifth Army forces to the south. Anzio failed to be the panacea the Allies sought. As General Lucas repeatedly stated before the landing, which he always considered a gamble, the paltry allotments of men and supplies were not commensurate with the high goals sought by British planners. He steadfastly maintained that under the circumstances the small Anzio force accomplished all that could have been realistically expected. Lucas' critics charge, however, that a more aggressive and imaginative commander, such as a Patton or Truscott, could have obtained the desired goals by an immediate, bold offensive from the beachhead. Lucas was overly cautious, spent valuable time digging in, and allowed the Germans to prepare countermeasures to ensure that an operation conceived as a daring Allied offensive behind enemy lines became a long, costly campaign of attrition.
Yet the campaign did accomplish several goals. The presence of a significant Allied force behind the German main line of resistance, uncomfortably close to Rome, represented a constant threat. The Germans could not ignore Anzio and were forced into a response, thereby surrendering the initiative in Italy to the Allies. The 135,000 troops of the Fourteenth Army surrounding Anzio could not be moved elsewhere, nor could they be used to make the already formidable Gustav Line virtually impregnable. The Anzio beachhead thus guaranteed that the already steady drain of scarce German troop reserves, equipment, and materiel would continue unabated, ultimately enabling the 15th Army Group to break through in the south. But the success was costly.
posted on 06/05/2004 12:21:59 AM PDT
(Fall in --> The FReeper Foxhole. America's History. America's Soul.)
FreeRepublic.com is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson