Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers Anzio - (Jan-May 1944) - July 25th, 2005
Posted on 07/24/2005 9:25:51 PM PDT by SAMWolf
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The daring seaborne operation was planned as a way of outflanking German strength on Italy's Gustav Line and swiftly capturing Rome, but almost nothing went according to plan.
Heavy German opposition, such as had been encountered five months earlier at Salerno, was expected, but the shore was strangely silent; the only sound was that of Allied ordnance exploding. Everything was going perfectly, a fact that did not keep General Lucas from harboring grave doubts about the chances for success in this, the most daring operation of the Italian campaign.
Looking a decade older than his 54 years, Lucas gripped the ship's rail and tried to peer through the blackness, not only at the shoreline but also at the days and weeks immediately ahead. He was not at all sure that this operation would not end in a bloody Allied debacle.
Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas
Lucas was an able officer who inspired confidence in subordinates and superiors alike. A West Pointer and World War I battalion commander, he had been Dwight D. Eisenhower's deputy in North Africa and Sicily, and everyone was confident that "Old Luke" could do the job.
Old Luke, however, viewed his assignment with private pessimism. A few days before Shingle began, he wrote in his diary, "Unless we can get what we want (in men and materiel), the operation becomes such a desperate undertaking that it should not, in my opinion, be attempted." The entire operation, Lucas fretted in his diary, "had a strong odor of Gallipoli and apparently the same amateur was still on the coach's bench," a reference to Winston Churchill and his enthusiastic support, as First Lord of the Admiralty, of the disastrous Allied attempt to take the Dardanelles in 1915.
Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott
With the invasion of France imminent and about to become an "American show" under Eisenhower's command, the Mediterranean had become a "British show." Following Ike's departure on January 8, 1944, to become the Supreme Allied Commander of Operation Overlord, General Sir Henry Maitland Wilson had ascended to the post of Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean. Eisenhower's deputy, Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, was placed in command of 15th Army Group, which controlled all Allied forces in Italy. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and General Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, were now the chief architects of strategy in Italy, and Churchill was particularly keen on capturing Rome swiftly.
The Anzio operation had become necessary because the Allied drive up the Italian peninsula had ground to a halt in the autumn of 1943 some 100 miles south of Rome, in front of a series of heavily fortified positions that stretched the width of Italy. Closest to Naples was the Barbara Line, which ran along a ridge between the Volturno and Garigliano rivers and then over the southern Apennine peaks to the Trigno River. This line, in turn, was backed up by the Bernhardt Line, which took advantage of a narrow defile known as the Mignano Gap. Twelve miles farther north was the best known of the lines: the Gustav Line, a series of bunkers, gun emplacements and other fortifications constructed by Organization Todt (started by the late German munitions minister Fritz Todt, it was involved in large building projects). The Gustav Line began just north of where the Garigliano River empties into the Tyrrhenian Sea and ran to the mouth of the Sangro River on the Adriatic side.
Forcing a breach into the Liri Valley, the mouth of which was guarded by the heights of Monte Cassino and Monte Majo, was the main task of General Mark Clark and the Allied Fifth Army. In addition to taking the heights, the Fifth Army would also have to cross the swollen Rapido and Garigliano rivers while under fire.
Like a seductive siren, the lure of the Liri Valley was more than Allied planners could ignore. Through this long, flat plain, flanked by towering peaks, stretched Highway 6, the main north-south road to Rome. The Germans, who could also read maps, had fortified nearly every key point in the valley and were ready to make the Allies pay in blood for every inch--should they be so foolish as to try running the gantlet.
Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark
Clark needed to quickly and successfully stage a major offensive operation through some of Italy's most challenging terrain and against entrenched German forces in order for his troops even to be in a position to assist the amphibious force far behind enemy lines. And victories in Italy in 1943 had been anything but quick.
In October the British and Americans had made a successful, but costly, crossing of the Volturno River in front of the Barbara Line. The Germans put up token resistance as they carefully withdrew from the Barbara to better positions in the Bernhardt and Gustav lines. The British reached the Garigliano on November 2, but bad weather and German determination stopped the advance.
In November and December 1943, as the Brits had battled their way across the Sangro and Moro rivers to the north, the U.S. Fifth Army ran into formidable German forces dug in along the Bernhardt Line. A month of hard fighting resulted in the Allies' edging closer to the Liri Valley, but it cost the lives of many fine soldiers.
| While Alexander exhorted Lucas to begin a new offensive and Mackensen prepared for a final, massive assault that would drive the Allies into the sea, one of the most controversial actions of the war was about to be played out 60 miles south, at the once-peaceful Abbey of Monte Cassino.
The Right Flank at the Mussolini Canal
The ancient abbey sat like a magnificent crown upon a 1,700-foot hill that overlooked the approaches to the Liri Valley. Because of its historical significance (it was begun in 529 AD by St. Benedict), its magnificent collection of priceless works of art, and the fact that it was home to some 2,500 monks, nuns and civilian refugees, Eisenhower had placed the abbey strictly off-limits to Allied bombers and artillery. The Germans, too, had hoped to respect the abbey's importance. But the pronouncements of generals would not be sufficient to spare this treasure.
By establishing observation posts and fortified defensive positions outside the abbey's walls, the Germans presented a threat to the Allied push into the Liri Valley that could not be ignored. The 4th Indian Division, given the task of taking Monte Cassino, requested an aerial bombardment of the abbey. After much discussion, which went all the way to Alexander, the request was approved over Clark's objections.
On the morning of February 15, the first wave of bombers unleashed its deadly cargo on the abbey. Ironically, the ruins then provided excellent cover for the Germans, who used them to repulse the 4th Indian Division when it attacked that night.
For the next two days, Allied bombs and artillery rained upon the mountaintop, but without gain; the ground troops were unable to evict the German defenders. Bad weather struck, and further offensive operations were postponed. It was becoming ominously clear that the Allies would not be breaking through the Gustav Line any time soon and coming to the rescue of the troops stuck at Anzio.
Shortly after the landings, Hitler became personally involved in events in Italy, giving Kesselring detailed orders long distance as to how to "remove the abcess" from the coast. February 16 was set as the date for the renewed counteroffensive at Anzio with some 125,000 German troops--about 20 percent more than the Allies possessed.
Two diversionary attacks were launched, while the main assault came down the Albano-Anzio road toward Maj. Gen. William Eagles' 45th Division. The excellent but raw troops of the Berlin-Spandau Infantry Lehr Demonstration Regiment, which Hitler had ordered to lead the attack, were hard hit and fled for their lives.
But the Germans attacked throughout the night, giving Eagles' men no rest. The next day the Luftwaffe strafed the 45th's positions, and three divisions, supported by 65 panzers, crashed into the Americans, pushing them back to just in front of the Allies' final beachhead line. Then came another wave of air attacks, followed by another charge of infantry and tanks that drove a two-mile-wide wedge into the front. The 45th Division, in the center of the Allied line, was about to crumble.
At the crucial moment, Lucas moved in artillery and tanks to plug the gap in his front lines and called for air support and concentrated naval fire to stem the German tide that was about to engulf him. Despite the infusion of Mackensen's reserves and wave after wave of attacking tanks and infantrymen that threw themselves at the 45th Division, the line miraculously held.
Ordering the survivors of his first assault to fight on through the night, Mackensen sent two additional divisions--the 29thPanzergrenadier and 26th Panzer--into battle before first light the next day. This second attack very nearly succeeded, but after four hours of furious combat, the Germans were forced to pull back.
On the 22nd, Clark, bowing to pressure from Alexander, reluctantly removed his friend Lucas from command of VI Corps, replacing him with Truscott. Lucas was stunned. "I thought I was winning something of a victory," he wrote, crestfallen, in his diary.
Truscott now placed his own, very different stamp on the command of VI Corps. Instead of installing himself in the musty, underground wine cellar that was Lucas' command post, he made a point of being seen on the front lines, braving enemy fire with the rest of his troops. Morale quickly improved and, as more replacements arrived, a feeling of confidence pervaded the Allied side.
On March 29, Allied artillery broke up a strong German assault in front of the 3rd Division before it could get started, and the 3rd counterattacked, putting an end to the Germans' last major offensive.
For the next two months, the Anzio front became static, while both sides reinforced and resupplied themselves. Along the Gustav Line, stalemate was also the name of the game, as four German divisions continued to hold off six Allied divisions around Cassino. But a spring offensive, code-named Diadem, was planned for May, and the Allied commanders hoped it would finally break through both the Gustav Line and the German positions around Anzio.
On May 11, a tremendous artillery barrage in the Cassino area heralded the start of Diadem, and the men of the Fifth and Eighth armies began moving. It was the French Expeditionary Force, under General Alphonse Juin, that finally broke the Gustav Line northwest of the Garigliano. Bitter fighting continued along the front, and on the 18th, the heights of Monte Cassino finally fell to the Polish 3rd Carpathian Division.
Success in the south was the signal for Truscott's VI Corps to begin its breakout at Anzio. Clark, fearing the British would beat the Americans to the Eternal City and gain the lion's share of glory, was determined that his Fifth Army, not the British, would be the first army in 15 centuries to capture Rome from the south. For Clark, politics overshadowed military considerations. He therefore directed the seven Allied divisions now at Anzio to begin their breakout, code-named Operation Buffalo--but instead of marching on the town of Valmontone, the VI Corps' objective as specified by Alexander, Clark chose to head for Rome instead.
Alexander let him go, but wrote in his memoirs, "I can only assume that the immediate lure of Rome for its publicity value persuaded Mark Clark to switch the direction of his advance."
To effect the breakout, the German stronghold at Cisterna had to be overcome. A massive artillery preparation and hundreds of Allied aircraft pounded the town. When the 3rd Division finally managed to force its way in on May 25, it encountered a determined foe who literally fought to the death. Four months after the initial landings, Cisterna was at last in Allied hands, and Truscott's VI Corps finally linked up with Keyes' II Corps south of Anzio.
As evening settled on June 4, a unit from the U.S. 88th Division entered the Piazza Venezia in the heart of Rome. Despite sporadic German resistance, the Americans seized the key bridges, and the rest of VI and II corps took control of the city, with Romans cheering them on. Two days later, events in Normandy swept the Italian theater from the headlines.
For decades, the Anzio operation has generated speculation and argument as to its contribution, relative to its high cost in human lives, to the Allied victory. Certainly the tactical blunders did nothing to shorten the war. Yet, the sacrifice of Allied soldiers at Anzio, the Gustav Line and other bloody points throughout the peninsula kept 24 German combat divisions and other supporting units from being deployed to other fronts, where they conceivably could have been used to devastating effect.
Good evening. Solid article.
Good evening PAR35.
Good morning, Snippy and everyone at the Foxhole.
The Monte Cassino defense was considered extremely rough by rank and file Wehrmacht troops, both in the town, and on the mountain (in my understanding).
Polish Two Corps (one thousand killed, three thousand wounded), New Zealanders, Guhrkas paid a high, high price for the relief of Anzio.
Old age is the season when we can give ourselves to "soul-making," as the Quakers say. We can concentrate on getting to know God better and cultivating character traits that make us more like Him. Age breaks down our strength and energy and strips us of our busyness. It's God's way of getting us to slow down so we'll take more time for Him. We can think more deeply about life, about ourselves, and about others.
Change is an inevitable part of life. We're being shaped every minute we live. Every thought, every decision, every action, every emotion, every response is shaping us into one kind of person or another. Either we're moving toward likeness to Christ or away from Him into some sort of caricature of the person God intended us to be.
It's true, we lose some things as we age: physical strength, quickness, agility. But think of the calm God gives us, the peace He leaves us, the benefits of His salvation, and His faithfulness to us (Psalm 71:15).
Old age is the best time to grow in grace and godliness, in inner strength and beauty of character. "The silver-haired head," the wise man said, "is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness" (Proverbs 16:31). David Roper
And life with its stress takes a toll,
Yet beauty and vigor can still be seen
When Jesus gives peace to one's soul. D. De Haan
"Grow up" is what the young are told"age gracefully" when growing old.
Good morning ALL. Hot, dry and to say the least SWELTERING here in Memphis today.
Good Morning Bump for the Foxhole
On This Day In History
Birthdates which occurred on July 25:
0975 Thietmar bishop of Merseburg, German chronicler
1109 Afonso I, the Conqueror, king of Portugal (1143-85)
1575 Christoph Scheiner Germany, astronomer
1775 Anna Symmes Harrison 1st lady
1795 James Barry, female disguised as a man, surgeon general (British army)
1822 Schuyler Hamilton, Major General (Union volunteers), died in 1903
1824 Richard James Oglesby, Union (Union volunteers), died in 1899
1840 Flora Adams Darling founded Daughters of American Revolution
1848 Arthur Earl Balfour (C), British PM (1902-05) (Balfour Declaration)
1884 Davidson Black Canada, doctor of anatomy (identified Peking Man)
1894 Walter Brennan Swampscott Mass, actor (My Darling Clementine, Real McCoys)
1902 Eric Hoffer longshoreman/author (True Believer)
1907 Jack Gilford NYC, actor (Save the Tiger, Cocoon, Arthur 2)
1924 Estelle Getty NYC, actress (Sophia Petrillo-Golden Girls)
1924 Frank Church (Sen-D-Id) (Weakened the CIA)
1925 Jerry Paris SF Calif, director/actor (Jerry-Dick Van Dyke Show)
1927 Midge Decter St Paul Minn,Evil right-wing ideologue writer (An Old Wife's Tale, Rumsfeld...)
1930 Maureen Forrester Montreal Canada, contralto (Ressurection Symphony)
1932 Paul J Weitz Erie Pennsylvania, astronaut (Skylab 2, STS 6)
1935 Adnan Khashoggi, billionaire arms dealer
1943 Jim McCarty rocker (The Yardbirds-For Your Love)
1948 Steve Goodman Chicago, singer/songwriter (Somebody Elses Trouble)
1954 Walter "Sweetness" Payton NFL running back (Chicago Bears)
1957 Daniel W Bursch, Bristol PA, Lt Cmdr USN/Astronaut (STS 51, 68, 77)
1957 Roger Clinton, singer, President Clinton's half-brother
1967 Matt LeBlanc, actor (Joey Tribbiani-Friends)
1975 Jay R Ferguson Jr Dallas Tx, actor (Taylor Newton-Evening Shade)
1978 Caroline Nicole Brigman, Miss South Carolina Teen USA (1997)
1978 Louise Brown Oldham England, world's 1st `test tube baby'
2003 Logan, AKA Texas Termite, world famous heart throb, monarch of all he surveys.
"Because time itself is like a spiral, something special happens on your birthday each year: The same energy that God invested in you at birth is present once again." ~Menachem Mendel Schneerson
So much for the soft underbelly of Europe.
Pic from last years tour, July 5, 2004
Excellent read . . . really takes you into the guts of an operation. At one moment it's quiet and static only to become a bitter struggle to hold a beachhead whose foothold was imperative to Allied success in Italy. Good work!
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