in World War II Italy
Date January 2015, CMH
by Shane Story
Anzio, a port city on the Italian coast some 35 miles south of Rome, was the site of one of the most controversial battles of the Second World War. Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark's Fifth Army developed the concept for an amphibious landing, dubbed Operation SHINGLE, at Anzio in the fall of 1943 and Clark gave the mission to Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas's VI Corps. The purpose of the landing was to outflank German forces that had fought the allies to a standstill in southern Italy after the landing at Salerno in September 1943, and to open the way to Rome. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, a keen supporter of the operation, believed the operation could prove decisive to the Italian campaign. He and General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, commander of allied ground forces in Italy, thought the landing might force the Germans into a general retreat up the boot of Italy. Clark gave VI Corps two divisions for the operation—3rd Infantry Division and 1st Infantry Division (U.K.)—along with a tank regiment, British commandos, and Darby's Rangers, the U.S. Army's First Ranger Battalion. Critical planning factors included the limited availability of LSTs, many of which would soon have to be released to support operations elsewhere.
Despite General Lucas's strong misgivings on the prospects for success—he feared he did not have enough troops and the strategic goals were too ambitious—VI Corps landed at Anzio almost unopposed on 22 January 1944. Lucas's initial objectives were fairly modest: to secure the beachhead and put the port into operation. The enemy's reaction to the landing was swift. Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, the German commander in Italy, rushed his forces, including reinforcements from France and the Balkans, to isolate the beachhead. Worse still for the Americans and the British, their failure to seize the Alban hills around Anzio upon landing left the high ground to the Germans. By the time VI Corps was ready to advance into the hills a week after the landing, the Germans were already dug in. What followed was months of terrible winter fighting with the Americans and British trapped in a beachhead under constant observation and indirect fire. The stalemate was even worse than the one along the Rapido River farther south that the landing in Anzio was supposed to break. A month after the landing, Clark relieved an exhausted and demoralized Lucas of command. The fighting would drag on into spring, until attrition so weakened the Germans' position that it enabled the allies to resume the march on Rome, which fell on 5 June.
The controversies surrounding the battle never faded away. Lucas filled his diary with doubts, such as an entry on 10 February 1943: "there is no military reason for 'Shingle.' Churchill, who withstood decades of scorn for his role in the disastrous battle of Gallipoli (1915), lamented the failure to achieve what he thought had been within reach at Anzio: "I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale." In fact, the strategy behind Anzio was full of uncertain calculations and closing with and defeating the enemy was, ultimately, the only option. Fighting the desperate battle required tremendous courage, and it was critical to the ultimate outcome of the war.
During the Anzio fighting, British and American forces suffered casualties of 12,026 killed and 50,343 wounded.
Anzio - The Landing - January 22, 1944
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