The Allied attack of Normandy beach and its resultant bloodbath have been immortalized in film and literature, but the US campaign on the beaches of Western Italy reigns as perhaps the deadliest battle of World War II’s western theater. In January 1944, about six months before D-Day, an Allied force of thirty-six thousand soldiers launched one of the first attacks on continental Europe at Anzio, a small coastal city thirty miles south of Rome. The assault was conceived as the first step toward an eventual siege of the Italian capital. But the advance stalled and Anzio beach became a death trap. After five months of brutal fighting and monumental casualties on both sides, the Allies finally cracked the German line and marched into Rome on June 5, the day before D-Day. Richly detailed and fueled by extensive archival research of newspapers, letters, and diaries—as well as scores of original interviews with surviving soldiers on both sides of the trenches—Anzio is a “relentlessly fascinating story with plenty of asides about individuals’ experiences” (Publishers Weekly).
“Masterly . . . A heartbreaking, beautifully told story of wasted sacrifice.” —The Washington Post
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The Italian Job
(Allied Strategy and the Invasion of Italy 1942-1943)
The rockets poured over the landing craft and thundered down onto the beaches. Their lunatic shriek heralded the arrival of the Allies at Anzio-Nettuno at 0200 hours on 22 January 1944. Twenty-year-old Private Richard Dawes held his breath as explosions blistered the coastline. Just like the other thirty-five soldiers stretched out in two lines on the landing craft, Dawes felt vulnerable now that the force had announced itself so dramatically. Adrenaline surged through his body and his stomach lurched. The cacophony drowned out the growl of the engine, but from the vibrations through the soles of his boots, and the breeze on his face, he sensed movement. Then the rockets stopped firing as though giving way for a response. A wave boomed against the armoured plated hull making the men start and huddle together. Dawes tried to work out how far they were from the beach, but spray blurred his vision. He blinked hard, licked his lips and pulled his rifle tight to his chest, his heart beating furiously. There was a shout of: 'Thirty seconds!' and Richard Dawes began counting to steady his nerves. He had only reached twenty before a jolt propelled him into the man in front, and the ramp rattled down to expose them. A stentorian voice yelled 'Move!' as they scuttled down the slope and onto the beach. Another shapeless figure yelled incomprehensibly, and pushed him towards the green lamp that marked the rendezvous point. Dawes jogged heavily across the sand, inhaling a mixture of smoke and cordite, until he reached his company's position. He listened for the rip of German spandaus, but heard nothing save the arrival of panting colleagues. As the battalion assembled around him, he relaxed slightly, even allowing himself to think that everything was going to be all right.
Private Richard Dawes was a replacement who had joined his unit just after landing at Salerno, but in time for its advance towards Rome. During the autumn as part of Major General John Lucas's US VI Corps (a formation consisting of American and British divisions) he had fought his way through Italy's Apennine mountains. Every step had been a struggle. In early October Lucas – a natural worrier with a great deal to worry about – had confided to his diary: 'Rain, rain, rain. The roads are so deep in mud that moving troops and supplies forward is a terrific job. Enemy resistance is not nearly as great as that of Mother Nature.' The vile weather and mountains were difficult enough, but the Germans had made the advance tortuous. Dawes had been soaked to the skin for weeks and in almost continual combat. He had been so tired that on several occasions he had fallen asleep whilst marching to his next battle. Both hands were calloused from digging foxholes. 'This is just so awful', he wrote in his notebook, 'I think that death might be preferable. God help me. God help us all.' But he and his comrades continued their struggle, taking tiny bites out of the terrain. It was the sort of stagnation that the Germans regarded with satisfaction, but the British perceived as sinful.
Bursting with enthusiasm for the strategic possibilities that Italy offered, Winston Churchill feared that his campaign was on the verge of break down, and would perish during the winter. To revive his Mediterranean ambitions, the Prime Minister had backed plans to land troops behind enemy lines on the beaches of Anzio-Nettuno, a mere thirty miles from Rome. The plan had considerable potential, but to the Americans it was considered 'a sideshow of a sideshow'. The situation reflected developing tensions between Britain and the United States: strong allies sharing a common tongue and purpose, but with differing priorities, perspectives and characters. At the British Embassy in Washington the philosopher Isaiah Berlin observed of the Americans: 'they have been taught to dislike [the British] in their history books. Those Englishmen who they do like are liked precisely because they do not conform to what they regard as the standard type of Englishman.' National stereotyping abounded. The experienced British pedigree gun dog felt the need to be patient with the flighty American mongrel puppy. But the Americans looked at Britain as a tired-out creature whose back legs fell occasionally from under him, and needed support. As one British diplomat observed: 'Britain and America are partners, but they are also rivals, each anxious to prove that its views on policy, indeed its way of life, is superior to that of the other. It is this element of competition which distinguishes the partnership ...' There was rivalry, but the rivalry masked more profound differences and the Italian Campaign, with its distrust, frustration, dispute and resentment, had brought those differences to the fore. In such circumstances the strong relationship between Winston Churchill and the American President, Franklin Roosevelt, was critical.
The agreement by the Western Allies in December 1941 that their priority should be the defeat of Germany had been logical for the British. But for a United States still reeling from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, it was far more challenging. Churchill had consistently argued for an attritional policy that gnawed away at Germany's ability to sustain its war effort. In this the Mediterranean loomed large and Churchill, advised and supported by the service heads who formed the Chiefs of Staff, was its patron. The Americans instinctively disliked the Mediterranean approach, not least because its Joint Chiefs of Staff believed that it was informed as much by British Imperial interests as it was by defeating Germany. But the British had begun fighting in the Mediterranean during the summer of 1940, intent on defending Egypt from Benito Mussolini's Italy. By the spring of 1942 Germany had joined the fray, and the Axis powers had advanced to within seventy miles of Alexandria. The Americans were unimpressed and despite the British extolling the virtues of patience, the Joint Chiefs were restless, wanting to seize the initiative. The American Army Chief of the Staff, the amiable-looking General George C. Marshall, had already made up his mind. The sixty-one-year-old was set on an offensive launched from Britain into mainland Europe, a cross-Channel invasion, as soon as was practicable. The British were not against this per se, but argued that the Axis powers had to be further weakened before it could be successful. Nevertheless, the cohorts agreed to build air and ground resources in the United Kingdom for its preparation, and a tentative launch date of April 1943 was set. With the Americans temporarily placated, General Sir Alan Brooke, the prudent British Chief of the Imperial General Staff, peddled the case for an expansion of operations in the Mediterranean. Marshall immediately took this to mean that the British were not fully supportive of a cross-Channel invasion, code named Operation Roundup, whereas Brooke maintained the need for flexibility and attrition. A decision was required and London began to work on Washington to get what it wanted. General Albert C. Wedemeyer, a senior officer on Marshall's staff, remarked of the subsequent meetings held during the spring of 1942: What I witnessed was the British power for finesse in its finest hour, a power that had been developed over centuries of successful international intrigue, cajolery and tacit compulsions.' But the Americans held out and nothing had been decided by the time that the Allies met in Washington in June. Here the Joint Chiefs continued to argue that operations in the Mediterranean would undermine preparations for Roundup. But the British could not be dissuaded and a frustrated Churchill began to work personally on Roosevelt's resilience. 'Here is a true Second Front of 1942', the Prime Minister insisted: 'Here is the safest and most fruitful stroke that can be delivered this autumn.' The American President was slowly convinced. He wanted to get inexperienced United States troops into battle and, in a Congressional election year, wanted to be seen as a man of action. Marshall called the subsequent decision to invade Frenchheld North Africa – Operation Torch – as: 'a momentous change of Grand Strategy.' He was as apoplectic as Brooke was delighted. The British could now develop their Mediterranean ambitions.
Torch was the first truly Allied operation of the war, and aimed to secure the entire North African coastline. The British had cannily agreed to an American Commander in Chief of the Allied forces, Lieutenant General Dwight Eisenhower. The astute Eisenhower held the permanent rank of Lieutenant Colonel and although new to field command had nascent talents. Another soldier whose star was in the ascendant became his deputy, the ferociously ambitious Major General Mark W. Clark. Beak-nosed and with a leanness that made him seem taller than his six feet three inches, Clark was on the cusp of great fame. The two men, who had been friends since West Point, congratulated each other on 8 November as Torch made a firm lodgement on African soil, then pondered the military lessons. The learning curve had been steep, particularly for the Americans. Indeed, the dashing Brigadier General Lucian Truscott, the future divisional and corps commander at Anzio, stated that his landing in Morocco was a 'hit and miss affair that would have spelled disaster against a well-armed enemy intent on resistance.' Even so, this easy opening fixture gave the British and Americans some confidence, and as General Bernard Montgomery's British Eighth Army pushed westwards after its victory at El Alamein, the grand plan seemed to be working. However, the deteriorating weather and tenacious Germans had ensured that the campaign could not be concluded that year. Even as the Allied dust cloud converged on Tunis in early 1943 the Afrika Korps continued to land punches. The severe blow that the Americans took at the Kasserine Pass in February was such a shock that the British raised questions about their military competence. Such inquests only served to further strain already stretched allied relations in North Africa. Brooke's dissatisfaction came spilling out in his diary: 'I am afraid that Eisenhower as a general is hopeless!' he complained on 28 December: 'He submerges himself in politics and neglects his military duties, partly I am afraid because he knows little about military matters.' General Sir Harold Alexander, the impeccably dressed Anglo-Irish aristocrat who became ground forces commander in the final stages of the campaign, was more broadly critical of the Americans: 'They simply do not know their job as soldiers and this is the case from the highest to the lowest, from the General to the private soldier.' Such attitudes were commonplace within the British officer corps and Clark in particular was singled out for special treatment as an individualist who courted publicity — a 'typical American general'. Many that worked with him were not therefore displeased to see him promoted in January 1943 and sent to command the new US Fifth Army. But Clark never forgot the barbed British remarks about him and his countrymen in Tunisia. Truscott, however, was more conciliatory:
British commanders and staff officers impressed Americans as being supercilious, conceited, and arrogant. British officers considered the Americans to be loud, boastful and inexperienced ... One could sympathise with the lack of understanding and mutual regard between British and American commanders, however one might deplore it. But the bitterness, personal and professional jealousy ... and even hatred, which existed among some of the American commanders and staffs, I could never condone.
This mature outlook was one shared by Eisenhower who wrote to a friend, 'one of the constant sources of danger to us is to regard as our first enemy the partner that must work with us in defeating the real enemy.' He was quite right, for the surrender of the Axis forces in North Africa in May was not the final step towards the defeat of Germany, only the first. Nonetheless, it was a crucial success as Field Marshal Albert Kesselring – the man who was to emerge as the Allies' bête noire in Italy – noted: 'The Allies won a total victory. The final battles left the enemy with a sense of superiority which gave an extraordinary boost to his morale ... at the end of this phase the Axis had lost the strategic initiative.'
The surrender was a watershed for the Allies, as Ernie Pyle, an American war correspondent in North Africa, recognised:
There were days when I sat in my tent alone and gloomed with the desperate belief that it was actually possible for us to lose this war. I don't feel that way any more ... We are producing at home and we are hardening overseas ... I can't yet see when we shall win, or over what route geographically, or by which of the many means of warfare. But no longer do I have any doubts at all that we shall win.
By the late spring of 1943 the Allies had some momentum behind them. Along with the success in North Africa came a more positive outlook on the Eastern Front and the rapidly growing military strength of the United States. In such circumstances the British were keen to extend their Mediterranean strategy before their allies' strategic desires became demands that could no longer be resisted.
The British sought to make the Mediterranean a liability for the Germans. At the Symbol Conference in Casablanca in January 1943 Alan Brooke had proposed the invasion of Sicily to finally open the Mediterranean to Allied vessels, further wear down the German war machine and – possibly – force Mussolini out of the war. If the Italians did leave the Axis, he continued, Hitler would then be forced into deciding whether to defend Italy using German forces, or withdraw. Brooke had emphasised that, if the Allies filled the vacuum, a withdrawal would provide many treasures. He listed them whilst pointing to a large map: access to partisans in Yugoslavia; valuable bomber airfields and a threat to the Austrian border-the southern reaches of the Reich. Marshall was unimpressed: his fears were becoming a reality, with the British attempting to alter the direction of an agreed strategy, and he reflected the unease of many in Washington. One British observer wrote that the Americans 'regarded the Mediterranean as a kind of dark hole, into which one entered at one's peril.' But not all agreed and, disappointingly for Marshall, Roosevelt, Admiral Ernest King, the American Naval Chief of Staff and General Henry Arnold, the Chief of the Army Air Forces, backed the invasion of Sicily. Marshall winced. The Mediterranean was to be the theatre of 1943 and Operation Husky in Sicily-the first opposed landing in occupied Europe – was scheduled for July. But what was to happen after Sicily? At the Washington Trident Conference in May the British suggested an invasion of Italy, at which Marshall became convinced that they were trying to scupper the cross-Channel invasion, now code named Operation Overlord, and were pursuing a hidden agenda. Kesselring, the commander of German forces in Sicily and southern Italy, concurred declaring that Churchill wanted: 'to establish a jumping-off base for an assault on Europe from the south.' This was undoubtedly the case, and to sweeten this potentially bitter strategic pill for the Americans, the British proffered a concession. Overlord was to be launched in May 1944, and seven battle-tested divisions, and most of assault shipping currendy in the Mediterranean, were to be returned to England by 1 November 1943. With it also came an agreement that Eisenhower should report on further Mediterranean options. The next Allied move would depend on his findings, in concert with an appreciation of the invasion of Sicily and the delicate political situation in Rome.
As the strategists manoeuvred, Harold Alexander sought to ensure that his Army Group was ready for its next challenge. Whilst overseeing the assimilation of many lessons from North Africa, he was most concerned to improve the fighting ability of the Americans. By ensuring that their training, discipline and whole approach to battle fighting were tightened, Alexander and his team achieved his aim. And he did it without causing offence. 'We must tread very warily,' Alexander confided to Brooke in April 1943:
if the Americans think we are sneering at them – and God forbid that – or that we are being superior, they will take it very badly, as they are a proud people. We must take the line that we are comrades and brothers in arms, and our only wish is for them to share the horrors of war (and the handicaps) and reap the fruits of victory together.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Anzio Italy And The Battle For Rome – 1944"
Copyright © 2006 Lloyd Clark.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1. The Italian Job Allied Strategy and the Invasion of Italy 1942–1943,
2. Viktor, Barbara, Bernhardt and Gustav The Italian Campaign October–November 1943,
3. The Anatomy of a Wild Cat December 1943–January 1944,
4. Style Over Substance 22 January 1944,
5. The Nudge 23 January–2 February,
6. The Spring Released 3–19 February,
7. Changes 20 February–mid-March,
8. Entrenchment Mid-March-10 May,
9. Diadem 11-24 May,
10. The Eternal City 25 May-5 June,
Select Bibliography of Published Sources,
Appendix 1: Order of Battle,
Appendix 2: Glossary,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
The facts of the event(s) are an elightenment about that time in WWII. However, the publisher and printers should do a double take of their efforts. The misspelled words are too frequently found in this book. Shame!
I remember a motion picture about Anzio many years ago but it did not even come close to the story related in this excellent book. I felt like I was there in the vivid recount of this book. I am confused about what is the thuth about the criticism of the actions or lack of them of Clark and specially Lucas. I am looking forward to read other books by the author. E. J. Cosio