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Anzio Beach head

Anzio Beach head
Anzio Beach head
Item# anziobeachhead
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Product Description

22th January 1944 the Anzio landing

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.

Despite the fact that their drive to eliminate the Anzio beachhead with an attack down the Albano Road had failed, the Germans resumed the offensive on 29 February. This time their main effort was directed against the U.S. 3d Division holding the Cisterna sector of the Allied beachhead. The LXXVI Panzer Corps, consisting of the 114th Light Infantry, 362d Infantry, 26th Panzer, and Hermann Goering Divisions began a drive to breach the outer beachhead defenses from Carano to Isola Bella, which, if successful, would be exploited by the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division all the way to Nettuno and Anzio. The Americans, however, had anticipated this move. General Truscott, who had replaced Lucas as VI Corps commander on 23 February, had reinforced the line with additional artillery. Further, he made certain that each unit had at least one battalion in reserve with additional reinforcements available at the corps level.

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 wellentrenched 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.

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.

The VI Corps spent this time reorganizing and regrouping as well. The British 56th Division was relieved by the British 5th Division while Commando, Ranger, and parachute units were sent to England to begin preparations for OVERLORD. The U.S. 34th Infantry Division took up positions before Cisterna on 28 March, replacing the 3d Division, which had seen sixty-seven days of continuous front-line action and now reverted to corps reserve. Over 14,000 replacements arrived to fill other depleted Allied units, bringing VI Corps to its full combat strength of 90,000 men in six divisions. In preparation for its role in the spring offensive, VI Corps received Combat Command B (CCB) of the U.S. 1st Armored Division, giving the beachhead forces a complete armored division.

On 22 May the entire U.S. 36th Infantry Division landed, bringing the total number of Allied troops at Anzio to seven full divisions.

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.

Supply problems at Anzio, originally one of the main concerns of Allied planners, never reached a crisis stage. Beginning on 28 January, six LSTs left Naples daily for Anzio, each carrying 1,500 tons of cargo distributed among fifty combat-loaded trucks. Driving off the ships at Anzio, the trucks moved directly to front-line positions with ammunition, fuel, and rations and were replaced on the LSTs by the fifty empty trucks that had made the voyage the previous day. In addition to LSTs, fifteen smaller vessels arrived each week, and every ten days four massive Liberty ships delivered heavier equipment. Between 22 January and 1 June over 531,511 long tons of supplies were unloaded at Anzio, a daily average of 3,920 tons.

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.

On 5 May General Clark gave General Truscott orders for a new Allied offensive code-named BUFFALO. The VI Corps was to break out of the beachhead on the Cisterna front at Cori, at the base of the Lepini Mountains, and at Velletri near the base of the Alban Hills. Once the breakout occurred, the Anzio units were to drive east through the Velletri Gap to Valmontone, cut Highway 6, the main German route of retreat, and trap the bulk of the enemy forces withdrawing north through the Liri valley. The basic operational concept had been dictated to Clark by Alexander, who was acting on Churchill's desire to destroy the entire Tenth Army south of Rome at Valmontone. Clark, however, had little faith in the feasibility of the plan. Furthermore, he believed that most of the recognition for Allied gains thus far obtained in Italy had been attributed unjustly to British forces, and he wanted the Fifth Army to have the singular honor of liberating Rome. He therefore informed Truscott that the VI Corps was to be prepared at any moment during the breakout to swing north for a rapid advance on the Italian capital, especially if stiff enemy resistance was encountered on the route to Valmontone or if the British advance up the Liri valley was slower than planned.

The U.S. 1st Armored Division was to make the initial assault out of the beachhead, supported by the 3d Division and 1st Special Service Force. The 45th Division was to move beyond Carano on the left as far as the Campoleone-Cisterna railroad, while the 36th Infantry Division exploited the expected breakthrough.

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.

This brochure was prepared in the U.S. Army Center of Military History by Clayton D. Laurie. I hope this absorbing account of that period will enhance your appreciation of American achievements during World War II.

GORDON R. SULLIVAN General, United States Army Chief of Staff