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22nd JANUARY 1944...
A DATE TO REMEMBER
ANZIO LANDING 22nd JANUARY... A DATE TO REMEMBER
Preparations are under way at Anzio/Nettuno for the ceremonies that record what took place a short distance south of Rome on 22nd January, 1944. On that day, thousands of British troops, supported by American units, landed along the coast at Anzio/Nettuno. Why did they come? What was their objective? At the time of the landing the war had been in progress for four years (from September 1939). After many reverses in Europe, Africa and the Soviet Union, things were now moving in favour of the Allied armies. Preparations were under way for the D-Day landings. The Allied Command hoped to neutralise the German/Italian armies in Italy, so as to make the landings in Northern Europe less difficult. The plan then was to land British troops - supported by the Americans and others - behind the German lines and move quickly to take Rome; but what was more important was to capture the mass of German troops. It was a plan that could shorten the war by months. But like any audacious plan it required men able to carry it out. It is now clear that this was not the case at Anzio. Instead of moving quickly to capture Rome having gained the element of surprise, with no German/Italian forces to block the landing army, John Lucas, the U.S. general put in charge of the operation, decided to wait on the beaches until he had more troops and supplies.
It was to be a fatal decision. For within a short space of time the Germans moved troops and armour to surround the beachhead and confine the troops who had landed to this small area. So, with the sea at their backs and surrounded by German/Italian troops, the Allied soldiers "dug in" to defend their positions. At one point the violent German/Italian attacks almost cut the small beachhead in two. But worse was to come. General Penney, the British commander, felt that what was of major importance was not now the capture of Rome, but to cut off and capture the German army operating south of Rome. The idea was to move through Valmontone and to the north, then turn and cut off the German troops. It would have been a brilliant move. But it didn't happen, It didn't happen because Mark Clark, the U.S. general now in charge, wanted to be "the first into Rome". He got his way - and the German army escaped north, to prepare the Gothic Line. On their way they also carried out the shocking massacre of civilians at Marzabotto. These are some of the things some of us will remember on 22nd January, when we are in the cemetery at Anzio.
Could massacres have been avoided?
It is pertinent to ask. If the troops who landed in January had moved swiftly, as planned, to capture Rome, might we have avoided the massacre at the Ardeatine Caves, when more than 300 were murdered in March? We were part of a war to liberate Europe from dictatorship. To bring back to Europe the freedom destroyed by the Nazis in Germany and the Fascists in Italy. Winston Churchill warned of Europe "returning to the Dark Ages and barbarism"; he was right, of course. Those who landed at Anzio/Nettuno on that 22nd January were playing their part to ensure that Italy - and Europe - were free once again. So when we remember those who died, we must also remember why.
by Harry Shindler (The Italy Star Association's representative in Italy)
First published in "The Informer" ¸ 1996 the magazine you need to understand Italy. ANZIO LANDING 22nd JANUARY... A DATE TO REMEMBER