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When the Tigers Broke Free (Battle of Anzio)

#29578 3 years, 4 months ago
Remember the dead.

On January 22, 1944 Anglo-American forces under the command of Major General John Lucas made a surprise amphibious
landing at Anzio, home of the ancient Roman emperor Nero, thirty miles due south of Rome. The amphibious landing
operation (codename SHINGLE) consisted of just two divisions, with some 250 ships and landing craft, and 5,200
vehicles. The Anglo-American task force landed virtually unopposed on the beaches of Anzio and Nettuno, with
36,000 men of the US VI Corps making it ashore on the first day. What no one had expected was that the VI Corps
would embark from Naples on the 120 mile trip and land at Anzio without ever being detected by the Germans. Lucas
noted, “We have achieved what is certainly one of the most complete surprises in history." Many of the more than
two hundred German prisoners were captured while still in their beds. By 8 a.m. Darby’s Rangers had gained control
of the town of Anzio, which quickly became the 4th largest port in the world. However, within seven days of the
successful Allied landings, the initiative had already passed to the Germans, who rushed reinforcements to the
area and threatened to annihilate VI Corps on the beachhead. Anzio rapidly developed into a nightmare involving
some of the bitterest combat of World War II and left both sides utterly incapable of carrying out further
offensive operations in the area. Nearly 250,000 German and Allied soldiers found themselves locked in combat for
control of the lowland plains of the Pontine marshes during one of the coldest winters in memory.

The objective of the Italian campaign was to knock Italy out of the war and tie down as many German divisions as
possible. At the First Quebec (Quadrant) Conference in August 1943, the U.S. and British military chiefs clashed
over the scope of operations in the Mediterranean, but eventually gave General Eisenhower the green light to
invade Italy after Sicily. Italy secretly negotiated an armistice with the Allies that led to the Italian
surrender during the Salerno landings in September 1943. Therefore, in fighting up the boot of Italy the Allies
were engaging German forces which might otherwise be sent to the Russian front or shifted to France. Decisions
made by the Allied high command during this period in the Mediterranean reflected a lack of strategic goals for
the Italian campaign. Due to Germany's resourcefulness and the excellent defense fought by General von Senger
along the Gustav line, the bitter fighting in southern Italy appeared to be approaching stalemate. The mountainous
terrain became Field Marshal Kesselring’s greatest ally, and the Allied ground forces were restricted to frontal
attacks. It became increasingly clear that the only possible means of maneuver was by amphibious end runs which
might transform the static warfare of the Italian campaign into a swift war of movement.

In November 1943 the Fifth Army drew up an outline plan for an amphibious landing at Anzio. This defined SHINGLE
as a diversionary operation by a single reinforced infantry division to assist Fifth Army in an all-out drive on
the Alban Hills, a volcanic mass twenty miles inland which rises to heights of three thousand feet giving the
Germans an excellent view over the entire beachhead. The link-up between the main and the Anzio fronts was to take
place no later than seven days after the landing. After briefing Eisenhower on the morning of December 18,
American General Mark Clark killed the operation due to a lack of landing craft. It was only the intervention of
Prime Minister Winston Churchill at a conference in Tunis on Christmas Day of 1943 that resurrected SHINGLE. But
it was now to be a major operation launched deep in the enemy rear, regardless of where Fifth Army stood in south
Italy. It would also have to be executed within a certain period of time so that landing ships and craft could be
released for the OVERLORD cross-channel invasion of northwest Europe. The purpose of the operation was to outflank
the enemy positions established along the Garigliano and Rapido Rivers, some sixty miles to the south.

In support of the SHINGLE landing, the Fifth Army was to make a major attack on the main Garigliano-Rapido front
toward Cassino shortly before the assault landing to pin down the enemy troops and prevent them from reinforcing
the defenders at Anzio. The assault by Walker's 36th Division to seize a bridgehead north of the Rapido River on
the night of January 20 turned into one of bloodiest failures of the war. The 36th Division had no cover, no
artillery support, and insufficient infantry to force a successful crossing, while the infantry and engineers had
never even seen one another prior to the offensive. The first attempt by the 36th was repulsed with heavy losses.
General Mark Clark ordered Walker to renew his attack on the afternoon of January 21, when it was soundly repulsed
again. The 36th sustained very heavy casualties in the Battle of Bloody River- 1,681 total, including 143 killed, and 633
wounded. The few who managed to cross were rounded up by the Germans- it was later confirmed that 500 were
captured by the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division. A major problem with the operation was that it overlooked the
swampy terrain on both sides of the Rapido, which was the worst possible site for the use of armor. However, the
fatal flaw of the ill-fated offensive on the Rapido at Sant’ Angelo was Clark's anti-British bias and his refusal to permit
Americans and British to fight together. It was unthinkable to him that the British should gain credit for breaking the
Gustav Line. Although the British 10th Corps under General McCreery secured a bridgehead north of the lower Garigliano
which was tailor made for exploitation, Clark was not about to permit McCreery and the British to steal the limelight and
break the Gustav Line. The result was that the Allies had no hope of breaking through to the Liri Valley in the foreseeable
future. The disaster at the Rapido shattered any hopes that VI Corps could expect relief from the main body of Fifth Army.

According to British General Harold Alexander, the objective of the Anzio operation was "to cut the enemy's main
comminications in the Colli Laziali [Alban Hills] area Southeast of Rome, and to threaten the rear of the 14 German Corps."
He even went so far as to claim that Anzio would make OVERLORD unnecessary. The original planning guidance prepared
by Fifth Army G-3, Brig. Gen. Donald Brann, directed Lucas to seize and hold the Alban Hills. On January 12 Brann delivered
the newly issued operational order for SHINGLE, which merely directed Lucas to advance "on" the Alban Hills with no
timetable given. This was a relief to Lucas, whose primary mission, as explained by Brann, now became to seize and secure
a beachhead. A major postwar controversy developed around the mission assigned to Lucas once VI Corps established
a beachhead. Lucas has been blamed for not seizing the Alban Hills, but had his troops advanced that far inland
they would have outrun their supply lines and been immediately cut to pieces. Although VI Corps was too small to
establish and maintain a defensible beachhead and seize the Alban Hills, the village of Cisterna was indeed an
attainable objective. Lucas’s failure to press for its capture was a serious mistake. Lucas was preoccupied with
building up his beachhead and continued to act ultraconservatively. He was not privy to Ultra intercepts, VI Corps
often overestimated German troop strength, and what Allied intelligence officers believed was overwhelming German
strength was really fragments, remnants, and splinters of divisions, depleted units, recently organized units, and
barely trained troops. By restricting VI Corps forces to consolidation of the beachhead, the Germans were able to
reinforce their defenses, causing Kesselring and the German command to no longer believe a breakthrough was
imminent. After the first few days had passed, it was already too late for Lucas to do something such as advance to

The invasion of Anzio was originally launched to relieve the deadlock on the Cassino front, but, ironically, it
became a liability and was itself in need of rescue. As the battle raged on, the roles quickly became reversed and the
forces around Cassino would eventually have to help alleviate the pressure at Anzio. The main flaw of the SHINGLE plan
was its logistical limitations due to a lack of landing craft, which severely reduced its scope to a size far too small to
achieve its basic aim. The plans for the operation had previously been shelved only to be revived by Churchill,
who later admitted to Lord Moran that “Anzio was my worst moment in the war. I had most to do with it.” In a
telegram to Jan Smuts, Churchill compared the failure at Anzio to the Gallipoli campaign of World War I where an
unopposed British amphibious force had landed north of the main force and instead of advancing had dug in, brewed
tea, and bathed on the beaches while vital hours slipped away, thus providing the Turks with two crucial days to
prepare. “Instead of hurling a wild cat on to the shore all we got was a stranded whale and Sulva Bay over again,”
wrote Churchill. Unfortunately, the operation at Anzio had been doomed to failure from the start. From the
beginning Lucas had expressed doubts about the small size of the proposed expedition, but his misgivings were
ignored, his opinions were never solicited, and he could only obey orders. Lucas felt “like a lamb being led to
slaughter…” He wrote in his diary how “the whole affair had a strong odor of Gallipoli and apparently the same
amateur [Churchill] was still on the coaches bench.” Lucas was disturbed by the planners false optimism, which
showed a serious lack of appreciation for the fighting qualities of the German soldier. He also was troubled by
the lack of adequate time for preparation and training, and the apparent over-optimism in the higher levels of
command towards these matters. Lucas had always been pessimistic, which was only reinforced by the terrible
performance of assault troops during the final landing rehearsals on January 19. The night landings of Truscott’s
3rd Division were a disaster, for it lost Forty DUKWs and ten 105-mm. howitzers in the sea. The Navy didn’t close
on the beach and not one infantry battalion landed on time, in the correct location, or in the correct formation.
Furthermore, what exactly Lucas was to accomplish when he landed at Anzio was unresolved, with the objectives being
left extremely vague.

The situation on the battlefield at Anzio gradually deteriorated into trench warfare conditions reminiscent of
World War I. What made Anzio different from other campaigns was the close proximity of every single soldier and
sailor to the fighting. The beachhead was so small that nowhere was considered safe. The rear lines where the 95th
evacuation hospital was located came to be known as "Hell's Half Acre" after being accidentally bombed by a
Luftwaffe pilot, killing 22 people, including three nurses, and wounding sixty others. As the bombs began to fall,
Private Robert Mulreaney was visiting his wounded brother Eugene in one of the hospital tents and covered the body
of his injured brother. Robert was killed by fragmentation, while Eugene remained unscathed. Later that same
afternoon the Luftwaffe pilot was downed and became a patient in the hospital which he had just bombed. At Anzio
it was common for men who were recovering from minor wounds to request being sent back to the front lines where it
was deemed “safer”. Others concealed their wounds in order to not be sent to the rear. Artillery ruled the day,
with artillery ammunition being fired in quantities unprecedented even by WWII standards. When massed artillery
struck, men literally disappeared. Two massive German guns, dubbed Anzio Annie and Anzio Express by the Allies,
were each mounted on a railroad car and capable of firing a 280-mm shell up to 36 miles. These 218-ton monsters
made a daily habit of shelling the rear beachhead in the early evening. Virtually every battalion reported
instances of lives being saved by artillery shells failing to explode. The first rule of survival at Anzio was
that tanks attracted artillery and antitank fire, making tanks virtually useless. The terrain forced tanks to
stick to the roads, where they were sitting ducks.

Typical of the bloody battles of Anzio were small unit actions, where both sides fought each other to a standstill,
with little or no tactical gain. January 29, the day Lucas had finally started his offensive, was the most tragic
day in the brief saga of the US Army Rangers of WWII. Darby’s Rangers were to lead an attack on Cisterna under
cover of darkness by infiltrating Pantano Ditch. The 767 men of the 1st and 3rd battalions were to avoid combat
and advance to the village before dawn. Things went awry from the start, with several units getting lost, others
experiencing radio malfunctions, and still more encountering heavy resistance where little had been expected. The
Germans had set up a well-organized defensive position and were able to surround the Rangers, sealing off their
escape route. Calls for help were received at Darby’s HQ,including from the 1st Battalion Sergeant who told Darby,
“we’re running out of ammunition. They are coming in the building now.” Then the line went dead. Only 6 Rangers
managed to return to U.S. lines- the remaining 761 were either captured or killed (approximately 300 Rangers were killed).
Many of the captured Rangers were paraded as trophies through the streets of Rome, although some of them later
managed to escape. Darby himself broke down in tears and within weeks of the disaster at Cisterna the Ranger force was
officially disbanded. By February 3, Lucas was ordered to switch to defensive tactics and consolidate the beachhead. The
Allies never knew how close they came to achieving a breakthrough. The Germans repulsed the attack, but only with
the greatest exertion. Now the initiative passed to them.

The single most important day of the Battle of Anzio was February 18, during the German counteroffensive to push
the Allies back into the sea. As both sides geared for the showdown, it was clear that this would determine the
fate of the beachhead. In one instance, 1st Lieutenant James Sherrick, an artillery forward observer whose post
became surrounded on three sides, ordered his men to escape, ignoring the obvious risks to himself. His last
communication was “I am destroying my code. Three hundred yards right.” He had ordered the battalion fire control
center to fire on the building he occupied and moments later shells began raining down on the small building.
Another soldier, Eric Fletcher Waters of Company C of the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers City of London Regiment,
was also killed that day while fighting near the town of Aprilia, nicknamed the Factory for its large bell tower
which served as the local fascist headquarters. His son Roger, who was only four months old at the time, would go
on to immortalize the event in the Pink Floyd song When the Tigers Broke Free from the movie The Wall. The German
counter attack was eventually halted and with both armies exhausted, the battle developed into the bloodiest
stalemate on the western front which would go on to last for three long months. AWOL and desertion rates rose to
alarming levels and morale became one of most worrisome problems.

Having achieved complete surprise at Anzio, Lucas had ignored the advantages it gave him and failed to act decisively.
This led to him being made a scapegoat. As he had predicted, he was removed on February 22, one month after the
landing, because Alexander and Clark thought the operation was lagging and felt Lucas was exhausted and worn out.
He was replaced with Lucian Truscott, an expert on amphibious landings from his time working with Mountbatten's
Combined Operations Staff and one of the most capable Allied commanders of World War II. Truscott had a raspy voice
from having accidentally swallowed carbolic acid as a child and was a member of the Army polo team in the 1930's. He
once told his young son, "you fight wars to win. That's spelled W-I-N! And every good player in a game and every good
commander in a war…has to have some sonofabitch in him. If he doesn't, he isn't a good player or commander....
It's as simple as that. No sonofabitch, no commander." Unlike Lucas, Truscott spent most of his time visiting his officers
and men at the front, and in the first 24 hours of his command he visited every unit in the beachhead. Unlike Clark,
Truscott was almost contemptuous of his personal image. He lived and worked above ground in a converted wine-shop
and his house was hit numerous times by German shells but never destroyed. Within a short time Truscott was able to
reverse the long-standing antipathy to VI Corps and proved himself a master of employing artillery in support of his

When the Allied breakout from the beachhead finally came on May 25, as the VI Corps and the rest of the Fifth Army
at last established contact on the edge of the Pontine marshes, it was a huge relief to the men who had been
fighting in Italy for so long with few real successes. Cisterna finally fell to the 3rd Division after three days of brutal
combat and it was at this time that General Mark Clark committed one of the biggest Allied blunders of the war.
Rather than capitalizing on the success his forces were having moving east and attempting to cut off the German
Tenth Army at Valmontone and severing the enemy's main line of communications to the southern front, he abruptly
shifted his Fifth Army to the northwest toward the Alban Hills along the most direct route to Rome without even
informing Alexander, his superior. Clark was determined to be the first one to Rome in order to capture the great
prize and steal the limelight from the British. His puzzling decision ignored the fact that if VI Corps had severed the links
between the beachhead and the Tenth Army, the road to Rome was wide open and German forces in Anzio would be
trapped. Clark and his intelligence officers badly underestimated the defensive capabilities of three good German
divisions of I Parachute Corps at the base of the Alban Hills. Clark had ordered his corps commander to abandon a
successful exploitation and attack precisely where the Germans hoped he would, and where they were strongest.
Ironically, if VI Corps had continued on toward Valmontone, it would have been able to reach Rome quicker than it
was able to by the northwest route, and could have cut Highway 6 and put far greater pressure on the Tenth Army
than it did. Intelligence officials at Bletchley Park could not understand the Fifth Army’s behavior and watched in
disbelief as it changed course. When Clark finally did enter Rome at the head of a small procession of jeeps on June 4,
they soon became lost, eventually finding their way to St. Peter’s Square. One of Clark’s first acts was to hold a press
conference at city hall, where he proclaimed “This is a great day for Fifth Army.” Eric Severeid was among many of the
correspondents offended by Clark’s remarks, which failed to mention British or French participation. A colleague
commented: “On this historic occasion I feel like vomiting.” Perhaps the ultimate irony of Clark’s obsession with
becoming the first modern-day conqueror of Rome was that his triumph lasted less than forty-eight hours in the
world’s newspaper headlines. On June 6, the Allied cross-channel invasion of Normandy would take over the spotlight
from Italy.

During the 125 day siege at Anzio, the Allies lost approximately 4,400 dead, 18,000 wounded, and nearly 7,000
captured- there were also 37,000 “non-combat” casualties. Total German losses for the desperate months of the
beachhead are unknown, but were later estimated by Kesselring to be approximately 40,000, of which 5,000 were
killed in action, another 4,500 captured, and 17,500 wounded. On Memorial Day 1945, General Truscott, now Fifth
Army commander, was the main speaker at the ceremony dedicating the American cemetary at Nettuno. Stars and
Stripes cartoonist Bill Mauldin described how “when Truscott spoke, he turned away from the visitors and addressed
himself to the corpses he had commanded there.” Mauldin called it the most moving gesture he ever saw. Truscott
then apologized to the men buried there and asked them to forgive him. He said that leaders all tell themselves
that deaths in war aren't their fault, that such carnage is inevitable. Deep down, though, if they're honest with
themselves, he said, commanders and politicians know it's not true. Truscott admitted he had made mistakes,
perhaps many. He then closed by promising the men buried at Nettuno that if he ever ran into anybody who spoke of
the glorious war dead, he would "straighten them out... It is the least I can do."

Remember the dead.

"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
Jerry Garcia

Last Edit: 3 years, 4 months ago by sidemouse.
The following user(s) said Thank You: Sigmund the Seamonster
Platinum Boarder

Re: When the Tigers Broke Free (Battle of Anzio)

#29582 3 years, 4 months ago
always wondered why that song wasnt on the album,such a moving part of the movie
If i told ya all that went down,it would burn off both your ears
Platinum Boarder

Re: When the Tigers Broke Free (Battle of Anzio)

#29618 3 years, 4 months ago
One of my favorite Roger Waters solo songs (let the arguments commence)! Thanks for all the info I never knew too much more than the lyrics about the actual battle very interesting.
Warrior for Peace and The Positive Movement!
Sigmund the Seamonster
Junior Boarder

Re: When the Tigers Broke Free (Battle of Anzio)

#29657 3 years, 4 months ago
Very informative! A+ on your "Anzio" book report.
Last Edit: 3 years, 4 months ago by Sigmund the Seamonster.
Junior Boarder

Re: When the Tigers Broke Free (Battle of Anzio)

#29800 3 years, 4 months ago
A few pictures from the battle.

2nd Sherwood Foresters in the wadis (gullies)

Hell's Half Acre, the 95th Evacuation Hospital

Evacuation of the wounded

Air attack on Cisterna

"The Factory" at Aprilia

Capture of Cisterna

Anzio Annie, called Leopold by the Germans, which now rests at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland.

American cemetary at Nettuno
"Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us.”
Jerry Garcia

The following user(s) said Thank You: iamthedoor
Platinum Boarder

Re: When the Tigers Broke Free (Battle of Anzio)

#29804 3 years, 4 months ago
saw a special on PBS last nite about all the American soldiers cemetery's overseas.i think they pay more respect to our fallen on memorial day than we do here in the USA, sad really
If i told ya all that went down,it would burn off both your ears
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