The Anzio Bridgehead and the road to Rome

The is part one of the two part series on the Anzio landings. Part one discuses the landings itself and the subsequent battles, part two will discuss the seizure of Rome by the allies..

The amphibious landing at Anzio in 1944 was meant to break the stalemate the allies found themselves in at the Gustav Line near Cassino in Southern Italy. The operation was called ‘Operation Shingle’. Instead, Anzio itself became a stalemate. It took the allies four months to break the stalemate and advance onto Rime.

Landings

The invasion force consisted of the following units:

  • United States 3rd Infantry Division, 7th, 15th and 30th Infantry Regiment
  • US Rangers: 1st, 3d and 4th Ranger Battalion
  • 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion
  • British 1st Division,

At January 22nd 1944 2:00 hours, the US 3rd Division landed south of Anzio and by mid-morning, pushed three miles inland to set up a defensive position. The British 1st Division landed north of Anzio and had pushed two miles inland were the Commandos had set up blocking positions. The port of Anzio was seized by Darby’s Ranger Battalions. The 509th Parachute Infantry Battaltion occupied the neighboring town of Nettuno. At the end of the day, a number of 36000 troops and 3200 vehicles had landed. Operation Shingle turned out to be a complete surprise.

Last remaining defense pillbox at the Anzio / Nettuno Beach (image taken from TracesOfWar.com)

First news of the invasions had reached German headquarters at 5.00 hours. The 4th Fallshirmjager Division and the Panzer Division Hermann Goring were ordered to block all roads leading into Rome and from Anzio to the Alban Hills. German High Command was relieved that the allies didn’t seem to be in any hurry to break out of the Beachhead, neither were there any signs that there were any plans for an attack. As a result, the German forces stationed at the Garigliano-Rapido front near Cassino were not withdrawn. Heaving learned from North Africa and Sicily, German High Command knew that the Allies would be cautious. Had the Allies pushed out from Anzio on January 23rd, they would have encountered very little German resistance. A jeep patrol of the 3rd Infantry Division was able to reach to outskirts of Rome without any opposition.

The first real encounter happened at night of 22nd January when units of the SS Panzer Division Herman Goring seized bridges of the Mussolini Canal on the right flank of the bridgehead. The next evening, the US 3rd ID struck back and recaptured to bridges, blowing them to prevent further use.

Allied high command was convinced that they opposed a much larger German force. They were sure were they to attack, their force was to be annihilated. As a result, on focus was set on logistics. In the next few days, more forces were ordered into the bridgehead, the entire US 45th Infantry Division as well as the US 1st Armored Division. At the end of the month, both divisions had arrived but that time, the allied didn’t outnumber the Germans anymore.

Breakout

The Anzio Beachhead Museum today

By January 25th, elements of 5 German Divisions were in a defensive perimeter around Anzio. At that time, the first skirmish started around Aprilia. The British 1st Division had pushed the Germans out of the small town soon to be known as ‘The Factory’. The Germans counterattacked on January 26th and retook the town. On January 27th, General Clark ordered the capture Campoleone and Cisterna as the first steps in seizing the Alban hills. Unfortunately, the time of easy advances had passed. A week after the landings, German forces, 71500 outnumbered the allies, 61000.

The first allied offensive was planned for the night January 29th, a week after the landings. The 3rd Division, supported by the Rangers was ordered to seize Cisterna while British 1st Division was to advance up to Anzio-Via Anziata. and secure Campoleone. The allies advanced into heavily fortified German formations who were preparing their own counterattack. The British 1st Division managed to drive a wedge between the German 65th Infantry Division and the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division but at a dreadful cost. They lost a battalion commander, every single company commander and 70% casualties. The attack of the US troops was just as costly but less successful. Their attack began with an attempt by the Rangers to infiltrate Cisterna but the Rangers found themselves in the middle of the Panzer Division Hermann Goring. The Rangers tried to fight their way out of the trap but were only armed with light weapons and a few bazookas. They didn’t stand a change against Panzers. They managed to capture two Panzers and tried to use them to reach their own lines but were knocked out by other Rangers thinking the Panzers were still in German hands. Of the 767 Rangers from 1st Battalion and 3rd Battalion, only 6 made it back to allied lines. The 4th Ranger Battalion tried to reach their entrapped comrades but lost 50% of their force. Another elite force was brought in, the combines Canadian-American 1st Special Service Force who continued to attack with no success.

The Germans counter attacked on February 3rd, 23:00 hours under heavy rain. They managed to cut off the US 3rd Infantry Division. the British later counterattacked managed to close the gap again but with heavy losses. The 504 Parachute Infantry Regiment, part of the 82nd Airborne Division was brought in as reinforcements. After a number of attacks and counterattacks but parties were exhausted. The allies commuted the only infantry reserve left, the US 45th Infantry Division as strengthen the decimated British 1st Division. The 45th Division attack managing to knock out the German front defenses but needed to withdraw because they ran out of ammunition. By this time, it was clear to Allied high command it would take a major effort to defeat the German troops so the attacks were suspended. Instead, US heavy bombers dropped 145 tons of bombs on the German held positions.

Operation FischFang

A statue located at the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery in Nettuno representing Italian brotherhood. One who went to the US and the other staying in Italy. A lot of US Italian Immigrants came to Italy to fight fascism.

Operation Fischfang started February 16th and was meant to defeat the landed Allied forces, believing that defeat here meant a delay of the landings in Northern France. Having numerical superiority, the Germans attack was mainly focused on the positions held by the 45th Infantry Division but were repelled mainly due to heavy allied artillery. After the first day, operation Fischfang failed to penetrate the allied lines. At midnight, a gap opened in the US 45th Infantry Division pushing the division back for about 2 miles. The allies responded with an intense artillery barrage and ultimately, the Germans were forced to withdraw. The 45th counterattacked but were unable to push through the German lines due to heavy losses. The division was reinforced by rear guard personnel. By the 19th, the allies counterattacked with the 1st Armored and 3rd Infantry Division and were able to penetrate the German lines for about a mile. By that time, allied high command realized that the Germans were a spent force. the prisoners taken were from a bewildering number of different units. On the 20th, the Germans attacked one last time but retreated even before the Allied lines were reached.

Operation Seitensprung

Starting on February 28th, this was another attempt of the Germans but failed mainly due to insufficient troops. The only unit that achieved success were grenadiers of the 362nd Infantry Division which attack the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion. The Germans were able to overwhelm one company but were pummeled with artillery fire, forcing them to retreat. Attacks were resumed the next day but on a much smaller scale due to heavily losses, these were also repelled by artillery.

Stalemate

Both armies dug in, needing to reinforce, exchanging artillery fire and conducting small raids. The bad weather, water in the trenches made it look like World War I. The agonizing period of stalemate began. This period was needed because the allies were planning a new offensive to capture Rome.

During the stalemate at the Anzio front, the Allied and Germans suffered huge casualties due to frostbite and diseases. The beachhead was located in a marshy area with high water levels. Trenches were flooded with water resulting in huge numbers of trench foot and malaria causing 10.000 casualties on both sides exceeding even the combat casualties.

Operation Buffalo

Allied planning resulted in four scenarios for the Allied breakout:

  • Operation Turtle: was intended as lunge for Rome along the shortest route, straight up the Via Anziate. This was considered by the troops as the stupidest plan because this route had already cost a lot of lives already.
  • Operation Crawdad: was an attack planned along the seacoast to the northwest. Although the shortest, this was not the easiest because of the marshy ground which made it inaccessible for tanks.
  • Operation Grasshopper: was an attack in opposite direction down the right flank who was intended as a supported operation for the 5th Army at the Gustav line.
  • Operation Buffalo: was aimed at rupturing the Germans lines near Cisterna. This plan had multiple advances because it was not heavily defended since it did not lead directly to Rome. This depended on the breakthrough of the Gustav line which was called: Operation Diadem.
Campo di Carne. Memorial sign at the battlefield, Anzio.

Operation Buffalo was chosen. Operation Diadem started on the night of 11-12 May 1944. After a week of fighting, the Gustav defenses were broken open. Operation Buffalo kicked of May 23nd 1944 at 05:45 hours with a 45 minutes artillery barrage. The 1st Armored Division advanced first but suffered heavily casualties due to minefields but reach the Cisterna-Campoleone railroad at evening. This devastated the German defensed with 50% losses. The British 1st and 5th Division, the US 3rd Infantry Division and the US 45th Infantry Division followed thereafter.

Cisterna was encircles by May 24th. The advance continued, capturing Cori reaching the outskirts of Vellerti and Artena. After three days of fighting, the pace slowed. The allied forces suffered heavy casualties, German causalities were even greater.

General Mark Clark was obsessed with the idea that 5th Army was to seizing Rome. He knew full well that when the Normandy landings started, the Italy Campaign became a backwater. To accommodate this, he made one of his most controversial decisions, switching from Operation Buffalo to Operation Turtle. He feared that the British would first reach Rome. 1st Armored Division and 45th Infantry Division were re-positioned to advance up the Via Anziate. German defenses in the Alban Hills held firm. Allied casualties mounted quickly. The situation brightened as the 36th Infantry Division reconnaissance patrols found an undefended corridor in the Alban Hills. Engineers were brought in to bulldoze the area so vehicles could pass through. German counter attacks were ineffective. On June 2nd 1944, the 36th Infantry Division marched through the Alban Hills toward Rome.

On June 3rd, the Germans realized defenses were broken and declared Rome an open city and ordered a withdraw to the northern part of the city. Units of the 1st Armored Division and the 36th Infantry Division tussled for control of highway 7 which led into Rome on June 4th . The 36th was ordered to clear the highway and make way for the tanks. Large portions of 1st Armored Division units reached the outskirts of Rome and ran into rearguard units which were left behind to stall the allied advance. Unwillingness to cause a high number of civilian casualties resulted in a nine hour battle. But by dark, the first allied units entered Rome. Full scale movement of allied units occurred on June 5th but were still engaging in firefights with scattered German rearguards.

Glory was short lived as on June 6th 1944, the allies landed in Normandy which caused the Italian front to be forgotten.

The Anzio Beachhead Museum

As far as I know, the only museum in this area related to the Anzio landings. The museum is privately owned. It’s small but great to visit. Really impressive. Find out more about the museum on their website here

Sicily-Rome American Cemetery

Sicily–Rome American Cemetery and Memorial is a World War II American military war grave cemetery, located in Nettuno, near Anzio, Italy. The cemetery, containing 7,858 American war dead. Impressive, breathtaking… Words evade me. Find out more here.

Historical Museum of the Liberation

This museum tells the story of the liberation Rome. The focus is on the struggle for the liberation of Rome during the period September 8th 1943 to June 4th 1944. No pictures are available at this time because I haven’t visited this yet, unfortunately. Find out more here

Directions:

Center map

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