The Anzio Bridgehead. Italy Part 1

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 As a result, the German forces stationed at the Garigliano-Rapido front near Cassino were not withdrawn.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.

Part two will discuss the seizure of Rime.

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.

Directions:

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