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Anzio, Battle of (1944)

Anzio, Battle of (1944). In the skillfully defended terrain of southern Italy, the Allies in November 1943 during World War II were advancing so slowly that they decided to go around the German defenses by sea, hoping to speed progress to Rome. In December, they canceled the planned amphibious venture because Anzio was too far ahead of the front to guarantee swift overland linkup with an isolated, vulnerable beachhead. Also, they doubted whether the ships remaining in the Mediterranean after a sizable number was transferred to England for Operation Overlord, the cross‐Channel attack, could sustain the attack.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who favored the Italian campaign over Overlord, received permission from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to hold the ships scheduled to depart and in January 1944, reinstated the enterprise. By now, instead of depositing 14,000 men just ahead of the front, 110,000 were to land deep in hostile territory.

The different outlooks of Gen. Sir Harold Alexander, the British Army Group commander, and Lieut. Gen. Mark Clark, the Fifth U.S. Army commander, confused expectations. As other units of the Fifth Army tried vainly to cross the Rapido River and penetrate the Gustav Line in order to start the cross‐country movement to Anzio, troops of Maj. Gen. John Lucas's U.S. Corps achieved surprise at Anzio and waded ashore on 22 January 1944.

Should Lucas have driven inland 20 miles to the Alban Hills, the last natural barrier on the southern approaches to Rome and tried to enter the undefended capital, as Alexander desired? Or should he, as he would choose to do, have built up port and depot facilities to secure supplies coming by sea from Naples, as Clark wished? The questions inspire controversy today.

German troops rushed from northern Italy, the Balkans, southern France, and Germany contained the beachhead, then attacked to eliminate it. From the Alban heights, they had excellent observation of the Anzio plain, and their artillery and aircraft pounded Allied positions and the ships offshore. In fierce and close range fighting, the Germans pushed back the VI Corps almost to the water's edge. Reinforcements from the main front enabled the Allies to hang on.

Four months later, Alexander brought most of the British Eighth Army across the Apennines to bolster Clark's forces, then launched a massive offensive on 11 May. These units made contact on 25 May with the VI Corps, now commanded by Maj. Gen. Lucian Truscott, Jr. As the two fronts joined, the Germans gave way, and the Allies entered Rome on 4 June, two days before the Overlord D‐Day.

Allied casualties in the Anzio beachhead numbered around 25,000; losses in the forces advancing to join the beachhead totaled an additional 25,000.
[See also Italy, Invasion and Conquest of.]


Wynford Vaughan‐Thomas , Anzio, 1961.
Martin Blumenson , Anzio: The Gamble That Failed, 1963.

Martin Blumenson

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