This was the Allied amphibious landing at Anzio and Nettuno on the western side of central Italy by Major General John P. Lucas’s US VI Corps of Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark’s US 5th Army (22 January 1944).
The undertaking was designed to outflank the German forces in the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences along the line of the Rapido and Garigliano rivers to the north-east and south-west of Cassino, and so allow the lines of communication nourishing Generaloberst Heinrich-Gottfried von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s 10th Army to be severed but then, in a late modification by Clark, to facilitate an Allied advance on Rome.
The success of an amphibious landing at that location, in a basin consisting substantially of reclaimed marshland and surrounded by hills, depended wholly on the element of surprise and the speed with which the assault forces could advance in order to outpace the reaction time of the German defenders and create a sizeable lodgement. Any delay would inevitably allow the Germans to establish themselves in defensive positions in the surrounding hills, and thus to be in a position to keep the assault forces trapped in their initial lodgement. Clark fully comprehended the risk, but nonetheless failed to urge on Lucas the paramount importance of a speedy inland advance. An orthodox military practitioner with little confidence in the operation as planned, Lucas therefore preferred to take time to entrench, in what was in effect a comparatively small beach-head, against an expected counterattack. In overall terms, the initial landing achieved complete surprise without opposition, and a Jeep patrol even reached the outskirts of Rome. Despite the report of that patrol, Lucas signally failed to exploit the element of surprise and thus delayed his advance until he judged his position was sufficiently consolidated and his troops ready.
As Lucas consolidated, Generalfeldmarschall Albert Kesselring, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Südwest’, moved every formation and unit he could into a ring around the beach-head in positions on the higher ground from which the German artillery observers had a clear view of all the Allied positions. The Germans also stopped the drainage pumps and flooded the reclaimed marsh with salt water, planning to entrap the Allies and destroy them with an epidemic of malaria. For weeks, therefore, the Germans deluged the beach, the marsh, the harbour and anything else observable from the hills with a volume of artillery fire so heavy that there was little or no substantive distinction between forward and rear positions.
The strategic position in Italy during the later stages of 1943 was that the Allies, following their ‘Baytown’ (i), ‘Slapstick’ and ‘Avalanche’ landings at Reggio di Calabria, Taranto and Salerno respectively and advances to the north on each side of the Italian ‘leg’, had become bogged down in front of the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences extending across the Italian peninsula in the area to the south of the strategic objective of Rome. By this time the terrain of central Italy had proved ideally suited to defence operations, and Kesselring and his subordinate commanders had taken full advantage of the fact with considerable resolution and consummate skill.
The concept on which ‘Shingle’ was based had originally been conceived by Prime Minister Winston Churchill in December 1943, his idea being based on the landing of two divisions at Anzio, bypassing the German forces in central Italy, and taking Rome. By January he had recovered from the bout of pneumonia in which his first thoughts on the subject had started to take form, and was pressing commanders for a plan of attack, accusing them of wanting not to fight but instead remain content to draw their pay and eat their rations. General the Hon. Sir Harold Alexander, commander-in-chief of the Allied Armies in Italy command, as the 15th Army Group had become on 11 January 1944, had in fact already been considering such a landing since October 1943, though in this instance with a force of five divisions. However, the 5th Army lacked both the available divisions and the means with which to transport them, and Clark instead proposed landing a reinforced division to divert German troops from Monte Cassino by holding ‘the shingle’ for a week in expectation of a breakthrough at Cassino. This was, of course, the origin of the naming of the ultimate operation as ‘Shingle’.
The area in which the Anzio and Nettuno beach-heads were located lie at the north-western end of a reclaimed marsh known as the Agro Pontino. In earlier times uninhabitable as the marsh was a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes, this infested area could be crossed swiftly by use of a Roman military road, the Via Appia. The marsh was bounded on its south-western side by the Tyrrhenian Sea, and on its other sides by hills and mountains: the Monti Albani, Monti Lepini, Monti Ausoni and, farther to the south, Monti Aurunci where the Allies had been checked in front of Monte Cassino. This group of hills and mountains is known collectively as the Monti Laziali. The marshland had drained and turned into cultivatable land in the 1930s under the command of the dictator, Benito Mussolini. Canals and pumping stations were built to remove the brackish water from the land, and these divided the new land into personal tracts with new stone houses for colonists from northern Italy. It was Mussolini who also founded the five towns were were destroyed in the battle.
From a number of Allied proposals made to break the stalemate, that of Churchill for ‘Shingle’ was accepted by his Allied opposite numbers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt of the USA and Premier Josef Stalin of the USSR. The operation was therefore planned from November 1944 by Alexander’s staff on the basis of a major attack in the south by Clark’s 5th Army and General Sir Bernard Montgomery’s British 8th Army, which would draw the already depleted German forces away from the areas round Rome, and from the hills between Rome and the coast. This would make possible a surprise landing by the VI Corps in the area of Anzio and Nettuno, just to the south of Rome, opening the way for a rapid advance into the Alban hills to cut the Germans’ lines of communication with their forces farther to the south, and to threaten the rear of General Fridolin Ritter und Edler von Senger und Etterlin’s XIV Panzerkorps holding the south-western end of the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences.
When his US 3rd Division was first selected for the operation, Major General Lucian K. Truscott told Clark that the position was a death trap and that there would be no survivors. Clark agreed and cancelled the operation, which was then revived at the urging of Churchill. Apparently the two members of the western alliance had differing concepts: the Americans viewed such a landing as another distraction from the primary battlefield at Cassino, and that if the Allies could not break through at Cassino, the forces Anzio and Nettuno would be trapped; while Churchill and the British high command envisaged an outflanking movement ending with the capture of Rome. The Allied supreme commander in the Mediterranean theatre was General Dwight D. Eisenhower, who was on the verge of departing to assume command of ‘Overlord’, and he left the decision to Churchill with a warning about German unpredictability.
Each party finally agreed that the forces landed at Anzio and Nettuno should not merely remain there, but Lucas received somewhat equivocal orders. He was to land his VI Corps in the area of Anzio and Nettuno before making a rapid advance into the Alban hills to cut the German lines of communication with the ‘Gustav-Linie’ and thus threaten the rear of von Senger und Etterlin’s XIV Panzerkorps holding the south-western end of the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences. It was hoped that this threat would persuade Kesselring to order the diversion of forces from the Cassino area and thereby facilitate an Allied breakthrough of the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences. No one foresaw any advantage in taking the Alban hills, nor was Churchill’s idea of a flanking movement expressed.
The argument of the Allied planners was that if Kesselring pulled troops out of the ‘Gustav-Linie’ in order to contain the Allied assault at Anzio and Nettuno, then the Allied forces would have a considerably greater opportunity to break through the ‘Gustav-Linie’, and that if Kesselring did not pull troops out of the ‘Gustav-Linie’, then the forces landed in ‘Shingle’ would threaten both the capture of Rome and the severance of the lines of communication nourishing the German formations and units holding the ‘Gustav-Linie’. The Allies also believed that even if the Germans proved to possess reinforcements adequate for the twin tasks of defending Rome and holding the ‘Gustav-Linie’, the operation would nevertheless have proved useful in forcing the commitment and then pinning of forces which would otherwise have been available for deployment to another front. It is worth noting that at the same time the Germans finally came to a conclusion in their dispute as how best to defend Italy, Adolf Hitler deciding in favour of holding southern Italy in accord with the scheme proposed by Kesselring, rather than securing northern Italy in accord with the plan proposed by the commander of Heeresgruppe ‘B’, Generalfeldmarschall Erwin Rommel. As a result Kesselring was appointed to lead the new Heeresgruppe ‘C’ controlling the German forces in the whole of Italy, and immediately set about preparing the freshly created 14th Army, under the command of Generaloberst Eberhard von Mackensen, for the control of operations in those parts of Italy lying to the west of the Apennine mountains, leaving von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s 10th Army to concentrate on the defence of the parts of Italy lying to the east of these mountains. So just as the Allies were preparing a bold outflanking movement at Anzio, the Germans were establishing an effective theatre command with a capable but as yet uncommitted army headquarters under its direct control.
Clark did not feel he had the strength on his southern front to exploit any breakthrough. His plan therefore relied relied on an offensive against the ‘Gustav-Linie’ to draw in Kesselring’s reserves and so provide the forces at Anzio an Nettuno with the opportunity for a rapid advance inland from the beaches. This would also reflect the orders Clark had received from Alexander to ‘carry out an assault landing on the beaches in the vicinity of Rome with the object of cutting the enemy lines of communication and threatening the rear of the German XIV Corps’. Clark’s written orders to Lucas did not genuinely reflect this, however. Lucas had initially received orders to ‘1. Seize and secure a beachhead in the vicinity of Anzio 2. Advance and secure Colli Laziali 3. Be prepared to advance on Rome’, but Clark’s final orders stated ‘2. Advance on Colli Laziali’, thereby offering Lucas considerable flexibility as to the timing of any advance on the Alban hills. It is probable that the caution displayed by both the US commanders reflected Clark’s experiences in the tough fighting for the ‘Avalanche’ beach-head at Salerno, and Lucas’s caution, the latter probably resulting from his lack of battle experience.
Clark and Lucas had full confidence in neither their superiors nor the operational plan. Together with the majority of the 5th Army’s staff officers, they felt that ‘Shingle’ was a tasking that required two corps or even an army. A few days before ‘Shingle’ was launched, Lucas confided in his diary that ‘They will end up putting me ashore with inadequate forces and get me in a serious jam…Then, who will get the blame?’, and that the operation ‘has a strong odour of Gallipoli and apparently the same amateur was still on the coach’s bench’. The latter was a clear allusion to Churchill, the architect of the disastrous Gallipoli landings of World War I and the major advocate of ‘Shingle’.
One of the problems with the planning and timing of ‘Shingle’ was the number of landing ships and craft which would be available, at at what period. The US high command in particular was determined that nothing should delay the ‘Overlord’ invasion of Normandy and the supporting ‘Anvil’ (later ‘Dragoon’) landings in the south of France. The successful implementation of ‘Shingle’ would inevitably require the use of some of the landing ships which were required for these operations. Initially ‘Shingle’ was to release these assets by 15 January, but this was seen to raise insuperable problems, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorised the retention of these vessels and craft by ‘Shingle’ up to to 5 February.
Initially available to the ‘Shingle’ planners were tank landing ships sufficient for the landing of only one division but, at Churchill’s insistence, enough were later made available for the landing of two divisions. Allied intelligence believed that there were five or six German divisions in the area, but the 5th Army intelligence branch severely underestimated the 10th Army’s fighting capacity at the time in the erroneous belief that many of the army’s formations and units were exhausted after the defensive battles they had fought since September.
‘Shingle’ was initially to have used a single US division landed no later than 15 January 1944, when the required amphibious shipping was to be removed from the Mediterranean in preparation for ‘Overlord’, the exact date of the landing being determined by the arrival of the 5th Army at a point some 30 miles (48 km) to the south of the proposed beach-head after breaking through the ‘Bernhardt-Linie’ and ‘Gustav-Linie’ positions. The operation was officially cancelled on 18 December, but then various delays postponed the removal of Allied amphibious transport capability to the UK, and the operation was therefore revived but retimed for the later part of January 1944 as Clark’s forces had as yet failed to make the necessary inroads through the ‘Bernhardt-Linie’ and ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences.
The Allied plan was finalised on 12 January, three days after the VI Corps had been replaced in the line to the south of Cassino and moved to its embarkation points at Salerno, as part of a five-phase Allied winter offensive against a German army believed to be exhausted and virtually without reinforcements or reserves. ‘Shingle’ was designed as the third of these phases: the first two were the Allied offensives against the ‘Gustav-Linie’ and ‘Senger-Linie’ positions, and the last two the junction with the VI Corps and the destruction of the XIV Panzerkorps.
The Allied forces for ‘Shingle’ were delivered and supported by a naval element commanded by Rear Admiral Frank J. Lowry of the US Navy, with Lowry’s Force ‘X’ (Task Force 81) responsible for the transport, landing and support of the US land forces, and Rear Admiral T. H. Troubridge’s Force ‘P’ for the transport, landing and support of the British land forces. On 21 January TF81, with Lowry on board the headquarters ship Biscayne, departed the Bay of Naples and the landings started early on the next day.
Lowry’s Southern Attack Force comprised five infantry landing ships, 51 tank landing ships, four gun/flak-armed landing craft, 60 infantry landing craft, 32 tank landing craft, two rocket-armed tank landing craft, 23 motor launches and patrol craft/submarine chasers, 10 other craft and the beacon submarine Uproar, and landed the US 3rd Division. Escort and support were provided by the light cruisers Brooklyn and British Penelope, US destroyers Plunkett, Gleaves, Niblack, Woolsey, Mayo, Trippe, Ludlow and Edison, a miced escort destroyer and destroyer escort force comprising the British Croome, Free Greek Themistokles and Kriti, and US Herbert C. Jones and Frederick C. Davis, Free Dutch gunboats Flores and Zoemba, British auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Palomares and 23 US minesweepers.
Troubridge’s Northern Attack Force comprised the headquarters ship Bulolo, three infantry landing ships, three large tank landing ships (Boxer, Bruiser and Buster), 30 tank landing ships, four gun/flak-armed landing craft, 29 infantry landing craft, 17 tank landing craft, one rocket-armed tank landing craft, 17 patrol craft, submarine chasers and motor launches, 13 other craft and the beacon submarine Ultor, and landed Major General W. R. C. Penney’s British 1st Division. Escort and support were provided the British light cruiser Orion and light anti-aircraft cruiser Spartan, auxiliary anti-aircraft ship Ulster Queen, destroyers Jervis, Janus, Laforey, Loyal, Inglefield, Tenacious, Urchin and Kempenfelt, escort destroyers Beaufort, Brecon, Wilton and Tetcott, and 16 minesweepers.
On the first day of ‘Shingle’ these Allied naval assets landed 36,034 troops and 3,069 vehicles. The minesweeper Portent was lost on a mine and LCI-20 sank after being hit by a bomb. The anti-aircraft ship Palomares also suffered mine damage. In an air attack on 23 January the destroyers Janus was sunk and and Jervis damaged by Henschel Hs 293 guided weapons. When the first supply convoy arrived on 24 January the 2,702-ton hospital ship St David was sunk by air attack, and the destroyer Plunkett and minesweeper Prevail were damaged. The destroyer Mayo was damaged by an air-launched torpedo. At Naples the 7,176-ton freighter F. A. C. Muhlenberg was damaged by bombs. On 25 January the minesweeper YMS-30 was sunk on a mine and the submarine chaser PC-676 damaged by a bomb. On 26 January LST-422 and LCI-32 were lost on mines, while LST-336 and the freighters John Banward (7,191 tons) and Hilary A. Herbert (7,176 tons) were damaged by fighter-bombers. On 27 January the submarine chaser SC-534 was damaged by bombs. On 29 January the cruiser Spartan and 7,181-ton transport Samuel Huntington succumbed to air attacks by, respectively, a Dornier Do 217K of the III/Kampfgeschwader 100 and Junkers Ju 88 aircraft of the I/Lehrgeschwader 1 armed with guided weapons and bombs.
The initial landing element totalled 40,000 men and more than 5,000 vehicles divided into three attack groups. The northernmost of these, scheduled to land 6 miles (10 km) to the north of Anzio on Peter beach, was Penney’s British 1st Division (Brigadier E. E. J. Moore’s 2nd Brigade, Brigadier J. G. James’s 3rd Brigade and Brigadier A. S. P. Murray’s 24th Guards Brigade), the 46th Royal Tank Regiment, and part of Brigadier T. D. L. Churchill’s 2nd Special Service Brigade (No. 9 Commando and No. 43 [RM] Commando). The division was to land its 2nd Brigade in the north between Anzio and the Moletta river with the 2nd Special Service Brigade following it ashore.
The US central group, intended for the attack on the port of Anzio, for which an airborne landing to the north-west of the port by the 504th Parachute Infantry had been proposed but rejected, was the North-Western Force that was to land on Yellow beach the 6615th Ranger Force (1st, 3rd and 4th Ranger Battalions and 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion) with supporting elements. This force was to land the three Ranger battalions in the centre between Anzio and Nettuno, with the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion following them ashore.
The southernmost group, intended to land on the coast 3.75 miles (6 km) to the south-east of Anzio on X-Ray beach, was the South-Western Force comprising Truscott’s 3rd Division (7th, 15th and 30th Infantry), 504th Parachute Infantry, 751st Tank Battalion, 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion and supporting elements. The 3rd Infantry Division was to land its three infantry regiments in the south between Nettuno and the Mussolini Canal, with the 504th Parachute Infantry following them ashore.
The rest of the 1st Division was in floating reserve and follow-on forces, to be committed at Clark’s discretion, were Major General Ernest N. Harmon’s US 1st Armored Division (less Combat Command B and thus comprising the 1st Armor and 6th Armored Infantry) and Major General William W. Eagles’s 45th Division (157th, 179th and 180th Infantry, and 645th Tank Destroyer Battalion).
The assault forces were to consolidate a beach-head between the Mussolini Canal and the Moletta via Padiglione. The British would hold the left of the beach-head and then exploit toward Campoleone along the road to Albano, and the Americans would hold the right of the beach-head before exploiting toward Cisterna via Conca. Only after this enlarged beach-head had been secured would Lucas envisage the landing of the 1st Armored Division and 45th Division for the assault toward the Alban hills.
The 5th Army’s initial offensive against the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences had begun on 16 January at Monte Cassino. Although the operation failed to capture its target, it partially succeeded in its primary objective: von Vietinghoff-Scheel, commanding the German forces holding the ‘Gustav-Linie’, called for reinforcement, and Kesselring accordingly transferred Fries’s 29th Panzergrenadierdivision and Generalleutnant Gerhard Graf von Schwerin-Krosigk’s 90th Panzergrenadierdivision from Rome. This was what Clark had hoped, for it had been appreciated by the Allies that the Germans could otherwise move forces against the ‘Shingle’ beach-head more rapidly than the Allies could pour troops into it. Thus the Allies felt that it was vital for the German lines of communication to the south-east of Rome to be interdicted by air power to slow the development of the inevitable German counter-offensive.
Kesselring was fully aware that an amphibious landing might be launched (German contingency plans envisaged such an outflanking operation in places as diverse as Istria, Ravenna, Civitavecchia, Livorno and Viareggio) and had organised a number of extemporised local commands to deal with any such operation, and in the Anzio sector were General Alfred Schlemm and the headquarters of the I Fallschirmkorps.
‘Shingle’ was committed on 22 January and while resistance had been expected, as at Salerno during ‘Avalanche’ in September 1943, the initial landings were essentially unopposed with the exception of desultory German air attacks. In themselves, therefore, the ‘Shingle’ landings were almost the most successful of World War II in any theatre, for there was opposition only from two German battalions and some shore batteries, which were silenced by the guns of the light cruisers and destroyers.
By 24.00 on 22 January the VI Corps had thus landed 36,034 men, 3,069 vehicles and 90% of the corps’ assault equipment at the cost of 13 men dead, 97 wounded and 44 missing; about 200 Germans had been taken prisoner. The British 1st Division penetrated some 1.85 miles (3 km) inland, the Rangers captured the port of Anzio, the 509th Parachute Battalion took Nettuno, and the 3rd Division penetrated 3.1 miles (5 km) inland.
It is worth noting that during the first days of the operation, the command of the Italian resistance movement had a meeting with the Allied general headquarters and offered to guide the Allied force in the Alban hills, but the Allied command rejected the offer.
Lucas’s superiors clearly believed that the VI Corps would swiftly undertake offensive action as the primary object of the ‘Shingle’ landing was to turn the German defences of the ‘Gustav-Linie’, fall on their exposed rear and, it was hoped, start them into a panic-struck retreat to the north and past Rome. However, Lucas instead concentrated ever more men and matériel into the small beach-head, and strengthened its defences. Churchill was so unhappy with this action that he said ‘I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.’
It has to be admitted that Lucas found himself in a difficult position and, perhaps swayed by the fact that he lacked confidence in the strategic planning of the operation, he could convince himself that his interpretation of Clark’s orders was reasonable: the two divisions of the VI Corps were, after all, faced by two or three times as many German divisions. On the other side of the coin, it can be argued that Lucas in fact created the worst of two worlds inasmuch as he exposed his forces to risk without imposing any hazard on the Germans.
Kesselring learned of the landings at 03.00 on January 22. Although the landings came as a surprise, Kesselring had made contingency plans to deal with possible landings at all likely locations, as noted above. All Kesselring’s plans relied on each of his divisions having organised a motorised Kampfgruppe rapid-reaction unit for speedy despatch to meet the threat and buy the time needed for Kesselring to bring the rest of the German defences into position. At 05.00 Kesselring triggered the ‘Richard’ (iii) contingency plan and ordered the Kampfgruppe of Schlemm’s I Fallschirmkorps (Generalmajor Heinrich Trettner’s 4th Fallschirmjägerdivision from Terni and a number of replacement units of Herr’s LXXVI Panzerkorps including Generalleutnant Paul Conrath’s Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’ from Frosinone) to hold the roads leading from Anzio and Nettuno to the Alban hills via Campoleone and Cisterna even as the main defence of some 20,000 more men arrived. Moreover, Kesselring requested the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht to despatch reinforcements, and in response the armed forces high command ordered the equivalent of more than three divisions from France, Yugoslavia and Germany (Generalfeldmarschall Gerd von Rundstedt, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’ in France, was instructed to transfer to Kesselring’s command Generalleutnant Hans-Georg Hildebrandt’s 715th Division, then stationed in the area of Marseille, and Generaloberst Alexander Löhr, the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Südost’ in the Balkans, was ordered to send to Kesselring’s command Generalleutnant Alexander Bouquin’s 114th Jägerdivision), and at the same time released to Kesselring another three divisions which had been under the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht’s direct command in Italy. Later in the morning of 22 January, Kesselring ordered von Mackensen’s 14th Army and von Vietinghoff-Scheel’s 10th Army to make available additional reinforcements.
The German units in the immediate vicinity had in fact been despatched to reinforce the ‘Gustav-Linie’ defences just a few days earlier. All available reserves from the southern front or on their way toward this primary defence line were now rushed toward Anzio and Nettuno: these included Generalleutnant Fritz-Hubert Gräser’s 3rd Panzergrenadierdivision, Generalleutnant Wilhelm Raapke’s 71st Division and the bulk of the Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’.
Kesselring initially considered that his forces would be incapable of mounting a successful defence if the Allies launched a major attack on January 23 or January 24, but by the end of 22 January the lack of any Allied offensive action from the ‘Shingle’ beach-head had persuaded him that an effective defence could indeed be mounted. Even so, few additional forces arrived to strengthen the defence on 23 January, though the arrival on the evening of 22 January 22 of Schlemm and the headquarters of his I Fallschirmkorps brought greater organisation and purpose to the German defensive preparations, which now included Herr’s LXXVI Panzerkorps (Generalmajor Hans Hecker’s 26th Panzerdivision, Gräser’s 3rd Panzergrenadierdivision and Fries’s 29th Panzergrenadierdivision) from the Sangro river front, and von Mackensen’s 14th Army headquarters from northern Italy together with Generalleutnant Hellmuth Pfeiffer’s 65th Division and Generalleutnant Heinrich Greiner’s 362nd Division. But so severe was the threat to the integrity of the German defences in southern Italy that, as noted above, at Kesselring’s urging the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht had already ordered the Oberbefehlshaber ‘West’, von Rundstedt, to send Hildebrandt’s 715th Division from Marseille, and the Oberbefehlshaber ‘Südost’, Löhr, to hand over Bouquin’s 114th Jägerdivision from the Balkans.
By 24 January, therefore, the Germans had more than 40,000 men in prepared defensive positions, and the Allies had lost the operational initiative in two days of inaction.
Three days after the landings, the beach-head was surrounded by a defence line comprising three divisions: Trettner’s 4th Fallschirmjägerdivision in the north-west, Gräser’s 3rd Panzergrenadierdivision in the centre forward of the Alban hills, and Conrath’s Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’ in the south-east. von Mackensen’s 14th Army assumed overall control of the defence on 25 January. Elements of eight German divisions were employed in the defence line around the beach-head, and five more divisions were on their way to the area of Anzio and Nettuno. Kesselring ordered a counterattack on the beach-head for 28 January, but this was postponed to 1 February and started on 3 February as ‘Fischfang’.
By 29 January further troop movements, including the arrival of the US 45th Division and US 1st Armored Division, had raised the Allied strength in the ‘Shingle’ beach-head to 69,000 men, 208 tanks and 508 pieces of artillery, while the German total had also risen, in this instance to 71,500 men.
Lucas launched a two-pronged attack on 30 January: the first force was to cut Highway 7 at Cisterna before moving to the east into the Alban hills, and the second was to advance to the north-east up the Via Anziate toward Campoleone. The attack by the 3rd Division toward Cisterna captured ground up to 3 miles (4.8 km) deep on a front 7 miles (11.25 km) wide, but failed to break through or capture Cisterna. On the right, ahead of the main assault, two Ranger battalions made a daring covert advance towards Cisterna but, as a result of faulty intelligence, they were engaged and cut off after the break of day, and there followed a savage battle with elements of the Panzerdivision ‘Hermann Göring’. Rangers began surrendering individually or in small groups prompting others, acting on their own authority, to shoot them. Of the 767 men of the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions, only six managed to return to the Allied lines, and the other 761 were killed or captured. In the Campoleone thrust, in heavy fighting the British 1st Division made some ground but failed to take Campoleone and ended the battle in an exposed salient stretching up the Via Anziate.
By a time early in February the 14th Army numbered some 100,000 German men allocated to Schlemm’s I Fallschirmkorps and Herr’s LXXVI Panzerkorps. By this same time, the Allied forces totalled 76,400 men and included Major General G. W. R. Templer’s recently arrived 56th Division.
After a making exploratory probes on the Campoleone salient during the afternoon of 3 February, the Germans began their ‘Fischfang’ first full counterattack at 23.00 with the object of reducing the salient and thereby straightening the front. von Mackensen planned to wear away the narrow salient rather than using a fast-moving thrust to cut it off, and a few hours after the start of ‘Fischfang’ the stability of the front had been shattered and the fighting for the salient became a series of small unit actions, swaying back and forth through the gullies. By the morning of the 4 February the situation was becoming acute: the 1/Irish Guards had only one cohesive company left and on the opposite side of the salient, the companies of the 6/Gordon Highlanders were beginning to crumble.
Even though the base of the salient was nearly broken, Lucas was able to bolster the defences of the 1st Division with Brigadier K. C. Davidson’s newly arrived 168th Brigade of the 56th Division, allowing the withdrawal of the hard-hit 3rd Brigade, which had been entrusted with the task of holding the tip of the salient, 2 miles (3.2 km) long and 1,000 yards (915 m) wide, on the road extending to the north of Campoleone. Here, after the German attacks in the early hours of 4 February, the 2/Sherwood Foresters, 1/King’s Shropshire Light Infantry and 1/Duke of Wellington’s Regiment of the 3rd Brigade had been cut off and were surrounded in the resultant pocket. The three battalions held the line all day despite taking heavy casualties, but were eventually ordered to pull back and from 17.00 made a fighting retreat to the Aprilia Factory under cover of an accurate artillery bombardment.
From 5 to 7 February each side used its heavy artillery concentrations and bombers in efforts to disrupt the other side. At 21.00 on 7 February the Germans renewed their counterattack effort in ‘Morgenröte’ (ii). Once again, the fighting was severe, the British were compelled to give ground and by 10 February had been pushed out of the salient. Lucas ordered attacks on 11 February to retake the ground which had been lost ground, but the Germans were forewarned by a radio intercept and repelled the Allied attack, which was poorly co-ordinated.
On February 16 the Germans launched a new counterattack as ‘Sonnenaufgang’ down the line of the Via Anziate, and by 18 February 18, after desperate fighting, the German were attacking the Allies’ so-called Final Beach-Head Line, which comprised prepared defences more or less on the line of the original beach-head. Then a counterattack using the VI Corps’ reserve halted the German advance, and on 20 February ‘Sonnenaufgang’ came to an end as each side reached the level of total exhaustion. During ‘Sonnenaufgang’, the Germans had suffered about 5,400 casualties, and the Allies some 3,500. By this time each side had suffered something in the order of 20,000 casualties since the first landings of 22 January.
Despite the exhausted state of the German troops, Hitler insisted that the 14th Army should continue to attack and, despite the misgivings of Kesselring and von Mackensen, another assault was mounted on February 29, this time on the front of the LXXVI Panzerkorps around Cisterna. This ‘Seitensprung’ push achieved little except the infliction of another 2,500 casualties for the 14th Army.
Throughout this time Churchill had continued to chafe at Lucas’s passive strategy. On 10 February the prime minister wrote to Alexander urging him to exert his authority, and Alexander had visited the beach-head on 14 February to inform Lucas that he wished for a break-out as soon as the situation on the ground made this possible. After his visit, Alexander wrote to General Sir Alan Brooke, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, to express his disappointment with the headquarters of the VI Corps, which he condemned as negative and lacking in the drive required to get things done, and seemed to have become depressed by events.
At a high-level meeting on 16 February, hosted by Alexander and attended by Clark and General Sir Henry Wilson, the supreme Allied commander in the Mediterranean theatre, the decision was taken to appoint two deputies under Lucas: these were Truscott and the Major General V. Evelegh, commander of the British 6th Armoured Division. On 22 February, Clark replaced Lucas with Truscott, appointing Lucas deputy commander 5th Army until such time as a suitable job could be found for him back in the USA.
Each side had come to the realisation that there could be no decisive result in any part of the Italian campaign until the advent of spring, and therefore reverted to a defensive posture based on aggressive patrols and artillery duels even as they worked to improve their fighting capabilities. In anticipation of the resumed campaigning of spring, Kesselring ordered the preparation of a new defence line, the ‘Cäsar-Linie’, behind the line of beach-head extending from the mouth of the Tiber river just to the south of Rome through Albano, skirting to the south of the Alban hills to Valmontone and thence across Italy to the coast of the Adriatic Sea at Pescara: this was the new line behind which the 14th Army and 10th Army, on the German right and left respectively, might withdraw when the need arose.
Meanwhile Truscott, who had been succeeded in command of the US 3rd Division by Brigadier General John W. O’Daniel, led a staff effort to create a decisive attack as part of the general offensive which Alexander was planning for May and which would include ‘Diadem’ as a major offensive against the ‘Gustav-Linie’. The plan’s objective was to compel Kesselring to commit the full strength of his two armies in Italy and thereby make it impossible for German formations to be redeployed to other theatres, including that in north-western France, on which ‘Overlord’ was soon to descend. It was also planned, within ‘Diadem’, to trap the bulk of the 10th Army between the Allied forces advancing through the ‘Gustav-Linie’ and the VI Corps thrusting inland from Anzio and Nettuno.
During March and April, the 2/82nd Waffen Grenadierregiment ‘Vendetta, one battalion of the Fusilierbataillon ‘Debica’ and a third Italian SS battalion of the 1st Sturmbrigade Italienische Freiwilligen Legion arrived to fight the British and US forces at Anzio and Nettuno, and were dispersed among German battalions. German commanding officers later gave the Italians companies favourable reports. Men of the 2/82nd Waffen Grenadierregiment, under the command of a former ‘Blackshirt’ officer, Tenente Colonnello Delgi Oddi, were instrumental in the defeat of a determined effort by the US 3rd Division to overrun their positions and captured a number of prisoners. This demonstration of courage led on 3 May to the decision of Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler that Italian volunteer units should be redesignated as Waffen-SS units.
In March and early in May, Major General Charles W. Ryder’s US 34th Division and Major General Fred Walker’s US 36th Division arrived at Anzio, and Major General P. G. S. Gregson-Ellis’s British 5th Division replaced the British 56th Division, the latter after sustaining very heavy losses: one of its battalions, the 7/Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry of the 167th Brigade, had been reduced from about 1,000 men to a mere 60. By a time late in May, there were some 150,000 Allied troops in the bridgehead, including five US and two British divisions, to oppose five German divisions. The Germans were well prepared in dug-in defences, but were weak in experienced officers and non-commissioned officers, and by the time of the start of the VI Corps’ ‘Buffalo’ offensive late in May, lacked any reserves as all of these had been sent south to the ‘Gustav-Linie’ in an attempt to stem ‘Diadem’.
Despite the fact that Alexander’s overall plan for ‘Diadem’ required the VI Corps to strike inland and cut Highway 6, which was the XIV Panzerkorps’ natural line of retreat from the ‘Gustav-Linie’, Clark had asked Truscott to prepare alternatives and to be ready to switch from one to another at 48-hour notice. Of the four scenarios prepared by Truscott, ‘Buffalo’ mandated an attack through Cisterna into the gap in the hills to cut Highway 6 at Valmontone, while ‘Turtle’ was based on a main thrust to the left of the Alban hills to take Campoleone and Albano on the way to Rome. On 5 May Alexander selected ‘Buffalo’ and issued Clark with orders to this effect.
Clark was determined that the VI Corps should strike directly for Rome, however, and argued to Alexander that the VI Corps lacked the strength to intercept and trap the 10th Army, and rather than making his orders clear, Alexander was conciliatory and gave the impression that a push on Rome was still a possibility if ‘Buffalo’ encountered problems. On 6 May Clark informed Truscott that Rome was the only important objective and that he was to be ready to execute ‘Turtle’ as well as ‘Buffalo’.
Truscott’s planning for ‘Buffalo’ was executed meticulously: the British 5th Division and 1st Division on the left were to attack along the coast and up the Via Anziate to pin the 4th Fallschirmjägerdivision, 65th Division and 3rd Panzergrenadierdivision as the US 45th Division, 1st Armored Division and 3rd Division would launched the main assault to engage Generalleutnant Heinz Greiner’s 362nd Division and Generalleutnant Hans-Georg Hildebrandt’s 715th Division, and advance on Campoleone, Velletri and Cisterna respectively. On the Allies’ far right, Brigadier General Robert T. Frederick’s 1st Special Service Force would protect the flank of the US assault.