After Citadel Part I

Despite limited success in the south, Citadel had clearly failed to achieve its objectives. With the Red Army launching its own attack in the north, and the Allies landing in Sicily, Hitler had to decide the offensive’s fate. As 12 July drew to a close, a tense situation existed throughout the front lines of the Kursk salient. It had been a day of thrusts and counter-attacks, a day of air and tank battles, a day of heavy casualties. It had been a day in which the 4th German Panzer Army had tried to break through the enemy’s defences and reach Kursk, but it had also been a day in which the Soviet forces had fiercely fought to prevent this happening. The Soviets launched major counter-attacks beginning on 12 July, and continued for the next few days. The tide had begun to turn. Despite heavy losses, Soviet forces would hit the Germans again and again and again. When 13 July dawned, it would bring a new day of fighting; more importantly, however, it would bring decisions that would have major consequences for the Germans and the Soviets.

Soviet and Germans troops clashed in both the northern and southern parts of the bulge. The fighting occurred in two different areas in the Voronezh Front’s sector. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps and II SS Panzer Corps of the 4th Panzer Army struggled against the 5th Guards and 5th Guards Tank Armies in an effort to reach Prokhorovka from the south-west, -while Army Detachment Kempf s III Panzer Corps took on the 7th Guards and 69th Armies. On 11 July, the three divisions of the III Panzer Corps continued their march north. Because the Soviets were retreating, the 19th Panzer Division made good progress, advanced 15km (9 1/4 miles) along the Northern Donetz River. Further to the east, the 6th Panzer Division broke through the Soviet line and forced the 305th Guards Rifle and the 92nd Guards Rifle Divisions to withdraw 15km (9 1/4 miles) to Rzhavets. The 7th Panzer Division burst through the Soviet defences at Schliachovo, as it struggled to proceed northwards while protecting the 6th Panzer Division’s right flank. The III Panzer Corps’ advance stopped for the day with the 6th Panzer Division establishing the point position and the other two divisions providing flank protection. General Werner Kempf ordered the corps to prepare for a renewal of the advance towards Prokhorovka on 12 July.

During the first several days of the campaign. Army Detachment Kempf had inflicted heavy damages on the 69th Soviet Army as it moved north towards Prokhorovka. By 11 July, General V. D. Kriuchenkin, the 69th Army commander, was fighting a delaying action. Whenever possible, he withdrew weakened formations from the front line and deployed them in rear positions, where they constructed new defences. The Soviets’ elaborate system of defences had slowed the III Panzer Corps’ advance, but it had not stopped it. Because of his army’s distressing losses, Kriuchenkin feared that the 69th Army -would be unable to stop the German panzer corps when it resumed the fight on 12 July. During the evening, Kriuchenkin requested reinforcements from Nikolai Vatutin. The Voronezh Front commander contemplated his options and reported the situation to Stalin. At 0400 hours, Vatutin called General Pavel Rotmistrov, the commander of the 5th Guards Tank Army, with distressing news about the situation to the south. The Army Detachment Kempf’s forward thrust had pierced the defences. The Germans’ advance units, which had already reached Rzhavets on the Northern Donetz River, were approximately 20km (12 1/2 miles) from Prokhorovka. Vatutin ordered Rotmistrov to transfer his reserve to the south immediately. The tank commander contacted General K. G. Trufanov and ordered him to proceed south with the reserve quickly. Once there, Trufanov had instructions to place the reserve in the path of the advancing German divisions.

Concerned about the III German Panzer Corps, Vatutin decided to plan an assault that would distract the enemy corps and prevent the continuation of its march on Prokhorovka. On the night 11/12 July, Vatutin issued new orders to General M. S. Shumilov, the commander of the 7th Guards Army. The next day, the 49th Rifle Corps would attack the right flank of Army Detachment Kempf in the region east of Razumnoe. If the assault went as planned, the III Panzer Corps would have to turn away from Prokhorovka and protect itself from being cut off from the rest of Army Detachment Kempf. On the morning of 12 July, as the III Panzer Corps resumed its movement, Kempf and the corps commander, General Hermann Breith, had one goal in mind: Prokhorovka. The III Panzer Corps commander issued instructions to his subordinates the night before. Breith ordered the forward 6th Panzer Division formations, with support from the 503rd Panzer Detachment Tiger tanks, to advance to the north quickly. He also identified their objectives: Rzhavets and key Northern Donetz River crossings. Breith ordered the 19th Panzer Division to advance along the river’s southern bank, to capture Krivtsevo and to connect with the 6th Panzer Division at Rzhavets during the night. Early the next morning, the 19th Panzers would help the 6th Panzer Division cross the river. Under cover of darkness, as the Soviet forces regrouped, Breith personally led the German column to Rzhavets. The Germans caught the 92nd Guards Rifle Division and the 96th Tank Brigade as they were regrouping. After a brief scuffle, the Soviet formations continued their move to the east. Elements of the reserve 375th Rifle Division remained behind to stop the enemy column. First Kriuchenkin, then Vatutin, received a desperate call for help.

Despite the daring rush to Rzhavets during the night, Prokhorovka was still 15km (9 1/4 miles) beyond the III Panzer Corps’ grasp by the end of the clay. Rzhavets was only one of the 6th Panzer Division’s goals for 12 July. The bulk of the division moved farther east to assault the high ground near Aleksandrovka, an area that the Soviets fiercely defended. The Soviet resistance at Aleksandrovka forced the 6th Panzer Division to abandon its drive towards Prokhorovka and go instead to the town. The 19th Panzer Division remained in the bridgehead, but did not continue the move north. By late afternoon, Rotmistrov’s reserves arrived and joined the battle against the 6th Panzer Division. The quick action taken by Vatutin and Rotmistrov prevented the III Panzer Corps from proceeding towards Prokhorovka on 12 July. Although Army Detachment Kempf could not resume the march to Prokhorovka that day, General Kempf took action during the evening to regain his forces’ lost momentum. Kempf assigned the 6th Panzer Division the task of eliminating the Soviet presence from the Aleksandrovka area on 13 July. He ordered the 7th Panzer Division to join the 19th Panzer Division in the bridgehead. The Army Detachment Kempf commander’s consolidation of his forces would reap certain benefits, but not enough to bring a successful conclusion to Operation Citadel.

Even as the 69th Army struggled to contain the III Panzer Corps, Vatutin had other problems in the Voronezh Front sector. Of particular concern was the 4th Panzer Army’s left flank, where Lieutenant General Otto von Knobelsdorff’s XXXXVIII Panzer Corps was preparing to cross the Psel River and support the II SS Panzer Corps’ drive to Oboian. Recognising the danger, Vatutin planned to pre-empt Knobelsdorff s thrust.

On 11 July, the 11th Panzer Division had slowly driven north, pushing through strong Soviet resistance; by the end of the day, it had consolidated its position south of Oboian and begun preparations for the next day. The 3rd Panzer Division had knocked the VI Soviet Tank Corps out of the battle as it moved against Berezovka. The XXXXVIII Panzer Corps had made slow but steady progress against the Soviet defenders and threatened both Oboian and Prokhorovka. The night 11/12 July was a busy one for both Vatutin and Knobelsdorff as they completed plans for the next clay.

Knobelsdorff finalised plans for the push north by the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps, which would coincide with the thrust towards Prokhorovka by II SS Panzer Corps. The Grossdeutschland Panzergrenadier Division amassed its forces along the Oboian road, as well as west of it. The 3rd Panzer Division assumed control over the defence of the area between Berezovka and Verkhopen’e. While the 332nd Infantry Division established a position north of the Pena River near Rakovo, the 255th Division moved north towards Mikhailovka. As Knobelsdorff consolidated his forces for the attack, he weakened the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps’ flank protection. Vatutin planned a counter-blow designed to surround and eliminate the enemy forces threatening Oboian and Prokhorovka. To implement his plan for 12 July, the Voronezh Front commander ordered reinforcements to the 1st Tank and 6th Guards Armies’ sectors. He instructed the commanders, General M. E. Katukov and General I. M. Chistiakov, to regroup their forces and prepare to attack.

Early on 12 July, Katukov completed the assembly of the 1st Tank Army forces for the scheduled attack. The X Tank Corps, supported by the 219th Rifle Division, waited near Noven’koe for daybreak, at which time it could begin its move towards the 3rd Panzer Division at Berezovka and Syrtsevo. General Kravchenko had orders for the V Guards Tank Corps to advance with the 184th Rifle Division to the 3rd Panzer Division’s position near Shepelovka. Positioned behind the V Guards Tank Corps, Getman deployed the XV Tank Corps, which had fewer than 50 tanks, behind the V Guards Tank Corps. Vatutin ordered the 6th Guards Army – the XXIII Rifle Corps, the III Mechanised Corps and the XXXI Tank Corps – to defend the eastern area along the Oboian road. Chistiakov’s army would only participate in the counter-attack if the Germans began to retreat. Zhadov received the same attack instructions for the 5th Guards Army.

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After Citadel Part II

On 12 July at 0900 hours, Katukov began the assault on the German forces. The V Guards Tank Corps, commanded by Kravchenko, crashed through the defences of the 332nd Infantry Division, starting a fierce struggle that lasted until late afternoon. The tank corps hit the German infantrymen again and again. Although Kravchenko’s force reached Rakhovo by 1700 hours, it did not have the tank strength to drive the 332nd Infantry Division into the Pena River. Small Soviet formations began clearing away enemy defenders as the 1st Tank Army slowly drove the 3rd Panzer Division back. A rifle brigade pushed the Germans from their outposts near Noven’koe and proceeded towards Verkhopen’e. By 1700 hours, advance forces had travelled 12-15km (7 1/2 to 9 1/4 miles) and reached the western approaches to Verkhopen’e. The arrival of two tank brigades allowed the riflemen to propel the 3rd Panzer Division further back to the outskirts of Verkhopen’e and Berezovka. Despite launching counter-assaults in the late afternoon, the 3rd Panzer Division failed to regain its lost territory. When the fighting ended, the panzer division had fewer than 40 tanks at its disposal and the flank defences of the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps were in danger of collapse.

While the 3rd Panzer Division unsuccessfully struggled against the Soviet advance, the 204th Rifle Division and the 86th Tank Brigade attacked Grossdeutschland Division forces west of Kalinovka. Unable to proceed towards Oboian, the division turned to meet the new threat. Although it probed its front lines, the 11th Panzer Division did not receive orders to advance. The sounds of the battle, which came from the east and the west, grew increasingly louder, but the division remained in place. In the late afternoon, however, the battle came to the 11th Panzer Division, as tank-supported Soviet forces attacked. A heated struggle ensued, but the Soviets failed to pierce the defences of the panzer division. Casualties mounted as the fighting continued. Darkness fell, a thunderstorm hit and the fighting ended for the day. The Soviets had effectively stopped the XXXXVIII Panzer Corps’ advance.

On the night 12/13 July, Vatutin, Alexander Vasilevsky and Rotmistrov pondered their next step. By this time, they were aware that US and British forces had landed on Sicily, but it was too soon to ascertain whether or not Hitler would transfer forces from the Eastern Front to the Mediterranean theatre. In addition, the Soviet operation near the Orel salient had begun. The three Soviet commanders admitted, however, that the threat to the Voronezh Front region still existed. Vatutin and Vasilevsky concluded that they had to maintain the pressure on the Germans throughout the front. Vatutin ordered his forces to contain the Germans and to prevent a resumption of the enemy’s drive for Prokhorovka. Because he feared the Germans would renew the attack in the morning, Rotmistrov ordered his forces to strengthen their defences and to replenish their dwindling supplies, including fuel and ammunition.

Manstein, the Army Group South (AGS) commander, wanted to continue the offensive on 13 July. Several factors, including Sicily and Orel, complicated the situation. Although Army Detachment Kempf had made some remarkable gains, in spite of the Soviets’ efforts, Soviet attacks had surprised the 4th Panzer Army and hindered its movement. While the enemy appeared to have limitless reserves, each day the Germans suffered irreplaceable losses in machines and manpower. As General Walter Model had done in the north, Colonel General Hermann Hoth set more moderate objectives for the next day. The orders issued by Manstein and Hoth to Army Detachment Kempf and the 4th Panzer Army -were still not necessarily realistic. The commanders expected the II SS Panzer Corps and III Panzer Corps to surround and eliminate nearby enemy forces.

Heavy rains ushered in 13 July, a new day for fighting. On the II SS Panzer Corps front, the Totenkopf Division’s thrust had created a narrow salient that cut deep into the enemy’s defences. General Paul Hausser ordered the Leibstandarte and Das Reich Divisions to advance to Prokhorovka. According to Hausser’s reasoning, the arrival of the two panzergrenadier divisions in the city’s outskirts would intensify the threat to the Soviet’s flank by the Totenkopf Division. The II SS Panzer Corps commander hoped that would be enough to persuade the Soviets to abandon Prokhorovka. Following the capture of the city, the II SS Panzer Corps could connect with the III Panzer Corps and, as a result, the German advance would regain its lost momentum. Repairs gave the II SS Panzer Corps access to almost 250 tanks and assault guns for the 13 July operation. As Hausser’s force completed its preparations, Manstein received a summons to meet Hitler at the Wolfsscbanze (Wolfs Lair).

Although Vatutin and Rotmistrov decided not to resume the attack on the 1st Tank Army’s front, small units carried out reconnaissance missions beginning at 0730 hours on 13 July. Two concerns drew their attention away from the blood-soaked fields south of the Psel River: the Totenkopf salient north of the river and the resumption of the III Panzer Corps attacks from the south. During the night, the Soviets began harassing actions against the Totenkopf Division. In the morning, Rotmistrov launched a full-scale attack against the II SS Panzer Corps division with the 10th Guards Mechanised and 24th Guards Tank brigades, forcing Hausser to revise his plans.

Hausser ordered the Leibstandarte Division to carry out two attacks: one against the enemies north of the Oktiabr’skii State Farm, the other from Andreevka and Mikhailovka along the Psel River. At 1200 hours, the division commenced both assaults. Vatutin and Rotmistrov had made provisions to counter such actions by the Germans. Withering fire slowed the division’s forward elements. A ridge ran north-west of the state farm. After a short skirmish, a panzer group captured one hill. A solid wall of antitank defences, supported by entrenched tanks, stopped the panzer group in its tracks. A German reconnaissance battalion entered Miknaiiovka, but horrific anti-tank and artillery fire and Soviet counter-blows forced it to retreat. By mid-afternoon, powerful Soviet armoured attacks had now got underway in both areas.

The Leibstandarte Division’s attacks did not breach the Soviet defences and the Totenkopf advance failed. By the afternoon of 13 July, the constant Soviet counter-attacks against the II SS Panzer Corps’ flanks and front forced the Germans units to retreat to the positions they had occupied at the start of the day. The Das Reich Division did not participate in the II SS Panzer Corps struggle. Instead, it reinforced its defences and regrouped its formations. The division prepared its move to link up with the III Panzer Corps for an assault planned for 14 July.

As the battle played out in the Voronezh Front area in the south, Konstantin Rokossovsky’s Central Front forces in the north continued to thwart the 9th German Army’s attempts to break through its defences. After the first days of the campaign, the Central Front forces had engaged the enemy in an attritional battle, which Model’s 9th Army was losing. Each day of battle further weakened the 9th Army and limited its options. By the night 10/11 July, Rokossovsky and Vasilevsky made plans to attack German forces occupying the Orel salient, which was north of the Kursk bulge. The two Soviet commanders chose that day for the counter-attack by the Briansk and Western Front forces because they believed that Model’s army could not resume the offensive on 12 July. The Stavka members – who had previously devised the Orel offensive (named Operation Kutuzov) – revised it as the 2nd Tank and 13th Armies fought to stop the German advance from the north. According to the plan, General Vasily Sokolovsky’s Western Front forces would attack the northern part of the salient, while Briansk Front formations, commanded by General Markian Popov, hit the northern shoulder to the tip of the salient. When the situation in the Central Front sector was right, Rokossovsky’s armies would move against the southern part of the salient.

 

After Citadel Part III

The 11th Guards Army and the 50th Army would attack from the north. The I Tank Corps and V Tank Corps would provide additional tank support. The force had the combined strength of more than 200,000 men, almost 750 tanks and self-propelled guns, and approximately 4300 mortars and guns. According to the plan, the Western Front forces would move south and cut the Briansk-Orel railway line near Karachev. Sokolovsky’s armies would then surround and eliminate enemy forces between Orel and Briansk, before proceeding south and east. The 11th Guards Army, commanded by General Ivan Bagramian, would lead the attack. Two armies – the 11th Tank Army and the 4th Tank Army – remained in reserve. They would support Bagramian’s advance as needed. The 4th Tank Army held 652 tanks and self-propelled guns in reserve. General Popov had orders to launch a two-pronged attack from the east. The 3rd and 63rd Armies, commanded by Generals A. V. Gorbatov and V. I. Kolpakchi would lead the main assault against the tip of the salient before heading to Orel. The armies would bring 170,000 men and more than 350 tanks and self-propelled guns to the battle. The I Guards Tank Corps and the XXV Rifle Corps would provide support. The 6lst Army, supported by the XX Separate Tank Corps, would initiate a secondary attack against the Germans situated east of Bolkhov. Prepared to exploit the main thrust from Novosil to Orel, the 3rd Guards Tank Army, under General Pavel Rybalko, with more than 700 tanks and self-propelled guns, would remain in reserve. Eventually, more than 433,000 men would participate in the Orel battle on the Briansk Front.

The 2nd Panzer Army, commanded by General Rudolf Schmidt, had the responsibility of defending the Orel bulge. Fourteen infantry divisions of the LV Army Corps, LIII Army Corps and XXXV Army Corps manned the main defensive lines, while the 5th Panzer Division remained in reserve. Schmidt’s failure to keep his opinions regarding the Nazi regime quiet cost him his job shortly before the Soviet offensive began. After the Gestapo arrested General Schmidt on 10 July, Hitler gave command of the 2nd Panzer Army to General Model. The German Army High Command (OKH) had few reserves that it could commit to the salient. The activity to the south had commanded most of its attention.

At 0330 hours on 12 July, a furious Soviet artillery barrage began, and lasted almost three hours. The bombardment had a devastating effect on the tactical defences of the 2nd Panzer Army. The forward rifle and tanks formations moved into position during the last 10 minutes of the artillery assault. At 0605 hours, the front exploded as all of the first echelon forces from both the Western and Briansk fronts opened fire, creating a deafening noise. Through the rising smoke, the Soviets charged the German defenders. Six guards rifle divisions of Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army hit the German defences between the 211th Infantry Division and 293rd Infantry Division and burst through the line. By the afternoon, Bagramian had widened the hole in the German positions with a second line of rifle divisions. He ordered the I and V Tank Corps to move through the gap and advance to the south. Late in the day, the 5th German Panzer Division launched a series of counter-blows and slowed the advancing enemy. Bagramian countered by committing the V Tank Corps to the fray. Commanded by General Sakhno, the V Tank Corps pushed forward 10km (6 1/2 miles) and reached the Germans’ second line of defences by nightfall. Another counter-blow by the 5th Panzer Division prevented further advance on 12 July.

While Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army thrust its way through the German defences, the 6lst, 3rd, and 63rd Armies attacked the point of the salient. The advance by the Briansk Front forces did not go well, as Popov had failed to mask the build-up of his armies near the front lines. The XXXV German Army Corps commander, General Lothar Rendulic, discovered the concentration of 3rd and 63rd Army forces opposite the area where the defences of the 56th and 262nd Infantry Divisions met. Rendulic correctly deduced that the Soviet armies intended to attack where they believed the line was weakest. The German general used radio intercepts and aerial reconnaissance to remain apprised of the enemy’s movements and made his own preparations. Rendulic’s force included 24 infantry battalions, 42 artillery battalions and 48 heavy anti-tank guns. He committed 6 infantry and 18 artillery battalions, as well as half of his guns, to the narrow junction between the 56th Infantry Division and 262nd Infantry Division. As a result of the general’s preparations, the 3rd and 63rd Soviet Armies failed to achieve a rapid breakthrough of the German defensive line. Rendulic succeeded in disrupting the Soviet advance and in forcing Stavka to commit its operational armoured force early than it had intended. Although not totally surprised by Operation Kutuzov, German forces still failed, to prevent Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army from achieving a penetration deep into their defences.

As the day ended and he examined the situation along the Orel salient, Model knew that the next day would bring new attacks. Rendulic had successfully thwarted the Soviets, but Model did not know how long the general’s forces could hold the 3rd and 63rd Armies. While Model contemplated his options, Bagramian and Popov prepared to resume the attack in the morning. As the Germans and the Soviets struggled around Orel on 13 July, Manstein and Field Marshal Günther von Kluge, the commanders of Army Group South (AGS) and Army Group Centre

(AGC), respectively, arrived at the Wolfsschanze to meet with Adolf Hitler. The result of the meeting would have important consequences. The Führer informed the two army group commanders that he had decided to cancel Operation Citadel and provided his reasons for doing so. First, there was the situation at the Orel salient. It appeared likely that the Soviets would soon overrun the German defenders there, Secondly, the concentration of Soviet troops posed a threat to the 1st Panzer and 6th Armies, which were protecting the Donetz basin and the area south of Kharkov. Thirdly, the cost of Operation Citadel was too high. Between 5 and 12 July, the 9th Army had suffered 20,000 casualties. The Soviet attacks north and east of Orel were forcing Model and Kluge to commit an increasing number of exhausted and understrength infantry and armoured forces to the struggle. Finally, there was Sicily. As the Italian Army was proving ineffective against the Allies’ advance, it was up to Germany to supply troops for the defence of Italy. In addition, the possibility of an Allied threat to the Balkans required the presence of more German troops in the region. In order to meet these dangers, Hitler argued that he would have to transfer forces from the Eastern to the Mediterranean and Balkan fronts.

Ironically, during the discussion that followed, the opinions of Kluge and Manstein both reflected a change from their original approaches to Operation Citadel. Kluge had been one of the offensive’s strongest proponents, but the situation on the AGC front had caused him to re-evaluate the feasibility of continuing the fight. Kluge had to consider two very important factors. First, the 9th Army had failed to accomplish the goals set out in the Citadel plan. The likelihood of the 9th Army succeeding in the near future was virtually non-existent. Secondly, while the Soviet offensive had thus far been moderately successful, it had the potential of developing into a nightmare for the Germans. Consequently, Kluge found himself agreeing with the Führer that the best possible course would be the abandonment of the Citadel offensive. Its continuation could very well result in the loss of the AGC and possibly the entire field army. Although he had not been as vocal as Model or General Heinz Guderian, Manstein had initially been an opponent of the German offensive. Now, however, he argued that a continuation of Operation Citadel could bring victory. According to Manstein, the Army Group South forces had already defeated Soviet forces south of Kursk. A breakthrough to Kursk remained possible; therefore, he intended to use his operational reserve – the XXIV Panzer Corps – to renew the assault against the enemy, who was about to crack. In preparation for a new attack, Manstein had deployed the XXIV Panzer Corps to the region around Kharkov. When Manstein suggested that the 9th Army resume the offensive, Kluge argued that the army could not comply. In fact, he stated that the current situation on the 9th Army front dictated a retreat within the next few days.

After Citadel Part IV

Although they reflected the opinions of General Hoth and General Kempf, Manstein’s arguments fell on deaf ears. Hitler believed that the time had come to end Operation Citadel, but he did make certain concessions. The Führer agreed to a continuation of the AGS offensive for a few days. During that time, he expected AGS forces to eliminate the enemy’s operational reserves and, as a result, his ability to launch a summer counter-offensive. Hitler issued new orders to Model, who was now the commander of the 2nd Panzer Army, as well as of the 9th Army. Not only did Model’s forces have to stop the Soviet offensive, but they also had to return the front line to its original position. On 17 July, Hitler issued orders that signalled the end of Operation Citadel, even though the fighting continued for a while longer. Hitler instructed Manstein and Hoth to remove the II SS Panzer Corps from the front lines and prepare it for transfer to the West. Orders for the transfer of several Army Group South divisions to the Army Group Centre area followed.

The fighting on the Eastern Front did not cease while Hitler met with Manstein and Kluge. On 13 July, the struggle along the Orel salient broke out again. In the Western Front’s sector, Bagramian’s 11th Guards Army attacked in conjunction with the 50th Army, which was commanded by General I. V. Boldin. By mid-afternoon, Butkov’s I Tank Corps, followed by the 1st Guards Rifle Division, moved through the hole in the German defences that had been created by the 11th Guards Army the day before. At first, the I Tank Corps had difficulty moving forwards, but a short time later the I Tank Corps and V Tank Corps burst through the Germans’ second line of defences. Once through the line, the pace of the two tank corps increased. By the end of the day, the Soviets had created a wedge in the German position that was 15km (9 1/4 miles) deep and 23km (14 1/2 miles) wide. Although the 5th Panzer Division contested the Soviet advance, it could not stop it. Without fresh reinforcements, the northern flank’s collapse was imminent. That night Model sent three panzer divisions – the 12th, 18th and 20th – to bolster the German defences.

Popov’s Briansk Front forces failed to make dramatic advances against the tip of the Orel salient due to Rendulic’s XXXV Army Corps’ defences. The day before, when the 3rd and 63rd Armies attacked the junction between the 56th Infantry Division and 262nd Infantry Division, the column did not progress as planned; KV-1 heavy tanks without infantry support advanced into a minefield. The Germans then shelled the exposed enemy tanks with anti-tank guns. When fighting ceased on 12 July, the Soviets had lost 60 tanks and only breached the first line of Rendulic’s defences.

However, fighting resumed the next day, and A. V. Gorbatov and V. I. Kolpakchi, the 3rd Army and 63rd Army commanders, threw their follow-up rifle divisions into the narrow breach. By midday, General Pankov received orders to send the 207 tanks of his I Guards Tank Corps through the gap. Throughout the day, casualties mounted, but the 3rd and 63rd Armies made little progress. Model sent some reinforcements to Rendulic, and during the night 13/14 July, Rendulic received two panzer divisions from the OKH reserve: the 2nd and the 8th Panzer Divisions. They met the I Guards Tank Corps when it renewed the attack on 14 July, and stopped the Soviet corps from making a major penetration forward into the German line.

As a result of the limited movement made by the 3rd and 63rd Armies, Popov repeatedly appealed to Stavka for control of the 3rd Guards Tank Army. Commanded by General Pavel Rybalko and possessing more than 700 tanks and self-propelled guns, this reserve force was situated behind the front. Late on 13 July, Popov received control of the powerful tank army, but Luftwaffe activity restricted its movement to forced marches at night. After two nights, Rybalko’s exhausted force was in position near the eastern end of the salient, but by that time, the opportunity for a breakthrough by the 3rd and 63rd Armies had passed and, giving in to Stavka’s pressure, Popov re-routed 3rd Guards Tank Army’s attack. Instead of attacking Orel from the north and west, Rybalko’s tank army was to come from the south-west.

Rybalko analysed the situation before issuing new orders to the 3rd Guards Tank Army. A man of action, he decided that an attempt to take advantage of the 3rd and 63rd Armies’ assaults on the German defences would take too long: Rendulic’s forces were firmly entrenched. He therefore decided to punch a new hole in the enemy’s line with his powerful armoured force. More than 470 of the army’s tanks were T-34s; the self-propelled guns numbered 32. However, he had neither the artillery nor the engineers necessary for a frontal assault. In addition, two fresh panzer divisions, almost two full infantry divisions, and several Tigers and Ferdinands were defending the German line. However, determined as he was to achieve a breakthrough, Popov agreed to Rybalko’s plan.

On the morning of 19 July, a Soviet long-range bomber group prepared a path for the 3rd Guards Tank Army’s advance. Supported by the bombers and artillery, the XII and XV Tank Corps burst out of their positions at 1030 hours. Once over the Oleshen River, the two corps pushed against the enemy defenders. The Germans tried to stop them with air and tank attacks and although this resistance slowed the Soviet advance, the corps had travelled 12km

(7 1/2 miles) into the German position by the end of the day. For five days, Rybalko’s army manoeuvred in and around the German defences, changing direction whenever they received new orders from Popov. By 25 July, the 3rd Guards Tank Army cut the Orel-Kursk railway line. Despite repeated efforts, Rybalko failed to find a -weak spot in the German defences, and the ensuing battle of attrition took its toll on the Soviet attackers and German defenders.

While the Germans in the Orel salient struggled against attacks from the north and east, a new threat came from the south. According to Hitler’s orders of 13 July, Model’s goals in the Orel bulge were to stop the Soviet advances, and restore the front to its previous position. As the general discovered, he could not achieve either. Moreover, on 15 July, forces from Rokossovsky’s Central Front attacked the southern part of the salient and, although they made little progress in this area, forced Model to shift his forces in an attempt to contest another offensive. For a week, the Soviets exerted pressure in the area while the Germans desperately defended it. On 16 July, in an effort to prevent the collapse of the salient’s defences, Model prepared for a new line of defences that would permit a slight retreat. On 20 July, Hitler sent him an order forbidding this. Model contacted Kluge, who persuaded the Führer to reconsider. The next day, the 11th Army joined the 50th Guards Army and 11th Guards Army’s attack against the northern shoulder of the Orel salient. On 22 July, Hitler approved an ‘elastic defence’, which allowed Model to begin to withdraw the 2nd Panzer Army. Hitler was now willing to accept limited -withdrawals on the Eastern Front. His decision signalled the beginning of Germany’s retreat westwards.

The Battle of San Jacinto – Santa Anna’s Folly

The Battle of San Jacinto-1895 painting by Henry Arthur McArdle (1836–1908)

The Mexican Province of Texas, 1836

In 1835 Santa Anna, one of the generals who had led the Mexican people in throwing out the Spanish, was elected president and almost immediately abolished the constitution, making himself a dictator. Like their neighbors to the north, many Mexicans felt strongly about their freedom and constitution. Within a year, the dictator Santa Anna Perez de Lebron reacted to the first resistance to his rule and his having abolished the constitution by leading an army into the formerly prosperous province of Zacatecas. It was an army that burnt, pillaged, and raped its way across the land until the province was both devastated and virtually unpopulated. Santa Anna then made sure that his statement “If you execute your enemies, it saves you the trouble of having to forgive them” was known to every person in Mexico. It was a stern warning, but also showed his total disregard for the “rights of man” and other freedoms lost when he abolished the constitution.

Now, if there was one part of all Mexico that was still willing to revolt against Santa Anna, it was Texas. It was far from the centers of the dictator’s power, and two-thirds of the thirty thousand citizens living in what was then the Mexican province of Texas were immigrants from the United States. The remainder were either established Mexican families with an independent spirit or men who had fled there when Santa Anna took over. The abolition of the constitution angered most Mexicans, and the “Texicans” more than most. Many of the men and officers who fought against Santa Anna, from the Alamo to San Jacinto, were of Mexican descent, and many risked lands that had been in their families for generations. By 1836, things had come to a head and a revolt started in Texas, with a few hundred ill-organized men easily driving out the local garrisons. So far this was all being done in the name of the abolished constitution. But revolution was revolution, and, having led a successful one against the Spanish that freed all Mexico only a few years before, Santa Anna knew he could not allow another revolt to start, even in the distant and relatively poor province of Texas.

The population of Texas was only a tiny fraction of Mexico’s; the Mexican army itself was nearly as large as the entire population of the distant province. Santa Anna had beaten the French army and suppressed much larger revolutions, so it took him several mistakes in Texas to lose both the battle and a war. That he lost at all is more surprising, since Santa Anna was leading battle-tested veterans against men who had no more than a few months at best to train together, and were much more independent-minded and difficult to lead than good soldiers should be. So how did, as Texans so proudly point out, Texas win its independence rather than end up the wasteland that Zacatecas had become?

Santa Anna had been called the Napoleon of Mexico, and he quickly took the name to heart. He was confident, or, as we shall see, overconfident, in the face of any “rabble” in thinly populated Texas. Still, he decided to bring against Texas an army of six thousand of his best troops, most having taken part in devastating Zacatecas the year before. Public statements assured everyone in Mexico City that Texas would meet the same fate as Zacatecas, and that every former citizen from the United States would be killed or driven out of that province permanently. Like Napoleon, Santa Anna felt maneuver was a most important part of warfare. So he carefully directed each march and the routes of every column in his army. Unlike Napoleon, the Mexican dictator took little interest in supplying his army. Determined to put down the revolt before any effective opposition could organize, the dictator ordered his army to move north with forced marches. It being winter, the journey soon took its toll, and more resembled the retreat from Moscow than the start of a new campaign. By the time the army neared the Rio Grande, only about four thousand effectives remained. Two thousand men had fallen from exhaustion, had gotten sick, or had simply deserted during the hard march from the capital to the Rio Grande. These remaining troops were reinforced to slightly more than the six thousand-man army Santa Anna had started with by adding to them the survivors of the Texas garrisons. This meant that there was one Mexican soldier for every five men, women, and children in all of Texas. No one, not even those who wanted it to, such as the president of the United States, expected the Texican revolution to succeed.

The first opposition came on February 23 at the abandoned mission near San Antonio de Bexar, known as the Alamo. As with Zacatecas, Santa Anna quickly made it known that he would take no prisoners. The defenders fought with desperate courage, but by March 6 were unable to hold the large length of walls and were eventually overwhelmed. Those who did survive the assault may have been executed; evidence is mixed. But the final result was that no defender survived.

A few weeks later a mixed force of cavalry and horse artillery caught the largest single force of rebels under Colonel Fannin near Goliad. Trapped in the open, the Texans formed a defense position and drove off the first attacks by the horsemen. Then the horse artillery unlimbered and began punishing them with shot and grapeshot, packets of hundreds of musket balls fired from the cannon like a giant shotgun. Seeing his position was indefensible, Fannin negotiated a surrender. His men would lay down their arms in exchange for being able to return to their homes and the promise to never take up arms against Santa Anna again. These terms being accepted, the Texans surrendered. At this point, Santa Anna ordered that they all be executed. The officers who accepted the surrender protested and were sent away. On March 27, the Napoleon of Mexico forced the prisoners onto an open area and had his men open fire: 342 died, but 28 escaped to spread the tale.

Having destroyed both the only fortress occupied by the Texans and their largest single force, Santa Anna seems to have decided that the revolt was over. Sam Houston was desperately trying to organize what remained of the resistance, but this force of less than a thousand men (at its peak) was being constantly forced north away from the centers of population and their families. So Santa Anna split his force into a number of “flying columns,” which mostly meant they were just small enough to march fairly quickly and live off the land. These columns began to recreate in Texas the atrocities of Zacatecas. You could follow their movement by the smoke from the homes and towns they burnt.

Leading the largest column, about a thousand soldiers, Santa Anna pursued and eventually drove the rebel government completely out of Texas (onto a ship). He continued moving in the general direction of Sam Houston, more concerned with driving the former U. S. citizens out of Texas and burning every building he found than fighting a battle against an already defeated foe.

This overconfidence, and the general exhaustion from a long march and months of campaigning, led to a relaxation of procedures that the real Napoleon would have never tolerated. Pickets and scouts were used only occasionally, and orders were often sent by unescorted couriers.

Sam Houston’s scouts captured a courier riding to the dictator’s camp. The message told him two things. One was that the column Santa Anna led was much closer than he had thought, less than a day’s march away. The second was that in less than a week the Mexican column was to be strongly reinforced. With his own men more than restive, and some ready to mutiny due to inaction, Houston knew that it was finally time to act. He had already stopped running and was marching closer to Santa Anna. Seeing that the weeks of retreating were over, the Texican army’s spirits rose as they marched to meet the men who were burning their homes and towns. When they realized that the battle was imminent, they cheered.

Unknown to Houston, the Mexican reinforcements had arrived earlier than expected. Sam Houston had at most eight hundred men ready to fight, and the additional arrivals meant that Santa Anna had under his command over fifteen hundred experienced soldiers, including mounted lancers and several guns. This gave Santa Anna, already convinced he was merely completing a mop-up following his victories at the Alamo and Goliad, a false sense of confidence. His army was nearly twice as large as Houston’s and in a good defensible position. His men were professionals, and he had heard of the dissention Houston’s constant orders to retreat had engendered. The Texans would never dare to attack, and all he had to do was wait until desertions, already a Texican problem, and frustration eliminated the opposition for him. Even though he knew the Texans were close, the dictator’s confidence was such that he ordered his army to stand down for the afternoon, relaxing in camp rather than preparing for battle. He joined his officers sipping champagne under the shade of a large tree in the center of the camp and soon everyone but a few guards were enjoying their siesta.

When Houston formed his army for the attack, it numbered 793 men. All were ready for a long-awaited fight, but few had ever really been in a battle. The potential for disaster was great, but the chance to defeat and capture Santa Anna was too great an opportunity to pass up. This was probably Houston’s last and only chance for victory. The Texan commander understood that if he held his men from battle much longer they would certainly mutiny or simply desert. So the decision to attack was made, and soon the double line of Texans waited behind a ridge that hid them from the Mexican army’s camp. Upon Houston’s signal, they moved silently forward.

As the men moved toward the Mexican camp, everyone expected to be spotted and hoped they could gain the relative advantage of the top of the ridge before having to face the Mexican regulars. Amazingly, they approached the ridgeline and nothing happened. No one, especially Sam Houston, could believe their luck. When they finally came into sight of the camp, it was a bare two hundred yards away, and still no alarm was being given. Finally, as the entire double line of Texans came into sight, a few cannonballs were fired at their approaching line, sailing safely overhead but alerting the Mexican soldiers that something was happening. A few musket shots rang out from the camp and drums rolled as men struggled to wake up and form into units.

At this point, a small party of men that Houston had sent to check ahead joined the battle and yelled out that the Texans’ only line of retreat, Vince’s Bridge, was down. Every Texan now knew it was most certainly victory or death, in a most literal sense. Santa Anna never took prisoners, and there was no way to escape. Just as this cry went up, the army being a mere eighty yards from the edge of the confusion-filled Mexican camp, Colonel Sidney Sherman bellowed, “Remember the Alamo and Goliad.” It was both a warning and a rallying cry. “Remember the Alamo” was repeated and he then roared it out in Spanish as the advancing Texans opened fire from only a few yards from where Santa Anna’s officers were struggling to bring order to a now panicky army. The galling fire (most of the Texans were frontiersmen, so many shots hit home) broke the morale of the disorganized men. Resistance stopped except in isolated pockets, and most of the Mexican soldiers ran or tried to surrender. These were the same soldiers who had pillaged and raped their way across Texas for the previous three months, and the units that had taken the Alamo, leaving no one alive. Few surrenders were accepted and panic took over, Santa Anna’s officers and men fleeing for their lives.

The battle took less than twenty minutes. The revenge went on for over an hour as Texans pursued and killed the remnants of the column. Riflemen fired into milling mobs and their small cavalry unit was everywhere, slashing the routing soldiers and ensuring no one was able to reform and offer any resistance. It was not until some hours later that Sam Houston was once more in control of his army and some prisoners were taken. But he was worried. While they had broken the column, this was less than a quarter of Santa Anna’s total army, and the dictator had escaped. Thanks to Santa Anna’s overconfidence, Houston had a victory, but the war was far from won.

The next day, among a few straggling prisoners brought in to join those already under guard, was a dusty, dirty man with a torn shirt that, if anyone had bothered to look closely, was of far higher quality than those of the common soldiers. It was not until his own men began saluting and muttering his name that the Texans realized this prisoner was indeed Santa Anna Perez de Lebron himself. The stained and filthy shirt was, it was later realized, actually held together with diamond studs. Quickly brought before Sam Houston, who was suffering from an ankle shattered in the initial attack, the dictator began negotiating for his life and freedom. Many of the Texans, still desiring revenge for the Alamo and Goliad, wanted to hang Santa Anna right there. But Houston held him prisoner until a month later, when a treaty was signed and Texas became a nation. The deal was that Santa Anna could go free if he let go of Texas. He agreed and returned to Mexico City. After that no one called him the Napoleon of Mexico anymore.

Texas was a thinly inhabited frontier and the Mexican army was nearly as large as the population of the former province. The year before, a much more populous province had been easily turned into a wasteland. Furthermore, Santa Anna was leading battle-tested veterans against men who had no more than a few months, at best, to train and work together. So how did Texas win its independence rather than end up the wasteland the other rebellious province had become? There is one simple reason for this nation-forming defeat: Santa Anna’s overconfidence led to a dispersion of forces, and an overly harsh response that rallied opposition. His real failures were to not maintain local security around his camp or even bother to locate the enemy. It all came down to misplaced confidence and a gross underestimation of the Texicans.

John Tiller’s Mexican-American War

Caesar Besieged in Alexandria

“Battle of Alexandria Caesar left behind his purple cloak which was later captured by the Alexandrians as a battle trophy”

Shortly after Cleopatra’s October 48 BC arrival, Caesar moved from the villa on the royal grounds to the palace proper. Each generation of Ptolemies had added to that sprawling complex, as magnificent in its design as in its materials. “Pharaoh” means “the greatest household” in ancient Egyptian, and on this the Ptolemies had delivered. The palace included well over a hundred guest rooms. Caesar looked out at lush grounds dotted with fountains and statuary and guesthouses; a vaulted walkway led from the palace complex to its theater, which stood on higher terrain. No Hellenistic monarchs did opulence better than the Ptolemies, the preeminent importers of Persian carpets, of ivory and gold, tortoiseshell and panther skin. As a general rule any surface that could be ornamented was—with garnet and topaz, with encaustic, with brilliant mosaic, with gold. The coffered ceilings were studded with agate and lapis, the cedar doors with mother-of-pearl, the gates overlaid with gold and silver. Corinthian capitals shimmered with ivory and gold. Cleopatra’s palace boasted the greatest profusion of precious materials known at the time.

Insofar as it was possible to be comfortable while under siege, Cleopatra and Caesar were well accommodated. None of the extravagant tableware or plush furnishings of their redoubt detracted, however, from the fact that Cleopatra—virtually alone in the city—was eager for a Roman to involve himself in Egyptian affairs. The rumbles and jeers outside, the scuffling in the street, the whizzing stones, drove that point home. The most intense fighting took place in the harbor, which the Alexandrians attempted to blockade. Early on they managed to set fire to several Roman freighters. The fleet Cleopatra had lent Pompey had moreover returned. Both sides jockeyed for control of those fifty quadriremes and quinqueremes, large vessels requiring four and five banks of rowers. Caesar could not afford to allow the ships to fall into enemy hands if he expected to see either provisions or reinforcements, for which he had sent out calls in every direction. Nor could he hope to man them. He was seriously outnumbered and at a geographic disadvantage; in desperation, he set fire to the anchored warships. Cleopatra’s reaction as flames spread over the ropes and across the decks is difficult to imagine. She could not have escaped the penetrating clouds of smoke, sharp with the tang of resin, that wafted across her gardens; the palace was illuminated by the blaze, which burned well into the night. This was the dockyard fire that may have claimed some portion of the Alexandrian library. Nor could Cleopatra have missed the pitched battle that preceded the conflagration, for which the entire city turned out: “And there was not a soul in Alexandria, whether Roman or townsman, except for those whose attention was engrossed in fortification work or fighting, who did not make for the highest buildings and take their place to see the show from any vantage point, and with prayers and vows demand victory for their own side from the immortal gods.” Amid mingled shouts and much commotion, Caesar’s men scrambled on to Pharos to seize the great lighthouse. Caesar allowed them a bit of plunder, then stationed a garrison on the rocky island.

Also shortly after Cleopatra’s arrival, Caesar composed the final pages of the volume we know today as The Civil War. About those events he would have been writing in something close to real time. It has been suggested that he broke off where he did—with Arsinoe’s defection and Pothinus’s murder—for literary or political reasons. Caesar could not easily discourse on a Western republic in an Eastern palace. He was also at that juncture in his narrative briefly in possession of the upper hand. Just as likely Caesar found himself with less time to write, if not overwhelmed. He was indeed the man who famously dictated letters from his stadium seat, who turned out a text on Latin while traveling from Gaul, a long poem en route to Spain. The murder of the eunuch Pothinus had galvanized the opposition, however. Already it included the women and children of the city. They had no need of wicker screens or battering rams, happy as they were to express themselves with slingshots and stones. Sprays of homemade missiles pelted the palace walls. Battles flared night and day, as Alexandria filled with zealous reinforcements and with siege huts and catapults of various sizes. Triple-width, forty-foot stone barricades went up across the city, transformed into an armed camp.

From the palace Caesar observed what had put Alexandria on the map and what made it so difficult to rule: its people were endlessly, boundlessly resourceful. His men watched in amazement—and with resentment; ingenuity was meant to be a Roman specialty—as the Alexandrians constructed wheeled, ten-story assault towers. Draft animals led those mammoth contraptions down the straight, paved avenues of the city. Two things in particular astonished the Romans. Everything could be accomplished more quickly in Alexandria. And its people were clever copyists of the first rank. Repeatedly they went Caesar one better. As a Roman general recounted later, they “put into effect whatever they saw us do with such skill that it seemed our troops had imitated their work.” National pride was at stake on both sides. When Caesar bested the seafaring Alexandrians in a naval battle, they were shattered. Subsequently they threw themselves into the task of building a fleet. In the secret royal dockyard sat a number of old ships, no longer seaworthy. Down came colonnades and the roofs of gymnasiums, their rafters magically transformed into oars. In a matter of days, twenty-two quadriremes and five quinqueremes materialized, along with a number of smaller craft, manned and ready for combat. Nearly overnight, the Egyptians conjured up a navy twice as large as Caesar’s.*

Repeatedly the Romans sputtered about the twin Alexandrian capacities for deceit and treachery, which in the midst of an armed conflict surely counts as high praise. As if to prove the point, Ganymedes, Arsinoe’s ex-tutor and the new royal commander, set his men to work digging deep wells. They drained the city’s underground conduits, into which they pumped seawater. Quickly the palace water proved cloudy and undrinkable. (Ganymedes may or may not have known this to be an old trick of Caesar’s, who had similarly annoyed Pompey.) The Romans panicked. Did it not make more sense to retreat immediately? Caesar calmed his men: Fresh water could not be far off, as veins of it reliably occurred near oceans. One lay just beyond the palace walls. As for withdrawal, it was not an option. The legionnaires could not reach their ships without the Alexandrians slaughtering them. Caesar ordered an all-night dig, which proved him correct; his men quickly located fresh water. It remained true, however, that on their side the Alexandrians had great cleverness and plentiful resources, as well as that most potent of motivations: their autonomy was at stake. They had distinctly unfavorable memories of Gabinius, the general who had returned Auletes to the throne. To fail to drive Caesar out now was to become a province of Rome. Caesar could only remind his men they must fight with equal conviction.

He found himself entirely on the defensive, perhaps another reason the account of the Alexandrian War that bears his name was written by a senior officer, based on postwar conversations. Caesar indeed controlled the palace and the lighthouse in the east, but Achillas, Ptolemy’s commander, dominated the rest of the city, and with it nearly every advantageous position. His men persistently ambushed Roman supplies. Fortunately for Caesar, if there was one thing he could count on as much as Alexandrian ingenuity it was Alexandrian infighting. Arsinoe’s tutor argued with Achillas, whom he accused of treachery. Plot followed counterplot, much to the delight of the army, bribed generously and in turn more generously by each side. Ultimately Arsinoe convinced her tutor to murder the redoubtable Achillas. Cleopatra knew well what their sister Berenice had accomplished in their father’s absence; she had badly blundered in failing to prevent Arsinoe’s escape.

Arsinoe and Ganymedes turned out to be no favorites of the people, however. This the Alexandrians made clear as reinforcements approached and as Caesar—despite a forced swim in the harbor and a devastating loss of men—began to feel the war turning in his favor. To the palace came a delegation in mid-January, shortly after Cleopatra’s twenty-second birthday. They lobbied for young Ptolemy’s release. Already the people had tried unsuccessfully to liberate their king. Now they claimed they were finished with his sister. They yearned for peace. They needed Ptolemy “in order, as they claimed, that they might consult with him about the terms on which a truce could be effected.” He had clearly behaved well while under guard. Generally he left no impression of fortitude or leadership, though petulance came naturally to him. Caesar saw some advantages in his release. Were the Alexandrians to surrender, he would need somehow to dispense with this extraneous king; Ptolemy could clearly never again rule with his sister. In his absence Caesar would have better reason to deliver up the Alexandrians to Cleopatra. And were Ptolemy to continue to fight—it is unclear if the rationale here was Caesar’s, or attributed to him later—the Romans would be conducting a war that was all the more honorable for being waged “against a king rather than against a gang of refugees and runaway slaves.”

Caesar duly sat Cleopatra’s thirteen-year-old brother down for a talk. He urged him “to think of his ancestral kingdom, to take pity on his glorious homeland, which had been disfigured by the disgrace of fire and ruin; to begin by bringing his people back to their senses, and then save them; and to trust the Roman people and himself, Caesar, whose faith in him was firm enough to send him to join enemies who were under arms.” Caesar then dismissed the young man. Ptolemy made no move to leave; instead he again dissolved into tears. He begged Caesar not to send him away. Their friendship meant more to him even than his throne. His devotion moved Caesar who—eyes welling up in turn—assured him that they would be reunited soon enough. At which young Ptolemy set off to embrace the war with a new intensity, one that confirmed that “the tears he had shed when talking to Caesar were obviously tears of joy.” Only Caesar’s men seemed gratified by this turn of events, which they hoped might cure their commander of his absurdly forgiving ways. The comedy would not have surprised Cleopatra, well accomplished in the dramatic arts, and possibly even the mastermind behind this scene. It is conceivable that Caesar liberated Ptolemy to sow further dissension in the rebel ranks. If he did so (the interpretation is a generous one), Cleopatra presumably collaborated on the staging.

Fortunately for Caesar and Cleopatra, a large army of reinforcements hurried toward Alexandria. The best help came from a high-ranking Judaean official, who arrived with a contingent of three thousand well-armed Jews. Ptolemy set out to crush that force at nearly the same moment that Caesar set out to join it; he was for some time frustrated by the Egyptian cavalry. All converged in a fierce battle west of the Nile, at a location halfway between Alexandria and present-day Cairo. The casualties were great on both sides, but—by storming the high point of the Egyptian camp in a surprise early-morning maneuver—Caesar managed a swift victory. Terrified, a great number of the Egyptians hurled themselves from the ramparts of their fort into the surrounding trenches. Some survived. It seemed Ptolemy did not; he was probably little mourned by anyone, including his advisers. As his body never materialized, Caesar took special pains to display his golden armor, which did. The magical, rejuvenating powers of the Nile were well known; already it had delivered up queens in sacks and babies in baskets. Caesar did not want a resurrection on his hands, though even his meticulous efforts now would not prevent the appearance of a Ptolemy-pretender later.

With his cavalry Caesar hurried to Alexandria, to receive the kind of welcome he had doubtless expected months earlier: “The entire population of the town threw down their weapons, left their defenses, assumed the garb in which suppliants commonly crave pardon from their masters, and after bringing out all the sacred objects with whose religious awe they used to appeal to their displeased or angry monarchs, went to meet Caesar as he approached, and surrendered to him.” Graciously he accepted the surrender and consoled the populace. Cleopatra would have been ecstatic; Caesar’s defeat would have been hers as well. She presumably received advance word but would in any event have heard the raucous cheers as Caesar approached on horseback. His legions met him at the palace with loud applause. It was March 27; the relief must have been extreme. Caesar’s men had given him more than a decade of service, and on arrival in Alexandria believed the civil war to be over. They had by no means counted on this last, little understood exploit. Nor were they alone in their consternation. Rome had heard nothing from Caesar since December. What was keeping him in Egypt, when all was off-kilter at home? Whatever the reason for the delay, the silence was unsettling. It must have begun to seem that Egypt had claimed Caesar as it had Pompey and—as some would argue—in an entirely different way, it ultimately would.

Operation Shingle – The Landings I

On the evening of Friday 21 January 1944, Berthold Richter, a nineteen-year-old engineer in 29th Panzer Grenadier Division, wrote a letter to his parents. ‘I am looking forward to some leave soon and hope to see you both. I miss you terribly … I have not been able to write as often as I would have liked and fear that I am not much of a son nor a brother. Please send my love to Anna and tell her that I miss her too. I would imagine that she has grown since I last saw her.’ He signed off ‘Your loving son, Bertie’ and attached a recently taken photograph of himself in uniform posing by the Coliseum. Grenadier Richter was a good-looking young man, with a shock of black hair and bright blue eyes. He had left his family in Hamburg for basic training twelve months before and had not been home since. Had he returned, those that had known him would have noticed that he had changed – he had lost a little weight, but he also stood differendy, and there was something unfathomable about his expression. Richter had seen his officer blown up during the fighting in Sicily, cradled his dying best friend in his arms at Salerno and been wounded twice during the fighting in the mountains. His division had eventually been pulled out of the line for a refit and a time in reserve near Rome. Here Richter had briefly – but fully—sampled the pleasures of the capital city where he drank and smoked heavily, and lost his virginity to a prostitute. He had no time to waste. Now he was at Anzio, one of a 380-man unit that had only the previous day been enjoying the sea air, conducted a little training, and making preparations for the demolition of the harbour. Richter slipped the sealed letter in his breast pocket, as a comrade staggered through the door of their seafront billet with two cases of ‘liberated’ wine. With the town evacuated and offering so little to entice the men, they settled in for some drinking, singing and gambling. Berthold Richter enjoyed himself, at one point falling off a table as he danced with a wooden chair, before falling fast asleep fully clothed on a mattress on the floor. It is likely that he was awoken by the sound of the approaching Allied landing craft and had gone to investigate. The shots that killed him had propelled his comrades out of bed and into the waiting arms of the Rangers. Before being escorted into captivity, Richter’s friends saw his body curled in the foetal position surrounded by a large puddle of blood on the esplanade.

Nearly 800 5-inch Allied rockets had crashed into the buildings and along the waterfront of all the invasion beaches. The wall of explosions killed and wounded some of the sentries, dropped masonry down onto the sleeping, cut telephone lines and detonated some of the mines. But its psychological effect on the enemy was even more impressive, sending those still capable of a fight reeling into the first waves of VI Corps. Their confidence boosted by the pyrotechnics, Lucas’s assault waves stormed the beaches to the sound of their own descending might, but silence from an overawed enemy. Assisted by lights (set up on the sand by two-man teams launched from submarines) the assault craft had landed accurately and on time. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas recalls:

I braced myself for the shock of the searchlights stabbing out from the shore, followed by the tracers pouring over the waters. But again a silence more intense than ever held the whole area as the assault craft crept in . . . The incredible had happened. We had got the one thing we had never bargained for, utter, complete surprise.

The Allied landings were an unexpected success. An Irish Guards officer wrote: ‘It was all very gendemanly, calm and dignified’, whilst a less restrained 3rd Division officer declared: We hit the beach and shook Hider’s breeches … It sure was a relief after Salerno and that God awful practice.’ The real thing was far more successful than the rehearsals because Lowry and Troubridge had worked tirelessly to ensure that the same mistakes were not repeated, and assisted by the benign conditions, they were not. Lucas noted in his diary: ‘We achieved what is certainly one of the most complete surprises in history. The Germans were caught off base and there was practically no opposition to the landing . . . The Biscayne was anchored 3½ miles off shore, and I could not believe my eyes when I stood on the bridge and saw no machine gun or other fire on the beach.’

The landing was an important first step which had been made accurately and securely in order to provide a stable base for further phases. The next step was to push Lucas’s troops and vehicles swifdy across the beaches to instil the attack with some forward momentum. In this intense task the Military Landing Officers (MLO) played an important role. Captain Denis Healey, a future Chancellor of the Exchequer, was an MLO on the British Peter beach. A veteran of landings in North Africa and the Calabria, Healey did not take part in the Salerno landing (where his replacement was killed), but he was an expert in his field. He landed as the engineers were clearing lanes in the minefields when his job was then ‘to make sure that the troops followed the white tape through the lanes, and the vehicles were on the laid metal tracks to stop them bogging … My three days at Anzio were busy, but not dangerous.’ The beaches were extremely busy, with bulldozers creating breaches in the sand dunes, loudspeakers directing the troops, whilst vehicles and guns spilt out onto the sand. Healey and his team ensured that 1 st Division’s paralysis was kept to a minimum, although there was little that they could do when the sand bar that had concerned Penney during planning caused delays. Lucas was not happy and visited an irritated Penney to demand greater efforts as troops waded ashore or were lifted by DUKWs. Had the German defences been stronger they may have been able to exploit such difficulties, an accurate artillery barrage for example might have caused Penney serious problems, but instead the Panzer Grenadiers were rounded up within minutes of the landing. Vaughan-Thomas wrote, ‘The only Germans we saw were a forlorn group standing under guard at a farmhouse door. They had been fast asleep when we landed and clad in pyjamas had jumped into their car and driven it through the door of the barn and had been rounded up before they had gone a hundred yards.’

The three Ranger battalions and the supporting parachutists were extremely grateful for the lack of opposition on Yellow beach in Anzio. Lucas had expected a tough fight to take the harbour and the Rangers had been specially selected for this mission after their excellent performances in Tunisia and Sicily. Their commander, Colonel William O. Darby of Arkansas, ‘a broad-shouldered, thick-chested man’, who ‘moved quickly and spoke with decision’, recognised the nature of the challenge that faced his force as the beach was narrow and overlooked by buildings. He told the planners at Caserta: When I run out of the landing-craft I don’t want to have to look right or left’, and that is exactly what happened. When Darby disembarked from his landing craft he ran straight up the beach, across the road and into the Paradiso sul Mare, the large white twin-domed Art Deco casino built in the 1920s. As he set up his command post, his men, followed by 509th Parachute Battalion, fanned out and within minutes were bringing back prisoners. It was during this time that Berthold Richter had been killed. Richter’s friend Ralph Leitner recalls: ‘I was lucky not to be shot like him. These soldiers had adrenaline pumping through their veins and itchy trigger fingers. They looked fearsome. I recognised them as Rangers from their dress and the black, red and white insignia on their sleeve and knew instandy to respect them.’ The newly arrived Town Commandant also lay dead nearby. He had been driven down the coastal road from Anzio to a headquarters in Nettuno in the company of a Lieutenant to ascertain the source of a droning noise that could be heard out to sea. Minutes into their journey they were caught up in the rocket attack which forced them to take evasive action, but at its conclusion they sped on. As their vehicle entered Nettuno the Rangers ambushed them, drilling them with fire. The driver tried to barge through, but crashed into a ditch. The commandant was killed, the driver was badly wounded, but the Lieutenant cowering in the back emerged unscathed and was taken prisoner. Within minutes he was standing in Anzio harbour, watching the continued landings. He told his interrogators back in England that he had been impressed with what he saw: ‘he never heard a word of command’, they reported, ‘and yet it seemed that everything went clock-work-like’. He could appreciate the careful planning: ‘it was like a big business without confusion, disorder, or muddle.’ The speed and surprise of the attack had given the Germans no time in which to react. The Times later reported on one illustrative action: ‘At a German command post, from which the occupants fled when the Rangers landed, rooms were left in disorder, even to the remnants of a meal which had included sardines, Czech beans, and Danish bacon. Near by lay two German soldiers, shot as they ran from their machine-guns.’ Some Germans did not even have time to get dressed. One American private remembers bumping into a half-naked man in the darkness of Anzio:

As our squad entered a gloomy narrow street I could see a pair of fleshy white buttocks wobbling in the opposite direction and I shouted ‘Halt!’ as loud as I could. The man stopped, raised his hands, turned and walked towards us. We could tell that he was shocked – and perhaps a little embarrassed—because he was only dressed in a vest. At first I thought that he might be an Italian, but he found his confidence when he knew that we were not going to shoot him and started swearing at us in German. His thin legs were shivering below a great pot belly. It was my first encounter with the Master Race.

The Germans were quickly overrun, and Anzio was secured by 0800 hours, with Nettuno secured two hours later.

Soon after 3rd US Infantry Division and 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment had landed on X-Ray beach, they began to push forward. ‘Once we knew that the division was going to get ashore in one piece and without any hindrance from the enemy,’ recalls Oliver P. Roach who was a Staff Sergeant with 15th Infantry Regiment headquarters, ‘our minds were on our next objective. Making a beachhead was very important, because we just didn’t know when or where the enemy would counter-attack us.’ This was a concern which was shared by the entire corps on the morning of 22 January, and in anticipation John Lucas had planned to create an initial beachhead area some two and a half to three miles deep which could be defended. To facilitate this, reconnaissance platoons were thrown forward and patrols were sent out by units in an attempt to ‘join hands’ across the front as quickly as possible. The probes forward were cautious, but firm. The Americans felt vulnerable as they moved through the open, flat, scrubby marshland on the right of the front towards the Mussolini Canal and an unmade road known as the ‘disused railway bed’ which ran across their front. The British, meanwhile, were circumspect about the prospect of traversing the dark Padiglione Woods. Leading the way on Penney’s left flank was 2nd Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment which advanced with two companies forward using a track through the Umbrella Pines that became known as Regent Street. ‘It was a little nervy being at the forefront of a corps attack striking out for Rome’, recalls an officer from battalion headquarters. ‘It was literally a shot in the dark. We didn’t know what was in front of us and had to constantly co-ordinate ourselves with the rest of the brigade. We were told to speed up then slow down, then speed up again. All we could really do was push on at a steady pace. The Colonel knew what he was doing.’ They ghosted through the darkness, their senses aching, their hearts pounding and their breath freezing at their mouths, expecting to be ambushed at any moment. But the division found no resistance in the wood and their attack developed unhindered in a breaking dawn towards the Moletta River, the Via Anziate and the flyover at Campo di Carne. The first organised German troops were encountered by the vanguard of both divisions after dawn. This weak defensive screen was established by the first German forces to be sent to the area and a number of their 88-mm guns opened fire on the beachhead and the landing vessels. It was the least that Lucas had expected and by mid-morning, as a weak sun gently warmed the embryonic beachhead, he had good reason to feel thoroughly satisfied. The landing had been a great success, and his divisions were forging a beachhead against negligible opposition.

Churchill wanted to be in London when Operation Shingle was launched and had arrived back at Downing Street on 18 January. He was still weak from illness, but his high expectations for Shingle helped sustain his morale. However, on the eve of the attack the Prime Minister was in a contrary mood, snapping at staff and colleagues alike, and clearly anxious about the operation. He found it difficult to concentrate on his work that evening, but within minutes of the first wave landing he received a message: ‘Personal and Most Secret for Prime Minister. From General Alexander. Zip repeat Zip’ – Operation Shingle had been launched. The lack of any further word on the situation at Anzio for several hours did not help the Premier’s mood. Having only slept fitfully for a couple of hours that night, he pounced on Alexander’s next communication at 0900 hours. We have made a good start’, it read. ‘We have obtained practically the whole of our bridgehead and most of the supporting weapons will be ashore tonight I hope.’ With that the Prime Minister relaxed – but he demanded frequent updates fearing German counter-attacks. Alan Brooke, meanwhile, went shooting. The newly promoted Field Marshal did not feel paternalistic towards Shingle which he viewed very much as Churchill’s baby; he allowed the Prime Minister to enjoy the ordeal of its delivery alone. ‘Very good shoot, only 4 guns: Cobbold, uncle Philip, Barney and I’, he recorded in his diary for 22 January. ‘Howling wind, almost gale force. Shot 172 pheasants. At lunch was called up by War Office and told that landing south of Rome had been a complete surprise. This was a wonderful relief!’

Field Marshal Albert Kesselring

It is not certain who raised the alarm, but by 0300 hours the news had reached Kesselring’s headquarters in Monte Sorrate. The Field Marshal had been awoken with the words: ‘Case Richard.’ As he dressed hurriedly a staff officer appraised him of the situation – there had been a landing in the Anzio—Nettuno area, but details were scant – but it could be up to four divisions. Kesselring’s mind lurched into action, running through the implications of the news and various scenarios that it could lead to. But he made no assumptions until he had the facts. There had obviously been a massive intelligence failure. Spies had failed to spot Allied preparations, and its armada had not been spotted approaching Anzio. He had been wrong-footed, and it was now his job to restore stability, and to strike back. Within minutes he was in a large briefing room with Siegfried Westphal, where a clutch of befuddled officers were talking animatedly over a map of Italy. The briefing by the intelligence officer was short and at its conclusion Kesselring launched immediately into questions. Making his apologies, an NCO bearing papers interrupted proceedings with new information. Civitavecchia, a promising invasion area sixty miles to the north of Anzio, was being bombarded. Kesselring smiled and nodded; the Allies were toying with him. Already unsure whether the landings were a raid, a feint or a full-scale attack, this complicated matters. Albert Kesselring strode over to the map table and leaned heavily over it. We have a problem,’ he announced, ‘but not an insurmountable one’, and proceeded to launch into a speech which those present later recalled as a bravura lecture on Allied intentions. The Field Marshal declared that the landing at Anzio was the opening gambit of an attempt to seize the Alban Hills, which would cut Tenth Army’s lines of communication fighting in the Gustav Line thus blocking their route of withdrawal. He remained calm throughout, even joking occasionally at the expense of his colleagues. ‘We have been caught a little off-guard,’ he explained, ‘as we are over-stretched trying to contain the fighting in the south. But we can recover. The British and American aim is to threaten Rome, have no illusions about that, but can they seize the city swiftly? Not, gendeman, if I have a say in the matter – and I intend to be very vocal.’ Pausing, he turned to Westphal and demanded to know what assets he had between Anzio and Rome. ‘Virtually nothing in the landing area,’ came the reply, ‘and perhaps another 800 men in the vicinity in total.’ Kesselring nodded again and then smiled. Throughout he exuded a confidence that infected all those who listened to him that morning. Kesselring acted as though this was merely a long expected—and eagerly anticipated – exercise. His sang-froid was securely rooted in his anticipation of Allied landings, albeit not necessarily at Anzio and at that time, and the preparations he had made for it. The terse instructions that he issued that morning were not a knee-jerk reaction to events, but had been carefully prepared for such an eventuality. The aim was to have 20,000 troops in the area by evening.

By 0430 hours the words ‘Case Richard’ had been signalled all over Italy, alerting commands that an Allied amphibious assault was under way at Anzio-Nettuno and ordering certain units and formations to move to contain it. The military commandant of Rome, Lieutenant General Kurt Mältzer, was to block routes in to the city with all available forces, and the Commander-in-Chief of the Air Defence District of Rome (who was also the commanding general of all Luftwaffe forces in the Mediterranean theatre), General Max Ritter von Pohl, was to move all his flak formations stationed south of Rome into defensive positions. Major General Heinrich Trettner’s 4th Parachute Division, the majority of which was still north of Rome, was to move without delay to the beachhead whilst its spearhead, Kampfgruppe Gericke, was to be sent immediately to block the Via Anziate and the secondary roads in the area. A kampfgruppe from 29th Panzer Grenadier Division stationed near Velletri, as yet uncommitted against British X Corps on the Garigliano, was sent towards Cisterna to block the only other main Allied exploitation route. Thus by the time that Adolf Hitler had been informed of the landings at around 0600 hours, a small, but highly mobile force had already been deftly despatched to contain the Allies. That morning the Führer was at his Wolfschane (Wolf’s Lair) headquarters in an East Prussian forest east of Rastenburg. Although still under development it covered an area the size of twenty-one football pitches. Only a small percentage of the Wolfschanze contained underground bunkers, but these were impressively built with a shell of reinforced concrete six feet thick. Narrow corridors connected the rooms which all had electric heating, running water, fitted furnishings, and ventilation machinery which drew fresh air through the ceiling. Hitler’s personal bunker – the Führerbunker – also boasted air conditioning. It was cramped, claustrophobic, but safe. On receiving the news of the attack Hitler had been calm but intense, for Kesselring had shrewdly forewarned him about the likelihood of just such a landing. He had watched Mark Clark’s recent offensive develop with interest, but was confident that Kesselring’s defence would hold firm. He now relied on the Field Marshal to deal a blow to the Anzio-Nettuno landings, and provide a victory that would shake Allied faith in their ability to conduct successful amphibious warfare.

Hitler’s composure allowed him to maintain his usual routine without interruption on 22 January. There was the usual pre-breakfast situation report in the Map Room at which he was given the latest news about the landings, followed by a communal breakfast with his staff. Here Hitler always sat facing a large wall map of the Soviet Union and spoke passionately about the Eastern front and the evils of Bolshevism, but the main situation conference that morning was dominated by the situation south of Rome. By this time it was clear that the attack was no feint, but a major strike, and the meeting decided to send formations from other theatres to deal with it: 715th Infantry Division was to be moved from the south of France, the 114th Jaeger Division from the Balkans, three independent regiments – including the highly regarded Infantry Lehr Demonstration Regiment – from Germany, and two heavy tank battalions from France. The meeting also gave Kesselring the authority to use any division from Fourteenth Army in northern Italy, which were under the control of the Chief of High Command of the German Armed Forces (OKW), Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel. As a result the larger parts of 65th Infantry Division and 362nd Infantry Division, together with elements of the newly formed 16th SS Panzer Division, were ordered south of Rome. Kesselring also ordered Tenth Army to stop counter-attacking British X Corps and go onto the defensive all along the Gustav Line in order to facilitate the release of as many units for Anzio as possible. Von Vietinghoff was displeased, arguing strongly that Mark Clark’s offensive was still a threat, but was forced to concede. Tenth Army subsequently released 26th Panzer Division and elements of 1st Parachute Division from its left, and units from the Hermann Goring Panzer Division, 71st Infantry and 3rd Panzer Grenadier Divisions from his right. The newly arrived I Parachute Corps headquarters was also returned to Fourteenth Army with Schlemm ordered to take command at the beachhead Anzio-Nettuno until General Eberhard von Mackensen’s Fourteenth Army headquarters could be moved from Verona. Hitler was impressed with Kesselring’s continuing sang-froid and the fact that his headquarters had not mentioned the word ‘withdrawal’. In the late afternoon, the Führer took tea with his secretaries and then sat down to dinner with Keitel and his aides where their strategy was discussed. There had been no panic at either the Wolfschanze or Monte Soratte.

The race between the belligerents to build up their forces at Anzio–Nettuno had begun. Several units had formed the defensive screen which the Allies had run into that morning. These included the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division Kampfgruppe which used its five armoured cars south of Cisterna to block the road from Nettuno. At 0715 hours it engaged an American reconnaissance force and took the first Allied prisoners of the battle. Shordy after the first troops from the Hermann Goring Panzer Division arrived at Cisterna, and the spearhead of 4th Parachute Division’s Kampfgruppe Gericke on the Via Anziate. Battalion Hauber blocked the road at Campoleone Station and sent a patrol out to Ardea where it stopped the British 1st Reconnaissance Troop as it drove up the coastal road. In a matter of hours the Germans had not only recognised Alexander’s intentions for Operation Shingle and set in motion a plan to heavily reinforce the area, they had also focused their activity on roads that Lucas would rely on to exploit the success of his initial landings. Moreover, by occupying Ardea, Campoleone Station and Cisterna, the Germans retained strong foundations for a counterattack. As if to underline Kesselring’s intent, several German Messerschmitt 109 fighters and Focke-Wulf 190 fighter bombers broke through to strafe the beaches, and drop light bombs on VI Corps at its most vulnerable point. Ross Carter of 2nd Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment wrote:

The deck of our LCI was crowded with troops standing around waiting to unload into the icy water and make the three hundred yards to the beach. Just as Berkely was reaching for one of Pierson’s cigarettes, a dive bomber came in and hell opened its doors. The bomb missed the bow by five feet or so, but the explosion lifted the boat clear out of the sea and blew a column of oily water into the sky which fell back on the boat and left us oil-coated for several days.

Stranded off the beach, one of the men swam ashore with a rope and tied one end to the strut of an amphibious Piper Cub, a light aircraft, sitting on the sand. Loaded up with equipment, weapons and ammunition, the men held the rope, jumped into the water and pulled themselves along. ‘The water’, the young paratrooper recalled, ‘was eight to ten feet deep and icy as a spinster’s heart.’ It was a fitting introduction to Anzio, for the men emerged from it ‘wet, cold, miserable, mad, disgusted and laughing,’ a list of adjectives that accurately reflect what troops were to feel during the coming battle. Indeed, as Carter says, he and his comrades had ‘embarked upon an adventure that staggers the mind.’ Private Robert E. Dodge, meanwhile, managed to get off his LCI safely, only to come under immediate aerial attack:

We doubled-time off the L.C.I. and kept going. We had run for quite a distance when Jerry planes came in strafing and bombing. Our anti-aircraft guns sent up such a cloud of aerial bursts, you wouldn’t think anything could fly through it. We instinctively hit the ditches. All around you could here the zap of shrapnel from our guns’ shells hitting the ground. The noise of the planes and guns was really frightening. This time no one was hurt, but now we realised it was for real. Before we could get out of the ditches, we were being urged on with shouts of ‘Move it’.

The Luftwaffe disturbed some of the Allied new arrivals on the first day of Shingle, but caused no significant damage due to their small numbers and the success of Allied Spitfire and Kittyhawk fighter patrols which accounted for seven enemy aircraft for the loss of three Allied. Thus, although the Germans had begun to move troops into blocking positions, and the Luftwaffe had been active, by noon the assaulting forces had reached Lucas’s initial beachhead line. British 2nd and 24th Guards Brigade were firmly lodged in the Padiglione Woods and patrols had reached the Campo di Carne flyover. It was a damp and exposed spot with a few farmhouses, but little else. ‘It gave me goose bumps’, says the 5ft 2in Corporal ‘Lofty’ Lovett of the North Staffordshires, ‘and it did not help when I was told that “Campo di Carne” translated to “Field of Flesh”. Here we were in the middle of God knows where, with precious little cover, waiting for something to happen. It was as still as could be, just the occasional boom of a German gun, or the noise of an aircraft, but otherwise quite quiet.’ Meanwhile, to Lovett’s right, 2nd Special Service Brigade had taken a position astride the Via Anziate two and a half miles north of a defensive line around Anzio-Nettuno created by the Rangers and 509th Parachute Battalion. The Americans had also occupied its soggy initial beachhead area with 7th Infantry Regiment on the left, 30th in the centre and 15th on the right, with patrols pushed forward to the Mussolini Canal where they prepared bridges for demolition to secure the flank.

Included in the invasion force into Anzio were 150 Carabinieri whose job it was to maintain public order in the towns after the landings. They were understandably extremely apprehensive at being part of a dangerous amphibious assault, but were relieved to walk ashore knowing that the Americans were already in control. Setting up a headquarters in a restaurant on the seafront, this armed police force, resplendent in their black uniforms, found that they had very little to do as the populations of Anzio and Nettuno had been evacuated. However, these native Italian speakers became extremely useful when refugees from elsewhere on the battlefield started to congregate in towns during the day. The first had started to arrive mid-morning, some carrying suitcases, children, and even family heirlooms. But there were others who had only too obviously run from their homes in a hurry, some without coats, and one or two still in nightclothes. A proportion of these were injured, their bruised and bloody bodies covered in a thick layer of dust. Many spoke of the dead that they had left behind. These people had lived with the war for years, but the violence had come with appalling suddenness on 22 January. Antonia Paolo who lived with her husband and four children on the edge of the Padiglione Woods recalls the experience:

Our farmhouse was sturdy, but not strong enough to stop the rockets. Only one hit our roof, but brought it down. Luckily nobody was hurt. The children were screaming and my husband grabbed them into his arms and carried them down into the cellar. We sat in the dark listening to the bombardment. It was the worst moment of my life and we prayed together. But it ended as quickly as it had started and within what seemed like minutes, a British officer who spoke fluent Italian was standing in our parlour apologising for the damage, and promising that somebody would be along soon to help us. My husband thought that they would help rebuild the roof and our demolished wall, but what he meant was that we would be escorted down to the port.

Once down at Anzio, the Paolo family were quickly put on an LCI with around twenty other families, and by evening were being administered to by the Allies in Naples. Some families left the danger area at the first opportunity, others as the battle spread, but many had to be prised from their homes or waited until the fighting was on their doorstep before electing to leave. Wynford Vaughan-Thomas witnessed one family which only fled once their house was under direct German fire: ‘The battle was a mere few hundred yards down the road’, he wrote, ‘and the bewildered civilians, clutching their bedding and a few battered suitcases, would stumble through the darkness, the noise and the shell-bursts to the dubious safety of the rear.’ Over the coming weeks a constant trickle of civilians asked to be taken to safety and at times it was a major task feeding and sheltering several hundred often frightened refugees. A church on the outskirts of Anzio was eventually used as an embarkation centre, although it was frequently overflowing with people, a significant number of whom were very young, very old or sick. Occasionally there was panic when a shell landed close by, and sometimes the evacuees had to wait several days before a ship could be found to take them to safety, but eventually 20,000 were taken to Naples.