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.

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Operation Shingle – The Landings II

Color photograph of U.S. Army DUKW amphibious trucks on the beach at Anzio, Italy during Operation Shingle, April 1944. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph.)

As the first refugees were being evacuated from Anzio, Generals Alexander and Clark, together with a host of other high-ranking officers, were arriving. The two men had received a positive report from Lucas at 0300 hours that the landing had been successful and good progress was being made. Thus, as soon as it was light, the party from Caserta made their way to Naples harbour and were taken by fast PT boats to visit VI Corps. The news en route continued to be heartening with Gruenther staying in close contact with Clark who was encouraged that no German armour had yet been encountered. The flotilla arrived at the Biscayne at 0900 hours, and after a detailed situation report from Lucas, the group ventured onto the beachhead. Alexander visited 1st Division and spent considerable time with 24th Guards Brigade. Lieutenant William Dugdale, commander of a Grenadier Guards Anti Tank platoon, was one of the first to encounter Alexander whilst on the beach having dealt with some local difficulties:

The naval Lieutenant who commanded our Landing Ship hit a sandbank about 200 yards off the beach and we came to a shuddering stop. The Carrier Platoon roared off and disappeared beneath the waves but by their snorkel tubes they survived by dint of much revving of the engines the carriers all got ashore. The Anti-tank Platoon was less lucky and two of the six tugs sank and stopped in the water with their guns behind. After two hours of hauling and heaving we finally got a tow line on them and pulled them through the surf. I emerged from the water soaking and cross to be confronted by an immaculate General Alexander in field boots who said, ‘You look extremely scruffy’ to which the only answer was ‘Sir’ and a salute.

Dressed in his trademark fur-lined jacket, riding breeches and peaked officer’s cap, the dapper, imperturbable Harold Alexander was instantly recognisable. A group of guardsmen were impressed that the general did not break his stride when a salvo of exploding 88-mm shells showered him with soil. ‘He brushed off the soil like he would the drops of water having been caught in a shower of rain’, one said, ‘and continued on his way chatting to his aide who looked as though he’d seen a ghost.’ Like Clark, Alexander did not lack physical courage and had been wounded and twice decorated for leadership and gallantry during the First World War. He thought that it was important to show the troops not only that he was willing to share their danger, but that it was important to be calm under pressure. His companion, Admiral Troubridge, was not afraid to show his concerns however, and as he pulled himself up from a nearby ditch was heard to complain: ‘I don’t feel safe except at sea. This is most unfair, as really I am a non-combatant on land.’ Whether the General’s tour was a boost to the troops’ morale or merely distracted them from their duties is a moot point, but it was certainly remembered. The Scots Guards official historian writes: ‘General Alexander made a tour of the beach-head that morning, wearing his red hat and riding in a jeep followed by his usual retinue. We were again reminded of the likeness of the operation to an exercise – the Chief Umpire visiting forward positions and finding things to his satisfaction.’ He seems to have found ‘satisfaction’ in most of what he saw that morning and Clark felt the same. Meeting Truscott at the 3rd Division command post, the two men discussed events over a breakfast of eggs, bacon, and toast prepared over an open fire by Private Hong. No sooner had they finished than Lucas and his Chief of Staff arrived and Hong had to start cooking again. Throughout the morning a succession of visitors enjoyed breakfast, but left Hong fuming ‘Goddam, General’s fresh eggs all gone to hell.’ Clark visited Lucas again before he left for Naples that afternoon and praised what had been achieved so far, but also offered the advice: ‘Don’t stick your neck out, Johnny. I did at Salerno and got into trouble.’

VI Corps had made a solid start, but even in the earliest hours it was conservative. Whilst there was ample opportunity for Lucas to push out further and faster, his innate protective mentality allowed the Germans to establish strong defensive foundations. Although the enemy were about as weak as anybody could have anticipated for much of 22 January, and in spite of the fact that VI Corps headquarters understood that the enemy would only get stronger, Lucas remained focused on fulfilling Clark’s primary aim of a secure beachhead in a methodical and workmanlike manner. Even if it was imprudent to strike out for the Alban Hills at this stage, Lucas seemed blind to the possibility of taking as much important ground as possible in order to create a launch pad for offensive action and to provide defensive anchors. There seemed to be a lack of urgency about the advance when with a little more derring-do, VI Corps could have threatened Aprilia and Cisterna. Penney in particular felt that a wonderful chance was being wasted and his respect for Lucas rapidly diminished from that moment on. In the Padiglione Woods the Guards Brigade waited for orders, but none came. They built fires, ate their stale rations, drank tea and smoked as new German arrivals seeped into defensive positions on more advantageous ground. As Vaughan-Thomas wrote of that day, We held the whole world in our hands on that clear morning of January 1944.’ But John Lucas was not the only General to reveal a lack of boldness at Anzio. Another was on his way from Verona.

Eberhard von Mackensen

Eberhard von Mackensen grumbled throughout his flight from Verona that ‘a withdrawal of Tenth Army was the only way to save the German army in Italy.’ Arriving with the Fourteenth Army headquarters advance party to take possession of a nondescript building at the heart of German-occupied Rome, the General lost his temper at the mess that had been left by its previous occupants. Von Mackensen was a deep-thinking officer, highly professional and capable, but he had a superficial side to his nature. As German forces in Italy frantically sought to respond to the gauntlet thrown down at Anzio, this austere Prussian aristocrat, whose father had been Field Marshal during the First World War, announced that he would not move into the building until it had been tidied. While cleaners swept he and the vanguard of his staff took over a local café that had just one telephone but – this being Italy – three coffee makers. Kesselring, who disliked von Mackensen’s attitude and pessimism, had given his subordinate clear orders: ‘set up a temporary headquarters in Rome, and as soon as you are ready move to the Alban Hills and establish a permanent base . . . Prepare a plan to pin the Allies in their bridgehead with a view to a counter-attack as soon as was possible.’ As his staff climbed the stairs to the newly dusted second floor ‘Map Room’ that afternoon, they were greeted by the sound of a dozen ringing telephones. Satisfied that his office was the largest and with the best view, von Mackensen got to work. As Mackensen played the prima donna, an ever-growing number of German troops were being conveyed towards the beachhead. Many did not know where they were going, why and what they would find at their destination. One officer being thrown about in the back of an aged Renault truck that afternoon was Rittmeister Edwin Wentz, the commander of a replacement company in the Hermann Goring Panzer Division. At the time of the Allied attack the fifty-year-old had been sitting in the company kitchen drinking ersatz coffee. The bitter weather had aggravated an old shoulder wound that Wentz had picked up in 1916 on the Somme, and the intense pain had woken him early that morning. As he sat rubbing the scar where the shell fragment had entered his body all those years ago, he reminded himself that battles were a young man’s game. Wentz was happy enough to provide a finishing school for young infanteers before they went into the line, but he didn’t want to fight any more. Just as he was pouring himself another coffee, a clerk burst in and breathlessly reported that a Major was on the telephone. Curtly informed about the Allied landings, Wentz received his orders: ‘You must take your company and move them towards the Anzio beachhead. You will receive further instruction later.’ He could not believe what he was hearing—his men were keen but had only the most basic military skills. But Wentz’s men were not representative of the wider Hermann Goring Panzer Division which, commanded by Generalleutnant Paul Conrath, had been hardened by its experiences in Sicily and the Gustav Line.

Everything had been loaded in under forty-five minutes and one hour later, just after noon, they left having been told to get to the battlefield before dusk, giving enough light to reconnoitre the positions they were to take up. However, Edwin Wentz worried about movement in broad daylight due to enemy aircraft. Clattering around in the back of the trucks that afternoon, these men were dazed by the speed of events. The wooden seats provided little comfort, and the soft-skinned vehicles scant shelter from the icy weather, but some managed to sleep, their heads lolling over their colleagues who tended to ignore them. Most just sat back, quietly smoking or bent forward over their packs staring out at the frozen countryside, lost in their own thoughts. There was little talk, although the inexperienced were prone to give a running commentary about the position and progress of the convoy. The veterans tended to keep their own counsel until provoked. One sergeant, who had seen action at Stalingrad, recalls: ‘The youngsters were like little children going on an adventure, excited and apprehensive in equal measure and prone to asking every fifteen minutes, “Are we there yet?” God, they were annoying, but like parents we had to remain patient and try and take their minds off the present by talking about other things. I tried not to get too close to them. Experience told me that once in battle their chances of surviving for more than a couple of days in action were extremely limited.’ At one point they were subject to a fleeting air attack and the drivers sped up and pulled off the road. ‘Dismounting, the men took cover and fired on the aircraft with machine guns and rifles. It made one run strafing the road and then departed. After that, it became quieter and we reached the objective without further incident.’ Alighting at Cisterna, the company found some units of the division had already arrived and were digging in, whilst others were being deployed further forwards. A Panzerjäger Battalion from 1st Regiment armed with towed 7.5-cm Paks, for example, was moving closer to the front line. By the time that Wentz and his men had received their orders, this battalion was fighting an American patrol which advanced to Isola Bella, just two miles south of Cisterna. Lieutenant Ernest Hermann recalls:

The 1st Platoon opened fire and stopped that movement. The enemy pulled back to Borgo Montello and the 1st Platoon pushed on close behind him as ordered. It advanced to just before Borgo Montello. The enemy had dug into the town and opened fire with machine guns, small arms, antitank guns and tanks, making a further advance unthinkable … The platoon found the best positions available and went over to the defence.

As soon as the Allied guns were able, they targeted the enemy as it endeavoured to organise its defences in the open, but the Germans returned fire just as soon as they were able. And so began the first of the deadly artillery duels which were to characterise the Battle of Anzio.

As Cisterna was occupied, Kampfgruppe Gericke was being strengthened on the other side of the beachhead by the arrival of Battalion Kleye. With the ability to hold more ground with two battalions, Kleye was sent to defend Ardea, whilst Hauber was to concentrate on the Via Anziate. Joachim Liebschner, an eighteen-year-old Lance-Corporal from Silesia, says that the road attracted fire from the outset:

I was a runner which meant that I had to try and keep communication between my own company and battalion headquarters. We were issued with a bicycle and it was really a great big joke because when we moved forward, the harder the artillery fire became and we were then attacked by aeroplanes. When everybody jumped into ditches to the left and right I was left with the bicycle. Eventually I went to the Sergeant Major and said look when am I going to use my bicycle here, and he said ‘You signed for it, you’re responsible for it!’ typical German kind of answer to a question … I left it against a tree and thought I could find the tree again when we get to the front line. Not only had the bicycle gone but the tree had gone as well. The artillery fire in this sector, people were saying, was of comparable strength to that in the 14-18 war.

The shells crept ever nearer, tearing up the ground with a blast of such intensity that its sound waves were soaked up by the chests of the paratroopers. But it was not the men new to battle that struggled most with the bombardment; it was the veterans and, as Liebschner says, one sergeant in particular who had been wounded and traumatised on the Eastern Front:

He lost his nerve altogether. Most of us didn’t know what we were letting ourselves in for, but this fellow had been in the front line several times and the closer we got, the more he started shivering and complaining of a headache and sickness and his legs were giving out. He couldn’t move. We left him underneath a small bridge shivering and crying and he was hysterical. I never heard of him again.

That evening a strong patrol from Battalion Hauber was sent down to Aprilia. As it was such a vital town that had not defended all day, Gericke expected to hear that it was occupied. To his amazement he learned at 2030 hours that it was not and passed the information on to the recently arrived Lieutenant General Fritz-Hubert Gräser. Gräser was the commander of a 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division kampfgruppe which had been ordered to take over the defence of the Via Anziate from 4th Parachute Division thus allowing Gericke to concentrate his forces on the west side of the road. The critical road in the beachhead was to be defended by a more experienced division. Although Gräser’s force also contained some replacements, 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division was of more varied stock for, at its heart, were veterans of the Eastern Front, with a proportion having served at Stalingrad where the original division had been all but wiped out. The division had fought well at Salerno and was reaching the peak of effectiveness. Gräser immediately occupied Aprilia.

By the time that the panzer grenadiers were preparing the buildings of Aprilia for defence, Schlemm had established his I Parachute Corps headquarters in the Alban Hills and was in full command of the German forces at Anzio. Kesselring was furious with his predecessor’s efforts that day. Although the untalented Schlemmer was obviously out of his depth in such an operation, his inability to carry out simple orders was inexcusable. Monte Soratte had instructed Schlemmer ‘to push all units as they arrived as far south as possible so as to help the flak slow down or halt the enemy advance’, but instead he formed a strong ambushing force in the Alban Hills in case of a push on Rome. The 20,000 men that had made it through to the beachhead were either surplus to his requirements, had slipped through his net, or had ignored his orders. Through the incompetence of one man in a position of power, the Germans’ carefully laid plans could have failed. Had the Allies chosen to advance swiftly soon after their landing, they would at the very least have been able to seize valuable ground for an expansive beachhead. As Kesselring later wrote:

Every yard was important to me. My order, as I found out on the spot in the afternoon, had been incomprehensibly and arbitrarily altered, which upset my plan for immediate counter-attacks. Yet as I traversed the front I had the confident feeling that the Allies had missed a uniquely favourable chance of capturing Rome and of opening the door on the Garigliano front. I was certain that time was our ally.

As was the Field Marshal’s style, on the day of the invasion he had been decisive in his actions and visited the front personally. Far from doing what the Allies had wanted him to do and withdraw in a panic from the Gustav Line, Kesselring had remained unfazed by Operation Shingle. Anything else would have been distinctly out of character. In spite of von Vietinghoff’s whinging that with so many troops having been taken from him he could not hold his front, and advocating an immediate withdrawal, Kesselring literally and metaphorically held his ground. There was no need to withdraw and in any case, as he told von Senger und Etterlin ‘the present line is shorter and therefore more economical, than a line running directly in front of the gates of Rome straight across Italy.’ Kesselring was not minded to act as the Allies wanted him to and was determined to regain the initiative. First he would build up a critical mass of troops, and then he would push the Allies back into the sea. The American historian Carlo D’Este has written: ‘Kesselring symbolised the German defense of Italy, and he became the bedrock upon which it was built. Where others would have drawn the wrong conclusions and overreacted, Kesselring remained composed and was quite literally the glue that held the German Army in Italy together … Kesselring excelled in the art of improvisation, and Anzio may well have been his finest hour.’

John Lucas was feeling comfortable that evening. Reading the reports that were coming through to the Biscayne it was apparent that the divisions were secure and were not under any immediate threat. By the end of the day, as British Guards officers played bridge and slept in their pyjamas, Lucas read with quiet satisfaction that 36,000 men and 3,000 vehicles had been landed. Casualties had been very light – 13 killed, 97 wounded and 44 captured or missing, and the defending panzer grenadiers had been dealt with clinically, producing 227 prisoners. He was also pleased to hear during the afternoon that the port had been opened after the navy had pulled away the hulks of sunken vessels and swept the harbour. As a result of this unexpected speed, supplies were flowing ashore far quicker than anticipated, allowing British vessels to land in Anzio rather than having to struggle with the sand bar. The beachhead was quiet. Exhausted after a trying day, Geoffrey Dormer, a First Lieutenant on the minesweeper HMS Hornpipe, noted in his diary:

D-Day Evening. Things have been very quiet, and it has been a lovely, calm, sunny day, with almost cloudless blue skies. The multitude of ships off the beaches look more like a Review than an Invasion Fleet . . . There are a few columns of smoke rising from the shore, and now and then a dull thud. Sometimes a Cruiser does a bit of bombarding, or a few enemy planes approach.

To the troops on the ground, the beachhead had an ethereal quality to it. Lieutenant Ivor Talbot was in a foxhole close to the Mussolini Canal when he wrote in his diary that evening:

It has been a remarkable day. We landed at 0430 in the darkness and made our way inland. There were the inevitable pauses in our advance, but we were eventually told to dig in for the night. It is now 2200 and I am dog tired but must get round to the men before I sleep. All is quiet as it has been for most of the day. I was not expecting this and I think that I had expected to die. I think that we must be careful that we keep our concentration. The Germans will not allow us to remain here without a fight, but we seem to have won the first day.

Talbot was incorrect in his assessment of 22 January. The Allies had not ‘won the first day’. It had been a draw. What the young Lieutenant had not taken into account was the skilful German reaction to Operation Shingle for whilst the Allies were in an excellent position to develop and consolidate a strong beachhead in preparation for a breakout, Kesselring had successfully begun to build a counterattacking force intent on destroying it. Kesselring drew strength from the knowledge that his build up rate would increase significantly henceforward, whilst the Allies were not only dependent on supply from the sea, but were also under time pressure to link up the two disparate parts of Fifth Army. Lucas, meanwhile, felt confident that he could quickly establish an immovable force at Anzio-Nettuno and could rely on the support of powerful naval guns and airpower. By the end of the first day there were opportunities for both sides, and as such much depended on the actions over the coming days of two risk-averse commanders – John P. Lucas and Eberhard von Mackensen.

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Storming the “Halls of Montezuma”

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After the Mexican War battle of Churubusco on August 20, 1847, Mexico’s General Santa Anna tricked U.S. General Scott into two unfavorable maneuvers. First, he agreed to declare a truce to establish peace negotiations, but this was a ruse. Even while Santa Anna sold supplies to the American invaders, he quietly reinforced his army to 18,000 men while the American force was down to 8,000 effectives.

The second trick was passing false intelligence to Gen. Scott. Santa Anna led Scott to believe that at Molino del Ray, the stronghold west of Mexico City and one mile west of the Hill of Chapultepec, housed a cannon foundry where they were melting brass church bells into heavy cannon. The Americans attacked Molino, and it turned into a costly victory where 750 Americans were killed, and every remaining wounded American was murdered by the Mexicans. After inspection, Scott discovered that there was no foundry there. The heavy losses at Molino brought the six companies of U.S. Marines into battle.

Mexico City was a formidable target. Surrounded by marshes and with approaches via eight causeways, Scott faced obstacles similar to those Cortez had experienced 329 years earlier. Since the southern approach to the capital was heavily fortified, the American plan was to attack from the west at the two garitos or gates to the city. Each garito bristled with cannon positioned to rake the roadway. Scott’s line then was Molino, then Chapultepec, then the two gates leading into the city. One causeway was the Garita de Belen, another headed north two miles to the Garita de San Cosme.

The Hill of Chapultepec, 200 feet above the surrounding plain, was 600 yards wide, surrounded by a ditch and a 12-foot wall, and topped by a palace that had been made into a military school. It was fortified into a makeshift fortress as the Americans advanced on the capital.

The castle had once been a resort of the Aztec princes. The hill was steep all around except for a slope on the west where the Marines decided to attack. It had a sand-bag barricade at the entryway, and the hillside was mined with charges that were fused to be set off from the fortress.

Generals Scott and Worth regarded the fortress as impregnable. Even though it was vulnerable to American bombardment, both officers were grim on the prospect, and Gen. Worth thought, “we shall be defeated.” The hill was a fearsome objective to assault—but if taken, the army would then be able to move onto the causeways leading into the capital.

Two storming parties of 250 men each were assembled. The Marines were assigned to the 4th Division commanded by Army Brigadier General John Quitman, a Mississippian. The Americans moved out of the tree cover and faced the mined hillside that led to the retaining wall of the castle terrace.

At 8 a.m. on Monday, September 13, the attack began. Quitman’s men attacked the southern side of Chapultepec. Captain Silas Casey led an assault party of 120 hand-picked soldiers and Marines under Marine Major Levi Twiggs, and 40 Marines commanded by Marine Captain John Reynolds. They faced 1,000 Mexican troops inside the fortress.

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U.S. Marines storming Chapultepec castle under a large American flag.

The Halls of Montezuma

Chapultepec, also known as “the castle,” was an ancient Mexican shrine as well as a recent fortress. Three hundred years before the U.S. war, this had been the summer palace, replete with fountains, of Moctezuma, the Aztec emperor. In 1783, a Spanish viceroy built a new citadel on top of the ruins of the old palace. Surrounded by a huge retaining wall was a broad terrace that made for excellent cannon placement.

Around 1840, the Mexicans made this structure into their National Military Academy. Like at West Point, the young cadets learned military arts in their gray uniforms and tasseled blue caps. About one hundred of the cadets, though ordered to evacuate their school, stayed on and proudly fought to defend this memorial to Mexican history.

Six cadets became the boy heroes of Chapultepec. Those who died were: Vicente Suarez, age 13; Francisco Marquez, 14; Fernando Montes de Ora, 17; Agustin Melgar, 18; Juan de la Barrera, 20; and Juan Escutia, 20.

Cadet Escutia reportedly took the Academy flag from its staff, wrapped it around his body, and valiantly plunged to his death on the rocks below the castle rather than see the flag surrendered to the Americans.

 

Two of Chapultepec’s guns were soon disabled by American battery fire, and the disheartened Mexican soldiers began to desert. From the terrace came a murderous rain of grapeshot and musketry. General Pillow was struck in the ankle, but the whole American force flowed over the redoubt. The Americans were able to cut the canvas powder line that led to the mines and none exploded.

The Marines struggled up the steep southern side, fighting hand-to-hand with bayonets and clubbed rifles. Corporal Hugh Graham and five Marines were killed.

Casey and Twiggs fell wounded, the latter fatally, and they stopped 200 yards short of the guns. Scaling ladders finally reached the Americans. They bridged the ditch and their first wave was mowed down by the Mexicans. So many ladders rose, seemingly at once, that 50 men were up abreast. “And with a shout of victory, the great body of troops rushed over” the walls and gained the castle.

The Americans turned the Mexican guns around, relieving the pressure on Quitman’s column. The Mexicans fell back and the Americans charged the castle’s main gates. The Mexicans fled so hastily that they “jumped down the eastern side of the rock, regardless of the height.”

The young cadets who had refused to desert the school fought to the end. The six boys were killed, as an American correspondent put it, “fighting like demons.” They were to be called Los Ninos Heroicos—the heroic children.

Mexican officers watching their defeat from a distance said, “God is a Yankee,” as Americans from both sides reached the castle. At 9:30 a.m., an American flag was raised over the fortress.

Marine Captain George Terrett led First Lieutenant John Simms, Second Lieutenant Charles Henderson (son of the Commandant), and 36 men to skirt the heights and pursue the retreating enemy northeasterly towards the city itself. Terrett and his Marines raced up the road under heavy fire. Twenty infantry, led by Lieutenant Ulysses S. Grant, the future General and American President, joined them as they fought their way up the San Cosme causeway. They were the spearhead of the army contingent.

Casualties were severe until the Americans remembered the tactic they used at Monterey—breaking their way through the walls of buildings and hauling their guns through them. This tactic also enabled them to fire from the roofs.

General Worth’s bugles sounded recall. Terrett went back to report, but Simms and Henderson attacked with 85 men. The gate was too heavily defended to rely on a frontal assault alone, so Marine Lieutenants Simms and Jabez Rich led seven marines to attack from the left. Four were hit. Henderson, wounded in the leg, attacked from the front. Two more men were hit, but together, the two groups seized San Cosme gate as darkness fell.

Worth again sounded recall and the Marines and soldiers withdrew. Six Marines had been killed. Once Chapultepec fell, Quitman moved his division under fire east on the Belen causeway with the Marine battalion right behind a South Carolina regiment. At the Belen gate, they were stopped by enemy fire and Marine Private Tom Kelly was killed. Finally, at 1:20 p.m., the Marines and infantry carried the gate. At dawn on the 14th, Quitman and Worth prepared to assault the city through the two entrances—but Santa Anna had already pulled out.

Though Scott was angry at Quitman for the costliness of his attack on Belen, he felt the Mississippian and his Marines had earned the honor of formally taking the city. Within hours, he would appoint Quitman Mexico City’s military governor.

The Americans hardly looked the part of a conquering army. The victorious General Quitman wore only one shoe as he marched at the head of his ragged, blood-stained troops. Only about six thousand Americans remained on their feet—little more than half of those who had left Puebla.

Quitman’s men walked through the crowded streets into the Grand Plaza and took the National Plaza, where before had stood the halls of Montezuma. The Marines were stationed to guard the Palace. The U.S. Marines were now patrolling the halls of Montezuma. In the spring, the veterans were joined by a new 2nd Marine battalion of 367 men commanded by Major John Harris.

On February 2, 1848, the Mexicans accepted peace as the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo was signed. Even though the U.S. was victorious, they agreed to pay Mexico 15 million dollars in cash for the land they coveted. Mexico had lost half her territory—an area larger than France and Germany combined. The American boundary with Mexico would run from the Gulf of Mexico, up the Rio Grande, to the New Mexican border. Then it would continue west to the Pacific at a point one league, or three miles, south of San Diego.

The outspoken Duke of Wellington called Gen. Scott “the greatest living soldier.” It had been Scott’s flexibility and imagination, his attention to reconnaissance, and his tendency to strike from an unexpected side that supplied the tactics that won the war. In addition, he had the support of solid officers like Thomas (later Stonewall) Jackson, Robert E. Lee, U.S. Grant, P.T. Beauregard and Jefferson Davis. Only 13 years later, all of these men would become major players in the American Civil War.

With this victory, the expansion of the continental United States from coast to coast was now complete. And, in addition to Mexico, the Marines had also captured the opening words to their future Marine Hymn.

Fighting Pirates at Quallah Battoo

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Quallah Battoo Artist: Colonel Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR

Less than ten degrees north of the equator, on the island of Sumatra, lies the rich pepper-growing region of Acheh. Beginning in the 1790s, New England trading ships would stop along the island’s western coast to exchange Spanish silver for the spice, needed not only to flavor and preserve food, but for the lucrative trans-Atlantic trade with Europe.

American ships, based primarily in Salem, had made nearly a thousand voyages carrying away 370 million pounds of pepper worth 17 million dollars at wholesale—almost half the pepper produced in Acheh during this period. A pound of pepper then sold for $13.

The American ships were faster, and the Dutch and British disliked their competition in this lucrative business. They pressured the Sultan of Acheh, Muhammed Shaw, to detain American ships in violation of trading laws. The British went so far as to try to entirely exclude American trade from Acheh. It is unclear how much of the piracy on American ships was pure robbery and how much was influenced by the colonial power games of the period.

In January 1831, one of these American merchant vessels—the Friendship—dropped anchor off the Sumatran town of Quallah Battoo to take on a load of pepper. A band of Malay pirates in three proas, or ships, boarded the Friendship, murdered a large part of the crew, looted the cargo and drove the craft ashore. Their plunder included four chests of opium which was used in medicine, and 18,000 Spanish dollars.

The Malay pirate fleets along the Straits of Malaka were considered the “Vikings of the East.” Their proas were 50 feet long, fast, and nimble, using both oars and light sails, and were armed with swivel guns mounted on bulkheads. The pirates, dressed in scarlet and chain-mail, brandished krises—a sword with a wavy blade—two-handed swords, and flintlocks. They were famous for either murdering every soul on board, or selling the few survivors to slavery.

The Captain of the Friendship, Charles Endicott, had been ashore during the attack. When he made a complaint to the local chieftain, Mahomet, insult was added to injury for Mahomet then put a price on the head of both the Captain and his officers. With the help of a friendly native chief, Po Adam, Endicott enlisted the help of three other merchant captains who agreed to help him recover his vessel. Although the ship was recaptured and returned, her owners sent a vigorous protest to President Andrew Jackson demanding retribution.

President Jackson declared that “a daring outrage” had been committed on the seas of the East Indies involving the “plunder” of one of its merchantmen engaged in the pepper trade at a port in Sumatra. There appeared to be no room for diplomatic action, as Jackson believed that “the piratical perpetrators belonged to tribes in such a state of society that the usual course of proceedings between civilized nations cannot be pursued. I forthwith dispatched a frigate with orders to require immediate satisfaction for the injury and indemnity to the sufferers.”

At New York, the frigate Potomac, equipped with forty-two 32-pounder cannon, was rigged and ready to sail for the punitive expedition. The frigate had orders to “inflict chastisement” and carried a detachment of Marines and three detachments of seamen under Commodore Downes to punish the natives for their treachery.

Originally under orders to proceed to China via Cape Horn and the Pacific, the Potomac’s route was changed to the Cape of Good Hope and the Indian Ocean as a result of the protest by the Friendship’s owners and the outcry from the general public. On Feb. 5, after sailing for five months, the Potomac, disguised as a Danish East Indiaman, anchored five miles off Quallah Battoo.

At 2 a.m. the next day, 282 Marines and sailors embarked on the ship’s boats and hit the beach for the attack. Divided into groups, the men were assigned to each of the four forts guarding the town. At dawn, the column led by Marine Lieutenants Alvin Edson and George Terrett moved forward. The Marines heading for Tuko de Lima nestled in the jungle behind the town.

Within minutes of the Marine approach, the Malays were alerted and the fighting became intense. The enemy met the Marines with cannon, muskets and blunderbusses (early shotguns). Charging forward, the Marines’ “superior discipline and ardor seemed fully to compensate for their want of numbers.” They broke through the outer walls, blew up the stockade gate, and captured the fort. Edson, with a small guard, pushed through the town to join in the attack on the remaining fort.

As smoke from the other forts drifted overhead, Edson, his Marines, and a detachment of sailors smashed through the bamboo walls of Duramond’s fort and engaged the kris-wielding Malays. Dressed in full blue uniform, Lt. Edson parried the lunge of a defender with his Mameluke sword while a Marine at his side parried with his bayonet. In this hand-to-hand combat with the Marines, the Malays fought to the death. Within minutes, the fort was taken, with only a few Malays left to flee into the jungle.

With the forts dismantled, the town ablaze, a few Malays hiding in the jungle, and the surf rising, the Marines and sailors were recalled. Over 150 Malay pirates, including Mahomet, were killed, with the Americans suffering just one sailor and two Marines killed and 11 wounded.

This successful attack would deter the Malays and others from similar aggressions for quite some time. In addition to their skill with cold steel, the Americans had emerged victorious due to their long-range, light-caliber cannon and their ability to deliver rapid rifle fire.

Under cover of a Marine guard, the boats embarked for the Potomac. Later in the day, all hands gathered on deck to witness the burial of their three shipmates killed in the attack.

Other rajas from nearby states sent delegations to the ship pleading that Downes spare them from the same fate they had suffered at Quallah Battoo. Downes informed them that if any American ships were attacked again, the same treatment would be given to the perpetrators.

The next morning, the Potomac moved within a mile of Quallah Battoo, ran out her long 32-pounder cannon and bombarded the town, killing another 300 natives before raising sail and heading for sea. This was the first-ever official U.S. military intervention in Asia. This was the second time—after Tripoli—that the Marines had been called in to protect American business and retaliate for the murder of American citizens.

It is interesting to note that 180 years later, American forces are once again engaged in similar situations with modern-day pirates off the coast of Somalia.

Heroic Stand at Bladensburg

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The Final Stand at Bladensburg Artist: Colonel Charles H. Waterhouse, USMCR

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The defense of Washington was a shameful affair. It was the most serious defeat of American arms ever experienced. The army had broken and fled, but Barney’s men and Marines, even though overrun, had held their ground to heroic glory. The Marines had eight killed and 14 wounded. Miller and Sevier were brevetted majors. The Americans lost 26 killed and 51 wounded. The British attackers lost 500 killed and wounded.

By June of 1814, the British had been blockading the American coast for 18 months. With 4,000 regulars, Royal Marines, and negroes bribed with promises of freedom, they were also poised to invade Washington. The British commander, Vice Admiral Cochrane, was being urged by Sir George Prevost, Governor General of Canada, to burn the city in retaliation for the Americans’ burning of Canadian Parliament buildings in York and for the burning of Newark.

The Navy ordered Commandant Wharton to raise a battalion of Marines to help protect the Chesapeake Bay from incursion; President Madison assigned Brigadier General Winder to lead a composite force of infantry, state militia and volunteer riflemen to defend Washington and; Commandant Joshua Barney, a tough, 54-year-old Revolutionary War veteran was assigned to the naval defense.

In June, Barney found himself still blockaded after a number of skirmishes with the 21-ship British fleet up the Patuxent River. The Marines under Captain Sam Miller had cooperated with Barney, supplying artillery fire from the shore, but he was unable to break through.

The British entered the Patuxent River on August 17, and two days later landed unopposed at Benedict, Maryland. Barney, outflanked and outmaneuvered by 40 British barges, had blown up his flotilla of 13 gun barges. The British started their 40-mile march to Washington.

Barney and his flotilla men joined Winder’s men. Capt. Miller, with 110 Marines from the Washington Navy Yard, along with five artillery pieces, also joined them. The Marines now had two 18-pounders and three 12-pounders.

On Wednesday the 24th, the British approached Bladensburg four miles northeast of Washington at a bridge that crossed the eastern Potomac. Earlier, Gen. Winder had thought the British would attack Washington from the east in combination with their fleet passing Fort Washington south of the city.

Winder marched out of Washington and ordered Barney—much to Barney’s disgust—to stay behind and guard the Eastern Branch Bridge (now the Sousa Bridge). At the bridge, Barney was able to personally complain to President Madison and had his orders changed. This was the only American battle where the President and his cabinet—the Attorney General, the Secretary of War, and Secretary of State—were all on the battlefield. The bridge was blown and Barney, his sailors, and Marines with their artillery, marched to the battle.

With the temperature at 100 degrees, the Americans were drawn up in three lines on the Washington side of the Potomac. The first line to encounter the advancing British were riflemen under Major Pinkney and two companies of militia under Captains Ducher and Gorsuch, and Captains Myers and Richard Magruder with 100 artillerymen and six 6-pounders from Baltimore.

The second line was composed of Bruch’s artillery and Sterett’s 1,350 men from the 5th Baltimore Volunteer Regiment under Lieutenant Colonels Ragan and Schutz.

The 3rd line—the heaviest—was made up of 1,200 men from a regiment of Maryland militia under Colonel Beall and 300 district militia from the 12th, 36th and 38th under Colonel Magruder (not to be confused with the junior officer, Captain Magruder from Baltimore). The center was held by Barney’s flotilla men and the Marines’ battery along with Scott and Peter’s battery. Brent, with the 2nd Regt. of Smith’s brigade and Waring’s battalion of Maryland militia, were posted behind Peter’s battery. A total of 7,000 men and 26 cannon were set to receive the British attack but of these, only 900 were enlisted men; the rest were untried militia.

Barney positioned his 500 flotilla men in the center, on a rise commanding the bridge and the road along which the British would come. On his right were 114 Marines and 370 sailors, all serving as infantry. Barney commanded the guns and Marine Captains Miller and Alex Sevier supervised the infantry.

The British crossed the bridge under heavy American fire and then retreated. They attacked again and took heavy casualties from American cannon. The American riflemen with their Pennsylvania rifles poured a deadly fire—but the British were continually being reinforced by more brigades joining the fray.

The Americans fell back to the 2nd line. The Yankees charged with the bayonet and once again pushed the British back. Then another British brigade came on line, turned the American left flank and started their rocket attack on the untrained militia. Ragan and Schutz’ men were frightened by the rockets and fled. The 2nd line collapsed and now the British took on the 3rd line.

Barney’s fire had a terrible effect on the redcoats. When the British moved to hit their right flank, they met Miller’s Marine fire from the 12-pounders. The U.S. Marines were well trained in handling the great guns and wreaked havoc upon the enemy. The British were cut up, losing several officers including Colonel Thorton, who was severely wounded, and General Ross, who had his horse shot from under him. The Marines were obstinate and maintained their position against fearful odds.

Because they were heavily outnumbered, the Americans charged Navy-style. With the shout, “Repel boarders,” the Marines attacked with bayonets and the Navy with cutlasses. The charge broke two British regiments, but the British light infantry took both of the Marines’ flanks, wounding Barney severely and killing his horse. Miller was down, badly wounded in the arm and out of action. The British flanked wide, forded the river, cut through the militia and overran the Americans. The American militia had failed to stand their ground because of a rumor launched by the British that the negroes had risen up on the day of the battle to fight for their freedom—the additional worry that their homes and families were in danger being more than they could bear. The Navy flotilla men stood their ground, retired in order, and left their dead and wounded. Both Barney and Miller were captured. The battle was over in four hours, and Gen. Winder was forced to order a general retreat.

The American lines with their troop dispositions would almost certainly have been competent to roll back the invasion except for the interference of the President and his cabinet. James Monroe, the Secretary of State, was credited with the American defeat after he moved the 2nd line a quarter-mile to the rear against Gen. Winder’s wishes. This movement caused the 1st line to be unsupported, and exposed the 2nd line to rocket fire. This fickle civilian interference with Army decisions was seen again in Vietnam 152 years later.

The defense of Washington was a shameful affair. It was the most serious defeat of American arms ever experienced. The army had broken and fled, but Barney’s men and Marines, even though overrun, had held their ground to heroic glory. The Marines had eight killed and 14 wounded. Miller and Sevier were brevetted majors. The Americans lost 26 killed and 51 wounded. The British attackers lost 500 killed and wounded.

Word got out to the Washington city inhabitants that “the British were coming,” and 8,500 citizens began a sudden and confused exodus. The government, the Army, and even the Commandant of the Marine Corps fled the city. The national records and Army records were put in linen bags and taken to Leesburg, Virginia. Commandant Wharton took Captain Crabb and the Marine Barracks guard to Frederick, Maryland. The Marines guarded the paymaster whose flight from Washington scandalized the Corps.

That evening, the British marched six miles into Washington. Reduced to a pillaging party of 200 torch bearers, they entered the city of 900 buildings like barbarians. Admiral Sir George Cochrane delighted in torching cities and thirsted for plunder but thought Washington would pay a ransom to save the city from destruction. Ross sent an agent to discuss the ransom, but no one was there to negotiate with him. So the torches were lit.

The British burned some private buildings: The National Intelligencer, an anti-British newspaper; a rope-walk; and a tavern among them. Any house that fired a shot at the column was destroyed, just as had been done by Napoleon in Moscow. Ross’ horse was killed in one such attack. After two nights in Washington, the British burned most of the public buildings: the unfinished Capitol, the Library of Congress, the Treasury buildings, the Arsenal, the barracks for 3,000 troops, and the President’s house. The White House got its title later when the blackened building was whitewashed to cover up the scorch marks. In all, a total of two million dollars worth of property had been destroyed. Only the Patent Office was spared. Also burned were national shipping stores and buildings at the Navy Yard totaling one million dollars.

The British enacted martial law over the Washingtonians who had to remain indoors from sunset to sunrise under pain of death. At the Navy Yard, the Americans hid a quantity of powder and shot in a well. One British soldier peeking in the well with a match blew the place up, along with an adjacent powder magazine, killing 12 British and wounding 30. The light of the fired city was seen 40 miles away in Baltimore.

Supposedly, the Marine Barracks at Eighth and I Street was spared by the British because of the heroic U.S. Marine stand at Bladensburg, though some historians dispute this account.

The British would have burned more of the city save for a tornado and lightning storm that actually killed British soldiers and drove them off to their ships. Many believed this was divine intervention. It did seem as though God wanted democracy to prevail.

Houses were unroofed and the enemy left they way they had come, through Bladensburg. They left their dead on the battlefield and gave 90 of their wounded to Barney’s men for care. They embarked at Benedict and three days later attacked Alexandria, Virginia.

The British had no intention of holding Washington. Their reason for staying in the U.S. was to invade Louisiana and take possession of the Mississippi valley. England and Spain both intensely disapproved of the Louisiana Purchase by the U.S. From Napoleon—so when the British attacked New Orleans, a cadre of civil servants came along with the British army to rule over the coveted territory.

The Battle of Bladensburg left little to celebrate—but Dolly Madison, the First Lady, did manage to save some of America’s national treasures, most notably George Washington’s famous portrait. The heroic stand of the Marines and Navy had allowed precious time for the removal of American documents to safety, including the Declaration of Independence.

Alexander’s Plan Operation Shingle

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Operation Shingle was a daring plan of Alexander’s to land troops on the beaches of Anzio, in the rear of the Gustav Line and only 20 miles south of Rome, thus it was hoped forcing the enemy to abandon first one and then the other. On closer investigation in December 1943, the fear that the beachhead could not link up with the Allied armies further south meant that Eisenhower tried to shelve the operation, but it was revived once he had left the Mediterranean command. On 6 January 1944 the Prime Minister tried to persuade Brooke to fly out to visit him in Marrakesh, where he was recovering from pneumonia, saying, ‘We must get this Shingle business settled, especially in view of the repercussions of the new proposals about Anvil which will certainly make the US Chiefs of Staff Committee stare.’

Because the Germans had fiercely defended the Gustav Line that winter, Anvil started to resemble not an associated but a rival operation to the Anzio attack, to both Churchill’s and Brooke’s chagrin as they had never thought its strategic value matched the investment it would require. Although Brooke did not fly out, Bedell Smith, Alexander and Maitland Wilson all conferred with Churchill in early January, and Shingle was resuscitated, in conjunction with an attempt to smash through the Gustav Line to the Liri Valley, which led to Rome. (On his return from Marrakesh, Churchill insisted that a Customs official came to Downing Street in order to assess the duty on everything he had brought home; Lawrence Burgis saw the cheque duly made out to HM Customs and Excise.)

Marshall later acknowledged that the struggles over the size, composition and timing of Operation Anvil had constituted ‘a bitter and unremitting fight with the British right up to the launching’. The mutual suspicion was evident at the time, and even in 1949, when Marshall was asked by Pentagon historians whether the British had attempted to use Anvil in order to secure additional resources for the Mediterranean theatre, ‘although they never seriously considered actually invading Southern France’, he replied that ‘this was the case’ and ‘that’s what the British always were doing.’

As Eisenhower’s Planners in London increased the number of divisions needed in the initial Overlord assault from three to five, so pressure mounted for extra landing craft and naval assault vessels to come from the Mediterranean. Montgomery and Bedell Smith, who both worked under Eisenhower, agreed in early January that Anvil would be greatly reduced in size as a result. Eisenhower, who like Marshall saw Anvil as an important concomitant to Overlord which would hopefully draw away German troops from northern France, complained vociferously to Washington on 17 January, saying that at Teheran the Combined Chiefs of Staff ‘definitely assured the Russians that Anvil would take place’. Since French, British and American troops ‘cannot profitably be used in decisive fashion in Italy’, Anvil must go ahead, although he accepted that it had to be postponed until early June, to coincide with the new date for Overlord.

Both Churchill and Brooke believed that Allied troops could be used more profitably in Italy than on the French Riviera; the scene was thus set for another titanic clash between Marshall and Brooke, and not one in which Marshall would this time accept compromise, not least because January 1944 was the first month of the war when more American than British Commonwealth troops were engaged fighting Germans in the European theatre.

Yet not all Americans agreed with Marshall and Eisenhower. ‘The weakening of the campaign in Italy in order to invade Southern France, instead of pushing on into the Balkans, was one of the outstanding political mistakes of the war,’ wrote Mark Clark in his 1951 autobiography, Calculated Risk. His Fifth Army had been trying to break through the Gustav Line for several months, with mixed results.

I am firmly convinced that the French forces alone, with seven divisions available, could have captured Marseilles, protected Eisenhower’s southern flank, and advanced up the Rhone Valley to join hands with the main Overlord forces. The American VI Corps, with its three divisions, could then have remained in Italy…and we could have advanced into the Balkans.

The very mention of an Allied offensive in the Balkans, which Churchill saw as the natural next step after the Germans were expelled from northern Italy, was anathema to Marshall. Michael Howard believes that minds in the OPD were completely closed over the Balkans, ‘with its overtones of European subtlety and intrigue’.10 They also suspected British neo-imperialist designs there, rather as they did in the Far East, however absurd that might have been for the area north-east of the Adriatic Sea in the mid-1940s.

Where did Roosevelt stand? In October and November 1943, the US Planners feared that Overlord might be lost altogether because the President seemed to be interested in Churchill’s ideas about the Balkans. ‘We were always scared to death of Mr Roosevelt on the Balkans,’ Marshall told Pogue frankly in 1956. ‘Apparently he was with us, but we couldn’t bet on it at all.’11 There was always the possibility that the President might do over the Balkans in late 1943 what he had done over North Africa in the summer of 1942. It is clear from a telegram Churchill sent Roosevelt in late June 1944–‘Please remember how you spoke to me at Teheran about Istria’–that the two men had been at the very least ‘shooting the breeze’ together about a Balkan campaign. As for Brooke, after the war he wrote of the Americans, ‘At times I think that they imagined I supported Winston’s Balkan ambitions, which was far from being the case. Anyhow the Balkan ghost in the cupboard made my road none the easier in leading the Americans by the hand through Italy!’12 In fact Brooke had on occasion supported a Balkan campaign, whatever his later protestations.

The Anzio landings of the Allied VI Corps on Saturday 22 January 1944–initially comprising one British and one American division–might have succeeded had its American commander Major-General John Lucas got inland fast enough to capture the Alban Hills just south of Rome. He had come ashore with minimal opposition because the Germans had sent two reserve divisions from the Rome area to reinforce the Gustav Line, but he decided to get reserves, equipment and supplies ashore first, which proved a costly mistake. Kesselring despatched troops from central Italy to protect Rome, and then further reinforcements from France, Germany and Yugoslavia hemmed VI Corps into a beachhead of only 8 miles, which was defended gallantly for the next four months as Clark fought northwards to relieve it.

‘If we succeed in dealing with this business down there,’ Hitler told Warlimont, ‘there will be no further landings anywhere.’13 The Führer sent Eberhard von Mackensen’s Fourteenth Army, with its crack panzer, panzer-grenadier and paratroop units, to try to destroy the Allied beachhead, leaving the Tenth Army to hold the Gustav Line. The battlegrounds of Anzio and Monte Cassino were constantly reinforced by Hitler in early spring 1944, thereby denuding himself of divisions that he would need to deal with Overlord three months later. Marshall could not understand why Hitler did not merely withdraw his forces to the impregnable Alps, but it was evident from Ultra decrypts that he wanted to defend every inch of Italy instead.

This was Brooke’s plan for Italy, and disproves Basil Liddell Hart’s theory that it was the Germans who successfully diverted the Allies in Italy rather than the other way around. Throughout 1944, from nineteen to twenty-three German divisions–one-seventh of the entire Wehrmacht–were stationed in Italy, unable to operate in Normandy. In 1943, a full one-third of all Luftwaffe losses were sustained in the Mediterranean theatre, and in all the Italian campaign was to cost the Germans 536,000 casualties against 312,000 Allied.14 It was far harder to supply the Allies, of course, but the campaign was well worth undertaking in its earliest stages. It certainly tied down far more Germans than Anvil ever could have. The problem was that once committed emotionally–and in Churchill’s case chauvinistically–the British carried on fighting for objectives far removed from the central one that had taken them there in the first place.

According to Beaverbrook, who was lord privy seal at the time and had good access to his friend the Prime Minister, Anzio was ‘definitely an attempt to re-open the Mediterranean theatre in the hope that such progress might be made there that the Americans could be persuaded to delay D-Day until it would be little more than a mopping-up operation’.15 He claimed that at Marrakesh Churchill had been talking in terms of ‘driving the Germans headlong over the Alps and capturing Vienna’. It is most unlikely that Churchill referred to Overlord as a mere mopping-up operation, however, a phrase which smacks of Beaverbrook’s ex post facto rationalizations in favour of an early Second Front, of which he had been a chief advocate. For all that, Churchill did write a minute on 25 January saying that it was ‘very unwise to make plans on the basis of Hitler being defeated in 1944. The possibility of his gaining a victory in France cannot be excluded.’

It was not long before the failure of the break-out at Anzio became apparent, along with the failure of the Allied forces in the south to link up with the beachhead. On sending Roosevelt birthday greetings on 27 January, Marshall said: ‘I anticipate some very hard knocks, but I think these will not be fatal to our hopes, rather the inevitable stumbles on a most difficult course.’16 The next day Eden, after he had attended a Staff Conference, noted that ‘Our offensive seems to have lost its momentum.’ When Churchill suspected that he was going to get into a row with the Chiefs of Staff, he used to invite Eden along to give moral support. Even when the Foreign Secretary was recuperating from a cold, sore throat or insomnia at Binderton, he always turned up. Since Churchill had been ill at Marrakesh for as long as a fortnight over the New Year, and Eden was prime-minister-in-waiting, it was a sensible precaution.

On Monday 31 January 1944 Churchill told the War Cabinet of:

Serious disaffection about the Anzio landings. First phase has not yielded brilliant results…German offensive started. Great disappointment so far…Remarkable limitations of air, unable to prevent enemy from flinging his troops from one Front to another…A great opportunity has been lost, but may be regained…We have got a lot to learn in the way of seizing opportunities before we can beat these people.

On the first of twenty days of strong German attacks on the Anzio beachhead, Marshall wrote ‘For Eisenhower’s eyes only’ from Washington: ‘Count up all the divisions that will be in the Mediterranean, including two newly arrived US divisions, consider the requirements in Italy in view of the mountain masses north of Rome, and then consider what influence on your problem a sizeable number of divisions heavily engaged or advancing rapidly in southern France will have on Overlord.’ The fact that there were also the mountains of the Massif Central north of Provence was not mentioned. Instead Marshall concluded: ‘I will use my influence here to agree with your desires. I merely wish to be certain that localitis is not developing and that the pressures on you have not warped your judgment.’ Localitis was cod-Latin for ‘going native’, and since Marshall’s ‘influence’ in Washington was of course enormous, he was effectively advising Eisenhower to stick to his pro-Anvil, anti-Italy position and promising that, if he did, all would be well against Churchill and Brooke.

Eisenhower could not leave the localitis accusation hanging, and replied the next day to say that, although the British were opposed to Anvil, he had to compromise occasionally as part of a coalition. Nonetheless, ‘So far as I am aware, no one here has tried to urge me to present any particular view, nor do I believe that I am particularly affected by localitis.’ That Marshall was indeed worried about pressure being put on Eisenhower by Brooke, and more particularly by Churchill, was spectacularly demonstrated the following month at Malta.

On the same day that Marshall wrote to Eisenhower, Sir John Dill told Brooke that he had been ‘in and out of Marshall’s room lately trying to get him to see your point of view regarding Anvil–Overlord and trying to get his point of view’. He reported that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had delegated their power to Eisenhower on this issue and were ‘engaged in a great battle regarding Pacific strategy’, which boiled down to ‘King in particular v. the Rest’. Dill believed that Marshall was ‘somewhat afraid that some of their higher commanders had failed in Italy’, doubtless meaning Lucas, who was replaced shortly afterwards, but possibly also Clark, whose progress was painfully slow. Over the post-war occupation zones for Germany, Dill told Brooke that it was, ‘of course, the President who won’t play. The better I get to know that man the more superficial and selfish I think him. That is for your eye alone as of course it is my job to make the most and best of him.’ As for Admiral King, Dill believed ‘his war with the US Army is as bitter as his war with us’.

On Thursday 10 February, Brooke lunched at the Fleet Street offices of the Daily Telegraph with its proprietor Lord Camrose, as well as the National Labour MP and BBC Governor Harold Nicolson and Lord Ashfield, chairman of the London Passenger Transport Board. Teased about the Anzio reversals by Camrose as he entered–‘Well, what about the bridgehead?’–an irritated Brooke poured himself ‘a sulky glass of sherry’ and said, ‘It’s difficult to judge such matters at this distance.’ Nicolson recorded that after they had taken some claret in the dining room, ‘things brighten up, and a slow flush spreads over the handsome face of the CIGS.’ Brooke said that he had first noticed that ‘Winston was on the verge of a great illness’ at Cairo, when he seemed more interested in swatting flies than in listening to him, and ‘then they had great difficulty in preventing him leaving for Italy and were almost relieved when he developed fever.’

Salerno Landings

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On September 7, 1943, the Germans sent the alert for Plan Achse—the takeover of Italy. On that day General von Senger arrived in Sardinia with secret orders to prepare for the German evacuation of the islands so they would not lose the 90th Panzer Grenadier Division, which was occupying them, and waiting for Allied attack. Also involved would be the evacuation of Corsica by the SS Reichsführer Brigade. So the 90th withdrew to Corsica that next day. But, there, the Italians refused to cooperate with the Germans, and the French community rose up in rebellion and von Senger had to fight a withdrawal action to a bridgehead at Bastia from which he organized an evacuation during the last two weeks of September. On September 20, French General Henri-Honoré Giraud arrived on Corsica with Free French soldiers, and the Germans had to fight them as well. It was October 30 before von Senger managed to get away from Corsica with his rear guard. So, as the battle for Italy began, two of the option targets for action in the Mediterranean were also falling to the Allies.

As soon as it had been made clear that the Italian fleet was going to surrender as called for in the agreement between the Italian government and the Allies, Admiral Cunningham had released the 12th Cruiser Squadron to pick up the British 1st Airborne Division for the attack on the naval base at Taranto, called “Operation Slapstick.” The paratroopers were embarked, and on September 8, as the Allied forces moved in on Salerno, the paratroopers were at sea. They arrived on the following day, and landed unopposed. There was one casualty: the minelayer Abidel, loaded with paratroopers, hit a mine while anchoring. She exploded, with heavy loss of life.

As the Allied convoys approached Salerno on the night of September 8, the sea was calm and the night was clear. The American and British troops suffered none of the usual tension the night before an invasion. It would be, as the cockneys liked to say, “a piece of cake.” The announcement of the Italian surrender was in the air, and anyone who had been in Sicily could only too easily recall the sensation of being greeted as conquering heroes by the people of Sicily. The troops were arriving in an almost festive air.

The minesweepers came in and did their job without arousing the troops on shore. The invasion fleets assembled in the landing areas. The ships of the fleets performed with much more precision than they had in the Sicily landings, the result of experience.

But there the dream ended. In the northern sector, the British were detected before they could get started into the landing craft. The shore batteries, manned by Germans who had just taken over from the Italians, opened fire with great accuracy on the ships carrying the Rangers and the Commandos. Five minutes after they landed, the destroyers in the British assault area opened an intensive 15-minute barrage of gun and rocket fire to support the landings. Fortunately, the commanders in the north had made contingency arrangements for full fire support. The British warships fired back on each coastal battery, and the supporting destroyers moved in behind the assault waves to give close-fire support. The Rangers and Commandos landed against light opposition and secured their objectives, with few accidents. One landing craft did land on the wrong beach, creating some confusion.

The troops on shore did not just walk in. The Commandos suffered some casualties but managed to hold their positions. The British 46th Infantry Division was fortunate to land away from any German strong points, but the 56th Infantry Division ran into heavy opposition. By the end of the day, the dream of an easy time had ended. Neither division had achieved its objectives and the 56th had suffered heavy losses. The port of Salerno was not far, but the 46th had not captured it. The 56th reached the edge of Montecorvino airfield but could not go any farther.

In the American sector, there was surprise; they received a hot welcome, not just a warm one. The beaches were silent as the landing craft went in, but when the men hit the beach, they were met by heavy fire from concealed positions. Much of the fire was too high to do much harm, but it soon steadied down and the losses began. After landing safely, on the extreme right, the 1st Battalion of the 141st Infantry Division began to work its way to the railroad station near the Solofrone River. But the third wave of boats met German fire so intense that it and the following waves were immobilized on the beach. The fact that no plan for fire support from the ships had been arranged was almost the undoing of the landing. The 3rd Battalion on Yellow Beach ran into German fire from the beginning, 400 yards from the shore.

Following are the words of the official U. S. Army historian describing the scene:

From the massive heights that loomed over all the beaches, and from Monta Sopprano in particular, came the flashes and sounds of the enemy fire. Flares of all colours illuminated the sky, while the crisscrossing tracers of machine guns flashed over the beaches, the heaviest concentrations coming from the right near Agropoli. Some boat pilots who judged the fire too strong for them to land their troops turned around and headed back toward the ships, until intercepted by control vessels and sent again to shore.

Landing craft foundered and some burned near the shore or drifted in the waves. Lost equipment floated on the surface and communications equipment was lost. Boats sank and men swam for the beach. As one mortar squad debarked, the gunner tripped on the ramp and dropped the mortar into the water. Machine-gun fire scattered that platoon, and the men who hit the shore joined whatever unit they were near. Some mortars came ashore without any ammunition. The Americans were finding this a much tougher landing than anything they had ever experienced before.

Casualties were very heavy but the 36th Infantry Division, a National Guard Unit, had been well trained and managed to win most of its D- Day objectives. By dusk, it was holding a narrow beachhead around the Roman ruins of Paestum.

The British and the Americans had met the German 16th Panzer Division, which had 17,000 men, 100 tanks, and 36 assault guns. At the end of the first day, it was apparent that the invasion was already in trouble. The Italians had been counted on for support by the Allies but had produced none. The Germans were very strong and could now concentrate all the weight of their Tenth Army against the U. S. Fifth Army before the British Eighth Army could come up from the south. The Americans still did not know it, but they were facing a numerically superior force, and one very skilled in the art of war.

Now one of the problems over which General Eisenhower had glissaded so easily arose to haunt the Allies: the serious shortage of shipping. The beachheads needed reinforcement immediately.

When dawn came on D plus one, the seriousness of the Allied position began to become apparent. They occupied two corners of the beach. Every action could be observed by the Germans on the hills around Salerno.

Shortly after dawn in the American sector, German tanks came into action working in small groups, supported by their infantry in platoon units. A lone tank reached the beach shortly after dawn and fired on the landing craft approaching. Antiaircraft guns on the LSTs and machine guns on the landing craft took the tank under fire and soon drove it off. Without any naval support fire, it was individual American infantrymen who kept the German tanks at bay in the south during these early hours. Corporal Roy C. Davis, a bazookaman, crawled under machine-gun bursts up the beach until he got to a point near a tank. With one round, he pierced the tank’s armor, then crept up to the disabled vehicle and thrust a grenade through the hole, killing the crew. Sergeant John Y. McGill jumped onto a tank and dropped a grenade through the open turret hatch. Even men without useful weapons helped. Private First Class Harry Harpel kept one group of tanks from reaching the beach by moving the loose planking of a bridge across an irrigation canal. These untried American troops moved with the efficiency of veterans.

But they were badly hampered by the lack of naval fire, and the American tanks, in particular, were disorganized and slow to get ashore. Many of the tanks did not get ashore until afternoon and some not until after nightfall. Six LSTs carrying tanks of the 191st Tank Battalion, moving toward Blue Beach at 6:30 in the morning, were hit by enemy shell fire; four received direct hits and one tank was burning. For five hours the LSTs circled aimlessly, and at 11:00 a. m. finally approached the shore. With neither artillery nor tanks in support during the first four hours, the infantry depended to a great extent on a few 40-mm antiaircraft guns that came ashore at daylight.

At the end of D Day, the Allied troops were ashore, with the British controlling the north entrance to the beaches; the Americans controlled the south. But the Germans controlled the center where Route 19 and Route 94 arrived at a gap in the hills and from which the Germans could bombard the beaches with their artillery and bring their tanks down when they wished.

So although the landings were an official success, they placed the troops in peril. Immediate reinforcement, which they could not get, was needed, as well as the speedy arrival of the Eighth Army from the south.

Almost from the beginning, General Alexander recognized the problem. He ordered the Eighth Army to race for Salerno even though Montgomery argued that to hurry was to take risks. Sometimes, said Alexander, even Montgomery had to take risks. Eighteen American LSTs, which had been assigned to other theaters, were still in African ports, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff ordered their release to build up the force at Salerno.

General von Vietinghoff now recognized his opportunity. If he could bring up reinforcements and destroy the Allied landings at Salerno, he could then turn his efforts against the Eighth Army in the south and destroy that force methodically. It was a race against time. The Germans had the advantage of proximity and numbers, and the use of rail and road transport to bring up their troops. Von Vietinghoff ordered General Herr, in the south, to break off contact with the Eighth Army and move the 76th Panzer Corps toward Salerno. The 26th Panzer Division and the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division were to leave only rear guard behind and move at its best speed over the 125 miles of mountain road to the beachhead. General Hube’s 14th Panzer Corps was ordered away from the Gulf of Gaeta to send the 15th Panzer Grenadier and the Hermann Goering Panzer Divisions south to block any advance of the Allies north to take Naples. Field Marshal Kesselring ordered General Student to release the 3rd Panzer Grenadier Division from Rome and asked the OKW for Field Marshal Rommel’s two Panzer divisions, a request that was denied, but still five divisions could come to the aid of the German troops at Salerno. That meant von Vietinghoff could move enough troops to have six divisions to contest the four that General Clark had available. The Allies had air superiority, but it was not very strong.

On the morning of September 10, the Americans landed part of their floating reserve: the 45th Infantry Division. Clark visited the beachhead and was pleased with the conditions in the 6th Corps area. He visited General McCreery and learned what resistance the British were meeting in the north. McCreery indicated it would be difficult for the British to advance to the point where they were to rendezvous with 6th Corps. So, Clark ordered reinforcements to the 10th Corps area in view of the preponderance of German strength located there. Clark was very optimistic. He told General Alexander that he expected to be able to attack north toward Naples. So favorable did the situation seem that the Northwest African Tactical Air Force proposed to reduce the fighter cover over the beaches. Just at this point the Germans were planning to step up their air attacks.

On September 10 and 11, both sides did their best to build up their forces and contain the enemy. The German effort was directed first against the British 10th Corps, which threatened Naples. The Commandos, Rangers, and the 46th Infantry Division were hit by the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division and the Hermann Goering Panzer Division. The 46th managed to capture Salerno, but the Germans had the high ground and kept the harbor under observation and fire.

The confusion between commands continued. The forces off Salerno saw that the number of Allied air sorties was decreasing and protested to the air force, but the air force saw that the air opposition over the beaches was light on September 9 and, thus, cut back the number of fighter sorties as the Germans were increasing theirs. On September 10, the number of Allied fighters was definitely decreased, as more Germans came in. By the 11th, American Admiral Hewitt radioed Eisenhower that the status of the beachhead was growing critical because of the lack of air support. He was told that the only help that was coming was from Admiral Philip Vian, commander of the carrier force.

The Germans continued to hold the Montecorvino airfield and stopped the 56th Infantry Division, which was trying to get to Monte Eboli. Because of the concentration of the Germans on the British 10th Corps, the American 6th Corps was left alone to expand its bridgehead and secure key points overlooking the Ponte Sele bridge. However, that left a huge gap between the British and the American forces, so Clark landed his floating reserve to fill it.

Ashore once again on September 11 Clark was impressed by the way German pressure was building against the British area in the Battapaglia area, where they had pushed into the outskirts of Vietri and were within 12 miles of Salerno. On that day the Germans had captured 1,500 prisoners, most of them in the British sector. That night American troops were moved into the gap between the two forces.

By this time the air situation was indeed serious. The Germans launched 450 sorties by fighters and bombers and 100 sorties by heavy bombers in the first three days of the battle; and they sank four transports, one heavy cruiser, and seven landing craft and made many hits on the Allied fleet. On September 11, a near miss damaged the cruiser Philadelphia, another damaged a Dutch gunboat, and a direct hit on the cruiser Savannah put it out of action. Admiral Hewitt had to declare his situation critical to Admiral Cunningham, who sent the cruisers Aurora and Penelope from Malta.

Clark came ashore again on September 12 and found the British 46th Infantry Division badly bruised and the German strength increasing and pointing toward the center of the beachhead. He had evidence that the Germans were preparing to launch an attack in the near future, and his forces were spread very thin.

After four days, the Allied beachhead was still dangerously shallow and the number of troops to man the perimeter was very small. Clark decided that day to bring his headquarters ashore, as a way to preserve and enhance troop morale.