You Can’t Get There from Here: The Inchon Story I

General MacArthur watching the Inchon Landing September 1950.

“When Inchon’s tides were at full ebb, the mud banks that had accumulated over the centuries from the Yellow Sea jutted from the shore in some places as far as two miles out into the harbor, and during ebb and flow these tides raced through ‘Flying Fish Channel,’ the best approach to the port, at speeds up to six knots. Even under the most favorable conditions, ‘Flying Fish Channel’ was narrow and winding. Not only did it make a perfect location for enemy mines, but also any ship sunk at a particularly vulnerable point could block the channel to all other ships.

The 28th of March 1949 was a melancholy day in the history of the Marine Corps—and no cause for rejoicing by the other services either. On that day Louis A. Johnson was sworn in as secretary of defense. The Corps had not been altogether pleased with James Forrestal, his predecessor, but it came to regard the Forrestal regime with nostalgia compared with the stewardship of Johnson.

An attorney who had been moderately successful in West Virginia politics, Johnson had formed a friendship with President Truman when the latter was in the Senate, based on their Army service in France in World War I and their association with the American Legion. Later he served as finance chairman for the Democratic National Committee. He was appointed to the Defense position with the understanding that economy was to be his watchword. At the time Truman was surfeited with the Navy and Marines, and Johnson’s appointment was preceded by a general understanding that the president wanted the two maritime services brought to heel. Johnson’s attitude is characterized by a conversation he had with Admiral Richard L. Connally shortly after his appointment:

Admiral [he said], the Navy is on its way out. There’s no reason for having a Navy and a Marine Corps. General Bradley tells me amphibious operations are a thing of the past. We’ll never have any more amphibious operations. That does away with the Marine Corps. And the Air Force can do anything the Navy can do, so that does away with the Navy.

President Truman was dissatisfied with the provisions of the National Security Act of 1947. Even with the 1949 amendments that created a JCS chairman and enlarged the functions of the secretary of defense, the modified law had still not gone far enough in concentrating military authority at the top, certainly not far enough to please Truman’s most trusted military advisor, General Marshall. On the basis of the 1949 changes, the president undertook to curb the Navy and Marine Corps through administrative and fiscal actions. This was what the new defense secretary was busy doing until war and Congress intervened.

The secretary had starved all of the services—and very nearly had killed the Marines—by a program of severe budget cuts. When he took office, Johnson found a very austere Marine Corps which included eleven infantry battalions and twenty-three aircraft squadrons. He decreed that in fiscal year 1950 the Corps’s fighting forces would be reduced to eight understrength battalions and twelve aircraft squadrons. For the fiscal year beginning in July 1951 he directed that the number of battalions be reduced yet again, to six. His aspirations were plain. He intended to diminish progressively the fighting units of the Corps and, ultimately, to transfer what remained to the Army and the Air Force.

Johnson’s plan, where Marine Corps aviation was concerned, was far advanced. In an off-the-record speech at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York, he declared that he was taking action to do away with Marine aviation and that papers to accomplish the Marines’ transfer to the Air Force were on his desk.

This was too much. Major General C. C. Jerome, a respected Marine aviator, alerted Representative Carl Vinson, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, a staunch Navy/Marine supporter, and a firm believer in the National Security Act in its original form. Vinson made short work of the heavy-handed secretary. He called Johnson to his office and delivered a lecture on those provisions of the National Security Act that expressly forbade such transfers of major combat functions. Then he obliged the secretary to write him a memorandum saying (albeit untruthfully) that no such step as transfer of Marine aviation to the Air Force was under contemplation and, in any event, that he would consult with the appropriate congressional committees before even considering an act of this sort.

Johnson worked his will on the Marines in other ways, however: in curtailment of appropriations for equipment, ammunition, supplies, and people, and through a policy of exclusion in various aspects of tactical training and planning. He approved the action of Admiral Forrest Sherman, the chief of naval operations, in assigning the bulk of the Navy’s amphibious ships to train the Army, thus precluding the Corps from practicing at its statutory specialty. And in strategic planning by the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Marines were allowed no part at all. Commandant Cates persuaded Navy Secretary John L. Sullivan to intercede, asking that the Marines be permitted to take part in JCS discussions when their interests or operational employment were involved. Sullivan, for his pains, received a rebuke from Johnson:

I cannot see any justification for giving the Commandant of the Marine Corps a special role not accorded to the chiefs of various other arms and services which are integral parts of the Army, Navy and Air Force.

This is another way of saying that Johnson saw the Marines on a par with the Army Nurse Corps or the Navy Bureau of Supplies and Accounts.

These were major matters, but the secretary was not above some pettiness too. He crossed the Marine commandant off the list of those Washington officials authorized a chauffeur and a limousine and off the list of service chiefs for whom a special gun salute was prescribed on ceremonial occasions. He forbade celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday. Small things, all, in the context of national security but a measure of the man nevertheless.

Taken all together, Johnson’s erosive actions where the Marines were concerned had an effect for which he has never really been brought to account. Largely through his actions, at the outset of the Korean conflict, the Fleet Marine Force, the expeditionary element of the Corps, was pitifully anemic, having shrunk from its World War II peak of more than 300,000 men to only 27,656. Of these, some 8,000 were serving in a greatly attenuated 1st Marine Division (war strength 22,000) at Camp Pendleton in California. Its companion 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, at only 3,700 men (war strength about 12,000) was at El Toro, forty miles away. Things were little better on the East Coast. The 2d Marine Division at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, had 9,000 men and its companion 2d Marine Aircraft Wing at Cherry Point a few miles distant had only 5,300.

In the basic combat units this pitifully small figure equated to three infantry battalions and three tactical aircraft squadrons on the West Coast and three infantry battalions and four tactical aircraft squadrons on the East Coast. All of these formations, plus units of supporting artillery, engineers, tanks, air control, and supply were gravely understrength. Despite the Johnson austerities, however, the Marines had managed to attain a respectable state of training. The officers and noncommissioned officers were professionals—many with World War II experience. Their air and ground equipment—almost all of World War II vintage—was often threadbare, but they had kept it in good repair.

At the time (1949–1950), I was in command of the 5th Marine Regiment at Camp Pendleton, California, the only infantry regiment in the 1st Marine Division. We felt the dead hand of starvation everywhere. War strength for the regiment was 3,900 men. We suffered along with 1,800. Each infantry battalion was short one of its three rifle companies, each of which had two instead of the prescribed three platoons. Artillery and other supporting elements were correspondingly reduced, and service troops had been even more severely curtailed. Training presented a real challenge because of the limitations on ammunition, repair parts, and gasoline. But there was nothing Louis Johnson could do to prevent us from maneuvering up and down the brown hills of the 120,000-acre Camp Pendleton reservation. Supported by 1st Marine Aircraft Wing planes (to the extent that they had fuel to fly), we trained at length and with much intensity. Indeed, we spent so much time in the field that the wife of one of my men reproved me, “My kids have forgotten what their father looks like.”

While training ashore presented few problems, training in landing operations was a different matter because the Navy’s meager amphibious shipping resources had been assigned mainly to work with the Army.

One stroke of fortune came in early 1950 in a directive for the 5th Marines to stage an amphibious demonstration at Camp Pendleton for the Army Command and General Staff College. We were given an array of precious resources, most important, sufficient amphibious shipping to embark the regiment. With the understanding assistance of the Navy commander involved, Rear Admiral James H. Doyle (later to distinguish himself at Inchon), we were able to parlay our programmed one-day demonstration into three rehearsal landings and a five-day amphibious exercise. But that was our only taste of saltwater in a twelve-month period, and the same unhappy situation prevailed on the East Coast.

Put in other terms, on 25 June when the North Korean blitz of some 75,000 men drove south across the 38th Parallel, the Marines’ existing air/ground expeditionary force was tiny and emaciated. But what there was of it was ready to go.

The Korean crisis became a reality for the Marines just five days later. On 30 June, the Fleet Marine Force Pacific headquarters in Hawaii received a cryptic message query from the chief of naval operations. Prompted, we later learned, by Commandant Cates, it asked:

How soon can you sail for combat employment in the Far East: (a) A reinforced battalion: (b) A reinforced regiment?

I had reported for duty as force operations officer only two days before, having relinquished command of the 5th Marines on 15 June. After studying the message for a moment, I drafted a reply and took it to the chief of staff. Referring to the JCS message, it read:

(a) 48 hours, (b) Five days, including a Marine aircraft group.

The chief of staff read the proposed reply and said, “How do you know we can do that?” I answered, “I don’t, but if we can’t, we’re dead.” He released the message.

To do (b)—provide a reinforced regiment and a Marine aircraft group at anything approaching full war strength—would take the bulk of the Fleet Marine Force resources on the West Coast. Only bits and pieces would be left of the 1st Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Realistically, however, that is what they were there for.

We immediately alerted the troops on the West Coast to the possibility of imminent expeditionary deployment. The commandant of the Marine Corps, almost simultaneously, did the same thing. Two days later, on the morning of 2 July, we received a message directive to prepare an air-ground Marine brigade for combat employment overseas. Preparations went forward by word of mouth, being confirmed by messages on 6 and 7 July. The preliminary orders we issued to the forces involved said,

Take whatever is required and available in troops and equipment from the 1st Marine Division and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, plus what Marine Corps Headquarters provides from other sources, make a provisional brigade consisting of the 5th Marine Regiment Reinforced and Marine Aircraft Group 33, both at reduced strength, embark them in ships the Navy will provide and set sail for the Far East.

It was not easy but within four days of the initiating directive, units of the brigade, designated First Provisional Marine Brigade, had begun loading. The ground elements embarked in San Diego, the air elements in Long Beach, where the two attack squadrons went aboard the small escort carrier Badoeng Strait. By 14 July they were loaded and gone—a 6,500 man air/ground brigade—and they could have departed a day or two earlier had ships been available. Commandant Cates came from Washington to tell them goodbye. “Clean this up in a couple of months or I will be over to see you,” he said.

The steady performance of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in Korea under Brigadier General Edward A. Craig and the contribution of its air/ground team to the defense of the Pusan Perimeter are the substance of another story. It is important here to reflect only on the brigade’s validation of the Marine dictum—“Be ready to go with whatever you have.”

The departure of the brigade left the remaining Marine Corps fragments on the West Coast, both air and ground, in disarray—mainly sick, short-timers, and men in a disciplinary status. Unhappy as it was, the condition would not have been crucial had it not been for events taking place in Tokyo.

Lieutenant General Lemuel C. Shepherd, Jr., had assumed command of Fleet Marine Force Pacific on 2 July. With the encouragement of Commandant Cates and Admiral Arthur Radford, commander-in-chief, Pacific, he went to the Far East on 7 July to get a sense of the state of affairs on the Korean peninsula. Independently, he had two other aims: first, to ensure that the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade would be employed as a unified air/ground formation; and, second, to investigate the prospects for committing additional Marine forces. He hitched a ride to Tokyo with Vice Admiral Thomas Sprague, taking an aide and me with him.

We went first to Yokosuka, the headquarters of Naval Forces Far East. Until 25 June it had been a sleepy little eddy in the backwash of postwar retrenchment. Now it had suddenly become a beehive of frenzied effort to do in emergency all the things that Johnson’s economies had made so difficult to do as a matter of routine. There General Shepherd made his plea that our air/ground brigade be employed as a unit and received a favorable response from the Naval Forces Far East commander, Vice Admiral C. Turner Joy, including assurance that the two fighter/attack squadrons from Marine Aircraft Group 33 would be able to support the ground units of the brigade from the escort carriers Badoeng Strait and Sicily.

The next day, 10 July, General Shepherd went to Tokyo to see General MacArthur. MacArthur was just entering the Dai Ichi Building as we pulled up. After a brief visit to the daily staff conference, we went to MacArthur’s office where he saw us almost at once. He described the bad situation on the Korean peninsula in unvarnished terms but voiced confidence that the North Korean blow would be absorbed by General Walton Walker’s Eighth Army forces, not, however, without hard fighting and heavy casualties. Then, he spoke eloquently of the need for an early counteroffensive and, with a few positive remarks about the conduct of the 1st Marine Division when it served under him at Cape Gloucester in World War II, he walked over to a map of Korea and said,

If I had the 1st Marine Division now, I could stabilize my front [he didn’t even have a front] and make an amphibious envelopment here—at Inchon on the west coast.

General Shepherd encouraged him to ask the Joint Chiefs for the division and for an accompanying Marine aircraft wing too. MacArthur responded enthusiastically, “You draw me up an appropriate message to the JCS,” he said, “and I will send it.”

We left MacArthur and went into an adjoining office where I borrowed the desk of an Army major, one of MacArthur’s aides, and assembled a simple message covering points outlined by General Shepherd. He took it in to MacArthur and was back in a minute or so with the word that the message was approved and would soon be on its way. When MacArthur put his signature on the message he set in motion a series of crash improvisations that have rarely been equalled in the Corps’ history.

The real significance of the moment emerges when one realizes that General Shepherd knew, without a long exchange of messages, just about what the Marine Corps could produce. Even more important, he knew if he generated a request for a division/wing team to go to war that Marines all the way up the line would support it. And they did. Later, on 14 August in a meeting at Camp Pendleton, Commandant Cates was eloquent—even stern—in impressing on General Shepherd how the Inchon undertaking was consuming the total resources of the Corps—but he never faltered in his support.

The Marines assumed, in advance of a national decision, that MacArthur’s 10 July request to the JCS would be granted, and they set about trying to reestablish some military capability in the 1st Division and 1st Wing. Since there were not enough men in the 1st entire Fleet Marine Force to make one division/wing team, Commandant Cates on 13 July took the first hard step. Through the chief of naval operations, he urged immediate mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve, both air and ground.

President Truman was a realist. He was aware of the grave situation facing Army forces in Korea and perceived that without the reserves MacArthur’s crisis demand for Marines could not be met. He did not hesitate. Approval for mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve ground elements came on the 19th and on the 22d for aviation units. On the 20th, twenty-two ground units were ordered to active duty and given only ten days to get to Camp Pendleton. Within the next fifteen days the whole of the Marine Corps Ground Reserve—138 units, more than 33,000 men—were ordered to active duty.

Concurrently, on the 23d, three Marine Corps Reserve fighter squadrons and six ground control intercept squadrons were ordered to active duty. In little more than a week, most of them had arrived in El Toro and were shaking down in Major General Field Harris’s 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. Many had left good civilian jobs behind and were now contemplating how they were going to support a wife and possibly children on a corporal’s pay.

The 25th of July was a watershed date. On that day, just a month after the conflict began, the Joint Chiefs of Staff formally announced approval of MacArthur’s request for a Marine division and wing and approved their expansion to war strength, less the elements of the 1st Brigade then enroute to Korea. This meant that two infantry regiments had to be created, since the 5th Marines—enroute to Korea—was the only infantry unit in the division.

In the wake of the 25 July decision a series of intra-Marine Corps crash actions began. On that day all Marine Security Forces (mainly detachments at naval stations) were reduced in strength by 50 percent. The 3,630 men thus produced were started on the way to Camp Pendleton and El Toro and all of them had arrived within ten days.

The reaction of the reserves to the sudden call made, to me, an interesting portrait of the American society itself. A minority made every conceivable effort to obtain a deferment—telephone calls, hardship affidavits, congressional influence, even spurious medical certificates. But the great majority of those called up responded promptly and enthusiastically. Others who were not called went to the nearest Marine Corps training center and pleaded to be included. In the end, the greatest problem was to determine those whose burning desire to go concealed a lack of essential training.

Concurrently, a directive was issued for a major cross-country transfer of 7,182 men from the Second Marine Division in Camp Lejeune to the 1st Division, all to report in two weeks, and individuals were ordered to Camp Pendleton from any location in the Corps they could be found. Finally, Congress passed legislation authorizing the president to extend enlistments for one year, thus making about 1,500 short-timers in Camp Pendleton and El Toro eligible to deploy.

Also on 25 July, amid all of the turmoil, a new division commander, Major General O. P. Smith arrived in Camp Pendleton. If it were necessary to describe the tall, thin white-haired Smith in a word, it would have to be calm, a quality he would greatly need in the days ahead. Smith found waiting a directive from the commandant of the Marine Corps to recreate the 1st Marine Division from the cascade of Marine reserves coming from civilian life and from regular Marines coming from a dozen directions within the Corps. He had to determine their individual state of training, to arm them, equip them, assign them to units—some of which had to be constituted from scratch—and to exploit the few precious hours available to give them some training. Weapons and combat supplies had to be provided for the greatly enlarged division, hardware in storage since World War II had to be depreserved, issued, and tested. The embarkation of the entire force had to be planned, including coordination with the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing which was to embark at Long Beach.

Had General Smith’s peace-strength staff been twice its authorized war strength it would have been overworked. As it was, about one-third of it was already enroute to Korea with the 1st Marine Brigade and, it turned out, the division staff was not to be united until the members joined on the beach at Inchon the day of the landing.

The directive received by General Smith provided that two infantry regiments would be formed. The 1st Marines, to be commanded by the legendary Colonel Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, would consist mainly of men from Camp Lejeune on the East Coast plus men picked up locally at Camp Pendleton, and a few reservists. The last major infantry unit of the division to be formed would be the 7th Marines, under Colonel Homer L. Litzenberg. The organization was a classic example of barrel scraping. It comprised approximately equal numbers of reserves and men from the 2d Division in Camp Lejeune, except that the regiment’s third infantry battalion was to be the 3d Battalion, 6th Marines, currently deployed in the Mediterranean, halfway around the world. The battalion was ordered to sail directly to the Far East, via Suez. The unit’s first sight of the 7th Marines was when they joined up on the beach at Inchon.

Colonel A. L. Bowser, whom I had relieved as operations officer of Fleet Marine Force Pacific on 28 June, had gone directly to Camp Pendleton, where he doubled as 1st Marine Division operations officer and chief of staff. He was mindful of the immense short-term job involved in planning and executing the embarkation and of the limited capacity of the staff. He hit on the idea of borrowing the Embarkation Section from the Landing Force Training Unit attached to the Navy’s Amphibious Training Command in San Diego. With the Navy’s concurrence, the unit stopped its training function and took over the entire division embarkation project. As Bowser put it, “They didn’t just advise us—they put the division and its equipment to sea from San Diego.”

Loading of both the division and the wing began on 8 August, even as the influx of personnel continued. The ships provided were largely of civilian origin, only six of the nineteen being regular U.S. Navy amphibious types. The nineteen ships had to be loaded in four different places with supplies and equipment coming from five different sources, and there were only ten days allocated to plan the embarkation, to assemble the people and material—both air and ground—and get the force aboard.

There was not enough of anything—dock space, marshalling areas, transportation—but, especially, there was not enough time. The plan provided that the ships were to sail to Japan, where everything would be unloaded, sorted out, and reloaded in combatant shipping. While this sounded reasonable, little did those involved realize the brief time they would have in Japan or the procession of hurdles they would face when they got there.

When the embarkation in San Diego and Long Beach was completed, we would have in or enroute to the Far East a Marine division/aircraft wing team of more than thirty thousand men, fully a quarter of whom had been peacefully pursuing their civilian careers three weeks before.

Meanwhile, everything that happened, it seemed, was an enemy of the clock. The City of San Diego would not permit ammunition to be loaded at its municipal piers, so every ship had to be moved to the North Island Naval Air Station to take on ammunition. Since most of the ships were civilian-owned and manned, they had to be loaded by civilian stevedores. But between Long Beach, where aviation units were loading, and San Diego, only sixty stevedore gangs could be mustered, against a minimum need for ninety. A proposal that they be augmented by Marines generated a threat by the stevedores’ union to call a strike. Despite the most determined efforts by the Navy, three of the civilian ships were late in arriving, and one Navy amphibious cargo ship, the Titania, developed a bad boiler. Already loaded, it had to be unloaded and its cargo moved into other ships, while the Navy set about getting a replacement.

Despite these and other impediments, it all came together—not smoothly, not neatly, but it came together—Marines from everywhere merged into combat units, the hardware of war moved into ships. The embarkation was a product of experience, improvisation, corner-cutting, risk taking, and refusal to accept no for an answer.

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You Can’t Get There from Here: The Inchon Story II

Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez of the Marine Corps is shown scaling a seawall after landing on Red Beach (September 15). Minutes after this photo was taken, Lopez was killed after covering a live grenade with his body. He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.

Then, at the height of the embarkation, General MacArthur asked for the immediate dispatch of a planning group from the 1st Division headquarters. The already attenuated staff was split in half, with one group of twelve officers and six enlisted men flying out to Japan, arriving on 18 August. When they arrived they learned, for the first time, that a landing at Inchon (Operation Chromite) was definitely on, that D-day was 15 September, less than a month away, and that the date could not be slipped because the 15th was the only day for a month when the tide at Inchon would be high enough to permit the beaching of landing ships.

The remainder of the staff—eleven officers and four enlisted men—arrived two days later, and it was this group of only twenty-three officers and ten enlisted men that faced a planning task for which a team three times the size would not have been excessive. Subtracting time required for movement to the objective and time required for distribution of the plans, once made, General Smith and his little group had just ten days to do a thirty- or forty-day planning job.

Their first problem was an inexplicable state of mind on the part of MacArthur and his staff. Never mind that the hydrography and the topography united to make Inchon an immensely complex problem, never mind that the thirty-foot tides dictated that the assault take place in late afternoon, the party line was that the Inchon landing was a piece of cake. And no contrary thoughts were tolerated. General Smith provides some of the flavor of what they were up against:

General Almond dismissed the whole matter by stating that there was no organized enemy anyway, that our difficulties were purely mechanical.

General Shepherd adds:

MacArthur stated that he did not believe Inchon was defended, that the people would rise up and welcome the invasion.

The people who were faced with having to do the job—Admiral Doyle and General Smith—did not share these sanguine sentiments. Put plainly, they did not want to go to Inchon. While they saw the virtue of an enveloping attack that severed the lifeline of the North Korean forces besieging the Pusan Perimeter, they believed it could be done more surely and effectively by landing at some point less forbidding than Inchon.

In early August, as General Shepherd became acquainted with the unusual problems involved with the Inchon area, he asked me to study the region and to try and find another landing area nearby that offered less formidable obstacles. I prepared a terrain study and an estimate of the situation which concluded that a landing at Anjung (also called Posung Myon), about thirty miles south of Inchon, was to be preferred. The current intelligence disclosed no enemy there. We would avoid landing in the heart of a large city, and we would not have to land at a specific time (at Inchon in late afternoon) during the only day on which a tide high enough for beaching the LSTs (landing ships) occurred in more than a month.

The alternate landing site would avoid the forbidding hydrography of Inchon harbor, yet it would not sacrifice the benefits of an envelopment and would still be near enough to Inchon and Seoul to permit their early capture. We took the study and accompanying maps with us on a trip to the Far East on 21 August. Upon arriving there, General Shepherd found that he had a determined ally, not only in General Smith but in Rear Admiral Doyle.

Doyle was a gaunt, Lincolnesque figure with a pink complexion, a Boston Irish accent, a hot temper, and a cool sense of humor that surfaced at times of great tension. He had, and deserved, the reputation for being the Navy’s preeminent amphibious admiral. As the attack force commander for the Inchon landing, he had the task of taking the landing force to the objective, putting it ashore, and then providing the successive increments of logistic support that would keep it there. He was dissatisfied with the Inchon idea for many of the same reasons as the Marines—perilous navigation, the tide problem that required an evening landing, unfavorable hydrography, and the difficulty of landing in a large city which, despite careful precautions, might well be burning. As the one responsible for surmounting the naval aspects of these problems, Doyle was strongly opposed to the Inchon site and he stood up and said so. At a meeting of Navy and Marine commanders at Yokosuka on 21 August he laid the problem out in great detail in a manner so clear and persuasive that everyone present was convinced that a landing somewhere to the south of Inchon—at Anjung (Posung Myon), for instance—was to be preferred. Among those present was Admiral Forrest Sherman, the chief of naval operations, who had come to the Far East with Army Chief of Staff Collins to examine the concept on behalf of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. They were to see MacArthur in about two hours, and we were happy to hear that at the meeting he would support Doyle in his opposition to Inchon and his proposal to land in a more practical area farther south.

They went to the meeting. Doyle made his presentation—“Magnificently put on,” according to Sherman—but it served only as a trigger for a forty-five minute Churchillian oration by MacArthur on the importance of the capture of Seoul and the consequent rewards assured by success at Inchon, ending with the words—quoted to me the next day by Doyle: “We will land at Inchon and I shall crush them.”

According to Doyle, Sherman gave him no support in his counterproposal. Sherman did declare later, however, that MacArthur was fearful that coordinated opposition by Collins and Sherman to the Inchon attack might prevent the approval by the Joint Chiefs of Staff of an early amphibious envelopment, and so,

When it was proposed that the landing take place some thirty miles to the southward MacArthur jumped at the idea, stating if such an area could be found it would be acceptable to him.

The next day, enroute from Japan to Korea, General Shepherd and I outlined to Sherman in greater detail, with the help of a map, the multiple advantages of the Anjung landing. Sherman listened. Both General Shepherd and I were sure we had convinced him. But in the end it all amounted to nothing. Two days later, in Tokyo, (24 August) General Shepherd laid out the Anjung concept for Lieutenant General Edward M. Almond, MacArthur’s chief of staff, who was also to command the landing. After the meeting General Shepherd told me that Almond dismissed the idea summarily, saying that Inchon had been decided upon and that was where it would be, that Seoul was the real objective. So, with only a little more than two weeks remaining before sailing, the people who knew better were obliged to abandon their convictions and settle in on making and issuing plans for a landing at Inchon.

Generals Smith and Harris, the Marine ground and air commanders, faced a procession of brutal problems, paced to the inexorable march of the clock. To complicate matters, the two commanders were not working out of the same location. Smith was in Kobe and Harris was at an air base at Itami, some forty miles away. They needed to know the effects of tides and currents, the consistency of the Inchon mud flats, height and character of the Inchon seawall, the nature and location of enemy defenses—data that took time to obtain. The tasks of composing, reproducing, and distributing the tactical plans were straightforward functions and well understood by the planning staffs, but it all took time, and time was a fast disappearing commodity.

To cope with the possibility of boats and amphibians grounding in the mud flats, the planners hit on the idea of putting two planks in each to support men walking across the mud. To surmount the stone seawalls fronting Inchon harbor, they decided to build and install a scaling ladder in each boat and LVT. Again, a simple improvisation, but it consumed precious time.

The few days and hours still remaining were further invaded by problems with the Army and Navy. Both General Almond’s X Corps staff and Admiral Struble, the overall Joint Task Force Commander, were opposed to a pre-D-day naval bombardment, hoping, thereby, to maintain the element of surprise. Admiral Doyle and General Smith were convinced that there were enough enemy targets in the area to warrant an aggressive naval gunfire program. It took three time-consuming meetings, on 1, 3, and 8 September, to get the matter settled on terms agreeable to Doyle and Smith.

This problem, important as it was, nevertheless was eclipsed by difficulties with MacArthur’s staff and most particularly Lieutenant General Almond, who had by now assumed overall command of the landing force. In a military anomaly, he still retained his position as chief of staff of GHQ and was thus able to issue orders to himself. Lieutenant General Shepherd was the logical landing force commander. The bulk of the forces, air and ground, came from his command, Fleet Marine Force, Pacific, and he had the requisite depth of amphibious experience. MacArthur recognized this and told General Shepherd on 24 August that had he not already promised the command to Almond he would have given it to Shepherd.

As detailed planning proceeded, it became increasingly clear that the forces and equipment the Marines were bringing represented the bulk of the Inchon investment. At one of Almond’s planning meetings where the crossing of the Han River was discussed, for example, it turned out that the quantity of bridging equipment shown by the briefing officer as available was exactly the amount being brought with the 1st Marine Division. Without it there would be no bridging in X Corps at all. The Marine force included two photographic aircraft, which had gone to the Far East to provide aerial photographic coverage for the 1st Marine Brigade. X Corps appropriated the little detachment as its sole photographic resource.

The 1st Marine Division is what MacArthur asked for as the ground force to do the Inchon job. It was what the JCS authorized and what the Marine Corps was in the process of providing. Of the division’s three infantry regiments, one, the 5th Marines, was busy fighting as part of the 1st Provisional Marine Brigade in the Pusan Perimeter. Another, the 1st Marines, was enroute from the United States to Kobe and due to arrive between 28 August and 3 September. The remaining one, the 7th Marines, was due to arrive in the Far East about 15 September. Thus, General Smith was obliged to plan his 15 September landing around only two regiments, one of which was already fighting near Pusan.

Smith began asking Almond to release the 1st Brigade from the Pusan Perimeter on 23 August. Almond’s response, in his capacity as GHQ chief of staff, was that the release of the brigade “… would be bad for the morale of the Eighth Army and, in any case, would be dependent on the tactical situation. . . .” Smith repeated his request to Almond on 30 August and was put off again with the excuse that MacArthur’s headquarters was unwilling to direct the release of the brigade because of the tenuous situation in the Pusan area. The brigade commander himself, Smith was told, should negotiate his release directly with the Eighth Army commander. Smith refused to accept this and on 1 September sent an official dispatch requesting release of the brigade to permit it to plan, load, and embark for the operation. A dispatch releasing the brigade was finally issued on 4 September.

More precious time had been lost in haggling. The division sent a liaison officer to the brigade on 2 September to acquaint the units with the tactical plan and to give them data from which they could develop their own detailed plans. The liaison officer arrived to find that the brigade had been committed to action again to meet a North Korean threat. Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Raymond L. Murray, commanding the 5th Marine Regiment said,

I received first news of the operation via a liaison officer while we were heavily engaged in the Second Battle of the Naktong. I was given an aerial photo of Inchon and told we would land on Red Beach over the seawall.

Twenty-four hours later, even as the brigade was moving heavy equipment to Pusan in preparation for embarkation, and as ships to transport the unit to Inchon had been dispatched from Japan, the order for its release was revoked. General Smith was notified that the 5th Marines would be replaced in the assault landing task organization by the 32d Infantry of the 7th Infantry Division—a unit that had no amphibious training whatever and included 40 percent Korean conscripts. Usually a taciturn man, General Smith lost his composure. With the help of Admirals Doyle and Joy, he arranged a showdown meeting with Almond. It took place the next morning (3 September). Smith was clear in his position. He would not employ the mixed U.S./Korean unit in an amphibious assault role. He would land on one rather than two beaches and he advised Almond that removal of the 5th Marines would go beyond the point of acceptable risk. Almond responded that, “GHQ would take the risk and that General MacArthur would be present for the landing and would take the responsibility for calling it off if necessary.” As if calling off an amphibious operation, once begun, is analogous to turning off a light.

In an ensuing heated discussion, they finally agreed that the 7th Infantry Division unit would be embarked to serve as a floating reserve for General Walker in the Pusan Perimeter, and that the 5th Marines would be released for the Inchon operation—but not until midnight, 5 September!

Smith had prevailed but another day had been expended in debate that need not have taken place, and there were not many days left. Where the 1st Marine Brigade was concerned, there would be only six days from the hour of their withdrawal from heavy combat until they had to be embarked and on their way to the Inchon battle. During that time they would march eight miles, truck fifty miles to the port of Pusan, prepare and distribute plans for the landing, receive and absorb replacements for combat losses (some 30 percent of the infantry strength), replenish supplies, build scaling ladders, receive and integrate the third rifle company for each infantry battalion (just arrived from the United States to bring the unit to full war strength), embark and sail around the Korean peninsula to join the Inchon attack force. In addition to all this, the brigade was made responsible for getting the Korean Marine Corps Regiment to Inchon, only to find, on 6 September, that one of its battalions had no weapons! The Marines procured the necessary arms from Army stock and, as General Murray recalls, “We even found time to conduct some basic weapons training for the Korean Marines.” They did it all and were aboard and under way on 12 September. The amphibious ships were crowded and hot but they provided a bath, hot food, and a bunk—pure luxury to the Marines who were exhausted by the Pusan Perimeter combat.

There were other assaults on the Marines’ time, such as notification, in the midst of planning, that General Almond wanted to have a war game of the Inchon-Seoul operation. A liaison officer delivered the directive for the war game to the overworked 1st Division operations officer, Colonel A. L. Bowser. Bowser says,

I took the directive, folded it several times, tucked it into the liaison officer’s pocket and told him to take it back to GHQ.

Another hair shirt was tried on for size on 7 September, when General Almond’s X Corps headquarters notified General Smith that a detachment of 100 Marines was desired to operate as raiders along with a detachment of Army Rangers and British Commandos. The concept was that they would paddle ashore from a ship at night in rubber boats, move ten miles over land on foot, and capture Kimpo Airfield, northeast of Inchon. How the two- or three-knot rubber boats were to operate against tidal currents that reached six knots and how the small, lightly armed infantry group was to cope with even moderate resistance ashore was never explained. In any case, after several frustrating exchanges, Smith simply sent a message saying the Marine raiders were not available. He heard nothing more about it.

It seemed that everyone had a part in invading the precious hours standing between the Marines and D-day. On 6 September the secretary of the navy issued an order that all Marines who had not reached their eighteenth birthday must be withdrawn from the troop list. All records in both the division and wing had to be researched. It turned out that some six hundred men fell under the age restriction. They were everywhere—enroute, aboard ship, ashore in four different places—and they had to be assembled and provision made for their care in Japan, once the division and wing units were gone.

And fate added to the Marines’ torment, too. On 3 September, at the height of the 1st Marine Division’s reloading process, Typhoon Jane, 75 knots, struck Kobe. Several ships broke their moorings, breakers rolled across the piers, cargo in the process of being resorted was damaged by seawater and torrential rain, vehicles were flooded, and all loading operations were suspended for more than twenty-four hours.

One of the last ships to arrive from the United States, the SS Noonday, carrying general cargo and ammunition, caught fire as she was approaching Kobe. By the time the fire tugs had extinguished the blaze and the soaked cargo had been unloaded, refurbished, and reloaded, more valuable time had disappeared.

On 10 September warning was received that Typhoon Kezia, 85 knots, was approaching Kobe. Admiral Doyle directed that all of the large transports and cargo ships, thirteen of them, scheduled to sail on 12 September, get under way on the 11th. After they had been at sea for twenty-four hours, suffering greatly because of the high winds and mountainous seas, the thirteen ships reversed course, assuming they could not get around or through the typhoon. When Doyle, whose flagship had departed shortly after the transports, learned of this he issued a simple order: “Reverse course and follow me.” Had the resolute admiral not taken that timely and courageous action, the critical 15 September D-day would not have been met.

And finally, on the 13th, Admiral Doyle was notified that a landing ship carrying the headquarters of the 2d Battalion, 1st Marines had broken down. It had only one engine operating and could make only six knots, which would not get the ship to Inchon on time. A tug was provided and with its help the ship could manage eight knots, which was just enough to get her to Inchon for the landing.

That was the final crisis. From that point on, everything that could be done had been done. The force was on its way. Now MacArthur’s “10,000 to one gamble” was in the hands of fate.

In the final hours, several incidents occurred that provide an interesting look backstage before the lifting of the curtain on the battle. General Shepherd and I accompanied General MacArthur in his aircraft from Tokyo to Itazuke on 13 September and from there some eighty miles to Sasebo to join up with the Mt. McKinley. Waiting for the ship to arrive, the party passed about three hours in a Navy Petty Officers’ Club, eating sandwiches, drinking coffee, and talking. During the entire period, in which MacArthur took the conversational lead himself, the discussion never once touched on Inchon, the challenge involved, or the series of unusual actions that had brought the task force together. The conversation, which included primarily MacArthur, Major General Courtney Whitney, and MacArthur’s more intimate associates, was confined to one subject—their pre-World War II days in the Philippines. In the space of three hours, Inchon was never mentioned. It seemed to me that they still did not sense either the fragility or the complexity of the operation facing us.

The next day, enroute to the objective, we received some surprising news. President Truman, under heavy fire for the lack of preparedness of American forces in Japan at the war’s beginning and tired of Louis Johnson’s squabbling with Secretary of State Dean Acheson, marched his defense secretary down the plank. Johnson was fired, and there was genuine rejoicing about Mt. McKinley, from MacArthur down. There seemed in this to be some just retribution. Although he was not the only reason for all our high-pressure scrambling of the past few weeks, Johnson was certainly the cutting edge of the imprudent economy movement that had made the preparation for Inchon such a nightmare.

Next, there was an incident on the flag bridge of the ship on the afternoon of D – 1. Rear Admiral Doyle, the steadfast Amphibious Task Force commander, Major General E. K. Wright, MacArthur’s operations officer, and I were talking of the parade of problems that had characterized the preceding few weeks. Wright said, “I sometimes felt we’d never make it.”

Doyle, who had endured more than his share of problems, and who could be testy when he felt like it, said,

Get this straight. We wouldn’t have made it; we wouldn’t be here today, if the operation hadn’t been in the hands of Navy and Marine professionals who knew exactly what they were doing.

Wright didn’t say anything, and I didn’t have to.

A final prebattle incident occurred early on the morning of D-day. Mt. McKinley had anchored near the transport area where an LSD of the attack force was to launch assault forces of the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines in amphibian tractors (LVTs) for their attack on the offshore island of Wolmi-do. Along with others, I was on the boat deck as the dawn broke, watching the air and naval gunfire preparation by planes of the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing and ships of the task force. As the first LVTs began to emerge from the mother ship, I commented to Lieutenant General Almond, who was standing nearby, “That LVT is certainly a versatile machine.”

Apparently not aware that I was referring to the ship-to-shore conveyance we were watching, he responded, “Yes. Tell me, can it float?” I was nonplussed. Here was the leader, bearing the immediate responsibility for the entire landing force in a critical amphibious operation, and he wanted to know if an LVT would float! The Marines had been concerned about Almond during the planning phase when he seemed to have his mind only on the big picture—the capture of Seoul or “making an anvil for the Eighth Army’s hammer.” Yet the landing force—his landing force—was confronted with immense and immediate problems. A race with darkness, getting over mud flats, across sea walls, through a big Oriental city, seizing an airfield, initiating a major logistic system, establishing a beachhead—these were the essential precursors of any hammer and anvil, and they were Almond’s direct responsibility. It seemed, from the first, that he did not understand these things. That apprehension was now heightened in my mind as we stood there watching LVTs bearing the 3d Battalion, 5th Marines plough through the waves toward Wolmi-do.

The preliminaries to Inchon were unusual in many ways, and there will be many judgments as to the identity of the catalyst or catalysts that brought it all together. A fair case can be made that Inchon would never have happened were it not for three things.

First, it would never have happened had General MacArthur, with a keen strategic sense, not expressed his desire on 10 July for the 1st Marine Division to make an amphibious envelopment and had not Lieutenant General Shepherd volunteered, then and there, to help him procure the division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

Second, it would never have happened had Commandant Cates not thrown his total support behind the project and urged mobilization of the Marine Corps Reserve, and had President Truman, in the face of strong political opposition, not approved the Reserve mobilization.

Finally, it would never have happened were it not for the ingenious and altogether professional actions of the Marines and Navy people involved. The piecing together of the thirty thousand man air-ground force in the space of three weeks, the succession of improvisations in embarkation and in planning, the steadfast poise with which General Smith, Admiral Doyle, and their staffs fought off the meddling of General Almond as they pursued their affairs, the ingenious adaptations to the unusual nature of the mandated landing area—these were the indispensable lubricants that oiled the gears of strategy, these were the things that converted Inchon from a dream to a reality.

The Novorossiysk Landing Operations

Marines detachment of Major Caesar Kunikov, shortly before the night of February 4, 1943, when they took part in the landing operation and seized a bridgehead south of Novorossiysk, known as “Malaya Zemlya”.

Although Soviet attempts for a second huge encirclement had been thwarted, the German position in the southern sector was still perilous, and the eyes of the Soviet command turned to the isolated Seventeenth Army. Plans for a Soviet amphibious landing in the Novorossiysk area had first been drawn up in November 1942, and at a Stavka meeting on 24 January 1943, a combined amphibious and ground operation to encircle the German Seventeenth Army was proposed. On land, the Soviet 18th and 46th Armies would seize the Kuban River crossings in the Krasnodar region and then push west towards the Taman Peninsula while the 47th Army would launch a direct attack on Novorossiysk. Meanwhile, the amphibious landing would place forces into the rear of the German defences and move to link up with 47th Army. The combined operation would encircle Seventeenth Army and prevent it from withdrawing into the defensible Kuban Bridgehead.  At this meeting, the forces in the area were also reorganised.

Transcaucasus Front’s Northern Group, under the command of General Ivan Maslennikov, was renamed North Caucasus Front,  and the remainder of Ivan Tyulenev’s Transcaucasus Front returned to its original role of guarding the southern frontiers with Iran and Turkey.

The location chosen for the landing operation was Yuzhnaya Ozereika, about thirty kilometres southwest of Novorossiysk, and the detailed plan was drawn up by ViceAdmiral Filipp Sergeyevich Oktyabrskiy, the commander of the Black Sea Fleet, and timed for 01:30 on 4 February.  The timetable was as follows:

00:45: A parachute force of eighty men would be dropped at Glebovka and Vasilevka, to the north of Yuzhnaya Ozereika, and bombing raids would be carried out on German defensive positions around the landing zones.

01:00: A naval bombardment would be launched by a Black Sea Fleet fire-support squadron commanded by Rear-Admiral Lev Anatolevich Vladimirskiy and comprising the cruisers Krasniy Kavkaz and Krasniy Krym, the destroyer leader Kharkov and the destroyers Besposhchadniy and Soobrazitelniy.

01:30: The main landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereika, commanded by Rear-Admiral Nikolai Yefremovich Basistiy, would be launched, along with a simultaneous diversionary landing at Stanichka in the southern suburbs of Novorossiysk. Dummy landing operations would also be feigned at a number of locations along the southern coast of the Taman Peninsula: Anapa, Blagoveschenskiy, the Sukko River Valley and Cape Zhelezniy Rog.

The main landing force comprised two echelons. The first was formed up in Gelendzhik and was made up of 255th Independent Red Banner Naval Infantry Brigade, 563rd Independent Tank Brigade and a separate machine-gun battalion. The second echelon formed up in Tuapse and comprised 83rd Independent Red Banner Naval Infantry Brigade, 165th Infantry Brigade and 29th Anti-tank Artillery Regiment.  Both groupings underwent intensive training in landing operations throughout January.

Even during the earliest preparations for the operation, however, a number of officers expressed doubts over the selection of Yuzhnaya Ozereika as the site of the main landing, citing the unpredictable winter weather and sea conditions, the presence of numerous minefields in the area and the distance from the ultimate objective of Novorossiysk.

The operation ran into serious problems from the start. On 27 January, 47th Army began its offensive in the Verkhnebakanskaya and Krymskaya areas, but was unable to force a breakthrough at any point. Although the original plan stipulated that the landing operation would not begin until such a penetration had been achieved, the

Transcaucasus Front command nevertheless gave the order for the landing to proceed, partly in the hope that it would divert German forces and help 47th Army to achieve its aim.

The first landing group was late setting out from Gelendzhik and made slower than expected progress in heavy seas, so Basistiy sent a request to Vladimirskiy on Krasniy Kavkaz and to Oktyabrskiy, requesting a 90-minute postponement. Without waiting for confirmation from Oktyabrskiy, Vladimirskiy ordered his ships to hold fire and Basistiy postponed the arrival of the  dummy landing operations did not receive this information and acted according to their original orders.

Oktyabrskiy, however, did not wish to delay the operation as doing so would deprive him of the cover of darkness. He ordered that the original plan should be adhered to, but this message did not reach Basistiy and Vladimirskiy until it was too late for them to revert to the original plan. Again, Oktyabrskiy did not communicate with the air-support, parachute and dummy landing groups, so they remained oblivious to the unfolding chaos.

The bombing raids and bombardment of the dummy landing sites were launched in accordance with the original timetable, as was the parachute drop, but one of the transport planes was unable to locate the drop zone and returned to base, reducing the strength of the parachute force by over 25 percent before the operation started. This disconnect between the different parts of the operation alerted the defending German and Romanian forces, allowing them to ascertain that a landing operation was imminent and also its likely location.  At 00:35, V Corps placed all its forces defending the southern coast of the Taman Peninsula on the highest alert.

At 02:30, the naval support ships began their 30-minute bombardment against the German and Romanian defences at Yuzhnaya Ozereika. The fire was poorly-directed, however, and although over 2,000 shells were fired, the gun emplacements and defensive positions were largely undamaged. At 03:00, the cruisers ceased firing and set course for port, although the destroyers continued firing. The landing craft of the first group approached the shore at around 03:30, but came under intense fire and suffered heavy losses. Many of the tanks in the first landing group were released too far from the shore so their engines flooded and they were immobilised in the surf.

A group of 1,427 men, with 10 tanks, was able to reach the shore. They quickly captured Yuzhnaya Ozereika and set out for Glebovka, a few miles to the north, but without support, they could not maintain the advance.  The bulk of the group, including the last two remaining tanks, was pushed back and isolated in an area about one kilometre west of Yuzhnaya Ozereika on the morning of 5 February.  Over the next few days, small groups tried to force their way through to Stanichka, and about 150 succeeded. Another group of 25, along with 18 paratroopers and 27 partisans, reached the coast to the east of Yuzhnaya Ozereika and were picked up by a motor boat on the evening of 9 February.   Another 542 men of the landing group were captured.  On 6 February, Seventeenth Army reported that the landing force at Yuzhnaya Ozereika had essentially been destroyed, and the following day, reported that 300 enemy dead and 31 U.S.-built tanks lay on the beach.

The diversionary landing at Stanichka, in contrast, proceeded virtually exactly as planned. At 01:30, torpedo boats raised a smoke screen across the shore, and fire from support vessels and from batteries on the eastern coast of Tsemess Bay were much more successful in silencing German guns than had been the case at Yuzhnaya Ozereika. The first landing groups, under the command of Major Tsesar L. Kunikov, disembarked and were able to seize a beachhead. At 02:40, Kunikov signalled for the second and third echelons to be landed. The landing party seized several buildings on the southern edge of Stanichka and was able to hold the beachhead until it was further reinforced. The bridgehead quickly became known as “Malaya Zemlya” (The Small Land).

The success against the Yuzhnaya Ozereika landing appears to have led to a degree of complacency among the German command regarding the Stanichka operation. At 00:15 on 6 February, General Ruoff sent a message of congratulations to all the commanding officers who had been involved in the defence against the two landings, and later in the day, V Corps’ war diary reported that the landing force at Stanichka was encircled and that its attempts to expand its beachhead would be defeated.  A German offensive to throw the landing party back into the sea was planned, but was not scheduled to start until 7 February, when parts of 198th Infantry Division were due to arrive from Krasnodar to reinforce V Corps’ line in a number of locations around Novorossiysk.  Ivan Y. Petrov, the commander of the Black Sea Group of North Caucasus Front, displayed no such hesitation and quickly decided to divert all of the forces that had been intended for the main landing to reinforce the success of the Stanichka diversion.

Within a few days, over 17,000 men, twenty-one guns, seventy-four mortars, eighty-six machine guns and 440 tons of supplies had been landed on the beachhead. Kunikov was fatally wounded by a shell splinter on the night of 11–12 March and was posthumously awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.  He is buried in Heroes’ Square, close to the waterfront in the centre of Novorossiysk.

The debacle at Yuzhnaya Ozereika has been largely overlooked in the Soviet history of the war, as attention focussed on the Malaya Zemlya landings. The official History of the Great Patriotic War describes the events at Yuzhnaya Ozereika in just two sentences while devoting several pages to the success of the auxiliary operation.    During this period, Leonid Brezhnev was serving as a political officer with 18th Army, and he made a number of trips by boat to Malaya Zemlya to encourage the troops. During his term as general secretary of the Communist Party (1964-82), the legend of Malaya Zemlya was taken to new heights. In 1973, Novorossiysk was awarded the title of Hero City, elevating it to the status of the likes of Stalingrad and Leningrad in terms of its importance in the war. A series of massive memorial complexes were constructed, including one at the site of the Malaya Zemlya landings.

The question of what the Malaya Zemlya landing actually achieved, beyond its propaganda value and tying down German forces, is worthy of further consideration. Grechko claims that the operation created favourable conditions for the liberation of Novorossiysk,   but this view is difficult to support, as the city was not recaptured until a full seven months after the landing operation and after the Germans had already decided to withdraw the whole of Seventeenth Army from the Kuban Bridgehead.

Several writers, including Tieke, note that the presence of the Soviet forces at Malaya Zemlya prevented the Germans from using the port facilities at Novorossiysk.  This argument is also questionable. There were already significant Red Army forces on the high ground on the eastern side of Tsemess Bay, where the front line had been static since September 1942. These forces provided artillery support for the landing operation, so they would also have been able to threaten any German vessels attempting to enter or exit the port. In any case, the German-held ports and airfields farther to the rear were sufficient for Seventeenth Army’s supply needs. During March, for example, the supply and evacuation totals by sea and air were as follows:

To further supplement the supply system, a cable-car system across the Kerch Strait, with a capacity of 1,000 tons per day, went into operation in June.

A second question that warrants further examination is that of what could have been achieved if the main landing at Yuzhnaya Ozereika had unfolded as planned.  The landing forces at Malaya Zemlya were concentrated on a relatively narrow peninsula, so the opposing German defensive line remained quite short. Nevertheless, the quickly reinforced Soviet force put severe pressure on the German defences and created concern at Seventeenth Army headquarters. On 7 February, the army’s war diary reported that it had been fully pushed onto the defensive by the reinforced enemy, and on 21 February, it stated that the decrease in the combat strength of its forces in the Novorossiysk area was “particularly serious.”

The defences along the coast around Yuzhnaya Ozereika were weaker than at Stanichka, and the fact that the small landing party was able to force its way inland as far as Glebovka suggests that if it had been reinforced to a level approaching that at Stanichka, it could have represented a serious threat to the entire left wing of Seventeenth Army’s defensive line. Ultimately, the failures of the Yuzhnaya Ozereika landing and 47th Army’s offensive in the centre of Seventeenth Army’s line allowed the latter to hold a continuous defensive line through the spring and summer.

Black Sea Black Death (1982)

Sea Landings in History


The Bayeux Tapestry depicts the 1066 Norman amphibious invasion of England.
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Normandy Landings-1944.
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The history of amphibious warfare goes back well before the modern term itself. The massive landing by the Persians at Marathon, the ill-fated Athenian expedition to Sicily in 415 BCE, Caesar’s invasion of Britain in 55 BCE, and some of the Crusades are invoked as examples of assault upon the land from the sea.

Looking back to those earlier ventures can help to clarify the enduring, historic features of this special form of warfare. It is not about raids upon an enemy’s shore, such as Sir Francis Drake’s attack on Cadiz and other Spanish ports in the 1580s. Those were strikes from the sea, but a permanent lodgement on the beachhead followed by an advance upon the rest of the mainland was not intended. Operations such as the assault upon Cadiz usually had a smaller, more specific purpose, such as throwing the enemy’s intentions into disarray (Drake’s assault was a preemptive disruption of the Armada) or hurting his offensive capacities (like the Zeebrugge Raid of April 1918, where the British planned to block egress by U-boats from the German-occupied port), or were simply persistent, small-scale attacks to stretch out and, it was hoped, wear down the defenders. Royal Marine commando units carried out many of that sort of raid throughout much of the Second World War, compelling Hitler to order the stationing of vast numbers of Wehrmacht troops along Europe’s western shores, from northern Norway to France’s border with Spain. In late December 1941, for example, a commando raid successfully destroyed the German power station, factories, and other installations at Vaagso, halfway up the Norwegian coast, and in February 1942 another famous raid attacked and seized vital radar equipment from the Bruneval station, near Le Havre.

But these were not invasions; at Bruneval, the commandos actually parachuted in, seized the machinery, and left by the sea. Some of them had specific utility, such as the acquisition of the radar equipment, or the later midget submarine raids on enemy merchant ships in the Gironde (the “Cockleshell Heroes”). Sometimes, perhaps, the merits were psychological; they certainly were to Churchill, who almost immediately after the fall of France—and well before the Battle of Britain—ordered the Chiefs of Staff to propose “measures for a vigorous, enterprising and ceaseless offensive against the whole German-occupied coastline.” Finally, even the smallest raid, whether a success like Vaagso or a failure like Guernsey (July 1940), produced lessons: about training, command and control, land-sea communications, weapons used, vessels used, accuracy of prior intelligence collection, and so on.

It is the lessons of larger and more purposeful amphibious operations that claim attention here. The first was that specialized troops and specialized equipment were needed to carry out a successful invasion against a determined land-based enemy. Sometimes, perhaps, a hastily flung-together unit, if it possessed the element of surprise, could pull off an operational miracle, but when launched against a foe who had prepared its defenses well, such attacks were usually a recipe for disaster. It is therefore not surprising that historians call our attention to two innovations by the army of Philip II, since that service was one of the driving forces behind the “military revolution” of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The first was the creation by Madrid of specially trained troops assigned to their various armadas and experienced in moving from ship to land; the Royal Spanish Marines were born in 1560s operations to recover Malta, and other powers followed by establishing their own such units. The second was the establishment of specific weapons platforms and the implementation of suitable tactics for their success in battle. Thus, in the May 1583 Spanish operation to recover the Azores from an Anglo-French-Portuguese garrison, “special barges were arranged to unload horses and 700 artillery pieces on the beach; special row boats were equipped with small cannons to support the landing boats; special supplies were readied to be unloaded and support the 11,000 men landing force strength.” The attackers also practiced deception, a partial force landing on a distant beach and distracting the garrison while two waves of marines got onshore at the main point.

The third, equally important general lesson was that those who ordered an amphibious operation, whether it be the king of Spain in the 1580s or Churchill, Roosevelt, and the Combined Chiefs of Staff in 1942–43, had to eliminate interservice rivalry and create some form of integrated command. Rivalry among allies is one thing (Wellington often claimed that having enemies was nothing like as bad as having allies), but rivalry between the armed services of one’s own nation is altogether more serious. In many cases, operational failure was due to a lack of appreciation of what the other service could or could not do, or even how the other service thought. The doggerel about the Earl of Chatham and Sir Richard Strachan was not chosen merely as an example of puckish Regency satire. The Walcheren invasion of 1809 was a disaster. The place was badly chosen, being a low-lying island ridden with malaria; there were no serious preparations (tools, barges, intelligence) for an advance from the island into the Netherlands; Chatham did little with his 44,000 troops, and Strachan and his ships stood offshore. There was no planning staff and no integrated command structure. It was a total mess, neither the first nor the last of its kind.

The final lesson was the oldest of all: that no matter how sophisticated and integrated the armed forces involved in a landing were, they were always going to be subjected to the constraints of distance, topography, accessibility, and the weather conditions of the moment. The internal combustion engine conquered much of time and space. Against the blunt force of a gale, it was greatly hindered and reduced in its power (as we saw from the physical difficulties that Churchill had in simply getting to Casablanca). Given that the tides changed daily—in the Atlantic, there were very large vertical rises and drops—and that a storm could come up swiftly, there was always great unease at the idea that forces would be landing upon an open shore, even a lee shore.

Wherever possible, then, invasion planners, thinking also of the follow-on troops and supplies, desired a safe, functioning harbor in which their ships could rest securely and through which reinforcements could flow. The problem, of course, was that any good harbor worth its name was going to be heavily defended by cannon, bastions, outerworks, innerworks, and possibly mines and hidden obstacles, while the invading troops and their transports would be offshore, churning away in collective seasickness and the ebb and flow of the tides before the bloody assault was made. The history of amphibious warfare is thus also replete with examples of attacks that were repulsed—in 1741 the British put 24,000 men, 2,000 guns, and 186 ships against Cartagena de Indias (Colombia), yet still were driven off by a much smaller Spanish garrison holding a massive fortress. Trying to seize an enemy harbor naturally provoked an enormous defensive reaction and most probably would be fatal; landing on beaches, whether nearby or farther away, exposed the troops to the watery elements and also forced them to bring their own communications systems (bridging equipment, repair units, spares) until they reached the enemy’s roads. But deciding against any amphibious attack and staying with a land campaign (as the Allies did in Italy between 1943 and 1945, apart from Anzio) meant that one could not take advantage of the opportunities of maritime flexibility and would instead be forced to grind on. One of these operational options might be a winner, but it was impossible to say in advance which one it was.

In sum, assaults from the sea were a gambler’s throw; perhaps only airborne attacks could be riskier. It was not just about ships dropping off soldiers and equipment and then sailing away; it was about integrated combined warfare in the face of hostile fire and often in extremely difficult physical circumstances. It called for an almost impossible construct: a smoothly functioning joint staff under a single commander, with everyone knowing his place and role due to systematic preinvasion training. It relied upon superb communications in the face of enemy efforts to disrupt them, and it required the right weaponry. After that, it might just be feasible.

With all these lessons of history available (and some earlier campaigns were studied at nineteenth-century staff colleges), one might have thought that pre-1914 armed services would have been better prepared than they were for flexible, carefully prepared strikes from the sea when the Great War finally came. This should have been particularly true of policy makers and senior strategists in London, reared as they were in the “British way in warfare.” But much less attention was given by those strategists to the lessons arising from the Crimean campaign (clumsy, but actually successful in forcing Russia to ask for terms) than to the rapier-like strikes of the Prussian army against Denmark, then Austria, then France, in the 1860s. If future European wars were to be decided so swiftly, in the first summer and autumn of campaigning on the main battlefields, what was the point of peripheral raids? It was a question that advocates of amphibious warfare found hard to answer. There was another reason so little amphibious warfare was practiced during the First World War: the larger strategic situation. This war was overwhelmingly a European land war and thus a generals’ war. The mass armies of the Central Powers were contesting for terrain against the mass armies of France, Britain, and (later) the United States in the west, that of Russia in the east, and Italy’s in the south. Since the Anglo-American armies were already deeply inside France by 1917–18, there was no need for a massive amphibious landing on French shores. Mines, torpedoes, and coastal artillery prevented any Allied thrusts into the Baltic; seaborne operations that did occur there were German-Russian strikes in a secondary theater. All significant nations of the Mediterranean were either Allied (France, Italy, and their colonies, plus Egypt) or neutral (Spain, Greece), which only left Turkey and the Levant as possible target areas. Britain’s Japanese ally controlled the Far East and easily gobbled up the exposed German colonies there.

Thus, for all the pre-1914 talk by Admiral Jacky Fisher and others about the army being a “projectile” fired onshore by the navy, it wasn’t clear where that missile could be fired, even if the British generals agreed to be so dispatched (which, once settled in France, they didn’t). Taking over Germany’s colonies in Africa and the Southwest Pacific was relatively uncontested, except for a disastrous amphibious operation in November 1914 by British-Indian forces against the Tanganyikan port of Tanga, which should have been a salutary lesson in how poor training, communications, equipment, and leadership can turn an imaginative strike into a fiasco. But lessons are salutary only if they are learned.

Alas, the lessons of Tanga were not, as was most readily demonstrated in the greatest example of a failed amphibious invasion of the twentieth century: the 1915–16 Gallipoli campaign, as notable a conflict as the Athenian assault upon Sicily, and just as disastrous. Even today, Gallipoli receives much attention, not just on account of its historical resonances (as witnessed at every ANZAC Day commemoration in Australia and New Zealand, or in the Turks’ celebration of Mustapha Kemal, later known as Ataturk) but also because of our fascination at the spectacular gap between its grand strategic purpose and its disastrous execution. Perhaps no operation other than this one better illustrates the feedback loop—in this case, a wholly unfavorable one—between what happens on the ground and at sea, and how the general course of the war can be affected by tactical mishap. By the single stroke of pushing a force through the Dardanelles, its principal advocate (Churchill) maintained, a tottering Russia would have its sea-lanes to the West restored and thus be kept in the war; on the other side, the supposedly fragile Turkish power (it had joined Germany in November 1914) might be pushed into collapse, and the Balkan states of Greece, Bulgaria, and Romania might be tempted out of their neutrality.

While the strategic reasoning was attractive, the operation itself was a catastrophe. It began with a purely naval attempt in March 1915 to rush the Straits; by the time the Allied fleet escaped from the Turkish-laid minefield, it had lost four capital ships (three British and one French), with a further three badly damaged—an outcome worse than the Royal Navy’s losses at Jutland a year later. After that, infantry units were assembled from various sources—French regiments in the Mediterranean, British units from Egypt, India, and the home country, brand-new Australian and New Zealand divisions en route to the Western Front. In late April 1915, having given the Turks plenty of time to bring up reinforcements, they began to land on the craggy, ravined, thorn-covered hills of the Dardanelles Peninsula. Try as they might, the Allied forces could never get control of the higher ground and suffered appalling losses. Each side threw in more and more divisions, but the situation did not change. In December and January, in swift nighttime moves that surprised the Turks, the Allies pulled away from the beaches, admitting defeat, and sailed for home. They had lost 44,000 men and had another 97,000 wounded (more than all U.S. losses in the Korean War). Turkey’s casualties were even higher, but they had won.

The Western nations had proved to be much better at getting off a Dardanelles beach than landing on one, let alone moving on from their early lodgement to their chief inland destination. In retrospect, the reasons for this defeat became clear. The weather in the Straits was always extremely fickle, ranging from the intense heat of the summer months (without adequate water supplies, an army withers like a bush, and the sickness rate soars) to the intense storms and blizzards that poured out of the Bosphorus as winter advanced. The topography is intimidating, with steep slopes, sudden crevasses, and thornbushes everywhere. The landing areas, especially where the Australian and New Zealand units came ashore, were inhospitable and virtually impossible to move out from. Allied intelligence about what to expect was weak, the forces had not been trained for this kind of operation, and fire support from the offshore vessels was incomplete, in part because it was hard to see where the Turks were, in part because the bombarding squadrons were steadily forced away by enemy mines and submarines (three further capital ships were sunk within the next month). The landing craft that brought the men to the shore were, apart from a few prototypes, not landing craft at all. Finally, both the weaponry and the tactics of the raw units ordered to advance up this craggy terrain were simply inadequate for the job. Supervising this unfolding fiasco was a command structure that brought back memories of Sir Richard Strachan and the Earl of Chatham—except that this time the casualties and the immensity of the failure were far, far greater. In consequence, the line to Russia could not be opened, Turkey stayed in the war and fought to the end, Bulgaria joined the Central Powers, and the other Balkan states stayed neutral. Slightly over a year later, imperial Russia began its collapse.

After Gallipoli, British interest in amphibious operations waned, not surprisingly. More and more resources were needed for the colossal struggles along the Western Front, and in consequence exotic and difficult landings from the sea were now frowned upon. At French urging, an Allied army did establish a beachhead in Salonika later in 1915, but it never really got very far from the shore for the next three years—the battalions there were aptly named the “Gardeners of Salonika.” By the next spring the French were fighting for survival in Champagne and Flanders, and therefore opposed all eastern adventures. If the British were much more tempted to campaign for the territories of the Ottoman Empire after 1915–16, it was by large-scale land assaults, eastward from Egypt, northward from Basra. The army leadership simply wasn’t interested in its divisions being dropped off on hostile shores; the navy was concentrating upon bottling up the High Seas Fleet in the North Sea and trying to avoid losing the Atlantic convoys’ battle against the U-boats. The Zeebrugge Raid of 1918, however well executed, was just a raid, nothing more. Nor did the American entry into the war change attitudes; millions of doughboys sailed safely into Le Havre and were marched overland to the front. During 1917–18 the U.S. Marine Corps was located far inland, fighting along the Aisne and the Meuse rivers.

In sum, the First World War discredited the notion of amphibious warfare. And when the dust of war had settled and the new global strategic landscape revealed its contours—roughly by 1923—there were obvious reasons this type of operation had few followers. To be sure, in a badly defeated and much-reduced Germany, in a badly damaged and scarcely victorious France and Italy, and in an infant Soviet Union, there were many thoughts of war, but none of them involved the projection of force across the oceans. Japan was in a liberal phase, and the military had not yet exerted its muscle—even when it moved to take Manchuria in 1931, that was a land operation that had nothing to do with attacking beaches or seizing ports. By the late 1930s things would be different, with large Japanese merchant ships carrying landing craft and vehicles during their attack upon the lower Yangtze. During this post-1919 period, then, only two of the seven great powers gave any thought to amphibious warfare.

One of those two powers was Britain, although economic stringency and the embarrassment of Gallipoli (refought in many a wartime memoir) pushed combined operations into a dark and dusty corner; the result was the occasional small-scale training exercise, a theoretical training manual, and three prototype motor landing craft. Only the 1937 Japanese invasion of mainland China and then the 1938 crisis over Czechoslovakia would force a resumption of planning and organization. On paper, things began to improve. The Inter-Service Training and Development Centre (ISTCD) was set up, specialized landing craft and their larger carrier ships were designed, and the manual for amphibious assaults was updated. But this was all theory. The midlevel officers worked well together and had fine, advanced ideas, but they still lacked the tools. A large-scale exercise off Slapton Sands, Devon, in July 1938 was badly affected by near-gale conditions and ended in chaos. This galvanized the ISTCD into further serious planning, and it is to their credit that they anticipated virtually all of the practical difficulties that amphibious operations would throw up during the Second World War itself.

Yet at the outbreak of that conflict, remarkably, this truly interservice unit was disbanded. The army was off to France, the air force was bombing Germany, and the navy was awaiting high-seas battle with the Kriegsmarine—so where on earth would one carry out combined operations? And who was interested? All but one of the ISTCD officers returned to their fighting units in September 1939.

The other country interested in amphibious warfare was the United States, because of its lengthy shores, multiple harbors, and flat beaches; because of its cherished memories of the War of 1812; and because it had possessed, since the founding of the Republic, its own Marine Corps with special campaign memories (“From the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli”).

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.

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.