Agony At Anzio Essay, Research Paper
Agony at Anzio
During World War II totalitarian, militaristic regimes in Italy, Germany, and Japan came to power. This caused a conflict with the other major countries of the world. The conflict drew the battle lines between the Axis and Allied powers, consisting of America, Britain, and Russia; the Axis consisted of Italy, Germany, and Japan. The Allied battles, which were fought on Italian soil, were the most difficult and bloody of the war. The Italian campaign was a military and political disaster, particularly because of the Battle of Anzio.
In 1921, Adolf Hitler became the new leader of Germany. The National Socialist German Workers Party elected him to be their chairman, or Fuhrer. Hitler was now in full command of the otherwise known Nazi Party (Reid 11). The Fuhrer hoped to bring Germany out of depression caused by the unforgiving Treaty of Versailles from World War I. Hitler explained the depression as a Jewish-Communist plot, a story that was accepted by the majority of Germans. Promising a strong Germany, jobs, and national glory, Hitler attracted millions of supporters (WWII).
Once Hitler had secured himself in Germany he hoped to extend his influence throughout the world, and gain back for Germany the super power status it once
possessed. In 1936, Hitler had instructed the revamped German army into the Rhineland, occupying an area that France had controlled since World War I. In March 1938, the German army invaded Austria, and Hitler proclaimed a unity between Austria, his birth land, and Germany, his adopted one. At this time neither in America or most of Europe was there any form of opposition to Hitler’s aggressive acts (Brinkley 736).
The invasion of Austria soon led to another militaristic crisis for Hitler. German forces had now occupied territory surrounding three sides of western Czechoslovakia, an area Hitler hoped of annexing to provide Germany with the Lebensraum, or free space, he believed Germany needed. In response, in September 1938, Hitler demanded that Czechoslovakia cede to him the Sudentland, an area on the Austria-German border. Czechoslovakia which possessed a solid military power of its own, was prepared to fight rather the submit (Dear 18).
Czechoslovakia soon realized that it could not be successful against such a strong force in Germany if it did not receive any help from other European nations. It got none and most Western nations, including the United States, were aghast at the prospect of another war and were willing to pay a significant price to settle this conflict with Germany peacefully (Dear 20).
On September 29th 1938, leaders of France and Great Britain met with Adolf Hitler in Munich in hopes to resolve the appending crisis. The French and British both agreed to accept the German demands in Czechoslovakia in return for Hitler’s promise to expand no farther. “This is the last territorial claim I have to make in Europe,” Hitler said solemnly (Brinkley 737).
The Prime Minister of Great Britain, Nelville Chamberlain, Premier Edouard Daladier of France, Adolf Hitler of Germany, and Benito Mussolini of Italy all signed the Munich Pact. Prime Minister Nelville Chamberlain returned to England to a hero’s welcome. Chamberlain guaranteed his people that the agreement ensured “peace in our time”. Among those that had supported him with such enthusiasm at Munich was the President of the United States, Franklin Roosevelt (Reid 145).
The Munich accords were the most prominent example of a policy that came to be known as “appeasement”. This political policy came to be identified almost exclusively with Nelville Chamberlain. Where ever the blame lie, the policy of appeasement was a failure.
In March of 1939 Hitler occupied the remaining areas of Czechoslovakia. This aggressive action by Hitler was in clear violation of the Munich agreement. One month later Hitler began issuing threats against Poland. At that point, both Britain and France gave assurances to the Polish government that they would come to their aid in response to a German invasion; they even thought about drawing a mutual defense plan with Stalinist Russia. Stalin, however, had already decided that he could except no protection from the Western powers; he had after all not even been invited to attend the conferences at Munich. Consequently, Stalin signed a non-aggression pact with Hitler in August 1939. The signing freed the Germans, for the moment, from the dangers of a two-front war in Europe (Reid 163)
For a few months, Hitler had attempted to frighten the Poles into submitting to Germany’s demands. When that proved unsuccessful, Hitler staged an incident on the
border to allow him to claim that Polish forces had attacked Germany. On September 1, 1939, Hitler launched a full-scale invasion of Poland. Britain and France true to their word declared war on Germany two days later. World War II had begun on the European continent (Reid 165).
Germany had won a quick and easy victory in Poland. Then, in 1940, Germany went on to occupy Norway and Denmark. In May they conquered the Low Countries, of Belgium, Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Now with a clear path into France they swept into the English Channel. On June 22, 1940 France surrendered to Germany (“World War II”).
In the summer of 1940, Hitler dominated Europe from the North Cape to the Pyrenees. His one remaining active enemy Britain, under a new Prime Minster, Winston Churchill vowed to continue fighting. The Battle of Britain from August to October 1940 was Germany’s only failure to this point.
On December 7, 1941, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor bringing the United States into the war. The reinvigorated Allies conquered Sicily and Southern Italy, forcing Italy to surrender in September 1943. The Allied momentum stopped as they hoped to occupy Northern Italy. Here, German resistance was stubborn, specifically in the Battles of Cassino and Anzio (WWII).
On midnight January 22, 1944, Allied troops landed on the Anzio beachhead in hopes of entering Rome and capturing the eternal city. Operation “Shingle” became the Allied codename for this battle. Immediate losses were apparent as thirteen men were
killed, forty-four were missing, and ninety-seven were wounded as Lowry of the United States Navy and Troubridge of the Royal Navy landed 36,034 men and 3,069 vehicles. Also, ninety percent of the assault equipment of the United States VI Corps was supplied (Adams 75).
The supporting naval forces comprised of four light cruisers and twenty-four destroyers had neutralized the fire of the shore batteries and overran two German battalions on the beaches. The road to Rome, 37 miles away, was now open for Allied advancement. The Germans could not have prevented a force from driving into the city and taking it over. The Allied forces fortified on the beach instead of moving inward, a decision they would later regret (Collins World 1505).
The Germans threatened by this Ally movement onto Rome decided to muster up their strength on the Anzio beachhead. Kesselring, a German General, sensed this Allied invasion and added more men and artillery to this outfit. Within hours, elements of five different divisions were rushing toward Anzio. Despite the talents of Kesserling as an improviser and the capabilities of his general staff, a week was to pass before the German Fourteenth Army could offer any opposition to the Allied offensive (Chandler 52).
On the Allied side, Major General John P. Lucas thought only of consolidating his bridgehead and getting ashore the balance of his corps. The two divisions left ashore were the Forty-fifth Division led by Major-General W. Eagles and the First Armored Division led by Major-General E.N. Harmon. By now the Anzio beachhead was ten miles deep. A great strategic opportunity was lost on January 22 through the twilight on the
28th as the Allied forces could have trampled Germany. In London, Churchill was full of impatience and voiced his concerns to Sir Harold Alexander.
I expected to see a wild cat roaring into the mountains – and what do I find? A whale wallowing on the beaches! The spectacle of 18,000 vehicles accumulated ashore by the fourteenth day for only 70,000 men, or less than four men to a vehicle, including drivers and attendants…was astonishing (Collins World 1505).
At this point General Clark was urging that Lucas begin more aggressive operations against the Germans. Bad weather and two heavy German air raids upset Lucas’s plan to become more aggressive. Lucas’s lack of initiative was becoming a main concern of Clark and Alexander (Anzio).
After this string of bad moves, Clark estimated that Kesselring’s reinforcements were too strong for any quick thrust to be successful. This belief stemmed from an intelligence report that indicated that there were more German units in the Anzio area then actually present. So, on February 1, 1944 Lucas’s attack was halted but what Clark failed to realize was that the VI Corp’s assault came very close to succeeding. The Germans suffered 5,500 causalities, about the same as the Allies. The number of actual troops present slightly favored the Allies (Anzio).
Not knowing of the Allied advantage, Clark and Alexander directed Lucas to establish defensive positions. Fearing a German counterattack the Allies dug in hastily
laid minefields and barbwire. This allowed the Germans to take the offensive on the Allied forces on the beaches of Anzio (Collins World 1506).
In hopes of coming to the aid of the troops at Anzio, Allied bombs and artillery was fired upon German ground troops. Bad weather struck, and any further Allied offensive would have to be postponed. It was becoming desperately clear that the Allies would not be breaking through the Gustav line and coming to the rescue of the troops stuck in Anzio. In response to this Allied offensive operation, Hitler set February 16th as the date for a renewed German counteroffensive at Anzio. Over 125,000 German troops were now present, totaling about twenty percent more than the Allies (Anzio).
For the next two months, the Anzio front became static. Both the Allies and Germans reinforced and re-supplied themselves. The only drastic change was the replacement of Lucas with Truscott. Truscott was a more flamboyant leader, instead of sitting in the back he made a point to be seen on the front lines with the rest of his troops.
Along the Gustav line, a stalemate also occurred as four German divisions continued to hold of six Allied divisions along Cassino. A spring offensive, code-named Diadem, was planned for May. The Allied commanders hoped it would finally break through both the Gustav line and the German positions around Anzio (Chandler 52).
On May 11th an immense artillery barrage in the Cassino area ushered in the start of Diadem. It was the French Expeditionary Force, under General Alphonse Juin, that finally was able to break the Gustav line northwest of the Garigliano. This success in the south was a signal for Truscott’s VI Corps to begin their breakout at Anzio. Clark, fearing the British would beat the Americans to Rome and gain the majority of the glory,
was determined that his Fifth Army, not the British, would be the first army in fifteen centuries to capture Rome from the south. For Clark, politics over shadowed military considerations. He therefore directed the seven Allied divisions now at Anzio to begin their breakout, code-named Operation Buffalo. They Americans proudly marched on and captured Rome (Brinkley 737).
The Battle of Anzio was the only amphibious landing where the Allied army was unable to exploit a successful landing. Also, it was the only landing where the enemy contained Allied forces on a beachhead for a prolonged period. The Anzio operation has generated speculation and argument as to its contribution, relative to the cost of human lives, to the Allied victory. The tactical blunders made from the start of this operation did nothing to shorten the war. If commanding officers would have acted properly the Battle of Anzio could have been elementary, instead it was one of the most bloody and gruesome battles of World War II.