VI Corps Holds The Beachhead
(20 February-3 March)
Although the major enemy offensive to drive VI Corps into the sea had been repulsed, the Germans had no intention of abandoning their ultimate objective of annihilating the Anzio beachhead. Convinced that an immediate continuation of the frontal attack down the Albano road would be futile, the enemy turned his attention to the shoulders of the salient he had driven into the center of the beachhead defenses. At first, the Germans planned to mass their available forces against the eastern flank of the salient, along Spaccassasi Creek above Padiglione; but on 20 February they decided to concentrate on the western shoulder below Buonriposo Ridge. The Germans hoped that, by wearing down the shoulders of the salient, they would weaken the Allied forces holding the central beachhead defense sector so that the frontal attack down the Albano road could be successfully renewed.
Many German units suffered such heavy losses in the assaults of 16-20 February that they had lost their offensive punch. By 19 February, the combat strength of the 65th Infantry Division was only 901 officers and men, and 4 days later this figure had been reduced to 673. The 735th Infantry Regiment of the 715th Infantry Division had only 185 officers and men on 20 February; this remnant was assigned to the 725th Infantry Regiment, which was itself severely depleted and had to be withdrawn from the front on 23 February. Under such circumstances, the Germans had to pause to regroup and replenish their forces before they could again launch a large-scale attack.
In view of the apparent German intention to continue the offensive, General Clark sent a message to General Lucas on 20 February urging him to make every effort to strengthen the weakened beachhead defenses. General Clark was particularly concerned about the shoulders of the salient, where the 157th and 180th Infantry's stubborn refusal to give ground had been a major factor in containing the enemy's drive. Steps were taken to reduce the front held by the exhausted regiments of the 45th Division and to organize effective reserve positions.
In the two days after the successful counterattack launched by Force H on the morning of 19 February, the 6th Armored Infantry (less the 2d Battalion) and the 30th Infantry were withdrawn to positions near Padiglione and Campomorto and placed in Corps reserve. Here they were in position to support the 180th Infantry on the right shoulder of the salient. On 22 February one battalion of the 30th Infantry reverted to the 3d Division, the boundary between the 45th and 3d Divisions was moved 1,500 yards west from Carano, and the 3d Battalion, 30th Infantry, took over this new sector, thereby shortening the front of the 180th Infantry and adding strength to the critical shoulder.
Responsibility for the left shoulder of the salient passed to the 1 and 56 Divisions. The 1 Division
relieved the 3d Battalion, 157th Infantry, and the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, in position north of the overpass and west of the Albano road. The 56 Division was given responsibility for relieving the 2d Battalion, 157th Infantry, which had succeeded in beating off every enemy attempt to destroy its hold on the anchor position of the left shoulder.
The effect of the shift of boundaries was to reduce the front of the 45th Division by nearly one-half. The division took steps immediately to reorganize its units and strengthen the final beachhead line by assisting in the construction of a new Corps reserve line, 2,000 yards south of the lateral road. A series of battalion positions was laid out and the work of preparing them for defense divided among the units in reserve. On 19 February VI Corps ordered the 35th Antiaircraft Artillery Brigade to assemble a force of 30 officers and 650 enlisted men to work on defenses and to be on 2-hour alert for use as Corps reserve. Under the direction of the 120th Engineer Combat Battalion the antiaircraft troops assisted the 45th Division in constructing new reserve positions in the wooded areas a mile to the south of the final beachhead line. At the same time, by rotating the units in the line, the 45th Division was able to rehabilitate its depleted and tired troops, absorb new replacements, and rebuild its efficiency as a fighting unit.
The 1 and 56 Divisions, which were now responsible for the left shoulder of the salient, also adopted a policy of rotating the forward troops in line. Lack of adequate replacements made it difficult to build up units depleted during the fighting for Campoleone and the Factory area as well as by the big attack. The brigades of the 1 Division were far below strength, and the 56 Division had only one brigade, the 169, which was fresh. Heavy fighting during the period 20-25 February further reduced the effective strength of the two divisions, and only the arrival of the is Brigade on 25 February, which was attached to the 1 Division, prevented the situation from becoming critical. With the aid of the additional troops, work was rushed on new defenses to tie in with the 45th Division, while every effort was made to improve the old positions in the forward areas. The latter task was complicated by almost continuous pressure from the enemy against the shoulders of the salient.
The Battle of the Caves
The left shoulder of the salient was held throughout the period of the big offensive by the 157th Infantry (less the 1st Battalion), assisted by the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry. (Map No. 18.)
The troops were under almost constant fire for six days and it was imperative that they be relieved if the hold on the left shoulder was to be maintained. On the night of 21-22 February,1 Division troops moved up to effect the relief of the 3d Battalion, 157th Infantry, and the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, in position north of the first overpass and west of the Albano road. Not much remained of Company 1, 157th Infantry. Of the 8 officers and 159 enlisted men with which he had entered the battle Captain Evans could find only 3 officers and 68 men to lead out of his small area of shell-cratered ground north of the overpass. The rest of his men had either been captured, blown to bits by artillery fire, or had died fighting to prevent the enemy infantry from crawling through the barbed wire protecting the company area. The 1 Division occupied its new positions without any immediate reaction from the enemy; the 56 Division which was assigned the task of relieving the 2d Battalion, 157th Infantry, was less fortunate. It became involved in what came to be known as the battle of the caves.
At the beginning of the German offensive on 16 February, the 2d Battalion, 157th Infantry, under the command of Lt. Col. Laurence C. Brown, was covering a front of over 2,000 yards extending from a point 500 yards east of the Albano road into a maze of deep ravines from which flow the headwaters of the Moletta River west of the highway. (Map No. 15.) and Map No. 16.)
Enemy tanks, driving down the Albano road, rolled up the battalion right flank; enemy infantry, infiltrating up the
THE CAVES, scene of bitter fighting on the left of the beachhead, are graphically depicted in this sketch by soldier-artist Mitchell Siporin.
ravines, overran the left flank and repeatedly cut the battalion's supply route to the south. As squads and platoons were cut off one by one, the battalion was finally reduced to a small area 600 yards west of the highway where a series of caves provided a natural fortress. On the night of 18-19 February the enemy got close enough to throw hand grenades into the battalion command post. Friendly artillery fire was called down on the caves and the draws around them, effectively breaking up the attack. That night, following the successful attack by the 2d Battalion, 6th Armored Infantry, supplies were brought up. The next night one hundred wounded were evacuated. From then on the battalion was virtually cut off. By preventing the enemy from widening the salient the battalion had aided materially in saving the beachhead, but fresh troops were Deeded if the position was to be held.
It was important that VI Corps retain control of the left shoulder and particularly of the network of dirt roads leading south to the final beachhead line. Once the enemy broke through to the lateral road west of the overpass he would be in position to cut the main supply route for the troops holding the Moletta River line.
Unfortunately the attempt of General Templer to relieve the trapped battalion coincided with the enemy's decision to continue the offensive in an area where rough terrain favored infiltration. On the night of 21 February the 2/7 Queens1 (56 Division) reached the caves. On the way up the column was bombed and shelled and the supply train was held up by enemy opposition. An effort
to send tanks and antitank guns up the main highway also failed with the loss of three tanks and one gun. The British troops reached the caves without supplies, ammunition, or supporting weapons and they had suffered about seventy casualties. When they took over the positions guarding the approaches to the caves, they bad to be equipped with American automatic weapons. Then the enemy attacked. Capt. George O. Hubbert, artillery liaison officer with the battalion, called for the artillery concentration which had been fired on the night of 18-19 February and again the draws around the caves were filled with exploding shells and the moans of wounded Germans. The enemy assault was broken up, but it was impossible for the 2d Battalion to leave the caves that night.
Fighting continued all day on 22 February while the British completed the task of occupying their new positions and the 2d Battalion assembled its men in preparation for a break-out. One party of fifteen men, including headquarters personnel, a mortar section, and artillery observers, was trapped in a group of houses 300 yards south of the caves. After dark an attempt was made to relieve the men and to clear a path through the enemy troops blocking the route of escape. Only the latter objective was achieved. At 0130, shielded by a dark night, Colonel Brown and his battalion, in column of companies, slipped out of the caves and struck south along the supply route toward the black-top road which marked the final beachhead line. Capt. Peter Graffagnino and his aid men elected to remain with the wounded, who had to be left behind. The troops had covered almost half the distance to safety when suddenly machine-gun and rifle fire lashed out at them from a group of houses. The men hit the ground and crawled for cover. The column was split. Colonel Brown and the first half of the column got through safely; the rest became scattered. Smoke was laid down over the area and in the early morning hours Captain Sparks and Capt. George D. Kessler, the battalion S-3, managed to bring out part of the column. Small groups continued to filter through during the day. Captain Sparks was left without a single man in his Company E until two days later when Sgt. Leon Siehr appeared. He had spent the last two days fighting with the British. Of the original battalion only 225 men escaped and of this number 90 were hospital cases. After a week of almost constant fighting and nerve-shattering mortar and artillery fire, some men had lost their hearing, others were barely able to walk. For seven days and nights the battalion had fought off defeat. That any man returned is a tribute to the courage and stamina of the American infantry soldiers who have made the battle of the caves an epic of defensive fighting.
The relief of the 2d Battalion, 157th Infantry, left the 2/7 Queens holding the caves and rolling farmland immediately to the south. Efforts of the 2/6 Queens to get supplies through had failed Even urgent requests for supply by air had to be refused when stormy weather kept planes on the ground. On 23 February enemy infantry supported by tanks completed the work of sealing off the already diminished battalion. Two companies were overrun and a third was forced to withdraw into the caves with the battalion headquarters. After dark that night the remaining troops were divided into groups of twelve to fifteen and an attempt was made to infiltrate back to the positions of the 2/6 Queens. Few succeeded. The effort to hold the former positions of the 2d Battalion, 157th Infantry, had to be abandoned, and the enemy completed his occupation of the bulge in the western shoulder of the salient.
The battle of the caves did not end the fighting on the left shoulder, it was merely the most important and most costly action in a bloody war of attrition in which whole squads and platoons disappeared without leaving a trace. The deep ravines and rough nature of the country west of the Albano road made it impossible to develop a continuous line of defense or to employ artillery effectively against the enemy groups which infiltrated between and into the positions of the defending troops. All of the units of the 1 and 56 Divisions holding the forward areas were tired and understrength; the units which were sent up to relieve them were in the same condition. The 56 Division
reported on 25 February that its 167 Brigade was at only 35 percent of effective strength, the 168 Brigade at 50 percent, and the 169 Brigade, which had seen no action at the beachhead before 20 February, was down to 45 percent, not counting the 2/7 Queens, which had been reduced to 15 percent during the battle of the caves. Although the enemy's tactics of nibbling away at the left shoulder failed to carry him as far south as the vital lateral road, the drain on the strength of the British divisions was becoming more serious daily.
At the same time that the bitter struggle on the left shoulder of the salient was in progress, the enemy launched attacks in lesser strength against the right shoulder. (Map No. 18.)
Late in the afternoon of 20 February enemy infantry attempted to infiltrate the positions of Lt. Col. James M. Churchill's 3d Battalion, 180th Infantry, covering the road leading north from the village of Padiglione, and of Company F, 1st Battalion, 180th Infantry, astride La Ficoccia Creek. Intense concentrations of enemy artillery fire preceded and accompanied the attacks. At noon three tanks of Company H, 1st Armored Regiment, protecting the bridge across Spaccasassi Creek, were damaged by the shelling; in the afternoon the remainder of the company and a platoon of Company I engaged the enemy tanks and infantry attacking the 180th Infantry. A bitter tank battle ensued before the enemy armor was driven off, and the 1st Armored Regiment suffered such heavy losses that the remaining tanks of Companies H and I were consolidated under the control of Company H. To guard the infantry against a possible armored breakthrough, that night engineers, protected by troops of Company L, 180th Infantry, destroyed the bridge over Spaccasassi Creek. Two Germans, captured by the infantry, reported that they had been sent forward with a similar order to blow the vital bridge.
On the morning of 21 February and again late in the afternoon the enemy continued his attacks against the right shoulder of the salient. Dive bombers and a 30-minute concentration of airburst antiaircraft fire preceded the afternoon attack. As on the previous day the infantry action was on a minor scale compared to the bloody battles of 16-19 February, but the artillery fire was the heaviest yet experienced at the beachhead. Occupying an exposed position near the blown bridge, 2d Lt. Walter F. Russell used his M-4 tank as a forward observation post. Pounded by the tank guns and by the accurate artillery fire called for by Lieutenant Russell (who was given a battlefield promotion the next day), the enemy tanks and infantry withdrew at dusk. That night, in an effort to renew the attack on the morning of the 22 February, the enemy assembled a force of approximately four hundred men, including elements of the 1st and 2d Battalions, 1028th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, the 741st Infantry Regiment, and the 114th and the Hermann Goering Reconnaissance Battalions. The variety of units represented and the relatively small size of the total force was proof that the enemy was having trouble finding troops to throw into the battle. The 180th Infantry called for defensive fires which so effectively covered all stream beds and avenues of approach that the enemy withdrew without making contact.
2d Lt. Jack C. Montgomery, a platoon leader of Company I, 180th Infantry, saw to it that not all of the enemy returned. Two hours before daylight he detected troops moving into the no man's land directly in front of his platoon. Armed with a rifle and several grenades Lieutenant Montgomery crawled up a ditch to within a few yards of the nearest enemy position where the Germans had set up four machine guns and a mortar. Then, climbing onto a little knob, he fired his rifle and pelted the surprised Germans with hand grenades until he had killed eight men, and the remaining four in the position had surrendered. After returning with his prisoners and reporting to the artillery the location of a house where he suspected the main enemy force was concentrated, Lieutenant Montgomery picked up a carbine and started back up the shallow ditch. Locating a second position he silenced 2 machine guns, killed at least 3 of the enemy, and took 7 more prisoners, Although
it was now daylight and the open fields offered no concealment, Montgomery refused to relinquish his role of one-man army. As soon as the artillery had finished firing on the house he had spotted as a strong point, he rushed forward and rounded up 21 stunned Germans to bring his total for the morning to 11 dead, 32 prisoners, and an unknown number of wounded. Against resistance of this kind the enemy gained little ground on the sector of the front held by the 180th Infantry. The effort to gnaw away the right shoulder of the salient was given up.
While the attacks on the shoulders of the salient were in progress, General Mackensen proceeded with the regrouping and reinforcement of Fourteenth Army units in preparation for a new major drive against the beachhead. Before the attack in the Albano road sector had ground to a standstill, the enemy had committed his reserve divisions, the 26th Panzer and 29th Panzer Grenadier, in the areas previously held by the 3d Panzer Grenadier and 715th Infantry Divisions. In preparing for the new offensive, the 29th Panzer Grenadier Division was withdrawn into Army reserve, and the 26th Panzer Division was shifted to the Cisterna front. By the time that the Germans launched their new attack on the 3d Division front on 29 February, the Albano road sector south and west of the Factory was again occupied by the 65th Infantry and 3d Panzer Grenadier Divisions, both of which had received replacements and new attachments; the command of I Parachute Corps was extended to include these divisions, and its boundary with LXXVI Panzer Corps was now situated near the shoulder of the salient southeast of the Factory.
For the new assault, German divisions under the command of LXXVI Panzer Corps were arranged as follows, in order from Spaccasassi Creek eastward to the Mussolini Canal: the 114th Light Division, facing southeast toward Carano, and reinforced by the attachment of the 1028th Panzer Grenadier Regiment (formerly with the 715th Infantry Division); the 362d Infantry Division, a newly organized unit initially engaged in coast watching near the mouth of the Tiber, which was filled out with new units transferred from the Adriatic front; the 26th Panzer Division, in position west of Ponte Rotto; and the Hermann Goering Panzer Division, before Cisterna. Units under the command of the 715th Infantry Division were also located at the eastern end of the front. With the 4th Parachute Division, which commanded the Moletta River line, Fourteenth Army had 9 divisions facing the 5 divisions of VI Corps, and 5 of the German divisions had been concentrated for an assault on the U.S. 3d Division. (Map No. 19.)
The enemy divisions were considerably understrength, however, and there was no great disparity in numbers between the opposing Allied and German forces.
The initial objective of the impending German drive was to penetrate the outer beachhead defense Positions on a line running from Carano to Isola Bella. Depending on the success of the first day's attack, the enemy then planned to push toward the west branch of the Mussolini Canal--the final Allied beachhead defense line. If the attack developed successfully, Fourteenth Army planned to commit the reserve 29th Panzer Grenadier Division to bolster the assault of the advancing German forces, either on the west flank along Spaccasassi Creek or in a surprise attack against the 3d Division right flank to be launched from east of the main Mussolini Canal.
On the eve of the German attack of 29 February, the forward positions of the 3d Division extended from a point one mile west of Carano to the junction of the west branch with the main Mussolini Canal. The outer defense line was held by the following units, in order from west to east: the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, with the attached 3d Battalion, 30th Infantry, on the left, occupied the forward line on either side of Carano; the 7th Infantry, the line from Formal del Bove Creek to Ponte Rotto; the 15th Infantry, from Ponte Rotto through Isola Bella to a position just west of Cisterna Creek; and the 504th Parachute Infantry, with the attached 4th Ranger Battalion on the left, from Cisterna Creek to the Mussolini Canal and thence to its junction with the west
branch. Each regiment in the forward line had one or more battalions in reserve, and the bulk of the 30th Infantry was also held in reserve. (Map No. 19.)
Because of the relaxation of enemy pressure against the western half of the beachhead front after 25 February, VI Corps had ample reserves to reinforce the 3d Division in case the enemy seriously threatened to break through its positions.
The regrouping of Allied forces after the Germans had been stopped on 20 February was accompanied by a change in the command of VI Corps. The former commander of the 3d Division, General Truscott, who had been named Deputy Commander of VI Corps on 17 February, succeeded General Lucas as Commander of VI Corps on 23 February. General Lucas returned to the United States, where he subsequently became Commanding General of the Fourth Army.
The 3d Division Repulses the Enemy
On the afternoon of 28 February the enemy laid down a smoke screen on the front of the 3d Division to conceal last-minute troop movements. After midnight enemy artillery fire shifted from the British front to the 3d Division sector, paying special attention to the village of Carano. VI Corps, anticipating the attack on the 3d Division, had matched the shift of enemy guns to the east by moving the 27th and 91st Armored Field Artillery Battalions to the vicinity of Conca where they could thicken the fire of the 3d Division artillery. At 0430, Corps and division artillery responded to the enemy fire with an hour-long counter preparation which blasted the enemy front-line positions and assembly areas. For every shell that cratered the muddy ground or struck a farmhouse within the American lines, VI Corps' massive array of guns threw back twenty. The Germans estimated that Allied artillery fired 66,000 rounds of ammunition on 29 February, more than double the number fired on any single day in the big offensive of 16-20 February. Artillery alone could not Stop the attack. just as the first streaks of dawn glinted on the snow-covered peaks of the Lepini Mountains
MAJ. GEN. LUCIAN K. TRUSCOTT
Commanding General, VI Corps
(23 February 1944)
smoke began tolling in on the 3d Division front. A few moments later 3d Division artillery observers were calling frantically for fire missions as one choice target after another presented itself. Striking at half a dozen points along the front, enemy infantry and armor surged forward against the 3d Division defenses, (Map No. 20.)
Of the enemy's initial attacks only the one directed against the sector of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion achieved any appreciable success. For this attack the enemy assigned the 1028th Panzer Grenadier Regiment the mission of taking the village of Carano, and elements of the 362d Infantry Division were to reach the road junction a mile and one-half southeast of Carano. Engineer troops were to assist the assault waves in opening gaps through the outer defenses.
The principal attack struck Company B, 509th Parachute Infantry, which was dug in on a low hill a mile northeast of the village of Carano.
When artillery fire began failing on the company area, 1st Lt. John R. Martin, the company commander, called for counterbattery and defensive fires from the supporting artillery and the 83d Chemical Battalion's 4.2-inch mortars. Enemy shells knocked out the telephone lines to the battalion and all firing had to be done without observation. Before dawn, company outposts spotted the first wave of gray-green troops advancing through the smoke screen. The little group on the hill held its fire, waiting for the enemy to come within range. The smoke was beginning to lift now and the defending troops could see more clearly. Suddenly, as enemy assault engineers, equipped with wire cutters and bangalore torpedoes, began cutting paths through the shell-torn barbed wire, the bill erupted in a sheet of flame, Rifle and machine-gun bullets tore gaps in the advance wave of the attackers. The Germans faltered, then pushed on. Singing and shouting they swarmed up the slope and rushed the positions of the greatly outnumbered paratroopers. When the enemy closed in on the company command post, the executive officer, in the absence of Lieutenant Martin, who was believed to have been wounded, ordered the remnants of the company to withdraw. Only one officer and twenty-two men reached the battalion's main line of resistance some 700 yards to the rear. The rest of the company was listed as missing in action, though many men were killed in the final hand-to-hand struggle for possession of the hill.
Having broken through the initial beachhead line of resistance the troops of the 1st Battalion, 1028th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, who led the assault, swung southwest across the open fields lying between Carano Creek and Formal del Bove Creek, which ran through deep ravines leading south toward the west branch of the Mussolini Canal. Advancing on a 1,000-yard skirmish line, the enemy closed in on the paratroopers of Company A who were dug in north of the road below Carano. At 0735, Lt. Col. William P. Yarborough, the battalion commander, tried to get a call through requesting air support. The line to the rear was out. When the 7th Infantry, on the right, sent a platoon of its supporting tanks to assist, Muddy fields held them up. It was left to the artillery, the mortars, and the ninety-six men comprising Company A to stop the attack. Division and Corps artillery were now zeroed in on the attacking troops, and the paratroopers 81-mm. mortar platoon and three 60-mm. mortars located along the Carano road fired with deadly effect,
SMOKE OVER THE FRONT LINES was the prevalent condition during the Anzio campaign as one force or the other prepared for an attack. This picture, taken from a farmhouse observation post, shows the zone of a German attack and obscures the Lepini Mountains beyond.
until the enemy got so close that the mortar men had to reach for their rifles. Under fire from all sides the enemy force stopped short of the road and sought cover in the ditches. It had penetrated 800 yards to the intermediate beachhead line, but the enemy needed to widen his narrow salient if he was to capitalize on his initial success.
Simultaneous enemy attacks to gain ground on the flanks of the salient failed. West of Carano the assault parties of the 2d Battalion, 1028th Panzer Grenadier Regiment, attacking at 0530, became tangled in the wire in front of Company I, 30th Infantry. Before they could cut their way through, machine-gun fire killed a German officer, and twenty-one of his men surrendered. At 0630 the attack was repeated. Again a German officer was killed and eighteen more of the enemy surrendered. Tank and infantry attacks against Company L, 30th Infantry, were broken up by artillery fire and a platoon of the 751st Tank Battalion. Sgt. William Bolich had concealed his tank in a house where he could cover the road into Carano. While he was observing from the turret, an enemy shell struck the house bringing down part of the stone and masonry wall. Sergeant Bolich was struck in the back by a piece of concrete and a second block damaged the elevating mechanism of the 75-mm. gun so that the muzzle could not be raised. In spite of his injured back, Sergeant Bolich crawled out of the turret and propped up the barrel of the gun sufficiently to allow the gunner to fire. In the course of the day the damaged M-4 knocked out three Mark IV tanks and effectively stopped the armored attack.
East of Carano the troops of the 362d Infantry Division tried repeatedly but unsuccessfully to deepen and widen the salient that had been won between Carano Creek and Formal del Bove Creek, directing their attacks against the 2d Battalion, 7th Infantry. In each case massed Corps and division artillery fire broke up the infantry drives, while supporting tanks and tank destroyers held off the enemy armor. Mortar fire systematically searched the deep ditches which the enemy used as routes of approach and as protection against the artillery.
During the morning of 29 February the Allied air effort was nullified by heavy clouds and squalls, but beginning at 1500 247 fighter-bombers and 24 light bombers bombed and strafed enemy tanks and infantry close behind the tines. In the attacks on the west flank of the 3d Division front which had begun at daylight, the Germans had gained some ground but were unable to exploit their penetration. Although communication within American units was poor, individual positions remained secure. The danger of a breakthrough on the division left appeared to be over. At 1930 the 2d Battalion, 30th Infantry, and a platoon of Company C, 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, launched a counterattack to regain the lost ground.
East of the Carano sector, other troops of the 362d Infantry Division attempted to penetrate between the positions of the 2d and 3d Battalions, 7th Infantry, along the axis of Le Mole Creek. Making use of the dirt roads leading south through the rolling country between the ditches, enemy tanks in groups of three to six supported the infantry. One platoon of Company G was overrun by tanks and Colonel Sherman had to commit elements of the reserve 1st Battalion. Small-scale but bitter fighting raged all along the front as the opposing forces struggled to gain control of strategic farmhouses or knolls. Colonel Sherman's troops held their ground and at the end of the day the 362d Infantry Division had little to show for its efforts.
Farther to the east the 26th Panzer Division had better success. Mark IV and Mark VI Tiger tanks attacked the 3d Battalion's right flank west of Ponte Rotto. Striking at noon down the Cisterna-Campomorto road the tanks and armored infantry drove Company L back from a bridge 1,000 yards southwest of Ponte Rotto. Lt. Col. William A. Weitzel, the 3d Battalion commander, sent a platoon of Company I forward to assist Company L, and the advance was checked. Late in the afternoon nebelwerfer rockets screamed into the 3d Battalion's positions and smoke covered the area as the 26th Panzer Division attempted unsuccessfully to exploit its gains, General O'Daniel and
Colonel Sherman immediately took steps to deal with the danger of an armored breakthrough. After dark, engineers were ordered forward to mine and crater the road, tank destroyers and antitank guns were sent up, and artillery and mortar fire was concentrated on the enemy tanks. The 81-mm. mortars, in addition to their role of holding off the enemy infantry, had already accounted for two of the tanks, but so long as the enemy retained control of the captured bridge the threat of renewed attacks remained.
For his attack on the 15th Infantry, which held the ground on both sides of the Conca-Cisterna road, General Mackensen employed elements of the Hermann Goering Panzer Division. Before dawn a patrol of forty to fifty men infiltrated to the east of Isola Bella. It managed to get through the barbed wire and mine fields without being detected, and by daylight it was well within the outer beachhead defense line. There it was trapped and during the day the scattered enemy troops were mopped up before they could do any damage. The principal threat came from enemy tanks operating down the roads from Cisterna and Ponte Rotto. The tanks carried personnel for the purpose of clearing the roads of obstacles; otherwise, infantry played only a slight part in the attack. Company G, covering the battered village of Isola Bella, was under tank fire all day. just before noon one platoon was driven out of its positions and at the end of the day the company was reduced to thirty-eight men with another twenty-five in the attached Company H, although others found their way back during the night. Company F was sent up to assist it and the key position of Isola Bella was held. The enemy's efforts to keep his tanks hidden in smoke only partly succeeded and the destroyers of the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion had a field day. They knocked out at least seven of the attacking tanks and damaged nine others.
Enemy units under the Command of the 715th Infantry Division also launched diversionary attacks against the right flank of the 3d Division near the Mussolini Canal. In the sector of the 504th Parachute Infantry a composite company made up of elements drawn from the 715th Engineer Battalion and the 16th SS-Reichsfuehrer Division attacked at dawn to capture a bridge across Cisterna Creek. The 4th Ranger Battalion broke up the attack. Farther to the south Combat Group Schindler, made up of odds and ends of the 715th Infantry and Hermann Goering Panzer Divisions, attempted to gain a bridgehead across the Mussolini Canal south of the village of Borgo Sabatino. Engineers carrying light foot ladders for use as bridging equipment led the advance. A strong patrol from the 1st Special Service Force laid an ambush in the no man's land on the east side of the canal and when the surprised enemy troops, many of whom were young and inexperienced boys, took refuge in a group of houses, artillery fire was concentrated on them. Thrown into confusion by the shelling, the enemy troops scattered. By mid-afternoon General Frederick's patrols, whose raids into enemy territory had for days kept their opponents terrorized, rounded up 4 officers and 107 men.
At the end of the first day of his offensive the enemy had hardly dented the 3d Division's outer line of defense. His tactic of attacking on a wide front with infantry units of company and battalion size, probably dictated by the open nature of the terrain and respect for VI Corps superiority in artillery, had broken down against the well-organized positions of the 3d Division troops. His armor, although more successful than the infantry, was hampered by mine fields and the ever-present mud which made it almost impossible to operate off the roads. Employed in small groups, the enemy tanks and self-propelled guns lacked the power necessary to achieve a breakthrough and they made good targets for VI Corps' emplaced tanks and tank destroyers. In the course of the day twenty-one enemy tanks were reported destroyed.
In holding off the enemy attacks the forward battalions of the 3d Division suffered heavy losses. They were forced to commit their reserve companies to back up the line, and individual companies from regimental reserves were drawn upon for local counterattacks. Nevertheless, with the exception of the commitment of the 2d Battalion, 30th
Infantry, to regain the ground lost northeast of Carano, the drain on division and Corps reserves was slight. Since it was estimated that the enemy still had available a considerable reserve of tanks, General Truscott attached to the 3d Division an additional company of tank destroyers and the 3d Battalion, 1st Armored Regiment. Orders also were issued that all roads leading into the beachhead should be cratered and new mine fields laid. With a large air support program promised, the 3d Division faced the second day of the enemy's offensive in a spirit of confidence.
The pattern of the enemy attacks on 1 March followed closely that of the preceding day, but on a reduced scale; their effectiveness was lessened by the vigorous countermeasures which General O'Daniel had taken to strengthen his positions. The counterattack launched by the 2d Battalion, 30th Infantry, late in the afternoon of 29 February, made good progress until the early morning hours of 1 March, when it was held up by enemy troops dug in around a house east of Carano. The battalion stopped to reorganize and then continued the attack at dawn, bypassing the point of resistance and pushing on to reach its objective, the former outpost line of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, by 0830. Seventy-six prisoners were taken and an enemy counterattack repulsed during the morning. Before the enemy could launch a large-scale attack early in the afternoon, the battalion had consolidated its positions. Eighteen battalions of artillery were concentrated on the counterattacking enemy troops and their attack broke down. By dawn of 2 March the 30th Infantry had relieved all elements of the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, which then passed into division reserve. The enemy's hard-won gains on the 3d Division left flank had been erased.
The principal action on 1 March centered around the captured bridge southwest of Ponte Rotto. Efforts made by the 7th Infantry during the night of 29 February-1 March to destroy the enemy tanks at the bridge failed. Bazooka squads were stopped by enemy infantry protecting the bogged-down tanks and when, at General O'Daniel's suggestion, all attempt was made to illuminate them with flares so that the tank destroyers could fire, pouring rain ruined most of the flares. At 0345 Company K, astride a dirt road northwest of the bridge, was attacked by tanks and infantry. The tanks rolled right into the company lines and blasted the men from their fox holes, virtually annihilating one platoon. As all of their bazookas were out of order the men fought back with Molotov cocktails and sticky grenades. Artillery came to their support and the attack was stopped. At dawn the enemy shifted the emphasis to Company L near the bridge. The steady rain, which kept Allied planes on the ground, likewise hampered the movement of the enemy armor, already hemmed in by road craters and mine fields, and the attacks against the 7th Infantry as well as similar armored and infantry attacks against the 15th Infantry near Isola Bella, failed to gain any ground. General Truscott expressed his satisfaction in the progress of the battle when he told General O'Daniel he was "delighted with the way you have stopped the Boche."
Clear weather on 2 Match permitted the Mediterranean Allied Air force to carry out the extensive air program planned for the preceding day. It was an impressive display of Allied air power. Two hundred forty-one B-24 Liberators and 100 B-17 Fortresses, with 113 P-38 Lightnings and 63 P-47 Thunderbolts providing top cover, dropped thousands of fragmentation bombs on areas around Cisterna, Velletri, and Carroceto, The total of 351 heavy bombers was even greater than that flown on 17 February, the peak day in the air support given to VI Corps during General Mackensen's big drive. An equally impressive force of medium, light, and fighter-bombers concentrated on enemy tanks, gun positions, and assembly areas, particularly along the railroad running through Cisterna and Campoleone which served the enemy both as a final defense line and an assembly area from which to launch his attacks. The combined effect of the tremendous weight of bombs dropped during the daylight hours of 2 March and night bombing of the roads around Cisterna aided materially in dissuading the enemy from continuing the offensive.
Ground action on 2 March was on a limited scale. West of the Albano road the enemy resumed his tactics of infiltration on the front of the 1 and 56 Divisions and he launched one tank and infantry attack down the road to Isola Bella. In all cases the attacks were beaten off. At Ponte Rotto enemy engineers were busy constructing a bridge across Femminamorta Creek in an effort to salvage tanks which had been damaged or stuck in the mud and to open a way for a continuation of the attack on the 7th Infantry. Colonel Sherman's troops also were trying to get at the German tanks. A knocked out M-4 blocked the road making it impossible to get antitank guns forward. In the morning a bazooka squad managed to get close enough to throw Molotov cocktails at a tank. Three hits from a bazooka bounced off without damaging it and two Molotov cocktails were equally ineffective when they failed to catch fire. After dark the men tried again with more success. One tank was set afire and bazookas scored five hits on a Tiger tank. Artillery and tank destroyers had already disposed of at least four others. The stretch of road between the captured bridge and Ponte Rotto was becoming a graveyard of enemy armor. At Isola Bella enemy tank recovery crews tried to reach a damaged Ferdinand tank destroyer and a Tiger tank. Flares were shot over the area and the 601st Tank Destroyer Battalion saw to it that the damaged vehicles were still there the next morning.
At dawn on 3 March the enemy renewed his attack on the 3d Battalion, 7th Infantry, southwest of Ponte Rotto. Tanks and armored infantry of the 26th Panzer Division broke through Company L's positions astride the road, forcing a slight withdrawal. Then the battalion held, and in the afternoon the 3d Division switched to the offensive. Colonel Sherman sent Company A, under Captain Athas, and Company B, under Maj. Lloyd B. Ramsey, up the road toward Ponte Rotto to recapture the contested bridge and restore the 7th Infantry's former positions. The division artillery poured smoke shells into the area ahead of the troops before the attack was launched at 1330. Some of the smoke drifted over beyond Ponte Rotto, giving the 15th Infantry the impression that it was the enemy who was preparing to attack. The 15th Infantry expended a lot of ammunition laying down defensive fires across its front until a call to 7th Infantry headquarters clarified the situation. The smoke was thin at first, then it improved and the two companies moved forward. Company B, attacking on the north side of the road, reached its objective northwest of the bridge without difficulty; two platoons of Company A, attacking along and to the south of the road, reached the crater where the engineers had created a road block. There they were met by tank fire and a terrific concentration of artillery. Captain Athas was killed and when the two platoons withdrew to reorganize only thirty men were left. Although the enemy still held the contested bridge, the counterattack served its purpose of stopping the enemy attack. At Isola Bella the 15th Infantry sent one company to regain the ground which had been lost on the first day of the enemy attack. No opposition was encountered and the former positions were reoccupied.
The counterattacks launched by the 3d Division on the afternoon of 3 March marked the end of the enemy's third and last major assault against the Anzio beachhead. It was a costly failure for the Germans. Their losses were heavy, both in personnel and equipment; in five days of fighting, 29 February-4 March, they suffered more than 3,500 battle casualties, and at least 30 of their tanks were destroyed, In this final attack, the Germans had made no further progress in reducing the size of the beachhead; their penetrations in the 3d Division outpost line of defense were almost wiped out by Allied counterattacks. Their units had sustained heavy losses and the lack of adequate replacements rendered the Fourteenth Army for the time being incapable of further large-scale offensive action.
The troops of VI Corps were also approaching the point of exhaustion. Six weeks of almost continuous bombing, shelling, and bitter fighting, first to extend the beachhead and then to hold off the enemy attacks, had taken a terrific toll in lives and energy. Fortunately the 3d Division, which bore the brunt of the last enemy offensive, had been given
ENEMY LOSSES in equipment and personnel were high in the attacks of 29 February-3 March. Above: A mine-sweeping detail is clearing the area around destroyed German Mark IV tanks. Below: Prisoners are loaded onto an LCI at Anzio, enroute to a prison camp. Some prisoners were Russians previously captured by the enemy.
an opportunity to prepare for the final German attack. The weeks when the enemy was concentrating his assaults along the axis of the Albano road had been used to absorb and train replacements and to strengthen defenses. As General Mackensen learned to his cost, the beachhead forward line of defense bad been developed into a well-integrated and formidable barrier. When the enemy attack lost its momentum, the 3d Division, although weakened, was still capable of sustained fighting and its positions were almost intact.
The situation in the British sector of the beachhead improved as the enemy weakened. The arrival on 2 March of the 9 and 40 Royal Marine Commandos with a total strength of 660 men provided a force of fresh and highly trained troops. Assigned to the 56 Division, the Commandos were employed in raids along the fluid front west of the Albano road. The tactics of guerilla warfare, which the enemy employed so successfully while he retained the initiative, were now turned against him. The situation was further improved when the British 5 Division moved to the beachhead during the second week of March and relieved the weakened 56 Division.
Field Marshal Kesselring sent a message to General Mackensen at 1840 on 1 March ordering that the assault against the 3d Division be hatted, and that offensive operations be limited to local counterattacks. Fourteenth Army relayed these orders to its subordinate units, and the last major enemy drive against the Anzio beachhead came to an end. The enemy attributed the failure of his final drive to bad weather and to the poor condition of the assaulting troops. Four days of intermittent rain (27 February-l March) had bogged down enemy armor, and it seemed pointless to continue the costly infantry attacks without armored support. A more important explanation of the enemy failure, in the opinion of the commander of the Fourteenth Army, was the inadequate training of units received as reinforcements, the youth and inexperience of replacements, and the general depletion and exhaustion of the attacking forces after the previous weeks of heavy fighting. At a German High Command conference on 3 March, the enemy decided to abandon, at least for the time being, all plans for further major offensive operations on the Anzio front. On 4 March, Fourteenth Army issued an order to its units instructing them to hold their present positions and to develop them defensively as quickly as possible. The German High Command had given official recognition to a situation already apparent to its troops: the enemy efforts to destroy the beachhead had failed.
The enemy had started his offensive in a spirit of confidence and with the determination to make any sacrifice necessary to victory. He had drawn upon his dwindling reserves in northern Italy, France, Yugoslavia, and Germany to build up an effective striking force. Then he attacked. His first drive, designed to pave the way for the breakthrough, was launched with skill and aggressiveness, and he won his objectives. In the period 3-10 February the Campoleone salient was wiped out, and the Factory and Carroceto were taken. He had then massed his forces for the blow which he expected would carry his infantry and armor through to the sea. In the crucial struggle of 16-20 February, the beachhead line of defense bent, but did not break. Although the enemy attempted to continue his offensive and to pour more troops into the battle after 20 February, he was unable to make up his losses or restore the confidence of his troops. His attacks during the last drive launched on 29 February showed both timidity and lack of coordination. The enemy's efforts to win a victory which would bolster flagging morale at home and restore the reputation of the German Army abroad had broken down against the stubborn resistance of the Allied troops holding the Anzio beachhead; they had brought him only a further depletion of his already strained resources in equipment and manpower.
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1. The second battalion organized in the British Army which bore the designation: "7 Battalion, The Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)."
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