Chapter XXVI
Results and Prospects

Spring 1944

As the battlefields at Cassino and Anzio became quiet at the end of March, the major Allied problem was how to get enough strength into Italy to break what had become a stalemate. Cassino and Anzio both posed their requirements. In addition, another projected operation exerted pressure for still more resources--the invasion of southern France, which was designed to complement the cross-Channel attack in June 1944 and which was to be executed with forces drawn from the Mediterranean theater.1 (Map VII)

Code-named ANVIL, the landings in southern France would require several American divisions from Italy, as well as French divisions from North Africa. Despite the arrival of new units in the theater and the shift of the Eighth Army to the west of the Apennines, troops withdrawn from Italy for ANVIL would deprive General Alexander of the strength to capture Rome.

The American Joint Chiefs of Staff had long favored launching ANVIL even if it left Rome in German hands. The British Chiefs of Staff vehemently opposed weakening the forces in Italy until Rome was captured. As commander of both the Fifth Army in Italy and the Seventh Army preparing for ANVIL in Sicily, General Clark was in the middle of these opposing points of view.

His inclinations lay with the Fifth Army. When General Wilson, the theater commander, asked General Clark late in January when the Fifth Army commander thought he could leave Italy to devote full attention to ANVIL, Clark said 15 March, perhaps later. Wilson "told me," Clark wrote in his diary, "he was anxious for me to remain [in command of the Fifth Army] as long as possible, which fits in exactly with my ideas." For the landings in southern France, Wilson and Clark earmarked the 3d and 45th Divisions.2

As the intensity of the Italian campaign mounted in February with the battles of Cassino and Anzio, it became increasingly apparent that General Clark should remain with the Fifth Army, "which, of course," Clark noted, "suits me."3 And when it became obvious that the campaign had bogged down--the Anzio operation had failed to get the Allied forces to Rome and there was no immediate prospect that the Fifth Army at Cassino would be able to make a juncture with the Anzio forces--it also became apparent that the lack of success in southern Italy might rule out southern France altogether and that in any case it would be unfair to General


Clark to take him out of Italy until the battle there was won.4

On the last day of February, General Clark was released from responsibility for ANVIL. A rather formal letter of instructions brought him the news. General Wilson wrote:

The Italian campaign has assumed such importance that the Commander-in-Chief [Wilson] is loath to risk a change in Commanders of Fifth Army either now or in the near future. Firm directives concerning Operation ANVIL have now been received from the Combined Chiefs of Staff which require immediate implementation. Your responsibilities on the Italian mainland are too grave to burden you with the added responsibility for continued ANVIL planning which must be closely supervised from now on. For these reasons, decision has been reached by General Wilson and concurred in by General Devers, that you shall remain in command of Fifth Army and be relieved of responsibility for the Seventh Army and ANVIL planning effective this date.5

"This is a great relief to me," General Clark wrote, "for I have no time to give any thought to any other subject except the battle [in Italy]."6

In March, when the strategic debate over ANVIL arose anew, the British Chiefs of Staff felt so strongly that it was necessary to gain Rome before the forces in Italy were reduced that they recommended canceling the invasion of southern France. It was unwise, they believed, to withdraw troops from Italy and thus deprive the commanders of the strength to take Rome or to pull out landing craft that were being employed for vital supply movements to the Anzio beachhead forces. Recognizing that the beachhead defenders could hardly be denied the shipping needed to sustain them, the American Joint Chiefs of Staff abandoned their earlier position that ANVIL should be launched whether Rome was captured or not.

The outcome of the discussion was a decision by the Combined Chiefs of Staff to invade southern France only after the situation in Italy improved--specifically, after the Allies joined the Cassino and Anzio fronts and took Rome.

Asked by General Devers for an estimate on when the main forces would join with the beachhead forces and therefore when he would have to release the 3d and 45th Divisions for ANVIL, General Clark replied that the weather would prevent a co-ordinated attack until early May. He believed it would then take three weeks for the forces on the main front to advance to Anzio. More time would be needed to get VI Corps out of the line and to give the troops a period of rest and reorganization before driving to Rome. It would perhaps be too late by that time "to contribute much to OVERLORD," but that was "a matter beyond my scope."7

As it turned out, the landings in southern France, originally conceived as a simultaneous development with OVERLORD, would come two months later. The Allied forces would make no further effort to crack the Gustav Line until early May. Until the Cassino positions were taken no favorable change could be expected at Anzio. And until the separate fronts in Italy were joined, no drive on Rome could be made.8 In April,


while the Allied command prepared its spring offensive, the war in Italy became a series of un-co-ordinated, small unit actions, raids, ambushes, patrols, and forays, with an occasional sharp skirmish.

Beginning in March, the XII Air Support Command executed Operation STRANGLE, the bombing program for which General Eaker had such high hopes. Medium bombers of the 42d and 57th Bombardment Wings, which had principal responsibility for the sustained interdiction operation, directed their attacks against German lines of communication, primarily railways. They tried to cut large sections of the rail lines in central Italy in order to disrupt traffic between the Pisa-Rimini area and the battlefronts in southern Italy. Attacks concentrated on bridges, tunnels, defiles, and open stretches of track rather than on marshaling yards.

Operation STRANGLE included 601 sorties in 52 missions in March. During April and the first four days of May, the tempo stepped up--271 missions totaling 2,982 sorties. The climax came between 5 and 10 May, when aircraft flew 1,307 sorties in 115 missions. All together, from 15 March to 10 May, the sorties totaled 4,807. Of the 11,805 sorties flown during the month between 10 April and 10 May by the XII Tactical Air Command, as the XII Air Support Command was redesignated on 15 April, 38 percent were devoted to STRANGLE.9

Despite high hopes and a heavy expenditure of planes and explosives, Operation STRANGLE achieved nothing more than nuisance value. The Germans quickly repaired breaks in the lines and rerouted traffic. Contrary to the expectations of Allied airmen, the combat effectiveness of the Germans suffered little.10

At Anzio, the beachhead forces remained under tension. It was easy enough for a visitor arriving in April to gain a false impression of safety and calm. Despite the visible destruction around the tiny harbor, the men appeared cheerful, even insouciant. Except for 750 Italian civilian laborers, the population was entirely military; 22,000 men, women, and children had been evacuated to Naples soon after the landings and more than 100,000 troops had taken their places. In apparent unconcern over the danger that struck periodically, men unloaded vessels, trucked supplies to inland dumps, and performed the duties normal in all military installations. The occasional white plume of water that rose as an enemy shell plunged into the bay had an impersonal air. Yet the next shell to whistle over the beachhead might land in the hold of a ship or blow to pieces a jeep driving through Nettuno. At any moment one or a dozen German planes might swoop out of the sun to lay a deadly trail of bombs and bullets.

The horror of the beachhead was the constant, yet hidden presence of death. Casualties were never numerous at any one time. But the continual waiting and expectancy produced strain, for every part of the beachhead was vulnerable to enemy guns and planes. To reduce the accuracy of incoming shells and bombs, a host of smoke generators created artificial fog--smoke pots were placed in a semicircle paralleling the beachhead perimeter and on boats screening the port. During the day the smoke produced


a light haze, at night a dense low-hanging cloud.11 Yet the smoke could neither obstruct nor deflect the random shell, the lucky bomb.

German shells and bombs struck ammunition dumps, Quartermaster depots, and medical installations. Casualties among medical personnel alone totaled 92 killed (including 6 nurses), 367 wounded, and 79 missing or captured for the four months that the beachhead existed.

Trenches, foxholes, dugouts, and pits throughout the beachhead protected men and matériel. Tons of earth pushed up by bulldozers made walls to shelter the neatly stacked piles of gasoline cans and ammunition. Dirt and sandbag revetments ringed the hospital tents, reinforced with planking for added protection to shock wards and operating rooms.

That the port of Anzio continued to operate at all was a testimonial to the quiet courage it took to work under the hazardous conditions. On 29 March, when 7,828 tons of supplies were brought ashore, Anzio in terms of unloading operations was the fourth largest port in the world.

The logistical lifeline, which made possible the continued existence of the beachhead, was a substantial supply effort. Despite the hope of a relatively quick linkup between the beachhead and main front forces, the planners had from the first established supply runs from North African ports and from Naples. Liberty ships, LST's, and LCT's, some carrying preloaded trucks and DUKW's, brought the means of waging war and the necessities of life, plus some luxuries, to the men in the beachhead.

From 28 January on, weather permitting, a convoy of six LST's departed Naples daily for the 100-mile trip to Anzio. Each vessel carried fifty trucks, a total of 300 per convoy. Each truck was loaded to maximum 5-ton capacity, then backed on a ship for the voyage so that it could be driven off quickly at the destination. The 1,500 tons of cargo carried generally consisted of 60 percent ammunition, 20 percent fuel, and 20 percent rations--for sustaining the beachhead forces and stockpiling items for the coming spring offensive. At Anzio, empty trucks were ready to be driven aboard the unloaded LST's for return to Naples.12

Other vessels supplemented the daily LST shuttle. Each week fifteen LCT's made a round trip between Naples and Anzio. Every ten days four Liberty ships, usually loaded at North African ports, arrived at the beachhead.

LST's and LCT's docked in the harbor of Anzio, Liberty ships unloaded offshore, their cargoes brought into the harbor or over the beaches by a fleet of 20 LCT's, almost 500 DUKW's, and a few LCI's. By 1 February the port was handling 8 LST's, 8 LCT's, and 15 LCI's simultaneously. The volume of supplies, for example, enabled the 450 artillery pieces in the beachhead by mid-February to fire an average of 20,000 rounds per day.



Because hospital ships were unable to dock at the Anzio wharf, LCT's ferried patients to the ships standing offshore. Air evacuation was impossible because the dust raised by the planes landing and taking off brought immediate artillery fire from the enemy.

Despite bad weather, relatively poor unloading facilities, and enemy bombardment and shelling, more than half a million tons of supplies were discharged at Anzio during four months, a daily average of about 4,000 tons. No serious supply shortages ever developed at the beachhead.

Anzio became the epic stand on a lonely beachhead. But the dogged courage of the men on that isolated front could not dispel the general disappointment--the amphibious operation had not led to the quick capture of Rome. Furthermore, the expedition had approached disaster, averted only by the grim determination of the troops to hold. What made it possible for the forces at Anzio to endure a situation fraught with defeat was the logistical support they received. Without Allied command of the sea, the very concept of Anzio would have been out of the question. And in the end it was support across the water, tied to courage on the battlefield, that turned near tragedy into a victory of sorts.

The operations at Anzio taught two immediate lessons: an amphibious assault needed more strength in the initial landing and an immediate drive to key points inland. These were heeded by the planners who prepared OVERLORD.

For the Germans, too, Anzio was a failure. They were unable to eliminate



the beachhead. And the battle was expensive in men and material that were increasingly difficult to replace. Yet they had won a victory of sorts, also. They had prevented the Allies from taking Rome and from cutting the line of communications, thereby making possible German success at the Gustav Line.

Before the Anzio landing, Hitler had assumed that the Allies would invade northwest Europe in a single main effort, and all signs pointed to a cross-Channel attack. Yet the concentration of Allied forces in the Mediterranean led him to wonder whether other major thrusts, perhaps in Portugal or in the Balkans, might precede or accompany the main blow. Believing it hardly likely that the Allied forces would try to push all the way up the Italian peninsula, he viewed the accumulated strength in the Mediterranean and the relative stalemate in Italy as producing a strategic imbalance that the Allied command might try to resolve by a sudden amphibious assault. Anzio seemed to confirm Hitler's theory. Since the beachhead appeared to have only remote tactical connection with the main front, it was possible the venture was an independent, self-sustaining operation, the first of a series of attacks on the continental periphery designed to disperse German reserves. The surprising fact that the troops coming ashore failed to push inland at once but paused instead to consolidate their beachhead gave validity to this interpretation. The purpose of the operation appeared to be to attract German forces rather than to gain tactical objectives. Seeing the Allied forces executing what he took to be a peripheral strategy, Hitler expected


attacks elsewhere before the main assault struck the beaches of northwest France.13

Despite his estimate, Hitler had reacted to Anzio in force and fury, not so much because it might represent the first of a series of major amphibious assaults but because he saw the possibility of obtaining political prestige by eliminating at least this beachhead.

Of the whole campaign in southern Italy from the Allied point of view, the question has often been asked: was the expenditure of lives in the dreadful conditions of terrain and weather justified? The alternative was to concentrate Allied forces elsewhere. But within the context of the strategic thinking of the time, it is difficult to see where else Allied forces, practically and realistically, could have fought the Germans. Transferring men and matériel from the Mediterranean area was uneconomical, particularly in 1943, when shipping was in such short supply. To have moved all or most of the resources to the United Kingdom for OVERLORD would have showed the Axis categorically where the next Allied blow would be struck--and would, of course, have permitted the Germans to displace their own forces to defend against a cross-Channel attack. More important, a wholesale movement out of the theater would have relaxed considerable pressure on the enemy.

And there could be no question of relaxing pressure. The enemy could be permitted no respite, no rest, no opportunity to shift forces to the Russian front. Conversely, neither could the Allied forces assembled in the Mediterranean theater afford to remain idle.

To have used these forces elsewhere in the theater would have made little sense. The soft underbelly of Europe is a fiction. Italy fulfilled the image as the weaker partner of Germany; but in terms of terrain, the soft underbelly does not exist--the Rhône Valley, the Italian mainland, and the Balkan wilderness were equally unappetizing to ground forces.

The Allies entered the Italian mainland, among other reasons, to permit Italy to surrender. They were also attracted there by the desire for airfields and perhaps an exaggerated idea of what air power would accomplish. Once involved, they were to a large extent carried along by the momentum generated by events. The Allied strategy was largely predetermined by what had gone before, and the successive campaigns of North Africa, Sicily, and Italy reflected the influence that events impose on the will of man.

For the Allied forces, the Italian campaign was a vast holding action undertaken to pin down superior German forces and prevent their employment elsewhere. General Alexander has questioned who was holding whom. But the fact is that the Allied command employed relatively little strength in Italy. Perhaps the commanders tried to do too much with and expected far too much from what turned out to be too little. But given the global requirements of World War II, there were insufficient resources to provide the men and matériel needed to achieve speedy victory in Italy. And though the Allied forces inflicted about the same number of casualties on the Germans as they themselves received, the German losses were proportionately more severe.

The cruel, grim campaign of the Allied


forces in Italy accomplished much more than the soldiers there imagined. They saw only the slow and painful advance. But they had made a substantial contribution to victory. Although still denied the obvious prize of the campaign in southern Italy--Rome--the Allied forces secured the Mediterranean to Allied shipping and naval operations and captured airfields that permitted round-the-clock bombardment of vital military targets. Most important, the Allied forces in southern Italy helped to grind down and wear out the German fighting machine, a fact not always apparent in what was essentially a secondary front.

As the invasion of northwest Europe in June 1944 would make more than clear, the campaign in southern Italy was a peripheral venture in the task of winning the war. OVERLORD delivered the mortal blow. Yet the Allied armies in Italy had made Germany more vulnerable to the cross-Channel attack and the subsequent operations. Without the heartbreaking experience in southern Italy, the decisive action in Europe might very well have brought the same anguish and frustration that characterized the battlefield at Anzio and the fighting in the mud and mountains between Salerno and Cassino.


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1. See Smith and Romanus, Riviera to the Rhine.

2. Clark Diary, 27 Jan 44.

3. Ibid., 17 Feb 44.

4. Ibid., 28 Feb 44.

5. Ibid., 29 Feb 44.

6. Ibid.

7. Ibid., 22 Mar 44.

8. See Ernest F. Fisher, Jr., Cassino to the Alps, a forthcoming volume in the series UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.

9. XII Tactical Air Comd Opnl History, 1 Jan-30 Jun 44, pp. 14-43.

10. Fisher, Cassino to the Alps.

11. Fifth Army to AFHQ, 2 Mar 44, Master Cables; Interv, Mathews with Tate, May 45, OCMH. See also Brooks E. Kleber and Dale Birdsell, The Chemical Warfare Service: Chemicals in Combat, UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II (Washington, 1966), pp. 336-40.

12. Fifth Army G-4 Memo, 26 Jan 44, Supply Memos; Interv, Mathews with Tate, May 45, OCMH; Col Charles S. D'Orsa, The Trials and Tribulations of an Army G-4, undated, OCMH.

13. Harrison, Cross-Channel Attack, pp. 231-33.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Jerry Holden for the HyperWar Foundation