THE SLUGGING BATTLE FOR ROME
AMERICANS ON ITALIAN MAINLAND By November 1943, the Americans had moved from Sicily to the mainland of Italy. The Germans, destroying every bridge and culvert en route, withdrew to their "winter line," which they had been preparing feverishly since the Allied landings on the mainland. According to the Marshall Report,1 this defensive position "stretched across the peninsula, following generally the lines of the Carigliano and Sangro Rivers, about 75 miles south of Rome." The Report continues: "Winter had arrived. Heavy rains were falling and streams were in constant flood. The resources of our engineers were taxed to keep in place the temporary bridges on the vital supply routes. Vehicles and men mired deep in mud. Despite the difficulties there was no relaxation of pressure."
HARD FIGHTING FOR ROME "The purpose was to seize Rome as quickly as possible and engage the maximum number of German divisions. The offensive was a series of attacks and pauses, the immediate objectives being key terrain features. It was the hardest kind of fighting. The Germans had mined the roads, trails, natural cross-country routes of advance, and even the stream beds. To reinforce terrain barriers, the enemy constructed strongpoints in which he skillfully employed mine fields, wire entanglements, log-and-earth emplacements, and automatic weapons. Machine gun and mortar emplacements, many of them dug four or five feet into solid rock, covered every approach. To deal with them, the artillery was heavily reinforced by batteries of the heaviest field pieces we had produced. The 240-mm Howitzer and the 8-inch gun were rushed from the United States."
AMERICANS AT CASSINO In December 1943, the U.S. Fifth Army arrived before the entrance to the Cassino corridor to Rome. The Report continues: "The 2nd Moroccan Infantry Division arrived in Italy at this time and was assigned to it. The United States had agreed to equip eight French infantry and armored divisions including supporting troops. The Moroccan division was the forerunner of the Corps Expeditionnaire Français which, under the leadership of General Alphonse Juin, greatly distinguished itself in the hard fighting of the months that followed."
AMERICAN LANDINGS NEAR ANZIO "Early in January 1944, the French Corps, under General Juin, took over the right sector of the Fifth Army Front from the United States Sixth Corps, which was withdrawn to prepare for the Anzio landings. The Fifth Army then launched its attack against the line of the Carigliano River. To disrupt communications in the rear of German forces in the Cassino area, the Sixth Corps landed on the beaches near Anzio, 25 miles south of Rome, on 22 January." Months of bitter fighting followed, accompanied by heavy casualties. Rome fell to the Fifth Army on June 4, 1944, two days before Allied forces began the invasion of France.
COAST GUARD MANNED LST-326
One of the advantages of amphibious warfare, perfected to the extent that it was by the Allies in January 1944, was the ability to move great quantities of men and fighting equipment in a surprise strike from the sea faster than the enemy could bring his reserve ground troops overland to meet the invasion.
Such an operation was planned for execution on the early morning of January 22. The landing area selected was a stretch of coastline that ran from the Nettuno bathing beach, about 30 miles south of Rome, and north through the little port city of Anzio toward the estuary of the River Tiber. The code name for this operation was SHINGLE.
The object of the Anzio landings was to outflank the German GUSTAV and ADOLPH HITLER lines by effecting a landing 55 miles to their rear. The amphibious operation was timed to coincide with a general Fifth Army offensive calculated to tie up the German Tenth Army, thirteen divisions strong. At the same time, Allied air power would hit the German lines of communication around Home and between the beachhead and the German land front.
The United States naval forces were under Hear Admiral Frank J. Lowry, USN, Commander Moroccan Sea Frontier; Rear Admiral Thomas Troubridge, RN, who had participated in the Oran landings, had charge of the Royal Navy ships. Working with the two Admirals were French, Dutch, and Greek ships.
After dark on January 21, the ships in formation turned in for their target--the beaches north and south of Anzio, the little town where Nero is said to have fiddled while Rome burned.
Most of the men on these ships were veterans of at least one amphibious landing. They were expecting a fight and were ready for it.
There were four Coast Guard LST's at Anzio--the 16, 326, 327, and 381. With them was also one PC boat, the 545.
RENDEZVOUS WITH GROUP "A" CONVOY FORANZIO OPERATION The next day LST-326 got underway in convoy, proceeding out swept channel with USS LST's 351, 381, 327, 1; British LST's 361 (Flag), 303 301, 402, 430, 324, and 320. At 1430, they rendezvoused with Group "A" convoy on schedule, and the convoy was reformed.
TROOPS AND DUKW'S DISCHARGED--LST UNDER FIRE On 22 January--"D" day--the LST, operating with Task Force SHINGLE PETER, anchored at 0010-A. All troops and DUKW's were discharged according to schedule and the small boats returned, reporting that troops had landed with no casualties. Throughout "D" day, the LST was under fire from enemy batteries with shells falling
COMMANDER JACK DEMPSEY AND CREW OF COAST GUARD MANNED LST-327
as close as 30 feet. At 1324, during the height of the attack, batteries were spotted and estimated to be in range of the 3"-50 gun. LST's 326 and 351 requested permission to open fire, but the request was denied, so the former vessel was moored to outer anchorage as shelling continued. At 1600, she was ordered to proceed to Sector X-ray, where she arrived with LST-1 at 1830 and anchored. The next day, LST-326 was signalled by SNOL to discharge remainder of vehicles via pontoons causeway. The vessel was beached at 1130, by 1340 all vehicles were safely ashore, at 1430 she was ordered to proceed to convoy assembly area off Anzio, Italy, and at 1800 she arrived there. At 2355A, the LST was signalled to form astern of LST-320. Order executed. Early on the 24th the convoy was formed to return to Naples, at 1850A arrived off Nisida, and anchored. On the 25th, the LST-326 moved to Baia, Italy, where she received 6 officers and 168 enlisted men of 1st Armored Division, with tanks and vehicles. Later that day a convoy, including LST-326, was formed, and the vessels proceeded toward Anzio.
LST-327 UNDER ENEMY FIRE At 0025 on the 22nd, the LST-327 let go stem anchor in designated anchorage off Peter beach, and at 0145 rocket ships began shelling the beach. The LST received word via radio at 0226 that the first wave of LCVP's had landed troops on the beach. Six DUKW's were in the water, heading for the beach, at 0330, and the LST closed ramp and bow doors. One LCVP was hoisted at 0830 from LST-326. LST-327 moved to the unloading anchorage early in the afternoon, but immediately afterwards enemy shell fire from the beach started in that area and became so heavy that the vessel was ordered by SNOL(P) to return to previous anchorage, where she let go stern anchor at 1408, There was a red alert from 1448 to 1508 and again from 1605 to 1615, during which times AA fire was aimed at enemy planes. The LST departed for X-ray sector at 1627 and let go stern anchor at 1935.
ITALIANS AID THE ALLIES2 When the Anzio landings were made, the Italians thought that the German resistance in Cassino would end immediately, and Rome could be liberated, but the struggle was to be bitterly contested. All the hopes and longings of the many Italians in the resistance groups that had seemed about to be quickly realized had to wait. For the Germans rushed so many divisions to the Anzio beachhead that the Allies were not able to advance sufficiently inland and the Cassino front remained for several months the scene of bloody fighting. The Anzio beachhead was confined to a small area, where the life of the American and English troops was very hard, with practically every inch of the place hit by German artillery.
The Italians were already fighting side by side with the 5th American Army and the 8th British Army. As for the Italian underground, its members were in contact with the American and English commands, and were
SHELLS BURST IN GERMAN HELD CASSINO, RAPIDO RIVER AREA, ITALY. REMAINS OF CASTLE CAN BE SEEN IN THE BACKGROUND. NOTE THE FLOODED AREA AT THE BASE OF TOWN TO PREVENT A MECHANIZED ADVANCE. FEBRUARY 24, 1944
struggling fiercely against the supply lines of the advancing Germans. Thousands upon thousands of Italian youths were said to be up in the mountains to molest the Germans and cut off their supplies.
NO LOSS--BUT NO EXTENSION Bitter fighting continued, meanwhile in the streets of Cassino on the main Fifth Army front to the east, with the Germans pouring in even more men and weapons. There was also thick fighting in the mountains northwest of Cassino with the Germans counterattacking. Heavy fighting continued along the perimeter of the invasion beachhead, especially in the northern part, headquarters said. No loss of terrain there was announced, but no extension of the Allied holdings was claimed.
FIRST PHASE COMPLETED Headquarters said, however, that the first phase of the Anzio operations had been completed with the beachhead successfully established and an adequate base for a fighting force set up there. The immediate task of the beachhead force was to hold and strengthen its territory against attacks by strong forces the Germans sent therein an attempt to drive the Allies out.
YANKS EDGE UP ROCKY HILLS ABOVE CASSINO
FIGHTING FROM ABBEY ON HILLTOP Weary, mud-stained American doughboys inched their way up the rocky hills above Cassino on February 11, carrying out their attack in rain, sleet and hail in a gallant effort to bring a quick end to the bloody house-to-house fighting in shambles of Cassino below. Progress was slow and painful among the rocky crags, especially on Monte Cassino, where the Germans have built their defensive system around the historic Benedictine Abbey, lacing the hillsides with steel fortifications.
ALLIES AVOID FIRING ON MONASTERY Allied artillerymen carefully avoided the abbey with artillery fire, though officers said the old monastery was definitely being used as an observation post. Many soldiers were bitter that is was left unmolested while their comrades died below it.
BITTEREST FIGHTING OF ITALIAN CAMPAIGN In the town itself, American troops moved forward a few houses from the north end of the community, where they clung to a slender toe-hold for 10 days. The rain turned the area into a sticky, muddy mess. Water ran down the mountains in torrents to plague tired but willing doughboys. Some of the trails up to the front lines could be negotiated only by pack mules. The fight for Cassino turned into one of the bitterest of the entire Italian campaign, with losses on both sides heavy.
THE DESTRUCTION OF THE BENEDICTINE MONASTERY AT CASSINO WAS TERMED A "MILITARY NECESSITY" BY PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT
BEACHHEAD SITUATION TENSE On February 11, the Battle of the Beachhead in Italy was a very tense situation, marked by heavy fighting. Mr. Roosevelt, at a news conference, said that the Anglo-American forces controlled the sea and the skies, but that we were praying for good weather. The weather, he added, was a very important factor, since it affected the landing of reinforcements and troops on the beachhead and determined whether we could use our air superiority.
ROOSEVELT CALLS DESTRUCTION OF ABBEY "A MILITARY NECESSITY"
On February 15, President Roosevelt announced that the Fifth Army's plane and artillery attack on the centuries-old Benedictine Monastery in Italy was a military necessity.
He then read from an order issued by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, commander in chief of the Allied Forces, on December 29, concerning famous buildings and monuments in Italy. The gist of this was that these shrines were to be respected so far as the war allowed. However, if it came to a choice between a famous building and sacrificing Allied soldiers, then the building would have to go.
This, it was made clear at the White House, was the choice that faced Gen. Mark Clark in the case of the monastery founded by St. Benedict.
General Eisenhower's order concerning the protection of historic monuments follows:
"Today we are fighting in a country which has contributed a great deal to our cultural inheritance, a country rich in monuments which by their creation helped and now in their old age illustrate the growth of the civilization which is ours. We are bound to respect those monuments so far as war allows.
"If we have to choose between destroying a famous building and sacrificing our own men, then our men's live count infinitely more and the building must go.
"But the choice is not always as clear-cut as that. In many cases the mountains can be spared without any detriment to operational needs. Nothing can stand against the argument of military necessity. That is an accepted principle. But the phrase 'military necessity' is sometimes used where it would be more truthful to speak of military convenience. I do not want it to cloak slackness or indifference.
"It is a responsibility of higher commanders to determine through AMG officers the locations of historical monuments whether they be immediately ahead of our front lines or in areas occupied by us. This information passed to lower echelons through normal channels places the responsibility on all commanders of complying with the spirit of this letter."
15 FEBRUARY, 1944, CASSINO AREA ITALY, BENEDICTINE MONASTERY BEING BOMBED BY ALLIED AIR FORCE TO FORCE THE ENEMY FROM THE MONASTERY AND SURROUNDING AREA
U.S. PRINTING INVASION MONEY, PRESIDENT HINTS
President Roosevelt said that he wouldn't be surprised if the Bureau of Engraving and Printing were now turning out German currency for the use of our invasion armies.
He smiled broadly when he said this, and reporters were not able to decide whether or not he was pulling their collective leg. It all started when a reporter asked about the report that the Bureau was printing French currency. He wanted to know when it would be used in France.
The President said to leave the time element out of it. Then he disclosed that this country had been printing currency for a good many countries in Europe. Some was for countries that had been occupied, some for countries that were being occupied, and some for countries that would be occupied.
The Chief Executive said that the list was a long one. Here a reporter wanted to know if it would include Germany, and Mr. Roosevelt chuckling, said he wouldn't be surprised.
LIKE RATS IN A TRAP
American bombers blasted German troops from the ancient Benedictine Monastery atop Mount Cassino and attacked the Tiburtina and Ostiense railway yards of Rome in two operations with the single aim of speeding the Fifth Army's rush north.
Aerial explosives and incendiaries and artillery shells turned the Mount Cassino Monastery into a smoke-shrouded ruins and about 300 gray-uniformed German soldiers were sent racing like rats from the stronghold they had fortified to obstruct an Allied drive for the relief of the Anzio bridgehead.
Fifty A-36 Invaders dive-bombed the Rome railway yards and left them burning and covered with smoke, United States Twelfth Air Force headquarters announced. All the Rome raiders returned safely.
Waves of four-engined Flying Fortress first blasted the closely-knit group of buildings atop the 1800-foot peak with tons of explosives, and as the smoke from this bombardment billowed skyward, big guns from the valley below sent hundreds of shells screaming into the monastery buildings.
SOLDIERS CHEER AS MONASTERY IS DESTROYED On a hilltop five thousand yards from Mount Cassino, Italy, on February 15, 1944, to the cheers of doughboys who for two weeks had watched their buddies die under artillery fire directed from the Mount Cassino
REMINISCENT OF DANTE'S INFERNO, THIS PARTIAL VIEW OF CASSINO THROUGH A BREAK IN THE SMOKE SHOWS THAT NOT ONE STRUCTURE REMAINED UNTOUCHED BY ALLIED BOMBS
Benedictine Abbey, that vantage point was knocked out by waves of American Fortress and Mitchell bombers, as well as fire from howitzers. By night there was little left of the square-shaped structure. The monastery's chapel steeple--principle observation post for the Germans--and the east-wall of the abbey lay in ruins, while not a window remained intact under the blasting that blanketed the whole mountain with a precise pattern of bombs and artillery projectiles. Doughboys loudly hailed each parade of bombers as it swept overhead toward Mount Cassino.
NO JOY--ONLY RELIEF But it wasn't the kind of cheering these boys used to do from the rooters' stands of a college football stadium or a baseball park. There was no joy lighting up the mud-splattered faces of the doughboys. They waved and sheered only out of a great feeling of relief, knowing that at last the Nazi transgressors atop that hill to the west would no longer be able to abuse the sanctity of the venerable monastery for the purpose of killing American soldiers. Among the doughboys, there was not a man, of whatever religious belief, who did not express the deepest regret over the necessity of attacking the shrine. Their reaction was summed up by one of them who observed: "The Huns wanted it that way."
On May 17, Cassino, the scene of fierce fighting on the Italian front since January, was evacuated by the Germans. And on May 18, the Allies reported the so-called GUSTAV Line, in Italy had ceased to exist. On May 23, the Fifth U.S. Army launched a terrific assault against the German lines surrounding the Anzio beachhead. Under air and naval cover, the British drove north in the direction of Rome while American troops attacked in an easterly direction. Fighting continued throughout May and early June. On June 4, the Allies occupied Rome.
ITALIAN WAR BEGUN AFTER SURRENDER The Italian war taught the Allies many lessons. Experience gained in the grim campaign helped speed victory over the European Axis. After twenty solid months of the grimmest and most heart-rendering fighting of World War II, the battle for Italy was not to end until VE day. Never before in the history of warfare had so many men and machines been thrown into a struggle for such a forbidding terrain as Italy's mountains. Never before in modern warfare did the real fighting for a country begin only after the country itself had surrendered. Perhaps never before did such a battle begin after the man who was in a considerable degree responsible for its planning conceded that "we are trying one of the biggest bluffs in history." Major General Walter Bedel Smith, General Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, uttered those words in Algiers to a group of war correspondents on the night of September 8, 1943, a few hours after the reporters had flashed to the world the news of Italy's surrender. Even as he spoke, a gigantic landing fleet, already under enemy air attack, was nearing Salerno.
SALERNO INVASION A BIG GAMBLE It was more than a bluff; it was a gamble. For the invasion fleet had sailed for Salerno before Eisenhower and his staff were certain the Italians would carry out the surrender terms and refuse to fight.
A COAST GUARD MANNED LCM UNLOADS ITS CARGO AT THE BEACH, SALERNO, MANEUVERS ON JULY 22, 1944
Moreover, the Germans had a fair idea where the landing would come. They needed only to look for the best piece of landing beach well up the coast from the toe of Italy--where a small Eighth Army force had gone ashore September 3, 1943--which would still be within range of Allied fighter planes based in Sicily. During the next eight days there was opportunity to learn just how big a gamble it was. The Nazi command quickly threw a ring of steel around the shallow beachhead and began a series of tank counterattacks which several times threatened to hurl the invading American and British troops into the sea. The winning of Italy and the destruction of the German armies that tried to hold it was a heroic achievement.
BENEFITS OF SUCCESS IN ITALY The Italian campaign compelled the enemy to divert to the south hundreds of thousands of troops, tanks, and guns, that he would have preferred to hold in the west to meet the invasion from Britain. Italy provided a springboard from which the American Seventh Army's landing in southern France was launched. It supplied a base from which hundreds of American and British bombers were able to operate in a great arc from Bulgaria, Greece, and Rumania, through Hungary, Austria, and Germany to southern France. From Italy, the Allies were able to speed really effective help across the Adriatic to Tito's Yugoslav warriors, send troops to aid the Greeks, and drop scores of tons of ruffles, ammunition, and other supplies to northern Italian patriots. Italy was the Allies' foremost testing ground of war. Experience gained in converting Naples' harbor from a tangled mass of wreckage and scuttled ships into the world's busiest port in a few months was in a great degree responsible for the speed with which ports in France were made usable after the Normandy invasion.
PREPARATIONS FOR INVASIONS OF FRANCE When Eisenhower's men swarmed onto the Normandy beaches and the immense flow of supplies followed, the Allies cashed in on the tricks learned at Anzio beachhead, where for four months every cartridge and every can of food for the American and British divisions had to be landed from small craft, usually under enemy shell fire and air attack. The comparatively green Allied divisions gained battle experience fighting Germany's seasoned troops. The achievements of the Allied troops can be really appreciated when it is realized that they fought--and beat--such units as the German First Parachute Division or the Fifteenth Panzers or the Ninetieth Panzer Grenadiers. The Allies spent the winter and spring months of 1944 in preparations for the invasion of Europe on the beaches of northern France, to be followed up by landings In southern France.
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1. See Marshall Report, 1945.
2. From information in an interview with Dr. Pansa, of the Italian Embassy, 27 May, 1946.