Start of Invasion
LIBERATION OF ROME
By WINSTON CHURCHILL, Prime Minister of Great Britain
Delivered in the House of Commons, London, June 6, 1944
Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 515-516.
THE House should, I think, take formal notice of the liberation of Rome by Allied armies under the command of General Alexander, with General Clark of the United States services and Gen. Oliver Leese in command of the Fifth and Eighth Armies, respectively.
This is a memorable and glorious event which rewards the intense fights of the last five months in Italy. The original landings made on Jan. 22 at Anzio have in the end borne good fruit.
In the first place, Hitler was induced to send to the south of Rome eight or nine divisions which he might well have needed elsewhere.
Secondly, these divisions were repulsed and their teeth were broken by the successful response of the Allied bridgehead force in an important battle which took place in the middle of February. The losses on both sides were heavy, the Allies losing about 20,000 and the Germans about 25,000 men. Thereafter the Anzio bridgehead was considered by the enemy to be impregnable.
Main Army Regrouped
Meanwhile, a great regrouping of the main army had to take place before the attack could be renewed. These attacks were at first unsuccessful, and Cassino still blocked the advance. General Alexander began his present operations, and after unceasing and intense fights by the whole of the army, broke into the enemy lines and entered the Liri Valley.
It is noteworthy that considering the fight from the right to the left, Polish, British, French and United States forces all broke the German lines in front of them by frontal attacks, and this has an important bearing on other aspects which I shall come to later.
At what we considered to be the right moment, the bridgehead forces, which had by this time reached a total of nearly 150,000 men, fell on the retreating enemy's flank and threatened his retreat. The junction of the main army with the bridgehead forces drove the enemy off his principal lines of retreat to the north, forcing a great part of his army to retire in considerable disorder and with heavy loss, especially in material, to mountainous country.
Allied forces with great rapidity were grouped with special emphasis to their left. The American and other forces of the Fifth Army broke through the enemy's last lines and entered Rome where Allied troops have been received with joy by the population. This entry and the liberation of Rome means we shall have the power to defend it from hostile air attacks, and deliver it from the famine with which it was threatened.
Foe's Destruction Main Goal
However, General Alexander's prime object has never been the liberation of Rome, great as are the moral, political and psychological advantages of this episode. Allied forces, with the Americans in the van, are driving ahead northwards in relentless pursuit of the enemy. The destruction of the enemy's armies has been throughout the aim, and they are now being engaged at the same time along the whole length of the lines as they attempt to escape to the north.
It is hoped that the 20,000 prisoners already taken will be followed by further captures in the near future and that the conditions of the enemy's army which he has crowded into southern Italy will be decisively, affected.
It would be futile to attempt to estimate our final gains at the present time. It is our duty, however, to pay the warmest tribute of gratitude and admiration to General Alexander for the skill with which he has saddled this army of so many different states and nations, and for the temerity and fortitude with which he sustained long periods when success was denied.
In General Clark of the United States Army he has found a leader, a fighting leader of the highest order with the qualities that all the Allied troops have shown themselves, in noble and unjealous rivalry.
The great strength of the air forces at our disposal, as well as the preponderance of our armor, undoubtedly contributed in a noteworthy and distinctive manner to the successes which have been achieved.
We must await further developments in the Italian theatre before it is possible to estimate the magnitude or the quality of the gains, great and timely though they are.
Start of Invasion
I have also to announce to the House that during the night and early hours of this morning the first of a series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place.
In this case, the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Mass airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy's lines.
Landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time. The fire of shore batteries has been largely quelled. Obstacles which were encountered in the sea have not proved as difficult as was apprehended.
The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 first-line aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle.
I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details, as reports are coming in in rapid succession. So far the commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan!
This vast plan is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred. It involves the tides, wind, waves and visibility both from the air and sea standpoints, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy.
Surprises in Store for Enemy
There are already hopes that actual tactical surprise has been attained, and we hope to furnish the enemy with a succession of surprises during the course of the fighting.
The battle which has now begun will grow constantly in scale and in intensity for many weeks to come, and I shall not attempt to speculate on its course, but this I may say, that complete unity prevails.
Throughout the Allied armies there is a brotherhood in arms between us and our friends in other States. There is complete confidence in the supreme commander, General Eisenhower, and his lieutenants, and also in the commander of the expeditionary force, General Montgomery. The ardor and spirit of the troops, as I saw for myself when they were embarking in the last few days, were splendid to witness. Nothing in the way of equipment, science or forethought has been neglected and the whole process of opening this great new front will be pushed by the commanders and by the United States and British Government whom they serve.
I have been at centers where the latest information is received and I can state to the House that this operation is proceeding in a thoroughly satisfactory manner.
Many dangers and difficulties which at this time last night appeared extremely formidable are behind us. Passage of the sea has been made with far less loss than we apprehended. Resistance batteries had been greatly weakened by bombings of the air forces and the superior bombardment of our ships quickly reduced their fire dimensions, which did not affect the problem. Landings on a broad front by both British and American Allied troops—I will not give lists of what different nationalities or states they represent—along the whole front have been effected and troops have penetrated in some cases several miles inland. Lodgements exist on a broad front.
Air-Borne Troop Losses Small
The outstanding feature has been the landings of airborne troops, which were, of course, on a scale far larger than anything that has been seen so far in the world. These landings took place with extremely little loss and with great accuracy. Particular anxiety was attached to them because conditions of light prevailing in the very limited period of dawn and just before dawn and the conditions of visibility made all the difference.
It might easily have been that something happened at the last minute that would have prevented the air-borne troops from playing their part. A very great degree of risk had to be taken in respect to the weather, but General Eisenhower's courage is equal to all necessary decisions that have to be taken in these extremely difficult and uncontrollable matters.
Some Bridges Captured
Air-borne troops are well-established and landings and follow-ups in the area are proceeding with very much less loss than we expected. Fighting is proceeding at various points and we have captured bridges which were not blown up by the enemy. There is fighting in the town of Caen inland.
But all this, although, of course, a very valuable and vitally essential first step, gives no indications what may be the course of the battle in the next few days and weeks because the enemy will now probably endeavor to concentrate in this area and, in that event, heavy fighting will soon begin and will continue without any end so long as we can push troops in and he can bring up troops.
This is, therefore, the most serious time and we enter upon it with our great allies, all in good heart and good friendship.