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Anzio
Written By: Peter Ayers Wimbrow III
*Click images below to view larger versions.
Anzio
Citizenship in the seaside town of Anzio, Italy, 18 February 2014.
Anzio
Roger Waters touches the monument erected in memory of his father, Eric Fletcher, in the village of Anzio, south of Rome.
Anzio
Roger Waters - on the knee of his mother, Mary - with his father, Eric, and brother John, shortly before his father was killed.
Anzio
Men of The Green Howards occupy a captured German communications trench during the breakout at Anzio, Italy, 22 May 1944.
Anzio
Coconut Times contributor at U.S. cemetery at Anzio, Italy.
 
    THIS MONTH, 70 years ago, both the Allies and the Germans were reinforcing their positions at the Anzio beachhead.
    The landings at Anzio were a product of the British Prime Minister’s feverish mind, as he lay recovering from pneumonia in Marrakech, where his return to the British Isles from the Second Cairo Conference had been interrupted.  He thought that with the Allied armies, in Italy, stalemated before the German Gustav Line, south of Rome, the Allies should take advantage of their complete mastery of the sea and almost complete mastery of the air, and Italy’s long coastline, and land a force behind the Gustav Line.
    Ultimately, that is what occurred, when, on January 22, 1944, an Allied force, commanded by General John P. Lucas, and consisting of the American Third Division under the command of Major-General Lucian K. Truscott, Jr. and the British First Division, commanded by Major-General Ronald Penny, landed near Anzio and Nettuno, Italy. Both are located about 35 miles from Rome, on the Tyrrenhian Coast and have a population of a little less than 50,000 each.
    Both future actors Audie Murphy and James Arness served in the Third Division, with Arness suffering a serious leg injury, at Anzio, that left him with a permanent limp.
    The landings were a success, achieving complete surprise, against little opposition. The Allies suffered a mere 110 casualties. However, Field Marshal Albert Kesserling, Commander-in-Chief of Axis’ defenses on the Italian Peninsula, had prepared a contingency plan for just such an event and immediately began rushing troops to the area.  He learned of the landings at 3:00 A.M., and by 5:00 A.M. German troops were on the march to the beachhead. In the meantime, General Lucas, instead of charging inland, began consolidating his perimeter.
    Within two days the beachhead was surrounded, on the landward side, by 40,000 German soldiers. On January 25, Kesserling placed Eberhard von Mackensen in charge of the Axis units containing the beachhead, which included the Third Panzer-Grenadier Division, 4th Parachute Division, 71st Infantry Division, and the elite Hermann Göring Panzer Division, commanded by Fritz-Hubert Gräzzer, Heinrich Trettner, Wilhelm Raapke and Paul Conrath, respectively. These units would become General von Mackensen’s 14th Army.
    The Allies continued to land men and equipment on the beachhead - even though it wasn’t being expanded. The 45th Infantry Division, from Oklahoma, commanded by Troy H. Middleton and the First Armored Division commanded by Ernest N. Harmon came ashore by the end of the month. Interestingly, before the war, the 45th’s insignia was a swastika.
    The Allies launched an attack, on January 30, which went nowhere. On February 3, General von Mackensen, who had organized his forces into two corps - the 1st Parachute, under Alfred Schlemm, and LXXVI Panzer, under Traugott Herr - launched an assault on February 3. After a pause, it was renewed on February 16. After four days, the opposing forces were at the original beachhead lines, with each side losing about 20,000. It was the Wehrmacht’s largest offensive, in Western Europe, since the invasion of France and the Low Countries in May 1940.
    During the attack, the Eighth Royal Fusiliers Regiment of London were tasked with, on February 18, 1944, stopping an assault of Tiger tanks. Among the fatalities was a lieutenant in “Z” Company of the Eighth Battalion, named Eric Fletcher Waters. He left behind a wife and two young sons. The youngest - Roger - was but five months. He later co-founded, and led, Pink Floyd. On February 18, 2014, Roger unveiled a memorial to the men of “Z” Company, in which his father served, and who were all killed, “When the Tigers Broke Free,” on the spot, in the town of Aprilia. The “Tigers” in Pink Floyd’s song “When the Tigers Broke Free,” don’t refer to those tigers found in the jungles of India and Africa. “The Wall” is based, in part, on his experiences growing up fatherless. Lt. Waters’ remains were never located.
    General Lucas was replaced by General Truscott on February 22.  Churchill said that, “I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat onto the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.”
    For the next two months, the two sides were locked in a stalemate, with the Germans’ two huge railway guns - “Anzio Annie” and “Anzio Express” - making life miserable for Allied soldiers. These two guns rained death and destruction, in the form of 11-inch shells, for almost four months on the Allied beachhead.
    By May, 150,000 Allied soldiers, spread among five American and two British divisions, were crammed into the beachhead. General Sir Harold Alexander, overall commander of Allied forces in Italy, ordered that the Allied forces at Anzio break out, in coordination with an attack by those before the Gustav Line. The Allied forces at Anzio - the U.S. VI Corps and the two British divisions - were to cut behind the Gustav Line, thereby trapping the German 10th Army, commanded by Heinrich von Vietinghoff, defending the Gustav Line..
    On May 23, the Allies opened their assault. After several days of hard fighting, General Clark disobeyed his superior’s orders and ordered VI Corps to abandon the plan and head for Rome, allowing General von Vietinghoff’s 10th Army to escape destruction and retire in good order behind the Gothic Line north of Rome. General Clark’s motive, of course, was to gain the glory of liberating Rome.
    The Allies suffered 43,000 casualties and the Germans 40,000 at Anzio.

It was just before dawn
One miserable morning in black forty-four.
When the forward commander
Was told to sit tight
When he asked that his men be withdrawn.
And the Generals gave thanks
As the other ranks held back
The enemy tanks for a while.
And the Anzio bridgehead
Was held for the price
Of a few hundred ordinary lives.
 
And kind old King George
Sent Mother a note
When he heard that father was gone.
It was, I recall,
In the form of a scroll,
With gold leaf adorned.
And I found it one day
In a drawer of old photographs, hidden away.
And my eyes still grow damp to remember
His Majesty signed
With his own rubber stamp.
 
It was dark all around.
There was frost in the ground
When the tigers broke free.
And no one survived
From the Royal Fusiliers Company Z.
They were all left behind,
Most of them dead,
The rest of them dying.
And that's how the High Command
Took my daddy from me.
 
NEXT: MONTE CASSINO

Mr. Wimbrow writes from Ocean City, Maryland, where he practices law representing those persons accused of criminal and traffic offenses, and those persons who have suffered a personal injury through no fault of their own.  Mr. Wimbrow can be contacted at wimbrowlaw@gmail.com.
 
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