Historical Summary by Graham Swain ESQ
Graham Swain Esq (deceased)
2/7 Battalion Queens Royal Regiment ‘The Black Cats’
The following summary was written by Graham Swain and found amongst the late Maurice Cheadle’s Italy Star Association papers. Graham was on the Anzio bridgehead referred to below, together with 7 Battalion Ox and Bucks Light Infantry (56 Division), on 22nd January 1944. Graham was National Secretary of the Italy Star Association until his death.
British and Allied troops landed on mainland Europe in September 1943 at Calabria, Salerno and Taranto in Italy, and thus were the “First in Europe”.
This was the start of the long hard slog over mountains, rivers and against fierce opposition towards Rome. Whilst each obstacle was overcome, the advance was halted at Cassino where the Germans occupied Monastery Hill, overlooking the Liri Valley. Initial assaults to dislodge them failed.
To relieve the situation a seaborne landing was made some 30 miles south of Rome at Anzio and Nettuno (two small towns joined as one) with the aim of advancing to Rome and, at the same time, cutting off the Germans at Cassino to the south.
The initial landing with British and American troops took place on 22nd January 1944 initially unopposed; had the plan been carried out to advance to Rome immediately, the war in Italy may well have been shortened. However, the American General in command of the landing (General Lucas) chose not to move inland, deciding that he needed more reinforcements to be brought in. By this time the Germans surrounded the beach-head with a ‘ring of steel’ and sought to push the Allies back into the sea.
The judgement of this General has been severely criticized and he was later replaced. The resultant casualties in maintaining the foothold were fearful – 10,000 British, 29,000 American and the Germans some 39,000. The cemeteries in the area now reveal the awful loss of life.
The size of the bridgehead was 15 miles across and 6 miles deep. The whole area was overlooked by the Alban Hills occupied by German artillery. Nowhere on the bridgehead was safe from German artillery and one massive gun mounted on a railway inflicted fearful damage and casualties, sinking several ships bringing supplies. This gun was known by the troups as ‘Anzio Annie’.
The attacks by the Germans were constant and ferocious, but the Allies were not dislodged, and many attempts were made to break out by frontal assaults by infantry but were repulsed.
The effect of this landing, of course, tied up many German divisions which would have been available to repulse the second front in France which commenced in June 1944. There is an opinion that this in itself made the operation worthwhile.
Cassino fell on 18th May 1944 after four costly assaults, and the Allies broke out of the bridgehead on 22nd May. The overall plan was to cut off the retreating Germans from Cassino but, once again, General Mark Clark (American) chose to advance directly to Rome, in order to claim the glory of freeing the first European capital in the war. This incident caused further friction between General Clark and General Alexander (the British General in overall command of the Italian campaign). (This is well documented in books and commentaries since the end of the Second World War).