Important Battle: Anzio

The Italian campaign was very difficult. The mountain terrain made the armies move slowly and gave the German defenders an advantage. Late in 1943, Prime Minister Winston Churchill made a plan to take some of the troops from the Allied Armies in Italy and land then from naval craft in an amphibious assault behind enemy lines, just south of Rome, near the city of Anzio. There was a lot of arguing about the plan. Some people thought it was too dangerous, and others thought it needed more men than Minister Churchill had put forward.

The attack, codenamed Operation Shingle, was scheduled to begin on January 22, 1944. The Allies attacked with two divisions, the US Third division and the British 1st Division, with the 45th Infantry in reserve. The first few days were greatly successful for the Allied soldiers, as they caught the Germans by surprise. The Allied troops used this time to set up supply depots and defenses on the beachhead, while taking some territory from the Germans. The Germans responded to the landings quickly and three days after the Allied landings, they had the beachhead surrounded by eight divisions with five more on the way.

The Allied troops buttoned up and dug in for defense. The 45th Infantry moved forward to the center of the Anzio defensive line, the most important position in defense. For the next six months the men of the 45th would hunker down as German artillery shelled the beachhead day and night. There were many times when German attacks pushed deep into the 45th’s lines, but they never broke. Eventually, the Germans wore themselves out attacking the entrenched Allies, and the Allies took that chance to attack. On May 31, the Allies at Anzio broke out of the beachhead and raced towards Rome. Five days later, on June 5, 1944, the troops would take the Italian capital city of Rome.

The fighting at Anzio cost the lives of 7,000 Allied soldiers, with 36,000 wounded or missing. The Germans lost 5,000 soldiers, with 30,500 wounded or missing and 4,500 taken prisoner.

Allied gunners are fending off a German air raid at night. The streaks of light are tracer rounds, meant to help gunners see where they are shooting when in low light conditions. There is usually one tracer round for every five live rounds.
Image courtesy of the Oklahoma Museum of History

The Anzio beachhead was under almost constant fire from German Artillery for months. If a structure couldn’t be built into the ground for protection, the ground had to be built up around the structure with sandbags and piles of dirt.

In order to move safely from place to place, soldiers dug slit trenches that a person could dive into if a German artillery barrage began while they were walking past them.
Images courtesy of the Oklahoma Museum of History

Despite being under fire every day, soldiers on the Anzio Beachhead tried to carry on normal life activities, like getting married. Lt. Genevieve Clarke of Pennsylvania married Lt. Thomas Rose of Ohio on March 27, 1944. After the wedding, Lt. Clarke cut her wedding cake with a trench knife.
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