As the Allies found themselves increasingly confounded by successive defensive lines across the centre of Italy, they looked for a way of sidestepping around the Germans. The result was an amphibious operation that would hopefully shorten the route to Rome and to the more open country beyond.
Operation Shingle had been produced following Churchill’s urgings for a more imaginative way forward on Christmas Day. There had been little time to prepare.
It was planned that, while the Germans were distracted by new assaults at Monte Cassino, they would not have the resources to divert to contain an amphibious landing. Once the assaults had broken through at Cassino they could surge forward and join up with the amphibious force on the beach at Anzio.
Even as the landings began, the horrible reality of the Rapido River disaster was being absorbed. The Cassino forces were not going to break through – would the landings be in sufficient strength to hold the bridgehead by themselves? At first everything went well.
Lambton Burn was a Royal Navy officer on one of the ships carrying the U.S. Rangers, before they transferred to the Landing Craft that would take them to the beaches:
An assault-landing craft swung slowly from its davits, and from it floated the voice of a sergeant giving final advice to Rangers hidden below the armoured catwalks.
“Don’t fire until I tell you… But when you do fire, some of you guys new to this company jest remember those heinies aren’t your friends… Don’t go diggin’ your bayonets into their chests or they’ll stick… Get their stomachs or throats, or their backsides … And all of you beware of heinies coming out of houses waving white flags …”
There were flashes on the horizon, and the deep rumble of distant bombing came to our ears. The sea was calm and the big assault ship almost motionless. The night was cold. We shivered while we waited for touch-down. Against the skyline, heavily top coated figures of Rangers exchanged parting remarks with jersied figures of British naval ratings.
“Yeah … But I guess the old man’ll corner all the champagne.”
“ Stand off, Jake, before you get into the boat.”
The signal light from a pilot Motor Launch seemed to annoy the sailors. “ Bloody light’s gone out at last !” “Here it’s come on again !” “… Can’t find the blasted way”
“ S—-sh !” Angry hisses silenced them for a while. But the Sergeant’s voice droned steadily on like a nursemaid priming her charges for Sunday school. “ You men who are new … Don’t hesitate … Remember now, it’s your life or theirs … Don’t be afraid to shoot … Cross the first street, cut right . . . then it’s the fourth turning on the right… Building with a tall tower…”
From the loudspeaker came the order : “ Stand-by to lower . . .” “ Good luck !” from the naval lowering parties. The assault-craft glided down rapidly and quietly.
There were splashes of foam and phosphorescence. The lowering parties leaned over to watch for an instant, then sprang into action as they pulled the falls inboard again. The dark body of the sea seemed covered by darker oblong shapes of L.C.A.s streaming away from the ship, each trailing a spreading wake.
They were guided by a purplish light which gloomed from the stern of the pilot boat. Columns of assault-craft and amphibious ducks from other ships shadowed their way past as they too headed for the beaches.
At 0150 a close-inshore bombardment by rocket- ships heralded zero hour. Fiery lanes were opened through the sky as though by flaming zip fasteners as the Navy’s “sticklebacks” fired eight hundred five-inch rockets in salvoes of seventy at a time.
I had first seen these rocket-ships, converted “A”-lighters, used at Sicily. By now they had established themselves as the most important of the last-minute devices for softening-up beach defences. Exact range and moment of firing were vital to their success, otherwise they would wipe out our own troops, or overshoot.
Now the first waves were landing. Two A.M. came and went and we grew anxious as the minutes mounted. Admiral Troubridge’s men to the north-west reported their beach heavily mined. The U.S. 3rd Division to the south-east reported trouble with shelving beaches, but their first flights had reached the shore.
At 0215 a star-shell floated up from Yellow beach. Then the Army liaison officer appeared with a slip of paper and informed us excitedly : “All O.K. Rangers safely ashore !”