Breakout from Anzio

Troops of the Green Howards advance through enemy minefields at dawn during the start of the final breakout attack.

Troops of the Green Howards advance through enemy minefields at dawn during the start of the final breakout attack.

Men of 'D' Company, 1st Battalion The Green Howards, 5th Infantry Division, occupy a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, 22 May 1944.

Men of ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion The Green Howards, 5th Infantry Division, occupy a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, 22 May 1944.

Sidestepping the Germans at Cassino by landing at Anzio had seemed such a simple concept when Churchill met the Allied commanders at Christmas. It proved to be quite easy to organise an amphibious landing at short notice – but quite another to breakout of the small bridgehead that was then established.

Now that the Gustav line had broken and the Germans were falling back, the Anzio positions offered the Allies another opportunity. If they could break out from the beachhead in sufficient strength they would be able head directly inland and cut off the Germans retreating from Cassino. The German forces would be squeezed between the two Allied attacks and would potentially suffer a great defeat.

Overseeing all on the ground was General Mark Clark:

On 22 May I moved permanently into the forward echelon of my head-quarters at Anzio in preparation for the break-out. . . . Almost every inch of space at Anzio was crowded with men, guns and ammunition in preparation for the attack. Any time the enemy fired a shell in our direction it was almost certain to hit something, but we had taken what precautions were possible, and most of our supplies were protected by mounds of earth.

Before dawn on the morning of 23 May I went with Truscott to a forward observation post on the Anzio front, where just before six o’clock some five thousand pieces of artillery opened up on the enemy, whose positions were concealed by a morning haze.

The smoke and haze hid our movements, but in the next hour or so we could hear our tanks moving forward to the attack, and there was a dull rumble of aircraft overhead as bombers began to pour their bombs on the German positions. The beleaguered Anzio garrison was about to break out, with the town of Cisterna their first objective.

The timing of the attack from Anzio again caught the enemy off-guard. As the artillery fire suddenly ended our tanks drove through the smoke, followed by swarms of infantry that caught the enemy outposts unprepared. Some of the Germans in dugouts had to be dragged out with only part of their clothes on, completely unready for battle.

Our artillery had previously been aimed at specific enemy centres, which were heavily shelled, but the morning haze interfered with the German artillery observation and gave us an opportunity of making considerable progress before meeting firm resistance. The Germans were never able to recover from this initial setback, and their later counter-attacks were weak and poorly organized.

See General Mark W. Clark: Calculated Risk

British soldiers take cover from German shelling in a shallow trench during the breakout. The trench is similar to many which were dug along the opposing front lines during the lifetime of the bridgehead.

British soldiers take cover from German shelling in a shallow trench during the breakout. The trench is similar to many which were dug along the opposing front lines during the lifetime of the bridgehead.

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Linda Henk May 23, 2014 at 2:00 pm

My father, 1st Lt. Walter J. Gregory, US Army received a wound to his left shoulder on this day, seventy years ago, as part of the Breakout from Anzio Beachhead. I appreciate seeing photos…they give the letters he wrote to my mother a depth of understanding that I can’t see with just his words. Thank you.

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