General Mark Clark, commanding the Allied 5th Army in Italy, now faced a difficult situation. It had been impossible for the Cassino front to break through to join up with the Anzio beachhead as had been hoped. There was now a developing stalemate at Cassino and the Anzio beachhead looked increasingly like it was going to come under threat itself, rather than threatening the Germans in the rear.
As he set out for Anzio in a fast PT boat for the short trip up the coast, he was not aware that the Allied fleet was becoming rather nervous about the activities of German E boats, their fast motor boat. No message had been broadcast to the ships in the area of his imminent arrival:
The next morning, January 28, I went down to the mouth of the Volturno before dawn to embark by P.T. boat for Anzio.
… the situation at Anzio was becoming critical. The enemy air-raids and shelling had caused heavy damage, and there were rumours that German torpedo-boats were roaming along the coast to attack our shipping.
Everything went all right, however, until we were about seven miles south of Anzio, still travelling in semi-darkness. There the AM 120, a U.S. minesweeper, challenged us. Lieutenant Patterson, commander of our P.T., ordered green and yellow flares to be fired, and we flashed the designated signal on the blinker to identify ourselves as friendly.
Until that moment I had managed to get out of the wind by sitting on a stool beside the skipper, where the bridge of the boat gave me some protection. However, just before the AM I20 challenged us I got up and moved slightly to one side. The captain of the minesweeper apparently misread our signal, or perhaps it was just that everybody along the coast that dark and windy morning was trigger-happy.
Anyhow, the minesweeper fired on us, cutting loose with 40-mm. and five-inch shells. Their marksmanship, unfortunately, was pretty good. A number of shells struck our P.T. boat, and the second one went right through the stool on which I had been sitting.
The skipper was wounded in both legs and fell to the deck. I heard a shell explode below-decks. There was confusion throughout the boat, and several men were knocked from their feet, two of them fatally wounded.
I picked up a Very pistol which some one had dropped, and again fired the correct signal to identify ourselves as friendly, but the firing from the minesweeper continued. I fired it again, with no result. By that time I had had a chance to look round. I saw that all three naval officers on the boat and two naval ratings were casualties. There was no one at the wheel, but Ensign Benson got to his feet, despite leg-wounds, and swung the boat round.
I knelt down by the skipper, who couldn’t get up from the deck, and said, “What do we do?” “I don’t know,” he answered. “Well, let’s run for it,” I said. Then I held him up so that he could see what was happening and direct the movements of the boat. We ran for it, with shells still spattering around. So did the other P.T. boat accompanying us, although it escaped damage.
By the time we were clear our deck seemed to be littered with casualties and running with blood. One of the figures that had been knocked to the deck turned out to be Gervasi [Frank Gervasi, a war correspondent], who was groggy and soaked with blood down the front of his uniform. I began helping him get his jacket unbuttoned; we had to dig clear down to his bare skin before either one of us realized that he wasn’t wounded, but merely covered with somebody else’s blood.