Academic journal article Parameters

The Anzio Campaign

Academic journal article Parameters

The Anzio Campaign

Article excerpt

Long after the liberation of Italy by the Allies in World War II, questions concerning the merits of conducting the Italian campaign linger. As correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote in Brave Men, "There was some exhilaration in Italy, and some fun along with the misery and the sadness, but on the whole it had been bitter." Much of the bitterness centers on Operation Shingle, the amphibious assault on Anzio-Nettuno on 22 January 1944. In their efforts to ensure that the campaign ought "to be understood rather than overlooked," authors John S. D. Eisenhower and Lloyd Clark have contributed to the continuing debate surrounding this most controversial of Italian battles.

In They Fought atAnzio, Eisenhower portrays the struggle from the perspective of the senior commanders, along with that of a few selected foot soldiers and nurses. Eisenhower views British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as the driving force behind the Anzio campaign. Conceived by Churchill as an attempt to break the Italian stalemate and to cause the withdrawal of German forces from Cassino, the operation was too hastily planned and ill-equipped to achieve its planners' intent. A disastrous rehearsal did little to inspire confidence in the Allied command team.

Complicating the invasion plan were 5th Army commander Lieutenant General Mark Clark's orders for VI Corps commander Major General John P. Lucas, whose forces had been selected to execute the Anzio operation. Everyone agreed that once ashore, the invasion force needed to seize a hill mass called Colli Laziali, better known as the Alban Hills, "a rugged, broad-shouldered guardian of the two main approaches to the Italian capital." Concerned that Lucas would be stranded at Anzio before he could consolidate the beachhead, Clark urged caution and authorized Lucas to "advance on Colli Laziali, not to Colli Laziali." Following the initial success of the invasion, Clark took a back seat and left Lucas to his own devices.

Neither Clark nor Lucas fares well in Eisenhower's estimation. Clark emerges as personally brave, though often "searching for someone to blame" when the campaign turned sour. Clark remains controversial to this day, in Eisenhower's view an egotistical coalition commander who "always viewed the armed forces of their allies as inferior to his own." As for Lucas, destined to be relieved by Clark one month following the Anzio landing, the author opines that he was "professionally competent, but lacking the basic optimism so necessary to command." This reviewer believes both assessments are near the mark.

Eisenhower does portray American Major Generals Lucian Truscott and Fred Walker in a more favorable light. Truscott, the epitome of a combat leader, emerges as the best American commander in the Italian theater. Originally in charge of the US 3d Division, Truscott was elevated to corps commander following Lucas's dismissal. He immediately restored the fighting spirit and led VI Corps to victory after a tough campaign. Walker, whose 36th Division suffered extensive casualties crossing the Rapido River in December 1943, later played an integral role in the breakout from the beachhead and the capture of Velletri, the key to the Alban Hills. Even Walker's adversaries agreed that his actions were responsible for rupturing the German Caesar Line, thus opening the way for Clark's seizure of the Italian capital.

If there are genuine heroes in Eisenhower's book, they include a series of junior officers, notably Lieutenant Lloyd Wells, a platoon leader in the 1st Armored Division, and Lieutenant Avis Dagit, one of 26 nurses in the 56th Evacuation Hospital. Through Wells and Dagit's eyes, Eisenhower offers a new appreciation of the war from the perspective of the soldiers who fought it.

Like John Eiserdaower, Lloyd Clark brings impressive credentials to his study of the Anzio campaign. A senior lecturer at the Department of War Studies, Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, Clark is the author of several books. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.