Magazine article America in WWII

Welcome to Anzio!

Magazine article America in WWII

Welcome to Anzio!

Article excerpt

The 45th Infantry Division landed at the Italian resort town ready to march up the road and capture Rome.

But the German army persuaded the visitors to stay a while.

KENNETH KINDIG DIDN'T KNOW WHAT HIT HIM. Just moments before, the 33-year-old technical sergeant and ex-farmer from Julesburg, Colorado, had been sitting up in his muddy foxhole, taking a break from combat and snacking on a C-ration can of cheese and crackers. The next thing he remembered was that he was still sitting up, but the can was running over with blood. His blood.

"I got hit in the head with a piece of shrapnel," he said. "I didn't even hear the round go off--they say you don't hear the one that gets you. A piece of shrapnel went through the front of my helmet and lodged in the back, between the steel helmet and the helmet liner. I guess it knocked me out for a little bit.... I had my brand-new sniper rifle laying across in front of me. The shell also blew the stock and telescopic sight off my rifle.

"Somebody in the next foxhole hollered for a medic and a medic ran over and put a compress on my head and put me in a foxhole near the company CP [command post] to wait until dark. We couldn't move in the daytime, so they had to wait until dark to get me back to a hospital ship."

The Germans probably weren't specifically targeting Kindig with their artillery, but the possibility can't be dismissed; he had already picked off 25 of their number with his sniper rifle, prompting medic Robert "Doc Joe" Franklin to call him "a one-man army."

Kindig was a member of Company I, 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. Nicknamed the Thunderbirds for the Native American symbol that graced the mens' sleeve patch, the division consisted of the Colorado and Oklahoma National Guard, which included more than 3,000 Native Americans. Now, on February 18, 1944, the Thunderbirds were spread out along the hottest portion of what at the moment was the deadliest piece of real estate in the world: Anzio, a harbor-town-turned-battlefield nearly halfway up Italy's western coast.

Company I was dug in, guarding what was arguably the most critical spot on the entire Anzio front: an elevated roadway that the British called the Flyover and that the Americans called the Overpass. The only hard-surface road that led south from the German lines near Carroceto through the town of Aprilia was a two-lane road known as the Via Anziate, which ran beneath the Overpass and directly toward the harbor farther south. The open fields beyond the Overpass were a swampy bog. So, for the Germans' tanks and wheeled vehicles, the Via Anziate was the only viable path to the Allied beachhead. That made the Overpass a crucial gateway.

Colonel General Eberhard von Mackensen, commanding the German 14th Army, was desperate to split the Allied beachhead and throw the invaders back into the sea. Both Adolf Hitler and Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Mackensen's immediate boss, demanded it. The only way he could think of to get the job done was to break through the Allied lines at the Overpass with a massive assault.

The Allies Get Stuck Near the Beach

THE ALLIES, FOR THEIR PART, had been stalled for a month. On January 22, 1944, 54-year-old American Major General John R Lucas, commander of the VI Corps, had brought a combined British and American force to Anzio by sea in Operation Shingle. A brilliant flanking movement dreamed up by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Shingle was supposed to break a costly impasse 100 miles to the south at Cassino, where Allied forces were stymied by the Germans' so-called Gustav Line. Instead, Shingle turned into another bloody stalemate.

Lucas had arrived at Anzio with American units that included the 3rd Infantry Division; the 82nd Airborne's 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment; Colonel William O. Darby's 1st, 3rd, and 4th Ranger Battalions of the 6615th Ranger Force; the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, serving with Darby's Rangers; plus numerous supporting units. …

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