To break the stalemate at Monte Cassino on the Gustav Line during the liberation of Italy, Allied commanders decided to open a second front behind the German positions. Operation Shingle was to be an amphibious landing at Anzio, 62km south of Rome.
If the offensive at Anzio went well, the German defenders of the Gustav Line would be outflanked and forced to retreat, the US Fifth Army would be able to break through the Gustav Line, and Rome would quickly fall.Sicily
Monte Cassino and the Gustav Line
The invasion force of Operation Shingle consisted of 40,000 soldiers and 5000 vehicles under the command of US Major General John P. Lucas. His army landed at three locations: the British Force 9.7km north of Anzio (Peter Beach), the Northwestern US Force at the port of Anzio (Yellow Beach) and the Southwestern US Force attacked near Nettuno, almost 10km east of Anzio (X-Ray Beach). The initial landing on 22 January 1944 met little resistance, but Lucas delayed moving inland immediately to prevent his forces being overextended. Instead, he consolidated his position, but in doing so allowed the German forces to organize their defence. Scattered among the surrounding hills, German artillery units had a clear view of every Allied position.
For many weeks, a rain of shells fell on the Allied bridgehead and the harbour of Anzio. Far from relieving Monte Cassino, the invasion force was pinned down, and became in need of relief itself. A frustrated Churchill commented, “I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore, but all we got was a stranded whale.”
On 22 February Lucas was replaced by General Truscott, and both sides reinforced their armies; Italian troops still loyal to the Axis were deployed by the German army. Despite spirited efforts, the Axis forces were unable to push the Allies back into the sea, but neither did the Allies manage to penetrate inland. The stalemate at Anzio ended on 18 May when the Allies broke through the German line at Monte Cassino.
Inevitably, Anzio – and its surrounding area – is a place of cemeteries. The Sicily-Rome American Cemetery at Nettuno (abmc.gov) is one of only two US cemeteries in Italy. The majority of the soldiers buried here died in the liberation of Sicily; in the landings at Salerno and the fighting as the Fifth Army made its way northward; and in the landings at Anzio Beach and the expansion of the beachhead. Further graves contain airmen and sailors. The wider complex includes a cenotaph, memorial, map room, pool, peristyle and a chapel with the names of 3095 men declared missing in action. The on-site visitor centre tells the personal stories of combatants as well as showing films, photographs and a number of interesting interactive displays.
At Anzio itself there are two Commonwealth cemeteries. The larger is the Beach Head Cemetery, north of Anzio town, which contains 2316 graves, 291 of unknown soldiers. It is a place awash with colour: roses, pansies and impatiens grow in front of the tombstones and arbours of wisteria and jasmine flank the pathways.
Opened in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of the landing, Anzio Beachhead Museum is invaluable for understanding what happened at Anzio. It comprises four sections, divided into American, British, German and Italian sectors. Displays feature authentic uniforms, badges, documents, pictures and other artefacts donated by veterans' organizations.
Two pavilions at the Piana delle Orme Historical Museum are entirely devoted to the display of military vehicles from World War II. Dioramas depict how Italy became involved in the war, the course of the North African campaigns, the amphibious landing of the Allied troops near Anzio and the battle for Monte Cassino.
Top image: Anzio Commonwealth cemetery © marcovarro/Shutterstock