www.DarbyRangers.Com | Follow Me
The Lucas Decision Not to Advance;
Still Haunts Anzio Historians
"We read history through our prejudices."
Below: Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas, commander of the VI Corps in Italy
Editor's Assessment: In all fairness to the various Allied commanders who made some grave errors in judgement during the Italian Campaign; Intelligence information was often slow in reaching headquarters. Ultra intercepts were arriving two and three days late; and too much credibility had to be given to first hand information forcing field commanders to make many decisions based on the 'smaller picture' they were seeing. This situation plagued the Allies during the whole campaign; and resulted in higher casualties than necessary. This was just one more example of Intelligence Operations which would lead to modern, fast, reliable and coordinated Military Intelligence units of the future.
Major General Lucas at Anzio (1)
by Martin Blumenson (2)
A commander can make a decision simply by ruling out what appears to him to be impractical or unfeasible. This was how Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas, commander of the VI Corps in Italy, viewed and resolved his command problem immediately after the Anzio landing in January 1944. He rejected a course of action that to him appeared unwise or imprudent.
Yet two alternatives were in fact valid and open to him, though neither satisfied him completely. One seemed to him to verge on recklessness, the other could perhaps be criticized as overcautious. With orders from the next higher echelon of command deliberately left vague, General Lucas was free to choose. Thus he alone would shape the pattern of events that was to develop at Anzio.
The responsibility was great. If he made his choice on the side of safety or security, he would lessen the risks of an inherently hazardous operation. By gambling, he might lose the entire force under his command. On the other hand, if he refused to gamble, he might throw away the opportunity to secure a strategic objective at little cost and in one master stroke bring to an end an arduous phase of the Italian campaign.
The issues of this, the most significant command decision at Anzio, were rooted in the Allied motives for waging war on the Italian mainland. According to the formal directive of the Combined Chiefs of Staff, the object of invading the peninsula was to knock Italy out
of the war and tie down as many German forces as possible.
The Allies had achieved the first purpose even as they prepared to invade the Italian mainland at the toe and at Salerno: Italy had surrendered in September 1943. The Allies, therefore, in fighting up the boot of Italy, were serving the cause of the second, engaging German forces that otherwise might be employed in battle on the Russian front or in preparations to repel the Allied invasion of northwest Europe (OVERLORD) scheduled for the spring of 1944.
While containing the maximum number of German forces in Italy by means of offensive operations, the Allies had their minds fixed on Rome. Though the Combined Chiefs had not mentioned Rome as a goal of the Italian campaign, Prime Minister Winston Churchill "passionately" desired to capture the Eternal City, and this fact was well known among the Allied echelons of command. President Franklin D. Roosevelt also had his eye on Rome. "Keep on giving it all you have," he wrote to the commander of the Fifth Army in December 1943, "and Rome will be ours and more beyond."
Liberating Rome would be a dramatic act. The first Axis capital to fall to the Allies, it would demonstrate irrefutably the progress of Allied arms on the European continent, perhaps stimulate revolt or increased guerrilla activity in German-occupied Europe, and without doubt strike a serious blow against German morale.
In support of the Allied predilection for Rome, military reasons could be marshaled. Nearby airfields were valuable. More important, Rome was the center of the Italian communications system. Through Rome passed the troops and supplies nourishing the implacable resistance that prevented the Allies from marching up the Italian boot. South of Rome the terrain was eminently suitable for the tenacious defense holding the Allies in check. North of Rome the first terrain on which the Germans could anchor a defense seemed no closer than the Pisa-Rimini line-which would represent a sizable Allied step
toward Germany and which would provide more than adequate depth and security for the important Allied air and ground installations in south Italy.
The desire for Rome, balked by successful German opposition in the intervening mountainous ground in southern Italy, led directly to the amphibious landing at Anzio.
Even before the invasion of Italy, Allied leaders had recognized the difficulties of making swift overland advance in the troubled terrain south of Rome. Lacking numerically superior forces, constricted by the width of the Italian peninsula to a relatively short front, and limited by the mountains to well-defined corridors of advance, the Allied ground forces were restricted to frontal attack. Maneuver was possible only by means of sea-borne hooks-the Allies could envelop the enemy positions only by amphibious end runs.
Though there had been talk in the theater of launching such operations on the Italian west coast, the necessity to do so became increasingly clear as autumn turned to winter. Not only did the Germans continue resourcefully to deny the Allies quick access to Rome, but the bitterly fought campaign in southern Italy seemed to be approaching a stalemate. In this context, a surprise amphibious landing behind the enemy lines appeared the only way of transforming the static warfare of the Italian campaign into a swift war of movement where the superior mechanized equipment of the Allies could be employed to advantage.
Within this frame of reference, two place names became prominent: Anzio and the Alban Hills. The beaches near Anzio, thirty-five miles due south of Rome, were suitable for amphibious landings, and the open terrain of the low, relatively level coastal plain around Anzio was favorable for maneuver. Good roads led to the Alban Hills, some twenty miles inland. The Alban high ground, fifteen miles southeast of the center of Rome, rises between the two main west coast highways leading to the capital. Dominating the southern approaches to the city, the hill complex was the last barrier the Germans could use to bar an Allied entry into Rome.
Early in October 1943, a month after the Salerno invasion, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark was sufficiently interested in waterborne end runs to form a special amphibious planning staff and make it part of his Fifth US Army G-3 Section. The function of the special group was to investigate in detail all possible amphibious opportunities on the west coast of Italy, a task complicated by the lack of available troops and landing craft, the difficulty of finding suitable beaches within supporting distance of the main Fifth Army forces, and the generally unfavorable tactical situation.
Authors Notes: Planning papers on the Italian invasion during the first nine months of 1943 refer often to the need not only for amphibious hooks but also for Rome. See Allied Force Headquarters (AFHQ) Microfilms.
During late October and early November, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander in the Mediterranean theater, discussed with his senior subordinate commanders the possibility of making amphibious landings on the west coast as a means of maintaining the momentum of the lagging offensive in Italy. The major problem was to secure enough landing vessels to make such an effort feasible. More than two-thirds of the ninety LST's then in the Mediterranean had to be released by 15 December for employment elsewhere in future operations already planned; until that date the landing ships were needed to transport ground troops and supplies, as well as Strategic Air Force units, from North Africa and Sicily into Italy to accelerate the buildup of Allied forces.
The senior commanders in the theater were in agreement that if enough landing ships and craft could be retained beyond mid-December, an amphibious operation ought to be mounted to support the main offensive oriented on Rome. General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, commander of the ground forces in Italy, felt that if the Allies could penetrate the main German defenses in south Italy, Allied troops landed on the enemy flank below Rome might so threaten German communications as to compel the enemy to retreat.
As the first step in clarifying the requirements of such an operation, Alexander on 8 November 1943 instructed the Fifth Army to draw a plan. To guide the army staff, Alexander's 15 Army Group headquarters set forth his general concept. As part of a drive on Rome, an amphibious operation south of Rome was to be directed on the Alban Hills; combined with a frontal assault on the main enemy line, the landing threatening the enemy rear was to dispossess the Germans of the last defensive position on the southern approaches to Rome.
The Fifth Army drew an outline plan, and on 25 November General Clark approved what was code-named Operation SHINGLE. An amphibious landing at Anzio was to take place after the Fifth Army reached the Capistrello-Ferentino-Priverno line near Frosinone (about forty miles southeast of Rome) and was ready to institute an all-out drive toward the Alban Hills. The Anzio force was to be small and its effort subsidiary. Its function was to assist the major Fifth Army forces in their main effort to capture the Alban hill mass. Linkup between the main and the Anzio fronts, it was assumed, would take place no later than seven days after the landing.
Though complying with Alexander's general desire, Clark's army plan reversed the roles of the participating forces. According to Alexander, the Anzio force was to capture the Alban Hills. According to Clark, the main Fifth Army forces were to seize the hill mass.
Reconciliation of the two concepts did not seem important for the moment, for it began to appear that SHINGLE was doomed to indefinite postponement. Though the theater received permission to retain sufficient landing ships and craft to make an amphibious operation feasible, enemy resistance, mountainous terrain, and bad weather so bogged down the Fifth Army advance to the north that the army could not get within supporting distance of the projected landing site.
Editors Note: This is the accepted Anzio History of General Lucas' Actions; and is posted on the US Army Web-Site. - Bob Price/Editor