The Battle of Anzio: The Allied Invasion That Almost Failed

The battle of Anzio took place between the 22nd of January – 5th of June 1944 on the coast of Italy just South of Rome. This battle took place as part of a battle maneuver intended to outflank the Axis powers, and open the possibility of capturing Rome, the capital city of Italy. This accomplishment would not only have been a strategic victory for the Allies, but a symbolic one as well. What resulted instead, was a deadlock between the Allies and the Germans. The Allies were not able to push forward whilst the Germans were also not able to create enough decisive victories to stimulate an Allied retreat into the Sea.

The battle began with the initial Allied amphibious landing (Operation Shingle), commanded by Major General John P. Lucas of the U.S. Army. This was proposed as a solution to the Allied failure of breaking through the Gustav line slightly South of the coastal city of Anzio. Unfortunately for the allies, the amphibious landing on January 22nd lacked the necessary resources to be effective at immediately breaking through German defenses. Nonetheless, the allied invasion on the beaches of Anzio was a complete surprise and allowed for a nearly uncontested landing. Despite this initial success, Major General Lucas had made the controversial decision of consolidating the Allied positions on the beach instead of making use of their surprise landing to push forward and break down German defenses before they could fortify.

battle of anzio
Troops and equipment come ashore on the U.S. Fifth Army beachhead near Anzio, 22 January 1944.

The Germans were quick to take advantage of General Lucas’ mistake, positioning their forces to form a tight perimeter around the Allied beach position. Lucas had also failed to consider the topographical disadvantage he gave his troops and himself at the beach. Before they knew it the Germans had established positions on high ground above the allies, allowing them to rain heavy artillery fire on the soldiers in the ground below. Considering both sides had heavily fortified their positions, this led to a tactical stalemate that would prove near impossible to break.

General Lucas after incurring heavy losses to his forces was replaced by Major General Lucien Truscott. Unfortunately for the newly positioned General, there was little he could do to break this tactical deadlock, all he could hope for was to hold and maintain the hard-fought Allied position.

Eventually, the constant infantry and air pressure placed on German forces by the Allied forces further inland would bring victory. On the 25th of May, the Germans were forced to retreat and the Allied forces in Anzio were able to push forward and rendezvous with their compatriots who were fighting their way up from below the Gustav line. The operation ended on June 5th when the Allies marched into Rome uncontested, achieving their mission objective