Military history

CHAPTER 25

THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN

Veterans of the Italian campaign felt that they had as good a claim as the men in Burma to be considered the 'Forgotten Army'. There was a good case for not invading Italy at all, and another in favour of a wholehearted commitment of the men and resources available in the Mediterranean to leapfrog rapidly up the Italian peninsula. It is harder to justify what actually took place: an invasion foisted by the British on the reluctant Americans, who regarded it at best as a strategic distraction to draw German troop away from France in preparation for the main invasion of Europe, and at worst as a scheme designed by Churchill and his generals to postpone the Normandy landing still further.

The last Axis troops in North Africa surrendered on 13 May 1943, the conquest of Sicily was accomplished between 10 July and 17 August, and the Italians overthrew Mussolini on 25 July. The first Allied landings were made on 3 September: Italy surrendered on 8 September and on the following day the Allies landed in strength at Salerno, only to be viciously counter-attacked by the Germans. Naples fell on 10 October and then the Allies reached the formidable German Gustav Line behind the Sangro, Rapido and Garigliano rivers, whose strongest point was the town of Cassino at the mouth of the Liri valley, one of the few in Italy that runs along rather than across the peninsula. In January 1944 a landing was made at Anzio to the north, intended to outflank the Gustav Line. Instead it was ferociously counter-attacked and became an increasingly miserable beachhead until, in combination with a major assault on the Gustav Line in May, the Allies were at last able to break out. Controversially, US Lieutenant General Mark Clark chose not to trap the Germans falling back from the Gustav Line and went for Rome, which he entered on 5 June, the day before D-Day in Normandy. Clark makes it clear, in the pages that follow, that, whatever the orders of British General Alexander, his military superior, he had political top cover for his action. Another eleven months of grinding combat followed, with the terrain always strongly favouring the defence, before all German forces in Italy surrendered on 2 May 1945.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL MARK CLARK

Commander US Fifth Army

The whole thing was – they were Churchill's babies. I was a great admirer of his and I think they were good babies. He decided that we should go from North Africa, he sold it to Roosevelt and then we did it. I can see him now at his map and at his persuasive way, with his pointer, pointing out the soft underbelly of the Mediterranean – and after we got there I often thought what a tough old gut it was instead of the soft belly that he had led us to believe.

TOM DRIBERG

British Independent Labour MP

Aneurin Bevan always attacked Churchill for his North African and Italian strategy: Churchill had spoken of Italy as being the soft underbelly of the Axis. Nye pointed out after we'd been there for some months fighting slowly up, that it wasn't the underbelly at all, it was the hardcore or the carapace or whatever word he used. He was always very good at words too.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL BRIAN HORROCKS

Commander XIII Corps, Eighth Army

Monty was in charge of the invasion of Sicily but the plan for it was made in Algiers because Monty was still fighting in the desert. When he got it, he didn't like it and he changed the plan at the last minute. This caused fury in Algiers and they summoned Monty to come along and explain why he'd made all these alterations. So he flew in and when he landed at the airport [Major] General Bedell Smith, who was Eisenhower's Chief of Staff, was waiting for him. Monty said cheerfully, 'I suppose I'm a bit unpopular up here, aren't I?' Bedell looked at him and said, 'General, to serve under you would be a privilege, anywhere. To serve alongside you is not too bad. But, General, to serve over you is hell.'

MAJOR GENERAL KENNETH STRONG

Eisenhower's Chief of Intelligence

There was a big difference of opinion between the Americans and the British about how the war should be fought. The British believed that after they'd captured Sicily and landed in Italy the right strategy was to push through Italy, through Yugoslavia, through the Balkans into Germany, link up with the Russians and destroy the German forces in that way.

DREW MIDDLETON

American journalist

By then the troops had reached the point where they realised that the Italians were not the main enemy, that there were still a lot of Germans around and it was going to be tough. Combat troops after a certain period become extremely sceptical and cynical about statements by their Commanders-in-Chief and really, you know, the fellow in the rifle company doesn't look beyond his company commander. That's his leader and in some cases if anything else comes down, well, fine, I'm interested to hear it but we've got to take that bridge and Captain So-and-So is the man who will help us take it, not General Eisenhower sitting back in headquarters.

MAJOR GENERAL STRONG

On 18 August 1943 I was suddenly told that I must leave at once for Lisbon with the American Chief of Staff, [Major] General Bedell Smith, in order to meet Italian emissaries who were coming to talk about Italian armistice conditions. When we met them General Smith said, 'We've come to give you the armistice terms,' whereupon General Castellano said, 'That's not why we came here at all, we came to discover how we could join with the Allies in clearing the Germans out of Italy.' Bedell Smith said, 'We can't discuss that, we'll do it later – I'll read you the armistice terms.' Castellano asked some questions and then retired to discuss them. It was quite clear that one of Castellano's main objects at this conversation was to find out what the British plans were, where were they going to land and how strong they were going to be, because this would determine the Italians, about the attitude they would adopt. And we decided we couldn't tell them that, it was too dangerous, too many lives at risk.

MAJOR GENERAL FRANCIS DE GUINGAND

Montgomery's Chief of Staff

The Italians surrendered and it was anyone's guess what the effect would be. I think most of us felt that the Germans would withdraw right out of Italy to the passes of the north, but in the event they didn't and so it looked a very difficult job because we knew the Italians' hearts were not in the fighting. It took us ten days to prepare ourselves to cross the Straits of Messina, and we got all our artillery geared up to cover us and the Air Force geared up to cover us, and the Navy ready and really it was a pretty thing but there was very little opposition when we got over. Then the real difficulty started when we got there and the terrain was completely different to the desert, which is flat, easy country to manoeuvre over. When you got to Italy there were these numbers of small rivers that were running down from the backbone of Italy down to the sea, which created bottlenecks every few hundred yards, and the Germans were blowing up all bridges. It meant a most laborious business of having to push the enemy rearguards out of action and then having to build bridges, get our people across and then come over the hill and find another ruddy bridge gone.

GENERAL SIEGFRIED WESTPHAL

Field Marshal Kesselring's Chief of Staff

Hitler and the High Command had no hope that the forces in southern Italy could survive a combined operation of the American Fifth Army and the British Eighth Army in a landing and therefore Hitler was happy that we could defend the Apennines, and that was the reason the Army Group B, under the command of Field Marshal Rommel, was in northern Italy in order to take this position. But the position in the Apennines was twice longer than the smallest position, south of Rome in the Abruzzi. We made this proposal to defend south of Rome because we were sure that we could survive the capitulation we expected from the Italians, and we have proof of that because we got all our divisions out from Sicily. Nevertheless the railroad and the roads were destroyed by air bombs and we have very few of petrol, so Hitler didn't believe us and all our requests for reinforcements were without any answers. If I did speak with the German High Command I got only answers good for a naughty child, but not for a man who has a strong task. After the Italian capitulation and the landing near Salerno it seemed they were right but Hitler did change his opinion and he ordered that Army Group Kesselring had to defend south of Rome and that the Army Group B who was behind us had to go to the Western Front.

MAJOR GENERAL STRONG

We were preparing the land at Salerno and Eisenhower was very anxious indeed that he should get the maximum cooperation possible from the Italians and this is the reason that he insisted, or pressed very hard, that this armistice should be signed. We hadn't awfully many troops, General Castellano told me that we needed at least fifteen divisions if we were going to make a successful landing. We had four or five divisions but we couldn't tell Castellano that. If we could drop them near Rome that would cut the German communications and probably, with the assistance of the Italians, capture Rome. When the time came the Italians got cold feet. They said if you drop parachutists there we cannot support them: the Germans have taken away from us all our vehicles, all our petrol and we are absolutely immobile, and therefore they will be destroyed before they can do anything. I think myself that it was a pity we cancelled the operation. General Eisenhower sent a man up to Rome, one of his trusted officers, to find out the situations there and he reported back to Eisenhower and said the operation was not feasible. I think it's a great pity it was postponed; I have a feeling that it could have succeeded and that the Italians would have given us more support in Rome than we thought. But General Eisenhower said he had to take the point of view of the man on the spot, who said the thing was not possible.

DREW MIDDLETON

I think there was great exhilaration, yes, but more than that confidence. They knew their weapons, they knew their commanders, they thought they could do it. But my point is that the surrender of the Italians did not lead them to think that Salerno or anything else was going to be easy – they knew it was going to be hard.

MAJOR GENERAL STRONG

When we landed at Salerno the Germans had been suspicious for some time that it was a possible landing place. It was the most suitable. It would've been much better if we could've gone further north and cut the lines of communication nearer Rome. Admiral Cunningham, who was the naval commander at the time, wanted to sail up the Tiber to Rome but the Air Forces said, 'You can not carry out those operations except under an air umbrella, the support of the air, and the furthest north we can give you the support of the air is at Salerno.' And that is why Salerno was chosen. Of all General Eisenhower's battles that is the one when I think we were nearest to a tactical defeat. We knew the German troops were there, we knew that we would be attacked by them, and we knew the risk was very great. But when the time came it required the intervention of all the Air Forces, it required their intervention to save us at Salerno, and indeed one of the commanders there had got as far as considering that he might have to take his headquarters out of Salerno and back to Sicily again.

MAJOR GENERAL JOHN HARDING

Field Marshal Alexander's Chief of Staff

The purpose was to me quite clear: it was to pin down, to use up, exhaust as much of the German military strength as possible in order to give the maximum support to Overlord, and the subsequent operations in the north-west. Certainly that was always in Alexander's mind.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CLARK

Ours was more or less a secondary role, you might say, an unglamorous role. You might compare it to the guards of a football team who take the tacklers out so the fleetbacks can run and make a touchdown. We were holding, and drawing into Italy all the troops we possibly could to keep them from interfering with General Eisenhower when he made the main show in Normandy, so that our role was to hold enemy troops, to keep them there, to chew 'em up and prevent them from fighting in other places.

MAJOR GENERAL HARDING

I don't know that the difficulties of fighting in the mountains were fully appreciated by people who thought of Italy as a place of sunshine and fine weather. I don't think they appreciated in any way the problems that arose, particularly the logistical problems, the movement problems from the effect of heavy rain and snowfalls in mountainous country, which was not very well roaded. I remember once a fairly distinguished Member of Parliament coming out to look at the front and we had a Member of Parliament on the Alexander staff and I told him that he'd better take his colleague out before dawn to make sure that he got wet through and that he had to help him push his Jeep out of the mud at least three times, and not to bring him home until after dark. And he had no difficulty in carrying out his instructions to the letter.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CLARK

The terrain of course was – you couldn't have worse, it wasn't terrain that was susceptible to the use of armour. It wasn't until we got to the Po valley that we could really turn our armoured units loose. We had to use their armoured infantry as infantry and the tanks as artillery pieces.

PRIVATE WHITMORE

Sherwood Foresters

Oh, terrible, terrible it was. It was worse than being in the Peak District of Derbyshire. The village people of southern Italy are very crude, no toilets, no nothing. What I can remember, there were houses they lived in, would have a bed in that corner and a couple of nanny goats sleeping in this corner and a few fowls in that corner and that would be it. The road would lead up into the hills out of the village, a lane sort of thing, and each side of this lane was absolutely swarming with flies on human excreta. I've never seen anything like it, there were no toilets anywhere and possibly I think that was why so many of us were sick.

MAJOR GENERAL HARDING

The Monte Cassino monastery is the keystone from a tactical point of view to the entrance to the Liri valley, which is the easiest and best approach from Naples to Rome. It stands very prominently on the eastern flank of the Liri valley and it would be out of the question to advance in strength up the valley on the way to Rome leaving Cassino in the hands of the enemy. I think it was necessary to bomb it from a point of view of the morale and confidence of the troops. Everybody thought the Germans were using it for military purposes. Whether or not they were remains of some doubt, but they claim they weren't. As far as we were concerned it was the general belief on that front that the Cassino monastery was being used for military purposes by the Germans, and that being the case it's part of my military philosophy you must not put troops into battle without giving them all possible physical and material support to give them the best chance for getting a success. That being so it was necessary to take out the monastery for those reasons. It proved to be illusory, because the ruins of the monastery buildings gave a better position to the German forces, which the 1st German Parachute Division which was stationed there took full advantage of, than the buildings themselves if they'd remained erect.

LIEUTENANT J GLENN GRAY

US Army Intelligence

It was at the very beginning of our entry into the line in front of Cassino. We were a very green division, well trained but inexperienced and like many cruelties in the war it was somewhat unintended. Our soldiers were accustomed to giving food to the hungry, shivering civilians and some order came down that this was illegal and improper. The civilians gathered with their tin cans with wire handles, and we discovered the rather horrible spectacle of having to throw food in huge cans into this dirty mud. An Italian winter, with these youngsters, even old men and women standing around watching us, was the rather grim introduction to the war for me in the winter of 1943–4. At first I was horrified and wrote in my journal about how hard a man's heart is. But like everything else I got used to it and managed to eat my fill – at first when we were giving the food to the civilians, many of us ate only half our lunches or suppers.

MAJOR GENERAL STRONG

It was very necessary to draw as many German forces as possible away from the Anzio area and therefore the decision was made that in conjunction with the Anzio attack there should be an all-out attack on the main front, on what they called the Gustav Line, which would gradually draw away those German divisions which were likely to oppose us at Anzio. Planning for this was mainly carried out by the American Army Group in Italy, but in January 1944 the Prime Minister, who was recovering from pneumonia, came to Marrakesh. Lord Beaverbrook was with him and I had to attend two conferences about the plan and I listened to him with great trepidation, to the statement that we would manage to penetrate the main front. I said that I didn't think this attack would be successful enough to do what they wanted. The Germans had spent endless effort in fortifying the Gustav Line with concrete pillboxes and every form of defence and I said I didn't think we'd penetrate it. So the Prime Minister listened to what I said but the plan went on as had been decided upon. And afterwards, when it was all over, he invited us to have a glass of sherry with him and he called me over to him. He said, 'You mustn't be disappointed if we don't take notice of what you say, but you are right, it's your right to call attention to the seamy side of this business.' People who had opposed the Prime Minister in the past had got into trouble, but I heard no more about it.

MAJOR GENERAL HARDING

I've got a very vivid recollection of that occasion: a stylish room, everybody sitting round the table with the Prime Minister in a dressing gown with a cigar resting over the top of a wine glass, Beaverbrook sitting next to him, and all of us round the table making our contribution during the course of the discussions about Anzio. Admiral Cunningham said that the operation was fraught with great risk whereupon the Prime Minister retorted, 'Yes, Admiral, of course there are risks but without risks there is no honour, no glory, no adventure,' which shut the Admiral up completely. Honestly, no admiral of the Royal Navy could possibly admit that he was not interested in honour, glory or adventure.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CLARK

I wanted to go into Anzio with all Americans or all British, one or the other, because when you take in a British division and an American one you're complicating your communications and your supplies and everything else. But that was turned down because they thought that if it was a failure each nation should share the blame equally. I went in with two and a half divisions, which was totally inadequate but that's the way the ball bounces in war. You do what you're told or they'll get somebody else to do it.

WYNFORD VAUGHAN-THOMAS

BBC radio journalist

We were all assembled before the landing for the usual conference; we were to be briefed by the Corps Commander, Major General John Lucas and he appeared. I was a bit surprised, he wasn't quite the dynamic leader I expected, he smoked a corn-cob pipe and he was known to the troops as 'Corn-Cob Charlie', and he kept on quoting Kipling on every possible occasion. Some of Kipling's quotations didn't seem to work out later on. Anyhow, there was this rather nice, kindly fellow with a white moustache and he sat down and he briefed us. There was no map behind him because the Americans didn't believe in maps – the French never looked at maps, the Americans brought maps but didn't study them, the English lived on maps.

GENERAL WESTPHAL

When the Allies landed near Anzio in beginning of 1944 there were only two battalions and some very old-fashioned batteries at the coast for defending. If the Americans had realised the situation they could stay on the evening of the landing day in Rome. We had some feeling that new landings either south or north of Rome or Livorno or Genoa or on the Adriatic Coast were to be expected and we had given in December a general order to all troops what they have to do in any case of landing. When I was awaked in the morning of this operation at three o'clock I had only to say and give orders. Then came the troops from northern Italy, from southern France and from the front of the Tenth Army in the rear of Cassino and so we were able to build up a new front against the landing troops under the command of the American General Lucas. Then we got many forces from Germany too, but the counter-attack did fail because the very bad weather and because we had made a too strong attack line, but not large enough, and then the troops had not the possibility to use the opportunities. I was very anxious we would have too great losses and I proposed to end the counter-attack. Perhaps if I had not done so we could reach the sea.

WYNFORD VAUGHAN-THOMAS

The trouble basically was, I think, Lucas did not really believe in the operation. Of course we didn't know it at the time, no soldier when you go into action is ever told the full thinking behind the piece of action or he'd never go near the place. But it was quite clear afterwards that the Americans were torn between whether to back this sort of thing wholeheartedly or to hedge on it. Now the higher command in America I'm sure never believed in the whole Italian business. They wanted to play it small but you can't tell an Army general 'we're just having a holding operation, toddle along quietly and don't get yourself killed too often, don't run any risks but keep the enemy under pressure'. You can't conduct war that way and Lucas was caught between these two awfully contradictory views. The British on the other hand were innocently convinced that we were going to land, lever the Southern Front loose and drive on to the Alban Hills, hold them to make certain that the Germans panicked and then up would come the Southern Front and we'd move to Rome. I had that very firmly in my mind when we landed. I'd no concept we were just going to sit down as soon as we landed and build a perimeter.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CLARK

At Anzio we got in there pretty much unopposed and established our beachhead and immediately we began to intercept the German radios. We were reading his mail at the time, we'd broken his code as you know, but nobody knew it at the time except those of us in command and I would get every blood-curdling message Hitler would personally send to his commander in Italy: drive us into the sea and drown us, and so forth. Hitler seized upon this as an opportunity to really give us a slap in the face. He ordered Army Commander von Mackensen to go in and set up an Army headquarters there, he ordered eight divisions in. He was able to take three away from the British front on the Adriatic and bring them in immediately, one and a half from Yugoslavia, from France, from Germany and he built up a tremendous force. We had the mail, we had the orders, and if we had pushed on out to beat him we would have been severely defeated and cut off completely. So we had to dig in on a line that was the maximum we could hold as a bridgehead and await the onslaught, which came within three or four days because his build-up was very rapid. I moved troops in just as fast as the landing craft could get 'em there, but I didn't have unlimited troops to move in. Those who said we could have stepped out and gone to the Alban Hills – well, we might have gotten a detachment to the Alban Hills but you'd have said goodbye to them because the build-up against us was too fast and too severe.

WYNFORD VAUGHAN-THOMAS

When dawn broke we'd got complete surprise, we captured a German in his pyjamas in a farmhouse. He came up rubbing his eyes and got ready to shave and we surrounded him. Along the road there came this marvellous drunken car, swaying back and forwards, it was full of the most happy Germans who'd had a night out in Rome and they were staggering back, and they couldn't believe they were captured and they kept on embracing me, until finally we put them in the clink too. There wasn't a single shot fired at us basically. You looked out and you saw the troops flooding ashore, it was a most extraordinary sight, and there was a great feeling of exaltation sprang up. I remember then getting into a Jeep and I drove up the main road to Rome, and we came to a spot known as 'the Flyover', it was crossing with a bridge on it, where a side road went across the main road to Rome. We all thought that after a quarter of an hour brew-up and on we'd go, but we waited for hours and then a dispatch rider said consolidate. We never went forward from that particular spot for two weeks. It was the biggest shock of my life. I thought at least there would be flying columns sent out to break up the German resistance, even if we lost them we could have driven on to their headquarters. It wasn't an area that they had prepared defensively and if we'd had four or five tanks what chaos you would have created behind the lines. There was no plan to spread chaos, no plan to confuse the Germans. We came, we saw, we conquered – but we stayed where we were.

MAJOR GENERAL HARDING

I don't think it was carried out with sufficient vigour and aggressively in the early stages of the landing. My experience of combined operations goes back to the First World War in Gallipoli and there one learned that there is a moment after the initial landing when the enemy is in a state of uncertainty and doubt, and an opportunity which is a very fleeting one occurs. I think probably the same thing happened at Anzio, there was an opportunity for exploiting the original landing. I don't think it was seized – what the reasons were it's difficult for me to say.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CLARK

The enemy build-up was four or five times as fast as I could build up, so that although General Lucas could have moved further from Anzio he would soon have been met by an overwhelming force. He would have been defeated, no question about it, so we had to dig in on the biggest perimeter we could possibly digest and wait for the onslaught, which came. I remember that the first time I directed that our heavy bombers come in with close support it was a touch and go situation up there.

WYNFORD VAUGHAN-THOMAS

Every aircraft they could spare in Italy came over for three or four days. It was known as saturation bombing and I remember watching one of the great raids coming over and you felt the earth had come to an end – it spouted in front of you, it shook, it shuddered and occasionally one went behind – when a soldier hears about precision bombing he digs a very deep hole and hides in it. On this occasion I thought there can't be a living German, the whole landscape heaved. There were wave after wave of these huge bombers coming over and the astonishing thing is about three-quarters of an hour later the Germans rose out of all this mess and came hopping towards us again. They didn't get very far, but the fact is that they survived it and were able to mount an attack.

GENERAL WESTPHAL

The German counter-attack at Anzio failed because exceptionally bad weather which made impossible to moving the armoured cars and the artillery and the training of the troops who was not as strong enough for succeed. Nevertheless, we were very near to the sea, but at that moment, we had no reports from the first battalions who attack and I was very anxious that we would have too big losses, and I proposed to Field Marshal Kesselring to end this attack.

WYNFORD VAUGHAN-THOMAS

I still to this day don't understand German tactics, but they went back to the First World War, bringing in unit after unit, and there was a moment when you actually saw them leaving their lines like those old films of the Somme battle, and falling down as our machine guns took them. Anzio was the nearest approach to World War One that I've ever heard in the last war; we even had trenches afterwards. But on this assault it was like the Somme all over again and they came over a moon landscape complete with wrecked tanks, abandoned Jeeps along the road and wire dangling down. The German units would come forward and I was lying looking up and every time the shells came over, crouched down. I think that the biggest memory of battle is when you're lying cringing against the earth or an old piece of broken brick, anything, and suddenly these little shapes are popping up. There were sounds of ratatats of machine guns and thuds of guns and the guns were screaming over us all the time. The gunfire in Anzio was terrific, it was almost done like a battleship control, every gun firing as one.

SERGEANT BILL BECKETT

Sherwood Foresters

When we was in the line you'd got to send one or two men out of your section to fetch your water and your rations. They used to take a ball of white tape and used to plug into your position and used to trail this white tape to where they'd got to pick up the rations then follow the tape back. Well, in the meantime, a German patrol had come to take the tape and pinned it in his position so you'd carry the rations and water and it was, 'Right, thank you, Tommy, put it right there'. Next morning soon as it's daylight they used to be shouting to you just over the hill, 'Have you got your water, Tommy, have you got your rations?' You'd just peep over and you'd see all your mates lined up getting into lorries.

MAJOR GENERAL HARDING

The situation was that Alexander had committed himself to doing everything in his power and using all his resources to the limit, in order to pin down German and Italian troops in Italy – German in particular – to prevent their being moved away from Italy to reinforce the Western Front. He therefore felt his duty to continue the operations against Cassino. After one or two more abortive attempts to drive the Germans off the Cassino monastery hill and to get up the Rapido valley, I came to the conclusion that the German strength and particularly the skill with which the German commanders were able to manipulate their troops on the battlefield, the advantage they were able to take from their tactical training and organisation to carry out effective blocking and laying operations in that difficult terrain meant that we would never have succeeded in breaking the Gustav Line unless we launched an offensive on a wide front from Cassino to the sea. The plan was to make use of our superiority in armour, artillery, the air and in infantry on the main front. At the same time to make use of our position at Anzio to fox the enemy to where the main assault was coming and to prevent him from moving quickly from the Anzio front to the main front and vice versa.

SHERWOOD FORESTERS

Group interview, Nottingham pub

We got closer together, the longer it went on the closer we became, because we knew there was only one way out of it, and that was into the sea or get out the other way . . . And it did happen, eventually we got out the other way . . . After three months it was demoralising what was seen, I'm telling yer . . . It was every night, every night everybody was hunting Germans, everybody was out to kill anybody. You used to go out – I used to go out on me own, creeping, to kill. We was insane . . . Yeah, I think we did become like that, we did become like animals in the end, eventually . . . Yes, just like rats . . . Yes, oh yes.

WYNFORD VAUGHAN-THOMAS

We got into a marvellous position, we broke into the hills and then we were going to get across the German line. We got to a little place called Artina and I could see down below in the Valmontone the German Army desperately trying to get through it, the Goring Division moving up through the vineyards below us and we had 'em. If we'd only chucked in the full weight of our Army right nobody would have got out from further south in Cassino. I can't understand to this day why he switched the attack because Mark Clark was no fool. It's quite true that he whipped the sign outside Rome for his bathroom but otherwise he was a damn good general, and he had to keep the Americans fighting although they didn't really have their hearts in it. But for some reason he pushed us through the hills instead of cutting across the German line. Maybe he wanted to get into Rome before the British, but anyhow the Germans were able to pull out.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CLARK

I took heavy casualties in coming over the mountains and there was no chance, in my opinion, for me to have cut the Germans off. First, they're too smart – they wouldn't have remained in a position where I could just attack on their flank and defeat them, they had other access roads from the south leading to the north. But the main reason I couldn't do it was that I couldn't attack to the cast from the bridgehead without taking all the hills that were heavily defended by the Germans, who would have debouched into my flank and raised havoc with me. I would have suffered heavy casualties if I had attacked to the east without taking the Alban Hills and I didn't have the means to do both.

MAJOR GENERAL HARDING

If I may put it diplomatically, I think General Clark was overwhelmed by the wish to be the first into Rome, which he would have done anyhow. I think that's why he suddenly went contrary to what Alexander had intended to do. The intention was that the break-out from Anzio, to direct it on Valmontone to cut the main route by which the German forces would withdraw. The whole concept of the operation from Anzio was with that intention. By diverting his axis to advance from almost due east to north-east he missed an opportunity of cutting off some forces, but he was attracted, I think, by the magnet of Rome.

LIEUTENANT GENERAL CLARK

But don't think that Rome didn't loom as a very interesting prize in our path. When the President came to see me, President Roosevelt in Italy, he said, 'I'm not sure that you can extract yourself from the battle but I'm going to be in Sicily and I'd love to see you.' I went down to see him and he handed me a letter and said, 'I didn't think you could come and I've written you a letter.' In it is how anxious we were to capture Rome, to liberate Rome. And I had been told by my government, by General Marshall, of the approximate time of Ike's cross-Channel landing and of the hope that I could capture Rome before, because it would be quite a blow to the Axis if these two could be coordinated.

WYNFORD VAUGHAN-THOMAS

Well, the liberation of Rome was the last Roman holiday on a big scale, I suppose, in history. I arrived at dawn and first of all people came rather anxiously out in the streets. You don't know who's going to liberate who, I mean you can easily lose your watch if you come too soon to greet the liberators. You've got to let the gallant defenders of freedom go back and the bringers of the new freedom arrive and it's a very nice thing to know when to come out of your cellars.

BILL MAULDIN

American cartoonist with Stars and Stripes

Thinking of the poverty of Italy and the destruction of its cities and villages, especially in the south, reminded me of a dog that had been run over while running out to bite the tyres of a passing automobile. I had the feeling, certainly most people did at the time, that Mussolini was an opportunist and was trying in a sense to get on Hitler's bandwagon and grab all the loot he could along the way, and just dragged his country into it. The Italians are not – back in Roman days they were different – but they're not the world's greatest fighters. It's one of the things I love about them, really. But they love parades and I think this was where Mussolini got his support – he gave everybody lots of parades and it's terribly impressive, I'm sure, to stand in Rome or Milan or wherever and see all these glittering robes and troops go by and feel the world is yours and you could do just about anything. The fact is that Mussolini saw a bandwagon going by and tried to jump on it, and they got run over.

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