Friday, June 19, 2015

At Anzio…

At Anzio, the beachhead forces remained under tension. It was easy enough for a visitor arriving in April to gain a false impression of safety and calm. Despite the visible destruction around the tiny harbor, the men appeared cheerful, even insouciant. Except for 750 Italian civilian laborers, the population was entirely military; 22,000 men, women, and children had been evacuated to Naples soon after the landings and more than 100,000 troops had taken their places. In apparent unconcern over the danger that struck periodically, men unloaded vessels, trucked supplies to inland dumps, and performed the duties normal in all military installations. The occasional white plume of water that rose as an enemy shell plunged into the bay had an impersonal air. Yet the next shell to whistle over the beachhead might land in the hold of a ship or blow to pieces a jeep driving through Nettuno. At any moment one or a dozen German planes might swoop out of the sun to lay a deadly trail of bombs and bullets.

The horror of the beachhead was the constant, yet hidden presence of death. Casualties were never numerous at any one time. But the continual waiting and expectancy produced strain, for every part of the beachhead was vulnerable to enemy guns and planes. To reduce the accuracy of incoming shells and bombs, a host of smoke generators created artificial fog-smoke pots were placed in a semicircle paralleling the beachhead perimeter and on boats screening the port. During the day the smoke produced a light haze, at night a dense low-hanging cloud. Yet the smoke could neither obstruct nor deflect the random shell, the lucky bomb.

German shells and bombs struck ammunition dumps, Quartermaster depots, and medical installations. Casualties among medical personnel alone totaled 92 killed (including 6 nurses), 367 wounded, and 79 missing or captured for the four months that the beachhead existed.

Trenches, foxholes, dugouts, and pits throughout the beachhead protected men and materiel. Tons of earth pushed up by bulldozers made walls to shelter the neatly stacked piles of gasoline cans and ammunition. Dirt and sandbag revetments ringed the hospital tents, reinforced with planking for added protection to shock wards and operating rooms.

That the port of Anzio continued to operate at all was a testimonial to the quiet courage it took to work under the hazardous conditions. On 29 March, when 7,828 tons of supplies were brought ashore, Anzio in terms of unloading operations was the fourth largest port in the world.

The logistical lifeline, which made possible the continued existence of the beachhead, was a substantial supply effort. Despite the hope of a relatively quick linkup between the beachhead and main front forces, the planners had from the first established supply runs from North African ports and from NapIes. Liberty ships, LST's, and LCT's, some carrying preloaded trucks and DUKW's, brought the means of waging war and the necessities of life, plus some luxuries, to the men in the beachhead.

From 28 January on, weather permitting, a convoy of six LST's departed Naples daily for the 100-mile trip to Anzio. Each vessel carried fifty trucks, a total of 300 per convoy. Each truck was loaded to maximum 5-ton capacity, then backed on a ship for the voyage so that it could be driven off quickly at the destination. The 1,500 tons of cargo carried generally consisted of 60 percent ammunition, 20 percent fuel, and 20 percent rations-for sustaining the beachhead forces and stockpiling items for the coming spring offensive. At Anzio, empty trucks were ready to be driven aboard the unloaded LST's for return to Naples.  

Other vessels supplemented the daily LST shuttle. Each week fifteen LCT's made a round trip between Naples and Anzio. Every ten days four Liberty ships, usually loaded at North African ports, arrived at the beachhead.

LST's and LCT's docked in the harbor of Anzio, Liberty ships unloaded offshore, their cargoes brought into the harbor or over the beaches by a fleet of 20 LCT's, almost 500 DUKW's, and a few LCI's. By 1 February the port was handling 8 LST's, 8 LCT's, and 15 LCI's simultaneously. The volume of supplies, for example, enabled the 450 artillery pieces in the beachhead by mid-February to fire an average of 20,000 rounds per day.

Because hospital ships were unable to dock at the Anzio wharf, LCT's ferried patients to the ships standing offshore. Air evacuation was impossible because the dust raised by the planes landing and taking off brought immediate artillery fire from the enemy.

Despite bad weather, relatively poor unloading facilities, and enemy bombardment and shelling, more than half a million tons of supplies were discharged at Anzio during four months, a daily average of about 4,000 tons. No serious supply shortages ever developed at the beachhead.

Anzio became the epic stand on a lonely beachhead. But the dogged courage of the men on that isolated front could not dispel the general disappointment- the amphibious operation had not led to the quick capture of Rome.

Furthermore, the expedition had approached disaster, averted only by the grim determination of the troops to hold. What made it possible for the forces at Anzio to endure a situation fraught with defeat was the logistical support they received. Without Allied command of the sea, the very concept of Anzio would have been out of the question. And in the end it was support across the water, tied to courage on the battlefield that turned near tragedy into a victory of sorts.

The operations at Anzio taught two immediate lessons: an amphibious assault needed more strength in the initial landing and an immediate drive to key points inland. These were heeded by the planners who prepared OVERLORD.

No comments:

Post a Comment