Stevens Point Journal 25 August 1993 Page 23
Taking Rome was triumph By SID MOODY AP Newsfeatures Writer Once before in the sixth century by the Byzantine general Belisarius had Rome been captured by an army attacking from the south. The reason was simple: mountains after mountains after mountains. That the Allies of World War II did so on June 4, 1944, was a triumph of will over geography, misery, blundering and a tenacious German army that turned the vaulting crags of Italy's spine into shooting galleries. That the American Fifth Army under Lt. Gen. Mark Clark was in Italy at all was a grudging concession to Prime Minister Winston Churchill. The Briton was forever seeking a back door into Hitler's Third Reich, a "soft underbelly." Soon after, the initial Anglo-American landing on Sept. 9, 1943, near Salerno, Italy, proved to be anything but. Supporters of the invasion hoped it would draw Nazi forces away from the beleaguered Russian front and from the upcoming Allied landing in Normandy. It did. But it also tied up a million Allied soldiers, vital landing craft and, in American eyes, became a sideshow to the main event, the invasion of France. As the fighting inched through the freezing mountains, it was a question in the mind of the Allied ground commander, Gen. Sir Harold Alexander, as to whose troops were tying down whom that might be fighting elsewhere. Checked by the Germans' Gustav Line centered on the glowering heights of Monte Cassino, the Allies tried an end run in January 1944 by landing at Anzio 40 miles south of Rome. The hope was to cut Field Marshal Albert Kesselring's supply lines and force a German withdrawal. Instead, Anzio became a stalemate which failed to relieve another stalemate. Within a week, Kesselring's force outnumbered the invaders, almost threw them into the sea and then settled into trench warfare that closely resembled that of World War I. To the south, Americans, Indians and then New Zealanders stormed Monte Cassino. All were repulsed in turn. The ancient Benedictine monastery atop the mountain was bombed into ruin, producing a controversy but not victory. While the huge buildup of Allied forces crowded into England for D-Day in Normandy, Alexander was building up his own army. At Anzio, the original commander, Maj. Gen. John P. Lucas, a leader "full of inertia," had been replaced by American Maj. Gen. Lucien K. Truscott Jr. 1 While the Goumiers and American alpine troops scrambled through the mountains and Poles began the fourth and finally successful assault on Monte Cassino, Alexander's main force broke into the Liri Valley on May 11, 1944. Kesselring abandoned the Gustav Line. Then Truscott barged out of Anzio and headed inland to cut off Kesselring. But to Clark that was not the prize. Rome was. He ordered Truscott to hook a left to Rome, leaving a path for the German retreat. To the Allies' subsequent regret, Kesselring got away to fight another day. After 125 days and 22,400 Allied casualties, the Anzio stalemate was broken. The Fifth Army pressed on tp Rome. The road to Rome had cost 20,839 lives, 11,292 of them American. They lay buried back down the newly bloodied ancient Roman roads, latest in a long line of fallen conquerors who had never reached the Eternal City from the south.