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15 October 2014
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Timeline - 1939-1945

Fact File : Anzio Landings

22 January to 23 May 1944

Theatre: Mediterranean
Location: Central Italy
Players: Allies: General John Lucas's 6th Corps of the US 5th Army, including the British 1st, 56th, 5th Divisions. Axis: General Eberhard von Mackensen's German 14th Army.
Outcome: The Allies captured a small beachhead around Anzio, but despite fierce fighting they did not progress further until the Germans withdrew.

'On discovering that there were no Germans in his path, [Lucas] behaved as though there were.' - Peter Calvocoressi, Total War

After the Salerno landings of September 1943, the Allies decided to execute a second landing on Italy's west coast in an attempt to hasten the capture of Rome.

The Anzio landings were marked by the caution displayed by the Allied commanding officer, General John Lucas. Landing unopposed on 22 January 1944, US and British forces rapidly advanced inland to establish a beachhead some seven miles deep. Thereafter, Lucas concentrated on establishing and reinforcing his defensive positions. No major attacks were launched until 30 January, when the Allied line was advanced about four miles.

The German Army responded to the landing in force, fearing that it could be the beginning of the Allied invasion of Western Europe. By the end of January, Mackensen had four divisions in the area, including a tank regiment and over 200 artillery pieces.

February saw a series of attacks by German forces greatly outnumbering the Allied defenders; all were repulsed after hard-fought battles with considerable loss of life. Mackensen made his last attempt to drive the Allies into the sea on 29 February. When the attack failed, the Germans changed their strategy, launching small attacks on the Allies rather than making another concerted effort to take the beachhead.

Lucas's forces held the beachhead until 23 May, when the staged withdrawal of the German 14th Army permitted the Allies' long-awaited breakout.

The Anzio operation was planned as a way of supporting the Monte Cassino offensive, but in fact the success of the landings largely depended on success at Monte Cassino. Anzio was 95km (60 miles) behind the German line, and a breakout there could only be sustained by a simultaneous Allied breakthrough at Cassino.

By the time the beachhead at Anzio was established, the chances of a quick victory at Monte Cassino were already in doubt. In the end, the Allied victory at Monte Cassino only came on 18 May, and a breakthrough at Anzio shortly after that. Lucas has been criticised for not advancing quickly enough - but given the situation at Cassino, the months of attrition at Anzio were probably inevitable.

The fact files in this timeline were commissioned by the BBC in June 2003 and September 2005. Find out more about the authors who wrote them.

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