ANZIO: Italy and the battle for Rome 1944. Review by Mark Barnes


ANZIO: Italy and the battle for Rome 1944
By Lloyd Clark.
Published by Headline. £20.00 hardback.
ISBN 07553 1420 4
ISBN 978 0 7553 1420 1

Review by Mark Barnes for War History Online

I was born in 1959 and to the apparent disappointment of un-prepared parents had not been a girl. This created arguments over suitable Christian name eventually resolved by the choice of Mark. But then things got even more difficult when my mother said she wanted me to have her maiden name as my second name: Clark. My father was spitting bullets. There was no way a son of his would be named after an American general, let alone Mark Clark, a man he hated with every ounce of his soul.

Lloyd Clark’s account of Anzio and its place in the Italian campaign goes a long way to explaining my dear old dad’s attitude. To this day the 5th Army commander remains a controversial figure. Brave beyond doubt, a dashing man of action in pursuit of personal glory; his is a tarnished reputation seemingly well deserved. The old adage about “Give ‘em enough rope” would seem to suit him well. Harold Alexander was the man on the other end of that rope and has to bear some of the responsibility.

For Clark the glory he wanted was to conquer Rome. Amid a tide of Anglo-American conflict over the prosecution of the Italian campaign and the importance of Anvil and Overlord; Clark remained single minded in his aim to be the man who took the Eternal City before Overlord could steal his thunder. He just about achieved it, but at such a cost it is difficult to see how he got away with such brazen disobedience and disloyalty to his superiors.

Lloyd Clark sets out to explain in a clear and concise manner how the landings at Anzio came to be made. The roles of Churchill, Alexander, Marshall and Roosevelt are easy to follow. In essence we see a campaign advanced in glowing terms by Churchill, whose desire to defeat a large German army, possibly even negate the need for Overlord and maintain British interests in the Mediterranean was thoroughly disliked and distrusted by the Americans. This was a campaign where the seeds of Anglo-American disunity were allowed to flourish.

The author is equally at home on the battlefield with some of the finest descriptions of a campaign I have read. The range of personal accounts from all the belligerents and even Sophia Loren make for enthralling reading. A true balance is achieved with due reverence given to the US Army Rangers, Airborne, and other forces who landed alongside some of the best known regiments of the British Army. The differences in the methods of the Allies are carefully presented, as are some endearing (and otherwise!) descriptions of Allied troops from their counterparts. The suffering of the armies fighting at Anzio is sometimes beyond belief; matching the horrors of the Great War or Russian front.

Reading of the Rangers and their founder William O Darby is an interesting experience. For a moment I found myself thinking of the unseen “Vecchio” fondly remembered by “Miller” in Saving Private Ryan. The famous 1st Special Service Force also make a welcome appearance. The Devil’s Brigade appear to have been as scary a bunch of killers as the old movie suggests. Add to them the US 1stArmored  Div, a Guards brigade and the likes of the Dukes, North Staffs and the KOSLI and you have a real blend of the best  the Allies could field.

It is here that my dad’s dislike of Mark Clark starts to make sense. One of the British battalions slaughtered at Anzio were the 10thRoyal Berks. In 1939 my dad was a TA man from north London and it was the 10th where most of his friends had ended up. In 1942 he contracted first malaria and then tuberculosis while garrisoning a bit of India and was shipped off to a military hospital near Soweto in Johannesburg of all places to recover. He came home in March 1945. Most of the 10th Bn remain in Italy to this day. Lloyd Clark tells us that only forty men survived their involvement in the campaign. Purnell’s History of the Second World War from 1970 suggests an even smaller number. My father insisted only three men from his old TA mob came home at all.

The other controversial character from this sorry episode is General John P Lucas of 6th Corps who initially directed the landings at such a snails pace he left all his superiors fuming, bar Clark. The 5th Army commander was so intent on taking Rome he did not want anyone else doing it, least of all the British. A chance of a rapid breakout from the beachhead might make this possible. But Lucas was an intensely cautious man who would not throw his gains away and was hounded for his lack of dash. He seems so unlike the modern image of an American general. In the end his superiors could stand him no longer and replaced him with the firebrand Lucian Truscott. The irony is that, in reflection it appeared that Lucas’s caution was well placed. A dash for Rome would have spread his forces to an extent making them easy meat for superior German numbers. This was a campaign when Allied firepower and air superiority were only just beginning to tip the scales.

Months behind schedule the Allies finally captured Cassino and pushed the Germans back. Coupled with a breakout at Anzio, the intended plan was to bottle up and destroy the German 10th Army. But just as this looked likely to happen, Clark saw his chance to subvert his orders and divert his forces to take Rome. This was to be an American victory. He went as far to insist that US troops fire on any British units approaching the city. How his boss Alexander allowed this situation to happen beggars belief. But the fact remains he did. Clark entered Rome just two days before the Normandy landings. A huge retinue of press were on hand to capture every moment of his achievement. The photographers all knew they were only to film the general from his favoured left side. One of these bewildered men was Alan Whicker, serving with AFPU. The photo he took of Clark mounting the steps of the Eternal City’s town hall was one of the general’s favourites and was a big feature in his home. I recommend you read Whicker’s War, a strongly personal but very entertaining introduction to the Italian campaign. Lloyd Clark obviously thinks well enough of Whicker to quote from his book on several occasions.

Hitler and chums, dementedly potty as ever, feature strongly in this book. They are a proper reminder of who the real enemy was. It is a shame that the legacy of Mark Clark, whose ‘grandiosity and folly’ sickened Briton and American alike when his quest for glory cost so many lives, detracts from this fact. I think my dad had him sussed.

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By Mark Barnes / Visit his amazing facebook page: For Your Tomorrow

Mark Barnes

Mark Barnes is a longstanding friend of WHO, providing features, photography and reviews. He has contributed to The Times of London and other publications. He is the author of The Liberation of Europe (pub 2016) and If War Should Come due later in 2020.