The old Prussian army used to be a proverb. “Don’t ask how many enemies. Just ask where.” The slogan mattered to an army that usually fought large, wealthy enemies and had no choice but to emphasize willpower more than weapons, high-tech at heart. Prussian officials did not want to count the odds, but to fight and win the war.
His German descendants had the same mission in the years following World War II. Take the Italian campaign. The Allies held all the high cards: endless waves of men, tanks, guns and aircraft and complete control of the sea. Nevertheless, the men and officers of the Wehrmacht contested every mountain, river, and ridge, and contested every inch of land. Perhaps if they held on for a long time, they would find a way to return to an attack like the Prussian of old. Perhaps the Allies would be sloppy, take a wrong step, and provide them with an opening.
And then, one day in late January 1944, the Allies did just that. They landed on a small amphibious force – very small, as it turned out – on the western sides of the Italian peninsula, between the small towns of Anzio and Nettuno. Operation Shingle was everything a military operation should not be: badly employed, indifferently led, and unsure of its purpose. Worse, Landing gave the Wehrmacht the opportunity to do what he did: launch a full-scale offensive. In the subsequent battles, German mechanized structures came closer to leveling the Allied seashore than they would in this battle again on a battlefield. Anzio was the Prussian’s last ride.
The shingle was an attempt to cross the Gustav line by landing at Anzio in the German rear, 30 miles south of Rome. It was unfortunate from the beginning, and historians have celebrated a field day to separate it. Problems started at the top. It was conceived by Winston Churchill, the king of cigar-butt strategists. Allied command problem child General Mark Clarke planned this, And General John Lucas of the VI Corps was the less-than-inspiring commander to lead the region. But the problems were deeper than personality. The lack of landing craft placed the force into only two divisions: the British 1st Division (General W. R. C. Penney) and the American 3rd Infantry Division (General Lucian K. Truscott). Normandy Landing remained just a few months away, and the Allies could not tie too many precious equipments or too many troops on a sidewalk. Prelanding exercises were a fiasco, with men here and yon and many landing craft sunk. Even Truscott, a strict boy who once expressed his battle philosophy in the phrase Pithe, “No Sonofabuch, no Commander,” wondered aloud if they all embarked on a suicide mission.
Despite these problems, the landing went smoothly on 22 January. The German fire was practically absent, and 36,000 people burned to ashes at night. And no surprise – the landing had completely taken the Germans by surprise. Theater Commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, from below, had not seen anyone coming from it. Just a few days ago, Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of German military intelligence (Abwehr), visited the headquarters of the Frascati of Keskeling and reported that he had “not seen the slightest sign of an imminent landing in the near future.” The ship movement was normal in Naples harbor. “You can sleep easily tonight,” Canaris told the boss.