A Momentous 70th Anniversary.

As many of you may know, we have an important anniversary of a pivotal World War 2 event this week. So I figured I’d do my duty, and give you a handful of details about that critical moment, that day that will remain long remembered, that triumph that started the endgame for the Axis in World War 2. So here we are – the tale of …… June 4, 1944.

(Hey …. wait a minute …. ain’t the Normandy invasion on June SIXTH? 8O )

Ah, but this ISN’T the tale of Operation Overlord, the invasion of Northern France. This is the tale of the fall of the first Axis capitol, and some REALLY rotten timing for the American general in charge.

70 years ago, on June 4th, the Allied armies captured Rome. Capping a campaign that

Map of Italy - Note Anzio beach landing area, south of Rome.

Map of Italy – Note Anzio beach landing area, south of Rome.

started eleven months earlier with the invasion of the Mediterranean island of Sicily, and the reward for a bloody fight on the beaches of Anzio and Nettuno in January of 1944, the capture of Rome should have been a tremendous news item, and a shining star in the career of Lieutenant General Mark Clark. Leading an Allied force of Americans, British, Polish, Canadians, and others, he had marched his forces from the toe of the boot of Italy all the way, through numerous German defensive lines and two amphibious assaults, to the Italian capitol. Clark heard the momentous news on the afternoon of the 4th, and passed the news on to correspondents, expecting to make front page news.

But it wasn’t to be. It took more than 24 hours for the news to get to America, via the various landlines, radio broadcasts, and trans-Atlantic telegraph cable. Arriving late on the 5th, the information would have blared forth from the headlines on the morning of the Sixth of June. However, all the news agencies had been warned on the 5th to expect a news flash from northwestern Europe, from General Dwight Eisenhower, about “the opening of the second front”. And so, the capture of the first Axis capitol in the war was bumped from the front page, and what should have been a glorious chapter in General Clark’s career, became a footnote in history.

Oh, and by the by – today is also the 25th anniversary of first “free” Polish elections, the

Polish Flag

Polish Flag

start of a movement that would throw off the shackles of 44 years of Communism, and see Poland as a free country for the first time since 1939. So a big shout-out to my Polish readers, and of course to Chicago, the city with the 2nd largest Polish population in the entire world. (Yeah, Warsaw pipped us. Fooey! ;) )

And never fear, I will have a post to mark the 70th anniversary of Overlord – and it will mark another milestone of somewhat less importance as well, so tune in. And finally, I promise I WILL get to your comments, once I finally have my Email tamed. So stay tuned!

(Polish flag retrieved by Google search from apollosigncompany.com)

(Map of Italy with Anzio marked, retrieved by Google search from http://www.wannasurf.com)

 

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19 Responses to A Momentous 70th Anniversary.

  1. 1jaded1 says:

    Bad timing stinks, but the result was good. Thanks for the history lessons.

    • Always glad to be of service! You might say that the bad timing for General Clark became the good luck that gave General Eisenhower the window of weather that permitted the Normandy invasion. Still stunk for poor Clark! :)

  2. aFrankAngle says:

    Interesting scoop regarding Rome … and you twist away from Normandy didn’t surprise me.

  3. benzeknees says:

    I didn’t know about this John, but of course I am Canadian & it was very overshadowed by the part we played on June 6th! Thanks for the info!

    • It’s kinda sad that the Canadians get such short shrift in histories of WW2. Between Dieppe on France in 1942, the Italian campaign, and their almost-completely unsung clearing out of the Channel ports, I’m beginning to think I might have to shift this blog to correcting history’s oversight. But then, I couldn’t trumpet the accomplishments of the Poles! So many underdogs, so little time…..

      • benzeknees says:

        It might have been overshadowed in your country, but in Canada our part on June 6th is very well known. But you go ahead & make sure others know about it, it would be great for others to know we went to WW2 before the Americans & we were fighting courageously over in Europe!

  4. fasab says:

    Very good. Timing is everything, even in wars.

    • ESPECIALLY in war. About 6 weeks later, during the breakout from the beaches, the Allies called in heavy bombers to pound the German defences. One flight dropped too early, and bombed our own troops – killing the highest-ranked officer from the US in WW2. As the old saying goes, “Friendly fire NEVER is!:” 8O

  5. I was not in Rome for the 70th anniversary, but I am in Italy and captured a video of the 69th anniversary of the overall liberation of Italy on 25 April: http://andreasmoser.wordpress.com/2014/04/26/video-blog-liberation-of-italy/ (with a beautiful song)

  6. Regarding the timing issue, we should also note that capturing Rome really had no strategic importance. Italy at that time was no longer fighting (it had declared and stuck to an armistice in September 1943), so Rome was not the capital city of an enemy country anymore, and Germany did not defend Rome, instead declaring it an “open city”. One could argue that General Clark wasted time by going into Rome, time which he could have used to pursue the retreating Germans. (Although I personally understand the wish to get to Rome, to tick that box and to give his men some days of rest in a beautiful city.)

    • Good points, Andreas, though I have to argue one point on a technicality. While the majority of the country had surrendered and changed sides to the Allies (including the King), Mussolini still ran a “rump” state in the north, the Italian Socialist Republic – though it was truly only a symbolic “puppet” state, run by the Germans with Mussolini as a figurehead.
      And yes, there is a GREAT degree of debate about the drive to grab Rome. Had the forces driving north from Anzio cut the roads outside Rome, they could have cut off and destroyed an entire German Army (the Fifteenth, if memory serves). Instead, the Germans evacuated the vast majority of men and materiel north of Rome to the next prepared defensive line (I forget if it was the Gothic or Hitler line). But yes, Rome was quite the prize, so in some ways I can’t argue with Clark’s choice – and stopping the German Army’s retreat would not have changed world history that much, except (obviously) for having a much-reduced casualty rate on both sides, and less bombing/fighting-related destruction of Italy’s towns and infrastructure.
      I think we need to set up a page debating key points in WW2 history. Should we open with Monty’s slow progress taking Caen, this being June 6th? ;) :D

  7. Elyse says:

    Terrific story, John. Timing IS everything, although Andreas is right. Still …

    • Oh, just one of SO many “what-ifs” that are so intriguing. What if we hadn’t broken the Japanese code and won victory at Midway in 1942? What if the French had launched a major assault in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, since the German western defences had been stripped to equip the army invading Poland? So many interesting possibilities….

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