FATAL DECISION: ANZIO
AND THE BATTLE FOR ROME.
566 pages. $35. In an article for The Evening Sun in January 1986 I concluded: "Yes, I would remember Anzio. I knew, too, that each and every one of us condemned to man this very special outpost would never forget her, either." This massive volume tells why.
The Anzio bridgehead, named for a resort town on the Mediterranean coast of Italy, was selected by Allied forces in 1944 as a likely foothold onto German-occupied Italy. The reason: to give the attackers a strategic advantage in their effort to capture the Holy City and liberate all of Southern Italy. But for various reasons the plans did not jell. The result was a snarling stalemate fought ferociously by thousands of warriors on either side from the latter part of January until the Allied breakthrough in late May.
Mr. d'Este, who teaches history at Norwich University in Vermont and has written two previous volumes on World War II in the Mediterranean theater, provides here the specialist reader with an impressively maintained narrative of events buttressed with all the requisite supporting material. There also are sketches of the principal Allied and German commanders, with considerable space devoted to their political squabbles (the American supreme commander, Gen. Mark Clark, does not emerge favorably from the pages of "Fatal Decision").
Slight attention is paid to the air war, and only military buffs will relish Mr. d'Este's dogged reeling off of unit designations. But based on this wealth of scholarly reportage, how did the fighting men involved react to their situation? Here is a sampling:
"It was like the end of the world."
"Those who lived were only half alive."
"All those tanks and guns were burning and exploding in the middle of our position at one time -- a beautiful sight!"
"Americans and British fought for some of the most miserable terrain on the planet earth."
"The only source of water for one company was a nearby stream that ran red with the blood of several dead Germans."
"There was no safe place anywhere in the Anzio beachhead."
"Anzio was a place where many of us ceased to be young."
"For those who served there Anzio was quite simply a never-to-be-forgotten horror."
One American general earned no fewer than nine Purple Hearts. A basic reason for such carnage was the indiscriminate havoc wrought by the enemy's terrible railway guns, the "Anzio Express" and "Anzio Annie," both of which survived the war intact (one is on exhibit in the Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground). And so on and so on.
There have been at least eight earlier studies of this subject. The present one should take its stand for some time to come as the most nearly definitive.
A writer living in Baltimore, Mr. Davis formerly served in the Office of Strategic Services and the Central Intelligence Agency. As a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps, he was an interrogator of Luftwaffe flying personnel at Anzio.