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No Rear ... Anzio was unique.

by Bill Mauldin

It was the only place in Europe which held an entire corps of infantry, a British division, all kinds of artillery and special units, and maintained an immense supply and administration setup without a rear echelon. As a matter of fact, there wasn't any rear; the was no place on the entire beachhead where enemy shells couldn't seek you out.

Sometimes it was worse at the front; sometimes worse at the harbour. Quartermasters buried their dead, and amphibious duck drivers went down with their craft. Infantrymen, dug into the Mussolini Canal, had the canal pushed in on top of them by armour-piercing shells, and Jerry bombers circled as they directed glider bombs onto L.S.T.s and Liberty ships. Wounded men got oak leaf clusters on their Purple Hearts when shell fragments riddled them as they lay on hospital beds. Nurses died. Planes crash-landed on the single air strip.

Planes went out to seek the 'Anzio Express', that huge gun which made guys in rest areas play softball near slit trenches. The planes would report the Express destroyed and an hour later she would come in on schedule.

The krauts launched a suicidal attack which almost drove through to the sea. Evacuation was already beginning in the Harbour when a single American battalion broke the point of the attack, then was engulfed and died. Bodies of fanatical young Germans piled up in front of the machine-guns, and when the guns ran out of ammunition the Wehrmacht came through and was stopped only by point-blank artillery. One American artillery battalion of 155s fired eighty thousand rounds of ammunition at Anzio, and there were dozens of these battalions.

You couldn't stand up in the swamps without being cut down, and you couldn't sleep if you sat down. Guys stayed in these swamps for days and weeks. Every hole had to be covered, because the 'popcorn man' came over every night and shovelled hundreds of little butterfly bombs down on your head by the light of flares and exploding ack-ack. You'd wake up in the morning and find your sandbags torn open and spilled on the ground.

The krauts used little remote-control tanks filled with high explosives. You wondered how Jerry could see you and throw a shell at you every time you stuck your head up, until you climbed into the mountains after it was all over and were able to count every tree and every house in the area we had held. Tiger tanks grouped together and fired at you. Your artillery thought it was a battery and threw a concentration of shells at the tanks, and by the time you shells struck the Tigers had moved away and were firing at you from another place.

Four American tank destroyers crossed the canal and bounced armour-piercing shells off the turret of a Tiger until it turned its massive gun and disintegrated them with five shells.

German infantry rode their tanks into battle and the dogfaces shot them off like squirrels but they didn't get them all - some came in and bayoneted our guys in their holes.

This wasn't a beachhead that was secured and enlarged until it eventually became a port for supplies coming in to supplement those being expended as the troops pushed inland. Everything was being expended right here. It was a constant hellish nightmare, because when you weren't getting something you were expecting something, and it lasted for five months.

- Bill Mauldin, American war artist

Source: The Taste of Courage - The War, 1939-1945. Edited by Desmond Flower and James Reeves. Copyright 1960, Cassel & Co. Ltd. Publisher: Harper & Row, New York NY.
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