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Kyenge remembers Anzio landings

'Keep alive memory of freedom fighters' minister says

22 January, 15:36
Kyenge remembers Anzio landings (ANSA) - Anzio, January 22 - Italian Integration Minister Cecile Kyenge on Wednesday commemorated a key event in the liberation of Italy in the Second World War, the Allied landings at Anzio south of Rome in 1944.

Conceived as a surprise move to bypass entrenched German resistance and launch a decisive strike for Rome, the Battle of Anzio bogged down and became a slogging bloodbath.

"We have to keep alive the memory of those who fought to make democracy possible," said Kyenge, representing the Italian government on the 70th anniversary of the battle, flanked by the US and British ambassadors to Italy.

"We must build the future without forgetting our history, starting with the commitment of those who fought against dictatorship," she said, stressing the importance of teaching WWII history in schools.

"If we want to realise our dreams we must know our past," said Kyenge, who conveyed a message from Premier Enrico Letta to veterans including four British ex-servicemen.

The landings at Anzio and nearby Nettuno were planned to resolve the attritional stalemate the Italian campaign had become by the end of 1943. Field Marshall Kesselring's German forces had stopped the Allied advance cold in the heights around Cassino Abbey, the linchpin of the formidable Gustav line. Allied commander-in-chief General Alexander decided he could not take Rome unless the Allies made an amphibious landing and forced the Germans to backpedal. But Operation Shingle turned out to be one of the most ill-conceived operations of the war, military historians agree.

It took place 35 miles southwest of Rome on January 22, 1944, when a corps-sized Anglo-American expeditionary force commanded by U.S. major general John P. Lucas, landed at Anzio and Nettuno.

Alexander believed that if the expeditionary force seized the Alban Hills northeast of Anzio, it could block German resupply of Cassino, thus compelling Kesselring to abandon the Gustav Line and retreat to the Apennines. Lucas recognized that the Anzio force could not hold both the Alban Hills and a vital logistical lifeline to the port of Anzio, and elected merely to establish a beachhead outside Anzio and Nettuno.

Kesselring quickly contained the Allied threat and massed German troops. In mid-February, they carried out Adolf Hitler's order to "lance the abscess south of Rome" with a massive counteroffensive aimed at destroying the beachhead. A series of furious attacks failed to break the Allied line in what one historian has described as "a charge of the Light Brigade without the horses...sheer slaughter".

Lucas was relieved of command even though he had been given a mission he had no practical possibility of carrying out. After a four-month stalemate during which British and American losses totaled 7,000 killed, 36,000 wounded or missing, and 44,000 hospitalized from various nonbattle injuries and sickness, the siege of Anzio finally ended on May 23, 1944, when the Allies launched a breakout offensive.

Almost 8,000 American soldiers lie buried in the American military cemetery in Nettuno, which attracts thousands of tourists every year.

The men died in the Sicilian campaign from July to August 1943, in the September 1943 landing at Salerno south of Naples and at the battles at Anzio and Nettuno.