Eric Fletcher Waters of the Royal Fusiliers was killed at the Battle of Anzio, Italy on
February 18th 1944. His son Roger immortalised the loss of his father in the haunting song with the above title. Planned to be the opening track of the Pink Floyd album The Wall the other band members however thought it too personal. Instead it’s in the Alan Parker film and on the reissued Final Cut CD. The Tigers Roger refers to are the feared German tanks in the Panzer divisions.
Operation Shingle (its official name) was conceived by Winston Churchill and commenced on January 22nd 1944; it was an amphibious landing of a large Allied force in the Anzio area of Italy. Its intention was to strike east, drawing German forces from the fierce fighting at Monte Cassino with the possibility also of allowing the Allies to strike north to Rome.
This area of former marshland was drained in 1930 on Mussolini’s orders and turned into an agricultural area. It’s surrounded by mountains so a quick advance was essential or the enemy would reinforce, surrounding the attackers from above. The Appian Way passes through here and a Roman Army in 321BC had befallen this exact fate.
Though the landing was a success with almost no opposition found, US Major General Lucas fatally chose to dig a defensive line instead of advancing further as he expected a counter attack. German Field Marshall Kesselring immediately sent 20,000 reinforcements from Rome with 20,000 more arriving the following day to surround the Allies, Kesselring knew the Allies would succeed if they continued to advance on the first days; instead Lucas’s needless fear of being caught in a trap condemned many men to die including Eric Waters over the next four months. In Lucas’s diary of the time he refers to the same ‘amateur’ being in charge as was at Gallipoli. This was a direct reference to Churchill who had been heavily involved of the planning of the 1916 debacle, where there had been half a million casualties.
Fiendishly the Germans stopped the pumps that drained the marshes and the area slowly flooded so inviting mosquitos to help with their defences too. They bombed and shelled the Allied positions for the next month. By February 20th it was stalemate after attack and counter attack with over 40,000 casualties from both sides, some positions changed hands eight times. Churchill remarked that he had hoped a wildcat had been hurled at the shores and instead they had got a stranded whale. Lucas was relieved of his command with the British and more attacking minded Major General Truscott appointed.
It was the depth of winter so fighting mostly took place at night when the ground froze and tanks and guns could be moved. In the day it was too boggy and the soldiers rested. Some Allied soldiers nicknamed these months their ‘Dracula Days’ as they drew blood at night and slept by day.
By May the Allies had 150,000 soldiers and the breakout was on. On the 23rd battle commenced with the initial plan to head east to stop the Germans escaping to Rome from Monte Cassino. Instead Lieutenant General Clark of the US 5th Army felt that they ‘deserved’ to liberate Rome and ordered the advance to turn 90 degrees north. This Yankee vanity allowed tens of thousands of Germans to escape and prolonged the war by another year.
On June 2nd the Americans reached an almost deserted Rome as Hitler fearing another Stalingrad had ordered the retreat. Clark the glory hunter blocked the roads to stop the British Army from getting close and held a press conference outside the Town Hall announcing a stage managed US success.