The Anzio Beachhead
How can I describe Anzio? How can a man describe Hell? I spent from Jan. 22, 1944 until June 6, 1944 in that inferno. On just one night all that was a boy in me died. On that night, I died in every way except in body. Hell should hold no fear for me because I was in Hell for four hours and lived to remember it. Never was fear written so clearly on men's faces. We met death that night. We looked into his eyes in the fire from the bombers, but he passed us by, for what reason I cannot understand.
Anzio was a terrible error. Thousands of men, or just boys, died on that beachhead and on the ships. We were called by the besieged Army to assist on one more bombardment run. We entered the battle run at 7:45 PM and were trapped by bombers. The run normally took 45 minutes, what we were unable to maneuver. In the next four hours, our destroyer was torpedoed. To my right the British cruiser Penelope was sunk. To my left, the British cruiser Spartan went down. We held our breath, prayed and waited for an end that didn't come. Ahead, a hospital ship was burning. All day they had been loading her with wounded. How many died, only God could tell. Another hospital ship steamed seaward, her hull cherry red from her flames.
The beachhead was in flames and the sky was alight with fire and smoke. The scene numbed us on the bridge as we lay there, and our tongues were silent as death. One ensign, on his knees, gave out with "God save us!" and I guess God answered. In the brilliance of the flares, the faces were so white with fear that still in memory, 40 years later, I still see the goose bumps standing up, each with its hair in the center. As ridiculous as it sounds, I still cannot laugh at it. That one night has haunted me ever since. It will chill my dreams until the day I die. That night, I knew that I would not die in battle. I never felt fear again, though we faced death many times in the days that followed.
We were able to clear and turn the Brooklyn and head to sea after those 4 hours in that pit of destruction. How I sorrowed for those left behind forever. If I ever return to Anzio, I know I will kneel and pray for those boys who died on that beach just "South of Anzio." War is, indeed, Hell in capital letters.
That one night alone so affected me, that I had thoughts run through my mind and a poem through my pen. I am including it for you to read.
From January 22, until about the first week of May, we were in many battles, but I did not record them. My war notes picked up in detail, as the following pages will tell.
One incident in that interim occurred when on a bombardment to Anzio. I was thrown to the deck and suffered a brain concussion and but for a life rope, would have rolled into the sea. I would never have known, but I was unconscious and was in the ships hospital in a semi-coma for nearly a week. I still have the scar and bump on the back of my head.
Following the last page of detail on May 26 , we broke out of Anzio and marched on Rome on June 6, 1944, which was "D-Day" across the channel in France. "D-Day" was the only European invasion that I did not take part in.
Following Anzio, we stayed in the Mediterranean and made ready for the invasion of Southern France.
(Photo courtesy of BBC Archives)