After a nearly unopposed beach invasion at Anzio and an impressive beachhead built up over a week, the Allied forces began their Anzio Beachhead Breakout Attempt on 30 January 1944.
The decision to heavily fortify the intial beachhead, rather than advance on the Alban Hills, was the source of great rancor between British and Americans. The British Chiefs of Staff who planned the attack and General Henry Wilson who gave the orders for Anzio thought they had made it clear that it was their intent to get to the Alban hills ASAP. The Alban Hills commanded the road to Rome and would be the meeting place with the rest of the main assault coming up from the Cassino area further south. The British also felt an immediate push agains the Alban Hills would also relieve some of the pressure on the Rapido River crossing. General John Lucas (US VI Corps commander), who would command the Anzio campaign, and his commander General Mark Clark (US Fifth Army Commander), who would lead the US push from Cassino, thought the orders only meant a link up point and the timing would be determined later. Lucas and Clark also thought German counter-attacks would make getting to tha Alban Hills almost impossible immediately. Their idea was to fortify the beachhead to the point of impregnability, then move out. This is what they did. However, the Germans were not lax. They spent the week building up a force of 70,000 to oppose the breakout.
Anzio Beachhead Breakout Attempt
In the early morning of 30 January 1944, the Rangers under the command Colonel William O. Darby, began the assault by getting within a kilometer of their objective of Cisterna. That would be as close as they got that day. They were found out by the Germans and ambushed which drove them to ground. By mid-morning, they were being attacked by tanks of the Herman Goring Division and attempted a fighting retreat. By noon, only 6 out of 767 Rangers in the attack made it back to friendly lines. The US 3rd Division continued the attack, but still were a mile away from Cisterna by end of 31 January.
The other prong of the breakout was to capture the town of Campleone near the Alban Hills. Here the British 1st Division and a regiment from the US 1st Armored Division pushed forward with great difficulty. They spent a lot of time just reaching the start line
, because of mines and obstacles. Over two days, they got tantalizingly close, but once again the Allied push was stopped short of the town objective. The Allied high command was surprised by the lack of progress and this led them to think the German were preparing a major counter-attack soon. The Allies rushed to re-enforce the Anzio beachhead.
Whether Clark and Lucas were correct about the initial speed of the push out of Anzio or not is immaterial, but the fact remains that the Germans did not counter-attack quickly or decisively and this made the decision to stay near the beachhead potentially catastrophic. It is also conceivable that the lack of an immediate move out of the beachhead contributed to the fiasco at the Battle of the Bloody Rapido River.