Drive on Rome

Page 351

Chapter 14

General Clark's Decision To Drive on Rome

by Sidney T. Mathews

(See end of file for information on author)

By the last week of May 1944, the Allied front in Italy had exploded. To the men on the Allied side who were doing the fighting, it seemed high time, for the forces in Italy had seen few real successes since the fall of 1943 when they had come ashore in Salerno Bay and pushed northward beyond Naples to the so-called "winter line." Every attempt to engineer a far-reaching success had met with bitter frustration.

But now the U.S. Fifth Army along the west coast had penetrated the enemy's most imposing line of prepared defenses short of Rome. The adjacent British Eighth Army also had made notable gains up the valley of the Liri River, the route affording the most favorable terrain for an advance on Rome. At the same time the U.S. VI Corps, which for nearly four months had been contained by a strong enemy cordon in a shallow beachhead at Anzio, thirty miles south of Rome, had broken its confinement. The VI Corps and the rest of the Fifth Army at last had established contact. [1] (See Map VI, inside back cover.)

[1] Foonote one is a list of suggested readings and has been moved to 

the end of this file to enhance readability.

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The commander of Allied forces in Italy, General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, already had indicated how the Fifth and Eighth Armies were to capitalize on the early successes of the offensive. While the Eighth Army and the bulk of the Fifth were to continue to push northwestward in the general direction of Rome, the VI Corps from the Anzio beachhead was to strike northeastward to seize the town of Valmontone, astride Highway 6, the line of communications to the German Tenth Army, which was opposing the main Allied attack farther south. [2] Thus the VI Corps was to block the Tenth Army's logical route of withdrawal, possibly trapping the main body of the enemy, but certainly embarrassing further enemy operations on the southern front. This strike to Valmontone, General Alexander believed, was the most rewarding possibility open to the VI Corps for making a sizable contribution to the big offensive.

The commander of the U.S. Fifth Army, Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, whose command included the VI Corps, was not so sure. General Clark's doubts about the Valmontone maneuver dated back to the period of planning before the start of the offensive when the Allied commander first had indicated his broad concept of the operation. [3] Unlike Alexander, Clark had believed that the decisive role would fall, not to the Eighth Army attacking frontally against the main enemy defenses in the Liri Valley, but to the Fifth Army, attacking through mountainous terrain west of the Liri and thereby outflanking German strength in the valley. Clark also disagreed with Alexander's estimate of what the VI Corps, with limited forces, could accomplish by a strike into the enemy's rear and flank. In keeping with his doubts, Clark early had instructed the VI Corps commander, Maj. Gen. Lucian K. Truscott, to draw up alternate plans. [4] Now, on the morning of 25 May, as forces from Anzio and from the south made contact and as the VI Corps reached positions from which the strike to Valmontone might be launched, the time for a final decision on the form and direction of the VI Corps exploitation was at hand.

The decision facing General Clark was no ordinary command decision. Indeed, since the views of the army group commander, General Alexander, had been spelled out so specifically, some army commanders would have considered that there was no room for decision at an army level at all. Yet Clark was determined that the action of the VI Corps should not be compromised by some predetermined concept but that the corps should be utilized in what he considered the most advantageous manner in keeping with the situation at the time.

[2] Allied Armies in Italy (AAI) Operation Order 1, 5 May 44, in Fifth 

Army History, Part V.

[3] See Min, AAI Conference of Army Commanders, 2 Apr 44, in Fifth Army 


[4] Fifth Army FO 6, 20 Apr 44, in Fifth Army History, Part V.

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Throughout the planning before the offensive, General Clark had expressed uncertainty as to the most suitable direction for the exploitation and had sought to defer a decision until the nature of the enemy's reaction to the offensive on the southern front became apparent. Indeed, he had even delayed a decision on the direction of the initial axis of attack to break out of the beachhead until the enemy reaction was clear. Though aware early that Alexander held an almost single-minded devotion to a drive from the beachhead through the German stronghold of Cisterna to Valmontone, Clark still did not consider himself bound to accept this as the only course of action. All through the planning period, Clark's freedom to consider alternate plans had been facilitated by the failure of Alexander to issue a direct written order, even though he had expounded the general concept of the Valmontone maneuver at several conferences. Clark himself had expressed no opinion at these conferences about Alexander's concept.

Insisting on the necessity of flexibility, Clark, in directing the VI Corps to draw up alternate schemes of maneuver, had suggested four different axes of advance and had specified that the corps be ready, on forty-eight hours' notice, to carry out whichever seemed appropriate. [6] When, on 5 May, Alexander issued a formal field order prescribing the Valmontone axis and, during a visit to the beachhead, personally directed the corps commander, General Truscott, to concentrate his preparations on the Valmontone maneuver, Clark still did not swerve from his conviction that Truscott should be prepared for other eventualities. [7] To Alexander, Clark did not protest the substance of either Alexander's formal orders or his informal instructions to Truscott, but he did object to Alexander's bypassing the army command channel to deal directly with Truscott. With Truscott himself, Clark in effect contravened his superior's order by directing the corps commander to make full preparations for carrying out either of the two main alternative schemes: Cisterna-Valmontone attack which Alexander favored, or a thrust northwestward along the west side of the Alban Hills through Albano on the most direct route to Rome. [8]

On 17 May, after progress of the big offensive on the southern front had made clear that favorable conditions for an attack from the beachhead were approaching, Clark brought up with Alexander the question of the direction of the VI Corps attack. Stressing the difficulties of the Valmontone maneuver, the Fifth Army commander

[5] Intervs, Mathews with Clark, 10-21 May 48 (hereafter cited as Clark 

Intervs), OCMH files; Clark Diary, 11 May-5 Jun 44, loaned to the author 

by General Clark; Clark, Calculated Risk, p. 356.

[6] Fifth Army FO 6.

[7] AAI FO 1.

[8] Truscott, Command Missions, p. 369; Truscott Diary, 6-7 May 44, 

loaned to the author by General Truscott.

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argued that it might not be the decisive operation which Alexander contemplated and that, in any case, the selection of the axis of attack should be deferred until the enemy's situation became clearer. Unmoved, General Alexander indicated that he favored the Valmontone maneuver regardless of the enemy situation. For the first time, apparently, Alexander spelled out how the maneuver would be carried out beyond Valmontone-by light, mobile patrols striking to cut other roads available to the Germans north of Highway 6. [9]

His skepticism heightened by this additional information on the proposed maneuver, Clark nevertheless decided that in the face of Alexander's continued stand he must at least order the VI Corps to attack initially in the direction of Valmontone with the mission of breaking the German defenses at Cisterna. [10]

This he did, but he still did not feel rigidly bound to pursue the attack all the way to Valmontone to the exclusion of other operations that circumstances might indicate. He reserved his freedom to decide what course to pursue after Cisterna, even though he had no expectation that Alexander would alter the scope or form of the Valmontone maneuver. In short, Clark recognized that if the situation developed favorably for an attack directly toward Rome, he would have to make his decision independently. [11]

Without notifying Alexander, Clark instructed Truscott to be ready after taking Cisterna to shift the main axis of attack to the northwest toward Rome. He had not decided to adopt this course, but he wanted the VI Corps to be ready to carry it out if favorable conditions developed. The conditions which Clark had in mind included Allied breakthrough of the last of the enemy's prepared defenses on the southern front and enemy withdrawal to the Caesar Line, another prepared position based on the southern slopes of the Alban Hills south and southeast of Rome.

By the early afternoon of 25 May, it seemed to Clark that the desired developments had occurred. In addition, the VI Corps at Cisterna had scored a smashing success. The time for a decision had come. [12]

In the circumstances, General Clark could contemplate three feasible courses of action. He could throw the entire weight of the VI Corps (which rested on the striking power of five good U.S. divisions) toward Valmontone to cut Highway 6, threaten the rear of the Ger-

[9] Clark Diary, 17 May 44; Clark, Calculated Risk, pp. 350-51

[10] Clark Diary, 19, 27 May 44; Truscott Diary, 18 May 44; Clark to 

Truscott, 18 May 44 (radio), in Truscott Papers; Truscott, Command 

Missions, p. 370.

[11] Clark Diary, 19, 27 May 44, Clark Intervs.

[12] Fifth Army G-3 Jnl, 25 May 44; Wood File, Fifth Army Messages, May-

Jun 44; and Fifth Army Message file, May 44, all in Fifth Army files; 

Clark Diary, 25 May 44.

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man Tenth Army. and cut the enemy's main line of communications to the southern front. Or, he could turn the entire corps northwest from the Cisterna area in an attack against the Alban Hills along the most direct route toward Rome. Or, finally, he could ride both horses, striking simultaneously in both directions.

Despite substantial losses in nearly three days of intensive action, Clark felt that the combat troops of the VI Corps were still in good fighting shape. Only the 1st Armored and 3d Infantry Divisions had been involved in the heavy fighting around Cisterna. The 36th Infantry Division had been in reserve, while the 34th and 45th Infantry Divisions and a specially trained mobile group, the First Special Service Force, had played only supporting roles. [13]

The enemy, on the other hand, Clark believed, was in a state of rapid deterioration, incapable of halting a VI Corps offensive, either against the Alban Hills or toward Valmontone. The two divisions of the German Fourteenth Army which had unsuccessfully opposed the VI Corps main effort on either side of Cisterna obviously had incurred heavy losses. Clark could discern no significant local reserves. The enemy had, Clark believed, only one possible source of major reinforcement, the Herman Goering Panzer Division, which he had good reason to believe was en route to the battlefield from reserve positions far north of Rome. The other three general reserve divisions available to the German theater commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, had already been committed on the southern front.

Clark's evaluation of the enemy reserve situation was basically correct, but he underestimated the strength of the Caesar position at the base of the Alban Hills and the defensive capabilities of three good German divisions of the I Parachute Corps. which comprised the right (west) wing of the Fourteenth Army. Although the bulk of the reserves of these divisions had been ordered during the night of 24 May to buttress the sagging left flank of the Fourteenth Army, no part of them had reached the threatened sector by the next morning. These units, therefore, still remained for the most part in their main battle positions. They were thus available, along with the other units of the divisions, in position opposite the western half of the Anzio beachhead, for defense of the Caesar position in the Alban Hills or for delaying action in front of it. [14]

[13] Clark Diary; Clark Intervs; Wood File, May-Jun 44; Fifth Army G-3 

Jnl, 25 May 44, VI Corps War Room Jnl, 24-25 May 44.

[14] Fourteenth Army and 76 Panzer Corps War Diaries, text volumes, 24-

27 May 44, in German Military Documents Section, Federal Records Center; 

Telephone Conversations, VI Corps War Room Jnl, 23-25 May 44; Fifth Army 

G-2 Periodic Report and G-3 Jnl file, 23-26 May 44; VI Corps G-2 

Periodic Reports, 24-26 May 44; VI Corps War Room Jnl, 24-27 May 44; 

Truscott's Comments at Division Commanders' Conference, 25 May 44, in VI 

Corps files.

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Should the full weight of the VI Corps be employed in the Valmontone maneuver, General Clark still doubted that the effort would accomplish the decisive results contemplated by Alexander. Though Clark recognized that a concentrated thrust by the VI Corps could cut Highway 6 at Valmontone, he felt it was optimistic to expect that this alone might trap large enemy forces in the south. The Tenth Army still might use other routes of withdrawal which led north from the Liri Valley through the mountains to Highway 5, a main lateral road running from the Adriatic coast through Tivoli to Rome. General Clark believed further that such a thrust was unnecessary to facilitate the advance of the Eighth Army, for the British had driven through the last prepared positions on the southern front. Finally, a thrust to Valmontone might lead the VI Corps away from, not toward, Rome. [15]

Clark was reluctant to encourage British competition for the capture of Rome. [16] He considered Rome a gem belonging rightly in the crown of his Fifth Army. The brunt of the early Italian campaign, Clark knew, had fallen more heavily on the American elements of the Fifth Army than on either the British troops under his command or the Eighth Army. Clark and the Fifth Army in general believed that the Fifth Army's attack had been decisive in the breakout on the southern front. Clark repeatedly observed with pride that he had expanded the role originally assigned the Fifth Army and thereby found the key to the success of the operation. Not only had the Fifth Army made the first effective penetration of the enemy's prepared defenses: keeping the enemy off balance by successive envelopments in the Liri Valley, the Fifth Army, Clark believed, had been the primary factor in the Eighth Army's advance up the Liri Valley along what Alexander always had regarded as the "only way to Rome." [17] The Eighth Army, in Clark's opinion, had, in turn, been slow in capitalizing on this assistance, particularly in failing to launch strong frontal attacks to support the envelopments. In view of this experience, he doubted if the Eighth Army would provide the kind of strong frontal effort that he thought necessary to justify throwing the main weight of the VI Corps toward Valmontone. In short, the Fifth Army commander was reluctant to carry out further operations to envelop the enemy in front of the British unless the British also assisted the Fifth Army's advance to Rome. [18]

That General Clark did not see the Valmontone attack itself as

[15] Clark Diary, 17 May 44; Clark Intervs; Clark, Calculated Risk, pp. 


[16] Clark Intervs; Clark Diary, 15 May-5 Jun 44; Clark, Calculated 

Risk, pp. 337 66, passim.

[17] Clark Diary, 17-22 May 44; Clark Intervs.

[18] Clark Intervs; Clark Diary, 25, 27-30 May 44.

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an excellent opportunity for quick advance to Rome is puzzling. Terrain, the nature of the enemy's defenses, and the enemy's lack of substantial forces to halt a drive on Rome via Valmontone, all favored the adoption of this course. By continuing past Cisterna up the rolling swells of the Velletri-Artena Gap, between the Alban Hills and the Lepini Mountains, and along the northwest shoulder of the Lepini, the VI Corps might reach and cut Highway 6 northwest of Valmontone. The corps then could wheel northwest across fairly open country to breach the Caesar Line northeast of the Alban Hills and push rapidly to Rome. German defenses in the Caesar Line between the Alban Hills and Valmontone were weaker than elsewhere and had no strong natural features to buttress man-made barriers. Neither army nor corps intelligence estimates indicated substantial enemy forces in this area, though the VI Corps strongly suspected that the enemy might divert forces there either from the Adriatic coast or from the I Parachute Corps. [19] But Clark was perturbed by this prospect not at all and believed the only German reinforcement likely to appear in the area was the Herman Goering Panzer Division. [20] He could hardly have considered it likely that this division alone could halt the full weight of the VI Corps. [21] The only reasonable explanation of why Clark failed to appreciate the opportunity presented by the Valmontone attack for a rapid drive to Rome lies in his belief that the German situation had so deteriorated that the VI Corps with less than maximum force could reach Rome more rapidly by a more direct route. [22]

The second alternative which General Clark might have adopted, throwing the whole weight of the VI Corps into a drive west of the Alban Hills, had strong appeal because it was on the most direct route to Rome. By attacking northwest from Cisterna, he thought he could exploit the initial success of the beachhead attack and what appeared to be the enemy's rampant disorganization by driving through the last prepared German position in front of Rome between Campoleone and Lanuvio at the southwest base of the Alban Hills before the Germans had time to settle down into it. [23] Using the entire corps would ensure quick success. The maneuver offered the incidental advantage of destroying the rest of the Fourteenth Army by

[19] VI Corps War Room Jnl, 24-28 May 44.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Fourteenth Army and 76 Panzer Corps War Diaries, May 44.

[22] Clark to Gruenther, 25 May 44, in Clark Diary, 25 May 44- 

Truscott's Comments at Division Commanders' Conference, 25 May 44; VI 

Corps War Room Jnl, 25 May 44; Clark Intervs.

[23] Clark Diary, 25-27 May 44; Clark Intervs; VI Corps War Room Jnl, 25 

May 44; Wood File May-Jun 44.

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frontal assault, after which local turning movements could pin the bulk of the I Parachute Corps against the coast or cut the rear of any forces attempting to defend along the base of the Alban Hills. Concentrating maximum force in this direction would have little effect on the southern front but would, Clark believed, destroy far more German forces than the Valmontone maneuver. [24]

The great magnet of this alternative was, of course, Rome. Clark, like many other Allied commanders and the British Prime Minister himself, regarded the city as the "great prize" of the entire spring offensive-indeed, of the whole Italian campaign. [25] He had told Truscott that it was the 'only worthwhile objective" for the VI Corps. [26] Clark had only an incidental interest in the military value of the Italian capital-its airfields and its role as a communications hub ("All roads lead to Rome"). He wanted Rome because of the prestige associated with capturing it and the success such a feat would symbolize. In recompense for all the frustrations of the winter stalemate in the south of Italy and for the fact that, in Clark's opinion, the Fifth Army had borne the brunt of the fighting, Clark felt that his men deserved the honor. Allied strategy, which had exaggerated the value of Rome out of proportion to its military importance, must be taken into account in explaining the emphasis Clark put on taking the city. Capturing Rome would represent to the people in the United States tangible evidence of American success in Italy, a dramatic event which could be more easily grasped by the American public than the destruction of large numbers of the enemy. Clark also wanted Rome in the shortest possible time because he suspected that Alexander wished the Eighth Army to share in the triumph. Alexander, for example, had constantly referred to the Liri Valley, up which the British Eighth Army was driving, as the "only route" to Rome. Clark did not intend to divide the prize with the British and believed that he had in his grasp an opportunity to make this unnecessary. [27]

Finally, General Clark wanted Rome as quickly as possible because, as he was aware, the Allied cross-Channel invasion of France was imminent. This invasion, the main effort against Germany, would, Clark knew, draw the spotlight from Italy. [28]

The third alternative open to General Clark was a compromise between the other two. By dividing his forces and attacking in both

[24] Clark Intervs, Clark, Calculated Risk, pp. 356-57.

[25] Clark Intervs, Clark, Calculated Risk, pp. 335-66, passim.

[26] Truscott, Command Missions, p. 369.

[27] Clark Intervs; Clark Diary, 14 May-5 Jun 44.

[28] Clark Intervs; Clark Diary, 24 May-5 Jun 44; Clark, Calculated 

Risk, pp. 336-40, 352ff.

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directions, northwest toward the Alban Hills and northeast toward Valmontone, he could exploit the opportunity to drive on Rome rapidly and at the same time comply with Alexander's order for cutting the enemy's main line of communications to the southern front. In the face of the estimated enemy disorganization and the commitment on the southern front of all major German reserves except the Herman Goering Panzer Division, Clark felt that he could carry out Alexander's maneuver to cut Highway 6 at Valmontone with one reinforced American division while shifting the main weight of the VI Corps attack toward the Italian capital. [29] This course of action had the advantage of complying with the letter, if not the spirit, of the order from Clark's superior.

General Clark made his decision in favor of the third alternative. Though he expected that the enemy would commit the Herman Goering Panzer Division at Valmontone, he believed that a reinforced American division could handle the opposition. Even if this proved to be a considerable gamble, it was a gamble in the direction which Clark personally thought least remunerative. The bigger bet he placed on the drive on Rome. [30]

The final plan for the VI Corps designated four divisions for the main effort northwest against the Alban Hills. The 34th and 45th Infantry Divisions were to lead the assault on either side of the Rome-Naples railroad northwest from Cisterna, while the 36th Infantry Division and the 1st Armored Division maintained a strong supporting attack on the right flank toward Velletri. The 3d Infantry Division, supported by an armored task force and the First Special Service Force to cover the flanks, was to make the secondary thrust, to seize Artena and cut Highway 6 at Valmontone. [31]

After completing the plan, Clark flew to his command post on the southern front to explain the operation to his chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Alfred M. Gruenther, and to discuss operations on the southern front. He left his operations officer, Brig. Gen. Donald W. Brann, to explain the plan to the VI Corps commander, General Truscott. It appears, on the basis of contemporary evidence, that Truscott supported Clark's decision, reacting favorably to the shift of main effort to the northwest and expressing confidence that the weaker force could reach Valmontone and cut Highway 6. His only objection appears to have been against a strong frontal attack on Velletri along Highway 7, northwest of Cisterna, apparently because of heavy resistance which a combat command of the 1st Armored Division had

[29] Clark Diary, 24-25 May 44; Clark Intervs; Clark, Calculated Risk, 

pp. 356-57.

[30] Clark Diary, 25-27 May 44; Clark Intervs; Wood File May-Jun 44.

[31] Clark Diary, 25 May 44; Wood File, May-Jun 44.

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met for two days in that area. At 1555 on 25 May, General Brann radioed General Clark that the corps commander was "entirely in accord" with the army commander's plan. [32] At 1755 Truscott telephoned Brann, saying, "I feel very strongly we should do this thing [the attack to the northwest]. We should do it tomorrow." [33]

In the evening of 25 May, Clark returned to the Anzio beachhead where, in conference with Truscott, details of the attack plan were worked out. As the two leaders met, latest intelligence reports confirmed earlier views of the seriousness of the enemy's setback. [34] The final corps plan was precisely that decided on originally by Clark except that it removed the feature of a strong frontal assault on Velletri, which Truscott had found objectionable. "I am launching this new attack," Clark radioed his chief of staff, "with all speed possible in order to take advantage of the impetus of our advance and in order to overwhelm the enemy in what may be a demoralized condition at the present time. You can assure General Alexander this is an all-out attack. We are shooting the works!" [35] General Truscott, when he met his division commanders later in the evening, was equally confident. In the area which included the zone of the VI Corps main effort, he said, "The Boche is badly disorganized, has a hodgepodge of units and if we can drive as hard tomorrow as we have done the last three days, a great victory is in our grasp." [36]

By the decision to head directly for Rome, General Clark had, in effect, altered drastically Alexander's basic scheme of maneuver against the Tenth Army's rear. By diluting the force oriented toward Valmontone he had made that effort distinctly secondary and by its very nature primarily defensive should the enemy move in sufficient force in time. Yet the army commander had given no inkling of his intentions to Alexander, the army group commander. He had decided to act first and explain later. [37]

[32] Brann to Clark, 25 May 44 (radio), Wood File, May-Jun 44.

[33] Telephone Conversation, Truscott to Brann, VI Corps War Room Jnl, 

25 May 44. That Truscott might have had reservations about the plan, or 

that he might have openly objected to it, does not appear in any 

contemporary record, though after the war he recalled that he was 

"dumbfounded" by it and "protested that the conditions were not right." 

See Truscott, Command Missions, p. 375; Intervs, Mathews with Truscott, 

3 and 10 Apr 48, OCMH files.

[34] Clark Diary; Fifth Army Advance CP G-3 Jnl, 25 May 44; Fifth Army 

G-2 and Air Support Jnls, 25 May 44; VI Corps War Room Jnl, 25 May 44.

[35] Clark Diary, 25-26 May 44; Truscott Diary, 25 May 44; VI Corps War 

Room Jnl, 25 May 44.

[36] Report of Division Commanders' Meeting at VI Corps CP, 24 May 44, 

VI Corps War Room Jnl, 25 May 44.

[37] Alexander Intervs; Memo, Gruenther for Clark, 26 May 44, Clark 

Diary, 26 May 44.

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During the afternoon of 25 May General Clark had prepared the way for breaking the news to Alexander. When visiting the Fifth Army command post on the southern front, he briefed General Gruenther, his chief of staff, with the idea that Gruenther could explain the plan to Alexander the next day, after the unilateral decision had become irrevocable. Once this had happened, Clark was anxious for Alexander to know that it was an "all-out attack" and that a strong force would be used against Valmontone. [38] At 1115 on 26 May, nearly twenty-four hours after Clark made his decision and fifteen minutes after the newly oriented attack jumped off, General Alexander arrived at the Fifth Army command post and received the news from General Gruenther.

In the presentation of his case, Clark could have had no abler advocate than his chief of staff or one whom Alexander liked as much. Alexander appeared "well pleased with the entire situation and was most complimentary in his reference to the Fifth Army" and to Clark. Far from objecting to the shift of the main axis, Alexander stated: "I am for any line which the army commander believes will offer a chance to continue his present success." A little later, he asked Gruenther, "I am sure the army commander will continue to push toward Valmontone, won't he? I know that he appreciates the importance of gaining the high ground just south of Artena. As soon as he captures that he will be absolutely safe!" Gruenther was equal to the occasion. "I assured him," he reported later to Clark, "that you had that situation thoroughly in mind and that he could depend on you to execute a vigorous plan with all the push in the world!" Gruenther was convinced that Alexander "left with no mental reservations as to the wisdom" of Clark's decision. In fact, he commented that "if the Anzio Force could capture the high ground north of Velletri, it would put the enemy at a serious disadvantage and would practically assure the success of the bridgehead attack." [39]

Either Alexander was accepting with grace a virtual fait accompli or the Valmontone maneuver had lost its principal champion. Whichever the case, Alexander's acquiescence was strongly conditioned, if not determined, by the success which the Fifth Army already had achieved in the spring offensive and by his conception of the role of an Allied army group commander, especially in relation to an American army commander like Clark. In the wake of the smashing success which the VI Corps had achieved at Cisterna and the reported disorganization of the Fourteenth Army, Alexander could have no

[38] Clark Diary, 25-26 May 44

[39] Memo, Gruenther for Clark, 26 May 44, cited n. 37.

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readily defensible grounds for questioning Clark's judgment of the best course of action in Clark's own zone of responsibility. [40]

As events developed, Clark's decision neither unlocked the door to Rome nor cut the enemy's rear at Valmontone. Though the two German divisions which had opposed the VI Corps attack from the beachhead had been almost destroyed, the Fourteenth Army was able to employ against the new thrust the three good divisions of the I Parachute Corps. Also, the Fourteenth Army shifted to the threatened sector additional units from a division which had been manning coast defenses nearby. Kesselring, for his part, diverted some contingents of the Tenth Army. With these forces the Germans delayed the VI Corps main effort in front of the Caesar Line at the base of the Alban Hills for two days and then halted repeated, bloody, and fruitless efforts by three American divisions at Lanuvio and along the Anzio-Albano-Rome road. The German defensive success was attributable to the time required for the VI Corps to shift its direction of attack, to the two days' delaying action which afforded time for the main German forces to reorganize, to the strength of the Caesar position in this sector, and to the undiminished fighting qualities of the three good divisions of the I Parachute Corps. In the optimistic glow of the sweeping victory against the Fourteenth Army's center and left wing on both sides of Cisterna, Clark, Truscott, and their intelligence officers had badly underestimated the defensive capabilities of the I Parachute Corps.

German commanders actually did not recognize for several days the shift in the VI Corps main axis of attack. They were still too worried about the weak point in the Caesar Line between the Alban Hills and Valmontone. But the U.S. 3d Division, tired from three days' heavy fighting, did not cut Highway 6. Moving into the gap, the American division, in the face of resistance from scattered German units and first arrivals of the Herman Goering Division, assumed a primarily defensive role. Understrength in tanks to start with, the Herman Goering Division actually had been severely damaged by Allied air attacks en route to the south and had been slowed by a gasoline shortage. Only its reconnaissance battalion had been released to the Fourteenth Army by the morning of 26 May, and its other units were committed piecemeal in the days following in small counterattacks. For at least three days German strength in front of Valmontone and westward to the Alban Hills was inadequate to have stopped a strong attack by even a secondary effort; even in subsequent days German strength was not sufficient to have halted the main effort of the VI Corps had it been made in that direction. For more than a week be-

[40] Alexander Intervs.

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fore the capture of Rome, the and the right (west) flank of the German Tenth Army, withdrawing slowly toward the Caesar Line, were exposed and threatened with a trap which the German commanders feared would be closed, but which was not.

The greatest irony was that if the VI Corps main effort had continued on the Valmontone axis on 26 May and the days following, Clark could undoubtedly have reached Rome more quickly than he was able to do by the route northwest from Cisterna. The VI Corps also could have cut Highway 6 and put far greater pressure on the Tenth Army than it did.

Ironically, too, when the Fifth Army finally broke through the last of the Fourteenth Army's defenses, it accomplished this by a surprise night infiltration along the eastern side of the Alban Hills between the hills and Valmontone. When this breach had been widened, Clark again wheeled his forces northwest toward Rome and away from the withdrawing Tenth Army. Though the British Eighth Army in the advance up the Liri Valley failed to keep heavy pressure against the main body of the Tenth Army, the Fifth Army still might have closed the trap had Clark struck toward Tivoli and then eastward along the lateral highway toward the Adriatic coast. [41]

Yet the fact remains, General Clark and the Fifth Army got to Rome. They captured the city on 4 June, only two days before Allied landing craft touched down in France.

[41] VI Corps War Room Jnl, 26 May-5 Jun 44; II Corps After Action 

Reports, May, Jun 44. Clark Diary. 26 May-5 Jun 44; War Diaries. Tenth 

and Fourteenth Armies and XIV Panzer Corps, May-Jun 44; Alexander 

Intervs. See also various accounts in Der Feldzug in Italien, a 

collection of postwar manuscripts prepared by German officers, OCMH 

files and G. W. C. Nicholson, The Canadians in Italy: 1943-45 (Ottawa, 

Canada, 1956), passim.

[1] Details of this and earlier fighting in Italy may be found in Sidney 

T. Mathews, The Drive on Rome, and Martin Blumenson, Salerno to 

Cassino, volumes being pre pared for publication in UNITED STATES ARMY 

IN WORLD WAR II. For the story of Anzio, see [Capt. John Bowditch and 1st 

Lt. Robert W. Komer] Anzio Beachhead AMERICAN FORCES IN ACTION 

(Washington, 1947). Other published works bearing on the subject include

Mark W. Clark, Calculated Risk (New York: Harper & Brothers 1950); 

Lt. General L. K. Truscott, Command Missions (New York: E. P. 

Dutton and Co., Inc., 1954); and Lieutenant Colonel Chester G. Starr, ed., 

From Salerno to the Alps: A History of the Fifth Army, 1943-1945 

(Washington, 1948).

SIDNEY T. MATHEWS, Staf Member, Johns Hopkins Operations Research Office. Ph.D. in history, The Johns Hopkins University. Taught: University of Richmond. Lecturer: Army War College, Senior Marine Corps School. Combat Historian, Fifth U.S. Army in Italy, World War II. Captain, USAR. Historian, OCMH, 1947-52. Author "Santa Maria Infante," Small Unit Actions (Washington, 1946), AMERICAN FORCES IN ACTION; "Altuzzo," Three Battles (Washington, 1952) and The Drive on Rome (in preparation), UNITED STATES ARMY IN WORLD WAR II.