The Battle of Cisterna

After a short buildup, MG Lucas, the commander of all of the troops in the Anzio beachhead, was under great pressure from Gen Mark Clark and Winston Churchill to break out. The Alban Hills, the original objective for Operation Shingle, was out of the question: they were already too strongly defended and would grossly extend his perimeter if he did capture them. So he sent the British 1st Division to seize them anyway just to temporarily get his superiors off his back. However, another possibility, a real one, did exist. He could still cut Highways 6 and 7 to stop supplies heading to the Germans in front of the French and Americans fighting around Cassino by capturing the Italian town of Cisterna. He couldn’t hold it for any length of time, but the town provided a good point to push further inland and cut Route 7. And because it briefed well, there was always the pipe dream that the shock of being temporarily cut off might cause the Germans to withdraw.

The US 3rd Infantry Division was given the job. Leading the attack would be COL William O Darby’s 6615 Ranger Force. Leading the way, the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions and the 3rd ID’s Recon Troop were to infiltrate Cisterna the night before to pave the way for the assault.

Unfortunately, the German main line of resistance was much closer and stronger than the Rangers expected. Clark and Lucas underestimated the German operational ability to quickly mass troops at trouble spots. The rangers and scouts infiltrated right into the assembly areas of two German panzer divisions — the 26th and the powerful Herman Goering Panzer Division.

The two Ranger battalions were immediately cut off, and over the next seven hours, methodically destroyed. Even the best light infantry in the world is no match for an armored force when it’s fixed in an exposed position without heavy equipment.

The 3rd ID and 6615th, spearheaded by the 4th Ranger battalion and the 504th Parchute Infantry Regiment, launched themselves repeatedly at Cisterna to relieve the entrapped Rangers. The fanatic and soon desperate assaults were in vain. Of the 800 Rangers and Troopers trapped in Cisterna, only six returned. What remained of the 6615th was disbanded and the Rangers were sent to the replacement depots as ordinary infantry. COL Darby was ignominiously reassigned to Lucas’ staff.

The Rangers weren’t used again until the invasion of France in June.

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