Oggi sono passati 70 anni dalla liberazione di Roma dalle forze di occupazione tedesca, quasi alla fine della seconda guerra mondiale. Le truppe angloamericane erano sbarcate ad Anzio e Nettuno il 12 gennaio 1944. Poi avanzarono lentamente, vincendo le ultime resistenze tedesche sulla cosiddetta Linea Gustav ed infine il 4 giugno entrarono nella Città Eterna con un atto dal fortissimo valore simbolico,
Due giorni dopo sarebbe avvenuto lo sbarco in Normandia, il D-Day, che avrebbe segnato la sconfitta tedesca sul fronte europeo occidentale.
In early October 1943, Hitler was persuaded by his Army Group Commander in Southern Italy, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, that the defence of Italy should be conducted as far away from Germany as possible. This would make the most of the natural defensive geography of Central Italy, whilst denying the Allies the easy capture of a succession of airfields; each one being ever closer to Germany. Hitler was also convinced that yielding southern Italy would provide the Allies with a springboard for an invasion of the Balkans with its vital resources of oil, bauxite and copper.
Kesselring was given command of the whole of Italy and immediately ordered the preparation of a series of defensive lines across Italy, south of Rome. Two lines, the Volturno and the Barbara, were used to delay the Allied advance so as to buy time to prepare the most formidable defensive positions, which formed the Winter Line – the collective name for the Gustav Line and two associated defensive lines on the west of the Apennine Mountains, the Bernhardt and Hitler lines (the latter had been renamed the Senger Line by 23 May 1944).
The Winter Line proved a major obstacle to the Allies at the end of 1943, halting the Fifth Army’s advance on the western side of Italy. Although the Gustav Line was penetrated on the Eighth Army’s Adriatic front, and Ortona captured, blizzards, drifting snow and zero visibility at the end of December caused the advance to grind to a halt. The Allies’ focus then turned to the western front, where an attack through the Liri valley was considered to have the best chance of a breakthrough towards the Italian capital. Landings at Anzio during Operation Shingle, advocated by Churchill, behind the line were intended to destabilise the German Gustav line defences, but the early thrust inland to cut off the German defences did not occur, thanks again to the indecisiveness of the American commander and the Anzio forces became bottled up in their beachhead.
It took four major offensives between January and May 1944 before the line was eventually broken by a combined assault of the Fifth and Eighth Armies (including British, US, French, Polish and Canadian Corps) concentrated along a twenty mile front between Monte Cassino and the western seaboard. In a concurrent action, US General Mark Clark was ordered to break out of the stagnant position at Anzio and cash-in on the opportunity to cut off and destroy a large part of the German Tenth Army retreating from the Gustav Line between them and the Canadians. But this opportunity was lost on the brink of success, when General Clark disobeyed his orders and sent his US Forces to enter the vacant Rome instead. Rome had been declared an open city by the German Army so no resistance was encountered.
The US forces took possession of Rome on 4 June 1944. The German Tenth Army were allowed to get away and, in the next few weeks, were responsible for doubling the Allied casualties in that Campaign. General Clark was hailed as a hero in the US. The Canadians were sent through the City without stopping at 3:00AM the next morning.
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