Personal recollections from world war two veterans and civilians.
STANLEY R SMITH, 3RD INFANTRY DIVISION
MY FIRST COMBAT; THE LANDING AT ANZIO
At one night I was standing guard at our camp, just outside of Naples. It was a walking post and like usual it was two hours on and four hours of until daylight. The night was clear with many stars and it was cold. As I walked my post I had plenty of time to think what the future would bring. I knew we were leaving camp the next day and were going off on a great adventure, which none of us were looking forward too! A thousand thoughts ran through my mind: This would be my first combat, “THIS WAS WHERE THE RUBBER HIT THE ROAD”, How would I react? Would I run at the sound of enemy gunfire? Would I let the others down? During my four hours off I slept very little because of these thoughts running through my mind.
Finally daylight came and it dawned sunny and crisp. After chow we packed our gear. This time it wasn’t a full pack but a so called combat pack. It was just after noon time chow when we were all ready and loaded on trucks that would bring us to the harbor in Naples.
After a while we arrived at the docks and saw a whole line of LCI’s. There where LST’s there as well. They were all busy loading men, and material. The group I was with got lined up and started boarding. We went up the ramp, there was one on each side of the boat. As we got on deck we were told to get quickly below. We went below and “stacked” our racks (bunks) and dumped our gear on them.
It must have taken the better part of the afternoon to get squared away and we weren’t allowed topside, so we were buttoned up down below. It must have been around dusk, I didn’t have a watch so I have no idea what time it was, when we could feel the engines start and we got underway. At this time we were still not told what ‘the drill was’ and some of the guys yelled, ‘Where the hell are we going?’ No answer came, or ‘You’ll find out in due time.’
It must have been about 23:00 when we were told to gather around. Out came maps and aerial photos and as we peered at the maps and photos we were told that the operation would begin at 02:00 hours. That was H-hour, we were to be in the third wave which would be 03:00 when we would start for the beach.
The maps had beaches mapped out and labeled with colors yellow, red and green. We poured over the maps and photos, getting familiar with the lay of land. There was still no name of the place where we were going to land. Still the fellows kept asking questions where we were going,until we were told we were going to land at a place called Anzio. Then the guys wanted to know, “Where the hel is Anzio?” (We were going to find out shortly)
At about 01:40 hours we heard shell fire from the ships in the invasion group. That kept up until H-hour. Funny thing, we didn’t hear any gun fire coming from the beach. When H+1 came we had been told to saddle-up and get ready to get off the boat. As we went through the blackout curtains and on the deck we found out it was pitch-dark. We all had a white stripe about ¾” wide and 4” long painted down the back of our helmets. Guess the idea was that you could see the guy in front of you that way. Couldn’t even see your hand in front of your face!
I was lined up on de starboard side and started going down the ramp. You had to feel your way around. The more you walked, the closer you were getting to the water. Still no enemy fire could be heard. Finally I got near the end of the ramp, because I could feel my feet getting wet. I continued on and then there just wasn’t any more steps. With my rifle over my head, the thought flashed through my head: “Wonder how deep the water is?” I went in and the water came up to my chin, it was ice cold. The next thought I had was wondering how the short fellows were making I out. I was at that time and still am 6’ tall and with the water up to my neck those short fellows must be having a hard time. I myself already had trouble with all the heavy equipement.
After I touched bottom I started wading toward shore and it seemed like forever before I reached the beach (not that it was much of a beach, what I could make out in the dark - it wasn’t because in 1984 I saw it in daylight).
When we got ashore someone was talking in a stage whisper, “I” Company over here! Most of us got together and someone said, “OK move out and keep a 5 yard space between each man” (That was S.O.P. - standard operating procedure) We moved inland and when dawn broke we were told to halt and dig in.