June 5, 1944: Liberation of Rome

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In the afternoon of the same day, Wednesday, June 7th, the Pope received, in a memorable and moving general audience in the Sala Clementina, some seven hundred grimy Allied soldiers, most of them fresh from battle and all of them in the highest spirits. There were British, French, Americans, Poles, Indians, and men from all the Dominions. The contrast between these varieties of battle-dress and the plumed Swiss Guard in their sixteenth-century uniforms who marshalled them made the deepest impression : here were the centuries meeting, as well as the nations of the free world, at an historic moment in history. The Pope said in English from the throne : “We bless all you here in person, and We send Our blessing to your loved ones at home. We pray that God in His love and mercy may be with you always. Goodbye. Bless you all.” Then he administered the Apostolic Benediction as the soldiers knelt, and came down from the throne, passing among the men as he made his way to leave. Hundreds of soldiers pressed round the common father, trying to kiss his hand or his cassock, and altogether too enthusiastic for the Swiss Guard ; but the Pope himself was entirely unperturbed, smiling, and speaking all the time to those nearest to him. Every soldier who attended was given a rosary which he had specially blessed, in a little envelope bearing the papal crest.

The Tablet, June 17, 1944

 

 

 

The Italian theatre of operations was the forgotten theatre of operations in World War II Europe.  The American, British, Poles, New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, Brazilians and other Allied troops fought a long and grinding  campaign against a formidable German defense, with advances often painfully won from mountain top to mountain top, up the tough spine of the Italian boot.  Typical of how events in Italy were overshadowed by events elsewhere in Europe was the liberation of Rome on June 5, 1944, a very hard won objective of the Allied 5th American Army and the 8th British Army, which was immediately overshadowed by D-Day the next day.

The above video is color footage showing the entrance of some of the American troops into Rome on June 5, 1944, and an audience they had with Pope Pius XII.

The Pope, like almost all Romans, was joyous to be free from Nazi occupation, and he made that clear when he met with General Mark Clark.

“A few days after the liberation of Rome, Lieutenant General Mark Clark, Commander of the Fifth Allied Army, paid his respects to the Pope: “I am afraid you have been disturbed by the noise of my tanks. I am sorry.” Pius XII smiled and replied: “General, any time you come to liberate Rome, you can make just as much noise as you like.“”

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16 Responses to June 5, 1944: Liberation of Rome

  • Rome was not ‘a very hard won’ objective, in fact it was not an objective at all; it was an ‘open city’ which was taken without resistance when Mark Clark put personal vainglory before duty and disobeyed orders to engage the German 10th Army. The escape of that unit was to result in subsequent Allied casualties which could have been avoided. Alexander should have sacked him, but the US press was lauding Clark as a hero and Churchill, not always a good judge of character, held Clark in some esteem. I understand that after the war some American veterans tried to bring Clark to book, but the authorities intervened and prevented it.

    Don, feel free to dismiss this as ‘complete and utter rubbish’ (without adducing any evidence to the contrary) but you do have a tendency to view history through the distorting lens of national prejudice.

  • “The American, British, Poles, New Zealanders, Australians, South Africans, Brazilians and other Allied troops fought a long and grinding campaign against a formidable German defense…”

    One should also remember the 112,000 men of the French Expeditionary Corps from the Army of North Africa. They were commanded by Général Alphonse Juin (later Maréchal de France) He is credited with the plans for breaking the Gustav line and he was the victor of the battle of the Garigliano.

  • I only use the term rubbish when it is merited John, for example in regard to your asinine statement today that it was ludicrous to view the fight against Nazi Germany as a moral crusade because Hitler made the mistake of attacking his fellow gangster Joe Stalin, as if that derogated in the slightest from the stopping of one of the worst tyrannies ever devised by fallen Man.

    In regard to Clark and his decision to take Rome, you and I have been over this ground before and at time I told you that I agreed with you, so what you are burbling on about this morning is beyond me:

    “No dissing of the” American Eagle” John! Basically your criticism is just, although I think it was less than clear at the time that Clark’s decision to take Rome was the mistake it turned out to be in hindsight. Here is a good overview: http://www.history.army.mil/books/70-7_14.htm As for Montgomery, I rate him fairly highly. I think his Market-Garden plan was brilliant although the execution was wanting. I also agree with this Churchill quote about Montgomery: “Indomitable in retreat, invincible in advance, insufferable in victory.””

    http://the-american-catholic.com/2012/04/26/mark-clark-almost-the-first-american-ambassador-to-the-vatican-on-whats-my-line/

  • My great uncle, Tom (RIP) was a tank crew-member with Patton in North Africa and Sicily and fought all the way up the Italian boot ending the war in the Po Valley. He had a picture of Pope Pius XII giving his blessing. My great uncle George was a rifleman in the same division as Audie Murphy. Thay outfit had the record for 56 days in the line, I think. He contracted hepatitis in the fighting. They never talked about Clark. Their world-view was more intimate, as in the tank wherein the German shells would come in and out, and he prayed one doesn’t hit the ammunition or gasoline; and from that little bit of cover from Nazi mortar and MG fire . . .

    Nolan: You are correct about Rome. However, there are a hundred such digs against Clark (and every brass hat since Agamemnon).

    The entire Italian campaign from D-Day at Salerno through the blood-soaked, devastating defeat at the Rapido River, at Anzio, each hill-top in the mountains on the way to Monte Cassino and at Cassino, etc. Italy was a horrific, bloody meat grinder.

    Italy permanently went off the “front burner” beginning the next day, June 6, 1944.

  • Clark was a brave man and an inspiring combat leader. His tactical sense deserted him far too often, alas.

  • Actually, I think that the Germans had it right about Monty – ‘overcautious, habit-ridden and systematic’. Anyone who sees war in terms of a moral crusade puts himself in the same camp as the Islamic jihadists. Public opinion, of course, needs to be reassured that right is on their side, and the British government propaganda machine played on this in the Great War, even persuading the Americans to join in a ‘war for democracy’. Not that the Central Powers did themselves any favours; in 1914 German and Austrian behaviour in Belgium and Serbia respectively went far beyond the norms of civilized warfare.

    The 1930s was a decade of ideology; the Left fell over itself to lick Stalin’s boots and volunteered for the Spanish Civil War which they saw (wrongly) as a conflict between Fascism and Communism. The fact that both ideologies are cut from the same cloth seems to have eluded them. The Right saw Fascism as representing a return to order but in a modernistic 20th century interpretation. Liberal pacifist sentiment put its faith in collective security and the League of Nations. Faced with the threat of German expansion, the sensible course was to keep Mussolini on side, regardless of Abyssinia (then, as now, a benighted and insignificant country which the Italians might have done something with had it been given to them in the general share-out in 1919). The fact that a perception of ‘international morality’ was allowed to override clear strategic considerations was in retrospect a mistake. No such moral scruples prevented the West from allying with Stalin after 1941.

    US hostility to Japan (Britain’s erstwhile ally) had absolutely nothing to do with the nature of the Tokyo regime, and everything to do with control of the Pacific. Does anyone seriously believe Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 in order to impose ‘regime change’ on Germany? Now that would indeed be ‘complete and utter rubbish’. Why did the USA wait for Germany to declare war, more than two years into the conflict, before embarking on her ‘moral crusade’? One isn’t disputing that the western Allies in terms of their regimes had a moral advantage over their enemies (Germany and Japan) although some of their conduct would be difficult to justify morally.

    Wars were fought for national survival or perceived national interest, which in a European context included maintaining the balance of power. The Americans came to realize this after 1945. The Cold War was a classic example of balance of power theory, despite the ideological posturing on both sides.

  • “Does anyone seriously believe Britain declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939 in order to impose ‘regime change’ on Germany?”

    Yes, because there was no safety without such regime change. Churchill clearly understood that and he would replace Chamberlain as Prime Minister in May 1940. Anyone who could not see that Hitler and the Nazis were absolute monsters who had to be stopped were fools then and remain fools now.
    “Faced with the threat of German expansion, the sensible course was to keep Mussolini on side,”

    Disagree considering how much Italy cost Germany in the War. Churchill’s quip after hearing that Italy had entered the War: “It’s only fair. We had to have them in the last war.” proved prophetic.

    “US hostility to Japan (Britain’s erstwhile ally) had absolutely nothing to do with the nature of the Tokyo regime, and everything to do with control of the Pacific.”

    More rubbish. Japanese behavior in China led to the stoppage of oil and metals from the US to Japan by the Roosevelt administration in 1940. The Japanese war against had virtually no impact on the US.

    “Why did the USA wait for Germany to declare war, more than two years into the conflict, before embarking on her ‘moral crusade’?”

    Actually the US was aiding Britain by 1940, and fighting an undeclared naval war against Nazi Germany in 1941. Considering that Nazi Germany was not an immediate threat to the US that was an impressive achievement by FDR since many Americans were isolationist considering how the Europeans botched the peace after World War I and now looked to America to come riding to the rescue yet again.

    “The Cold War was a classic example of balance of power theory, despite the ideological posturing on both sides.”

    “Ideological posturing.” Anyone who cannot tell the difference morally between the United States and the Soviet Union is a moral cretin.

    Balance of power considerations and national concerns will always have a role in questions of peace and war, but to exaggerate rate these and ignore the moral considerations of the Western Allies during World War II in opposing the Axis is to be counting the bark on trees and missing the panorama of the forest.

  • John Nolan wrote, “Not that the Central Powers did themselves any favours; in 1914 German and Austrian behaviour in Belgium and Serbia respectively went far beyond the norms of civilized warfare.”
    It began much earlier and ran much deeper than that. Denmark had lost two provinces, France had lost two provinces, and the fall of Paris to the Prussians in 1870 had been seen almost everywhere as the fall of the capital of civilization, the equivalent of the sack of Rome by the Goths. The Saverne incident had shocked the conscience of Europe and, year after year, young men in the lost provinces crossed the frontier to perform their military service in France, knowing they would be forbidden to return to home and family. Unless Germany could be contained, no one could feel secure.

  • The Italian campaign is indeed the mostly forgotten European theater of war. The battles at Anzio and at Monte Cassino were meatgrinders in every sense of the word. In retrospect, the campaign did force Hitler to spend resources in manpower, armaments and fuel that he certainly would have spent elsewhere – had Italy stayed out of the war.

    Anyone who thought the USSR was anything more than an ally of convenience in WWII was crazier than hell. There were such people in FDR’s administrations (Hiss, to start). There are people who bring up the price the USSR paid to defeat Germany in WWII. These people usually omit the fact that Stalin was Hitler’s ally from September 1939 to June 1941. Stalin was stupid enough to trust Hitler and the millions of civilian dead in the USSR and elsewhere paid the price for Stalin’s stupidity. The USSR did not fight a two or three front war, either, while the US and Great Britain did.

    Great Britain was the nation entitled to march into Berlin, not Stalin’s troops. Great Britain stood alone against Hitler while Stalin supplied Hitler with raw materials and carved up Poland with Hitler. The Germans would have surrendered faster to the British and Americans. What a blunder that decision was.

    Germany was expansionist from the time of Frederick the Great – if not sooner – to the defeat of the Nazi dictatorship. Poland, France and others – one way or another, they all were threatened or lost territory to Germany.

  • Some historians have argued that Britain might have concluded a peace with Germany on favourable terms in 1941, since it was clear by then that neither side could invade the other. However, Churchill knew that no agreement with Hitler was worth the paper it was written on. So the nature of the regime in Germany was important, but it is going too far to claim that Britain went to war in 1939 to effect ‘regime change’.

    Had the July 1944 plotters succeeded in killing Hitler and effected regime change from within, would the Allies have negotiated with an anti-Nazi German government whose key figures were military men? Highly unlikely for a number of reasons.

    ‘The Europeans botched the peace after World War I and now looked to the Americans to come riding to the rescue yet again’. It took the Americans over a year to field just two divisions and their military contribution to the defeat of the Central Powers was more potential than actual. However, as intended, it did give Woodrow Wilson the opportunity to join with LLoyd George and Clemenceau in forging the ‘botched’ peace at Versailles.

  • “It took the Americans over a year to field just two divisions and their military contribution to the defeat of the Central Powers was more potential than actual.”

    By the time of the Armistice 2,000,000 doughboys were in France and the US led the Meuse-Argonne offensive with 1.2 million troops. Casualties for America in the 1918 campaigns were 320,000 as opposed to 330,000 for France. French morale was still shaky from the 1917 mutinies and Great Britain was reaching the bottom of its manpower barrel. Additionally America supplied endless money and food to the Allies. But for American intervention I do not think the Allies would have won in 1918, and the War might well have ended in stalemate.

    As for the Europeans botching the peace, Britain and France were unwilling to enforce its terms against Germany. Most Americans assumed that the WWI intervention was a one shot affair and they would not be called upon to exercise long term influence in Europe. They were sadly mistaken.

  • It’s real easy to point at Wilson, George and Clemenceau and point fingers about a “botched peace”. A substantial part of France was destroyed. Clemenceau wanted Germany punished and in retrospect it’s easy to see why, even though he was wrong in demanding the amount of reparations France wanted. France wanted Alsace-Lorraine back and finally got it.

    Wilson was the leading voice in the West that favored the reestablishment of the Polish nation. Great Britain and France weren’t so keen on the idea. Germany did not want to surrender Danzig or Greater Poland. The Allies did not fight Germany in the East and Germany had no intention of surrendering the former Polish territory it held. Poland had to kick Germany out and kick them out they did.

    The German government allowed safe passage of Lenin from Switzerland to Russia and gave him money to help overthrow the czarist government in order to get Russia out of the war. Had Lenin not been allowed to return to Russia there might not have been a USSR.

    The actions of the German government made things a lot worse, before during and after WWI. Contrary to Buchananist belief, the USA’s involvement in WWI did not lead to the rise of Hitler. Germany screwed that up all by themselves. The NSDAP was a minor, fringe, hate group and the German people should have known better than to listen to Hitler’s hateful screeds. Previous German governments took French, Polish and Austrian territory and helped Lenin.

    Lenin wanted to repay the Germans by inciting a Communist revolution there after WWI. Germany had a Communist Party. Lenin wanted to steamroll through Poland. The Red Army was stopped and driven back by the Poles.

    Stalin and Hitler had good excuses to hate Poland. Poland, which didn’t exist for 123 years, embarrassed both Germany and the USSR.

    WWII was an extension of WWI. German means for waging war were not destroyed after WWI and Germany quit in WWI. In WWII Germany was bombed, smashed and wrecked and was forced to surrender and submit to occupation.

  • Penguins Fan

    The most obvious “botch” of the Versailles Treaty was its failure to insist on the Rhine as the Western frontier of German. As Maréchal Ferdinand Foch pointed out, Germany had invaded French territory from the Rhineland five times in a century, 1814, 1815, 1870, 1914 and 1918. That should have been enough. In the event, he remarked, “This is not a peace. It is an armistice for 20 years,” a prediction justified by the event.

    The balkanisation of Central and Eastern Europe, pursuant to Woodrow Wilson’s principle of the self-determination of nationalities was another blunder; a standing invitation to intervention by the Great Powers.

    I would add that the way in which the Ottoman Empire was partitioned is the source of most of the troubles in the Middle East today, after half-a-century and more in which Britain, France and Germany had done everything to shore it up. It was grounded on the fallacy that Islam was a moribund superstition and that nationality would trump religion as the bond of political union.

  • Mr. Patterson-Seymour,

    Wilson’s predicament is that he could not support the establishment of Poland and then deny it to others in Europe who had to live as part of someone else’s empire, be it Hungary, the Czechs, the Slovaks, the Baltic states or anyone else – and Poland was going to get back on the map if they had to fight everyone else in Europe.

    The Ottoman Empire was dying. WWI just pushed along the inevitable. The Middle East conflict can be summed up in one word – Islam. Muslims don’t get along with anyone – even other Muslims.

  • Penguins Fan

    As to that, the Regency Kingdom of Poland had already been created in 1915.

    In the Balkans, the solution proposed by the Congress of Berlin, whereby various territories were placed under Austrian administration, whilst Ottoman sovereignty continued to be recognised provided a partial solution, as had a similar method in Egypt and the Sudan, with a British protectorate.

    The Arab revolt against Turkish rule had been preceded by the revolt of the Young Turks against Arab influence that was carried through by the Turkish Republic. Turkish nationalism was as much a solvent of the Empire as Arab nationalism

  • The Regency Kingdom was nothing more than a vassal to the Czar and for the most part existed on paper. Russia did not evacuate the portions of Poland it held until after Lenin seized power. Austria withdrew after the armistice and as stated earlier, Poland kicked Germany out.

    Turks, Arabs – Muslims all, hating each other and everyone else.

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