During WWII, the US Fifth Army liberated Rome on June 4, 1944. Rome had been considered the heart of Fascist Italy under Mussolini’s rule, and the liberation dealt a blow to Nazi Germany’s morale. Rome was one of three Axis capitals and had been under German control since 1943. Not only was the liberation symbolically and strategically important, but defending the city caused Germany to divert resources away from France, further strengthening the Allied position with D-Day landings in Normandy occurring two days later, on June 6, 1944.
In September 1943, Lt. General Mark W. Clark’s Fifth Army boarded landing crafts and dodged minefields to come ashore at the beaches of Paestum and Salerno. At the time of the invasion, the Fifth Army consisted of the VI American Corps, including the 36th and 45th infantry divisions and the 82nd Airborne Division. It also included the 10 British Corps 46 and 56 divisions, and 7 Armoured Division. Upon landing, the Fifth Army joined forces with the British Eighth Army and endured heavy fighting, advancing north to Naples and capturing the city in October.
The Fifth Army continued the advance northward along the western flank, while the British Eight Army advanced up the country’s eastern side. The winter months brought slow progress with ferocious fighting in rugged terrain as Allied forces crossed swollen rivers and mountain peaks. Relentless rains, snow, and icy winds created a quagmire of mud and made the fierce battle miserable.
By the end of 1943, Allied forces were bogged down at the Gustav Line, with German troops holding Northern Italy and Allied troops holding the southern part of the country. German forces had the advantage of holding the high ground, and they fortified it with land mines, big guns, and concealed artillery to create a solid defense. Allies needed to break through, and Cassino blocked the advance. Monte Cassino, an ancient Benedictine abbey, towered over the city. The Battle of Monte Cassino began in January 1944 and lasted four months with heavy casualties.
To break the stalemate at Cassino, General Clark sent seven divisions to flank the enemy with an amphibious landing at Anzio on January 22, 1944. The landings caught Germany by surprise, and they were forced to bring in reinforcements from their dwindling reserves. Fierce fighting at Anzio continued throughout the spring of 1944. Meanwhile, the rest of the Fifth Army and new reinforcements and equipment, including troops from Poland and France, were contending with German forces at Cassino. With help from the reinforcements, the Allies broke through the Gustav Line in May 1944.
On May 23, the troops at Anzio broke out of the beachhead and rendezvoused with the rest of the Allied army at Borgo Grappa. At the same time, military officials were in the final planning stages of the D-Day invasion at Normandy. The fighting in Italy had forced Germany to draw away resources which proved advantageous to the Allies along the Western Front.
Back in Italy, the Fifth Army was now just 30 miles outside of Rome. As troops advanced towards the city, they passed the wreckage of German tanks, guns, and equipment left behind as German forces fled.
On June 4, 1944, the Fifth Army entered Rome from the south. They were the first Allied forces to liberate a capital city from Fascist control on European soil. City residents greeted American soldiers with cheers and hugs as the troops paraded past historic landmarks, including the Colosseum and the Forum. The liberation of Rome marked a turning point in the Italian campaign, giving a morale boost and hope that a defeat of Germany was possible.
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