Europe 14 - Day 25

Cassino Commemoration Day 7: Back to Rome via the beachhead at Anzio and Nettuno

Our original plan had been to depart Cassino on the Monday morning but this had now been delayed by a day. Greg had also planned to visit Anzio on the way from Rome to Cassino and to spend some time at a local museum to give us a good background to the Cassino battles. But this plan was turned around and we found ourselves at the museum on our way back to Rome.

The Museum of Piana delle Orme

Along a narrow country road, passing fields of grain, our bus turned into a poorly signposted road that led to the Piana delle Orme Military Museum.The local farmer had a love of machinery, and after the war collected up a lot of the military equipment left behind by the American, British, German and Italian Armies. He added to the collection, restored many of the vehicles and today he has one of the best collections in the world. All are fully restored and many have featured in movies.

What a great museum. It is now much more than a shed full of trucks. it has full-sized diaramas of events and battles, with lights, sound and even the smell of battle. It is well worth visiting. It is a few km due east of Anzio, just off highway SS156.

The entrance to Piana delle Orme has a memorial to the casualties at Anzio and Cassino 1943-1944. Behind the memorial are tank barrels.
The entrance and ticket office.
There are also several military aircraft.
A restored American vehicle.
Restored trucks.
A large building full of military vehicles.
A diarama of a British artillery crew.
A Bren Gun Carrier, used by British, Australian and New Zealand forces in North Africa and Italy. This is painted in the colours of the British 7th Armoured Division - the "Desert Rats".

Anzio Beach

As the stalemate at Cassino continued, the Allies considered an amphibious landing at a beach half way between Cassino and Rome. This would have several objectives: cut off supplies to Cassino, open a second front to divert German resources and help to liberate Rome. It would also serve as a trial run for the imminent D-Day landings at Normanby.

The headland at Anzio was chosen, with an American force landing on the south side at Nettuno and the British to the north of the Anzio headland. The landings took the Germans by surprise and a large beachhead was established with minimal casualties. Historians argue that the commander should have pushed on and cut Route 6 before the Germans recovered, but he was short of supplies, so dug in. He was nearly pushed back into the sea, but the Allies held on and eventually broke out, cutting off the German retreat from Cassino. Unfortunately General Mark Clark chose to leave his mark on history by turning north and playing out the victor entering Rome, leaving the German Army to escape and give the allies major problems throughout the northern half of Italy over the next 12 months.

The American Cemetery at Nettuno

The Sicily Rome American Cemetery was established here in 1944. It contains 7,861 burials and in addition records the names of 3,095 Americans whose remains were never recovered or not identified. This cemetery contains only 39% of American casualties, the other 60% were repatriated at the request of next-of-kin.

The American Eagle over the entrance gates is missing some paint.
Through the gates there is a clear view of a tranquil park.
The chapel towards the rear.
The main path through the cemetery.
Marble crosses in neat curves. The breaks in the line of crosses are Jewish Star memorials.
Large bronze statue beside the chapel.
The chapel with garden and fountain.
The view from the chapel across to the fountain.
The crosses form neat lines.
Across the road from the cemetery is a familiar American icon...
Where some of our party found a refreshing drink.
And then it was revealed why only half of the American eagle was painted - the painter had been away for the usual, extended Italian lunch break.

Anzio Commonwealth War Cemetery

There are two Commonwealth Cemeteries in this area. The first we visited is close to Anzio. It contains 1.037 casualties, of which only 1 is a New Zealander: Flight Sergeant Henry Ivor HERBERT.

View across the Anzio War Cemetery.
The memorial to Henry Herbert..
There were many different flowers here, poppies...
and yellow roses and daisies.

Beach Head Cemetery

The second Commonwealth Cemetery in this area is Beach Head. It contains 2,022 casualties, of which 4 are New Zealanders, all Air Force. Three were in the same aircraft.

This was our last stop on the tour. All that remained was to get back to Rome.

The gates at Beach Head.
Looking through the gates across the cemetery.
Almost all of the flowers here were red roses.
And finally, the bus that had taken us safely from Rome to Ortona to Cassino and back to Rome.

And back to Rome

From Anzio it was a clear run back to Rome, but nothing involving Italian roads and Rome is that straightforward. The Roman Empire may have built these roads and been able to shift whole legions at speed, but they did not build them for modern traffic - or modern Italian drivers. We crept into Rome in the late afternoon, amusing ourselves with the antics of drivers. They talked (and shouted) on their cellphones; read books, combed their hair; and one made an artform of eating a banana. But best of all, they formed six lines of traffic where four were painted on the road and then got very frustrated when six had to become two!

And that just about sums Italy up - hot in summer, chaotic, full of old Roman ruins, maniacs on the road ("Einsteins" they are called), but always classy and elegant. No wonder so many of the Kiwi troops were hypnotised by the place and always longed to return. Many did over the years, but many have never left. They would have been overwhelmed by all of the visitors during these 70th commemorations. Remember them we did.

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Last updated: 26/10/2014