Battle of Cisterna

Battle of Cisterna

Infobox Military Conflict
conflict=Battle of Cisterna
partof=Italian Campaign (World War II)

date= January 30, 1944-February 2 1944
place= Anzio beachhead, Italy
result= German victory
combatant1= flag|United States|1912
combatant2= flag|Nazi Germany|name=Germany
commander1= flagicon|United States|1912 Mark W. Clark
flagicon|United States|1912 John P. Lucas
commander2=flagicon|Nazi Germany Eberhard von Mackensen
strength1=U.S. 3rd Infantry Division
504th Parachute Infantry Regiment
6615th Ranger ForceLloyd Clark (2006), pp. 118 & 137]
strength2=Herman Göring Panzer Division
elements of 15th Panzergrenadier Division and
1st Parachute Division
71st Infantry Division
26th Panzer Division [Lamson (1948), pp. 27 - 35]

The Battle of Cisterna took place during World War II, on January 30 to February 2, 1944, near Cisterna, Italy, as part of the battle of Anzio that followed Operation Shingle. The battle was a clear German victory which also had repurcussions on the employment of U.S. Army Rangers that went beyond the immediate tactical and strategic results of the battle.

During this battle, the 1st, 3rd, and 4th US Army Ranger battalions, the 83rd Chemical Mortar Battlion, and the 509th Parachute Infantry Battalion, which had been brigaded as the 6615th Ranger Force (Provisional), were assigned to support the renewal of an attack by the 3rd Infantry Division, which had previously failed to take Cisterna on January 25 to January 27. The 3rd Division attack was part of a large offensive by the U.S. VI Corps to break out of the Anzio beachhead before German reinforcements could arrive and concentrate for a counterattack.


On 22 January, 1944 the Allies launched Operation Shingle, the amphibious landing by the U.S. and British divisions of U.S. VI Corps in the area of Anzio and Nettuno. This was designed to unhinge the formidable German Gustav Line defenses some convert|60|mi|km to the southeast which had been under attack from the south by the other three corps (one British, one French and one U.S.) of Mark Clark's United States Fifth Army since 16 January in the first Battle of Monte Cassino. Following the landings, which had been virtually unopposed, John P. Lucas, the VI Corps commander, had chosen a cautious strategy of consolidating the beachhead and building up his force strength. By 29 January there were 69,000 men in the beachhead but the Germans had also had time to react and move 71,500 troops to face them. [Lloyd Clark (2006), pp. 134 & 136]

On 30 January Lucas launched a two-pronged attack. The main attack, by British 1st Infantry Division, was to advance northeast up the Via Anziate towards Campoleone and the Alban Hills. In a secondary simultaneous attack a Ranger force was to infiltrate Cisterna and clear the Conca - Cisterna road during the night preparatory to an attack in the morning by 15th Infantry Regiment on the town and supporting attacks by 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment on their right and 7th Infantry Regiment on their left. 7th Infantry was to cut Route 7, the main supply line to the German Tenth Army on the Gustav Line, north of Cisterna.


The 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions, preceding the main attack by the 4th Ranger Battalion and the 3rd Battalion, 15th Infantry Regiment, attempted a night infiltration behind German lines into the town of Cisterna. Their objective was to seize the town in a surprise attack and hold it until the main attack came through. Reconnaissance had indicated that the main line of German resistance was behind Cisterna and the Rangers expected to encounter only a thinly held outpost line. However the Germans had designated Cisterna as an assembly area for its reinforcement divisions, and had begun moving units into the area unknown to the Allies.

The two battalions, totaling 767 men and supported by a platoon of 43 men of the 3rd Reconnaissance Troop , moved out at 0130 and moved in the darkness along a drainage ditch in column formation. Although they were able to bypass numerous German positions, at first light they were still short of their objective and needed to cross open ground for the final portion of the approach. At this point the Rangers were attacked by strong German forces of the 715th Motorized Infantry Division and Herman Göring Panzer Division, including at least seventeen German Panzer IV tanks. According to the Army history of the operation, the infiltration movement had apparently been discovered and an ambush prepared.

The 1st Battalion commander, Major Dobson, personally knocked out one tank by shooting the commander with his pistol, climbing atop the tank, and dropping a white phosphorus grenade down the hatch. Two other tanks were captured by Rangers, but then knocked out by other Rangers who did not know they had been captured. Despite fierce fighting, there was little chance of success once the Rangers were attacked on the open ground. German units put Ranger prisoners in front of their tanks and commanded other Rangers to surrender. After the approximately seven-hour battle, only 6 of the 767 Rangers and one member of the 3rd Recon troop returned to Allied lines, resulting in an overall loss of 803 men. The exact number of killed, wounded and captured is unknown, although historian Carlo D'Este estimated well over 400 Rangers became POWs. German casualties reached a similar level.

Attempted relief of the Rangers

The main assault also jumped off, now attempting to rescue the trapped battalions. Led by the 4th Ranger Battalion, it encountered serious opposition and failed to break through. However the overall attack, which also included an attack by the 7th Infantry Regiment and 504th Parachute Infantry Regiments, did push forward the Allied lines three miles on a seven-mile wide front on January 31 and February 1, although failing to achieve the desired breakthrough and Cisterna was to remain in German hands until May 1944. However, German counterattacks on February 1 and 2, conducted by the Herman Göring Panzer and 71st Infantry Divisions, failed to recapture any of the ground from the Allies and suffered severe casualties.


The Ranger forces within Italy were subsequently disbanded although Ranger units continued to serve in northern Europe (spearheading D-Day) and in the Pacific theatre of operations.

William O. Darby had commanded the American Ranger Force during the battle. When the 179th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division was nearly overrun on February 18 during the major German attempt to take the beachhead, Darby was sent to take command and hold the ground. Darby later was Assistant Division commander of the 10th Mountain Division. He was killed in action on April 30, 1945, and was the only US officer honored with a posthumous promotion to General during World War II.

See also

* Ivor Parry Evans

External links

* [ Battle of Cisterna at Darby's Rangers website]




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