January 30, 1944, At the Anzio Beachhead

The 75th Infantry Regiment suffered a defeat at Cisterna.

Trained and equipped to raid behind enemy lines, “Darby’s” US Army Ranger battalions were misused as spearhead units for an American effort to breakout of the Anzio beachhead.

Moving under cover of darkness to seize the town of Cisterna, supposedly only a lightly-held outpost in front of the main German lines; they were unaware that it was the assembly area for the elite Herman Goering Panzer Division and the 15th Panzer Grenadier Division.

Army intelligence had warned of the mistake, the information was slow to filter down to the operational planners, who were anxious for a victory.

The movement to the objective was slower than anticipated, and the 3 Ranger Battalions, along with the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment were still moving at dawn across open ground toward the Cisterna. Detected by the Germans, they were engaged in the open by the German armor and armored infantry (Panzer Grenadiers). A fierce battle erupted, with Rangers capturing or destroying several German tanks. Significant German reinforcements (elements of the 26th Panzer Division and the 1st Fallschirmjäger (Airborne Division) moved to the attack, and with Ranger prisoners being used as human shields by the Germans, the American force was either captured or destroyed.

The battle lasted seven-hours. Only six of the 767 Rangers and one member of the 3rd Recon Troop returned to Allied lines, resulting in an overall loss of 803 men. Over 400 Rangers became POWs. German casualties were comparable.

It was perhaps greatest disaster suffered by American Special Operations Forces in their history. It resulted in the disbandment of all Ranger units in the Italian theater (though Rangers continued to see action at Normandy and France). Ranger commander William O. Darby was reassigned, ultimately becoming Assistant Division Commander for the 10th Mountain Division.

The Battle of Cisterna is a classical example of the misuse of special operation groups by ‘conventional’ military planners.

It was a mistake, on a far smaller scale, repeated with SEALs in Panama (Operation Just Cause – Invasion of Panama) and elsewhere.

8 COMMENTS

    • Special Ops has a big tool kit these days. Much larger than during my time under the standard. None of that took kit should ever be employed domestically against Americans.

      It’s obvious that the regime hiding behind the wire in DC want to do that.

  1. Just as a general note, I know that some of you: Ed, Frank, LSP have had some difficulty posting on this blog. The hack war continues, and though I don’t think that’s a result of a hack per se, it’s the software fighting off the hackers. This blog is backed up in diverse places and efforts have been made to defend it, but it went from the odd scumbag to a concerted attack.

  2. Between you and OldAFSarge at The Chant, I’m learning much more about the ETO. Being a “Navy Brat”, and Dad being a SeaBee, I’ve always been more focused on the PTO and air/amphib operations and tech.

    They were both brutal theaters for our troops, but even more so for the civilian populations. The people here spoiling for a domestic war have no idea what they’re asking for……

  3. My father in Law was second wave at Anzio. Watched a bomb hit the landing craft full of men in front of him. Watched another bomb “seemed like slow motion” drop into the water next to his Higgins boat . He only got wet. He said at one point there was nothing between the Germans and the sea except the injured and a headquarters company. He said it was “ kinda scary”

    • The men who survived lived to have men like “us”. The question of whether we are worthy of them always hangs in the air.

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