Friday, June 5, 2020

The Fall of Rome: The Forgotten Day!

June 5, 1944: The Forgotten Day!
Rome Diary
Friday, June 5, 2020
Partly Cloudy 72°F/22°C in Roma, Lazio, Italia
Buongiorno amici miei!

The first of the Axis capitals is now in our hands. One up and two to go!” Franklin D. Roosevelt

Headline: June 5, 1944
The whole world remembers what took place on 6 June 1944! What took place the day before was eclipsed by the Allies’ invasion at Normandy. If 6 June 1944 is The Longest Day, as author Cornelius Ryan called it, the day before – il giorno prima- has become Il giorno dimenticato - The Forgotten Day! While everyone remembers General Dwight Eisenhower as the commanding general of Allied forces at Normandy, the American commander of the forces that liberated Rome has been overshadowed as well.  In leading the U.S. Fifth Army in the liberation of Rome, General Mark Clark had disobeyed his orders to cut off retreating German forces and instead marched into Rome. Ask what happened on 5 June 1944 and who was in charge and you will draw a blank. But, if you ask any Roman, or any Italian, for that matter, 5 June 1944 was the day that freedom returned to the Eternal City.

In persuading FDR to launch an offensive from North Africa, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill referred repeatedly called Italy The Soft Underbelly of Europe. But, as U.S. Fifth Army Commander Mark Clark would write in his memoirs that “soft underbelly” turned into a tough, old gut!  The Allies launched their first Italian invasion, Sicily in July 1943. When they landed on the Italian mainland at Salerno in September, the Italian Army surrendered, but the hard-fought battles between Allied and German forces continued. Both the Allies and German forces suffered heavy casualties along the roads to Rome, and it took the Allies four major offensives between January and May 1944 before Rome was in their sights.

After the fall of Mussolini, Italy came under the complete control of Nazi forces and any Italian resistance to German control was ruthlessly dealt with by the forces of Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. Numerous atrocities were committed by Nazi troops against Italian civilians, and it was feared by many that the Germans would destroy the historic city rather than surrender it intact.  By the time that American forces under General Clark had reached the outskirts of Rome on June 4th, 1944, Kesselring had declared it an Open City. Beginning on the fourth of June 1944, Allied troops were pouring into Rome for a victory celebration before continuing northward for the bloody battles that would lead to the liberation of all of Europe.
June 5, 1944 - at the Coliseum!
 Field Marshal Kesselring had earned his reputation as being a ruthless soldier, but he had displayed a sense of history, and he seemed to understand the historical importance of Rome.

While June 5th, 1944 is forever etched into the memories of every Italian, General March Clark’s moment of glory was soon overwhelmed by the events of the following day when General Dwight Eisenhower gave the order and initiated the largest seaborne invasion of human history at Normandy.
© 2020 Mike Botula

[Mike Botula, the author of LST 920: Charlie Botula’s Long, Slow Target!  Is a retired broadcast journalist, government agency spokesperson and media consultant].

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