In ruined Anzio American and British soldiers gather around man who has just been hit by fragments of a shell bursting in the street. Casualty had come ashore from the harbor 40 seconds before.
Caption from LIFE. "In ruined Anzio American and British soldiers gather around man who has just been hit by fragments of a shell bursting in the street. Casualty had come ashore from the harbor 40 seconds before."George Silk—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
In ruined Anzio American and British soldiers gather around man who has just been hit by fragments of a shell bursting in the street. Casualty had come ashore from the harbor 40 seconds before.
American hospital ward tents being erected below ground level for protection from enemy shelling, Anzio, 1944.
In a riddled tent five men were killed and eight wounded by a German shell.
Aerial view of beachhead hospital. It has been shelled, bombed, strafed by Germans
American soldiers relax with their mascot, "Axis Sally," which was "liberated" during the battle for control of the Anzio beachhead, 1944.
Amphibious trucks ferry supplies from cargo ship to Anzio beach. A few minutes before, a number of them had been sunk in attack by German fighter-bombers.
American Military Policeman Ray E. Kellogg directs traffic in bomb-shattered Anzio, 1944.
Troops from M Company attend to a wounded comrade, Anzio, 1944.
Sign posted at intersection in the American sector during Battle of Anzio, 1944.
American commanders in underground headquarters, housed in a centuries-old network of catacombs, Anzio, 1944.
LST's nuzzle up to shore in Anzio harbor to unload fresh American troops.
American troops, Battle of Anzio, 1944.
Medic, Pvt. E. Armitage, Mass., laps up some sunshine at the mouth of his foxhole, Anzio, 1944.
American soldiers sight a mortar from a dugout behind road embankment during the fight for Anzio, 1944.
Ducking to avoid German fire, Anzio, 1944.
From photographer George Silk's notes: "William P. Chirolas displays things that men in M Company don't like: Dextrose tablets . . . Barbasol . . . Fleetwood cigarettes . . . processed American cheese . . .
Wounded American soldier treated at battalion headquarters while awaiting an ambulance during the fighting to take Anzio, 1944.
Wounded soldier and chaplain, Anzio, 1944.
Private Robert Scullion holds the Purple Heart he was awarded after being wounded by shellfire while in the hospital, Anzio. (Note shrapnel holes in tent wall.)
Smoke rises from the German lines during the fight for Anzio, 1944.
At a rest camp only 2,000 yards from the front veterans are entertained by a band. Located in woods, camp is one of few places on the beachhead even partly screened from German observation. Men are generally sent for 48 hours of relief from the ceaseless shelling.
Preparing for a medal ceremony, Anzio, 1944.
Anzio: American cemetery on the beachhead is neat and bare. Little metal tags on white crosses bear name and rank of the dead. An occasional Star of David stands among the rows of crosses placed there by U.S. Army's conscientious Graves Registration Service.
Caption from LIFE. "In ruined Anzio American and British soldiers gather around man who has just been hit by fragments o
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George Silk—Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
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The Allies at Anzio: Rare Photos From WWII's Italian Campaign

Jan 21, 2014

On January 22, 1944, six months after the Allied invasion of Sicily, American and British troops swarmed ashore at Anzio, roughly 30 miles south of Rome. The brainchild of Winston Churchill and dubbed Operation Shingle, the attack caught German troops stationed along the Italian coast largely by surprise; but after the initial onslaught, the Germans dug in. The next four months saw some of the fiercest, most prolonged fighting in World War II's European Theater, as the Allies -- including Canadians and French alongside the British and Americans -- battled German troops for control of the region.

LIFE photographer George Silk, a New Zealand native who covered the war from the North African desert, through Rome, up to Belgian's forests and into Germany itself, spent months with the Allies after they landed at Anzio, chronicling what LIFE magazine at one point characterized as a "slow, maddening, fruitless battle." In late May, the Allies finally managed a breakout assault, supported by artillery and air power; in early June, Allied troops entered Rome virtually unopposed.

Here, on the 70th anniversary of the start of the Battle of Anzio, LIFE.com presents a series of Silk's photographs -- many of them never published before -- that graphically illustrate the grueling stalemate, accompanied always by lethal violence, that defined the operation. Roughly 7,000 Allied troops were killed in those four months. Another 36,000 were wounded or missing in action. The Germans suffered 40,000 casualties (5,000 killed) while more than 4,000 surrendered and were taken prisoner.

NOTE: According to Silk's typewritten captions for his photos, slide #16 in the gallery above features a soldier, William P. Chirolas, displaying "things that men in M Company don't like: Dextrose tablets -- taste terrible, almost invariably thrown away; Barbasol -- they don't like brushless shaving cream, say it sticks in the razor; Fleetwood cigarettes -- typical of the cheap cigarettes that come in the K rations; processed American cheese -- gets very tiresome when eaten day after day. . . ."

"The men complain," Silk noted, "that the cheap [cigarette] brands are distributed just to please the manufacturers who want to keep their trade names going, and that the good brands are taken by the 'Rear Echelon Boys' before they reach the front."

On the thin, worn paper Silk used to type his notes and that survives, yellowing and brittle, in LIFE's archives (see scan below), one can clearly discern that someone -- very likely a censor in the U.S. War Department -- crossed out those particular observations with a red pencil. After all, the notion of "American boys" complaining bitterly about crappy tobacco, processed cheese and other indignities at the front didn't quite fit the image the War Department's Bureau of Public Relations wished to present to the folks back home.

The more things change. . . .

-- Ben Cosgrove is the Editor of LIFE.com

Captions to photos made by LIFE photographer George Silk during the Battle of Anzio, April 1944.LIFE Magazine 
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