4 June 1944: Celebrations as Rome is liberated:A masterstroke or gross insubordination?
Rome was quiet on the morning of 4 June 1944. Propaganda leaflets dropped during the early morning hours by order of the commander of the Allied 15th Army Group, General Sir Harold R. L. G. Alexander, urged Romans "to stand shoulder-to-shoulder to protect the city from destruction and to defeat our common enemies."
Even though the retreating Germans had declared Rome an open city, citizens were urged to do everything possible to protect public services, transportation facilities, and communications. "Citizens of Rome," the leaflets declared, "this is not the time for demonstrations. Obey these directions and go on with your regular work. Rome is yours! Your job is to save the city, ours is to destroy the enemy."
Clarke, the commander of the 5th US Army had ignored an order by Alexander to pursue and destroy the retreating German forces. Hours later the first Fifth Army units, elements of the U.S. 3d, 85th, and 88th Infantry Divisions and the 1st Special Service Force, reached the outskirts of the city, encountering only scattered German resistance.
The citizens of Rome remained indoors as instructed, but on the following day, 5 June, throngs of ecstatic Italians spilled into the streets to welcome the Americans as the main elements of the Fifth Army moved north through the city in pursuit of the Tenth and Fourteenth Armies. The stay of Fifth Army combat units in the city was brief, however, and within days the battle for Italy resumed to the north.
The liberation of Rome was the culmination of an offensive launched in late January 1944 that Allied leaders had hoped would both result in the capture of the Axis capital by 1 February and complete the destruction of the German forces in Italy. Instead, the Allies failed to break through the formidable enemy defenses until late May 1944. Even with Rome in Allied hands, the Italian campaign would last another eleven months until final victory.
BBC Report from the time:
"The people of Rome have crowded onto the streets to welcome the victorious Allied troops.
The first American soldiers, members of the 5th Army, reached the centre of Rome after encountering dogged resistance from German forces on the outskirts of the city.
The German troops had been ordered to withdraw.
Rome is the first of the three Axis powers' capitals to be taken and its recapture will be seen as a significant victory for the Allies and the American commanding officer who led the final offensive, Lieutenant General Mark Clark.
In a broadcast in the United States this evening, President Franklin D Roosevelt welcomed the fall of Rome with the words, "One up, two to go." But he gave a warning that Germany had not yet suffered enough losses to cause her to collapse.
In Rome itself, the people have been celebrating. Shops have closed and huge crowds have taken to the streets, cheering, waving and hurling bunches of flowers at the passing army vehicles.
First reports from the city say it has been left largely undamaged by the occupying German forces.
The city's water supply is still intact and there is even electricity - recent blackouts are reported to have been caused by engineers reluctant to restore power for the occupiers.
Most Romans remained in the city during the occupation and many refugees also fled here. Food supplies are now extremely short with bread rationed to 100 g per person per day.
A report from Hitler's headquarters said he had ordered the withdrawal of the German troops to the north-west of Rome in order to prevent its destruction.
The statement said: "The struggle in Italy will be continued with unshakable determination with the aim of breaking the enemy attacks and to forge final victory for Germany and her allies."
The Pope appeared on the balcony of St Peter's this evening and addressed the thousands of Italians who had gathered in the square.
He said: "In recent days we trembled for the fate of the city. Today we rejoiced because, thanks to the joint goodwill of both sides, Rome has been saved from the horrors of war."
The American military authorities in London have broadcast a tribute to the British General Sir Harold Alexander, who has been in overall command of Allied forces in Italy.
It described the campaign as "daring, unconventional and brilliant" and said his methods had compelled the enemy to evacuate Rome without destructive fighting within the city itself."
The American commander of the 5th Army, Lieutenant General Mark Clark, chose to strike for Rome from the Anzio beachhead, after the fall of Monte Cassino, rather than chase after the retreating German forces as he had been ordered by the British officer in overall charge, General Sir Harold Alexander.
This decision has since been described by eminent American military historian Carlo D'Este as "as militarily stupid as it was insubordinate". Although Rome was liberated, the Germans were not decisively defeated.
After the fall of Rome German forces fell back to the so-called Gothic Line of defence, running across Italy just north of Florence.
The Allies did not breach this line until September 1944. The Allied front then stalled again until a breakthrough in April 1945 when their final assault broke German resistance and led to capitulation on 2 May.
The Italian campaign had tied down more than 20 German divisions - while the Allies concentrated on the battle on the western front. Although some have argued it was the Germans tying down the Allies.
But the Italian campaign was not in itself decisive and in the end victory in Europe was won only through direct attacks on Germany itself. It did, however force Hitler to defend on 3 fronts. Germany had neither the manpower nor resources to do this.