By Tony Gentile
A few months ago I exhibited my pictures during a photographic festival in Sicily. As I was hanging my work I was impressed by the images of another photographer which were displayed next to mine. They were war photos, in black and white, depicting World War II and I thought they were taken by an old photographer. But when I looked closer I saw that the photographer was young, and the pictures were taken only a year before. They were eerily similar to those shot during the 1940s, but the reportage concerned a re-enactment of the wartime landing of Allied forces in Anzio, about 60 km (37 miles) south of Rome.
Last week I glanced upon an announcement that the 69th anniversary of the Anzio landing was taking place, so I decided to go to take a look and cover this story. Unfortunately, due to the economic crisis, there were not many people involved in it this year but there were enough to make a picture story. While the rest of Italy was starting to celebrate the beginning of the Carnival season, these few war buffs were parading around in 70 year old army vehicles.
In the early hours of January 22, 1944, a convoy of 374 ships disembarked the 1st British Division on the coast just north of Anzio, while the 3rd American Division landed on the beaches near Nettuno (named Peter Beach and X-Ray Beach by the Allied forces). This was the beginning of Operation Shingle which had been so strenuously promoted by Winston Churchill.
Today, much is still being written and debate continues as to why the invading forces landing at Anzio did not press on to occupy Rome without delay. There were reportedly few German combat troops in the area, although a German armored division had been in the Anzio area up until only 48 hours before the landing, before being then transferred to Cassino. There is some controversy over whether the American general leading the invasion, General Mark Clark, had failed to charge ahead, possibly giving an opportunity for German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring to lock them into the beach head, as well as allowing German forces to escape to fight another day in his drive to liberate Rome.
After 69 years it is quite a spectacle to see as many as 40 military enthusiasts taking part in a re-enactment of the landing, proudly donning the uniforms of U.S., British, and German SS soldiers. They not only look like actors in a movie scene but also feel the history. And at the end of the day they appear to be just big boys who continue to play with toy soldiers.