Jan. 22, 1944: Allies invade, take Anzio
Seventy years ago, the Allies landed on the beaches at Anzio, Italy. The operation’s name was Operation Shingle. The 56th Fighter Group did not take part in the operation. But, the current 56th Fighter Wing has a number of connections to the battle.
To start with, 1943 had been good to the Allies. They seized North Africa following their first successful large amphibious landing there in late 1942. They invaded and took Sicily. After the Italian king arrested former Prime Minister Benito Mussolini, the Italian government signed a secret armistice with the Allies. While the Italian Army quit fighting, the German’s did not.
Then in three coordinated amphibious lands, the Allies invaded the Italian Peninsula with the main force landing near Salerno on the west coast. The invasion hit a snag near Monte Cassino, where the forces of German Air Field Marshal Albert Kesselring stymied those under U.S. Lt. Gen. Mark Clark. Kesselring was a worthy adversary. He had spent the first 27 years of his military service as an artillery officer.
Clark’s solution was a major assault on the German forces followed immediately by an amphibious landing at Anzio. U.S. Brig. Gen., John Lucas led Operation Shingle. The key to success was surprise and quickly securing the high ground around Anzio. The surprise was complete and the landings went unopposed. Unfortunately, Lucas decided to consolidate the landing area instead of immediately seizing the high ground.
Kesselring’s forces got there first, which turned Anzio into a five-month stalemate and led to Lucas’ firing.
Airpower played an important part before and during the operation. Its offensive counter air led to air superiority during the operation. Airpower blinded the Germans, isolated the landings, and provided close-air support during the landings, and the follow-on ground operations.
One of those flying units was the 31st Fighter Group flying North American P-51 Mustangs. The group flew patrol, escort and close-air support missions during the operation. Two of its squadrons now call Luke Air Force Base home, the 308th and 309th fighter squadrons.
Additionally, the commander of the 31st FG was Col. Charles McCorkle. He has other ties to the current 56th FW. His previous commands included what are now the 56th Training Squadron and the 364th FG. The 364th FG is the proposed unit designated to take charge of the wing’s F-16 operations at Holloman AFB, N.M.
McCorkle commanded the group during combat operations, defending the Aleutian Islands from the Japanese in 1942. After the war, McCorkle became an expert in guided missile operations. He served as vice commander of the Fifth Air Force. Later, he was the assistant deputy chief of staff/programs and resources at Headquarters Air Force. In 1966, he retired as a lieutenant general and passed away in 2009.