The House should, I think, take formal cognizance
of the liberation of Rome by the Allied Armies under the Command
of General Alexander, with General Clark of the United States
Service and General Oliver Leese in command of the fifth and Eighth
Armies respectively. This is a memorable and glorious event, which
rewards the intense fighting of the last five months in Italy.
The original landing, made on January 22nd at Anzio, has, in the
end, borne good fruit. In the first place, Hitler was induced
to send to the south of Rome eight or nine divisions which he
may well have need of elsewhere. Secondly, these divisions were
repulsed, and their teeth broken, by the successful resistance
of the Anzio bridgehead forces in the important battle which took
place in the middle of February. The losses on both sides were
heavy-the Allies losing about 20,000 men, and the Germans about
25,000 men. Thereafter, the Anzio bridgehead was considered by
the enemy to be impregnable.
Meanwhile, the great regrouping of the main Army
had to take place before the attacks could be renewed. These attacks
were at first unsuccessful, and Cassino still blocked the advance.
On May 11th, General Alexander began his present operation, and
after unceasing and intense fighting by the whole of the Armies,
broke into the enemy's lines and entered the Liri Valley. It is
noteworthy that, counting from right to left, the whole of the
Polish, British Empire, French, and United States Forces broke
the German lines in front of them by frontal attack. That has
an important bearing on other matters, which I shall come to before
I sit down.
At what was judged the right moment the bridgehead
force, which by this time had reached a total of nearly 150,000
men, fell upon the retiring enemy's flank and threatened his retreat.
The junction of the main Armies with the bridgehead forces drove
the enemy off his principal lines of retreat to the North, forcing
a great part of his army to retire in considerable disorder with
heavy losses, especially in material, through mountainous country.
The Allied Forces, with great rapidity, were regrouped, with special
emphasis on their left flank, which soon deployed against Rome
after cutting the important highway. The American and other Forces
of the Fifth Army broke through the enemy's last line and entered
Rome, where the Allied troops have been received with joy by the
population. This entry and liberation of Rome mean that we shall
have the power to defend it from hostile air attack, and to deliver
it from the famine with which it was threatened. However, General
Alexander's prime object has never been the liberation of Rome,
great as are the moral, political and psychological advantages
of that episode. The Allied Forces, with the Americans in the
van, are driving ahead, northwards, in relentless pursuit of the
enemy. The destruction of the enemy army has been, throughout,
the single aim, and they are now being engaged at the same time
along the whole length of the line as they attempt to escape to
the North. It is hoped that the 20,000 prisoners already taken
will be followed by further captures in future, and that the condition
of the enemy's army, which he has crowded into Southern Italy,
will be decisively affected.
It would be futile to attempt to estimate our
final gains at the present time. It is our duty, however, to pay
the warmest tribute of gratitude and admiration to General Alexander
for the skill with which he has handled this Army of so many different
States and nations, and for the tenacity and fortitude with which
he has sustained the long periods when success was denied. In
General Clark the United States Army has found a fighting leader
of the highest order, and the qualities of all Allied troops have
shone in noble and unjealous rivalry. The great strength of the
Air Forces at our disposal, as well as the preponderance in armour,
has undoubtedly contributed in a notable and distinctive manner
to the successes which have been achieved. We must await further
developments in the Italian theatre before it is possible to estimate
the magnitude and quality of our gains, great and timely though
they certainly are.
I have also to announce to the House that during
the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the
series of landings in force
upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case
the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense
armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand
smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have
been successfully effected behind the enemy lines, and landings
on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present
time. The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled.
The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved
so difficult as was apprehended. The Anglo-American Allies are
sustained by about 11,000 firstline aircraft, which can be drawn
upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle. I cannot,
of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are
coming in in rapid succession. So far the Commanders who are engaged
report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what
a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated
and difficult that has ever taken place. It involves tides, wind,
waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and
the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest
degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could
not and cannot be fully foreseen.
There are already hopes that actual tactical
surprise has been attained, and we hope to furnish the enemy with
a succession of surprises during the course of the fighting. The
battle that has now begun will grow constantly in scale and in
intensity for many weeks to come, and I shall not attempt to speculate
upon its course. This I may say, however. Complete unity prevails
throughout the Allied Armies. There is a brotherhood in arms between
us and our friends of the United States. There is complete confidence
in the supreme commander, General Eisenhower, and his lieutenants,
and also in the commander of the Expeditionary Force, General
Montgomery. The ardour and spirit of the troops, as I saw myself,
embarking in these last few days was splendid to witness. Nothing
that equipment, science or forethought could do has been neglected,
and the whole process of opening this great new front will be
pursued with the utmost resolution both by the commanders and
by the United States and British Governments whom they serve.
[Note: Mr. Churchill added the following statement later in the
day] : I have been at the centres where the latest information
is received, and I can state to the House that this operation
is proceeding in a thoroughly satisfactory manner. Many dangers
and difficulties which at this time last night appeared extremely
formidable are behind us. The passage of the sea has been made
with far less loss than we apprehended. The resistance of the
batteries has been greatly weakened by the bombing of the Air
Force, and the superior bombardment of our ships quickly reduced
their fire to dimensions which did not affect the problem. The
landings of the troops on a broad front, both British and American-
-Allied troops, I will not give lists of all the different nationalities
they represent-but the landings along the whole front have been
effective, and our troops have penetrated, in some cases, several
miles inland. Lodgments exist on a broad front.
The outstanding feature has been the landings
of the airborne troops, which were on a scale far larger than
anything that has been seen so far in the world. These landings
took place with extremely little loss and with great accuracy.
Particular anxiety attached to them, because the conditions of
light prevailing in the very limited period of the dawn-just before
the dawn-the conditions of visibility made all the difference.
Indeed, there might have been something happening at the last
minute which would have prevented airborne troops from playing
their part. A very great degree of risk had to be taken in respect
of the weather.
But General Eisenhower's courage is equal to
all the necessary decisions that have to be taken in these extremely
difficult and uncontrollable matters. The airborne troops are
well established, and the landings and the follow-ups are all
proceeding with much less loss-very much less-than we expected.
Fighting is in progress at various points. We captured various
bridges which were of importance, and which were not blown up.
There is even fighting proceeding in the town of Caen, inland.
But all this, although a very valuable first step-a vital and
essential first step-gives no indication of what may be the course
of the battle in the next days and weeks, because the enemy will
now probably endeavour to concentrate on this area, and in that
event heavy fighting will soon begin and will continue without
end, as we can push troops in and he can bring other troops up.
It is, therefore, a most serious time that we enter upon. Thank
God, we enter upon it with our great Allies all in good heart
and all in good friendship.