Operation Fischfang

Road To Rome Operation Fischfang
by Ken Camel

The initial hectic days after the Allied landings at Anzio saw the Germans under Fieldmarschall Kesselring initiate a well-timed defensive strategy. Though appearing somewhat haphazard due to the location of the dwindling German reserves, the now operational 14th Army began accumulating its forces within three days of the landings.

Hitler’s response to the landings at Anzio looked good on paper and the German ability to scrape up troops and units was quite amazing. Units appeared from all over the continent bringing heavy armour and additional infantry to Italy and the 14th Army. The view from the Wolf’s Lair, Hitler’s operational command post, certainly gave the edge to the Germans.

Learn how to wargame Operation Fischfang in Flames Of War here...
The numbers were in their favour and the heavy tanks outclassed anything the Allies could place on the battlefield. A swift attack against British and American infantry divisions holding the beaches looked like a sure victory. A success in eliminating the Allied landing would be quite welcomed and one that the Germans could certainly use to start 1944 off on the right foot (so to speak). Thus sprang Operation Fischfang, the German counterattack to retake the Anzio beachhead.

Read the Battle Report for the Operation Fischfang scenario here...
German troops on the move
German StuGs
However, and there is always a however, the weather and its affect on the terrain, combined with Allied air and artillery supremacy could prove to be an equalizer to the German’s plan for victory. The Italian winter mixed with the low-lying terrain to turn the proposed battlefield into a muddy morass. The few roads the Mussolini government had built in the area channelled any mechanised movement to them as cross-country manoeuvring proved nearly impossible.
Two Grenadier Infantry Divisions, two Panzergrenadier divisions and one Panzer Division were earmarked to cut through the Allied lines and split the beachhead in two. In addition, independent regiments and battalions of motorised infantry, Panthers, Tigers, and Elefants were committed to support the counterattack and give it the hitting power needed to break through the Allied lines.
An American G.I. tends to the wounded
A knocked out Tiger I E Opposing them were two infantry divisions, one British and one American, supported by one independent tank and one tank destroyer battalion. Previous fighting had reduced the Allied divisions while the two German divisions earmarked for the assault were each bolstered by an additional infantry regiment. Luftwaffe support was also provided to rid the skies of the pesky Air Observation Posts and reduce the Allied artillery support available.
All told, it looked like a quite promising operation to regain lost glory and give the Allies a huge black eye. The offensive started out okay by retaking 'The Factory’, an Italian co-operative building program erected on the main road from Rome to Anzio. This pushed back the already reduced British 1st Division towards the beaches at Anzio. The next phase was to launch the ‘elite’ Lehr regiment together with the 715th Motorised Infantry Division, now bolstered by an additional Panzergrenadier regiment, to force a hole through the US 45th Infantry Division, holding the only road to Anzio.
A German column advances in Italy
Ruined Italian building
The veteran 3rd Panzergrenadier and 26th Panzer divisions, containing a battalion of new Panther tanks, a battalion of Tiger tanks, and a battalion of Elefant heavy tank destroyers, were ready to exploit any breech. The plan was set. The ‘elite’ Lehr Regiment would lead the attack thus enhancing the propaganda effect of the victory. All looked well in the Wolf’s Lair for a heroic Wehrmacht victory.
However, initial battle reports began badly. The ‘elite’ Lehr Regiment suffered severe casualties and lost most of their officers in the first attack, and they rapidly retreated from the battlefield. The 715th Infantry Division managed to put a dent into the 45th US infantry but also at tremendous cost. Allied aircraft and artillery decimated their advance causing nearly 70% of their casualties. Even so, the German assault continued with the 362nd Infantry Division.

Casualties mounted on both sides. The Allied line was becoming thin. However, the German losses had slowed their infantry to a crawl. The narrow roads and muddy fields kept the heavy German armour road bound. This allowed the Allies to concentrate their fire effectively. Even so, despite these heavy losses, the Germans reached the final Allied defence line.
Troops on the move in the Italian countryside
Destroyed Italian village The Allied defence was crumbling. Every man who could carry a rifle was thrust into the defence.  With only the Allied artillery between the German armour and the Anzio beachhead, the final assault began. The spirited Allied defence using artillery in direct fire against the German armour finally broke the attack preventing the German breakthrough.

The Fischfang counterattack had failed and the beachhead was secure. Both sides suffered horrendous casualties forcing both to the defensive. It was now a race for who could reinforce their army the fastest; one that Allied artillery and air backed by Allied shipping would ultimately tip the scales in their favour. As both sides were now exhausted, the final battle for Anzio was postponed until Operation Buffalo in May 1944.

~ Ken.

Last Updated On Wednesday, March 19, 2014 by Blake at Battlefront