WWII Veterans remember battle at Anzio
Halfway across the world two men from Marshall Minnesota were fighting a war sixty-one years ago. They wore the khaki jackets and heavy drab helmets of the United States Army, and they anticipated a stubborn defense by German troops at Anzio, Italy.
Lars Jappe and Teddy Todnem, though they were part of different units seizing the beachhead, worried what Jan. 22, 1944, would hold for them.
“It was a scary landing because there wasn’t a shot fired,” Todnem said recently at his home in Marshall. “The enemy had pulled out a day before and thought we were going to land north of Rome.”
The Anzio campaign is remembered as one of World War II’s most pivotal and most bloody, Todnem said. It forced the Germans to commit thousands of men and…
…material to Italy that might have tipped victory to German hands had they reinforced Normandy on June 6, 1944. It also liberated Italian groups from the hands of Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler, Todnem said.
Then a 24-year-old artillery sergeant, Todnem waded ashore with infantrymen. A veteran of combat in previous battles, Todnem had had brushes with death and would experience more before he returned to the states.
Before the attack, Todnem and his comrades set up an observation post with a hospitable Italian family for three days.
They received word that they’d move to a different position. Before the move, they dined with the family.
“We had a beautiful dinner that night,” he said.
In time the civilians were relocated in Naples, but Todnem and the infantry moved forward. They occupied another house not far from the Germans who held the high ground.
“The jeep operator took us up to the next (house) and that’s were we made one mistake – we drove up on the wrong side of the house and got shelled pretty quick, so we turned the jeep around and put the jeep behind the house,” he said.
Todnem occupied the second story with a few infantrymen, and more soldiers downstairs.
“Down the road about 100 yards was one of our houses … 200 yards further, that was no man’s land and in the next house were the Germans – we knew they were there and they knew we were there,” he said.
Todnem had been at Anzio a week when the Germans launched the first offensive trying to push the U.S. troops back into the sea.
At one point a shell landed in front of the house.
“I called up the captain and said, ‘I’m gonna send my two men downstairs because it’s a little safer down there,’ and he said, ‘You go down there too.’
“I no more than got out of the house when a shell hit the upstairs – I’d just walked out the door.”
By Jan. 29 Todnem had one man under him who was the forward observer with a group of 500 Army Rangers. That group left and tried to take the town of Cisterna.
The Rangers moved forward through the town and were captured or killed, Todnem said. “They were surrounded by too much firepower,” he added.
“On Feb. 14 the phone rang and the captain said I’d have to be down by the boat by 7 p.m. because I was going home,” Todnem said. “He said ‘I’ll send a jeep up to get you.'”
Todnem said goodbye to the men he’d served with for 3 1/2 years. He took his first shower after 30 days on the front and received new clothes when he arrived in Naples. His six-week journey to the states started in a cow train to Casablanca and then a Liberty ship to the states.
After he left, Todnem said the Anzio front “got a lot rougher” for the troops who stayed for four months.
Todnem’s division continued the fight in southern France and finally made it to Hitler’s hideout in the mountains at the end of the war in the European Theater. Meanwhile Todnem taught up-and-coming artillerymen at Fort Sill, Okla., the finer points of artillery fire on the range.
During the Anzio campaign, Todnem said Lars Jappe of Marshall was in a Sherman M4 tank behind him.
Twenty-seven at the time, Jappe landed on a boat. In three feet of water his tank rolled off into the water and up the beach.
“They didn’t expect us,” Jappe said about the Germans. “We kept going in and they kept backing up.”
While the tanks moved inland, Jappe said there were fruit trees and farm fields. The winter seemed milder in comparison to Minnesota, he said.
At one point, Jappe and the other tankers neared a hill and were surprised at what they found on the other side.
“There were all these German tanks,” he said.
Soon Jappe’s Sherman tangled with the German Tiger tanks and enemies pounded each other with shells.
“We worked five tanks in a company,” said Jappe. “They’d fire at us and thank goodness they didn’t hit.”
At a distance of a half-mile, the Sherman’s shell disabled a Tiger. But the enemy returned the favor.
“I was driving and one of their tanks shot at us,” he said. “They hit the side of the tank and we all got out (because it started on fire) – the tank commander did too, but he died the same day shortly afterwards,” he said.
Even though Jappe served far from home he was never far from other Jappes. He acquired one German item bearing the Jappe name.
“There was a leather case in the tank and the captain took what (the Germans) had – loose guns and the dispatch case with my name,” he said.
“There was a Jappe in that German tank … I guess it happened with others too if they were Italian or German, but it was kinda odd to run across the same name,” he said.
Among the items in the dispatch case were letters and pictures of Hans Jappe’s wife or girlfriend, Lars said.
“I tried to make contact with him (after the war), but couldn’t,” he said.
After the noise and confusion of the fighting, Jappe and his comrades tried to get some rest at one of the abandoned barns.
The group found their accommodations less than first rate in a barn with the company of cows. “I was used to cows,” said Jappe, who was from a farm. “They didn’t give me any trouble.”
Jappe remained in the Anzio region until June, then came back to the states and Barksdale Field in Georgia.
Both Jappe and Todnem returned to the Marshall area after the war.