Anzio Diary of G W Nix..................

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Bob Wright

Jun 24, 2004
Memphis, TN USA

Transcribed from handwritten notes. These notes were among papers found by family members after his death. These were written by Mr. G W Nix, Jr., of Harrisburg, Arkansas and transcribed by Bob Wright. My wife, Nita Wright, was a niece of Mr. Nix. Mr. Nix was born in Harrisburg, Arkansas and named George Washington Nix, after his father. However, as a youngster, he took so much kidding about his name he always went by G W.

Battles & Campaigns

Tunisia, Sicily, Naples, Foggia, Rome, Arno, Rhineland, Southern France, Central Europe, Germany.

Decorations and Citations

European-Middle East-Mediterriean Theater ribbon with 7 bronze stars; Good Conduct Ribbon; Croix de Guerre w/palm per French Army; Distinguished Unit Citation.


I was in the Third Infantry Division. We were at a standstill at the Gustav Line in Italy. We were not in the front line there but we were close enough for the German artillery to shell us. It was the rainy season and we were in our slit trenches one night and my best buddy was hit with shrapnel in his spine. The shell blew mud in on me and water was running in my trench and I had to use my steel helmet (sic) to dip the water out. My buddy was paralyzed from his waist down after that.

Then our division was pulled back to Naples for a rest and get ready for a landing at Anzio which is north of the Gustav Line. We were to land there behind the German line and the troops there was supposed to break through the German line in 72 hours and we would have them surrounded.

We had several ships in our convoy and we had a barage (sic) balloon tied to each ship with a steel cable and the balloon was probably about 1000 feet high or more. That was to keep the German planes from getting in too low. If they got too low they would hit the steel cables.

On the 22 Jan 1944 our front line troops landed about 3:00 a.m. and they didn’t have many casualties for they surprised the Germans. But we landed about nine o’clock a.m. and the Germans knew what was happening so they would fly in and shoot the balloons down first so they could drop their bombs on us. A bomb landed on each side of our ship and it looked like the water went 100 ft. in the air. I looked behind us and one ship was burning and another one was (unreadable) on its end sinking.

We had life belts around our waist when we got off the ship so if the water was too deep we wouldn’t drown. (Note: This was the incorrect way to wear these life belts, as they were to be worn under the armpits. This caused many drownings at Normandy. BW) We had a big 10 ton wrecker that was going in, the motor was waterproofed and I hung on the back of it and rode it in part of the way.

The troops at the Gustav Line failed to break through so things didn’t go as planned. The beachhead at Anzio was flat swampy land and the Italians had built the Mussolini’s Canal to drain it and it did a pretty good job of draining it.

The Germans were up in the hills above us and the British and Americans didn’t have enough men and materiel to take the hills very quick and were afraid of getting spread out too thin so they decided to dig in until we could get more troops and supplies. But that gave the Germans time to move in more troops and tanks up in the hills. So it looked like things were going to get pretty rough.

Our company dug in about one eighth of a mile from the beach. On the second day we were there German fighter planes began to strafe and bomb the beachhead. The beachhead was about six miles deep and 13 miles long, so the German 88s could shell us from any direction. I had a lot of very narrow escapes.

About the fifth day we were there , across the road from us was a long building and it had a long, wide hallway. They were hauling dead bodies in on trucks and I walked over there and looked in the building and it was the most horrible sight I had ever seen. I had never seen that many dead Americans before; they were lying on each side of the hallway and there was just room to walk between them. These bodies were mangled so bad and some of them were burned badly from German phosphorus shells. They were getting them ready to put in body bags for burial. I almost got sick at my stomach and I thought about their loved ones back home. I knew then that we were going to have some rough times on the beachhead.

There were some Rangers that went too far and ran into a German ambush. Of the 767 Rangers only six eventually returned, The rest were either killed or captured.

Where we were on the beachhead got to be one of the most dangerous places, because they were bombing and shelling our ships and everything else on the beach. So we moved about half way up to the front to a little wooded area. We were about two and a half miles from the front and we dug regular dugouts big enough for two to sleep in. We put poles across them and put dirt on top of them. A buddy of mine and I dug ours on a creek bank and fixed the opening low enough for seep water to drain to in the creek. He was a cook and his name was Woodrow Woodman. We called him Woody. He got some wide boards that they hauled in on trucks to lay down on the ground to make a road to drive on because the ground was soft and muddy. We had some concrete blocks, I don’t remember where we got them, but we put boards on them and had sleeping bags to sleep in. There was some walking room between us. So we were high enough to be up out of the water.

One of the cooks told me that they needed some help in the kitchen and asked me if I wanted to help them, so I thought that would be a good place to be. They took a bulldozer and dug down and put sandbags around it and had a tent over it, so we had some protection. It never was hit by a shell. So that's where I worked the rest of the time there. Of course we had to eat C-Rations out of a can part of the time and K-Rations some times and they were in cardboard boxes and they had some hard chocolate bars and a few things like that. And we had a lot of Spam The cooks would try to fix the Spam sometimes so it would taste better, such as chicken fried Spam. I don’t like Spam to this day. Once in awhile we would get in some food and we would have a pretty good meal.

German planes would bomb the beachhead at night a lot and they dropped flares to light up the beachhead, sometimes it would be almost as light as day. They also dropped thousands of aluminum foil strips and that would mess up or radar. Of course a lot of German planes were shot down. We had some anti aircraft guns around us. I was watching an air raid one night and I heard one man on his anti aircraft gun yell, “I got that bastard!”

The Germans had a big railroad gun that was hidden in a tunnel in the hills and emerging to fire its 56 pound shell at the beachhead and its maximum range was 38 miles. Some of us called it the Anzio Express and some called it Anzio Annie.Most of the time the shells went over us as they were trying to hit our ships at sea, But once in awhile one would land close to us. They hit one of our ships loaded with ammunition one evening and I think that was the loudest explosion I ever heard.

I had another friend that got killed. He was a Jewish kid and he was so well liked by everybody. I remember how sad we all were when someone got hit.

It was always damp in the dugout where I had to sleep and I got a sinus infection and couldn’t get much sleep. We had a hospital on the beach so I went to a doctor there and he gave me something for it and gave me some Codeine tablets to take so I could sleep. I didn't want to stay in the hospital because it had been hit and some patients had killed and two nurses were killed. So I felt safer back in our company. The Germans would drop leaflets from their planes telling us that the beachhead had become a death’s beach. The propaganda leaflet told nothing but the truth.

Our company was just a light maintenance Ordnance outfit. I think I would have felt better if I could have fired back at the enemy but we were just workers. We had rifles and a few machine guns but we couldn’t shoot at planes with them and we wasn’t right on the front line so we couldn’t shoot at the German troops.

We were shelling the Germans also with our heavy artillery and light artillery too and our planes were bombing them at the front. The noise was terrible most of the time. The Germans put up a lot of anti aircraft fire. I saw five of our big B-17 planes shot down one day. We had some cruisers out at sea that shelled them a lot also. So the Germans were suffering a lot of casualties too.

Tommy McGee was also on the beachhead. He was in the 45th Infantry Division. I didn’t know that, and he didn’t know I was there either for several years after we got back home. So after he got to be mayor we were talking one day and found out we were both there. So we got to be good friends and every time we got together after that we would usually end up talking about it and what a miracle it was we got back alive or without being wounded. I miss him a lot now. He used to call me Anzio.

Rick Courtright

Mar 10, 2002
Redlands CA USA

That's a great narrative, Bob! We need more people working on getting more like it as we rapidly lose those with the real life stories to tell. And I wonder how many crossed paths without knowing it. For example, James Arness (Matt Dillon from the Gunsmoke TV show) walked with a limp. The story was he was wounded at Anzio. And my uncle, a first generation Italian-American--his parents immigrated here in 1913 and he was born in 1915--was an Army medic. He could easily have been there, too. We'll never know...

Rick C


Dec 25, 2007
Dad was with an Arkansas NG artillery unit as a replacement. North Africa, Sicily, and the Anzio beach head. After breaking out of the beach head, they went east to help get the British moving. Then up through the mountains toward Rome. The LCT that Dad was on was bombed and sank just off the beach. They lost most of their equipment and had to dog paddle far enough to reach water shallow enough to stand up and walk the rest of the way. The damp, sloppy conditions were memorable for everyone.
Oct 24, 2007
Rick Courtright said:
Hi, That's a great narrative, Bob! We need more people working on getting more like it as we rapidly lose those with the real life stories to tell. And I wonder how many crossed paths without knowing it. For example, James Arness (Matt Dillon from the Gunsmoke TV show) walked with a limp. The story was he was wounded at Anzio. And my uncle, a first generation Italian-American--his parents immigrated here in 1913 and he was born in 1915--was an Army medic. He could easily have been there, too. We'll never know...Rick C

From Wikipedia . . .

"Although Arness wanted to be a naval fighter pilot, he was concerned his poor eyesight would bar him. However, his 6-ft, 7-in (2.01 m) frame ended his chances because the limit for aviators was set at 6 ft, 2 in (1.88 m). He was drafted into the US Army and reported to Fort Snelling, Minnesota, in March 1943. As a rifleman, he landed on Anzio Beachhead on January 22, 1944, with the 2nd Platoon, E Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Infantry Regiment of the 3rd Infantry Division. Arness - due to his height - was the first man to be ordered off his landing craft to determine the depth of the water; it came up to his waist. He was severely wounded in his right leg during the Battle of Anzio, and medically evacuated from Italy to the U.S., where he was sent to the 91st General Hospital in Clinton, Iowa. His brother, Peter, (later known as actor Peter Graves), came to see him when he was back in the U.S., beginning his long recuperation, assuring him to not worry about his injuries, that likely he could find work in the field of radio. After undergoing several surgeries, he was honorably discharged from the Army on January 29, 1945. His wounds continued to trouble him, though, throughout the remainder of his life. In his later years, he suffered with chronic leg pain that often became acute, and was sometimes initiated when he was mounted on horses during his performances on Gunsmoke. His military decorations included the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three bronze battle stars, the World War II Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge."

There's a more detailed account of his Anzio action here . . .