The Army Engineers: Challenges at the Anzio Beachhead

Guiding Question:

Why was the occupation and maintenance of the Anzio Beachhead so challenging?


Using photographs, excerpts from a diary, news articles, and a map, students will gain an understanding of why the invasion of Anzio was challenging for those who served there. Students will work in groups to analyze the documents, using guided questions, and then discuss and compare results before writing a memo explaining the challenges faced.


Historical Context

Today most Americans are unaware of the battles fought in Italy during World War II. One of the important events in the fight against Nazi Germany in Italy involved the invasion of Anzio in January 1944. From this location the United States pushed north to capture Rome and force an end to the war against Axis forces in Italy. The Allied planners hoped to capture Rome by the fall of 1943, but the Germans mounted a strong defense along the Gustav Line, a defensive perimeter to block access to the capital. It took the Allies 18 months to capture Rome. The campaign forced the Germans to pull soldiers from the eastern theater and take some pressure off the Soviet Union. The geography, mountainous terrain, and weather conditions made this campaign a challenge for Allied forces as they pushed north.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Describe several challenges in creating and maintaining a beachhead; and
  • Explain how geography played a role in controlling the beachhead.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or information of a primary or secondary source; provide an accurate summary of how key events or ideas develop over the course of the text.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.9 Compare and contrast treatments of the same topic in several primary and secondary sources.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.16.9-12. Integrate evidence from multiple relevant historical sources and interpretations into a reasoned argument about the past.
D2.His.1.9-12. Evaluate how historical events and developments were shaped by unique circumstances of time and place as well as broader historical contexts.
D2.Geo.4.9-12. Analyze relationships and interactions within and between human and physical systems to explain reciprocal influences that occur among them.

Lesson Preparation


Activity One: The Anzio Breakout (45 minutes)

  • Project the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery Visitor Film.
  • Ask students:
    • What challenges did the United States military face during this phase of the war in Italy?
    • What factors caused this phase of the war to drag on for an extended period of time?
    • What did Americans face who landed at Anzio in Italy?
  • Move students into groups of three to five students each.
  • Distribute to each student one set of historical documents and one Guided Document Discussion Question Handout.
    • Teacher Tip: If desired, a teacher can choose to exclude the Guided Document Discussion Questions if appropriate for older or more advanced students.
  • Assign each group a document on which to begin. Students should continue working through documents after they complete the analysis of their assigned document.
    • Give sufficient time for the students to work through all documents as a group.
    • Circulate and answer questions as needed.
  • Ask students to share their responses to each document. Correct any misunderstandings and answer any questions as they arise.

Assessment Materials

Assessment (30 minutes):

  • Distribute one copy of the Strategy Memo Assessment and Strategy Memo Assessment Rubric to each student.
  • Review the prompt with students:
    • Today is March 15, 1944, and you are a second lieutenant in the 815th Engineer Battalion. Your commanding officer has just received a letter from Lieutenant General Mark W. Clark, the commander of the Fifth Army, wanting to know what is slowing the progress of the breakout from the Anzio beachhead. Using what you know, draft a memo for your superior officer to send to Lieutenant General Clark. In this memo, you should address three major challenges faced by the Allied military and how your unit has worked to solve these problems as quickly as possible. In your fully developed, one paragraph memo, you must take a stand, explaining the delays and defending the argument with specific evidence from the sources you analyzed.
  • The assessment can be scored using the Strategy Memo Assessment Rubric.

Methods for Extension


  • Teachers can adapt the project to younger learners by changing the focus of the last activity to a shorter essay or paragraph. It could also be adapted to English Language Learners in a similar way.
  • Teachers can annotate primary sources to assist with challenging vocabulary.
  • Teachers can provide (or remove) a graphic organizer to help students structure responses.


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