Paul Hollywood researches the Battle of Anzio as ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ returns

Tonight, 13th August 2015, ‘The Great British Bakeoff’ judge Paul Hollywood’s episode will kick of the latest series of ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ on BBC One at 9.00pm. The emotional episode will see him finding out more about what his beloved grandfather, Norman Harman, went through while serving with the 90th AA regiment of the Royal Artillery in Britain, Tunisia and Italy. His experiences during the Battle of Anzio would leave the anti-aircraft gunner with a life-long facial tick.

Along with 110,000 other troops on 243 ships, Norman sailed from Naples to Anzio on 21st of January, 1944, as part of Churchill’s pet plan, ‘Operation Shingle’. Those who sailed were meant to play their parts in a swift and forceful pincer-movement, intended to break the Gustav Line and ultimately secure Rome for the Allies. Even before they set off, cracks were appearing in the plan. The idea was that, by the time they landed in the tiny fishing port, part of General Mark Clark’s US 5th Army would already have broken the Gustav Line (which was first attacked on 12th of January) and drawn German reserves away from the town, while the British 8th Army was to have advanced along the Adriatic Coast and joined the Americans, thereby isolating the beachhead. Meeting with fierce resistance, neither army had achieved its objectives.

Despite these failures there were very few Germans around when the landing craft initially reached the harbour; the first 50,000 men from the British 1st Infantry, 2nd Service Brigade, 9th and 43rd Commando battalions and the 46th Royal Tank Regiment landed safely, alongside troops from the US 3rd Infantry Division, 751st Tank Battalion, 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment and 3rd Battalion Rangers. However, US Major General John Lucas, appointed as Commander in Chief of the fleet, had been thoroughly burned out by his horrible experience of landing at Salerno. He had been told he could advance whenever he saw fit, and he was determined not to do so until every ship was in (many were forced to wait off shore as the weather deteriorated), and 15 days’ worth of food and ammunition had been amassed. Before everything was ready, German Field Marshall Albert Kesselring’s troops fell upon the invaders.

What followed was an exhausting four month stalemate, during which both sides sustained heavy casualties. The Allies took a pummelling, in which they suffered 7,000 dead, 36,000 wounded or missing and 44,000 hospitalised through illness before they finally managed to break out of the beachhead on 23rd of May 1944.

During the landing Paul Hollywood’s grandfather found himself stuck off-shore in HMS Boxer as ships were attacked all around him by the German planes, then once he landed he remained dug into a foxhole for months on end, as shell after German shell slaughtered his mates.

This episode sounds unmissable for those whose relatives took part in the Italy campaign, and is just the first in what is sure to be a thrilling series, featuring the family histories of Jane Seymour, Mark Gatiss, Jerry Hall and Gareth Malone, among others. We’ll meet you on the couch!

If you want to read more about the Battle of Anzio, try delving into our incredible Historic Documents Archive to learn the ins and outs of this terrible episode in British and American history: We also have loads of records that relate to the Italian Campaign, such as our exclusive ‘Imperial Prisoners of War held in Italy 1943’ collection. Take a look!

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