§ The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)
I must apologise to the House for having delayed them, but Questions were gone through rather more rapidly than usual. The House should, I think, take formal cognisance of the liberation of Rome by the Allied Armies under the Command of General Alexander, with General Clark of the United States Service and General Oliver Leese in command of the Fifth and Eighth Armies respectively. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] This is a memorable and glorious event, which rewards the intense fighting of the last five months in Italy. The original landing, made on 22nd January at Anzio, has, in the end, borne good fruit. In the first place, Hitler was induced to send to the south of Rome eight or nine divisions which he may well have need of elsewhere. Secondly, these divisions were repulsed, and their teeth broken, by the successful resistance of the Anzio bridgehead forces in the important battle which took place in the middle of February. The losses on both sides were heavy—the Allies losing about 20,000 men, and the Germans about 25,000 men. Thereafter, the Anzio bridgehead was considered by the enemy to be impregnable.
Meanwhile, the great regrouping of the main Army had to take place before the attacks could be renewed. These attacks were at first unsuccessful, and Cassino still blocked the advance. On 11th May, General Alexander began his present operation and after unceasing and intense fighting by the whole of the Armies, broke into the enemy's lines and entered the Liri Valley. It is noteworthy that, counting from right to left, the whole of the Polish, British Empire, French and United States Forces broke the German lines in front of them by frontal attack. That has an important bearing on other matters, which I shall come to before I sit down.
At what was judged the right moment the bridgehead force, which by this time had reached a total of nearly 150,000 men, fell upon the retreating 1208 enemy's flank and threatened his retreat. The junction of the main Armies with the bridgehead forces drove the enemy off his principal lines of retreat to the North, forcing a great part of his army to retire in considerable disorder with heavy losses, especially in material, through mountainous country. The Allied Forces, with great rapidity, were re-grouped, with special emphasis on their left flank, which soon deployed against Rome after cutting the important highway. The American and other Forces of the Fifth Army broke through the enemy's last line and entered Rome, where the Allied troops have been received with joy by the population. This entry and liberation of Rome mean that we shall have the power to defend it from hostile air attack, and to deliver it from the famine with which it was threatened. However, General Alexander's prime object has never been the liberation of Rome, great as are the moral, political and psychological advantages of that episode. The Allied Forces, with the Americans in the van, are driving ahead, Northwards, in relentless pursuit of the enemy. The destruction of the enemy army has been, throughout, the single aim and they are now being engaged at the same time along the whole length of the line as they attempt to escape to the North. It is hoped that the 20,000 prisoners already taken will be followed by further captures in future, and that the condition of the enemy's army, which he has crowded into Southern Italy, will be decisively affected.
It would be futile to attempt to estimate our final gains at the present time. It is our duty, however, to pay the warmest tribute of gratitude and admiration to General Alexander for the skill with which he has handled this Army of so many different States and nations, and for the tenacity and fortitude with which he has sustained the long periods when success was denied. In General Clark the United States Army has found a fighting leader of the highest order and the qualities of all Allied troops have shone in noble and unjealous rivalry. The great strength of the air forces at our disposal, as well as the preponderance in armour, has undoubtedly contributed in a notable and distinctive manner to the successes which have been achieved. We must await further developments in the Italian theatre before it is possible 1209 to estimate the magnitude or quality of our gains, great and timely though they certainly are.
I have also to announce to the House that during the night and the early hours of this morning the first of the series of landings in force upon the European Continent has taken place. In this case the liberating assault fell upon the coast of France. An immense armada of upwards of 4,000 ships, together with several thousand smaller craft, crossed the Channel. Massed airborne landings have been successfully effected behind the enemy lines and landings on the beaches are proceeding at various points at the present time. The fire of the shore batteries has been largely quelled. The obstacles that were constructed in the sea have not proved so difficult as was apprehended. The Anglo-American Allies are sustained by about 11,000 first line aircraft, which can be drawn upon as may be needed for the purposes of the battle. I cannot, of course, commit myself to any particular details. Reports are coming in in rapid succession. So far the Commanders who are engaged report that everything is proceeding according to plan. And what a plan! This vast operation is undoubtedly the most complicated and difficult that has ever occurred. It involves tides, wind, waves, visibility, both from the air and the sea standpoint, and the combined employment of land, air and sea forces in the highest degree of intimacy and in contact with conditions which could not and cannot be fully foreseen.
There are already hopes that actual tactical surprise has been attained, and we hope to furnish the enemy with a succession of surprises during the course of the fighting. The battle that has now begun will grow constantly in scale and in intensity for many weeks to come and I shall not attempt to speculate upon its course. This I may say, however. Complete unity prevails throughout the Allied Armies. There is a brotherhood in arms between us and our friends of the United States. There is complete confidence in the supreme commander, General Eisenhower, and his lieutenants, and also in the commander of the Expeditionary Force, General Montgomery. The ardour and spirit of the troops, as I saw myself, embarking in these last few days was splendid to witness. Nothing that equipment, 1210 science or forethought could do has been neglected, and the whole process of opening this great new front will be pursued with the utmost resolution both by the commanders and by the United States and British Governments whom they serve.
§ Mr. Arthur Greenwood
I wish to ask my right hon. Friend a question, but before doing so, I should like to say three or four sentences if I may. First, the House by its applause has shown its gratitude to all those who have bled and fought in the battles in Italy and I am sure that we all feel that, now that our Armies there are on the march, it will not be long before the German invader is turned out of that peninsula. We are living through momentous hours. I think my right hon. Friend's statement ranks second to the declaration of war on 3rd September, 1939. There is nothing much that we can do, except to pledge ourselves, and to pledge our physical and spiritual resources, to the unstinted aid of the men and women who are serving overseas; to let them know the pride that we shall feel in their victories and the sadness that we shall feel about their losses. The question I want to put is whether my right hon. Friend will arrange, as frequently as may be, to report to Parliament, and to the people, the course of events, so that we may, on the one hand share such tribulations as may come to them, and on the other hand, take joy in their achievements.
§ The Prime Minister
In reply to the question that my right hon. Friend has put, I will certainly endeavour, at any rate in the early part of the battle, to keep the House freely informed, and it may be that I shall ask their indulgence to trespass upon them before the end of the present Sitting.
§ Mr. Gallacher
This is one of the most solemn moments in the life of this Parliament, and it is certainly not a time for making, or trying to make, speeches, but I should like to express my own feeling, and I am sure the feeling of every Member of the House, that our hearts and our thoughts are with these lads who have gone across to the Continent and with their mothers here at home.
§ Mr. A. Bevan
I should like to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will take an early opportunity of framing and placing before Parliament a suitable mes- 1211 sage, that Parliament itself might transmit to the people of France at this moment as going directly from the representatives of the British people to the people of France.
§ The Prime Minister
Several messages are being sent to France in the course of the day, but the question whether one should be transmitted from the House of Commons, or I presume from the Houses of Parliament, is one that I should like to discuss with my colleagues.