Military History Q&A Series Q8

Brett’s Question: Learning about the allies invasion of Italy and John Lucas’ hesitation once surprising the Germans behind their lines. Why did he delay? McClellan reincarnated?


General John Lucas (US Army General in World War 2)

george mclellan

General George B. McCellan (US Army General in the American Civil War)

If you are referring to General John Lucas and his conduct during Operation Anzio, the short answer is: it’s complicated.

The facts:

  1. The main thrust up the Italian peninsula had stalled. The Allies under American General Mark Clark and British Field Marshal Alexander came up with a plan: do an end-run with an amphibious landing behind German lines.
  2. Problem: the amount of ships and men available were conflicting with the much more important Operation Overlord.
  3. Lucas and others in the high command underestimated the German response.

The problem with Lucas being associated with McClellan may be unfair. Certainly, Lucas was criticized for not being more aggressive. But there is a big difference between George McClellan and Lucas. McClellan got and received all the forces he wanted from Lincoln and the War Department. Lincoln wanted the Army of the Potomac under McClellan to be strong for that one single punch to Richmond and hopefully end the war.


Lucas on the other hand was given the barebones for strategic and tactical reasons. The controversy of Operation Anzio was that it might have even been unnecessary; certainly Lucas thought so. Therefore, he might not have executed the operation as vigorously as he should have. Although it is not much of an excuse as a general, it does as the man behind the rank. It is possible that he could have achieved the breakout he was ordered to with only the forces he had on hand. Then again, with hindsight and there are plenty of armchair generals, maybe not.


As stated before, the Allied high command underestimated the German response. This was no fault of Lucas. Time and time again, the Allies underestimated the Germans being able to move and fight in mountainous terrains. Despite bombing train tracks and destroying locomotives, the Germans were able to mount an overwhelming force to crush Lucas and fighting in bad weather. (see also Italy’s Sorrow)

Lucas was relieved by another general who had the reputation for handling such end-run operations well and being aggressive.

Lastly, there is the political angle; McClellan could not be removed because he was a high profile Democrat and Lincoln needed the Democrats on his side in 1860s. McClellan was popular with his men and had a big ego. You can’t say the same for Lucas; he was not popular, he did not belong to a necessary political party vital to the president’s interest, etc.

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