In early 1944 the Allies made an assault at Anzio to try to break the German hold just north of Naples. The leader of the Fifth Army was Mark Clark, a four star general. His headquarters was about 75 miles from the Anzio beachhead and the battle there was not going very well. He wanted to go and assess the situation himself. He boarded a PT boat and had another one as escort. It was to be a two hour trip at high speed, 30 plus knots. The fleet at anchor at Anzio was being attacked on a regular basis by Nazis aircraft and Eboats. The ships there were understandably nervous and somewhat “trigger happy”. Clark’s entourage did not notify the Anzio fleet in advance of their departure.
When the PT boats with Clark aboard approached the fleet they fired the recognition signal flares but the smoke, mist and fog made them discolored to the fleet. An allied ship opened fire on them assuming they were Nazi Eboats attacking. Within seconds the PT boat carrying Clark had dead and wounded and he was unhurt only by chance. The Clark group retreated immediately. They located another Allied ship and finally made it to Anzio. The Navy and the crew of the ship that fired on them was not sympathetic and a subsequent board cleared the captain of the ship that fired of any wrong doing. They didn’t know they were coming and the recognition signals did not match the colors for the day. The General of the entire operation was almost killed. So much for assuming generals never face danger during war. Also look at other battles during the war and you will see other generals were killed. Sure not many but then there weren’t many of them.
Check out Rick Atkinson’s book about the Sicily and Italian campaigns for even more interesting tidbits of information useful for today.
What can be learned from the long ago event? A lot I think. First, communication or lack thereof, is always critical in any endeavor. It must be accurate and timely and reach the right people. Something useful even in the business world or any other activity. Proper communications could have prevented those deaths wounds and near deaths.
Yes, mistakes happen, but there is always an explanation. Look to see if information was properly communicated in the first place.
Reflect on this little episode and you will see human nature with all its frailties at work.
Feed the dog and say hello to your neighbor.