An army at dawn : the war in North Africa, 1942-1943

by Rick Atkinson

Paperback, 2003




New York : Henry Holt & Co., 2003.


The first volume in a three volume work about the liberation of Europe opens in North Africa in 1942 and charts America's rise to world-power status by its involvement in a war on two fronts.

User reviews

LibraryThing member cmbohn
North Africa, 1942-1943

Reading this one, it amazes me that the Allies won! They were such a total mess at the beginning. Most of it was the Americans, at least at the beginning. They had no idea how to fight a mobile war. They barely got in to World War I and then everyone went home and just kind of forgot about fighting. They didn't update their weapons, their tactics, their training, their leadership, their surveillance, nothing. Meanwhile, the Germans were the best army in the world.

By the end of the book, and the end of this campaign, the Americans had learned how to fight a modern war, how to train, how to coordinate between artillery and tanks and infantry, and how to hate. The author makes a big point of that. But the Americans and the British were still wary of each other and the generals were still much too worried about their own glory than about winning the whole war.

I'm glad I read this one - there's LOTS in here. I really didn't know anything about the war in North Africa. I would have liked an index of Who's Who as that got a little confusing at times. But I liked all the maps - that really helped. 4 stars.
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LibraryThing member meegeekai
WOW, this is a great book. Atkinson is becoming my next favorite WWII historian, after Ambrose. This is a great book, supposedly part of a triology, about the American entry into the North African campaign. Great writing. If you had to read one book on Operation Torch, this is it. Looking for coming books in the "Liberation Trilogy", but am having a hard time finding out release dates. Atkinson is one of those authors I look for now, whenever I go to Borders.… (more)
LibraryThing member Miro
What I think he misses in an otherwise very good book, is the way in which the N. African campaign (and German military involvement in Southern Europe) weakened German operations in Russia. Hitler certainly considered the Mediterranean operations his biggest mistake and in Tunisia alone the Germans lost and surrendered 250.000 men along with much equipment.
While he doesn't consider the strategic success he does show how American supply overwhelmed the Germans despite inexperienced American military fumbling. Patton is shown in his true colours and the book confirms Alanbrooke's war diaries, "I did not form any high opinion of him, nor had I any reason to alter this view at a later date. A dashing, courageous, wild and unbalanced leader, good for operations requiring thrust and push but at a loss in any operation requiring skill and judgment."
In general, "An Army at Dawn" strikes a nice balance between the leaders and foot soldiers view of the war.
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LibraryThing member phaga
This book was awesome! I've never really paid much attention to military history until I read Keegan's Second World War, and while at the bookstore looking for his book on the WWI, I spotted this. The African campaign was always something that intrigued me, as I knew absolutely nothing about it. The early blunders of our military seemed to be absent from anything i was taught in school about the war, as were the tensions between the allied armies. This book strips the war of it's glamour and legend and brings it back to reality.… (more)
LibraryThing member linedog1848
Incredible. War narrative that reads like a historical novel. Atkinson delivers detailed and well-researched information on this, a too-often overlooked period of the Second World War, through the eyes and experiences of those who fought the campaigns.

Atkinson transitions seamlessly from the thirty-thousand foot view of Roosevelt and Churchill through the ten-thousand foot view of Eisenhower, Montgomery, and Rommel, down to the dogface grunt in the foxhole and back again, weaving a deep, rich, and engaging story that could have been yet another dry academic historical tome if written by a lesser author.

I highly recommend this book as all of the things I like. I recommend it for the quality of the writing, for the quality of the content, for feel of the book in the hands. Even the typeface and layout lends itself to extended periods of reading without fatigue.

I first heard of this book several years ago, but put it off thinking that at its size I would do better to read it when I have time to dedicate to an effort. . . what a mistake that was! Don't wait. . . this book is no effort at all. The effort after I started this book was to avoid neglecting my schoolwork and family.
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LibraryThing member Sandydog1
Very well written and researched. It's main theme was the American Army's maturity during the Algerian and Tunisian campaigns. Although it was beyond the scope of the book, I would have liked to have seen a little background on the entire North African campaign.

Also, the similes and metaphors were a tad heavy. Battle participants used them, but the author was also very, very liberal with them as well. They flowed like tracers across the desert, like dust storm of Panzers, like the thunder of a bank of 88s, like the rosy fingers of dawn, like...

You get the point.
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LibraryThing member jcbrunner
An alternative title for this book is Jersey Shore - North Africa. Atkinson tells the story of the American landing in North Africa in a highly engaging and entertaining way. Latecomers to the war, the Americans arrived in North Africa unprepared with inflated egos, Their ineptness quickly garnered them the label "our Italians". Burying their opponents by their mass of resources was the secret to their success in North Africa. How could the US generals, in 1942, still be unaware of the need for air superiority, the coordination of infantry and armor and the importance of logistics? The performance of the US generals reminds me of French generalship in 1940. The price of their incompetence is paid in blood by the GIs - and the British.

Rick Atkinson excels in recounting the trials of the common soldiers and their commanders. He is guilty in hiding the weakness of their opposition (both French, Italian and German). Only when the French have to fight the Germans, does he mention that their equipment is severely outdated. The book is also weak in presenting an overview of the forces present in theater. For the Germans and Italians, not even an OOB is given. The technical limitations of allied armor so well highlighted in Robert Kershaw's Tanks might have opened a few readers' eyes. For these reasons, it falls more into Ambrose niche of books. Entertaining accounts for the general reader but insufficient for deeper analysis.
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LibraryThing member mensheviklibrarian
Excellent narrative history of the US campaign in North Africa. Atkinson writes very well and he manages to integrate ground level battles with the high politics of command. This is no "greatest generation" mythology, he clearly writes about all of the early mistakes by Ike, Patton, etc. However, he emphasizes how much the US Army learned in North Africa. Volume 2 will be released this fall.… (more)
LibraryThing member dbeveridge
I read this book while traveling through Scotland with Wendy.
LibraryThing member fidelio
The North African campaign is one that I've always been a bit vague about; there's been a lot of popular history written about Rommel and the Afrika Korps, but less about the invasion in 1942 by American and British forces.
Atkinson discusses, among other things, the way in which this campaign was as much about learning how to manage and fight a war for the Americans (on both an individual and institutional level) as anything else. Part of this process was the discarding of unworkable military doctrines (the Americans were well behind the power curve when it came to understanding armored warfare--without the excuse the French and British had in 1939 that the Germans were unveiling a whole new system) and inadequate commanders. Both American and British generals come and go, some passing on to greater things, and others being left by the wayside as they failed to live up to the requirements of the job. Failures like Frendendall and Anderson pass by, along with survivors like Bradley, Patton, Alexander and Montgomery. However, Atkinson manages not to succumb to the glorious reputations of the latter, and is able to see and point out how much of the former's failures were made possible by shortcomings of their commanders as well as their own.
Much of Atkinson's writing is very direct and matter-of-fact; however, there are some lovely passages where he goes all Bruce-Catton-and-Shelby-Foote. Here's one, from the section "Gathering the Ships", describing the departure of the invasion convoy from Hampton Roads:
"The dawn was bright and blowing. Angels perched unseen on the shrouds and crosstrees. Young men, fated to survive and become old men dying abed half a century hence, would forever remember this hour, when an army at dawn made for the open sea in a cause none could yet comprehend. Ashore, as the great fleet glided past, dreams of them stepped, like men alive, into the rooms where their loved ones lay sleeping."
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LibraryThing member Karlstar
This is an excellent overview of the US Army's role just prior to and through the invasion of North Africa. It includes the training and logistical problems of a major amphibious landing, the political issues, and the struggles of an army with very little experience. A very enlightening and thorough history. This book is focused on the US Army, not air or sea power or even the British battles.… (more)
LibraryThing member Czrbr
Book Description: New York, New York, U.S.A.: Owl Books, 2003. Soft Cover. Very Good. 8vo - over 7" - 9¾" tall. (S1) Trade soft cover in VG condition; 380pgs,
LibraryThing member Bpolybius
This is probably the finest history of a military campaign I have ever read This was not, of course, the Allies' finest hour but the demonstration of the creation of a modern army out of very little was stunning.
LibraryThing member oldman
First of the liberation trilogy this book documents the war in North Africa. Five stars
LibraryThing member IslandDave
An outstanding history of WWII during 1942 and 43 in North Africa, An Army At Dawn offers a multitude of views centered on US military experiences during Operation Torch. I can't add much more than other reviewers here. Lots of insights into the main generals, such as Eisenhower, Patton, Anderson, Montgomery, and many others, as well as views from the foxholes and gun sights at each key battlefield. 4 1/2 stars, can't wait to read the second in this series (Liberation Trilogy).… (more)
LibraryThing member Shrike58
If you're looking for a book on the allied invasion of North Africa this is now the standard study. This is not to mention that Atkinson is rapidly becoming one of our best popular historians.
LibraryThing member wenestvedt
Very good, can't wait for the next two.
LibraryThing member Hedgepeth
6 stars out of 5! Atkinson has done an excellent job of making the history of the North African campaign understandable to the average reader. He has a knack for using broad details instead of minutiae to avoid losing his reader, yet supplying interesting details to keep the narrative from being dry. The coming of age of the US Army is handled exceptionally well. My only regret is that I took so long to get around to reading this volume. An Army at Dawn is a must for any WWII scholar.… (more)
LibraryThing member jerry-book
An excellent portrayal of the American expeditionary Army in North Africa in WW II. I had seen the movie Patton many years ago. In that Patton talks about how the Germans whipped the American forces at the Battle of Kasserine Pass. Nonetheless, it was fascinating to discover how inept the USA was at the beginning of the War. Thank God we did not invade France in 1943. We just weren't ready. As the author mentioned at the start of the War we only had six tanks and our Army was ranked 12th in the World behind Romania.… (more)
LibraryThing member buffalogr
This book emphasizes people in it's discussion of the first allied (US/UK/France?) invasion of WWII. There were several leadership and tactical lessons learned in the invasion of North Africa and from the German/Italian side it's defense. I slogged through it; the book was a difficult listen without a map of North Africa. For that reason, I don't believe that I'll follow through with the second and third volumes of this WWII trilogy.… (more)
LibraryThing member Luftwaffe_Flak
Excellent book and author, could be compared to Antony Beevor and thats not a bad thing. Excellent combination of strategic and men on the ground accounts. Interesting story of how the US armed forces were blooded and had to learn the art of war so to speak and launched the ascension of the US as a superpower.
LibraryThing member DinadansFriend
A lively account of the actions from November 1942 to May of 1943, as the American Army of WWII has its baptism of fire. I found it to be fast paced and fair. Perhaps weak on analysis of the German Army...
LibraryThing member bke
It was moderately interesting. I read it mainly because I knew little about the war in North Africa. The author told the history in an engaging manner which brought out the personalities involved. Thankfully, he concentrated more on the people and the problems in turning a peacetime US into a war machine than the details of each and every battle.… (more)
LibraryThing member Maya47Bob46
Not having known much about the Second World War in Africa, I found this fascinating. Atkinson pulls no punches about the foibles of various commanders and the horror of war. Very readable history with very helpful maps.
LibraryThing member justindtapp
Atkinson is considered the foremost military historical writer of our time. I read his book on the 101 Airborne in Iraq, where Gen. David Petraeus first became a star.

This book is a very detailed look at how war is hell. How all operations are disorganized chaos. There are horrors of war and then there are the horrors of day-to-day survival in that war. Survivors are just lucky.

Was the North Africa campaign necessary? It trained a large number of Allied soldiers, prepared them for the invasion of Europe. But, wouldn't it have just been better to invade Europe and avoid the circuitous route taken by invading Africa and then Sicily? Probably.

This book is a great historical documentary. No one tells the soldiers' stories like Atkinson.
I give it 3.5 stars of 5.
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