An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy

by Rick Atkinson

Paperback, 2007

Call number

940.54 ATK



Holt Paperbacks (2007), Edition: Revised, 736 pages


In the first volume of his monumental trilogy about the liberation of Europe in WW II, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson tells the riveting story of the war in North Africa. The liberation of Europe and the destruction of the Third Reich is a story of courage and enduring triumph, of calamity and miscalculation. That first year of the Allied war was a pivotal point in American history, the moment when the United States began to act like a great power. Beginning with the daring amphibious invasion in November 1942, An Army at Dawn follows the American and British armies as they fight the French in Morocco and Algeria, and then take on the Germans and Italians in Tunisia. Battle by battle, an inexperienced and sometimes poorly led army gradually becomes a superb fighting force. Central to the tale are the extraordinary but fallible commanders who come to dominate the battlefield: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, and Rommel. Brilliantly researched, rich with new material and vivid insights, Atkinson's narrative provides the definitive history of the war in North Africa.… (more)

Media reviews

"I don’t think I’ve ever read a history book that flowed so well. The book is an incredible marriage of storytelling and historical fact, so that the reader feels both entertained and very well informed."
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"The most thorough and satisfying history yet of the campaigns in North Africa."
"This is a fascinating work which any reader can enjoy, and professional historians will find perusal of it eminently worth their while."
"Despite diction that occasionally lapses into the melodramatic, general readers and specialists alike will find worthwhile fare in this intellectually convincing and emotionally compelling narrative."

User reviews

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
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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.
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LibraryThing member highlander6022
Absolutely fabulous history of the Allies operations in North Africa in 1942-43. It portrays the difficulties/animosities/distrust between the Allies, along with the successes of those countries’ militaries, while trying to wrest control of, and expel Germany and Italy from, North Africa.

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is a ton of interesting information here about the difficulties, and eventual successes, the Allies had in establishing cohesive action by the different Departments (Army, Navy, Air Force) – that is, trying to coordinate the different actions by the divisions to have the most effective actions against the German and Italian militaries. It is clear that the Allies suffered both unnecessary loss of life, and overall defeats, on the battlefield precisely because actions taken were often unique to each military department, and sometimes, to each of the Allies.

There is also a huge amount of personal information about the officers of each military and how they interacted. A somewhat longer read but written well and rewarding overall. I look forward to the next volume in the trilogy by Rick Atkinson.
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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
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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 rivkat
Atkinson is a beautiful writer, though I was left with questions as to how exactly he knew what the dawn of the day of a WWII battle looked and smelled like—was he prettying up descriptions provided by actual attendees, or inferring from some other source? He spends a lot of time on the physical
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miseries of war for ordinary soldiers, and emphasizes just how dumb a lot of battles were in purely tactical terms. In North Africa, the Americans started to learn how to fight, but not without lots of mistakes and casualties.
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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
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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
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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 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
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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.
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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.
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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
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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 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
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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.
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LibraryThing member wenestvedt
Very good, can't wait for the next two.
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,
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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).
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LibraryThing member dbeveridge
I read this book while traveling through Scotland with Wendy.
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 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,
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he emphasizes how much the US Army learned in North Africa. Volume 2 will be released this fall.
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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 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
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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.
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LibraryThing member oldman
First of the liberation trilogy this book documents the war in North Africa. Five stars
LibraryThing member sross008
Like many, I knew little about America's involvement in North Africa, and thought it was just a series of preliminary skirmishes. Now I see how it was the necessary prologue for what was to come in Europe, which has always received the biggest focus in my family, since my father as a combat
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infantryman was shot by a German and my mother grew up in occupied Denmark. This is a (perhaps overly) comprehensive account employing an interesting technique of using detailed research to chronicle how each battle unfolded. It seems the death of every individual soldier is accounted for, and that's what got tedious. If you lost a relative to Rommel in Libya, you could probably pinpoint the relevant pages and battles in this book. I learned much from this book and it rounded out my military history, plugging gaps in my knowledge. For example, I hadn't realized some of our country's first WWII casualties were a result of fighting against...the French! The book also sure provided a sickening insight into the arrogant personalities of the military bigshots who presided over their domains. Particularly noteworthy was the blend of detail that applied to planning (or the lack thereof) at the upper levels of leadership and the in-the-foxhole, minute-by-minute hopeless consequences in battle for the troops on the ground. I will probably skip the second in the trilogy and get right to the Battle of the Bulge in Volume III.
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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
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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 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
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LibraryThing member rbanks1
This book is a great read on the first US involvement in WW2 for any history or military buff. It's also an excellent introduction to WW2 for anyone interested in first-class writing on the subject. This is history the way I want to read it, the big picture but with enough detail and research to
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keep you interested.
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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
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thorough history. This book is focused on the US Army, not air or sea power or even the British battles.
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LibraryThing member Castlelass
“Memory, too, has transcendent power, even as we swiftly move toward the day when not a single participant remains alive to tell his tale, and the epic of World War II forever slips into national mythology. The author’s task is to authenticate: to warrant that history and memory give integrity
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to the story, to aver that all this really happened. But the final few steps must be the reader’s. For among mortal powers, only imagination can bring back the dead.”

The first book in the Liberation trilogy provides a riveting account of the Allied landings in North Africa during World War II. Allied troops landed in Algeria and Morocco, overpowered the Vichy French, and fought the Axis forces on the way to Tunisia, the planned launching point for the invasion of Italy. It is a detailed description of tactics, strategy, and impact of military operations. It includes profiles of many commanders, including Commander-in-Chief Eisenhower, Alexander, Bradley, Montgomery, Patton, Rommel, and von Arnim.

This is an exceptional work of non-fiction. Atkinson’s writing is outstanding. As I read this book, the descriptions were so vivid that I felt as if a movie were running through my head.

“Not until dusk did the British vanguard reach the col below Longstop’s northwest face. Rain had transformed the Medjerda valley into a vast brown sea too quaggy even for mules. A brace of bullocks was harnessed to pull a few guns forward. Wheeled vehicles bogged down 5,000 yards from the hill. Even tracked carriers could get no closer than Chassart Teffaha, a farm hamlet two miles away. There, in a damp cellar that stank like a slaughterhouse, surgeons worked by candlelight over boys beyond surgeoning; stretcher bearers dumped another load and headed back into the night without even bothering to fold stretchers stiff with blood.”

The author inserts plentiful quotes from journals, correspondences, and official documents to support his conclusions. I appreciated the inclusion of the many maps, photos, and endnotes. We get a “behind the scenes” view of the interpersonal conflicts and military politics among commanders, but it is not just a view from the top. It is also sprinkled with stories of individual soldiers. Atkinson highlights both mistakes and triumphs. “Confusion and error, valor and misdeed marked this first night of green troops in combat.”

North Africa provided a training ground for the previously untested American troops. By the time they reached Tunis, the troops were battle-hardened and ready for the fierce battles to come. It is important to understand the North African campaign in order to get a full picture of the road to the ultimate victory in Europe. I plan to read the final two books in the trilogy. This is history at its finest. I highly recommend it.
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