Tells the dramatic story of the titanic battle for Western Europe from D-Day to the thrust to the heart of the Third Reich.This book is the magnificent conclusion to Rick Atkinson's acclaimed Liberation Trilogy about the Allied triumph in Europe during World War II. It is the twentieth century's unrivaled epic: at a staggering price, the United States and its allies liberated Europe and vanquished Hitler. In the first two volumes of his bestselling Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson recounted how the American-led coalition fought through North Africa and Italy to the threshold of victory. Now he tells the most dramatic story of all -- the titanic battle for Western Europe. D-Day marked the commencement of the final campaign of the European war, and Atkinson's riveting account of that bold gamble sets the pace for the masterly narrative that follows. The brutal fight in Normandy, the liberation of Paris, the disaster that was Operation Market Garden, the horrific Battle of the Bulge, and finally the thrust to the heart of the Third Reich -- all these historic events and more come alive with a wealth of new material and a mesmerizing cast of characters. Atkinson tells the tale from the perspective of participants at every level, from presidents and generals to war-weary lieutenants and terrified teenage riflemen. When Germany at last surrenders, we understand anew both the devastating cost of this global conflagration and the enormous effort required to win the Allied victory. With the stirring final volume of this monumental trilogy, Atkinson's accomplishment is manifest. He has produced the definitive chronicle of the war that unshackled a continent and preserved freedom in the West. - Publisher.
This one is about the last year of the war in Europe, from D-Day to the fall of Berlin and beyond.
Atkinson's genius is to tell the story about soldiers on the division level and by the squad, in clear sharp easy to understand prose that never loses sight of the fact that there are people down there peering through the fog of battle and making guesses that sometimes win battles - and sometimes lose them.
He can flash effortlessly from generals in their command posts (sometimes fantastically equipped manor houses and chateaus) to privates crouching in a basement waiting for the flames to die down.
He is a master of the little vignette that perfectly sums up the moment.He has read letters, newspaper reports, diaries, and it all shows.
He looks over the shoulders of Dwight Eisenhower, and Bradley and Patton, and some lesser lights too. The conventional wisdom I think about Ike was that he wasn't much of a combat general, but he was good at holding the Allied Coalition together. This book sheds some light on both sides of that "but".
Some people seem to think that the war was over and done after the D-Day Landings. Those people ought to get out more.
And if you're the kind of person who doesn't reads military history, generally, well you might just give this one a try.
"The Battle of the Bugle had affirmed once again that war is never limited, but rather a chaotic, desultory enterprise of reversal and advance, blunder and elan, despair and elation".
It takes a great writer to describe chaos and make you see it - and make you understand it.
Very highly recommended
I will definitely go back and read the previous two volumes!
Coming in at 640 pages, this is a book that will take you days if not weeks to finish. For those unfamiliar with the Second World War or the Western Front, this makes for a good grounding and introduction. Some of the most interesting passages discuss and showcase the troubles Eisenhower encountered in Europe while dealing with the likes of British and French commanders whose egos often took center stage. Too often their ineptitude and callous disregard for their allies resulted in missed opportunities and needless casualties straining relations and nerves on a daily basis. Combined with logistical difficulties that took numerous divisions out of the line and held up offensive operations along the front, the achievements of the allies need to be lauded when seen for what they were able to overcome. Descriptions of the more important battles – Normandy, Market Garden, Hürtgen Forest, and the Ardennes offensive – get the usual majority of attention. But other operations are also touched on with allied failures and missed opportunities coming to the forefront of what little analysis is offered. I was surprised to see the limited coverage of the liberation of concentration and labor camps; at most one or two dozen pages were devoted to the discovery of the genocidal campaign waged by the Third Reich.
Atkinson commands a wide range of knowledge when it comes to the history of the Western Front and the bibliography and endnotes attest to that. Unfortunately, the best he can do is regurgitate all that information for his readers while practically omitting any analytical conclusions. What analysis there is usually comes from quotes of participants, ranging from the highest echelons of the military and government to the average private in a foxhole. The end result is that while at times there is some analysis for why the allies were successful in their operations (again, mainly relying on quotes and opinions of participants and at times historians) there is an obvious lack of such scrutiny for the axis. Furthermore, when stepping outside of the Western Front there is an obvious lack of context.
The Eastern Front is mentioned numerous times throughout this volume. The harsh conditions German formations experienced against the Red Army are often the barometer which German soldiers measure the western allies against. In one case, during operation Market Garden, a German soldier comments that he’s fought a battle harder than any he experienced in Russia. Unfortunately, there’s no way to know exactly what he experienced on the Eastern Front; thus there is no real way to qualify this statement with what we know about the Eastern Front. As much as this quote adds to our understanding of the violence that was encountered, the reader is also left wanting more and not knowing how to contextualize what he’s just read. While this is a rather minor point, similar weaknesses are evident throughout the text. Another example is when discussing the offensive in the Ardennes. Instead of pointing out that the allies asked the Red Army to move up their offensive in January to help alleviate the damage done by the German attack, the author contends that the German forces utilized in the Ardennes made possible the success of the Soviet January offensive. This is a rather cheap attempt to make amends for the mistakes the western allies made and make further sense of the casualties they suffered.
Nevertheless, for all its faults and weaknesses ‘The Guns at Last Light’ showcases that the ‘clean’ war of good vs. evil that is so often portrayed in the media was hardly the case on the ground. The liberation of Europe was a multi-faceted event that took the lives of hundreds of thousands on both sides and extended the suffering to the civilian sector at every step of the way – from allied bombing raids to German and allied reprisals. Those interested in an introduction to the western allied campaign in Europe would do well to invest in this volume while keeping in mind that this is still a 640 page tip of a much larger iceberg.
So, yet another book on the war in northwest Europe. What new things did this one have to offer?
The account of Dragoon, and the campaign in southern France, is more complete than I've seen anywhere else. Atkinson kinda sorta admires Devers. He kinda sorta understands why the French were so difficult. (One French general made a remark at the end of the war to the effect that "We have fought these many months, often on the same side.")
The account of the Rhine battles is very thorough, not eclipsed by the Ardennes offensive, as is the case in so many other histories.
Montgomery is a pompous ass even in Atkinson's telling, but Atkinson buys the idea that Montgomery meant all along for the Americans to break out after the British pinned the Germans down. Atkinson has dug up some quotes that almost make this believable.
Atkinson gives a very balanced perspective on Patton, making him neither superhero nor overrated miscreant. He admires Patton's campaigns of movement but does not pull punches about the bungled POW rescue attempt or Patton's effort to slather lipstick on the pig that was the Sherman tank.
There's no whitewashing the awfulness of war, as waged by either side. But he offers no apologies for Allied victories. I could probably do without the clucking over the Americans who summarily executed a bunch of concentration camp guards. I've got a feeling they could have been successfully defended by reference to the Lieberman Code and the clauses in the Geneva and Hague conventions about the laws of war not protecting those who grossly violate the laws of war.
So, I can find nits to pick. But I think you all would much enjoy this one. As I said, much better than the second volume in the trilogy.
Atkinson's faults are minor and remain the same as in his other works, an overabundance of biographical detail on supporting players in his narrative and the occasional overly long focus on battles of indeterminate outcome. Still, The Guns at Last Light is very good and well worth the read.
The pieces are all there in this third book in the trilogy, but unlike the first two books, where we got solid details of fighting in Africa, Sicily, and Italy, this book felt compacted. Individual battles and movements were consumed in the overriding larger narrative. Despite the length, this book would best have been split in two, with action up through Market Garden being the first book, and the winter campaigns and run into Berlin the second. Because so much was packed into this book, whole pieces of the narrative are rushed through in order to get to what Atkinson wanted to focus on. I didn't get this from the first two books and would have loved for the author to slow down a bit and give the reader more detail of actions and decisions at the front-line level. So much of the narrative takes place at the general officer level that the soldier fighting for his life and that of his buddies is often glossed over. While there are certainly some decent scenes of battle described, I agree with another reviewer who mentioned the anecdotal nature of the narrative.
The battle maps are excellent, as expected, and overall, despite the drawbacks, this is a solid narrative of the war in Europe in 1944 and 1945. Certainly by no means an exhaustive study of the campaigns nor of the participants, but a decent read for anyone wanting a general officer-level view of the defeat of Germany.
This is not an all encompassing history of WWII. This is the American perspective, in Europe during WWII. Churchill and Monty make appearances, but the focus is on the American Army, top to bottom.
The author uses many first person accounts which take the reader from the top with men like Eisenhower, Marshall and Churchill, all the way down to the lowest private on the line. This format brings into focus the challenges faced by the army from June ‘44 through May ‘45. These include the lack of planning on the part of the Allies after they were off the D-Day beaches, the terrain, the lack of fuel, Monty, the supply issues faced by all the armies, the weather.
I really enjoyed this book and I feel like I learned many new details about the war in Europe from it. I was able to follow the action pretty easily. Maps appear in the chapters when they are needed. Some battle histories are filled with unit names and it can make it a challenge to follow the narrative. Mr. Atkinson does not lose that narrative. There is just enough of that type of information to provide the information and not lose the train of thought.
I felt like the section on Malta and the end of the book was a little rushed and not as detailed as the rest of the book or the previous 2 books in the trilogy.I felt like there was more to learn about in these sections and this just didn't feel as fulfilling and satisfying as the rest of the trilogy.
I highly recommend this book and the other two books in the trilogy, if you are looking for a well written and entertaining look at the American Army as it fights its way across the Continent during WWII, you can’t go wrong with this book.
Atkinson sprinkles his narrative with relatively unknown (at least by me) small-scale anecdotes without ever losing view of the major strategic issues faced by the allies. Moreover, nearly every chapter contains at least one excellent map to guide the reader through the details of the geographical maneuvering of the armies.
A major theme discussed throughout the book was the bickering among various generals and political leaders about the correct strategy to defeat the Nazis. Churchill bitterly opposed the Allies landing in Southern France after the Normandy invasion, preferring instead bolstering the attack in Italy. Although Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed that an American (Eisenhower) would be Supreme Commander of the allied forces, they apparently never fully convinced British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery that he should not be (in some cases, was not) in command. An even pricklier “ally” was the imperious Charles De Gaulle, who managed to provoke the enmity of every non-Frenchman with whom he dealt. One British wit said that a staple of De Gaulle’s diet was the hand that fed him. Eisenhower once told George Marshall, “Next to the weather, the French have caused me more trouble than any other single factor. They even rank above landing craft.”
Some of the juicy details that vivified the narrative were:
Prior to D-Day, the Allies identified senior German railway officials for assassination by the French resistance in order to complicate enemy logistics once the invasion took place.
GI’s who received the Medal of Honor also received a $2 per month raise.
American dentists extracted 15 million teeth (more than one per soldier) from the men serving in the military during the war.
Daily combat consumption (from fuel to ammunition to cigarettes) was 41,298 pounds per soldier!
Churchill was said to speak French “remarkably well, but understands very little.”
The U.S. Army hospitalized 929,000 men for “neuropsychiatric” reasons (battle fatigue, shell shock, or PTSD) during the war, including as many as one in four during the Battle of the Bulge.
Atkinson is even-handed in his evaluation of the actions of key leaders, which often means he is highly critical of them. Montgomery and De Gaulle are seen as capable, but monumentally egotistical. Patton is shown to be an able tank commander, but occasionally very unwise, as with his unimaginative tactics to take the city of Metz.
Evaluation: This book can serve as an excellent introduction to the war in Western Europe for readers unfamiliar with those events, but it can also be edifying for those who have read a great deal about them. I highly recommend it.
I imagine some could quibble with how much time was spent - or not spent - on various aspects, but I feel Atkinson got it right. This is an amazing compilation and accounting of the war in western Europe from the western allies' (non-Soviet) point of view.
Atkinson deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for An Army at Dawn. This last volume is written in the same engaging, journalistic style, incorporating letters, newspaper articles, and personal diaries. The Guns at Last Light is a rousing accomplishment.
Atkinson takes on a number of themes throughout the narrative. He explains the strategy of the leaders and war planners, including the sharp divergences of opinion among the Allied powers on how to best proceed. He describes the leadership of the Western armies and is critical and praising in his assessments, particularly of Eisenhower and Montgomery. He recounts the battles in terms that are clear and lucid. In many military histories battlefield maneuvers are hard to follow, but Atkinson is good at making things understandable. The excellent maps are a great aid here. He also portrays the tenacity of Axis resistence which, given the obvious hopelessness of their situation, speaks to their rabid allegience to the Reich.
Perhaps most noteworthy, however, is the book's portrayal of the war through the experiences of the average GI. One really gets a sense of how the soldiers perceived the horror, angst, fear and sorrow that was visited with intensity on the millions of soldiers and airmen who mounted this phenomenal conflict.
There might be a tendency, since the war in the western theater was concluded in less than one year from the invasion at Normandy, that the final push to victory was a cake walk. Atkinson's book shows that this is a totally fallacious view; the war over those months was incredibly destructive and as tough on its participants as any in history.
And one more time I have read that General Patton was a flamboyant personality and that he still did not got through the Siegfried Line 'like shit through a goose'. That 'Monty' was meticulous and not overly popular among he's American peers but very popular among his men. And that Eisenhower was as much a politician, with solid skills in 'human resources management, as he was a general.
This time I also learned quite a bit of the role and deeds of the French Army and the internal strife among it's generals. That Charles de Gaulle was headstrong and self-conscious and that his nickname - among others - was 'Deux Metres'.
All this together with appalling accounts of deaths by the thousands, sufferings, atrocities, madness, annihilation, heroism and cowardice. Of seized and missed opportunities as well as right and wrong decisions, all made in the fog of war. It all ending with the final collapse of the Third Reich in May 1945.
This - one more time - left me marveled by the destructive power and the vast amount of materiel and manpower involved. And left me kind of surprised that all this 'only' lasted for eleven months.
I don't know where Rick Atkinson differs from other great authors like Antony Beevor, Max Hastings or Stephen E. Ambrose, but there is this 'something'. And I can't define that 'something'; It may be the language, it may be the 'flow' in the book, it may be . . . ?
Bottom line is that I can only recommend this book whole-hearted to any and every person who take an interest in the subject. That be the casual reader as well as the reader with many book 'under the belt'
While Atkinson mentions the Soviet effort many times, the focus on American victory ultimately fails to truly value the overwhelming Soviet contribution in breaking the Wehrmacht. The willingness of the German soldiers to fight on for a lost cause and folly in 1944 and 1945 in the West is truly astonishing. While not as mad as Brad Pitt's zombie Nazi attacks in "Fury", the German soldiers fought to the last in clinging on to indefensible inches of territory. Supply and logistics defeated the Wehrmacht both by the internal lack of resupply and the massive supply chain the United States built up.
The part about the liberation of the concentration camps is very movingly told and presents a good picture what the war was about, even though the true nature of the horrors was known to the Allies only after the war had been won. Given Atkinson's focus on the generals and the soldiers, he avoids most of the setup of the Cold War. Overall, a highly readable account of the US armies' effort in the European theater.