The second volume in a trilogy chronicling the liberation of Europe during World War II focuses on the Allied campaigns in Sicily and Italy, detailing the bloody battles at Salerno, Anzio, and Monte Cassino, as well as the June 1944 liberation of Rome.
While the conquest of Sicily made sense as an air base, the attack of the Italian mainland was a classic folly of Churchill. Italy was not the "soft underbelly" of Europe but ideal defensive terrain for a defender. Any student of military history will know how many armies went into Italy to die there. The Germans managed to contain the American and British attack and turned it into a futile war of attrition. The Americans were further hampered by bad generalship: Mark Clark looked like a general but was a terrible commander. Both Salerno and Anzio were mismanaged and caused needless casualties. It is no wonder that Catch-22 is based on the experiences of the war in Italy, a tragic drôle de guerre.
I am looking forward to the third and final volume that has just been published. Hopefully the Canadian and British contribution is appreciated a bit more than in the present book. Recommended.
I haven't read much about the Italian Campaign. To say nothing would be more correct. I have seen pictures of the utterly destroyed Monte Cassino, read peripheral references in other books to the Sicily, Salerno and Anzio landings. But that's about it. Hence I was not aware of how bloody the battles were. And apparently it is still discussed whether the Italian Campaign was worth the loses or not.
For those of you who do not have English as your native language; Atkinsons books has a very high lix number. I have an 'Advanced English Dictionary' App for my iPhone and had to look up words continuously. But finally had to give in and make some 'qualified deductions' instead as my reading rhythm went haywire. But it was a challenge I happily accepted, it was well worth it.
But Mr. atkinson has to deal with two controversies; the reasons for the invasion of Mainland Italy at all, and the controversial emphasis on capturing Rome, at the expense of maximizing the damage to the German army in italy. In May and early June, 1944, Mark Clark, the USA Commander made a decision to thrust towards the city of Rome rather than closing several road junctions that would have seen the isolation of the top 40% of the German Army in italy, its, Panzers, its paratroops, and its panzer Grenadiers. He got Rome, a whole day before the Overlord landing in Normandy sucked all the publicity away from his Vth Army. The german army got a lot of top quality men and materials away, some of whom ending up fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Atkinson gives us a good portrait of Clark and lays out the reasons for Clark's direct refusal of his theatre Commander's order in order to expand his own media coverage. So this is a useful book, within its limitations.
The War in Italy went on for another nine months after Mr. Atkinson, like the World press,decamps for Normandy in the summer of 1944. but you need to find another book covering the further career of even American troops in this campaign.
He pays a lot of attention to the characters and motivations of generals such as Clark and Patton (less on the British side) providing a convincing and readable story that interestingly switches from the highest to the lowest ranks.
A minor criticism is that I would have liked more on the performance of their equipment, but basically its a very good book about a neglected theatre.
I felt this second entry in the Trilogy trumped the Pulitzer Prize-winning first book, An Army At Dawn. The landscapes of Sicily and Italy make the background more dense, more colorful, and unfortunately, more deadly to those doing the fighting. Soldiers fought and died in famous locations, such as Monte Cassino, and not so famous ones, such as the Rapido River. Gen. Mark Clark's conundrums are carefully and masterfully interwoven with various first-hand battle recollections of screams, sheets of mortar and machine gun fire, smells of burning flesh and cordite, visions of smoke and death, and the harrowing isolation of life on the front.
An amazing amount of research poured into this work, just like its predecessor, and Atkinson's gift of highly-readable narrative turns hundreds of sources into a breathtaking 588 pages. Starting with the invasion of Sicily, the reader follows the participants, high and low, to the invasion of Salerno and then Anzio, bloody battles for the various heavily defended German lines, numerous attempts to take key high ground, such as Monte Cassino, and the tactical decision-making that led to each success or failure. This is simply one of the most complete popular military history books I've ever read, one that will certainly inspire and haunt me for quite some time. I cannot wait for the third and final book in this Trilogy. Five stars.
Anyhow, book was quite good. Sicily got short shrift, but Italy was more than adequately covered. Heavy on details of overall strategy, but some great storytelling esp on LTC Toffey at a more tactical level. Atkinson excels at creating a picture of a person, in words.
My one criticism of the book was that it ended with the capture of Rome in June 1944, when U.S. soldiers fought and died for a whole other year as they climbed higher up the boot. Just because D-Day in Normandy stole the headlines away from the Italian Campaign at the time, doesn't mean we have to also ignore the fighting that continued in Italy from June 1944 to May 1945.
I can't wait for the Atkinson's third and final installment of the trilogy documenting the U.S. Army's war in Europe.
The details are fascinating. The description of the horrific battles to crack the Gustav Line and of the rear area “garritroopers” in Naples are outstanding. I was surprised to find that 10% of the 5th Army was hospitalized with venereal disease at one time or another, and the 60% of the women in Italy were supposed to be infected. I suppose if you put a bunch of young men in proximity to a bunch of starving women, it’s bound to happen; the surprise may be how few rather than how many. (Atkinson notes at one point that many of the streetwalkers in Naples powdered their hair with DDT but doesn’t comment further – in the mistaken belief it could do something about VD? To demonstrate they didn’t have lice? Just as a fashion statement?) I’m also a little disappointed Atkinson didn’t continue with the Italian campaign past the fall of Rome; it was admittedly a sideshow, but sometimes what goes on in the sideshows is just as interesting as the main event. At least four stars.
Mistakes are shown and explained; the suffering of the soldiers and of the civilians are told in full, as are decisions (good or bad ones)