Stephen Karlson (shkarlson) wrote in 50bookchallenge,
Stephen Karlson

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Winston Churchill called Italy and the Balkans the soft underbelly of Europe, but Ernie Pyle characterized the Italian campaign more accurately. Rick Atkinson's The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 explains why. Once again, as in An Army at Dawn, history has occurred, and Book Review No. 16 cannot contain spoilers. It's a thick book. It's also well-written, and I finished it in a couple of days of System Improvement Time. That clears the shelf of completed books from the planned Liberation Trilogy, as the third installment has not, to my knowledge, been released.

Again, some vignettes from Patton prove to be based on history, again, some of the coalition troops behaved badly toward the indigenous population, and again the Germans fought hard. This time, however, the conflict was not as much first string against first string as was the case in Africa, because Genls Montgomery and Patton along with some of their units redeployed to England, and Genl Rommel, perhaps with some reassigned troops, prepared the Atlantic Wall. That left an Allied command dominated by Genl Mark Clark to push back Germans commanded by a Luftwaffe officer, Albert Kesselring. It wasn't quite "I will fight it out on this line if it takes all summer," although references to Marcus Aurelius Clarkus recall discontent with Genl Grant pushing into Virginia. Great, too, was Genl Clark's discontent when, a day after the successful invasion of Rome (Hitler had a lucid moment and declared it an open city) Operation Overlord began in Normandy. The fall of Rome, however, presaged a continued unremarked slug further into Italy, with Allied and German units moved to the south of France, on neither side in quantities to materially affect the pace of the advance.

Mr Atkinson emphasizes the constraints military logistics impose on a war plan. If a demonstration in Africa is necessary either to placate Stalin or to protect the British Empire, what next? Provisioning an army proves to be easier than repositioning it, as there is insufficient transport to bring reinforcements to Britain from the United States for Overlord and return the African forces there at the same time. Landing craft can only be in one place at a time, and craft used to land on Sicily and later on Italy proper are also required for Overlord. Thus a protracted slog in Italy becomes the least bad alternative, given that troops are in the Mediterranean theater. The slog does clear German naval forces out of the Mediterranean, and the slow advance allows construction of air bases from which heavy bombers can reach all of Germany.

I will repeat my griping about endnotes. A lot of research went into The Day of Battle. It's described, in an end section, on a page-by-page basis. There are no endnotes as I understand them, with numbers. My preference remains for footnotes at the foot of each page. That's a combination of scholarly discipline and old-fashioned stubbornness, the other approaches are cheaper if less precise.

There are numerous maps in the book, which clarify the situation in each battle zone. It frustrates, however, to have each map limited to the area of operation of one invasion force. The Italian campaign began with an invasion from Sicily to the Salerno area; this was followed up in an improvisation with a second landing at Anzio with the hopes of getting behind the main German lines. Italy, however, unlike the James River area, is too mountainous for a successful invasion closer to Rome to rapidly get to Rome. The Salerno force had to slug past Monte Cassino and numerous other hills. The Anzio force had to link up. These forces were often close to each other, but the operation-specific maps don't make clear how close or how far they were.

The Day of Battle does clarify much about a relatively neglected campaign of World War II. I await the third installment.

(Cross-posted to Cold Spring Shops.)
Tags: history, military, pulitzer winner
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