As commented in a previous post, this year I planned to do some research and to read on the Italian Campaign during the Second World War. I firstly reviewed James Holland's Sicily 1943 book and in this post I'll do the same with a second book:
Roy Rick Atkinson's The Day of Battle.
The book is part two of The Liberation Trilogy covering the Western Front campaigns: Torch and Tunisia in 1942/43, the Italian front 1943-44; and the Normandy campaign until the final surrender in May 45.
The Day of Battle focuses on Sicily and Italy until the fall of Rome. Therefore it covers Operation Husky, Salerno, Montecassino, Rome and the battles to break the different German defensive lines across the south half of the Italic Peninsula.
The campaign had a promising start with the Sicily invasion (Operation Husky) as described in a previous blog post commenting James Holland's book.
However, the following operations were mired with a lot of problems, including the differing strategic views of the main Allied partners about where to start the conquest of Continental Europe (the Americans were committed to a full effort in France, the British to the Mediterranean). This differeing views resulted in total a lack of clarity of the main objectives and golas for the Allied forces arriving to Italy's continental soil.
Add to this an ill-planned landing operation at Salerno (operation Avalanche in September 1943) in which the Allied army was in the verge of being defeated and to cnduct a potentially catastrophic reembarking operation; the great defending opportunities offered to the Germans by the terrain (numerous river lines, mountainous landscape unsuitable for amour), lack of good metalled roads (or just lack of roads) and finally the terrible weather from October onwards.
The Allied forces in Italy were also continously shrinked, as many divisions were transfered to England for Overlord (initially planned for April/May 44) in addition to the natural manpower wastage caused by the campaign and the weather.
At the end of the day, the Germans fought a series of successful delaying actions, retreating from one fortified line to another, using the rivers crossing east-west and finally consolidating an d area in the north of Italy, occupied until the German surrender in May 1945.
The Day of Battle is another thick 850 pages book of the trilogy. It covers the period between the end of the Tunis Campaign, Husky and then all the way to the liberation of Rome.
But to make the story short, I'll start by the end: I did not like the book and hinestly I cannot recommend it.
For a start, the book could have been 30% (+/-) shorter by just the author being more focused. He spent a lot of space rambling about superflous stories, many times unconnected with the main topic. In addition, he adds all types of small details in the descriptions and instead of making them more realistic and credible, the achieve the opposite: I got bored and many times impatient to know where the author is heading to.
Atkinson also loves gossip, a lot actually: Churchill and Roosevelt meets? You'll learn the detailed menus, where many of the dishes were flown from, the color of the pyjamas used by the British premier, a thorough description of how much Churchill liked to take baths or the amount (and type) of drinks consumed in some these wild parties.
Montgomery crosses the Messina Strait and meets the press? You'll learn that he sipped three coffees with cookies while addressing the journalists. And also that Monty always travelled with his collection of parakeets and canaries in cages.
When describing the operations, Atkinson goes in many places the "James Holland" way: using the personal "voice" of the people involved and from there build up the chapter to describe the actions at a higher altitude. However I thinks he fails in the way he "zooms out" the action, but also in lacking to provide enough good operational detail.
And finally, the book (the electronic version) lacks any maps (!!) I have checked and the printed edition actually DO have maps, so this is negligence on the part of the editor, not the author. In any case this forcved me to navigate continously in Google maps, not the most efficient solution at times specially if reading offline.
In summary, I had a very frustrating experience with this book and the author. I honestly did not enjoyed the reading, skipping significant portions that did not provide any real added value. I did klearn
I'll jump now to James Holland's Italy's Sorrow: A Year of War 1944-45 to cover the final lap of the Italian operations and with this I will conclude my readings on the campaign, at least for the moment.
To note that over the past recent weeks, James Holland has released a few episodes on Italy 1943-44 in his co-hosted podcast channel "We have ways to Make you Talk". It looks like this will be the topic of his his next book; and I guess it will be released by the summer (no later) ready for the annual We Have Ways festival in September, dedicated this year to "1943" a decisive year in the Second World War.