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The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (The Liberation Trilogy) Hardcover – Bargain Price, October 2, 2007
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Amazon Best of the Month, November 2007: Topping a Pulitzer Prize-winning effort is tough; finding originality in a World War II narrative is even tougher. Yet Rick Atkinson accomplishes both with The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. His previous work, An Army at Dawn, won the 2003 Pulitzer in history, but Atkinson has managed to set the bar even higher with his second installment in "The Liberation Trilogy." He descends upon each battlefield with rich historical perspective, tactical analysis, and chilling frontline observations. Cocksure Hollywood bravado is sparse, as Atkinson depicts soldiers fighting for honor, not glory. "We did it because we could not bear the shame of being less than the man beside us," explains one soldier's diary. "We fought because he fought; we died because he died." The result is an incredible portrayal of the courage, sorrow, and determination that came to define our greatest generation. --Dave Callanan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Atkinson surpasses his Pulitzer-winning An Army at Dawn in this empathetic, perceptive analysis of the second stage in the U.S. Army's grassroots development from well-intentioned amateurs to the most formidable fighting force of World War II. The battles in Sicily and Italy developed the combat effectiveness and the emotional hardness of a U.S. Army increasingly constrained to bear the brunt of the Western allies' war effort, he argues. Demanding terrain, harsh climate and a formidable opponent confirmed the lesson of North Africa: the only way home was through the Germans: kill or be killed. Atkinson is pitilessly accurate demonstrating the errors and misjudgments of senior officers, Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, Gen. Mark Clark and their subordinates commanding corps and divisions. The price was paid in blood by the men at the sharp end: British and French, Indians and North Africans—above all, Americans. All that remained of the crew of one burned-out tank were the fillings of their teeth, for one example. The Mediterranean campaign is frequently dismissed by soldiers and scholars as a distraction from the essential objective of invading northern Europe. Atkinson makes a convincing case that it played a decisive role in breaking German power, forcing the Wehrmacht onto a defensive it could never abandon. (Oct. 2)
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Churchill's strategy was to spread out German forces to assist the pending D-Day invasion. The tragedy for the allies in implementing this strategy included many failed assaults on the seemingly impenetrable mountain top site called Cassino. Wave after wave of doomed assaults on Cassino The maxim that it's better to be a non-front line top military leader than a brave young soldier was as true as ever during the long assault on Cassino.
Things were better for the Allies along the coast, where additional firepower gave them the upper hand in this brutal stage of World War II. The overall Italian campaign was noted for its ferocity and high rates of attrition. The Germans could not be everywhere at once and could not afford such losses indefinitely.
Atkinson, a Pulitzer Prize winner, captures the brutality of this campaign and exposes the reality that real war is not glorious. He also demonstrates the phenomenon that many call the fog of war, as leaders were often unable to make informed decisions and many thousands died as a result of that alone. This is a compelling story narrated by the author himself.
Some real strengths of this book are the thumbnail character sketches of many figures, from top generals to division commanders down to small unit leaders and troops. This provides a human face to the ferocity of the fighting. In addition, Atkinson writes well and the book moves quickly.
The work itself covers the Sicily campaign in nice detail, including a sketch of the infamous event in which Patton slapped two soldiers for their alleged cowardice. The book also indicates that some generals were as interested in their own glory as in their troops (e.g., Patton and Montgomery). The part of the book also provides some detail on the skills of the German commander, Kesselring.
Then, the invasion of Italy itself. The book details the questionable Salerno amphibious landing. For instance, lots of poor decisions made this a Hairsbreadth Harry escape for the Allied troops, who, at one point, were in danger of part of the invading force being pushed back into the sea. Mark Clark, the commander of the invasion, did not seem to have full control of events, as he learned how to command the Allied forces.
The ferocity and brutality of the German forces are illustrated--as well as the sometimes inhuman Allied responses (being taken prisoner could be dangerous for troops of either side).
Then, other major battles are well described, with the human face in the forefront. Whether the attack on the Bernhardt or Gustav lines, the latter of which featured the bitter fighting at Monte Cassino, the sanguinary attack on the Rapido River, the bloodletting at Anzio, and so on. The details provide a real sense of the desperation of these and other actions.
So, all in all, this is an important work covering the Sicily and Italy campaigns. While the details may be painful as one reads, they provide a grisly reminder of the terror and horror of war.
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