A comprehensive, anecdotal survey of the Italian campaign, with the sweep and cast of characters of a Darryl F. Zanuck epic.
As Holland (Together We Stand: America, Britain and the Forging of an Alliance, 2006, etc.) sagely notes, the war in Italy cost as many Allied troops as the campaign in northwestern Europe; it also lasted until the bitter end of World War II. Yet it is comparatively little known. Everyone has heard of D-Day, but Anzio, Cassino and Salerno are less iconic. The peninsula’s geography was a ferocious enemy all its own, split by tall mountains and narrow, easily defended valleys. Holland ventures that flaws in the supply chain and the shortage of amphibious craft that would have allowed for more extensive beach invasions had their part in extending the war, too, as did the withdrawal of seven divisions and thousands of aircraft for the Normandy landings. “These were decisions made outside the theatre,” writes Holland, “and caused by difficult and often divisive strategic quandaries in Washington and London.” Both Germans and Allies had strong leadership on the ground. Interviewing and profiling veterans on both sides, Holland offers vivid portraits of such commanders as Kesselring, Almond and Alexander, some little or only partially known even to readers versed in the history of the Italian campaign. Holland peppers his text with stirring vignettes of life under fire: a partisan bomb attack against an SS police company in the heart of Rome, a desperate defense of a German paratrooper line against advancing Indian and South African troops. The author does not shy away from the big picture in doing so, writing well of the disagreements in strategy and tactics that divided the United States and Britain, each suspicious of the motives of the other and yet willing to shed blood for its allies.
Less engaging than Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943–1944 (2007), but still of much value to WWII buffs and generalists.