A rich account of the campaign Winston Churchill called “a story of high opportunity and shattered hopes, of skillful inception on our part and swift recovery by the enemy, of valor shared by both.”
The Italian theater, writes Clark (War Studies/Royal Military Academy Sandhurst), has long fallen in the shadows of Overlord and what the British call the North West European Campaign, to the extent that most moderns cannot name a single battle—except, perhaps, Anzio, an effort to land Allied troops and secure central Italy. As Gen. Mark Clark boasted, his VI Corps would thus be “the first army in fifteen centuries to seize Rome from the south.” His ambitions were realized, but only after a long winter’s fighting along a “mere sixteen miles of front” into which more than 300,000 men were crowded, with the Germans and Allies roughly equivalent in number. But the Germans were, Clark demonstrates, for the most part better led; the American frontline commander, John Lucas, was singularly ineffective. He recognized his own disinclination to bold action, but only when Lucian Truscott replaced him did the Allied forces break through a tightly coordinated, bitterly held German defensive line. For all the strategic and tactical planning in the world, battles are a collection of odd moments, and Clark ably recounts several memorable ones: Hitler calmly receiving the news that Kesselring’s armies were being thrown back; an American parachutist complaining that the Luftwaffe-targeted rear was less safe than the front, “where we had to endure only machine guns, machine pistols, rifle, mortar, small antitank gun, 75, 105, 88, and occasional 150 and 170 mm fire”; and Churchill complaining of the whole enterprise, “I thought we should fling a wild-cat ashore and all we got was an old stranded whale on the beach,” among many others.
Clark does much to disprove the Italian campaign’s reputation as a sideshow. Highly readable, and of much interest to students of WWII history.