A superb account of one of the bloodiest battles of World War II.
Often stepping back to discuss leaders and histories of the numerous Allied units (British, American, French, Polish, Italian, Indian, Canadian), Caddick-Adams, lecturer in Military Studies at Britain’s Defence Academy (Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives, 2011), gives equal time to the fewer, if painfully efficient, German defenders. Using interviews, journals, letters and official records from both sides, he delivers a relentless, blow-by-blow description of small-unit actions enlivened by more than the usual number of vivid personal accounts. Caddick-Adams does not quarrel with historians who argue that Hitler won the Italian campaign since the Allies, despite winning every major battle, never threatened Germany. Few disagree that the February 22 bombing of the abbey was not only unnecessary, but also positively harmful. The German high command had announced that the monastery would not be occupied; the only deaths inside were 230 Italian civilians seeking refuge. German troops occupied the rubble, now an ideal defense, and repulsed attacks for a further three months. Fortunately for civilization, two Nazi officers had earlier urged and overseen the evacuation of the abbey’s immense library, archives and paintings to safety in the Vatican.
There is no shortage of histories of the agonizingly drawn-out debacle at Monte Cassino, but this is certainly one of the best.