First volume in a projected WWII trilogy by Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Atkinson, who shows North Africa’s desert battlefields inspiring America’s raw recruits to rise up and defeat Nazi Germany’s dangerous professional army.
Given his success with modern military history (Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War, 1993, etc.), the penetrating historical insights Atkinson brings to bear on America’s 1942–43 invasion of the North African coast are not surprising. Neither the American leadership under Eisenhower nor the GIs themselves understood the level of fury it would take to defeat General Rommel’s Afrika Corps, argues the author. He finds that the relative ease American soldiers had in pushing aside lackluster Vichy French forces led US generals to also expect a token resistance from the German armies. It was anything but token, Atkinson finds; instead of rolling through the German panzers, untested American forces found themselves brutally manhandled by a more experienced enemy and disparaged as inferior soldiers by their British allies. The author describes Eisenhower’s gradual awakening to the need to protect American morale and prestige from British sniping as critical to finding the proper balance between command and international politics. Atkinson also demonstrates that early battle failures such as the one at Kasserine Pass toughened the American soldiers and their leadership: commanders like George Patton and Omar Bradley rose to refute British criticism; GIs learned that defeating the veteran Axis forces would take more personal discipline and sacrifice than they had ever imagined. By the end of the campaign in North Africa, the author convincingly argues, the American army emerged from North Africa ready to lead the Allied forces onto the European continent to finish off the Nazi threat.
The most thorough and satisfying history yet of the campaigns in North Africa. (Two 16-page photo inserts, 18 maps)