A British historian’s look at one of the less-familiar actions on the European front in World War II.
Cross (The Battle of the Bulge: Hitler’s Last Hope, 2014, etc.) begins in the war’s early years, when it became clear that the United States would join its European allies to roll back the German conquests. But while the broad principle was clear enough, Winston Churchill thought the attack should go through the Balkans while the Americans and the Soviets argued for southern France. In consequence, the invasion, originally scheduled for right after the Normandy landings in June, was delayed until mid-August, when British, American, and French forces came ashore near St. Tropez on the Mediterranean coast. At first, opposition was minimal; the Germans’ main forces were already committed in the north and in Russia. Eventually, American forces, trying to cut off the German line of retreat, went through tough battles near the towns of Valence and Lyon. In the end, they reached the German border, though much battered, and the Allied armies joined up for the final push into the enemy homeland. Cross enlivens the story with colorful anecdotes, such as the tale of American soldiers following what they thought was one of their own tanks on a nighttime patrol only to discover at daylight that it was a German Panzer. The author also highlights many interesting characters, notably Audie Murphy, one of the most decorated American soldiers of the war. Cross gives detailed accounts of the units engaged in each action, with plentiful quotes from the commanders on both sides. But while the details of all the units that took part in each skirmish will fascinate many military history buffs, they will put off more casual readers. Readers without an intimate knowledge of French geography may need to supplement their reading with a detailed map; the maps included in the volume don’t show some frequently mentioned sites, such as Dijon.
A solid chronicle for World War II reference collections.