rating: 4 of 5 stars
Atkinson follows his previous work "Army at Dawn" (about the Allied invasion of North Africa in WWII) with the account of the Allied invasion of Italy that followed. The book focuses on the growth of the American Army in both number and experience. After North Africa there were 4 combat experienced American divisions. With green divisions arriving in Europe in preparation for the invasion of Western Europe that was sure to come, the Americans had the task of learning how to wage war. And that meant learning lessons in North Africa and Italy, then passing them on to the soldiers preparing in England.
Atkinson takes a series of campaigns, and looks at them from the point of view of the commanders and the soldiers. The decisions that were made out of caution or aggressiveness. Soldiers who had their first experiences of brutality, the mistakes that lead to either defeat, death or mutilation, And the plain hardness required to survive. You get the feel of desperation, from general to private, and sort of get what motivates them to do things that sometimes look outright stupid and self-destructive, because they had to act on what they knew, not what they did not.
Atkinson also goes beyond looking at the British and Americans, but also touches on the colonials, the Free French from North Africa and the British colonies (India, Gurkhas, etc.) the fact that he touches on them makes this seem that much more comprehensive.
I liked the fact that Atkinson does not present anyone as heroes or demons. Leaders were not presented as merely geniuses, idiots, or gloryseekers. Individual soldiers were not merely heroic or monsters, but everyone there had conflicting motivations, abilities and pressures. And all trying to function in the chaos of war.
View all my reviews.