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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Good, 27 Jun 2007
This review is from: Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome (Paperback)
Carol D'este is one of the most interesting, reflective and sympathetic military historians writing today. This is a very good assessment of the mistakes made by Allied forces in trying to break through the Gothic line, resulting in the aborted Anzio landings, and the disastrous battles of Monte Cassino.

The author lays most of the blame for failure at the feet of British Field Marshall Alexander and American General Mark Clark, though many others had a hand in it, including Churchill. But it's the first two who take the bulk of the blame. Alexander comes across as the quintessential gentleman, but a bit of an intellectual lightweight, and devoid of any particular strategic ideas. He didn't put his put down when his decisions were questioned, particularly in relation to Mark Clark. Whilst his diplomatic skills were admittedly essential in dealing with a multi-national force, someone more decisive was needed.

The author also spends much time helping to clear the reputation of Lucas, the American general in command of the Anzio landing forces. Again and again, we see that Lucas could not have succeeded - his force was far too small to do much than hold the beach-head, particularly against the tactically flexible German forces. Anzio was too far away from the main allied line to be supported by it.

Mark Clark comes off worse, though. An unlikeable and extremely vain man, his actions at Anzio and Monte Cassino showed him at his worst. The author roundly condemns Clark for his actions towards the end of the offensive - rather than encircle and crush the German 10th Army, he sped off to Rome to arrange photo shoots and press conferences.

One of the more interesting analyses the author does is of British-American tensions within the allied command. He does an excellent job of putting the attitudes in context. The British were over-cautious partly because of years of defeat at the hand of German forces, partly because British troops were tightly drilled - making them excellent defensive troops, though not so good going forward and using their initiative - but also because Britain had a limited pool of manpower, and could not afford losses. They thought the Americans over-confident, and thought the defeat at Kasserine Pass and the struggle at Salerno did much to justify this. The Americans on the other hand embraced the German doctrine of blitzkrieg, encouraged initiative in their men, and thought the British sluggish and reluctant to press the attack. Of course, there were many commanders on both sides who were astute enough to recognise the merits and limitations of each other's forces, and the author gives space for them in this book. Though strangely enough it often seemed the mid level Corps or Divisional generals who were this reflective, rather than the commanders at the top.

This is an excellent account of the battles at Anzio and Cassino, and a great example of bad planning, decision making, and management in war.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Anzio : Clark, Churchill and Alex on trial, 14 July 2011
N. Brown (UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome (Paperback)
Having just finished reading James Holland's `Italy's Sorrow' I was left perplexed by the author's praise for Generals Mark Clark and Harold Alexander. Surely this could not be right? Surely this bit of historical revisionism was unjustified? In Holland's view Clark and Alex were good commanders because they won in the end. But on that basis all Allied commanders must be superior to their Axis counter-parts. Holland picks up his part of the story of the Italian Campaign in May 1944, just in time to cover the liberation of Rome, which remains the single most controversial part of the whole campaign due to Mark Clark's decision to switch VI Corps line of attack out of Anzio towards Rome. This work by Carlo D'Este is the prequel to that and covers in detail the planning and execution of the breakout battle that still causes so much controversy.

Carlo D'Este is never one to shy away from putting allied leaders under the spotlight and taking apart their decision making with the sort of forensic analysis of the evidence that suggests he missed his vocation as a trial lawyer. Here Churchill, Alexander and Clark get the full D'Este treatment. All are found wanting: Churchill for interfering in strategic military planning with little regard to the realities of the logistical situation; Alexander for being out of his depth and more concerned with maintaining good intra-allied relationships; and Clark for his vanity and poor planning. In the end one can sense the anger in the author at Clark's decision to put his own vain-glory before military expediency. D'Este sets out the case for against Clark in such detail, especially his deliberate evasion of his superiors at a key moment, that one wonders by what evidential basis James Holland felt he could justify giving Clark the benefit of the doubt.

However, this is not just a work covering the well debated controversies of the Anzio campaign. D'Este provides a compelling and often shocking account of the German counter-offensives launched against the beachhead. The chilling detail of the way whole units are chewed up in combat goes to show that those who believe that the Second World War was somehow less `bloody' than the First are truly mistaken.

In my view this is a further work that demonstrates that Carlo D'Este is a military historian of the finest rank. It is regrettable that apart for his first work `Decision in Normandy' and his latest, a biography of Churchill as warlord, his other works are less easily available. I would urge anyone with an interest in World War Two to hunt out his works as he sets a standard other military historians would do well to emulate.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars First class!, 21 Feb 2014
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This work is by far one if the best written on any battle and does much to explain the courses of action and responses that led to one of the worst stalemates of the whole of WW2.

The explanation of the reasons behind Shingle doesn't shed a great deal of further light on the subject - this has been covered in so many written histories and papers that there isn't much new to say (not a criticism of the book or author), but from then on, this work develops into one of the most rounded studies of pretty much any WW2 battle and is by far the best work on Anzio yet written.

His explanation of how each Army fought does a great deal to dispel so much of the sniping that has been written by (admittedly mainly American) authors on the British Infantry conduct in the Beachhead and their 'excessive' losses.
The terrain, the lack of divisions intially slated for the operation, the ferocity of the German response all contribute to subdue such flat arguments about 1st Division's lack of adequate control over the battleground. The tenacity and professionalism of the British Soldier is mentioned time and again and goes to prove how well regarded they should have been to VI Corps command.

Churchill, Alexander and Lucas, all take their fair share of criticism from D'Este, who reserves the most scalding critique for Clark. One gets the impression that the more D'Este learned about Clark's actions the less sense any of the made in the context of fighting and WINNING a war, as opposed to trying to nurture a media celebrity status. Clark's actions bordered on criminally negligent and even his own troops at the time spotted this. Sadly for some, like the gallant Fred Walker, they made too much of an issue of it, whereupon they were removed by Clark.

This is an outstanding piece of work and is THE book for Anzio.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Simply the best book on Anzio, 4 Nov 2011
C. M. Cutts - See all my reviews
This review is from: Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome (Paperback)
I've always had a particular fascination with Anzio. This was the fifth book I've read on the subject. Although the books by Lloyd Clark and William Breuer are good, I'd recommend 'Fatal Decision' if you were to have to pick just one. I won't elaborate further because the previous reviews do a great job. I'm just another voice telling you to buy this!
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Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome
Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome by Carlo D'Este (Paperback - 25 April 2007)
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