German Defences in Italy in World War II (Fortress) Paperback – 1 Jun 2006
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About the Author
After completing an Honours Degree in History at the University of Lancaster, Neil Short gained a Master's Degree in Military History at the University of Leeds. He is a fully qualified management accountant, but in his spare time he has continued his interest in military history and has published a number of books and articles on modern fortifications. Neil lives with his wife and daughter in Somerset, UK. Chris Taylor was born in Newcastle, UK, but now lives in London. After attending art college in his home town, he graduated in 1995 from Bournemouth University with a degree in computer graphics. Since then he has worked in the graphics industry and is now a freelance illustrator for various publishing companies, He has a keen interest in filmmaking and is currently co-producing a movie.
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Like any Osprey title, there's relatively little space to cover a large topic, but they tend to be great introductions with good photos, diagrams, maps and they are written by people who've done their research. This title hits all those marks. It is well-written and organized. As the other review states, it's a great overview including the rationale for the locations of the defensive lines, their composition (turrets, bunkers, natural obstacles etc.), and separate sections covering the construction of the fortifications for the main defensive lines, what troops defended the areas, what troops assaulted the fortifications and when, and the eventual results. These summaries are short and to the point, and what one would expect. For example, the Cassino operations are covered in about two pages, detailing the 4 assaults and the fortifications of the Gustav line. That's sufficient, and the interested reader can find lots of other books on the relevant battles! There's more focus on the British/Commonwealth than U.S. operations, but it's not terrible. The focus is on the fortifications rather than the troops.
Mr. Short has given us a nice little volume, but it fall short in a few ways that speak more to the editor and publisher than the author. The book is divided into several sections, and that leads to the main reason I've given it 3 stars. This organization separates the 'logic' of the locations of various defensive lines, their construction and then combat around each line. This leads to a lot of repetition, 'wasting' pages in my view. For example, there are two full-page maps listing all the different defensive lines from Sicily up the boot to the border with Switzerland and Austria. The various lines are mentioned again and again in South to North order in the various sections (which makes sense), and then near the end there's an alphabetical table listing all the lines. This seems like needless repetition. Likewise, the figure captions are almost word-for-word out the body of the text. So the installation of the MG panzernester is covered in detail in the text, then the illustration repeats that text. That repetition means that we miss out on bigger photos, more photos and/or more information from the author.
The maps and computer rendered drawings are nice and clear, but while they detail the locations of turrets, bunkers etc., it would be nice to have included the Allied paths of advance. There's abundant empty/green space on the schematic maps to show this.
Osprey seems to have moved to a smaller font size and more white space on the outer margins. That's not the fault of the author, but typifies Osprey books now. The alleged 64 pages include the front and back covers (2 pages each), so there are really 60 pages of content. They've always done this, but it is somewhat annoying. Since when did the covers count as pages? The version I received has a different cover, but the content and formatting inside are likely no different.
In short this is a good title, interesting and well done, but flawed. If you can get it cheap (like I did), then it's well worth getting. The full-price is inflated, and somewhat off-putting.
The book also, just as importantly, smashes the myth that these defense lines were strong well-made fortifications that were well thought. As General Bessel, a German engineer familiar with the defense lines pointed out (page 24 of book):
"The line was without depth, lacked emplacements for heavy weapons, and was little more than a chain of light machine-gun posts. Fields of fire had not been cleared, anti-tank obstacles were rudimentary and the `main line' ran across forward slopes [i.e. a good target for allied artillery and aerial observers]. Indeed, von Vietinghoff after inspecting the line wondered if in fact they had been done by soldiers".
One major weakness of the book is that field works and trench works were not discussed enough, especially considering how important they were to the lines. Nevertheless, despite this weakness, still a fairly good introduction to the topic.
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