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on 22 January 2008
I bought Rick Atkinson's "An Army at Dawn" (which follows the North African campaign from Operation Torch to Tunis) and, like many people, have been eagerly awaiting his newest book which covers Sicily and Italy.

The book rumbles from one end of Italy to the other, following the campaign in detail, with clear maps and some excellent photos. It being primarily a book about the American fighting in Italy, non-American units are sidelined in that the level of detail devoted to them is far less. Atkinson's writing style is at times florid but he never fails to point out the brutality, the humanity and the sacrifice.

There are minor errors scattered through the book, which an editor with a comprehensive knowledge of WW2 would have picked up. These include incorrect designations for weapons or vehicles or wrong calibre sizes for artillery. They aren't anything more than a niggle, but they are there.

The biggest weakness of the book, though, and the reason I gave it 4 instead of 5 stars, is that Atkinson has a Montgomery axe to grind, and grind it he does. He contrasts him unfavourably with Mark Clark, and in my opinion glosses over Clark's numerous faults.

Yes, we all know Monty was a pompous, overbearing, arrogant man. Atkinson's criticisms of him, though, imply that he was a poor general, which he was not. Atkinson objects to Montgomery's refusal to risk casualties, which is exactly the reason his men loved him - they knew he would not risk their lives without a good reason.

Atkinson does, however, gloss over Mark Clark's failings, which include his almost incessant self-promotion, his lack of strategic vision and his unhealthy opinion of the fighting strength of the British and French. Clark's extraordinary disregard for casualties is also not emphasised enough, in my opinion.

If you can ignore the at times excessive bleating about Monty and the occasional fawning over the much-overrated Clark, this is a superb book, broad, deep and thoroughly researched.
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on 11 May 2016
Having read, and enjoyed, Rick Atkinson's 'The Long Gray Line' I thought that this author had accrued enough credit with me to make it worth my while reading this book. Prior to starting it I looked at some of the mixed reviews here on Amazon, and I noted that there were a few regarded this book as being a very American view of the Italian campaign, some even stating that it was American good, British bad. Having now finished the book I regard that as being somewhat unfair. Be in no doubt, to the book's secondary title of 'The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944' should be added the words 'from an American perspective', but the criticisms of the British performance are no worse than what has appeared in many other books written by British authors. The criticisms of individuals and units in the campaign were fairly evenly spread around; Montgomery was stuffy, pompous, egotistical, ponderous in attack, behaviour that has been described in dozens of other accounts, whereas with Mark Clark lived down to the nickname that he acquired of Marcus Aurelius Clarkus.

Whilst this is a very accessible account of the Italian campaign it rarely strays out the author’s American orientated comfort zone. I get the impression that beyond the official British history of the campaign, and rather bizarrely some quotes from Spike Milligan’s war memoirs, very little effort was invested in finding out much about the British contribution. The use of the name ‘Tommies’ for the British and ‘Yanks’ for the Americans becomes a bit annoying after a while, as does the authors flowery allusions to past Roman campaigns, which I skipped towards the end because they added nothing. The book is littered with annoying spelling mistakes, probably generated by some spelling checker that has no idea of the idiosyncrasies of British slang. Quoting a British soldier, on hearing about the Italian capitulation, as saying that the Italians have ‘jagged it in’ is just lazy proof-reading.

The most interesting facts that I got from the book were: the lining up and killing of German POWs by American troops in Sicily, the German air-raid on the port of Bari that released mustard gas that was being stockpiled just in case the Germans resorted to chemical warfare, and the campaign of mass rape on Italian women and children conducted by Moroccans fighting with the French. Clearly some things don’t change.

As a highly readable account of the campaign in Sicily and Italy from an American perspective, this book works fine. It is very much in keeping with the Max Hastings, Andrew Roberts, James Holland school of commercial popular war history, and there is nothing wrong with that if it gets people to go beyond the History channel on TV.
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on 2 December 2010
I was impressed by the detail and research content of the first part of Rick Atkinson's Trilogy 'An Army at Dawn'. It seemed to make sense of the situation described to me by two relatives who served in that part of North Africa.

However, I am disappointed in his follow up book. It seems more partisan and omits some details which I feel would have been included before. My father was always distrustful of the American Army and Airforce due to his first hand experience of them. Rick's first book helped to explain why this might be so. This, his second book doesn't.

For example, use the index for 'British Army Royal Artillery' and you find some quotes from Spike Milligan's books. What you do not find is anything meaningful, such as any reference to the bombing of the Royal Artillery's 74th Medium Regiment by the American Air Force at Cassino. This resulted in 35 dead and injured, with a gun and equipment destroyed. As the USAAF had previously bombed the same unit in North Africa resulting in the CO being invalided back to the UK this incident should have been included as an example of why distrust between the two forces might fester.
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on 30 October 2014
I bought this book during a visit to SE Sicily where we encountered several WWII cemeteries but heard little about their backgrounds. As it turns out, the very excellent "The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy" devotes about one-third of its substance to the 1943 landings in Sicily and the relatively short period of time it took to wrest the island from the Italians and Germans. For our purposes, it was sufficient to explain what happened in the areas around Siracusa, Gela and Catania where we were traveling. Thankfully, the action was over relatively quickly and Allied (and Italian) losses here were comparatively light. Fighting in the north of Sicily was quite a different story, particularly around Mt. Etna and Catania.

Author Rick Atkinson's great accomplishment in this massive account of the Sicilian/Italian campaigns is the skillful weaving of strategies, battle plans, and politics with actual on-the-ground events and personal experiences of individual soldiers and military leaders. In the latter case, he has gone to some extremes to provide details--often opinions or observations from colleagues and friends--of the prominent military leaders involved in these battles---Eisenhower, Patton, Montgomery, Alexander, Clark, Kesselring, etc.

The takeaway for me from this carefully detailed chronicle was more or less a surprise. I had always bought into the idea that in this "good war" against the Nazis and fascism, the Allied forces followed well-thought out strategies and applied careful tactics on the ground. Author Atkinson, without being hysterical about it, is saying that both strategies and tactics were often badly flawed and the products of political compromise and/or personal rivalries. In the extreme, during the Italian campaign--prior to 1944--tactics and battles came to resemble the disastrous and wrong-headed approaches of WWI, where troops were flung against well-entrenched enemy troops without a prayer of success.

If anything, this book--and others in the series--makes the point that the results of war are rarely predictable and that military leaders often resort to the use of overwhelming numbers and mass bombing in lieu of clever planning, patience and political maneuvering.
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on 25 May 2009
"Soldiers walking through a killing field sometimes stomped on the distended bellies of dead Germans to hear the flatulent noises the corpses made. `Slowly I am becoming insensitive to everything,' wrote one soldier in his diary. `God in Heaven, help me to keep me humanity.'" - from THE DAY OF BATTLE

Were I to poll the common American on the street, I suspect that those even cognizant of World War Two at all would confirm what I suspect to be the self-centeredness of the popular mythology surrounding the U.S. role in the war against Nazi Germany, i.e. that it was the United States that pretty much single-handedly won the war against the Third Reich with a little help from our English-speaking cousins in the British Commonwealth forces, and that the apocalyptic battles and combat deaths in the millions that occurred on the Eastern Front would be relegated to the Forgotten War. Moreover, as far as the Western Theater is concerned, the awareness would center on the American victories in France and Germany following the D-Day invasion. After all, what legends there are have been built around the Normandy landing itself, the subsequent dash by Patton's Third Army across France, the stubborn defense of Bastogne, and perhaps the seizure of the Remagen Bridge across the Rhine. Would John Q. Citizen on the street even know that the U.S. Army fought in North Africa? And Sicily - wasn't that where George. C. Scott slapped a dogface?

Author Rick Atkinson has previously written a superlative account of America's North African campaign, An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 (Liberation Trilogy). And in THE DAY OF BATTLE, he now gives us an exceptional narrative summary of the conquest of Sicily and the subsequent slow and brutal slog up Italy's boot to culminate in the capture of Rome, an eleven-month ordeal characterized too often by suspect strategy, unimaginative tactics and leadership at corps levels, dismal weather and near-impossible topography, and friction between top American and British generals that almost reached the level of insubordination:

"`(General Mark Clark, Fifth Army Commander) appears never to have accepted (General Sir Harold) Alexander (Commander, Allied Armies in Italy) as his real commander,' wrote W.G.F. Jackson, an author of the official British history. Later, Clark claimed he had warned Alexander that he would order Fifth Army `to fire on the (British) Eighth Army' should (its commander, General Oliver) Leese attempt to muscle in on (the capture of) Rome. Shocking if true; General Alex disputed the story."

Indeed, the only reasons the Allies seemed to have prevailed at all were their overwhelming superiority in artillery and air coverage and the abundance of war-making materials. Had the Germans had even parity in those parameters, the skill of their leadership and the fighting capabilities of their battle-hardened troops might have achieved at least a stalemate if not driven the bickering invaders back into the Med.

Atkinson's style is not to get bogged down in the mundane mechanics of field maneuver. Rather, he paints the big picture and then illuminates the whole by spotlighting on the battlefield fortunes of selected units and the experiences and personalities of individual fighters and commanders. His narrative is thus richly engaging and informative as he surveys the conflict from Sicily to Salerno to San Pietro to Ortona to the Rapido River to Anzio to Cassino back to Anzio and, finally, to Rome.

THE DAY OF BATTLE includes twenty eminently useful maps, the allied chains of command for both the Sicily invasion and Operation Diadem, the final drive to Rome in May 1944, two extensive sections of photos, 141 pages of Notes, and 31 pages of Selected Sources; Atkinson did his homework.

As the strategic necessity for an invasion of Italy still causes heated debate, the author suggests a practical answer. At the cessation of hostilities in North Africa, where could the victorious Allied forces have otherwise been sent? Not back to England, certain to soon overflow with fresh Yanks arriving for the Normandy assault. Kept idle in North Africa? Certainly not with Josef Stalin clamoring for a second front to relieve pressure on his Red Army. If not Italy then, where? Following a certain inexorable logic, it was a battle that had to be fought.

In the end, it was supremely ironic that the glory associated with the capture of Rome, so ardently desired for the Fifth Army by its temperamental, self-serving, and haughty commander, Mark Clark, proved to be so ephemeral. It dominated newspaper headlines for perhaps a day before being relegated to the back pages by Eisenhower's cross-channel amphibious assault on the French beaches. From then to the end of the European war, the Italian front was but a backwater sideshow. As correspondent Eric Sevareid recalled of the news:

"Most of us sat back, pulled out cigarettes and dropped our half-written stories about Rome on the floor. We had in a trice become performers without an audience ... a troupe of actors who, at the climax of their play, realize that the spectators have all fled out the door."
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on 15 March 2015
Dear oh dear. Although I found this book interesting I just had to write a review about it's bias toward the Americans and almost contempt toward the British.You would think the British played no part in the Italian campaign after reading this book.I was a bit surprised and disappointed about this,especially as I had already read An Army At Dawn and found that to be a more balanced and fair account of the war in north Africa.Not taking away from the bravery of anyone who fought in the war,I thought Mr.Atkinson was quick to praise every other nationality and equally quick to criticize the British.Fair enough,he didn't make out that every thing the Americans did was right or good,but he didn't have anything positive to say about the British at all.
I have bought The Guns At Last Light and am looking forward to reading it,but I hope the final installment of the trilogy is kinder and fairer to the nation that had been at war since 1939, and whose people and armed forces had fought on alone against the Nazis when everyone else had succumbed to them.
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on 29 September 2016
I have read all of the trilogy and can say that I enjoyed them immensely. It is true that Atkinson writes from an American point of view but this is only to be expected. What I would say is that he does the British no favours but is also critical of the American Generals. What I would definitely highlight is the difference between British and American generalship, something that will occur in ETO later in the war. The American Generals waste men and material at an alarming rate. The frightening lack of tactical sense that showed in the American Civil War, the First World War and which then resurfaces in WW2 indicates a ruthlessness often missed in accounts. American Generals are frequently sacked for lack of progress and therefore send their men to be killed time and time again.in attacks that do no more than wear down the Axis ammunition supplies. Atkinson highlights this while sympathising with the average GI. His character portraits of the main characters (Montgomery, Leese, Truscott, Lucas etc.) are good, this is often absent from other accounts. Well worth the money - recommended.
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on 19 September 2010
Having suffered 'An Army at Dawn' a number of years ago I resolved not to waste any more of my time with the childish fantastical claptrap that Atkinson comes out with but I was given 'The Day of Battle' and have been struck again, I just cannot bring myself to finish it.

The author seems to believe that WWII was an American adventure fought by excited young men eager to die to free Europe and if you think this you will enjoy it. If however, you believe war is a horrific event fought by young boys scared witless on both sides who would prefer that their efforts weren't remembered as some journo psuedo historian's wet dream avoid this like the plague.

Anyone who can write a history of the Italian campaign and come across as sympathetic to Mark Clark deserves whatever disdain we can muster, Atkinson is a joke historian writing popularist pap for the ignorant.

Poorly written, badly researched rubbish. Avoid.
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on 2 November 2011
"The Day of Battle" is author Rick Atkinson's second book in his Liberation series. It is a worthy successor to the initial volume, "An Army At Dawn" (see my Amazon review). Following up on the war in North Africa, this tome follows the tide of battle as it sweeps across Sicily and slugs its way up the boot of Italy. On these pages we watch an American mature from the uncertain band of fighters to hardened warriors capable of matching anything the Italians and Germans put throw against them. The British Army that chased Rommel out of Africa continues to advance into Europe.

Atkinson analyses the topics of that theatre of the war, including the decision to pursue further offensive actions in the Mediterranean, the landings at Anzio, the agony over Monte Casino, and ever present Allied friction and cooperation. Both sides of the Monte Casino controversy, whether the Germans were or were not using the Abbey and how the situation appeared to the soldiers at the scene are presented. The Italian political infighting between King Victor Emmanuel and Prime Minister Mussolini, between those who favored the Germans and those seeking to throw in with the Americans and British is artfully described.

The story draws you in and the writing holds. "The Day of Battle" is a must for any World War II buff.
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on 3 November 2014
Exemplary writing by Rick Atkinson as always. He manages to cover everything from the high level political aspects down to the misery of the common soldier equally. Along the way, he reveals the incompetence, narrow-mindedness and sheer paranoia of many commanders - particularly Mark Clark, who insisted that every press release referring to Fith Army referred to it as 'Mark Clark's Fith Army and reputedly ordered soldiers holding the southern outposts of Rome to shoot any Eight Army (British) personnel who attempted to move into Rome central before he could stage his own triumphant entrance. This book also does a lot to establish the importance of the Italian campaign in the eventual Allied victory.
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