Gripping Account Of Italian Campaigns The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. Rick Atkinson. Henry Holt and Company. 793 pages; maps; black and white photographs; index; $35.
The Italian campaigns of World War II were controversial when conceived and remain controversial today. Resources committed were many, and the suffering endured was extensive. Were results achieved worth the prices paid? In The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944-the second book in a World War II trilogy that began with An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943-Rick Atkinson again brings masterful prose to bear to reconstruct historic events. Strategic logic at the most senior levels and battlefield encounters through the most junior ranks are recounted in a gripping, powerful and authoritative narrative. Conclusions are not so much forced upon one as they are arrived at, the product of experiences relived.
Following a strong prologue, Atkinson proceeds roughly chronologically in four parts of three chapters each. This symmetrical organization allows him to fully explore major developments topically: Sicily, Salerno and southern Italy, Anzio and the approaches to Cassino, and the final battles through the Gustav Line to seize Rome. He further divides chapters into named subchapters to keep readers oriented while working through diverse but related events occurring throughout Italy and around the world. The result is both engaging and comprehensive. Given the complexities of the fighting in Italy, this is no small feat.
Among Atkinson's many strengths is his ability to put the reader in the moment. We anticipate Sicily without knowing when Operation Overlord will occur or how it will turn out. We commit to Italy when the embattled Russians are desperate for us to do something and the Italians are still supporting the Germans with dozens of divisions. We peer up the blooddrenched slopes of Cassino without being sure that it will actually fall, but certain that the Germans are actively manning the monastery. We come ashore at Anzio remembering how roughly handled we had been at Salerno and how quickly the Germans can muster mobile reserves. Atkinson integrates contemporary conversations, interviews, letters home, documents and the like into his narrative in such a manner that we see major developments as their participants did. Much that happened is far more explicable if we momentarily separate ourselves from hindsight.
The Day of Battle has been thoroughly …