An Assessment of the Mediterranean Theater The Path to Victory: The Mediterranean Theater in World War II. Douglas Porch. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 799 pages; photographs; maps; notes; index; $35.
The Mediterranean theater has long been a theater of tertiary importance to the legion of historians writing about World War II. Historian Douglas Porch attempts to correct this imbalance by placing the Mediterranean theater into a broader perspective. To Porch, the author of seven books and a professor of national security at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., the Mediterranean campaigns were neither strategically ill-conceived nor a squandering of resources. Porch argues persuasively that the campaigns not only knocked Italy from the war, but Mediterranean operations also kept Spain and Turkey neutral, encouraged Balkan resistance, engaged large German forces and mitigated against a premature attack across the English Channel.
Porch synthesizes the various campaigns in the Mediterranean and the Middle East to assess the importance of the Mediterranean in relation to the larger war. In so doing, he attempts a monumental task for a single volume. Indeed, American involvement in the invasion of North Africa is not even addressed until the midpoint of Porch's study. Placing Mediterranean operations into perspective, Porch opines that the Mediterranean was not the decisive theater of the war, but it was the pivotal theater and the prerequisite for future Allied success in Western Europe. Such a claim is hardly surprising, since aside from the combined bombing offensive, no other campaign consumed such a preponderance of Allied air, ground and naval forces.
What is less debatable is the author's assessment that Mediterranean operations provided the necessary transition from Dunkirk to Operation Overlord by forging the Anglo-American military alliance and by providing Allied armies with the necessary fighting skills, leadership development, and evolution of technical, operational, tactical and intelligence systems required to invade Normandy successfully in 1944. It is regrettable that Porch dedicates only one chapter to the campaign in Sicily because it was there that the American Army and some of its more notable commanders demonstrated their mettle.
Of particular interest are Porch's observations of the Allied high command in Sicily. Few senior members of the Allied command structure escape Porch's scathing pen. He posits that Sicily revealed the limitations of Gens. Dwight D. Eisenhower, Bernard Law Montgomery and Harold Alexander. Each, claims Porch, was stalked in turn "by a lack of assertiveness that sprang from a sense of intellectual inadequacy, overconfidence bred from conceit and impetuosity born of ambition." Elsenhower's performance as senior Allied commander had been "minimal and indecisive"; Monty's tactical judgment was clouded by his arrogance and his overconfidence; and Alexander's role as 15th Army Group commander exceeded his abilities. As for George S. Patton, Porch alleges that "the hero of Operation Husky" was a "desperately unstable and insecure man, whose excesses in temperament overshadowed the legitimate successes of his Seventh Army." Only at war's end did the Allies assemble an efficient command team in Italy. Both Fifth Army commander Lucian Truscott and Eighth Army commander Richard McCreery were decided improvements over their predecessors. Given the limitations of so many Allied senior commanders, one ponders how the Allies successfully wrestled Sicily and Italy from the Axis camp. …