Book Review: World War II in the Mediterranean 1942-1945 by Carlo D’Este

World War II in the Mediterranean 1942-1945 by Carlo D’Este.  Chapel Hill, North Carolina: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 1990.  218 pp., hardback.

This volume is one in a series, Major Battles and Campaigns, edited by John S. D. Eisenhower.  At the time of publication, there were two other volumes in the series (one about the American Revolution, the other on World War I).  This is a brief summary account, and since it covers the period after direct American involvement in the war in Europe began (that is, after the German occupation of most of North Africa and Greece, and beginnings of the British push back against the Nazis in Egypt), and since it says only a very limited amount about either the sea war or the air war in the target region, and nothing about the war in Greece or the Balkans, it would have been more precisely and accurately titled “The Allied Land War against the Axis Powers in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.”

The greatest amount of attention in the voluminous literature on World War II (as is equally true with the “popular” media of television and movies), has been on the fighting in Northern Europe and the war in the Pacific, to the general neglect of lands bordering on the Mediterranean Sea.  Of course, American involvement in armed combat against the Axis powers began with the November 1942 invasion of North Africa, “Operation Torch,” where some major American failures yielded valuable instruction that would be essential for success later in the European War.  In about six months, the Allies had completely defeated the Nazi troops in North Africa.  Then followed the invasion and conquest of Sicily (July-September 1943) though the German troops were foolishly allowed to evacuate to the Italian Peninsula.  This was followed by the invasion and conquest of Nazi-held Italy (Mussolini was overthrown by the Italian people and Italy switched sides in the war in September 1943)

Nowhere else in America’s involvement in World War II did a single campaign last as long as the fight for control of Italy–a full seventeen months, beginning in autumn 1943, and not ending until the surrender of Germany in May 1945.  Allied prosecution of the war on the Italian front was hampered by preparations for the Normandy Invasion; the Allied Armies were heavily depleted in both equipment and manpower by those preparations.  Further, when the invasion of Southern France (Operation Anvil / Dragoon) took place in August 1944, even more men and equipment were taken away from the Italian War, and this is in part the reason that the fighting there lasted so long.  Other contributing factors included poor Allied leadership that repeatedly squandered opportunities to gain the battlefield advantage, as well as the extremely rugged Italian landscape (very mountainous–ideal for defenders, and a perpetual difficulty for attackers), and horrible winter weather (heavy rains and cold temperatures) which made winter warfare extremely difficult, even next to impossible.

At times, the amount of incompetence and indecision displayed by Allied Generals, and the grossly inadequate training and equipping of Allied troops, especially early on in the war, make it somewhat surprising that the Allies were able to succeed at all.

Carlo D’Este, who has written a growing shelf-full of books on World War II, is so far the only author able to catch and hold my attention for an entire 9-hour flight across the Atlantic (his Patton: A Genius for War did just that when I read it in March, 2005; reviewed in detail in As I See It, 8:4).  Among other works, D’Este has written much longer accounts of two major foci of this present brief work: Bitter Victory: the Battle for Sicily 1943 (1988; 666 pp.) and Fatal Decision: Anzio and the Battle for Rome (1986; 566 pp.).

In as much as it is absolutely true that “Only the dead have seen an end to war” (George Santayana), it behooves the living to be informed regarding the causes of war, the potential means of honorable avoidance of it, its successful prosecution when unavoidable, the limits of what it can accomplish, and its aftermath.

This review was written by Doug Kutilek and originally appeared in his e-mail publication:  As I See It.  This review is used with permission.  AISI is sent free to all who request it by writing to the editor at: DKUTILEK@juno.com.  You can be removed from the mailing list at the same address.  Back issues sent on request.  All back issues may be accessed at http://www.KJVOnly.org.

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