Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-44 by Rick Atkinson
The Day of Battle is divided in to four parts. In the first part, Atkinson covers the Sicily campaign. In part two, he covers the British 8th Army invasion of Italy at the toe, the invasion of the American 5th Army at Salerno, and the Allies' battles at the Bernhardt Line centred around the town San Pietro. In the part three, he covers the failed attacks to capture of the town of Cassino and the abbey on Monte Cassino as well as the Anzio invasion and the German counter attacks on the beachhead. Finally, Atkinson covers the breakout at Cassino and the Anzio beachhead as well as the capture of Rome.
It is not necessary to have read the first book in the Liberation Trilogy, An Army at Dawn, to understand this second volume. If a person appears in the first volume, Atkinson reintroduces him in the second (though the information given at the introduction is not exactly the same).
When Atkinson writes about the battles, his descriptions are like better-written, less dry after action reports. He focuses the history on the command personal, the Allied and German generals (who he criticizes and praises equally); but he peppers that narrative with personal experiences from the enlisted ranks, lower ranked officers, and reporters showing how they viewed the events around them.
Atkinson ends the book at the traditional ending point of histories on the Italian campaign, with the fall of Rome. Only in the epilogue does he briefly cover the rest of the campaign until the war ends. This makes me wonder whether he will write about it the upcoming third volume. Atkinson already has a lot to cover in the third volume, starting with the preparations for D-Day, the Normandy campaign, the race across France, invasion of southern France, the Battle of Bulge and the fall of Germany; more, perhaps, that can be contained in one book.
This book is a great for what I call good general history, by which I mean that it gives a good overall history, but also has a bibliography that readers be used to learn more about the topic.
There are a couple small errors I noticed while reading The Day of Battle. On page 439, when Atkinson writes about monks of the Abbey of Monte Cassino contemplating the mysteries of the rosary, he includes the luminous mysteries, which were introduced Pope John Paul II. Additionally, on page 536, Atkinson refers to a historical battle occurring in the First Punic War with Hannibal, but Hannibal fought in Italy only in the Second Punic War.
My only other criticism is on how the references were handled in this book. Atkinson uses endnotes, which are grouped by page and marked by the first three words of sentences they are supporting. This made checking references slow and tedious; the reader can not see quickly the where the references are placed in the text. However, I really like the maps that are being used so far in this series.
On a small note, I finished this book on June 5th, the anniversary of the fall of Rome to the US 5th Army, the same point at which the book's narrative ends.
Reviewed by Russell Morse
I expect to be featuring Russell's reviews periodically on the blog (I've convinced him to start writing reviews), which should mix things up a bit as he tends to read different genres than I do.