Saturday, October 18, 2008

Review of secondary sources for the Italian Campaign

Whilst researching my dissertation I found that there have been many contributions to the historiography of the Italian Campaign. The general histories are numerous, however, to compress the campaign into a single volume (often including the campaign in Sicily), and to include both British and U.S. fronts inevitably means much of the detail is excluded. As a consequence, the majority of historians only mention river crossings in passing. It is also a peculiarity of the campaign that whilst there has been a large number of books written about the campaign up to the capture of Rome, there are few after. Perhaps, this is due to the many contemporary authors and historians’ apparent pre-occupation with the events of the Normandy landings and subsequent operations[1]. Even books about the Italian campaign itself seem to have this predisposition. For example, the acclaimed Tug of War[2] dedicates 344 pages to the eleven-month period from the initial landings on 3 September 1943 to July 1944 but only 49 pages for the remaining ten months of the campaign. However, it was during this later period that some of the fiercest fighting took place including Operation Olive, the seizing of the Gothic Line and Operation Buckland, the final major offensive in Italy. Of the general histories, Lord Carver’s The War in Italy[3] primarily confines itself to anecdotes from the men themselves, consequentially because of its microscopic viewpoint, it is of small value to a discussion of tactics. British historian Eric Morris examines the whole campaign in his book Circles of Hell[4], although it is primarily concerned with strategy, for the most part, takes the American point of view, which is reflected in his choice of sources. A whole chapter is devoted to the U.S. 36th Division’s failure to cross the Rapido[5], whilst the crossing of the Sangro is condensed to a little over a paragraph[6].

Another book that concentrates on strategy is G.A. Shepperd’s The Italian Campaign 1943-45: A political and military re-assessment[9]. Once again it concentrates on the first half of the campaign but does offer useful insights on the Volturno and Garigliano crossings. The semi-official The Campaign in Italy[10] by Eric Linklater is of a similar vein but much more balanced as far as time scales are concerned although. However, the book also includes the campaign in Sicily, therefore, little of the campaign is studied in any detail. Not being constrained by the need to include events in the U.S. sectors, Richard Doherty in the recently published Eighth Army in Italy: The Long Hard Slog [11] concentrates far more on British tactics throughout the campaign. Although it gives sufficient insight into the pre-Rome river crossings, Doherty writes little of the river crossings during Operation Olive and after. Two further minor criticisms are that he focuses far more on the Irish battalions that took part[12], and that he calls the Rapido River the Gari. Of all the general histories, only the five volume, official History of the Second World War – The Mediterranean and Middle East[14] examines all the river crossings in depth. Each volume includes not only details of the planning but also the part played by the infantry, armoured, artillery, engineers, airforces and navies in any river crossing. They are also the only books to include a detailed description of the tactics involved in a river crossing[15].

From the first half of the campaign many of the books focus on either the assault on Monte Cassino or the landings and subsequent battles around Anzio. Two such examples are Lloyd Clarke’s book Anzio: The Friction of War[16] and Wynford Vaughan-Thomas’s Anzio[17]. More relevant examples are Cassino: The Hollow Victory by J. Ellis[18], Cassino: Portrait of a Battle by veteran Fred Majdalany[19], and Cassino by Matthew Parker[20]. The first is of particular value because of its detailed account of X Corps crossing of the Garigliano and second crossing of the Rapido River by XIII Corps. Similarly, Jackson’s The Battle for Rome[21] examines the second Rapido crossing in detail.

The Volturno crossing is particularly significant not only because it was the first major opposed river crossing undertaken by the Allies but also because it was a joint British and American operation. The assault involved two infantry divisions and an armoured division from the British X Corps and one American infantry division under the command of the US 5th Army. Despite this, only one book discusses it any detail, Countdown to Cassino: The Battle of Mignano Gap by Alex Bowlby[22]. Curiously, the chapter on the crossing opens with “The facts about the Battle of Volturno are well known” [23]when it is probably one of the least known, however it continues to describe the battle, particularly the planning in some detail. As Lt-General Richard McCreery, commander of X Corps (later Commander 8th Army) left no records and X Corps War Diaries are more concerned with logistics[24], our only other sources are divisional War Diaries and histories.

The first major operation of 1944 was the assault on the Gustav Line with two British divisions on the left (Garigliano River) and a British and an American division on the right (Rapido River). Jackson describes the Garigliano crossing as having all the hall-marks of a well planned, professional river-crossing operation[25]. The Rapido crossing was a complete disaster, the British failing to cross and the Americans troops cut to pieces[26]. As it was primarily a U.S. operation there has been little study of the subject by British historians, however it is of major importance to the dissertation as an example of what can go wrong and as a combined U.S./British operation. The main secondary sources for this battle are Martin Blumenson’s Bloody River[27] and the U.S. 5th Army Commander Mark Clark’s memoirs Calculated Risk[28].

Of the few studies of the second half of the campaign only The Gothic Line[29] by Douglas Orgill and The Impossible Victory[30] by Brian Harpur examine river crossings in sufficient detail to be of value to the dissertation. The later is also invaluable as it contains the only known interview with Richard McCreery and details his tactical theories[31].The latest addition to the historiography of the Italian campaign is James Holland’s Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-45[32], which examines the later part of the campaign in considerable detail, although because it concentrates of personal experiences, particularly those of the Italian partisan and civilian, has little to offer a dissertation concerning tactics.

Of all the personal histories written after the war, most offer a too microscopic view to be of real use to a study of tactics beyond company level. Books such as Regimental histories are equally of little value, except for battalion and small unit level tactics. For example, A History of the 58th 1939-1945[33] gives a detailed account of the Regiment’s part in the Garigliano crossing. However, as it was only one of the twenty-seven Regiments that took part, it is impossible to determine the overall plan.

Divisional histories offer valuable insights into the tactics. The Story of 46 Division 1939-45[34] gives a detailed account of both the Volturno crossing and the failed Rapido crossing. Whilst it does not analyse the crossings, it does tell the story of each one from the 46th Division viewpoint. The 5th Division 1939-1945[35] is a detailed account of the 5th throughout the war; however the only major river crossing that they took part in was the Garigliano. This on its own is of importance to the dissertation because the division crossed at the tidal mouth of the river. Of all the divisions that fought in Italy, only the 78th (Battleaxe) Division has been studied in any detail in recent years. The most comprehensive history is Algiers to Austria: The History of the 78th Division 1942 - 1946[36] written by Cyril Ray whilst the more recent Battleaxe Division: From Africa to Italy[37] by Ken Ford has more personal stories. However, both chart the whole history of the division starting with Operation Torch, the invasion of Algeria in November 1943 and continuing through Tunisia, Sicily and Italy until they reached Austria, in 1946. So once again, to fit so much into one volume means that in places much of the detail is missing. Many of the later offensives involved at least one of the three Indian divisions that were in Italy. Little has been published on their history or achievements, so for details the only major work that is available is The Tiger Triumphs[38] published by HMSO in 1946.
[1] Rome was captured on 5 June 1944, the next day the allies landed on the beaches of Normandy in force.
[2] D. Graham & S. Bidwell Tug of War (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military Classics. 2004)
[3] Field Marshal Lord Carver, The War in Italy (Oxford: Pan, 2002)
[4] E. Morris. Circles of Hell, (New York: Crown Publishers Inc, 1993)
[5] Ibid, p. 223
[6] Ibid, pp. 245-255
[7] Ibid, p. 250
[8] A. Bowlby. Countdown to Cassino (New York: Sarpedon, 1995) p.19
[9] G.A. Shepperd The Italian Campaign 1943-45: A political and military re-assessment, (London: Arthur Baker Ltd, 1968)
[10] E. Linklater, The Campaign in Italy. (London: H.M.S.O. 1951).
[11] R. Doherty, Eighth Army in Italy: The Long Hard Slog, (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Books Ltd. 2007)
[12] Doherty is an Irishman by birth and the majority of his previous works have had an Irish slant. For example Irish Generals: Irish Generals in the Second World War, (Dublin, Four Courts Press, 2004), The North Irish Horse, A Hundred Years of Service (Staplehurst, Spellmount, 2002) and Clear the Way! A History of the 38th Irish Brigade, 1941-1947, (Dublin, Irish Academic Press, 1993).
[14] C.J.C. Molony, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol V, The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and the Campaign in Italy 3rd September 1943 to 31st March 1944, (Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press, 2004)
[15] C.J.C. Molony, The Mediterranean and Middle East, Vol V, The Campaign in Sicily 1943 and the Campaign in Italy 3rd September 1943 to 31st March 1944, (Uckfield: The Naval and Military Press, 2004) p. 439.
[16] L. Clark. Anzio, The Friction of War. (London, Headline Publishing Group, 2006)
[17] Wynford Vaughan-Thomas, Anzio (London: Pan Books, 1968)
[18] J. Ellis, Cassino:The Hollow Victory (London: Guild Publishing, 1984)
[19] F. Majdalany, Cassino: Portrait of a Battle, Cassell Military Paperbacks edition, (London: Cassell, 1999)
[20] M. Parker, Monte Cassino, (London: Headline Book Publishing,2004)
[21] W.G.F. Jackson, The Battle for Rome, (London: Batsford, 1969)
[22] A. Bowlby. Countdown to Cassino (New York: Sarpedon, 1995)
[23] Bowlby, Op, Cit, p.
[24] Bowlby, Op Cit. p. 19
[25] Jackson, Italy, Op Cit p. 176.
[26] Ibid, pp 180 –182.
[27] M Blumenson, Bloody River: The Real Tragedy of the Rapido, Texas University Press Edition (Boston, Texas University Press,1998)
[28] Mark Clark, Calculated Risk, Panther Edition (London: Panther Books Ltd, 1956)
[29] D. Orgill, The Gothic Line: Paperback Edition (London: Pan Books Ltd, 1969)
[30] Brian Harpur, The Impossible Victory, A personal account of the Battle for the River Po. (London: Coronet Edition, Coronet, 1988)
[31] Harpur, Op Cit, pp. 139 - 146
[32] James Holland, Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-45 (London: Harper Press, 2008)
[33] Anon, A History of the 58th 1939-1945. (Aldershot: Gale and Polden Ltd, 1947).
[34] Anon, The Story of 46th Division (np, Graz, 1945)
[35] G. Arris, The Fifth British Division 1939 to 1945. (London: The Fifth Division Benevolent Fund, 1959)
[36] C. Ray, Algiers to Austria: The History of 78 Division 1942-1946 (London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1982)
[37] K. Ford, Battleaxe Division (Stround: Sutton Publishing.2003)
[38] Anon The Tiger Triumphs (HMSO, London, 1946)


Ropey said...

You criticise one of the books for calling the Rapido the Gari when in fact the author is correct. The Rapido River enters the Gari north (upstream) of where the US and later the British XIII Corp crossed. The Gari runs to its confluence with the Liri near San Ambrosia and these combined become the Garigliano.

Mike Ingram said...

Thanks for that Ropey. My critism is with the documents of the day, where some call the stretch of river where both the US and Indian troops crossed the Rapido and others the Gari.

bettie said...

It's really interesting read to your post. I am so excited for this one. Thanks for it.


Umi Sinha said...

I am researching for a novel on this subject, particularly to do with the Indian Army in Italy and the "One-More-RIver-Crossing-Division" as they were nicknamed. I have most of the books you mention, but wonder if you know of any more that have come out since 2010. Do the Indians figure much in your dissertation? And, if so, is it possible for me to get hold of a copy?