Non Fiction Reader
What comes to mind is that so many blunders of WWI were repeated in WWII. The African campaigns were no exception. American was ill prepared for war and the British seemed not to have learned much from fighting in WWI. But also, as this book unfolds, we learn that only the Germans had learned their lessons and developed new strategies nd tactics, i.e. the blitzkrieg and mechanized warfare. What this theater did was toughen up the Americans, and the allies, physically and mentally, for the long, grueling battles to come.
The author personalizes the battles with snippets from soldiers' diaries (both sides). It proves welcome respite from recalling all the maneuvers and the places they occurred at.
What I wished the book paid more attention to was the installation of Darlan as head of the French forces. There was a mighty bit of political intrigue going on in France, Britain, and American when dealing with what was thought as the least of an unattractive situation. I wished this aspect was explored more in depth.
What the book posits is that this early campaign, won with great difficulty by the allies and lost after horrific fighting by the axis, showed the way to the ultimate destruction of the axis. It gave the allies confidence, sometimes false, and the axis doubts which they were able to overcome to fight on to great tactical victories but ultimate defeat.
I have always doubted the Montgomery's generalship and this book shows how his weaknesses were manifested in his victories but also how they would appear in later battles (his tendency to "tidy" up his lines before making his next assault while the enemy was right in front of him ready to be exploited) to extend the war, e.g. Market Garden.
I highly recommend this book if you wish to examine WWII in a broad context.
As for the narration: it is nothing short of amazing how Guidall can get into the mind of the author and make the story come alive with an inflection here and there. He is a true master of the art o narration.
There is a difficulty in writing a book about war an particularly of specific battles. How to portray them? Focus on the men in the trenches? Strategy and/or tactics? Geography? Politics? Decision makers? This book does the nearly impossible: it blends all together. The author tells us what the military leaders hoped to achieve. How they came to their decisions and the mistakes and their successes of those decisions. As in most books of war, a knowledge of the battlefield in essential. Otherwise you have no feeling for the movement of men and material. (I am lucky in that I've been to Sicily and Italy so I have a passing knowledge of the fought-over terrain. In many regards Sicily and Italy are forgotten in the melee because of the much anticipated cross-channel invasion...the "big show". But men fought and died heroically and it is an injustice if their story is not told. This book tells the story clearly and beautifully. It is well researched.
What I liked most about this book was the author's inclusion of solders' diary entries; both allies and axis. It gave perspective and conveys just what the men saw in their limited field of view. These entries brought to life what it felt like to be there. What I thought confusing was the contradictory treatment of some generals. At points the author thoroughly examines their blunders and their inability to change tactics and later proclaims them as well- thought -of if not near "geniuses": even when there was no success. In cases like that, and they were few, I would have liked to have the written page to go back and read if I missed something. I was particularly perplexed with the Anzio invasion. It was my impression this was a case of missed opportunities and the ego of a general who temporized and was more interested in headlines by being first to Rome. The book tells the story (somewhat), and it does fault the general on the ground but it also seems to rationalize faulty decisions that would have deadly consequences. Two who come in for upbraiding are Montgomery and Churchill. If my recollection of history is correct, I think both are warranted; especially Montgomery who is portrayed as a by-the-book, indecisive general, more interested in tidying up his gains than pushing for advantage. Churchill is portrayed as somewhat heartless and unreasoning of what the soldiers' endured on the ground. I can undersatnd why since the American leadership (Roosevelt, Stalin, Marshal, Eisenhower and many British generals were against this theater of operations for taking the eye off the ball of the Normandy invasion. There was also dashied hopes of a promised, quick victory.
I highly recommend this book.
You must keep you wits about you when reading/lsitening to this book. There are a lot of characters with real and code names and since they are double and sometimes triple agents there are also those respective code names to keep a handle on. (This is especially trying when listening to the book in driving segments and often having to cut off a narrative in mid-sentence). I found myself listening in terms of the big picture rather than recalling all the names.
The fact is that the British were able to completely confuse the Germans into thinking the D-Day invasion was to take place at the Pas-de-Calias and not in Normandy. And then after the actual invasion convincing the Germans that Normandy was only a faint. I was not aware how harrowing their missions were and that these double agents had to return to enemy controlled territories in order to maintain the ruse and their cover stories. The delightful part of the story is the types of personalities that made up the double-cross networks. Each had to be treated carefully by their case officers who had to make sure that each of their agent's misinformation reinforced the others in such a sublte way as to make the Germans reach the exact conclusions they were supposed to. The book also touches on the treachery of the Cambridge Five who betrayed Britain's secrets to the Soviet Union.
It's a unique, compartmentalized, side-show into what led up to the D-Day landings. But these colorful characters were, in their own world, responsible for saving the lives of thousands af Americans, British, Canadian and French troops on June 6, 1944.