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Texas a & M University Military History #63: Bloody River: the Real Tragedy of the Rapidoby Martin Blumenson
Synopses & Reviews
In the shadow of Monte Cassino on January 21and#150;22, 1944, the U.S. Armyand#8217;s 36th and#147;Texasand#8221; Division tried to cross Italyand#8217;s Rapido River. The rout of this former National Guard unit from Texas was one of the worst defeats Americans suffered on the battlefields of World War II, one that prompted veterans to present charges of incompetent leadership before Congress.
In Bloody River, first published in 1970, Martin Blumenson presents his view of how the and#147;personal equationand#8221; figured into the debacle. Focusing on the generals responsible for the ill-fated attack, Blumenson traces key points in the personal profiles of the diffident 36th Division commander Fred L. Walker; Gen. Mark and#147;Wayneand#8221; Clark, the imperious commander of American ground forces; and the tactful and tactically gifted former cavalry officer Gen. Geoffrey T. Keyes, commander of II Corps and Walkerand#8217;s immediate superior.
Walker, serving under the younger Clark and Keyes, witnessed the destruction of villages and the exhaustion of the non-Regular Army soldiers in his division. Blumenson argues that Walker, relatively far down the chain of command, saw his soldiersand#8217; and the civiliansand#8217; suffering and lost confidence and respect for his superiors and constantly questioned their fitness to devise appropriate strategy and tactics.
Despite reports of the severe situation in the Rapido Valley, General Clark, responsible for ensuring the success of the Anzio landing, would not cancel the 36th Divisionand#8217;s supporting attack across the Rapido. In two days, the two front-line infantry regiments of the division suffered severe casualties, as did the attached units of engineers, quartermaster troops, and artillerymen. Meanwhile, General Clarkand#8217;s Anzio landing was accomplished with relatively little resistance. Blumenson argues that Walkerand#8217;s pessimism about the Rapido attack plan may have permeated his troops and robbed them of their will to win.
This concise survey of the command situations that led to the Rapido tragedy should be of interest to all readers who wish to learn the high-priced lessons of war in affordable and accessible form.
In southern Italy in January 1944, American forces at the base of the Monte Cassino height tried to cross the Rapido River and registered one of the most bitter failures of World War II. Conceived by General Mark Clark to help the Allied landings at Anzio, the attack at the river was part of a coordinated effort to capture Rome. Bloody River, first published in 1970, presents a detailed and impartial examination of this still controversial disaster. Unlike other accounts, Blumenson's focuses on the event itself, its circumstances and the people directly involved. Questioning why the attack failed, Blumenson finds the answers in the relationship among Clark, Walker and Major General Geoffrey Keyes, the corps commander in the middle.
Blumenson shows leadership's role in a disasterous World War II battle on theItalian peninsula, documenting how the Rapido tragedy reveals the high-pricedlessons of war. 11 photos. 2 maps. Index.
About the Author
MARTIN BLUMENSON served in the European theater during World War II and commanded the 3rd Historical Detachment in Korea. Author of numerous military histories, he lives in Washington, D.C.
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