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The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

by

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 Cover

ISBN13: 9780805062892
ISBN10: 0805062890
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Excerpt

Chapter 1

The sun beat down on the stained white city, the July sun that hurt the eyes and turned the sea from wine-dark to silver. Soldiers crowded the shade beneath the vendors awnings and hugged the lee of the alabaster buildings spilling down to the port. Sweat darkened their collars and cuffs, particularly those of the combat troops wearing heavy herringbone twill. Some had stripped off their neckties, but kept them folded and tucked in their belts for quick retrieval. The commanding general had been spotted along the wharves, and every man knew that George S. Patton, Jr., would levy a $25 fine on any GI not wearing his helmet or tie.

Algiers seethed with soldiers after eight months of Allied occupation: Yanks and Brits, Kiwis and Gurkhas, swabs and tars and merchant mariners who at night walked with their pistols drawn against the bandits infesting the port. Troops swaggered down the boulevards and through the souks, whistling at girls on the balconies or pawing through shop displays in search of a few final souvenirs. Sailors in denim shirts and white caps mingled with French Senegalese in red fezzes, and bearded goums with their braided pigtails and striped burnooses. German prisoners sang “Erika” as they marched in column under guard to the Liberty ships that would haul them to camps in the New World. British veterans in battle dress answered with a ribald ditty called “El Alamein”“Tally-ho, tally-ho, and that was as far as the bastards did go”while the Americans belted out “Dirty Gertie from Bizerte,” which was said to have grown to two hundred verses, all of them salacious. “Sand in your shoes,” they called to one anotherthe North African equivalent of “Good luck”and with knowing looks they flashed their index fingers to signal “I,” for “invasion.”

Electric streetcars clattered past horsedrawn wine wagons, to be passed in turn by whizzing jeeps. Speeding by Army drivers had become so widespread that military policemen now impounded offenders vehiclesalthough General Eisenhower had issued a blanket amnesty for staff cars “bearing the insignia of a general officer.” Most Algerians walked or resorted to bicycles, pushcarts, and, one witness recorded, “every conceivable variety of buggy, phaeton, carryall, cart, sulky, and landau.” Young Frenchmen strolled the avenues in their narrow-brimmed hats and frayed jackets. Arab boys scampered through the alleys in pantaloons made from stolen barracks bags, with two holes cut for their legs and the stenciled name and serial number of the former owner across the rump. Tatterdemalion beggars in veils wore robes tailored from old Army mattress covers, which also served as winding-sheets for the dead. The only women in Algiers wearing stockings were the hookers at the Hotel Aletti bar, reputed to be the richest wage-earners in the city despite the ban on prostitution issued by military authorities in May.

Above it all, at high noon on July 4, 1943, on the Rue Michelet in the citys most fashionable neighborhood, a French military band tooted its way through the unfamiliar strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Behind the woodwinds and the tubas rose the lime-washed Moorish arches and crenellated tile roof of the Hôtel St. Georges, headquarters for Allied forces in North Africa. Palm fronds stirred in the courtyard, and the scent of bougainvillea carried on the light breeze.

Vice Admiral Henry Kent Hewitt held his salute as the anthem dragged to a ragged finish. Eisenhower, also frozen in salute on Hewitts right, had discouraged all national celebrations as a distraction from the momentous work at hand, but the British had insisted on honoring their American cousins with a short ceremony. The last strains faded and the gunfire began. Across the flat roofs of the lower city and the magnificent crescent of Algiers Bay, Hewitt saw a gray puff rise from H.M.S. Maidstone, then heard the first report. Puff followed puff, boom followed boom, echoing against the hills, as the Maidstone fired seaward across the breakwater.

Nineteen, twenty, twenty-one. Hewitt lowered his salute, but the bombardment continued, and from the corner of his eye the admiral could see Eisenhower with his right hand still glued to his peaked khaki cap. Unlike the U.S. Navy, with its maximum twenty-one-gun tribute, the Army on Independence Day fired forty-eight guns, one for each state, a protocol now observed by Maidstones crew. Hewitt resumed his salute until the shooting stopped, and made note of yet another difference between the sister services.

With the ceremony at an end, Hewitt hurried through the courtyard and across the lobbys mosaic floor to his office, down the corridor from Eisenhowers corner suite. Every nook of the St. Georges was jammed with staff officers and communications equipment. Eight months earlier, on the eve of the invasion of North Africa, Allied plans had called for a maximum of seven hundred officers to man the Allied Forces Headquarters, or AFHQ, a number then decried by one commander as “two or three times too many.” Now the figure approached four thousand, including nearly two hundred colonels and generals; brigades of aides, clerks, cooks, and assorted horse-holders brought the AFHQ total to twelve thousand. The military messages pouring in and out of Algiers via seven undersea cables were equivalent to two-thirds of the total War Department communications traffic. No message was more momentous than the secret order issued this morning: “Carry out Operation husky.”

Hewitt had never been busier, not even before Operation torch, the assault on North Africa. Then he had commanded the naval task force ferrying Pattons thirty thousand troops from Virginia to Morocco, a feat of such extraordinary successnot a man had been lost in the hazardous crossingthat Hewitt received his third star and command of the U.S. Navys Eighth Fleet in the Mediterranean. After four months at home, he had arrived in Algiers on March 15, and every waking moment since had been devoted to scheming how to again deposit Patton and his legions onto a hostile shore.

He was a fighting admiral who did not look the part, notwithstanding the Navy Cross on his summer whites, awarded for heroism as a destroyer captain in World War I. Sea duty made Hewitt plump, or plumper, and in Algiers he tried to stay fit by riding at dawn with native spahi cavalrymen, whose equestrian lineage dated to the fourteenth-century Ottomans. Despite these efforts, his frame remained, as one observer acknowledged, “well-upholstered.” At the age of fifty-six, the former altar boy and bell ringer from Hackensack, New Jersey, was still proud of his ability to ring out “Softly Now the Light of Day.” He loved double acrostic puzzles and his Keuffel & Esser Log Log Trig slide rule, a device that had been developed at the Naval Academy in the 1930s when he chaired the mathematics department there. His virtues, inconspicuous only to the inattentive, included a keen memory, a willingness to make decisions, and the ability to get along with George Patton. The Saturday Evening Post described Hewitt as “the kind of man who keeps a dog but does his barking himself”; in fact, he rarely even growled. He was measured and reserved, a good if inelegant conversationalist, and a bit pompous. He liked parties, and in Algiers he organized a Navy dance combo called the Scuttlebutt Five. He also had established a soup kitchen for the poor with leavings from Navy galleys; he ate the first bowl himself. Two other attributes served his country well: he was lucky, and he had an exceptional sense of direction, which on a shi

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Brett, November 24, 2007 (view all comments by Brett)
Lucid, informative, and entertaining, this book does an excellent job of balancing the "big picture" with personal accounts of battles. A wonderful overview of the first 11 months of the campaign in Sicily and Italy. My only complaint is that it ends with the fall of Rome, and there were 11 ore months of hard fighting left in Italy, so it feels like a bit of disservice to the veterans who fought there.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780805062892
Subtitle:
The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944
Author:
Atkinson, Rick
Publisher:
Henry Holt and Co.
Subject:
Military - World War II
Subject:
World war, 1939-1945
Subject:
Campaigns
Subject:
Europe - Italy
Subject:
General History
Subject:
World War, 1939-1945 -- Campaigns -- Italy.
Subject:
Italy History, Military 1914-1945.
Subject:
Military-World War II General
Copyright:
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Series Volume:
2 of 3
Publication Date:
20071002
Binding:
Electronic book text in proprietary or open standard format
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Illustrations:
2 16-pg. inserts; 20 maps
Pages:
816
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.13 in

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Related Subjects

History and Social Science » Military » World War II » Europe » General
History and Social Science » Military » World War II » General
History and Social Science » World History » Italy

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 New Hardcover
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Product details 816 pages Henry Holt and Co. - English 9780805062892 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Atkinson surpasses his Pulitzer-winning An Army at Dawn in this empathetic, perceptive analysis of the second stage in the U.S. Army's grassroots development from well-intentioned amateurs to the most formidable fighting force of World War II. The battles in Sicily and Italy developed the combat effectiveness and the emotional hardness of a U.S. Army increasingly constrained to bear the brunt of the Western allies' war effort, he argues. Demanding terrain, harsh climate and a formidable opponent confirmed the lesson of North Africa: the only way home was through the Germans: kill or be killed. Atkinson is pitilessly accurate demonstrating the errors and misjudgments of senior officers, Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, Gen. Mark Clark and their subordinates commanding corps and divisions. The price was paid in blood by the men at the sharp end: British and French, Indians and North Africans — above all, Americans. All that remained of the crew of one burned-out tank were the fillings of their teeth, for one example. The Mediterranean campaign is frequently dismissed by soldiers and scholars as a distraction from the essential objective of invading northern Europe. Atkinson makes a convincing case that it played a decisive role in breaking German power, forcing the Wehrmacht onto a defensive it could never abandon." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Review" by , "[A] triumph of narrative history, elegantly written, thick with unforgettable description and rooted in the sights and sounds of battle."
"Review" by , "[H]orrifying, fascinating....The Day of Battle would be harder to read if Atkinson did not leaven the war's horrors with its consolations: the beauty and history of the countryside, the smell of its flowers, the taste of its wines. And there are great characters."
"Review" by , "Atkinson conveys the confusion and grinding difficulty of the Allied advance as experienced by ordinary soldiers while also providing interesting insights into the character of some of the top commanders."
"Review" by , "Atkinson's clear prose, perceptive analysis, and grasp of the personalities and nuances of the campaigns make his book an essential purchase."
"Review" by , "Literate, lucid, fast-paced history — an excellent survey of the Mediterranean campaign."
"Review" by , "Anyone who devoured An Army at Dawn with relish will be delighted with his account of the Sicilian and Italian campaign. All the same ingredients are here, from sharp one-liners...to brilliantly observed character portraits."
"Synopsis" by ,

NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

"Majestic... Atkinsons achievement is to marry prodigious research with a superbly organized narrative and then to overlay the whole with writing as powerful and elegant as any great narrative of war.” —The Wall Street Journal

In An Army at Dawn—winner of the Pulitzer Prize—Rick Atkinson provided an authoritative history of the Allied triumph in North Africa during World War II. Now, in The Day of Battle, he follows the strengthening American and British armies as they invade Sicily in July 1943 and then, mile by bloody mile, fight their way north toward Rome.

The decision to invade the so-called soft underbelly of Europe was controversial, but once under way, the commitment to liberate Italy from the Nazis never wavered. The battles at Salerno, Anzio, the Rapido River, and Monte Cassino were particularly lethal, yet as the months passed, the Allied forces continued to drive the Germans up the Italian peninsula. And with the liberation of Rome in June 1944, ultimate victory at last began to seem inevitable.

Drawing on a wide array of primary source material, written with great drama and flair, The Day of Battle is a masterly account of one of historys most compelling military campaigns.

"Synopsis" by ,

“A triumph of narrative history, elegantly written, thick with unforgettable description and rooted in the sight and sounds of battle.”—The New York Times

In An Army at Dawn—winner of the Pulitzer Prize—Rick Atkinson provided a dramatic and authoritative history of the Allied triumph in North Africa. Now, in The Day of Battle, he follows the strengthening American and British armies as they invade Sicily in July 1943 and then, mile by bloody mile, fight their way north toward Rome.

The Italian campaigns outcome was never certain; in fact, Roosevelt, Churchill, and their military advisers engaged in heated debate about whether an invasion of the so-called soft underbelly of Europe was even a good idea. But once under way, the commitment to liberate Italy from the Nazis never wavered, despite the agonizingly high price. The battles at Salerno, Anzio, and Monte Cassino were particularly difficult and lethal, yet as the months passed, the Allied forces continued to drive the Germans up the Italian peninsula. Led by Lieutenant General Mark Clark, one of the wars most complex and controversial commanders, American officers and soldiers became increasingly determined and proficient. And with the liberation of Rome in June 1944, ultimate victory at last began to seem inevitable.

Drawing on a wide array of primary source material, written with great drama and flair, this is narrative history of the first rank. With The Day of Battle, Atkinson has once again given us the definitive account of one of historys most compelling military campaigns.

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