The Hardest Slog
Simon Forty, Allied Armies in Sicily and Italy 1943-1945 (Pen & Sword, 2019)
In Allied Armies in Sicily and Italy 1943-1945, Simon Forty reminds us that mountainous Italy with its fickle environment is no place to fight a war. But the polyglot Allied forces did so anyway, slogging up the peninsula for nearly two years most of it against a redoubtable and nimble German army and the elements. Forty takes us on that journey in this welcome addition to Pen & Sword’s Images of War series.
After an overview of the Italian campaign, Forty begins his narrative with the invasion of Sicily, Operation Husky, in July 1943. The successful campaign lasted six weeks and taught the Allies many lessons, but the German army mostly slipped away to fight on the mainland. The Allies barely paused for breath before invading the peninsula in a three-pronged attack that almost ended in disaster. They pushed inexorably on, however, as the Germans withdrew behind carefully established defensive lines. Forty pauses at the infamous Battle of Monte Cassino and the German Gustav Line, which held up the Allied advance at great cost. Then came the flawed flanking landings at Anzio and the unnecessary progress to Rome. The advance north began again, tying down German troops, although the Allies did not have the strength to strike the decisive blow. In the end, both sides ran out of war to fight with the German surrender in May 1945.
The Images of War books rely heavily on photographs accompanying the text to tell a more complete story. Forty gets the balance right in this edition, particularly in showing the nature of the terrain and the conditions under which the campaign was fought. The photos also make it clear the Allies did not have it all their own way. Both the photos and the text give due weight to the multinational force on the Allied side with not just the British Commonwealth forces and Americans, but Poles, Greeks, Brazilians, and other contingents playing their part. The Italian partisans too are given their credit for weakening the Germans behind the lines at such high risk to the civilian population. There is a bit of an imbalance in Forty’s account with Sicily receiving a bit too much emphasis, but that is a minor quibble in what is a very useful book from the Images of War stable. 8/10