Pier Paolo Battistelli, The Winter Campaign in Italy 1943 (Osprey, 2023)
A new volume in Osprey’s Campaign series takes us to some intense combat as the Allies pushed their way up the Italian peninsula at the end of 1943. It’s October, and the Allies are intent on capturing Rome, while the Germans drew lines on the map and determined to defend them. One of those lines, the Bernhardt Line, was designated the Winter Line by the Allies, and they expected to breach it by Christmas 1943. They didn’t. In this book, Pier Battistelli tells you why.
After a brief chronology, Battistelli provides biographies of some of the opposing commanders, which is not very useful in the context of this book but at least you know who they were. The composition of the opposing forces that comes next is more on track. We find the Allies undermanned and relying on firepower to break through the Axis defences, while the Germans struggled with manpower too but had the advantage of terrain. Battistelli next considers the opposing plans; the Allies fixated on the bauble that was Rome, and the Germans determined to defend their lines south of Rome at all costs, though that was not without argument at the highest levels with a defence north of Rome favoured by some.
Battistelli begins his campaign coverage with the Allies approaching the Winter Line and the Germans falling back into prepared positions. The Americans then probed the Winter Line, leading to the costly battles for San Pietro in December 1943. Meanwhile, the British 8th Army crossed the Sangro, and the New Zealand 2nd Division attempted to take Orsogna, again into the teeth of fierce opposition. They would not succeed despite numerous attempts. Battistelli’s account switches to the advance from the Moro River on the road to Ortona, this time with the Canadians at the forefront. It would take a week for them to capture the town in what Battistelli suggests was an unnecessary operation. In the aftermath, the Allies landed at Anzio and the epic battle of Monte Cassino began, lasting for months. A brief glance at the battlefields today and an interesting Further Reading section close out Battistelli’s book.
The Italian campaign is mostly remembered for the battles of Monte Cassino and Anzio, so this book’s overview of the fighting before those momentous events is a welcome addition to the Osprey stable. Battistelli does a good job of covering this period, ably assisted by Osprey’s usual excellent maps and contemporary photographs. It is a gateway book with limited room for detailed text, as you might expect with Osprey, so it is difficult not to go beyond the operational aspects of who did what, where, and when. However, Battistelli gives the reader a flavour of this gruelling campaign and points the way forward to further reading. You can’t ask for much more than that.