Eighth Army in Italy 1943-45: The Long Hard Slog, Richard Doherty

Eighth Army in Italy 1943-45: The Long Hard Slog, Richard Doherty

This book covers the period from the invasion of mainland Italy on 3 September 1943 to the German surrender in Italy on 2 May 1945, one day short of twenty months later. For some reason I'd always thought of the Italian campaign as having lasted longer than a year and a half, possibly because I tend to include the invasion of Sicily, and partly because the impression is given of a series of very lengthy battles to penetrate a series of defensive lines. While it is true that there were many defensive lines, it was the Gustav Line and the Gothic Line that produced the long periods of stalemate associated with the campaign.

This is a well written account of a long hard fought campaign that was won by an impressively multinational army (with contingents from Canada, India, Ireland, Italy, Nepal, New Zealand, Palestine, South Africa and the United Kingdom. One of the key topics is how the different commanders coped with their multinational force.

One of the most unusual features of the Italian campaign was the relative freedom given to Marshal Kesselring, who was thus able to conduct an intelligent fighting retreat up the Italian peninsula.

The invasion of Italy is often blamed for delaying the D-Day landings. However a look at the dates suggests that this isn't really valid. The decision to invade the mainland wasn't taken until the summer of 1943, by which time it was already too late to invade France that year, even if the idea had been at all possible. The experience of the landings on Sicily and at Salerno, neither of which went well, was invaluable for the D-Day planners, as was the experience gained by Eisenhower and Montgomery.

It is interesting to see how keen Eisenhower was on the invasion, and how valid the reasons actually were - the Germans did indeed have to replace a large number of Italian troops across the Balkans and on the Eastern Front, as well as fighting a costly campaign in Italy - many calculations of the impact of the Italian campaign tend to ignore the German troops tied up in the Balkans, Greece and the Aegean. The Italian campaign also pinned down Kesselring, one of the best German commanders of the war.

There is a clearer case for not pushing on up the Italian peninsula. However Doherty's account helps explain why the Allies didn't stop. Instead a series of tempting targets dragged the north, starting with the desire to capture and then protect the Foggia airbases, then the irresistible target of Rome, and finally the hope of a total victory in Italy.

I didn’t realise how many Italian troops ended up fighting with the 8th Army. By 1945 the army contained four combat groups, each with at least two full regiments), greatly expanding the fighting capability of the army.

The author is clearly a fan of the last commander of the 8th Army, Lt Gen Sir Richard McCreery, who led it to final victory. Doherty explains why he rates McCreery so highly, and does produce a good case.

This is an excellent account of this lengthy campaign, providing both an overview of events and detailed accounts of the fighting.

1 - Into Calabria: The Campaign Begins
2 - To the Winter Line
3 - Mountains and Floods
4 - Prelude to Cassino
5 - Operation HONKER: The Battle for Monte Cassino
6 - Pursuit to the Gothic Line
7 - Forcing the Gothic Line
8 - Another Winter: More Mountains and Floods
9 - Final Days
10 - Peace at Last
11 - Reflections

Author: Richard Doherty
Edition: Paperback
Pages: 272
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2014 edition of 2007 original

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