I have finally finished reading Rick Atkinson’s The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy 1943-1944. I got this right when I came out and started reading it in October I think. It’s the sequel to An Army at Dawn and the middle part of Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy. The reason it took me so long to finish has nothing to do the merits of the book itself. It is an engaging read and a worthy follow-up to the first part of the trilogy. Atkinson has a great way of taking moments from 60 years ago and making you feel like an observer. He has a real eye for detail and knows how to paint a scene. This helps make the narrative quite gripping, even though you know how the story ends.
So yeah, no problems with the content of the book. If you are at all interested in WWII, do not miss out on the Liberation Trilogy (though I curse the several years it will take before part three comes out). My problem with The Day of Battle was its physical size. It’s an 812 page hardback and that made it unwieldy. I get most of my reading done on the bus but I found the book simply too big to read comfortably when wedged into a bus seat. After a week of trying that I put it by my bed and began reading a few pages at night before going to sleep. I rarely was able to dedicate more than 15 minutes at a time, except on a couple of weekends. This is why it took me longer to read this book than it took the allied armies to fight all four battles of Monte Cassino.
Yesterday I got An Army in Exile in the mail. Took me awhile to get a copy, but I think it’ll be worth it. This is the memoir of General Wladyslaw Anders, who led the II Polish Corps in the Italian campaign. It’s a really epic story that is little known in America. Polish soldiers who were captured by the Soviets in 1939 were released by Stalin after several years of imprisonment and mistreatment. They made their way to the Middle East, joined with other Polish soldiers who had escaped their country after the German/Soviet takeover, and organized themselves under the auspices of the British army. The II Corps then fought in Italy in 1944-1945, most famously taking the abbey of Monte Cassino after many other allied forces had failed to do so. Then the survivors, after years of struggle, were betrayed at Yalta and could only watch as Stalin took over their homeland. Anders wrote this book in 1949, when memories were fairly fresh. I’m looking forward to reading a first hand account of these historic events.