Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Review of Rome ’44: The Battle for the Eternal City by Raleigh Trevelyan (1981, Coronet)

On January 22nd 1944 the Allies landed at Anzio, about 60 kilometres south of Rome.  The beachhead was quickly established and the troops were meant to break out and head north and east to liberate the eternal city and cut-off German troops manning the Gustav line at Monte Cassino.  Instead, the Anzio landings turned into a desperate war of attrition as the Germans mounted a campaign to drive the Allies back into the sea.  Moreover, the Gustav line held firm, with Monte Cassino becoming one of the most bloody and controversial battles of the war.  It was only on June 4th that the Fifth Army entered Rome, abandoned by the Germans largely intact. 

Trevelyan tells the story of the liberation of Rome using four narratives.  The first concentrates on the inhabitants of Rome, especially the lives of and roles played by the resistance members, Vatican/church workers, and senior German and fascist officers.  The second focuses on the Anzio beachhead and the skirmishes between the Allied and German units, and the in-fighting between Allied commanders.  The third concerns the battle at Monte Cassino, the lynch-pin of the Gustav Line.  And lastly, the author’s own recollections of taking part in the campaign as a young officer. 

Trevelyan certainly pulls together a lot of information, covering the various battles and skirmishes from a variety of perspectives, including testimony from locals, resistance fighters, and the German Army, as well as the Allies.  And rather than simply providing a high level overview, he captures the everyday experiences of different groups of actors.  He also details the various political shenanigans going on between rival Italian groups and within the Allied and German armies.  The result is quite a rich telling of the liberation.  However, how the material is put together is sometimes a little uneven and somewhat sketchy.  Moreover, the book has a hard start and end dates, meaning some contextual framing is missing, and the liberation of Rome itself felt a little rushed, consisting of just a few pages. Nonetheless, Rome ’44 is a fascinating account of the Italy campaign in the first six months of 1944.

No comments: