Friday, November 6, 2020

Review of Sicily ‘43 by James Holland (2020, Bantam Press)

The invasion of Sicily by Allied troops in July 1943 was the first major assault on Fortress Europe. It remains the largest amphibious landing in a single day, with 160,000 troops coming ashore on D-Day, and involved a vast armada, aerial skirmishes, and British and American-led armies taking on Italian and German troops. While the Western half of the island was quickly over-run, the Eastern half involved a bloody series of battles. After 38 days it was all over with most of the Italians surrendering and the Germans withdrawn over the Messina Straits. James Holland provides an overarching description of the invasion and key battles, drawing on the testimony of combatants on both sides and civilians. Unlike other accounts that tend to disparage the Allied efforts, Holland makes the case that Sicily was a major success despite mistakes being made (notably the use of airborne troops and gliders which suffered major losses, including via Allied guns). He argues that the mountainous terrain that favoured defenders and hardened German opponents slowed progress despite total aerial dominance and uncontested sea support, rather than incompetence, poor planning and weak tactics. His contention is well made. In general, one gets a reasonable sense of how the campaign unfolded. However, trying the cram dozens of battles and encounters into a single volume using multiple personal narratives makes for a somewhat bitty and narrow narrative. On the plus side, there’s a sense of what Holland’s main characters went through. On the negative, there’s a lot of jumping about and less sense of how particular actions and the overall campaign unfolded. It’s a difficult balance to achieve and it felt a little out of kilter. It might have helped if the relevant maps were embedded in the text at the appropriate points and there was more of them. Overall, though an interesting account of gaining a key foothold on Axis territory.

No comments: