A great book about an almost forgotten battle.

So for Christmas I got another in the series of my favorite, and only computer game--Combat Mission Fortress Italy.

I know, big surprise, old guy veteran plays war-games.  But I have enjoyed the franchise for nearly a decade, it it truly is a war-game for manly grognards.

Anyway, because I'm me I also decided to read up on this theater for World War II as it doesn't nearly get the press as the campaign in Northwest Europe.  Interestingly, many veterans of the Italian campaign complain that the Normandy invasion of June 6 completely and unfairly overshadowed the fall of Rome on June 4, the first of the Axis powers capitals to be captured.

So, I got this little gem from Carlo D'Este, an accomplished military historian who has written extensively on World War II and it does not disappoint.

Several things really stand out from this history...first, the Allies were still in the learning stage for amphibious assaults, coalition campaigns, combined arms warfare, and even close air support.  CLEARLY, the more I read, the more I am glad that cooler heads prevailed and the US did not push Britain into attempting a Cross-Channel assault in 1942 or 1943.  As if the Dieppe fiasco wasn't enough, the Sicily campaign showed just what a disaster that might have been.

Second, I did not know that the Germans actually made not one, but two parachute drops into Sicily to reinforce their defenses with combat hardened Fallschirmjager.  The tactical ability of the German Wehrmacht on the defensive was pretty awesome to behold, and the Germans clearly punched above their weight in this campaign.

Finally, and most interesting, the British rush to seize the Primosole Bridge in the early part of the campaign was eerily similar to the disaster at Arnhem almost exactly one year later.  Elements of the British 1st Airborne Division were dropped to seize a key bridge for British ground forces to swiftly move over and advance to Messina, the crucial objective of the campaign to trap all the German and Italian defenders on the island.

Much like the Arnhem drop, the paratroopers succeeded in a wild fight to capture the approaches to the bridge, but like their comrades a year later, these brave men were overrun by the quick reacting Germans  as their overland relief column stalled.

It was amazing to read this section of the book and not go..."HOW did they screw this up twice and get so many good men killed?"

Overall the Allies do not come across well in this book...D'Este pulls no punches in his scathing critique of the Allied commanders, especially Field Marshall Harold Alexander and his feuding subordinates-George Patton and Bernard Montgomery.  He is more sympathetic to the Germans and their tactically well done retreat from the island, withdrawing nearly all their surviving troops, equipment and stores before the Allies could cut off their escape.

I really liked this book a lot...it's a bit slow to get started as D'Este feels the need to give you a  LOT of background, but once it gets going, it is a marvelous battle history of what became one of the great learning campaigns for the Allied high command.