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JasonC

Day of Battle - 2nd volume Atkinson is out

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I've now finished it. I thought it a pretty good book, but did find it short on tactical detail at points. Lots of gosh this was hard, lots of what the commanders were doing and thinking, a reasonable narrative of the major fights from the command level. Getting into tactical detail about why they failed or succeeded, much less so. Exact strengths and losses and such, quite uneven.

I thought the book's major points were clear, though. Juin and the French get credit for cracking the Gustav line with the sensible through the mountains plan. The Poles get credit for taking Cassino, though the level of detail about it leaves something to be desired. Clark is damned with faint praise and focus on his press release thinking, along with the unimaginative nature of the whole campaign. He is absolved on a few points - Rapido needed to give Anzio a chance e.g. - but basically he comes across as barely competent and uninspired.

I did not think the allies failed to get coverage, though the Brits in particular are largely seen through quite unsympathetic US eyes, as they were by their contemporaries. Not flattering, and in some cases (e.g. Cassino town) unfair, but in other cases justified. Churchill comes across as a micromanaging nightmare, Monty as a methodical glad-hander able to win over his own men but less effective with the Germans. The Canadian corps commander gets hauled over the coals and appears to fully deserve it, so do several US commanders of similar grade.

There are some nuggets of priceless info, like the analysis of the inability to strangle the penisula with air attack on the rail network (basically arguing that the Germans could have left every train in southern Italy as a one way, one time trip, and still wouldn't have run out of anything). The logistics numbers in tons per day for the two sides were also very revealing, with the Germans living off a tenth what the Americans were using. The new ability to quell typhus with DDT was also a revelation.

I found the top level analysis of the conduct of the campaign too limited and uncritical. At least he does quote several others with more definite opinions (e.g. Fuller). Some notable omissions - the disease and health disaster of the first winter in Italy, US army specifically, and what should have been done about it. He makes clear than Juin had the right way through the Gustav line but doesn't delve into why it wasn't found before. The right flank (turning the Cassino position I mean) also nearly worked early, and was only stopped for local "wind" (loss attrition) reasons, with active sectors shifting along the line to wherever troops were fresh, instead of the fresh troops shifting to the right, decisive parts of the line.

That part was nearly criminal in its formulaic stupidity, and is the real scandal of the Gustav line.

He also doesn't criticise the allies enough for failing to use their naval gunfire ability sufficiently, not at the landings but in the rest of the campaign (up the coasts I mean).

Other items are covered better - the mis-use of airpower e.g.

He could also have covered better the loss rates the Germans were experiencing, and how and why the acceleration of that rate in May 1944 sufficed to collapse the line.

I was also a bit surprised that events after Rome got no coverage, but I suppose he is leaving that for the D-Day and after volume (chronological division, not theater division, I mean).

Reading it makes me want to do a whole series of scenarios to cover it all. I see 20 that I want to do. (Seriously...)

Sicily minipack -

Italians at Gela (first day)

Fight against HG PD (second day)

Brit airborne bridge fiasco

US set-piece in central Sicily vs. Pz Gdrs

Salerno minipack -

Salerno beaches before tanks are ashore

Rangers taking and holding high ground left

First successful German counterattacks at Salerno

Coordinated stand vs. those, mit firepower arms

Winter line minipack -

Canadians at "the gully"

Canadians at "little Stalingrad"

First best chance at the ridge right of Cassino

Rapido night chaos

Anzio minipack -

Rangers marsh night fiasco at Anzio

German Panther counterattack into Anzio Brits

US stopping the northern counterattack

1st armored breakout east from Anzio

Cassino minipack -

Indians on the front slopes of Cassino

Brit guards into rubbled Cassino town

Poles on the right of Cassino

French success on the left highlands

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Originally posted by JasonC:

The Canadian corps commander gets hauled over the coals and appears to fully deserve it,

Which one? Crerar was given I Canadian Corps solely because he needed an operational command before taking 1 Canadian Army into battle in Normandy; he handled the Canadians on the Arielli Front for a few weeks in static conditions before buggering off to the UK. "Tommy" Burns commanded longer, and was called "Smiling Sunray" for his dour command style, but he did do well at the Hitler Line despite his personal failings. He was replaced in November 1944 by Foulkes, the result of a clerical error which saw the vulgar Chris Vokes moved laterally from Italy, taken out of 1 Canadian Division to go to 4th Canadian Armoured Division. Foulkes was supposed to go to the Armoured from the 2nd Infantry Division, but instead went to Italy to command I Canadian Corps, in which capacity he finished the war; given that the corps left Italy in February and spent a great deal of time redeploying to the Netherlands, I don't think he had a lot to do in any event - and wouldn't have been mentioned by Atkinson for the latter.

"Little Stalingrad" has been covered in CM:AK by my Operation of the same name - I imagine you might have a different take on it, but I think an operational look at the overall battle, including the Gully and the Moro River battles would be interesting in a CMMC kind of way, with fairly small formations (divisional size) on each side keeping things manageable.

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Sorry, my mistake - I was thinking of General Vokes, who was division commander (not corps as I said) in the attack on Ortona. Atkinson paints him as a brave enough commander, but pigheaded and given to costly frontal assault tactics. I must say the arrows on the map show something a bit more sensible than that - he does eventually turn the flank of the gully position etc.

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Incidentally, these days I believe in scenario packs more than campaigns - they move faster and I think can present more history, while staying playable. The right scale for playable in CM is reinforced company to reinforced battalion, it seems to me, and I wouldn't want to run even a division for Ortona. But just 2 managable scenarios, one an infantry attack across a deep gorge, and the other a tank supported city fight, would fit the overall purpose nicely.

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My Little Stalingrad Operation was too large, I think - two reinforced battalions for all of Ortona, 20 battles, it was a monster and didn't do the battle justice for the reasons you indicated. I'd be interested in seeing your take on Ortona if you decided to do a treatment of it.

Sounds like Atkinson had Vokes pegged pretty well; doesn't deviate from the standard treatment of him, nor should he, I suppose. BD6's comment was interesting that he pays more attention to reporters, but of course, Atkinson is one himself. I wonder if that is institutional bias at work, or simply reflects what kind of resources were available to him.

I don't know what Vokes could have done differently at Ortona, except not fight there at all - bypassing the city was probably a better choice - JonS might have a more informed opinion than me, however.

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Originally posted by JasonC:

There are some nuggets of priceless info, like the analysis of the inability to strangle the penisula with air attack on the rail network (basically arguing that the Germans could have left every train in southern Italy as a one way, one time trip, and still wouldn't have run out of anything).

That analysis is quite old, really. I recall reading it in Ellis 'Cassino', and I am not even sure whether he did it or copied it himself.

All the best

Andreas

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Originally posted by JasonC:

I found the top level analysis of the conduct of the campaign too limited and uncritical. At least he does quote several others with more definite opinions (e.g. Fuller). Some notable omissions - the disease and health disaster of the first winter in Italy, US army specifically, and what should have been done about it. He makes clear than Juin had the right way through the Gustav line but doesn't delve into why it wasn't found before. The right flank (turning the Cassino position I mean) also nearly worked early, and was only stopped for local "wind" (loss attrition) reasons, with active sectors shifting along the line to wherever troops were fresh, instead of the fresh troops shifting to the right, decisive parts of the line.

That part was nearly criminal in its formulaic stupidity, and is the real scandal of the Gustav line.

Atkinson does discuss the winter hardships and the problematic nature of a winter offensive in Italy, but from a reporter's "he said, they said" perspective. Likewise with his coverage of the piecemail attacks on the Gustav line. I agree that his focus on the narrative shys away from much analysis of lessons-learned, but that is the way reporters write.

Less forgivable are some of his factual errors. For example, he claims that Vietinghoff "had amassed six hundred tanks and self-propelled guns" for the Salerno counter-attack (pg 223), the equivalent of an entire 1941-era Panzer Army.

All-in-all though, a very good read with new insights for anyone but the most die-hard Italian Campaign-grog.

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Originally posted by Andreas:

</font><blockquote>quote:</font><hr />Originally posted by JasonC:

There are some nuggets of priceless info, like the analysis of the inability to strangle the penisula with air attack on the rail network (basically arguing that the Germans could have left every train in southern Italy as a one way, one time trip, and still wouldn't have run out of anything).

That analysis is quite old, really. I recall reading it in Ellis 'Cassino', and I am not even sure whether he did it or copied it himself.</font>

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What do you contend is off target about it?

The source you provide (thanks, interesting stuff) supports the statement - the Germans were not constrained by rolling stock nor by rail capacity, and the decision for most of the campaign to focus on marshalling yards as the easiest way to hit rolling stock, was a mistake.

Allied air interdiction only becomes effective when they drop that goal and instead focus on cutting bridges and just breaking the lines as many places a possible. Which still does not reduce total theater rail supply (since that was adequate using only 10% of so of rail capacity), but does force the depot end points farther north, and strains road transport as a result.

Then it is the underlying German shortage of road transport, not rail, that is stressed. And that further depends on tac air doing its armed recce thing, forcing movements only by night - all of which doesn't happen until late spring, and none of which turns on running the Germans out of rolling stock. And even then, it is the simultaneous demand to supply Rome and the armies, and a poor 60% or so readiness rate for the trucks they do have (which is spare parts and heavy use no doubt), the keeps the army on short supplies. But they still have more arty ammo and about as much fuel when the Cassino line breakthrough fighting starts - they just haven't been able to build it up as much as they would have liked.

Sorry, I fail to see in any of this an error in what I wrote, or found in Atkinson. Rail was restrictable to a modest distance from the front, when tac air and mediums went after bridges instead of heavies going after marshalling yards - and tac air armed recce vs. roads was the only really effective interdiction going on. There was no shortage of rolling stock, and blowing up a little more of it was never going to stop the Germans in Italy. It was too little a portion of their overall war effort for that, and the Europe-wide pool of the stuff was too deep.

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My recollection was that the Poles got very courageously shot down in droves and "took" Cassino only because the Germans sensibly gave it up, with Juin's outflanking and the Anzio breakout meaning it was no longer tenable. Perhaps I recall incorrectly.

Must read Ellis again, that was a very good read.

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