The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944: Volume Two of the Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson
The Day of Battle is a hefty book coming in at 791 pages. The research is very thorough and upon first reading it, the book is very easy to read and flows easily. Following along is not difficult and is easy even if dates aren’t always mentioned. There are a number of brief biographies to enhance the people and players we don’t often hear about when writers discuss World War II especially since when discussing World War II, many libraries and writers focus on Germany, Russia or the Japan fronts.
With that said, there are surely flaws within a nearly 800 page book. While the book is largely easy to read, it does become too wordy in places and can become a battle. It becomes lost in its own details at times. Luckily this isn’t too common but there does seem to be a feeling of sameness upon reaching the end. This isn’t entirely the author’s fault as war does have a lot of repetitive actions taken within it. Very rare are there major battles which decide a war or regional territory like Normandy, Leningrad, Pearl Harbor or Midway. Italy certainly has more minor moments, but nothing truly as momentous as those previously mentioned.
Additionally, there are some liberties taken with the hardcore facts of any situation. One such example is, “With a saddle-hardened gait, Allen strode to a secluded olive grove a hundred yards from the command post” (p 153). Or, “He sank to his knees beneath the gray-green boughs of an ancient olive” (p 153). And, “Sweat soaked his wool shirt, and tiny dust devils boiled beneath his boots as he paced between the map boards and radio transmitter” (pp 153-4). While these notes are taken from the same page, they do have some liberties with the facts. Surely they make the character seem more alive, and unless the people actually wrote down these events, which I doubt all have especially considering the numerous sources, some of these facts do seem to be improvised or added for effect.
The author also references old, ancient battles or events going back hundreds or thousands of years. Perhaps some of this is an attempt to connect ancient history with the modern and show that some of these efforts were made in the past and how those were handled, but for a book on World War II with modern weaponry, it is largely irrelevant and pads an already lengthy book.
The nitpicks I have with the book are small and slight and shouldn’t stop you from going out and looking into The Day of Battle if you’re interested in an often neglected front of World War II. It does have interesting bits including the Allies attempted use, preparation and self-infliction of chemical weapons. The Day of Battle is an incredibly interesting look into the Allies while in Italy on the battle lines.
Waffen-SS: Hitler’s Army at War by Adrian Gilbert
Waffen-SS by Adrian Gilbert is another book on World War II which focuses on Germany, in this instance, specifically the SS, how it was constructed, used and what happened to it after the war.
The book is a nice, light overview of the war and while it is easy to read, at times it does move too quickly for its own good. There are moments where the detail is unsatisfying on the overview front and the history seems lifeless in part because the author does cover a lot of units and it’s difficult to really connect to any of them. There are also inadequate descriptions at which point of the war we’re currently in and as this isn’t an academic book, this flaw isn’t acceptable.
There are some constructed maps which can help with the limited detail and show the important action going on in the specific theater of war. And the book did become better with time. There are a number of black and white photos as well. Lastly, there’s a nice appendix which details certain divisions.
The sources are largely secondary, although I won’t blame an author much for that. For writers of less wealth and who don’t see the importance of wasting their time to become a PhD just so they can hope for a grant in the future, secondary sources are what most of us have to work with. But if you prefer a more primary-sourced book, this one may not be for you.
Waffen-SS is a below-average book on an interesting subject. If you’re really looking for your World War II fix or want to look deeper into the German military, specifically the SS, it can certainly be interesting and fill in any gaps in knowledge you may have.