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Sunday, May 30, 2010

An Army at Dawn

Driving cross country, from Lowell to Beaver Creek, Ohio, I listened to the CD (Abridged) version of Rick Atkinson's for of three books on the US Army in World War II, An Army at Dawn:  The War in North Africa, 1942-1943, Volume One of the Liberation Trilogy. (This is available not just in CD, but in paperback and on the Kindle.)

The next in the series, and available in CD, and in my hands, is The Day of Battle:  The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (Liberation Trilogy).  The third book in the trilogy has not been mentioned, at least not in Wikipedia.

Like most audio books, it doesn't have all the words of the original.  On the other hand, the story hung together. One of the things I expect was missing was more detail and the air and naval war that was required to be fought and won if the ground forces were to succeed.  Neither then Air Chief Marshall Sir Arthur Tedder nor Admiral Andrew Cunningham got much time in the story.  Both commanded resources critical to success.  Further, we missed the important quote from Admiral Cunningham when he was told he was risking his ships to rescue British troops from Crete:  "It takes three years to build a ship; it takes three centuries to build a tradition."  I believe this omission is partly because Americans don't understand the Mediterranean Command Relations before TORCH and Eisenhower.  Before the arrival of the Americans, Tedder, Cunningham and Claude Auchinleck/Harold Alexander were all "Commanders-in-Chief", reporting separately and directly to the War Cabinet in London.

I thought the book told the story as I understood it, and provided those nice parts that help us to understand that battle is about men growing into their places.  A number of the passages helped me to understand individuals in terms of where they came from, what they did, and in some cases, where they went from North Africa.  My oldest son, John,, when we discussed the book on the phone this Friday last, mentioned that he thought the scholarship was as good as (Carlo) d'Este's.  Mr Atkinson did pick up a Pulitzer Prize in 2003 for An Army at Dawn.

I especially liked the detailed description of General Mark Clark sneaking ashore in Algeria to meet with Vichy General Charles Emmanuel Mast—Operation FLAGPOLE.  US Consul General (and OSS Agent) Robert Murphy was on the shore, making the arrangements.  The meeting was at the Villa Teyssier, some 60 miles west of Algiers.

The Clark party was delivered off shore by HMS SERAPH, a RN submarine commanded by LT Norman Limbury Auchinleck Jewell.  Using collapsible boats, the team quickly rowed ashore and were met by Consul General Murphy.  The landing was on 20 October 1942 and the meetings with the French started the 23rd and continued until a tip was received saying the French Police were enroute.  The first effort to get the party off shore was frustrated by high surf, but eventually the wind died down and the party made it back to HMS SERAPH on 25 October.

One of the nice things about the book is how the author helps us see the US Army growing, and the rejection it received after its initial efforts showed that it still had a lot to learn.  The story also tells us how General Dwight David Eisenhower grew into the position of Joint Force Commander.  This is not to say he lacked the background, but to say that running an alliance and keeping it working militarily, without pinching the toes of subordinates, is a very exacting task, and that is just with the British and the Americans.  Throw in the French and it becomes a major challenge.

On a side note, Blogger has suggested I ease my research by signing up for Amazon as an advertiser.  This notice came after my last book report.  Here is their pitch.  Does anyone have an opinion about whether a simple Lowell blogger should be associating with the likes of Amazon on his blog, and even risk earning pennies if some blog reader actually bought a book off the blog?

Regards  —  Cliff

  My oldest, John, is a graduate of James Madison, with a history major.  On the other hand, my youngest son, the lawyer, is a graduate of George Mason, also in Virginia, with a degree in Computer Science.  I have to be careful not to confuse the two schools when I am talking to either of my two sons.  The fact that my Daughter also has a Masters Degree in Computational Sciences and Informatics, Computational Statistics track, from George Mason helps me keep it straight.
  I expect to hear about HMS SERAPH in the next volume, as the submarine participated in Operation MINCEMEAT.


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Anonymous said...

hi good monning

C R Krieger said...

I deleted a comment from Raj, up in Ontario, since it was an advert for his bike rental service.

Regards  —  Cliff



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