The Imperial War Museum Book of the War in Italy 1943-1945
The Campaign that Tipped the Balance in Europe

Michael Carver

Field Marshal Carver was one of the group of brilliant young armour commanders who came to prominence in the desert. He ended the war commanding 4th Armoured Brigade in the battle for Normandy and Germany.  After the war he rose to become the highest-ranking soldier in the British armed forces, the Commander of the General Staff, and he has written extensively on the history of the British Army.

For this book, he (no doubt with the help of numerous editors) has painstakingly sifted the treasure trove that is the Imperial War Museum’s oral history library, in which interviews with veterans are held.  The book is a standard narrative of the Italian campaign, but not a very good one.  While Carver certainly was a very difficult subordinate during the war, in this book he fails to identify or seriously discuss a single strategic or operational failing of the Allies in the Italian campaign.  Seeing that this was probably the worst managed campaign of all for the western Allies, to ignore, brush over, or simply discuss away all mistakes is quite an achievement.  Anyone looking for an Allied perspective of the war in Italy is therefore much better off with either Shelford & Bidwell’s ‘Tug of War’, or (for the time until the liberation of Rome) John Ellis’ ‘Cassino’ (both of which will be reviewed later).  Carver by contrast to either of these two, manages to go through the narrative with an infuriating breezyness where Allied command failure is concerned.

Where the book stands out though is in the marrying of the personal accounts, and setting them into the flow of the campaign.  If you are at all interested in first-person history, and the experience of the (mostly white, as far as this book is concerned) Commonwealth soldier in Italy, you cannot afford to not get this book.  You are probably best off reading it in parallel with Shelford & Bidwell’s book though, and ignoring Carver’s writing on the campaign.

This book could have been a cracking read, but it is let down by Carver’s insistence that nothing really went wrong in Italy, or if it did, it is nobody’s fault.  In that sense, it is a study in British civil service attitude to failure at high level.

Contains numerous pictures, some of them wrongly captioned, and a set of overview maps without too much detail.

(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)

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