Review: Tug Of War
- Published: 01 May 2010 01 May 2010
- Last Updated: 12 July 2013 12 July 2013
Dominick Graham & Shelford Bidwell
Graham & Bidwell served as officers in the Royal Artillery in North Africa and Italy during the war. They have written other books together, but here they have produced a very good overview of the war in Italy from 1943 to 45.
“Tug of War” is the history of the Italian campaign, primarily from the Allied perspective. It is a blow-by-blow account of the major and minor battles, focusing on the campaign up to the capture of Rome on June 4th 1944. This focus is also its biggest weaknesses. While there is a good overview, from both sides, on the first year of the Allied campaign, the remainder is given short thrift, reinforcing the view that Italy was a sideshow once the D-Day landings had occurred. This is a shame, because the operations north of Rome to the Alps were in many respects better handled then what happened south of Rome, and also had an arguably more significant impact on the force allocations of the Wehrmacht. It was after the removal of the DRAGOON (Allied landing in Southern France) landing force that the Allied armies in Italy were numerically inferior to the German forces, as far as I know. Yet they still managed to drive these back to the Alps, despite Italy being a very forbidding battlefield for the attacker, especially if he arrives from the south.
Graham & Bidwell are immensely critical of most of the leaders of the Allied forces. They have no time for either Alexander or Clark (the first seen as lacking grip, the latter as vainglorious), and they are refreshingly candid about shortcomings in leadership regardless of nationality. Their argument that the best commander in Italy was Feldmarschall Kesselring (closely followed by Juin of the Corps Expeditonnaire Francaise) has a lot of merit, and while they rightly admire the leadership qualities of him, or von Senger und Etterlin, a German Korps commander at Anzio who was to rise to command the Army Group in Italy when Kesselring left, they are not given to uncritical adulation of Wehrmacht officers either, pointing out the shortcomings of von Mackensen at the head of 14. Armee.
Arguably the most important battles in Italy were the landings at Salerno and Anzio, and the ill-considered attrition battle for Monte Cassino. Graham & Bidwell deal with the landings in some detail, down to tactical level, while focussing on some of the operational aspects of the Cassino battles.
Their account of the Liri battles, Operation DIADEM, is focussing on the actions of the French and American forces, rather then the British, and this has to be applauded. Especially since the extraordinary performance of the French is often overlooked, and the extraordinary stupidity with which the British and American commanders sidelined the French Corps is often forgotten as well. Graham & Bidwell make a point out of reminding us of both.
The book has a good narrative flow and writing style, and contains a set of pictures and standard maps. It would have been helpful to have a better OOB, because the movement of forces in and out of theatre on both sides was significant. The quality of maps in the paperback edition on which this review is based was acceptable, but by no means impressive.
Overall I wish that this book (or at least this edition) had some additional features, such as better maps, and a better treatment of the campaign north of Rome. Hence the very harsh judgment to give it only three stars. It is really just a nudge and a wink from a fourth star. Anyone interested in the campaign in Italy should get this.
(Reviewed by Andreas Biermann)