26 November 2018

At War On The Gothic Line - Christian Jennings

I picked up this book from the library in an attempt to broaden my knowledge of the WW2 Italian campaign.

I'm so glad that I did.

As it says on the cover, this book is essentially about "fighting in Italy: 1944 - 1945", but also provides a political insight covering the relationships between the main powers.

The preface (for once) is interesting, outlining how the Italians commemorate those nationals and internationals that fought Axis, and fell on Italian soil. He reminds us that it wasn't just the Yanks and the Brits. The Allied dead included: Brazilians, Canadians, French, Greeks, Gurkhas from Nepal, Indians, Jewish volunteers from Palestine, Maoris from New Zealand, The Nisei (2nd generation Japanese from the US), Poles, and African troops from Senegal.

Christian holds the book together with human interest by following the actions and personal account of certain individuals. The first of these is Arrigo Paladini, a partisan working with the Americans, who was arrested, beaten and tortured by the German SS.

Others include;

  • Sergeant Daniel Inouye, an American/Japanese soldier (known as the Nisei) who signed up to fight for the USA at a time when others like him were viewed with suspicion, and locked up for the duration of the war as Category 4C "enemy aliens".
  • Ivan Houston, a black American "Buffalo Soldier" who also faced racial discrimination from his fellow Americans.
  • Eustace D'Souza, an Indian from Bombay, experienced quite a cultural shock while fighting his way up through Italy; he and his fellow soldiers saw a naked woman for the first time in their lives.

But its not only some of the allied soldiers that feature in this book. Christian tells of the German Generalleutenant Ernst-Gunther Baade who had a reputation for going into battle dressed in a Scottish kilt and wielding a claymore!

He loved Scotland and all things Scottish, and during the battle of Monte Cassino he would announce the names of Allied POWs over English/American radio frequencies, so that the Allies would know that these men were still alive.

He seems to have been respected (or at least admired) by officers and men on both sides of the conflict.

Reading this book, it also struck me once again just how knowledgeable and politically smart Churchill was. He certainly made some big mistakes during his lifetime, but he was thinking about "what happens next?" long before the war was over, or even the outcome was assured. He was keen to block off the Russian advance into much of Europe (e.g. Poland) well before the Americans started to consider the Russians a threat, or for that matter the Yugoslavs.

WW2 Italy Gothic Line
ISBN 978-1-4728-2164-5

I realise now that the subject of Italy during WW2 is huge. But I think Christian Jennings has written a very interesting and engaging book that I can recommend to those interested in WW2 history.