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Literature Review Of The Day In Battle

The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944 (Liberation Trilogy) by Rick Atkinson is an inspiring saga that offers unique insights into how the invasion of Italy was fought, how Soldiers and Commanders operated and how they felt about what they went through and witnessed. Atkinson tells the extraordinary, heart wrenching accounts of true grace under fire. How Soldiers did the impossible, endured pain and suffering at the hands of the enemy, and set the stage for the final phase for the invasion of France and OPERATION OVERLORD. He captures with great passion, precision and insight of the soldier’s story from the foxhole-eye view to the tactical, operational, and strategic level view of combat in Italy, and poignant scenes of war.

The Day of Battle covers events that span roughly year and half of fighting from September 1943 to June 1944. Atkinson recounts the most intense fighting through twelve chapters divided into four parts. The four parts of the book guides the reader to the essential locations on the battlefield and tell you about the life and death struggle of Soldiers during OPERATION HUSKY (the invasion of Sicily), OPERATION AVALANCHE (the landings at Salerno), OPERATION SHINGLE—(the Anzio beachhead) and the final push to liberate Rome.

As one reads their stories and sobering history it becomes a source of powerful primer for military leaders fighting in today’s long nine year Global War on Terrorism. Today’s leaders in combat require a variety of leadership traits, everything from adaptability, composure under pressure, the ability to keep the mission and commander’s intent in mind at all times, and understanding of the volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA) environment that they face. They also face similar challenges on the field of battle in Iraq and Afghanistan as the Soldiers who fought in Italy, everything from the complexities of coalition and multinational operations to dealing with reported atrocities against the enemy.

When readers open Atkinson’s book, they will find themselves immersed in a authoritative, vivid look at the fighting in Italy. The book begins just two months after the victorious North African campaign, with Allied forces landing in strength on the southern and eastern shores of the island of Sicily. In part one of the book, Atkinson skillfully weaves together the main events leading to the planning and execution of Operation Husky, revealing Anglo-American Alliance tensions and insight into the tough consensus building efforts faced by General Eisenhower, General Alexander and General Clark to build and hold together the Allies’ Strategic goals and objectives. Throughout the book Atkinson points out controversy, indecision and a lack of aggressiveness by the Allied leadership.

Atkinson shows the complexity of joint and multinational operation at the strategic level. First, how communication is more complicated because of different interests, culture and jargon use by different countries. Second, strategic leaders and their forces may fall under coalition control but retain their own national allegiances and priorities. These problems manifested themselves further in poor coordination, lack of guidance, national leader egos and jealousy and ineffective employment of an overwhelming force. Bradley commented in his book A General’s Life that “Seldom in war has a major operation been undertaken in such a fog of indecision, confusion, and conflicting plans.” Today’s leaders see these same issues in the complex arrangements with the coalition forces in NATO and ISAF in Afghanistan.

Another insight in the book is that of character and ethics. In combat, ethical choices are not always easy. The right thing may not only be unpopular, but dangerous as well. Complex and dangerous situations often reveal who is leader of character and who is not. Atkinson provides details of the Biscari massacre, following the capture of the Biscari Airfield in which American Soldiers murdered 37 Italian and German POWs. When General Bradley was informed of the massacre, he told General Patton of the incident. Patton noted his response in his diary: “I told Bradley that it was probably an exaggeration, but in any case to tell the officer to certify that the dead men were snipers or had attempted to escape or something, as it would make a stink in the press and also would make the civilians mad. Anyhow, they are dead, so nothing can be done about it.” Bradley refused Patton's instructions. He ordered an investigation and the Army charged Sergeant West. Who had admitted he had participated in the executions. Accordingly, he was found guilty, stripped of rank, and sentenced to life in prison, but only served a year.

The Biscari incident was kept quite by Eisenhower, “who feared reprisal to Allied prisoners and decided to give the man a chance” and the whole incident was classified top secret and locked away for years in the Secretary of Army’s safe “for fear American citizens who are so distant from combat would not understand the savagery of war.” General Bradley’s choice to disobey Patton’s order prevented further atrocities on the ground and demonstrates that duty conscious American ultimately enforce moral standards of decency.

Another critical ethical decision was the decision to bomb the protected site of Monte Cassino, a 15th Century abbey overlooking the town by General Clark in the fight to Rome. Under protest from General Clark he was ordered to bomb the abbey reducing the ancient abbey to rubble in an attempt to wipe out the supposed German defenders. While Just as General Clark predicted in the debate to bomb the abbey or not, the Germans occupied the remains of the abbey with artillery and automatic weapons and laid waste to allied units. A Monte Cassino abbot later relieved that until the moment of destruction of the abbey that there were no German forces, weapons or installation and that the Allies had destroyed the monastery and killed hundreds of innocent people.

Leader in Iraq have had to face similar decision, such as commanders who made the fateful decision to cover up the alleged drowning of an Iraqi by his men or the ordering of the shooting of protected site used by the enemy.

One of the biggest takeaways at come out in reading the book is at the warriors in the book come from all branches of the service and all ranks. They come from all parts of the country and all walks of life. What united them was that they were tough, brave, and very young. Whenever their survival instinct they possessed told them to run, they rushed headlong into danger. They made on the spot, split second decisions to put their own life on the line for their comrades. Their actions went far beyond the call of duty. They were heroes of their time; journalist Tom Brokaw has called them “the Greatest Generation.” All American should be proud of them, because we owe them so much for the freedom we enjoy today.

Reading this book will broaden any leaders understanding of critical issues in World War II and of those who fought in it. This book is a must read for any leader wanting to understand what it takes to be a strategic leader and combat leader in a time of war.

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