An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943

An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943 Beginning The Trilogy That Continues With The Day Of Battle, An Army At Dawn Opens On The Eve Of Operation TORCH, The Daring Amphibious Invasion Of Morocco And Algeria After Three Days Of Hard Fighting Against The French, American And British Troops Push Deeper Into North Africa But The Confidence Gained After Several Early Victories Soon Wanes Casualties Mount Rapidly, Battle Plans Prove Ineffectual, And Hope For A Quick And Decisive Victory Evaporates The Allies Discover That They Are Woefully Unprepared To Fight And Win This War North Africa Becomes A Proving Ground It Is Here That American Officers Learn How To Lead, Here That Soldiers Learn How To Hate, Here That An Entire Army Learns What It Will Take To Vanquish A Formidable Enemy In North Africa, The Allied Coalition Came Into Its Own, The Enemy Forever Lost The Initiative, And The United States For The First Time Began To Act Like A Great Power

Rick Atkinson, editor, is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and historian who worked for twenty five years as a correspondent and editor for The Washington Post He is the author of several books, including the acclaimed Liberation Trilogy about World War II An Army at Dawn, which won the Pulitzer Prize for History, The Day of Battle, and The Guns at Last Light, as well as The British Are Comin

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  • An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943
  • Rick Atkinson
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  • 28 February 2019
  • 9780743570992

10 thoughts on “An Army at Dawn: The War in Africa, 1942-1943

  1. says:

    In the tradition of government issue graves, the stones are devoid of epitaphs, parting endearments, even dates of birth But visitors familiar with the American and British invasion of North Africa in November 1942, and the subsequent seven month struggle to expel the Axis powers there, can make reasonable conjectures We can surmise that Willet H Wallace, a private first class in the 26th Infantry Regiment who died on November 9, 1942, was killed at St Cloud, Algeria, during the three days of hard fighting against, improbably, the French Ward H Osmun and his brother Wilbur W., both privates from New Jersey in the 18th Infantry and both killed on Christmas Eve 1942, surely died in the brutal battle of Longstop Hill, where the initial Allied drive in Tunisia was stopped for than five months, as it turned out within sight of Tunis Ignatius Glovach, a private first class in the 701st Tank Destroyer Battalion, who died on Valentine s Day, 1943, certainly was killed in the opening hours of the great German counteroffensive known as the battle of Kasserine Pass And Jacob Feinstein, a sergeant from Maryland in the 135th Infantry who died on April 29, 1943, no doubt passed during the epic battle for Hill 609, where the American Army came of age Rick Atkinson, An Army at Dawn The War in North Africa, 1942My first introduction to the U.S Army s invasion of North Africa in World War II came from Samuel Fuller s The Big Red One The film, starring Lee Marvin and Mark Hamill, opens with the Torch landings, and combines elements of tragedy and farce predicated on the uncertainty over whether or not the French would fight on Hitler s behalf Initially, the French played the villains in other words, they act French The Americans are pinned down by heavy fire Explosions throw up gouts of sand Men die Just as soon as the real sharp fighting begins, however, the French throw down their arms and begin hugging the U.S infantrymen Jaunty music begins playing All in all, the scene is laced with dark humor Rick Atkinson s An Army at Dawn tells the full story of the U.S Army s involvement in North Africa, from the landings in Morocco and Algeria to the final push into Tunisia Like Fuller s film, this Pulitzer Prize winning account has elements of farce and tragedy Unlike the movie, however, Atkinson s tale is laced mainly with blood and hard lessons It is the first volume of what Atkinson calls the Liberation Trilogy Subsequent entries cover the invasions of Sicily, Italy, and Normandy Thankfully, Atkinson finished the third volume is sublime fashion, so this is a trilogy you should definitely dive into In other words, you won t be like every fan of George R.R Martin or Robert Caro, waiting half a decade for the next book, wondering if there will be a next book As far as World War II books ago, heck as far as history books go, this is a gem It is a triumph of narrative, characterizations, and sober analysis Even if you ve never read a single book about World War II I ve been told such people exist , you can dive right in And even if you ve read a hundred books about World War II, there is still much here to enjoy The quality of nonfiction is usually a compromise between accessibility and scholarship The ease with which a book is read the you enjoy it is usually inverse to its academic merits And vice versa Atkinson proves this doesn t have to be the case He s turned an obscure, neglected theater of World War II into a rousing saga that also has 80 pages of endnotes One of the things I most appreciated about Army at Dawn is that it doesn t mess around This isn t one of those histories that takes around 100 pages to get the context just so Instead, things are well under way in about 50 The story gets moving instantly, and never stops This is a beach read for the beach reader who looks at the waves and sand and imagines an amphibious assault Partially, Atkinson gains this momentum because he doesn t spend a lot of time debating the Torch landings I m fine with that authorial choice Briefly, Atkinson argues that the Torch landings were necessary in the paradigm in which they occurred It was a doable operation, it helped ease pressure on the Russians, it set up a potential invasion of Sicily and Italy, and it blooded the American Army There isn t a lot of time spent on this argument because Atkinson s entire book really supports it The North African landings were all mitigated disasters They succeeded, but only as bloody messes Had the Americans thrown themselves straight at the Continent an early D Day, if you will they would have been torn to shreds by the Wehrmacht It s not just cheerleading or revisionism to say that North Africa was a vital proving ground Had America tried to prove itself elsewhere, it might have been annihilated As a storyteller, Atkinson is engaging and efficient Take, for instance, this paragraph, which neatly encapsulates the enormity of the undertaking, while never forgetting its human dimension Into the holds went tanks and cannons, rubber boats and outboard motors, ammunition and machine guns, magnifying glasses and stepladders, alarm clocks and bicycles Into the holds went tractors, cement, asphalt, and than a million gallons of gasoline, mostly in five gallon tins Into the holds went thousands of miles of wire, well digging machinery, railroad cars, 750,000 bottles of insect repellant, and 7,000 tons of coal in burlap bags Into the holds went black basketball shoes, 3,000 vehicles, loudspeakers, 16,000 feet of cotton rope, and 100,000 in gold coins, entrusted to George Patton personally And into the holds went a platoon of carrier pigeons, six flyswatters and sixty rolls of flypaper for reach 1,000 soldiers, plus five pounds of rat poison per company.A special crate, requisitioned in a frantic message to the War Department on October 18, held a thousand Purple Hearts.Atkinson is masterful in his descriptions of combat, utilizing both primary remembrances and vivid prose Overconfidence, under planning, and the perfidious French create a brisk and violent confrontation on the beaches Later, as the Allies move slowly into the desert, their tanks come up against the superior German panzers Another Stuart tank was hit, and another They brewed up like the first Crewmen tumbled from the hatches, their hair and uniforms brilliant with flame, and they rolled across the dirt and tore away their jackets in burning shreds Others were trapped in their tanks with fractured limbs, and their cries could be heard above the booming tumult as they burned to death in fire so intense it softened the armor plates An Army at Dawn introduces dozens of memorable individuals, from the famous, such as George Patton and Bernard Montgomery, to lesser known but equally deserving men such as Terry De La Mesa Allen, Teddy Roosevelt, Jr., and Patton s son in law, John Waters In telling his story, Atkinson moves easily from the top down and from the bottom up At the very end of this food chain, looming over everyone, is Dwight D Eisenhower It would be going way too far to suggest that Atkinson is critical of Eisenhower In the realm of World War II, he s something of a sacred cow, where even his flaws are deemed virtues in the larger scheme But in this volume, Eisenhower is just one step removed from failure Atkinson paints him as a man stretched right to the breaking point, chugging enough coffee and smoking enough cigarettes to give the reader lung cancer One early British complaint about Ike was his penchant to play politics of course, it would later be his political abilities that made him such an asset to the Allies A few years ago, the Greatest Generation was in high fashion Tom Brokaw, Stephen Ambrose, and their many dollar sign eyed imitators scooped up just about every We Saved the World story they could find and put it between hard covers The glut of books that came out in this time created a distorted view of what World War II was, what it was like, and what it meant In many ways, Atkinson can t quite contain his hero worship He speaks of the American Army here in its infancy with the pride of a father speaking of his child But he is also clear eyed enough to call a mistake a mistake, and to separate the George Patton s from the Lloyd Fredenhall s He takes time to explain all the foul ups, but he never excuses them And though his sentences occasionally soar too high, he always brings you back down to the few inches of sand and fear and whining bullets where the war actually took place An Army at Dawn is the slightest of the three entries in the Liberation Trilogy Yet it tells you something about the magnitude of Atkinson s achievement that that it is also a masterpiece.

  2. says:

    Long winded, but incredibly well written and exhaustive, An Army at Dawn by Rick Atkinson was definitely a choice pick for the Pulitzer for History 2003 The book is simply brilliant is demonstrating that friction between British and America commands nearly imploded the effort in Africa and how close the battle for Tunisia really was The psychological portraits of the legendary characters of Ike, Patton, Montgomery and Rommel were fascinating The detailed battle maps were also incredibly useful As a natural pacifist, I felt that Atkinson was writing from a cynical American perspective we were very, very far from perfect and committed our share of atrocities but believed we were in a holy war against the Axis and that German brutality at Stalingrad which made even German officers pale and disheartened reinforced this belief I think his thesis that the Africa campaign was a necessary warmup for the Italian campaign subject of the second book of his trilogy and Normandy subject of the 3rd book is probably accurate While I still detest war and am bereaved at the thought of so much senseless death, it was clear that Hitler had to be stopped and was clearly engaged in a suicidally insane war on two fronts and that he would never yield until all hope was annihilated Atkinson s book is a critical read for those wanting to understand this little known campaign and see that the Hollywood version of our GIs is simply lies and damned lies Yes, they were heroic at some points, but they were also frail humans and despite the glory history subsequently heaped on their shoulders, many decisions of the upper chain of command had catastrophic results on the field If I had to sum it up in a phrase, it is kind of the equivalent of Howard Zinn s extraordinarily eye opening People s History of the US but instead focused on the African campaign of the Allied forces striking west to east from 1942 1943.

  3. says:

    For among mortal powers, only imagination can bring back the dead Rick Atkinson s An Army at Dawn The War in North Africa, 1942 1943 was my introduction to WWII African campaign I found it masterful, thoroughly researched, and bestowed with a well crafted and colorful narrative It brings the war, with its scalding heat and contrasting cold nights of the desert turned bitter with icy winds and gifts the readers with tales about the protagonists, depositing them right on the battlefields Thus, it enables us to hear the sounds of fighting and dying with the cries of the wounded It allows us to witness the lives of individual survivors, of the dying, as the dead are brought forth with the power of Homer s Iliad Indeed, t his is an ancient place, built on the ruins of Roman Cartage and a stone s throw from the even older Punic city It is incomparably serene. Serene, but not for long We are introduced to General Eisenhower, Rear Admiral Hewitt, General Patton, General Fredendall, General Bradley, among innumerable others see below , as the Allies begin to plan and mount attacks in Morocco, Algeria but mainly in Tunisia Throughout, the commanders competed with and criticized each other, led many times by politics and not common sense or military strategy, generating unimaginable tragedies and casualties that could probably have been avoided.The Americans were unprepared The main impression I came away with was just how poorly prepared the U.S military was for the war they faced In many ways, North Africa was a training ground for bigger battles to come in Italy and Normandy, and it s a very good thing the Allied troops started in Africa, rather than launching straight into an invasion of France, as many American commanders were advocating As for combat, TORCH revealed profound shortcomings in leadership, tactics, equipment, martial lan, and even common sense.From the start problems and errors started to accumulate To begin with, the landing on the beaches was extremely problematic, not a single transport could be found in the right location, and some were six miles out of position To be perfect honest, one naval officer confessed, I am not right sure exactly where we are Once the landing was accomplished, however, things did not improve Again lost, the troops had to go on Major Robert Moore, former Boy captain from Villisca, hours after landing found himself and his inexperienced regiment in Lambiridi, just west of Algiers He heard gunfire and a machine gun overlooking the road killed two soldiers and wounded two Things got worse, he now commanded fragments of all three of the regiment s battalions. Another machine gun killed soldiers wounding a captain Moore rose for a look, suddenly he was on his back, stunned and confused Moore unsnapped his own chin strap and removed his helmet a snapper s bullet ran across the crest like a black scar.That was a lesson not to be forgotten, For the first time, Moore realized how frightened he was Even nameless skirmishes could be lethal I thought the fight with the snipers was quite a battle, he would say months later, after receiving the Silver Star for his valor at Lambiridi Now I it was just a comic opera war Still, good men lay as dead as if at Antietam or the Meuse Argonne In these first hours of the war, Moore had learned several vital lessons that thousands of other American soldiers were also learning around the rim of Africa Some lessons were fundamental stay low take a few extra moments to study the map before setting off But the others involved the nature of combat and leadership a realization that battlefields were inherently chaotic that improvisation was a necessary virtue that speed and stealth and firepower won small skirmishes as well as big battles that every moment held risk and every man was mortal In the beginning they were fighting the Vichy French, which they erroneously expect not to fight at all American troops believed French defenders would be so cowed that they would greet the invaders with brass bands. However, Franco American amity was rapidly reestablished Algiers was fairly easy to conquer later the capture of Oran required fighting but gave the Allies virtual possession of Algeria But even the cautious commander felt a little cocky the White House was told to expect the occupation of Tunis and Bizerte in December and the fall of Tripoli in late January Nevertheless, the big problem with the American troops was they couldn t fight They seemed unprepared for what they were facing For one, they believed they were being forced into a war that was not theirs and, once bullets started flying many were too frightened to fire their weapons Thus, running to the rear screaming seemed natural to expect That did not help morale The result was vastly favorable to the Germans, affording them in the beginning easy victories Light snow fell on the Americans and British soldiers picking their way through Kasserine Pass on the morning of February 25 The desolate landscape was cluttered with wrecked German and American airplanes, burned out vehicles, abandoned tanks, and scattered shell cases, Robinett reported Ratio tins, unfinished love letters, a pair of boxing gloves the detritus of battle lost and won The proud and cocky Americans today stand humiliated by one of the greatest defeats in our history Harry Butcher scribbled in his diary, There is a definite hangheadedness On learning how to win a warThe men had seen things they could never imagine before men incinerated other eviscerated and soldiers killed by booby traps The list is endless As a result, They were becoming hard bitten They were wary of excessively gungho leaders known as questers for glory but appreciative of those who remained calm and tactically alert They had learned that combat was slower than expected, a choreography of feint, thrust, withdrawal, and parry that the battlefield often seemed empty and lonely that death was ubiquitous, a fifth element to air, fire, water and earth True, they did not hate yet but they were developing the capacity for hatred, which required a nihilistic core of resignation and rage Undoubtedly, the American troops had finally attained the right demeanor for war Ernie Pyle now noticed in the troops the casual and workshop manner in which they talked about killing They had made the psychological transition from their normal belief that taking human life was sinful, over to a new professional outlook where killing was a craft The American combat soldier had finally learned to hate.Amazingly, barely two months would elapse between the hangheadedness of Kasserine and the triumph of total victory in Tunisia Fedendall was relieved and Patton would command the II Corps, but for a short time before resuming his preparations for Sicily Omar Bradley, Patton s deputy, would take charge after him As command was transferred the American forces were learning how to fight Their ultimate success came in 1943 when the Germans were defeated, now the Americans had a core of soldiers, over 100,000 men, who knew how to kill and would put that to use in Italy and France Plus Eisenhower had learned his first lessons on how to run a war Some conclusionsAtkinson presents a remarkable detailed picture of the African campaign, with an unrelenting focus on the very human men who managed, or were learning to manage, the war There is everything you would expect to read about when considering men egos, intelligence, fears, desires, competition All together his prose helps to make this a very compelling story.Through exhaustive research, personalizes the story at every turn the author s prose is full of fascinating anecdotes worth quoting here, but one in particular gives a taste of the ambience To deal with the inevitable traffic fatalities a sliding scale of reparations was established, paid the oversize French currency GIs called wallpaper 25,000 francs 500 for a dead camel 15,000 for a dead boy 10,000 for a dead donkey 500 for a dead girl On the whole, the Germans were simply better at fighting a war Well, they had been at war for over two years Had the landings been opposed by Germans, Patton later conceded, we would never have gotten ashore It s a frightening prospect to imagine an Axis that had access to the materiel wealth that the Allies eventually enjoyed Even near misses from the German guns were devastating Compared to the German tank guns, the Stuart 37mm snapped like a cap pistol, a platoon leader observed.Ultimately, the overwhelming materiel superiority of the Allies was defining It seems they could afford to make mistakes Several, in fact Atkinson concludes The battle, Rommel famously observed, is fought and decided by the quartermasters before the shooting begins The shooting had begun months before in northwest Africa, but now the quartermasters truly came into their own The prodigies of American industrial muscle and organizational acumen began to tell From February to March 1943, 130 ships sailed to Africa with 84,000 troops, 24,000 vehicles and a million tons of cargo The Germans were fortunate to slip a handful of ships across the straits from Sicily against Allied bombing.Arrogance, error, inexperience, and 70,000 allied casualties served to strengthen the Americans Generals sacrificed troops as they learn how to command mid level officers did or died support troops built desert cities and the troops learn to hate or be killed Yes, it is in fact an army at dawn, with a Supreme Commander that balances politics and war and often comes up short Atkinson s review of the terrible aftermath of Sid bou Zid is specially revealing In truth, Eisenhower preoccupied with strategic and political issues, and having no personal combat experience had simply failed to grasp the tactical peril on that Valentine s Day morning In trying to serve as both supreme commander and field general, he had mastered neither job The fault was his, and it would enlarge him for bigger battles on future fields But it was not his fault alone Mistakes clattered down the line, along with bad luck, bad timing, and the other handmaidens of havoc So, Eisenhower learned to command and the troops learned not only to hate but kill effectively.So, what else do we learn with Atkinson s narrative Mainly that nothing, absolutely nothing goes according to plan It s surprising how little information planners had on hand, who yet confidently drew up ambitious battle plans What s even surprising is how often the Army managed to pull them off, regardless And, ultimately, the important thing is not how you play the game, it is whether you win or lose For months, Eisenhower had worried that Axis troops would convert the Cap Bon peninsula into a diehard redoubt But once Bizert and Tunis fell, fuel shortages and Allied alacrity prevented Arnim from regrouping Bradley s soldiers cut the last Bizerte Tunis road at daylight May 9, effectively ending American combat in Tunisia Now there was nothing but smoke out renegades and escort prisoners to their cages.For the British farther south, the end was less tidy, although the Axis troops still holding the Enfidaville line lacked enough gasoline to fall back forthy miles on Cap Bon unless they abandoned their heavy weapons Atkinson closes here confirming that the now Americans certainly were an Army and Eisenhower a mature commander No soldier in Africa had changed grown than Eisenhower He continued to pose as a small town Kansan, insisting that he was too simple minded to be an intriguer or to attempt to be clever, and he retained the winning traits of authenticity, vigor, and integrity He had displayed admirable grace and character under crushing strain But he was hardly artless Naivet provided a convenient screen for a man who was complex, shrewd and sometimes Machiavellian The failings of Fredendall and other deficient commanders had taught him to be tougher, even ruthless, with subordinates And he had learned the hardest lesson of all that for an army to win a war, young men had to die A great end for a book that is agonizing, alluring, ingenious, and gripping Highly recommended Note quotes in italics.The CommandersGeneral Eisenhower Thirty months earlier, Eisenhower had been a lieutenant colonel who had never commanded even a platoon in combat.Once Eisenhower had settled in Algiers with his staff, however, the majority of his time was not on the front In truth, he spent at least three quarters of his time worrying about political issues, and the preoccupation poorly served the Allied causes.Eisenhower had yet to bend events to his iron will, to impose as well as implore, to become a commander in action as well as in rank.Rear Admiral Hewitt You do everything you can, he liked to say, then you hope for the best Commanding Task Force 34, a convoy of than 100 ships in nine columns, it approached the Moroccan coast on November 7, minutes ahead of schedule However, the weather might not help The forecast of landing conditions were very poor.The lives of 34,000 men rested heavily on his musings history had often punished invaders who disregarded the weather But a decision was required From London, the commander of amphibious forces, Lord Mountbatten, had the same grim forecasts I hope to God, Mountbatten said, Admiral Hewitt will have the guts to go through with it This crucial choice was Hewitt s, not Eisenhower s nor Patton s who was to assume command once landed Thankfully, Hewitt announced his decision to execute Plan One as scheduled, without betraying the turmoil churning within him.General Patton He was a paradox and would remain one, a great tangle of calculated mannerisms and raw, uncalculated emotion Well read, fluent in French, and the wealthy child of privilege, he could be crude, rude, and plain foolish He had reduced his extensive study of history and military art to a five word manifesto of war violent attacks everywhere with everything Once he reached Fedala, he lost no time in displaying his most conspicuous command attributes energy, will, a capacity to see the enemy s perspective, and bloodlust.Yet Patton s defects also were revealed a wanton disregard for logistics a childish propensity to feud with other services an incapacity to empathize with frightened young soldiers a willingness to disregard the spirit if not the letter of orders from his superiors and an archaic tendency to assess his own generalship on the basis of personal courage under fire.General Bradley On Thursday morning, April 22, Patton s successor arrived by jeep on the crest of a leafy hill outside B ja He was a bespectacled six footer, with a high, convex forehead and thin hair that had been greying since his cadet years Now he was fifty, just Omar Nelson Bradley had moved to center stage there he would remain for the duration and beyond Like Patton, Bradley could be simple, direct, ruthless, but the similarities ended there he also possessed an intolerant rectitude and a capacity for dissimulation that in lesser men might devolve into deceit.He had a born infantryman s feel for terrain, with a detailed mental map of every significant swale and ridge from B dja to Bizerte.General Fredendall But who would command II Corps Eisenhower had just the man, and in him the making of a disaster.Unencumbered with charisma, Fredentall substituted bristling obstinacy Truscott found him outspoken in his opinions of superiors and subordinates alike Fredendall chose as avenue for the operation was on the eastern border of Algeria in ancient T bessa Soon Fredendall and his staff officers had established residence in Speedy Valley but also known as Lloyd s Very Last Resort and Shangri La, a million miles from nowhere Speedy Valley was seventy miles from the front.Brigadier General Robinett Yet for his bumptious gall, Robinett possessed an unsparing analytical mind He recognized that he himself was culpable of the rout, having failed to organize a night counterattack that might have saved Surreys, Hampshires, and Americans He had not foreseen the possibility and had no plan for such a contingency, he later admitted Frankly, I was too new at the game Major General Ward Commander of Old Ironsides the 1st Ard Division had waited first in Britain and then in Oran for permission to unify his force at last Ward was a quiet, genteel man, with large sensitive eyes set in an oval face some thought he resembled a schoolmaster than a tank commander The other peculiar trait was an instant willingness to take offense from General Fredendall, his superior officer He soon concluded that Fredendall and the II Corps staff were not even studying the map carefully before drafting deployment orders on absurd lines In the American Army few relieved commanders got a second chance to lead men in combat Ward was an exception because he was exceptional But first he had to do penance for his virtues as well as his sins.General Alexander Under a proposal from General Brook, the combined chiefs agreed that a single general would command both Anderson s First Army and Montgomery s soon to arrive Eight Army in Tunisia That commander would be Eisenhower but three British deputies would handle daily sea, air and ground The ground commander due to assume command in February, would be Alexander.General Montgomery Hardened in the trenches he had been wounded at Ypres he was hardened by the early death of a wife he adored After taking command in Egypt in mid August 1942 under Alexander s indulgent supervision, Montgomery had whipped Rommel first at Alam Halfa, then a second, decisive time at El Alamein.And yet Sparks flew up around Montgomery He was puerile, petty, and egocentric, bereft of irony, humility, and a sense of proportion It would not suffice for him to succeed others must fail Swaggering into Tunisia, Montgomery and his army were also thoroughly overconfident He envisioned a grand sweep to Tunis, with laurels and church bells awaiting him.Field Marshall Rommel Like most of history s conspicuously successful commanders, Rommel had an uncanny ability to dominate the mind of his adversaries with neither Prussian blood nor the crimson trouser stripe of General Staff alumnus, he embodied several traits of his native region self reliance, thrift, decency, and a dour common sense.Rommel s first successes in Africa manifested the audacity, tactical brilliance, and the personal style he occasional hunted gazelle with a submachine gun from star car that contrasted so invidiously with British lumpishness and won him the sobriquet of Desert Fox.

  4. says:

    If I didn t know the end of this story, I would swear the Allies are about to lose World War II Eisenhower stays in Gibraltar for the early months, taking care of politics instead of coordinating the war effort in North Africa Later he moves to Algiers, far from the battle front Americans and British make every amateur mistake in the book failure to do reconnaissance prior to engagement, dividing rather than concentrating forces, incomprehensible broken communications systems, sticking to plans conceived in ignorance rather than updating with new information The German army by contrast runs like a well oiled machine Rommel stays in close communication with officers who lead well disciplined troops He is a brilliant strategist.American troops were inexperienced on the battlefield and American leadership was sadly deficient Tension among the British and American officers ran high and the troops harbored stereotypes that made it hard to communicate well The British infuriated Americans by charging them with timidity on the battlefield, suggesting that units be evacuated to the rear and retrained under British guidance Worst of all were intelligence failures that disastrously influenced military strategy.So how ever do the Allies win Overwhelming air superiority was critical, as it allowed the Allies to destroy critical Axis infrastructure and supply chains Ultra allowed Allies to decode Axis communications, giving them advance notice of troop, materiel, and supply movements Battalions were reduced to skeletons by attrition from battles and defections, especially from Italian units In the end, it was a war of attrition Germans had brilliant strategists in Rommel and Kesselring but lacked replacement troops, infrastructure, and materiel Winning is impossible without an army and Hitler could little afford to send troops to Africa I read this on a Kindle and strongly advise obtaining a copy of the physical book instead Maps were very hard to decipher and I would have greatly appreciated knowing about the terrain.

  5. says:

    Atkinson s An Army at Dawn covers the 1942 1943 war in North Africa, from the initial Allied invasions to the drawn out siege of Tunisia Like all great history books, this one reads like a cracking good novel Atkinson brings his characters to life, from Supreme Commander Ike Eisenhower to the soldiers on the front line, using personal diaries, letters home, and declassified official accounts He evokes the North African terrain in vivid detail and really makes the reader feel as if he or she is on the ground with the troops His vignettes are by turns touching, terrifying, and absurdly funny such as the time Winston Churchill is found wandering along the North African beach, serenading random soldiers, until challenged by an American sentry who calls up headquarters Hey, there s a drunk guy down here singing to us He says he s the prime minister of Britain The main impression I came away with was just how poorly prepared the U.S military was for the war they faced In many ways, North Africa was a training ground for bigger battles to come in Italy and Normandy, and it s a very good thing the Allied troops started in Africa, rather than launching straight into an invasion of France, as many American commanders were advocating This is a long, detailed book covering lots of ground both literally and figuratively but it s first rate writing about an important campaign that forged the Allies into an effective fighting force.

  6. says:

    Combining storytelling with historical facts, this book really stands out and truly is worth its Pullitzer in every senseAn Army at Dawn is the first book in a trilogy, where Rick Atkinson covers the liberation of Europe during World War II This book covers the Allied landings in North Africa, starting in 1942 until the Allied victory on the Axis forces in Tunisia, ending in 1943.The book starts with the early planning stages of the Allied invasion Operation Torch The big question that puzzled the Allies was on how the French would react Intelligence gave the image that the French would offer only token resistance The reality was different than token resistance, but dogged resistance resulting in some disastrous battles Once the French were overcome, the next step was to create a cooperation between the English and Americans, while the Germans moved on them to prevent them from reaching Tunis The Americans, naively convinced they would give the Germans a route, were waken up by the defeat at Kasserine, where the American army got a bloody nose But after the first defeat, the Americans grew though and laid the groundwork for their victories in the coming years.It is not only a story of soldiers, but also commanders Atkinson shows us how Eisenhower, starting as a rather timid guy intending to keep everybody as a friend, in the end grows as well He sacks the incompetent Fredendall, who gets a scathing review by Atkinson, and many other American commanders until Patton saves the day.The book is an incredible combination between storytelling and historical facts, which makes it stand out from all other books Atkinson s reliance on battle memoirs and letters from soldiers give it a personal touch At the same time, he paints the greater setting the conference at Casablanca and the preparations for the invasion of Sicily.All in all, an outstanding book which explained to me in great detail a lesser known period in the war and truly deserving its Pullitzer Price.

  7. says:

    An Army at Dawn The War in North Africa, 1942 1943 gets 5 Big Stars for reaching that rare pinnacle a war history that can be read enjoyably by novices and historical experts Rick Atkinson stands equal with Max Hastings and Cornelius Ryan in making this subject come alive He uses the same techniques, walking you through how the leaders developed grand strategy and then taking you right down into the foxholes, ships and ard vehicles in the heat of battle He uses vignettes of various parts of the battles to tell the overall story, following various participants through the campaigns Some survive, some don t My copy has a forest of little scraps of paper marking key passages I would sit down to read and suddenly would be 50 pages down the road without even noticing the passage of time Amazing writing from start to finish.Here are some samples The French surrender Algiers and the combined American British task force flagship comes to dock in the harbor view spoiler At dawn on Monday, the task force flagship, H.M.S Bulolo, steamed with imperial dignity toward the Railway Jetty, unaware that an earlier near miss from a Luftwaffe bomb had damaged her engine room telegraphs A routine docking order from the bridge for full steam astern went unheard The French welcoming committee on the jetty watched with mounting alarm as the ship loomed nearer at twelve knots Officers on the bridge debated whether Bulolo s masts would likely shear forward or backward upon impact Shrieking bystanders scattered the captain yelled Everyone lie down to his crew and the great bow heaved up onto a fortuitous mudbank, demolishing the seawall and nicking a waterfront house before settling back into the harbor, intact Applauding spectators recovered their wits and agreed that the Royal Navy knew how to make an entrance. hide spoiler

  8. says:

    Book One of the Liberation Trilogy, this is one of the most well written WWII history books I ve ever read Atkinson is an accomplished researcher but also brings his research to life with well placed anecdotes, memoranda, letters and documented conversations It s almost like reading a novel.The only drawback is the overwhelming scope of his narrative I sometimes had to read the same material twice to get it into proper context I also accessed the index many times to refresh my memory on names and places that were referred to earlier in the book.The maps helped me understand the details of the various battles but there were times I wished I had a huge map of the area being discussed so I could better follow the narrative of what Atkinson was describing.For someone like myself, who was raised with the myths of WWII, this book was an eye opener Atkinson discusses the personalities and failings of all the key players, Eisenhower, Giraud, Patton, Alexander, Bradley, Montgomery, Rommel, Von Arnim, Kesselring, Darlan, etc., etc It appears their failings, at this point in the war, far outweighed their strengths Those failings almost always resulted in unnecessary casualties The Generals decide the soldiers, sailors and airmen die I was also able to finally understand the politics of the invasion and the resistance of the Vichy French The French, by the way, come off as almost comic opera personalities The North African Arabs and other native peoples in the area are characterized as thieves and opportunists as might be expected of a people under the colonial yoke of France, caught between warring Western powers.The book is most comprehensive and I could go on for much longer describing its various facets I would like to just say, though, for anyone interested in understanding the 1942 North African Invasion, this book is a must read.I am looking forward to attacking Volumn Two, covering the Sicilian and Italian campaigns.

  9. says:

    For those who are interested in the military history of Europe during World War II but do not enjoy dealing with the minutiae of military detail for each battle Rick Atkinson has done us all a service He has produced what has been labeled as the liberation trilogy which he has just completed with the publication of THE GUNS AT LAST LIGHT THE WAR IN WESTERN EUROPE, 1944 1945 Mr Atkinson has spent the last fifteen years researching and writing his history of the war in Europe In 2002 he presented AN ARMY AT DAWN, THE WAR IN NORTH AFRICA, 1942 1943, and in 2008, THE WAR IN BATTLE THE WAR IN SICILY AND ITALY, 1943 1944 was published The project has been a remarkable undertaking and I felt a void in my own study of the war having not engaged these volumes until now After watching a series of interviews of the author the last few weeks I decided to undertake the joyful task of tackling the first volume dealing with the war in North Africa To say the least, I have not been disappointed Mr Atkinson writes in a fluid manner, presents the necessary background, detail, and analysis of each confrontation, in addition to character studies of the important personages who led the allied armies, and leaves the reader with the feeling he has accompanied allied troops from the landing in November, 1942 to final victory in North Africa in May, 1943 The reader follows the journey of untrained American troops who make up a somewhat ragtag army through months of fighting emerging as an effective fighting force that learns the key lesson for military success, the ability to hate The themes that the author develops are ostensibly accurate throughout the narrative He begins by arguing that the invasion of North Africa was a pivotal point in American history as it was the place where the United States began to act as a great power The invasion defined the Anglo American coalition and the strategic course of the war The decision to invade North Africa found President Roosevelt going against the advice of his generals who favored a cross channel landing on the French coast Roosevelt, ever the political animal was facing the 1942 congressional elections saw the need for a positive military result and North Africa seemed like the safest bet By going along with the British Roosevelt made the correct decision because it was unrealistic to expect a successful cross channel invasion in 1942 or 1943.Atkinson presents the infighting among the allied generals as plans for Operation Torch evolved The reader is taken into the war councils and is exposed to the logic of each position as well as the deep personality conflicts that existed throughout this period between the leading actors in the American and British military hierarchies The British made known their contempt for the fighting ability of American troops in addition to their disdain for American military leadership throughout this period The Americans reciprocated these feelings at the haughtiness and egocentric attitudes of British planners The vignettes dealing with Generals George S Patton, Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., and Omar T Bradley on the American side and those of Generals Harold Alexander and Bernard L Montgomery are brutally honest We see the development of Dwight David Eisenhower, who is periodically stricken with self doubt into a confident Supreme Commander The relationship between Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt does not break any new ground but Atkinson summarizes their relationship nicely developing the most salient points relating to political and military decision making.The most interesting part of the book involves American GIs From the outset Atkinson s goal is to present the war from the perspective of those who groveled, crawled, marched, and died in the North African campaign The author s discussion of the 34th Infantry Division provides insights into the problems of creating an invasion force without the requisite training The issue of time to prepare American troops has a lasting impact on the early conduct of the invasion and the attempt to push the Germans out of Tunisia The discussion of the 34th is a microcosm of the war American troops faced and the problems that had to be overcome during the six months of combat that led to victory over the Germans in North Africa in May, 1943 Perhaps the author s greatest success is creating the fog of war accurately The needless death due to planning errors, the civilian casualties, the emotions displayed by the troops are all on display In all of these instances Atkinson provides unique examples to supplement his comments Whether he is describing the battle for Hill 609 in northern Tunisia, the landings in Oran, Algeria, or the fighting at the Kasserine Pass the reader cannot help but be absorbed in the narrative It is not a stretch to come to the conclusion that Mr Atkinson is a superb writer of military history.Another area that Atkinson excels is his discussion of wartime diplomacy The issue of how the French would react to the invasion would go a long way in determining the length and depth of the fighting and its ultimate results Portraits of the two key French figures Admiral Jean Louis Darlan and General Henri Honore Giraud, both Vichyite collaborators and their negotiations with General Mark Clark and Robert Murphy reflect the tenuous nature of Franco American relations during the war and by integrating the role of General Charles De Gaulle we have a portent of the problems that will exist during the war and after The competition between Patton and Montgomery and other officers is on full display throughout the book Eisenhower s greatest accomplishment was his success in dealing with the diverse egos he was presented with Eisenhower s realization of his lack of combat experience and its impact on his decision making is used by Atkinson to explore his evolution as a successful military leader The North African campaign provided Eisenhower with the training ground in his development as the man who would lead the allies to victory by 1945 The depth of Atkinson s work makes it an exceptional read He argues correctly that the key to the allied victory in North Africa and the war in general was that the United States was the arsenal of democracy As the British kept pointing out it was American industry and its capacity to produce that made up for any military errors the allies may have made What also separates Atkinson s work from other histories dealing with North Africa is the human drama that explores the daily activities of the men who fought Whether describing battle scenes, the plight of the wounded, and the impact of casualties on the home front, and other aspects of combat Atkinson has done justice to his subject Whether talking about such diverse topics as the 26,000,000 life insurance policy purchased by an American division before battle, the role of General Edwin Rommel, or negotiations at Casablanca the reader can trust the material presented If you are a World War II scholar, or are simply interested in a narrative of what for me is the turning point for the United States in the Second World War, the first volume of the liberation trilogy is worth exploring and I recommend it highly.

  10. says:

    I started Atkinson s Liberation Trilogy with his second book The Day of Battle but that was such an informative and well written account of the Italian campaign that when I came across a copy of An Army at Dawn in a local used bookstore, I picked it up immediately.Overall, I wasn t disappointed.Despite the occasionally overwrought prose which I don t remember so much from The Day of Battle , Atkinson manages to relate the invasion of North Africa and the subsequent campaign to take Tunis with bracing clarity and drama The careless reader might get lost in the forest of names and fast breaking events but that s why God invented indices and cartography both resources with which this book are amply equipped.Atkinson is not a historian and the chief theme underlying his story is that North Africa was the crucible that forged an effective Allied army and made or broke the careers of the men who would lead it, particularly Eisenhower Somehow Eisenhower s superiors saw something in the relatively young, untried officer and promoted him over a number of senior officers These qualities were well hidden, however, in the initial stages of the African campaign Ike didn t have any experience commanding an army and he was a tyro in dealing with the delicate egos of politicians and generals As a consequence, the battles were ill planned and stalled with the coming of winter in 1942 It also meant that incompetent commanders were left in command for far too long, with disastrous results for the men they led The poster boy of this contingent was the general of the II Corps, Lloyd Fredendall, whose cowardice and incompetence finally forced Eisenhower to cashier him but only after thousands had paid the price.From my readings in WW2 history admittedly not as extensive as they could be , I would tend to agree with Atkinson s point If the Allies had invaded northern Europe in 1943 as Roosevelt and Churchill contemplated, it would have been an unmitigated disaster We may still have won eventually but it would have taken a measure of political will that probably would have been absent without victories to bolster morale and it would have been devastating to military confidence.Beyond that, there were several events themes that stood out to me 1 It s a little advertised fact that the first troops we engaged in battle were Vichy French I suppose this sticks in my mind only as in illustration of the complexities of reality The Allies were never of one mind about the course of the war and its aftermath, and the French were not just waiting for their Allied friends to arrive so that they could through in with them.Another illustration of this was Roosevelt s assertion of unconditional surrender at the Casablanca conference A move that surprised and chagrined Churchill, who had discussed the idea with the Americans but certainly hadn t committed himself 2 On the whole, the Germans were simply better at fighting a war This doesn t mean their commands weren t riven by political and personal animosities or that incompetence didn t rear its ugly head they were and it did but the commanders were professional, the men better trained, the commands better integrated the Germans tended to ignore their Vichy and Italian allies in planning campaigns, and not without cause , and German logistics better coordinated the Germans did with far less than the Allies It s a frightening prospect to imagine an Axis that had access to the materiel wealth that the Allies eventually enjoyed 3 Which brings us to my third point the overwhelming materiel superiority of the Allies They could afford to make mistakes Several, in fact Atkinson quotes an unnamed general as saying, The American Army does not solve its problems, it overwhelms them p 145 From February to March 1943, 130 ships sailed to Africa with 84,000 troops, 24,000 vehicles and a million tons of cargo The Germans were fortunate to slip a handful of ships across the straits from Sicily against Allied bombing 4 For me, the most interesting part of the book was finding out about the Allied commanders who they were, their personalities and how they coped with the realities of battle a new experience even for the WW1 vets as technology had made the Second World War and entirely new way of fighting I ve already mentioned Eisenhower and Fredendall but we meet any number of lower ranking officers of varying qualities and competencies, including George Patton, the icon of the can do, hard charging American soldier My feelings of loathing for this borderline psychopath were only reinforced despite Atkinson s generally admiring treatment One of Atkinson s strengths, though, is his evenhanded treatment of the subject no commander is perfect and all made some truly egregious errors that cost tens of thousands of lives The better learned from their mistakes the best also realized the human cost of their folly.Atkinson s breakdown of the problems of command is a salutary antidote against the armchair generals who look back at Kasserine Pass and other battles and say, Well, if only they had done this, or ask, Why didn t he throw X brigade into the line at this point It s surprising how little information planners had on hand, who yet confidently drew up ambitious battle plans What s even surprising is how often the Army managed to pull them off, regardless.I would definitely recommend this book as well as The Day of Battle to anyone interested in military and or WW2 history, and I look forward to the third installment, which promises to deal with the D Day invasion and its aftermath.

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