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The Savage Storm

The Battle for Italy 1943


James Holland

London : Bantam, 2023

Paperback ‎     624pp     RRP: $36.99


Reviewer: David Rees, February 2024


The World War II battle for mainland Italy by the Allies against the German Wehrmacht was a long-drawn-out campaign which lasted from 1943 to 1945. However, in this book, James Holland relates only the major military and political events that occurred in Italy from 17th August to 31st December 1943. This period was the most critical time for the Allies. It covered the initial Allied invasion of southern Italy, the unconditional surrender of Italy and the strong resistance put up by the German army and air force to prevent the Allies from reaching Rome. James Holland is an internationally acclaimed author and award-winning historian. His writing is easy to read and he uses large size campaign maps which make it easier to follow the progress of the battles.

The background of the savage storm was that in April 1943, the two major Allied armies fighting in North Africa, namely. the American 1st Army in the west and the British 8th Army in the east, joined up in Tunis. By 20th May they had accepted the surrender in Tunis of 240,000 Germans and Italian troops. The next step was for the Allies to invade and conquer Sicily. This successful Allied campaign took place from 10th July to 17th August 1943 during which time, Mussolini was overthrown on 25th July and Italy sought a unilateral armistice with the Allies. The secret negotiations between the Allies and the Italians about an armistice, initially delayed the planned Allied invasion of the Italian mainland. However, a final armistice agreement which led to Italy’s unconditional surrender, was signed on 3rd September 1943.

The Allies chose three landing zones for the invasion of Italy and used two armies the British 8th Army and the US 5th Army. The armies consisted of 13 Divisions in total, which included troops from USA, Britain, Canada, India, New Zealand and later from Poland and some Free-French colonies. The British 8th Army under General Bernard Montgomery made some successful amphibious landings at Calabria on the 3rd of September 1943 and used an airborne division to land unopposed at Taranto on 9th September. The US 5th Army under General Mark Clark made a number of amphibious landings in the area around Salerno on the 9th of September 1943. These later landings were made against strong opposition and were touch and go to begin with but were eventually successful.

The two Allied armies were over 450km apart, but their aims were to join up and defeat the 10th and 14th German Armies under Feldmarschall Albert Kesselring, and capture Rome by Christmas 1943. Both sides were involved in fighting in very mountainous terrains which tended to favour the defenders. Nevertheless, the Allied armies persevered under dreadful weather conditions which played havoc with the airpower and more highly-mechanized Allied way of waging war and resulted in high casualties. However, they did join up and did reach the German Gustav defensive line around Mount Cassino south of Rome by mid-January 1944. They were stopped there for a few months but that’s another story.

In his narrative, the author accessed personal diaries, letters and experiences of personalities from all sides and weaved them into an overall campaign story. Each person had a tale and interestingly, the author took a different and sympathetic view of General Mark Clark’s military capabilities. This view was contrary to the view of many historians who criticized the general for being insubordinate, anti-British, egotistic and lacking a ‘grip of the show’.  James Holland puts it down to Mark Clark’s inexperience and disclaims in particular the anti-British attitude. The book therefore prolongs the continuing controversy about the effectiveness of the Allied generals in the campaign which makes reading it worthwhile.



The RUSI – Vic Library thanks the publisher for making this work available for review.

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