Book Review: The British Army in Italy, 1917-1918

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by John Wilks and Eileen Wilks

Barnesley, S. York.: Pen & Sword / Philadelphia: Casemate, 2014. Pp. xiv, 226. Illus., maps, notes, biblio., index. $24.95 paper. ISBN: 1783461713

A Revisionist Look at the British Army in Italy in the Aftermath of Caporetto

In this work, originally published in 1993, the Wilks, British academics who are both veterans of the Second World, stand between the traditional versions of the events established in the immediate post-war period, in which the English and French claimed that only their troops saved Italy from utter destruction, while the Italians argued that no help was necessary.  

Although their concentration naturally is on British operations they fill in the background to the events leading up to Allied intervention quite well.  They give a good, clear explanation of the causes of the Caporetto disaster, and an unusually good treatment of the Italian struggle to stabilize the front in heavy fighting on the Asiago Plateau and Monte Grappa, to actions largely overlooked in English accounts of the war, while giving proper attention to the roles of the Austro-Hungarians and Germans in the crisis.  The Wilks then discuss the complex negotiations that brought Allied reinforcements to Italy, albeit by the time they arrived the situation, while not optimal, had stabilized.  There’s a great deal about the politics of command and strategy, and about planning for further operations.  The final battles on the Italian Front are very well covered, the Italo-Allied defensive on the Piave in June of 1918 and the Italo-Allied offensive at Vittorio Veneto in October each essentially meriting two chapters.  In their last chapter, the Wilks address “History and Myth,” discussing how, for their own purposes, the British, French, and Italians all manipulated the record to stress their role in the events, and, in the case of the first two, to denigrate that of the Italians.

The British Army in Italy is an excellent work, and at times almost amusing, as when the authors comment upon how in their accounts of the war in Italy all participants worked hard to omit the contributions of the others.  This is a very valuable work, throwing much new light on the final year of the Italian Front, made available again for anyone interested in the Great War.

Note: The British Army in Italy is also available in hardback, $34.95, 978-1-78346-171-4, and in several proprietary e-book versions as well.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi, Review Editor   


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