Book Review: At War on the Gothic Line: Fighting in Italy, 1944-45


by Christian Jennings

New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2016. Pp. xxviii, 384. Illus., maps, notes, index. $27.99. ISBN: 1250065178

The Forgotten War in Italy

The author of Mouthful of Rocks: Through Africa and Corsica in the French Foreign Legion, Bosnia's Million Bones, and several other works, war correspondent and historian Jennings,  gives us a very readable, often gripping account of one of the truly forgotten campaigns of World War II, the fighting in Italy after the liberation of Rome, on June 5, 1944. 

The following day was D-Day in Normandy, and it not only shifted popular attention almost entirely to northwestern Europe but also put the war in Italy on the back burner.  So against some of the best troops remaining to the Wehrmacht and Mussolini’s collaborationist forces, the Allies fielded a remarkably polyglot host that included, alongside other troops, African- and Japanese-Americans, Brazilians, South Africans, Poles, Indians of many backgrounds, Jews, New Zealanders, Italian partisans and regulars, and more, including special operations personnel from America’s OSS and Britain’s SOE. Jennings gives us overviews of each of the contingents, giving us some idea of their character, training, and leadership, noting, for example, the often vicious  racism toward African-American troops, though he tends to overlook the Italian Liberation Army.

There’s a lot of fighting, both at the front and behind it, as Jennings covers the operations of Italian partisans, and the resultant often brutal German response, as well as regular combat. He uses first hand accounts well, drawing upon the experiences of troops from many of the contingents, and also focuses on some notable individual soldiers, such as the future Senator Daniel Inouye and the long overlooked heroism of John Robert Fox, who due to racism would wait over 50 years for his self-sacrifice to be recognized with the Medal of Honor. 

This is an excellent account of the final eleven months of the war in Italy, worth reading by anyone interested in the Second World War.

Note: At War on the Gothic Line is also available as an e-book, ISBN 978-1-4668-7173-1

Reviewer: A.A. Nofi, Review Editor   

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