Military history



I was born in occupied Munich in 1952 and spent my early childhood in occupied Austria as the son of an American Army officer. That perhaps explains a lifelong fascination with World War II—how did we find ourselves in central Europe, and why? But my professional passion for the subject was enflamed in the mid-1990s when, as the Berlin bureau chief for The Washington Post, I covered a succession of fiftieth-anniversary commemorations, from the landings at Normandy to the final surrender of Germany. Walking the battlefields at Anzio and Arnhem, Salerno and the Bulge, and listening to veterans recount their tales made two things clear: this was the greatest story of the twentieth century, and like all great stories, it was bottomless. There was more to write; there will always be more to write. The armies that liberated Europe in 1944 and 1945 had a cumulative history, as did the officers and men who composed those armies, and no comprehensive understanding of the victory of May 1945 is possible without understanding the earlier campaigns in Africa and Italy. Hence, the Liberation Trilogy.

Any twenty-first-century author writing about World War II owes an incalculable debt to those of the twentieth century, and I gratefully acknowledge mine. Among the hundreds of volumes consulted for this work, a special recognition is owed the 114-volumeU.S. Army in World War II, the official history informally known as the Green Series. I have also profited from the official British History of the Second World War, as well as innumerable regimental and division histories, personal memoirs, historical analyses, and scholarly studies. The compendium is large, and now one book larger.

Out of conviction that the ground itself has a great deal to say, I traveled to Tunisia in September 1996 and April 2000; to Morocco in April 2000; and to El Alamein, Egypt, in May 1996. To further steep myself I visited Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), Moscow, the Seelow Heights east of Berlin, and other battlefields in Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands from 1994 to 2001. I also interviewed many veterans. But the core of this narrative is drawn from primary, contemporaneous sources—diaries, letters, records official and unofficial, after-action reports, unpublished memoirs, original maps—a surprising number of which have not previously been used in comprehensive accounts of the war. For help in tracking down these many thousands of documents I am deeply grateful for the professionalism and patience of a hundred or more historians and archivists.

At the National Archives in College Park, Maryland, I thank John W. Carlin, Archivist of the United States; Michael J. Kurtz; Richard Boylan; Timothy Mulligan; and especially Timothy K. Nenninger, who is also president of the Society for Military History. As chief of modern military records, Tim has been an extraordinary guide in the deep woods of federal archives. He was also kind enough to read the galleys and to offer suggestions. This would be a lesser book without him.

The U.S. Army’s Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, is a national treasure beyond value, and in my seventeen visits there since 1998 I have accumulated a large debt to the recently retired director, Lt. Col. Edwin M. Perry, and to John Slonaker; Dennis J. Vetock; Richard J. Sommers; Louise Arnold-Friend; Nancy Baylor; Pamela Cheney; James T. Baughman; Richard L. Baker; Stanley Lanque, Randy Hackenburg, and especially the chief archivist, David A. Keough.

The U.S. Army Center of Military History has also been a trove of documents, photographs, and expertise. Thanks to Brig. Gen. John Sloan Brown, the chief of military history, and to the chief historian, Jeffrey J. Clarke, who generously read the galleys. I am also grateful to Robert K. Wright, Jr.; Mary L. Haynes; Jim Knight; R. Cody Phillips; Charles Hendricks; and Geraldine K. Harcarik.

Thomas J. Mann in the Library of Congress reading room and Frederick Bauman, Jr., in the manuscript division were very helpful.

The Robert McCormick Research Center at the First Division Museum, in Cantigny, Illinois, is among the finest unit archives in the world, and I appreciate the help of the executive director of the Cantigny First Division Foundation, John Votaw; Andrew E. Woods; and Eric Gillespie; as well as the encouragement of the McCormick Tribune Foundation.

The Iowa Gold Star Museum at Fort Dodge has many unique records of the 34th Infantry Division, and I thank the director, Jerry L. Gorden; Richard A. Moss, secretary/treasurer of the 34th Infantry Division Association; and curator Mike Vogt.

At the West Point Library, I’m grateful to the special collections director, Alan Aimone; associate director Suzanne Christoff; and manuscripts curator Susan Lintelman.

I am grateful for assistance from the U.S. Army War College at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and particularly to the former commandant, Maj. Gen. Robert H. Scales, Jr.; the former academic dean, Col. Jeffrey D. McCausland; and professors Samuel J. Newland; Adolf Carlson; J. Boone Bartholomees, Jr.; and Barrie E. Zais.

Mickey Russell, a historian in the Air Force Historical Research Agency at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama, and Sue Goodman, chief of the reference branch at the Air University Library, were particularly helpful.

At the Naval Historical Center in Washington I appreciate the help of Kathy Lloyd and Michael Walker in operational archives, and Glenn Helm in the Navy Department Library. Similarly, at the U.S. Naval Institute in Annapolis, Maryland, I thank the director of oral history, Paul Stillwell; publisher Thomas F. Marfiak; and Ann Hassinger.

At the Combat Studies Institute in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the director, Col. Lawyn C. Edwards, and Lt. Col. Steven Clay were helpful, and I appreciate the assistance of the staff of the Combined Arms Research Library.

The George C. Marshall Foundation Research Library in Lexington, Virginia, is another national treasure. Thanks to Thomas E. Camden, the former museum and research library director; archivist Aaron Haberman; and the foundation president, Albert J. Beveridge III.

I also owe debts to Jane Yates, archivist at the Citadel Archives and Museum in South Carolina; Rebecca A. Ratcliff, historian in residence at the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland; Boyd L. Dastrup, command historian at the U.S. Army Field Artillery School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma; William F. Atwater, director of the U.S. Army Ordnance Museum, and Peter S. Kindsvatter, command historian at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and School, at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Maryland; Van Roberts of the U.S. Army Infantry School Library at Fort Benning, Georgia; Martin K. Gordon of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ office of history at Fort Belvoir, Virginia; Robert S. Cameron of the U.S. Army Armor Center at Fort Knox, Kentucky; and Claude Watkins of American Ex-Prisoners of War.

Among the university archivists and librarians who have been helpful, I would like to thank Christine Weideman at the Yale University library; Thomas F. Burdett, curator of the S.L.A. Marshall Military History Collection at the University of Texas at El Paso; Phynessa McCurry at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville; Krista Ainsworth, special collections librarian at Norwich University; William T. Stolz of the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri in Columbia; Alexander S. Cochran, professor of military strategy at the National War College; and Sandra Stewart Holyoak and Shaun Illingworth of the Rutgers University Oral History Archives of World War II.

At the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park, New York, Robert Parks was helpful; I am also endebted to the staff of the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library in Abilene, Kansas.

In London, I am grateful for the assistance of Simon Robbins and the Department of Documents staff, as well as to the trustees of the Imperial War Museum; the archives staff of the Public Record Office in Kew; and to Patricia J. Methven, director of archive services, and Elizabeth Selby, archives assistant, at the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at King’s College.

I would like to acknowledge the encouragement and generous support of the Association of the United States Army, particularly from Gen. Gordon R. Sullivan, USA (ret.), the association president and former Army chief of staff; Lt. Gen. Theodore G. Stroup, Jr., USA (ret.); and Lt. Gen. Thomas G. Rhame, USA (ret.).

I owe a very large debt to AUSA’s director of operational and strategic studies, Roger Cirillo, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and a historian whose knowledge of World War II rivals that of anyone alive. Roger has been unstinting in giving time, advice, and material from his vast personal archive.

Grateful acknowledgement is made of permission to quote various materials, including:

The Trustees of the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives for material from the collections of Brigadier E. E. Mockler Ferryman; Maj. Gen. William Ronald Campbell Penney; Lieutenant General Sir Charles Walter Allfrey; and B. H. Liddell Hart.

Robin Ward Yates for excerpts from Orlando Ward’s diary, letters, and other personal material; Robert Moore for excerpts from Robert R. Moore’s letters and other papers; Jack A. Marshall for excerpts from his memoirs; Mrs. D. Fawkes for excerpts from the papers of Maj. A.J.A. Weir; Stephen Telford for excerpts from the papers of Fred Telford; Capt. P. Royle for excerpts from his papers; the family of Gen. Sir Cameron Nicholson for excerpts from his papers; Lady Belinda Milbank for excerpts from the papers of Adrian Gore.

In instances where current copyright holders could not be located, or where permissions arrived too late to be noted in this edition, I will gladly include acknowledgements in future editions.

Among others who have provided encouragement or practical assistance are three retired generals who served as chiefs of Army history: William A. Stofft, Harold Nelson, and Jack Mountcastle. Thanks also to Col. David R. Kiernan, USA (ret.), director of strategic communications at MPRI; Ray Callahan of the University of Delaware; Col. Steve Robinette, USA (ret.); John Ward Yates; Gen. Montgomery C. Meigs; and Carla Cohen and Barbara Meade, owners of that fine port in a storm, Politics & Prose bookstore.

My professional home for nearly two decades, The Washington Post, has long tolerated my impulse to heed W. H. Auden’s dictum that we were put on this earth to make things. I thank Donald E. Graham; Bo Jones; Leonard Downie, Jr.; and Steve Coll. I’m deeply grateful for the friendship and support of several Post colleagues: Fred Hiatt, David Maraniss, Margaret Shapiro, Bob Woodward, Stephen C. Fehr, Robert G. Kaiser; Barton Gellman, and Jeff Leen, who cast his fine critical eye over the manuscript.

My friend and agent, Rafe Sagalyn, was there when I needed him, as he always has been. So too was my friend and counselor, Lewis Libby. Alice Crites showed ingenuity and persistence as a researcher, and Rush Atkinson tracked down many of the photographs that enhance this book. Gene Thorp, a master cartographer, demonstrated patience exceeded only by his great competence. Claudia Brown and Ronald R. Duquette helped with some French translations.

The publisher, Henry Holt and Company, has been supportive in every conceivable way. My greatest debt and deepest gratitude goes to the president and publisher, John Sterling, who edited my previous books and who shared the vision of this one. I am again the lucky beneficiary of his peerless sense of structure, character, and language, as well as his publishing acumen. Thanks also to the exceptional efforts of Elizabeth Stein, Jolanta Benal, Kenn Russell, Maggie Richards, Elizabeth Shreve, Christine Ball, and others in the Holt family.

All this assistance notwithstanding, any errors of fact or judgment are solely my responsibility.

Finally, some debts are too profound for adequate expression. To Jane, Rush, and Sarah, who endured years of preoccupation with North Africa, I ask the same indulgence as we turn to Italy and beyond.

Rick Atkinson
Washington, D.C.
June 15, 2002

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