Read An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa by Rick Atkinson Online


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 rapidlyBeginning 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....

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An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa Reviews

  • Matt
    2019-04-06 07:59

    My 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, but it is laced mainly with blood. It is the first volume of what Atkinson calls “the Liberation Trilogy.” Subsequent entries cover the invasions of Sicily, Italy, and Normandy. Recently, Atkinson finished the third volume, so it’s safe to start. (In other words, you won’t be like every fan of George R.R. Martin, 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 more 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 more 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.

  • Michael Finocchiaro
    2019-04-09 23:51

    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.

  • Lizzy
    2019-04-04 04:04

    "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 élan, 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 more. Things got worse, he now commanded fragments of all three of the regiment’s battalions. Another machine gun killed more 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 more 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 war...The 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 conclusions...Atkinson 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 more 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 more 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 more – grown more 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. Naiveté 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 EisenhowerThirty 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 more 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 BradleyOn Thursday morning, April 22, Patton’s successor arrived by jeep on the crest of a leafy hill outside Béja. 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 Bédja to Bizerte.General FredendallBut 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 Tébessa. …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 RobinettYet 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 more 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 WardCommander of ‘Old Ironsides’ – the 1st Armored 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 more 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 AlexanderUnder 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 more 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 more laurels and church bells awaiting him.Field Marshall RommelLike 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.

  • Bou
    2019-04-05 01:53

    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: more 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.

  • Ed
    2019-04-01 02:59

    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.

  • Mike
    2019-04-02 00:01

    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 armored 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 more 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)]Throughout the book, Atkinson conveys a sense of the campaign in just a few words:Five hundred and sixty road miles separated Algiers from Tunis, and the first Allied troops cantered eastward in the rollicking high spirits obligatory at the beginning of all military debacles .In individual battle scenes, Mr. Atkinson brings a vision to your mind of what the fighters experienced. Here he relates the results of an ill-planned attack on prepared defense:(view spoiler)[Then the trap was sprung. German antitank gunners opened from three sides. “The velocity of the enemy shells was so great that the suction created by the passing projectiles pulled the dirt, sand, and dust from the desert floor and formed a wall that traced the course of each shell,” Lieutenant Laurence Robertson later recalled. Shells zipped through the American formation, trailed by thick coils of dust tinted bright green by the tracer magnesium burning on the German rounds. Within ten minutes, more than half the American tanks were ablaze; flames licked from the hatches and exhaust vents, and each wounded Sherman frothed with its thirty pounds of chemical fire retardant. Back the surviving tanks raced, as fast as reverse gear could carry…. (hide spoiler)]Notable and poor performance from the lowest soldier to the highest level is highlighted and how it impacted the course of battle is discussed. The good and the bad laid out for all to read and consider…I like that approach. None are spared the microscope. Here is a wonderful paragraph, describing the meeting of Churchill and Roosevelt in Casablanca. In just a few sentences, we get a glimpse at Churchill’s appreciation for the grapevine; French colonial rulers complaining about the demands of the ruled; and Roosevelt’s casual anti-Semitism:(view spoiler)[A state dinner for the sultan of Morocco and his grand vizier went well, though Churchill grumbled because, in deference to Muslim sensibilities, no alcohol was served. The prime minister insisted on a postprandial open bar so he could recover from the pernicious effects of teetotalism. At noon on January 17, Roosevelt received General Nogues, still clinging to power as Moroccan resident-general. When Nogues complained that Jews in Morocco and Algeria were demanding restored suffrage, Roosevelt jauntily replied, “The answer to that is very simple, namely, that there just aren’t going to be any elections, so the Jews need not worry about the privilege of voting.”The president also proposed restricting Jewish participation in law, medicine, and other professions to reflect Jewish percentages in“the whole of the North Africa population”. This, he told Nogues, would “eliminate the specific and understandable complaints which the Germans bore towards the Jews in Germany”for disproportionately dominating certain occupations. Despite his commitment to the large freedoms underpinning the Allied cause, Roosevelt no less than Churchill could be“a great man for the status quo.”(hide spoiler)]I could rave on about the book but here are just some of the areas that I found most interesting:The French fight the Americans and the British during the Torch landings with some vigor. But they do not even say a cussword when the Germans land in Tunisia. Guess the French hadn’t decided who their friends were but they knew what the Germans would do if opposed.Eisenhower is a poor commander in this first big operation. He is a staff guy, doesn’t know much about conducting war and not yet ruthless. He is too concerned with politics, to the detriment of the battles. He will get his ass chewed by Marshall, he will have a major “fail” when presenting a battle plan to the combined US/Brit chiefs and he will be uncertain if he will survive this assignment. But you start to see why he was the right man for the job.The Brits run circles around the US guys at the Casablanca Conference and get their way on continuing the fight in the Mediterranean. The US wanted to attack mainland Europe ASAP and thought the Brits were focused on strategies that would help maintain her “Empire”. There is deep mistrust on both the US and British sides of each other. The convoluted command structure is explained. We see the continued failure to concentrate forces and soldiers are thrown into battle in small “penny packets”. The Brits distrust US force performance after the defeat at Kasserine Pass. Monty comes into the picture and is an ass. Overall, the Americans from the top down are not yet ruthless enough. Incompetent leaders are weeded out; battle teaches the need for new tactics.The only complaint I have (it is a major one but I’m not deducting a star) is that Atkinson almost ignores the impact of airpower on the fight. Much of the campaign was fought without Allied air superiority. In fact, the Germans had great air support for most of the campaign. There is just too little on this aspect of the war. The Allies have air superiority at the end of the campaign but there is nothing here on how that happened. A major oversight.Highest possible recommendation for anyone interested in WWII, expert or just curious. Read this one to learn about the brave young men who fought and died at the start of the American entry to the European campaign. They deserve as much attention as the ones who later fought in Italy, France, Holland and Germany.

  • Rick Riordan
    2019-04-11 05:11

    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.

  • Elizabeth Theiss
    2019-04-15 00:48

    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 more 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 more about the terrain.

  • Steven Z.
    2019-04-01 04:04

    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.

  • Terence
    2019-04-18 01:16

    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 more 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 more 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 more 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.

  • A.L. Sowards
    2019-04-04 02:07

    A detailed account of the campaign in Northern Africa, from the Allied landings in November 1942 until the capture of Tunis. Atkinson’s books are dense, packed with facts, and always take me a while to get through (not because of any flaw with the writing, there’s just so much to absorb). Full of interesting stories and tidbits, plus an overall informative big-picture look. The conclusion: the campaign in N. Africa wasn’t elegant, but the Allies got the job done.

  • Jill Hutchinson
    2019-03-28 02:59

    This is one of the trilogy of books by Rick Atkinson about WWII and it is a real winner. This edition concentrates on the war in North Africa and the Allies' confrontations with Rommel and von Armin and the Afrika Corps. The initial landing on the continent of Africa, Operation Torch, was pretty much a fiasco and the Americans were green and inexperienced. Men were not prepared for the horrors of warfare and the British who had been in Africa for a while were totally disgusted with the American troops. The choice of Eisenhower as Commander-in-Chief was not well received and when Patton arrived even the troops under his command were at a loss to understand his tactical moves and his insistence on being on the front lines. The political situation among the Allies often was at the breaking point with the goal being who got the glory rather than fighting the enemy as a combined force, utilizing the strengths of both the British and the Americans. It's an insiders look at the behind the scenes machinations of battle with fascinating detail Boys became men and the commanding officers either exhibited their talents or their inability to lead. Africa was the training ground, especially for Americans for the battle to come on the continent of Europe. I highly recommend this book for the WWII history buff.

  • Keith
    2019-04-10 08:00

    In this, the first volume of his "Liberation Trilogy," Rick Atkinson delivers a stirring yet critical narrative of the war in North Africa. This was the scene in 1942 of the first combat clashes between green and untested American soldiers and the long-bloodied Afrika Korps of Erwin Rommel. The greatest strength of this book is Atkinson's marvelous style and his ability to tell the tale with both metaphorical flourishes and precise statistical accuracy. Atkinson is not a historian by training, he has a MA in English Literature and has worked as a journalist. Perhaps this experience serves the story better. While I am sure that there are more analytically discerning accounts of this phase of the war in Europe, Atkinson's style give this account great narrative thrust. It's more than 700 pages long but parts read like a thriller. Atkinson's high style and awareness of the stakes is in evidence in this quote from the opening chapter:It was a time of cunning and miscalculation, of sacrifice and self-indulgence, of ambiguity, love, malice, and mass murder. There were heroes, but it was not an age of heroes as clean and lifeless as alabaster; at Carthage, demigods and poltroons lie side by side. . . . Only seers or purblind optimists could guess that these portents foreshadowed victory. The Allies were not yet winning, but they were about to begin winning. Night would end, the tide would turn, and on that turning tide an army would wash ashore in Africa, ready to right a world gone wrong.Or the surreal humor of war:American combat engineers heading through the mountain pass called Kasserine found themselves detained at a border post by French customs officials who demanded that duty be paid on all matériel. After realizing that Frenchman and Arab alike were mesmerized by the power of official stamps, the engineers fabricated their own rubber imprimatur and “just stamped the hell out of everything.”The narrative is full of other voices, not just the command officers but the ordinary soldier with background stories and quotes from letters home, as well as the dispatches of the war correspondents. Eisenhower's appointment as supreme commander rubbed many the wrong way, particularly senior British generals and their attempts to undermine Ike were costly. Atkinson demonstrates how Eisenhower grew into the role history has frozen him into but it wasn't easy:In truth, [Eisenhower] spent at least three-quarters of his time worrying about political issues, and that preoccupation poorly served the Allied cause. Had he shunted aside all distractions to focus on seizing Tunis with a battle captain’s fixed purpose, the coming months might have been different. But a quarter-century as a staff officer, with a staff officer’s meticulous attention to detail and instinctive concern for pleasing his superiors, did not slough away easily. 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.This is a very good military history and I'm looking foward to Volumes Two and Three

  • Paul
    2019-04-19 04:48

    This is one of those books that every person that wants to know about World War 2 must read, but it’s primarily about the United States’ entry into the war in the European Theater (or African/Mediterranean Theater, if you prefer).It’s always been hard for me to read about the Africa campaign from the U.S. perspective because – as the title implies – the American military was so unprepared for war. Problems with logistics, with command structure, and even the desire to kill the enemy had to be learned in painful lessons, and if Rommel had sole command (instead of the “Commando Supremo” in Italy) to make decisions, he may have driven the Americans back to Morocco.This is a definitive account of the U.S. entry into the war, but the English and Commonwealth armies had already been fighting, and the conflicts and rivalries are manifest in the failures and eventual success of this campaign – a hard learning experience (and my enthusiasm for it waned at times because of the futility of the untried troops), but necessary before attacking Fortress Europe.

  • Checkman
    2019-03-31 01:06

    Solid very readable popular military history. In November 1942 the United States Army (the entire United States military establishment for that matter) was green and it embarked on a major land campaign against the German Army. Arguably one of the best armies in the world at that time and an army that had been basically fighting non-stop for the past three years. Not surprisingly the Germans delivered several stunning kicks to the American jaw, but thanks to many factors (to include just dumb luck), the Germans were defeated and the Allies emerged victorious in North Africa. Rick Atkinson shows that things were not perfect in the Allied camp. For those readers who have studied World War II in depth there is nothing really new here. There is the political scheming among the Vichy French, the clash of egos in the Allied command, the less than effective weaponry that the United States Army employed at this stage of the war, the superior German tactics and weapons, and the friction between the British and the Americans. However Atkinson covers these aspects very competently and it all flows together. This is a book written by a journalist with both professional and personal connections to the United States Army. It's apparent that he has feelings for the institution and is proud of it, but wants the reader to see that it is made up of Humans and isn't perfect. As a result the victory (and it was a victory for the enemy surrendered in large numbers and retreated)in North Africa is shown to be more impressive than is generally recognized by many military historians. It's a good book.However it isn't a hardcore military history treatise. Which is a plus in my opinion. I majored in history and I've read many an in-depth scholarly historical text over the years. You want to know something? Most of them are incredibly dry and dull. Atkinson brings the Human element into his account and I like that. He is from the Ryan and Ambrose school of military history. Snobs might not like the school, but then snobs seem to forget that history is the story of Humans and Human events. In closing I strongly recommend An Army At Dawn. One might not agree with all of Atkinson's opinions and the book could have used a few more maps, but it's a well written,engrossing, in-depth look at the U.S. Army/Allies at the beginning. This isn't the muscular, seemingly invincible Allied war-machine of 1945. This is a book about the beginnings and it's a good one.

  • Dan
    2019-03-30 01:56

    I don't know how long it took Atkinson to write this book, but it is meticulously researched. He sifted through official documents, news reels military records, personal letters to home, letters from home and journal entries of the soldiers involved. He takes all of this information (there's more than 100 pages of references) and creates a detailed look at the African Invasion of World War II, told through the eyes of generals, soldiers and Americans back home. This sweeping epic (it's hard to believe this is the first book of a trilogy) follows America as it goes from bumbling oaf to well-oiled army.What sets this book apart from the History Channel, though, are the stories Atkinson pulls from the letters. There's Patton's belief that any soldier that ducks from strafing enemy aircraft lacks moral character. Or the American tanks that raced against each other to be the first American soldiers to fire at the Germans. Atkinson doesn't just tell us what happened, he tells us what everyone was thinking while they were doing it, and it makes for a great read.

  • Jack
    2019-03-19 00:01

    A gritty description of how the American army became a fighting force in the hills of Tunisia. Well written and full of excellent descriptions of the front. I found his research on this political and military aspects extremely interesting. I would have liked more additions on how the Germans played in this campaign. The author did an excellent job and I recommend this one to all WWII readers.

  • Katy
    2019-03-23 00:01

    Excellent read. Atkinson brings the war in North Africa up close and personal in this book.

  • Gary Butler
    2019-04-01 03:54

    26th book read in 2017.Number 507 out of 591 on my all time book list.

  • Silvana
    2019-03-24 02:49

    It felt good to go back reading about the World War II, and this time a book that has been gathering dust in my to-read-not-yet-bought list for seven (?) years. Lucky, this was selected for a group read and its price became more affordable. It is a complex, meticulous one. What I like first of all is the breadth of the narrative. Every major battle from the first (disastrous) landing was covered. Orders were laid out. At the end there are some concluding points and reflections on why a certain attack or major maneuver resulted in a certain way. War is always messy. The African campaign was a true testament to that. Especially when it involved three countries, one of which had a renegade government. Just so silly the way the Allies had to face the Vichy first before meeting the Germans. And the Anglophobia infesting many American generals, vice versa. All created a giant disarray and confusion. The main takeaway for me would be that it was a war with too many generals, everybody was ordering everybody else, strangers commanded strangers. Alas, had Hitler gave more priority to Tunisia, the war might be prolonged and resulted in a different way (the German troops looked way better organized and ready).I have to admit though, the details on the locations are staggering to the point of me getting lost. Where's that, in adjacent to what, which hill, what city, and so on. I believe a physical version - not the Kindle one like mine - would allow a better apprehension on what's going on since the troop movements are described exhaustively.Another thing I enjoy from this book is the fact that the author does not shy away from criticizing the generals and the commanders. Often in war stories you hear only about the heroic deeds of the leaders. Here, it is 90% their faults, their weaknesses as characters, their follies. Patton especially was described as arrogant, petty, insufferable. Once he inflated the casualty numbers to make him look better in his losses. Montgomery was egocentric, also petty and jealous. In this book, both were not super generals as they reputed to be, they failed big time in the Africa campaign. Even Monty, it was not always El Alamein for him.More than three weeks is a long time to read a book for my usual rate, but I guess reading nonfiction, especially super-detailed military history like this, need more cerebral energy and I did not regret every moment of it. After all, Atkinson, in his final words, mentioned that the Americans were bloodied veterans as they prepared to invade Sicily. Well, I guess I have to join that ride in his next book.

  • Eric
    2019-04-13 04:52

    I have to admit, I've always been a bit intimidated by military history. No more. It's always great when you can find that writer who can ease you past those jargon-barriers that can impede your enjoyment of a particular kind of book. I'm always game for a chance to enlarge my literary comfort zone. Anyway, my appetite is now whetted for more WWII, and I'm diving right into Atkinson's second book in the Liberation Trilogy, .Some things I learned from this book:1. We fought the French in WWII. For a brief time. In North Africa.2. The U.S. Army, at the outset of our involvement in the War, kind of sucked. There was a lot of poor leadership, from Eisenhower on down. Logisticians were ignored. Massive blunders took place. 3. We got better. North Africa, as it turned out, was a good place to embark on our learning curve. To season our soldiers for upcoming campaigns.4. The Allies bickered among themselves quite a bit.5. Patton, although the media presented him well at the time, didn't really do too much in North Africa. And he was kind of a dick.6. You know those horror stories about U.S. soldiers raping and murdering civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how we thought, "Oh, what's America come to? How far we've sunk since WWII?" Well, some did it then, too.7. The State of Iowa was disproportionately represented in the North Africa campaign.8. Montgomery: great general, but annoying person.9. Rommel: too bad he wasn't on our side. A great general and a decent man, who came along at the wrong time and place in history.20. I want to read a good collection of Ernie Pyle's writing.21. Tunisia, the former Carthage. Seat of a great empire. Must learn more.22. I want to read more Rick Atkinson. And now I'm going to do that. Seeya!

  • Sherwood Smith
    2019-03-28 01:15

    Terrific narrative drive and remarkable facility with imagery coupled with formidable research make this stand above most of the bazillion World War II military histories. Atkinson relies on the letters and diaries of ordinary soldiers as well as official war diaries and the personal writings of various officers and leaders. (Just for the heck of it, I checked his quotes from Rommel, as I have the Rommel papers book, and yep, precise, word for word.)He also acknowledges several decades of military analysis of the specific battles that make up the war in North Africa, when making his own. I can't speak to the accuracy of his judgments (bearing in mind that many times, what one thinks of something as chaotic as a battle depends on where one was, or whose report one hears); he paints a grim picture of the costs of war, which suits the contemporary view of such things, while examining the psychology of war, and of the various leaders.Most of all, though, I admired the facility of his voice. Reminding me of the great novelists, the narrative soars high to observe the scene from the god's-eye view (with Olympian detachment), then dives down into the trenches to recount specific incidents, and the soldiers' reactions. He pays particular attention to sensory awareness, sometimes veering into poetic license, such as the end of a particularly tough battle, when the G.I.s marched into a town. According to him they could not see the spring beauty; they were constantly scanning for attack, so a ridge full of wildflowers is a defilade, etc. We can't know that everybody felt that way, but it is a masterful summation of the alteration of thinking that a soldier who has survived such hell goes through.

  • Richard
    2019-03-28 04:08

    Arrogance, error, inexperience, and 70,000 allied casualties. And so goes the army at dawn as the Supreme Commander balances politics and war and often comes up short in both fields, battle commanders sacrifice troops in the name of ego, mid-level commanders do or die, support troops build desert cities powered by typewriters, and the troops learn to hate and kill.The war in North Africa was mostly a mess, but a victory came out of the mess, and it was a mess of on-the-job training for everyone but the Germans (we won't even discuss the Italians.) But the mess doesn't matter, what matters is who wins. Killing can be precise and quick, or it can be the result of protracted bludgeoning, all that matters is that the enemy dies in numbers great enough to lose, and you win.And it also matters what is learned. The allies learned not only to hate, but to command and kill more effectively than the axis.So, what did I learn?1. The allies were not prepared for war.2. There was great incompetence at the top.3. The Germans were top notch in command and through the ranks - battle hardened.4. Nothing, absolutely nothing goes according to plan.5. In the final analysis, it's not how you play the game, it's whether you win or lose.6. Patton was arguably over-rated, in-arguably a horse's ass.An Army at Dawn is a reader-friendly history filled with politics and anecdotes (at every level) to balance out all the battle history. Letters home were heartbreaking additions to the narrative. This book effected me viscerally, and was a good read.Next up is Sicily (part two of this Liberation Trilogy,) but I'm going to take a break.

  • Susan Albert
    2019-04-03 07:06

    A stark, remarkably detailed picture of the North African campaign, with an intense and unrelenting focus on the very human men who managed (and mismanaged) the war and who fought and died in its battles. Egos, intelligence, fears, desires--all here, all sharply drawn. Atkinson possesses an extraordinary ability to pull a dramatically compelling story out of a morass of competing detail.

  • Rebecca
    2019-04-13 02:48

    3.5 stars — I really enjoyed this book. Four stars for being so well written, thoroughly researched, and anti-Nazi. Minus half a star for being a third again as long as it should have been.I especially appreciated the well-rounded portrayal of major actors such as Eisenhower, Patton, and Rommel, as well as the experiences of the enlisted men. There certainly was a romantic aspect to the North African front, with bizarre, courageous, hilarious exploits. But Atkinson also shows the terror, boredom, discomfort, valor and just...heartbreaking naïveté of the young men who showed up to fight. For me, a pervasively demoralizing aspect of past and current wars is how many people die in stupid ways: car accidents, concussions, friendly fire, infection. How do you write that letter home? "I'm sorry to have to inform you that your son died from gunshot wounds he sustained as the result of poor decisions made while drinking in a bar with his bros." Ugh. No less a tragedy for the loved ones, but no way to frame it in terms of bravery, heroism, or anything meaningful. Patton and Eisenhower really stand out—so much personality! I need to get my hands on their biographies. Any recommendations?I plan on reading the rest of this trilogy, so I'll be interested to see if Atkinson's editors ended up reining him in or succumbing to his success. His writing is truly enjoyable—but Atkinson seemingly has no bigger fan than Atkinson himself. I rolled my eyes approximately ten times over the course of reading this due to jack-offy prose. That's not a ton (it is a long book), and I don't want to be too hard on him: EVERY writer does this, at least in the first draft. It's up to editors on the one hand, and self-awareness on the other, to keep it from publication.

  • Susan
    2019-04-11 01:50

    This is a fantastic book. I truly enjoy WWII history, possibly because of my Dad and my father-in-law being veterans. Plus as a nurse I have had the privilege of caring for so many veterans from that war. This is one of the very best books I have read. The author has the ability to put the reader in the midst of everything that is happening. I could see the battles and hear the noise. I could feel the tension between the commanders. I laughed and I cried. Rick Atkinson has written a superb book. He doesn't gloss over the mistakes that were made. He has researched well so he makes you feel as if you know each person in the book. He also gives glory where glory is due. You feel all the emotions and it's hard to put the book down. I look forward to starting the second book of the trilogy.

  • Ross
    2019-04-19 08:14

    This is a very good book detailing the "dawn" of U.S. combat in WWII with the landings in western North Africa in the fall of 1942. President Roosevelt who had campaigned vigorously on the platform of no U.S. involvement in the war and had reduced the military to a tiny skeleton force, now wanted to get the U.S. into the war immediately because public opinion had changed 180 degrees with the attack on Pearl Harbor. So the North Africa campaign was launched and this book tells the story in great detail in some 500 pages. The landings occurred on 9 beaches and were a disaster due to poor planning, poor equipment and untrained troops. They were opposed by the French who fortunately could not fight much better than the Americans. Had they been opposed by German troops no troops would have survived. Dwight Eisenhower was appointed overall commander because 80% of the troops were American and 20% British. The deal with Churchill was that all the top generals under Ike would be British on the basis that they had battle experience and the Americans had none. It actually turned out the British had no idea what they were doing either. The big problem with the American troops was they wouldn't fight. First they believed they were being forced into a war that had nothing to do with them and second once bullets started flying most were too frightened to fire their weapons. One American officer went barking mad and leap to his feet running to the rear screaming "we'll all be killed, run your lives." Of course all the troops ran as well handing the Germans and easy victory.However, once Patton was gotten out of the way to plan the attack in Sicily, Omar Bradley took charge of the American forces and began the process of teaching them how to fight. The result was in 1943 when the Germans were defeated, the U.S. had a core of 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.

  • Thomas
    2019-04-12 01:04

    Here is my review for Amazon:Prodigiously researched with an attitude, Atkinson's book contains many many stories of the War in North Africa that may never have been told otherwise.The book reads like a novel and novels, of course, are works of fiction. So this method of telling is detrimental; it undermines if not the research, then the conclusions the author draws. The author, given his newspaper experience and many years of hindsight, seems to take a superior attitude and is quick to condemn the actions of very great American generals. He has much more respect for German generals. One can only hope that the Americans were not all boobs, after all.The book is an interesting read, in spite of the vast display of large words in the author's vocabulary, and in spite of the irritating use of "cute" personal stories of the actions of unnamed soldiers in times of crisis (that can never be checked).Events left out of the story are not a problem. No one volume book could contain them all. Better left out would have been the author's apparent contempt, written so authoritatively, of genuine American heroes in action.To be fair, my biases should be given: having known someone who knew both generals Patton and Clark and someone else who was HQ Commandant for Patton and Clark during the span of the book, I am privy to some of the same stories the author tells (and some that are not), but with a different point of view.

  • Joe
    2019-04-06 07:00

    Like every red-blooded American male, I thought myself deeply acquainted with the ins and outs of World War II. Rick Atkinson's An Army at Dawn showed me how little I knew about America's prelude to our invasion of Europe - the African campaign of '42 and '43.Like every good historical writer, Atkinson blends compelling storytelling with exhaustive research and attention to detail. Though he focuses on the perspectives of Eisenhower and Patton, Atkinson acquaints readers with the French and British commanders as well as explaining the enigmatic Erwin Rommel.An Army at Dawn is the story of World War II most are less familiar with. Eisenhower is unsure of himself and has not settled into being the decisive leader the world would come to know in coming years. France is divided and the first bloodbath of Americans is not on the beaches of Normandy, but in West Africa at the hands of the Vichy French. Patton, however, is just as crazy in Africa as he will show himself to be in Europe. His observations and comments excerpted from his diary are among the most interesting (and amusing) parts of the book.

  • Becky
    2019-03-22 05:00

    An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa provides insight into one of the least explored fronts in WWII. Atkinson takes his readers from the first British and American landings in Algeria to the final liberation of Tunisia. He delves into the rocky relationship between British and American soldiers and commanders, the transformation of colonial French forces from enemies to friends, and the painful adolescence of the American military. Atkinson accomplishes this through a play-by-play of each individual battle and command decision.Atkinson's Pulitzer Prize winning book pulls readers into the North African desert. He follows decisions from the commanders who ordered them to the individual soldiers who carried them out. Readers will come away with new understanding of this forgotten front and its vital impact on WWII. But an Army at Dawn is not an easy book to read. Those without a real love for military history could find themselves lost amid the places, names, and numbers.Therefore, I recommend An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa to readers who do have a passion for military history. They won't come away disappointed.