Similarly to how the Korean War is the “Forgotten War” against communism of the 20th Century, the North African Theater is the forgotten theater of World War II. While some aspects of the war, such as D-Day, MacArthur’s campaign across the Pacific, and the portion of the war on the Eastern Front are all well covered. On the other hand, the North African Theater is infrequently brought up. Luckily, Rick Atkinson began his “Liberation Trilogy” of books with An Army at Dawn, which is about the war in North Africa.
Summary of An Army at Dawn
For too long, America had avoided its military responsibilities. As a result, American military planners’ ideas for how to fight the war- which generally were similar to the “attack the strongest point” style of fighting that General Ulysses Grant used in the Civil War, as recounted in his Memoirs, were impossible.
Instead, America had to relearn how to fight. In fact, it actually had to learn how to fight in the modern era. That posed a problem for the new alliance of America, Britain, and some of the French.
America wanted to attack across the Channel in 1943 at the latest. Britain, which knew just how badly that would go, pressed for its traditional strategy of “nibbling at the edges” to be implemented. First, North Africa would be taken. Then, the Allies would invade Sicily and Italy. Finally, sometime in the future, the continent would finally be invaded.
As we all know, that strategy finally was more or less adopted and the Anglo-American force gradually pushed the Germans back across North Africa after first suffering a series of defeats that culminated in the rout at Kasserine Pass. But, American stick-to-it-ivness and British experience, and of course their overwhelming supply advantage, helped turn the tide and beat the Germans back.
The Reason for Attacking North Africa
So, why did the Allies choose to attack North Africa first? Because American troops needed to learn how to fight against the overstretched Germans and perennially inept Italians.
The Americans had their overwhelming supplies and (at times) strength in numbers on their side. Additionally, they had excellent leadership- Patton, Eisenhower, Bradley, and others all got their start in World War II in the deserts of North Africa.
Also, the war in North Africa strengthened the bond between the British in Americans. In An Army at Dawn, Atkinson uses anecdotes and official correspondences to show the early tension between the Allies. American inexperience, British over-confidence, and French ineptitude and cowardice all made for a rocky start to the alliance. However, as the Allies finally started to win battles and the Germans were pushed back, the British and Americans got over their differences and began to work together.
The Lesson of An Army at Dawn
American, now in a new Cold War with China, might soon find itself having to gear up for a significant war again. Not some skirmish like the wars for democracy in the Middle East. But a real, large-scale war like the one imagined in Ghost Fleet and The Red Line.
The lesson of An Army at Dawn is that a war like that can be won, even by a citizen army like the one Eisenhower commanded. But, World War II would have been much easier and faster had America’s Armed Forces been prepared.
Analysis of An Army at Dawn
I thought that An Army at Dawn was a thrilling and informative book to read. A bit like Bridge of Spies or Phase Line Green, it seemed almost too fast-paced to be real. Yet, it was certainly real and full of factual information about the North Africa Campaign.
So, if you read it, you won’t be bored. Rather, you’ll learn a lot but stay interested and entertained.
Also, I think it’s an important book to read because Americans need to remember that we fought in North Africa. Most books about the American experience in the war cover only the landings at D-Day, the tooth and nail Battle of the Bulge, and the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. Relatively little is written about the North African Campaign.
In fact, despite considering myself a history buff, I had only read one book about the North African Campaign before reading An Army at Dawn. Now, I’ve added more to my list so I can learn more about it. It’s important subject matter because American blood stains those hills and deserts in the same way that it stained the hedgerows of Normandy. We should learn about and remember our forefathers’ sacrifices. Otherwise, we’re doomed to repeat history.
By reading An Army at Dawn, you’ll not only have a chance to learn about American heroes like Patton and Eisenhower but also you’ll learn the important lesson of the book. What is that lesson? That America can’t let its military atrophy. We need to be able to defend our homeland if need be. Luckily, Trump is rebuilding the depleted US Armed Forces.
Check out An Army at Dawn. It’s no Leviathan. You won’t need to will yourself to read it. Actually, its a pretty short book and it’s a page-turner, so you won’t be committing to a huge time black hole.
At the same time, however, you’ll learn a ton from it. The contours of the North African Campaign, the various startlingly successful or horribly unsuccessful missions, how the relationship between the Americans and British was solidified, and more are all in the book. Atkinson did a good job of writing about everything pertinent to the early war.
Enjoy reading it!
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