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Battle of the Alps 1940 (Mussolini's War series)

jwsleser

Administrator
Staff member
I have finished reading Sobski’s Battle of the Alps 1940. This is challenging campaign to write about because nothing truly big happened. It is story of individual small actions that never come together into an operational success. The actual fighting was four days with poor weather making the events of those days much less than they might have been.

I need to keep reminding myself that this series is nothing more than an introduction to English readers of the campaigns fought by the Italian military during WW2. My difficulty is knowing that these campaigns aren’t well presented in Italian sources and better, more complete accounts need to be written.

This will be the last book of the series I will review because I am not the target audience. I really need other members to step up who can approach these books with a fresh eye.

The lack of functional maps remains a problem with this series. The book is filled with many descriptions of complex small unit tactical movements, yet the eight maps in the book do little to aid the reader. The maps could have worked if the account was divisions fighting each other, but the narrative is covering the movement of platoons and companies in difficult terrain. The Italian official history only has six maps so it is also limited, but they are the actual topographic maps used during the campaign. One can follow the description in that volume using the provided maps, but that does take much time to do so. When describing actions at this lowest echelon, numerous tactical maps/sketches would have enhanced the narrative. Because of this, I began to skim through the battle accounts because they all read the same. Without decent maps to highlight the unique tactical differences, there was nothing that made these accounts stand alone.

As I previously commented, the Italian order of battle is very disappointing. That information is widely available and should have been included. I am not as familiar with the French OB, so I can’t judge how complete the OB is in this book for the French side of the campaign. Footnotes were inconsistent, with some new/interesting points without cites. For example the comment about rejecting the use of the Vibram soles for the army’s boots was something I had not previously read (p.37). Given that I have extensively researched the use of the Vibram soles by the ski troops, I would have liked to have known the source for this statement.

Adding a chapter on the events in North Africa was a very nice touch. The discussion of the French forces in Tunisia was confusing and a challenge to follow. Including a version of the chart found in Montanari’s Le operazioni in Africa Settentrionale vol. I, p.26 would have helped clarify the French situation.

Sobski offered some analysis of the Italy military’s failure in the Conclusion, but little of this was discussed in detail in the main body of the book. While there are some points made about the inability of the artillery to support the infantry, I was unclear on whether the issue was the weather, planning, doctrine, or execution. He doesn’t really comment on the fact that no complete offensive plan existed in 1940. Mobilization was another major problem. While touched upon at times, these issues are never truly explored.

It is difficult for me to assess the true value of this book. The lack of critical cites makes the book of very limited usefulness for me as a researcher. It might be of value to someone new to the topic, but the lack of maps to support the text indicates to me that one will get a taste of the campaign but not much more.
 
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