I felt this book started with a good concept but rapidly lost its way. It never finds its raison d’être and the research is poorly supported. Much of what is present is personal opinion without any support.
The concept for this book was quite intriguing and it is apparently stated in the third sentence of the introduction: “Several Italian Generals won Iron crosses, yet, this group of general officers have been marginalized, misidentified and vilified in Anglo-American, German, Italian, French, Spanish, and Commonwealth historical accounts of Rommel’s war in the desert.” (p.15)
As a long-time researcher of Italy’s war effort, this statement resonated with me. I did’t really need to be convinced of this possibility, so I was very keen to read how the authors were planning to address this issue. As I read further into the introduction, I became confused. “We hope to illuminate in a small way the efforts of historical authors James J. Sadkovich, Macgregor Knox, Eric Griebling, Ian Walker and Richard Carrier.” was first. Then followed statements such as “In no way is our book presented as an academic study, nor is it an attempt to refute the epic works of British authors about ‘Italian Industrialized military incompetence.’ and “It is beyond the scope of this book to give a detailed narrative of the battles in North Africa, 1941-1943.” (all p.17). If the book wasn’t going to address the marginalization and vilification, what does this book plan to deliver?
The forward, prologue, and Chapter One led me to believe that the book would be a photographic tour of the Italians generals and the sources in which they had been misidentified. The information presented in the prologue was fairly well support with sources and page numbers, allowing the reader to review the authors research. In all, I felt that these chapters did a good job in engaging the reader and setting-up a photographic review of the Italians generals during the campaign. This was again looking to be positive.
Chapter Two completely derailed this notion. Titled “Dove e’ Gambara? — Wo bliet Gambara? — Where is Gamabra?” this chapter takes the reader on an argument to what purpose I could never discover. At first I thought the authors were arguing that Gambara had been made a scapegoat for the failure of the Axis during Operation Crusader. As I read the chapter, it appeared that the authors were trying to prove that Gambara did fail. The chapter then wanders into a discussion on whether Rommel lost the battle. By the time I finished the chapter, I had no idea what the authors were attempting to say. This was followed by chapters on Rommels options of the Italians, the reverse in the next chapter, The Italian High Command, etc., all trying to refute something. What happened to not refuting?
In the Gambara chapter to the end of the book a serious flaw was present: the lack of any cites for the material offered. These chapters extensively used quotes from first hand sources like Rommel and from various historians. Sources and cites were not provided for any of them. In the Gambara chapter, the authors use quotes and paraphrased statements from both Rommel’s and Gambara’s diaries (see p.42 for an example from Gambara, p.43 for Rommel). Neither of these works are listed in the bibliography or are any page numbers provided. Chapter Three presents Rommel quotes about other Italian generals. No cites with page numbers are offered during this extensive use of Rommel material.
There is some incorrect history. In the entry for Field Marshal Giovanni Messe on p.133 the authors claim “For his successful defense of Valona against the Greeks, he was awarded Command of the C.S.I.R. (First Italian Expeditionary Corps to Russia), the Italian Mobile Corps of three division in Russia.” Messe was given command of corps only after the actual commander, General Francesco Zingales, became sick and was hospitalized on 13 July 41 while the corps was being transferred to Russia (see ‘Le operazione delle unità italiane al fronte Russo’ p.80 fn 10). Messe wasn’t the first choice and it is debatable whether he single-handily saved Valona as implied by the statement.
The lack of a gallery of photos for each general was disappointing. The authors state on p.37 that “De Stefanis was photographed with and without glasses, with or without a mustache, heavy and or thinner, and wearing a variety of different desert head gear.” Given the author’s detective work, one would hope that the book would have contained a number of these different photos so readers would have a guide to identify this general. Sadly the photo of De Stefanis on p.101 is the same as that on p.37. At this point the book was lost in the wilderness.
The remaining sections of the book added little. If the book had offered the aforementioned gallery of photos and a complete service history for each general, this might have been a decent reference source. Neither of these were provided. Everything in the various epilogues could have been consolidated into single entries for each general, with service history, a photo-gallery, and any special remarks. One can’t avoid comparing this book with such works as ‘Generals in Blue’ and ‘Generals in Gray’ which are good examples of what could have been accomplished. Instead the book offers an unhelpful organization that includes many repeats. For example, Epilogue : D Italian Generals Reassigned to Commands Prior the Armistice has a list of 53 names. Of those, only 16 entries have any new information. The remaining 37 entries direct the reader to other sections of the books For example p.103, General Alberto Mannerini, see section G, Epilogue (which is Italian Generals taken as P.O.W.s in N.A.). When you go to p.119 in G where Mannerini is listed again, it only tells you that he was the CO of the Tripoli Fortress 1943. Mannerini’s entry in The Generals of WW2 webpage (generals.dk) provides more information on the general than that provided in the book.
In all, I feel this book was a great missed opportunity. The idea of correcting the photographic history is a good one. The authors did some good research, but failed to capture it and present it in a useful manner. The sidetrack discussions of Gambara, Rommel’s and the Italian generals’ opinions of each other, read like speculation with little organization and a lack of proper attribution. The book felt like a mashing together of several different ideas into chaotic whole, with each trying to be the reason for the book. The lack of proper documentation will limit any academic use of this source, but the authors did say they didn’t plan to offer rigor.