The Day of Battle The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944

The Liberation Trilogy

Rick Atkinson

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

848 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book of the Year

In An Army at Dawn—winner of the Pulitzer Prize—Rick Atkinson provided an authoritative history of the Allied triumph in North Africa. Here, in The Day of Battle, he follows the strengthening American and British armies as they invade Sicily in July 1943 and fight their way north toward Rome.

The Italian campaign's outcome was never certain; in fact, Roosevelt, Churchill, and their military advisers engaged in heated debate about whether an invasion of the so-called soft underbelly of Europe was even a good idea. But once under way, the commitment to liberate Italy from the Nazis never wavered, despite the agonizingly high price. The battles at Salerno, Anzio, and Monte Cassino were particularly difficult and fatal, yet as the months passed, the Allied forces continued to drive the Germans up the Italian peninsula. Led by Lieutenant General Mark Clark, one of the war's most complex and controversial commanders, American officers and soldiers became increasingly determined and proficient. And with the liberation of Rome in June 1944, ultimate victory at last began to seem inevitable.

Drawing on a wide array of primary source material, and written with great drama and flair, this is narrative history of the first rank. With The Day of Battle, Atkinson has written the definitive account of one of history's most compelling military campaigns.


Praise for The Day of Battle

"In The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson picks up where he left off in An Army at Dawn, his history of the North African campaign, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2003. A planned third volume, on the Normandy invasion and the war in Europe, will complete The Liberation Trilogy, which is shaping up as a triumph of narrative history, elegantly written, thick with unforgettable description and rooted in the sights and sounds of battle . . . He excels at describing the furor of battle, and the Italian campaign provides him with abundant raw material . . . Mr. Atkinson, a longtime correspondent and editor for The Washington Post, conveys all of this with sharp-edged immediacy and a keen eye for the monstrous and the absurd."—William Grimes, The New York Times

"Monumental . . . With this book, Rick Atkinson cements his place among America's great popular historians, in the tradition of Bruce Catton and Stephen Ambrose . . . Atkinson skillfully conveys the growing power of the U.S. Army, pouring men and material forward in an inexhaustible stream and, at the front, the toughening of the American troops as they advance and beat hell out of an expert and implacable enemy."—Robert Killebrew, The Washington Post Book World

"The majestic sequel to his Pulitzer Prize-winning An Army at Dawn . . . Atkinson's achievement is to marry prodigious research with a superbly organized narrative and then to overlay the whole with writing as powerful and elegant as any great narrative of war."—The Wall Street Journal

"Atkinson proved what a determined and assiduous researcher could achieve in An Army at Dawn, his bestselling account of the North Africa campaign, and he has been no less thorough in The Day of Battle . . . But while there is new material here—like information about the death of Allied servicemen from American mustard gas at Bari—it is his ability to ferret out astonishing amounts of detail and marshal it into a highly readable whole that gives Atkinson the edge over most writers of this field. Anyone who devoured An Army at Dawn with relish will be delighted with his account of the Sicilian and Italian campaign. All the same ingredients are here, from sharp one-liners (‘Camaraderie and good fun,' he says of the resumption of negotiations at the Trident conference in Washington, ‘promptly popped like soap bubbles') to brilliantly observed character portraits . . . The minutiae of events combined with telling character observation enables Atkinson to write about Eisenhower—and others, like General Patton, Clark and Truscott—in a way that makes readers feel they knew these men personally. Opening with a fine account of the Trident conference between Roosevelt, Churchill and their chiefs of staff, Atkinson notes that the Italian campaign was really all about Allied strategy, or rather diverging views on strategy between America and Britain . . . The Day of Battle is a very fine book indeed. ‘Here the dreamless dead would lie,' Atkinson writes in a very moving passage about the aftermath of the bloody Rapido, ‘leached to bone by the passing seasons, and waiting, as all the dead would wait, for doomsday's horn.' Even the great Ernie Pyle would have liked to have written that one."—James Holland, The New York Times Book Review

"The Day of Battle is the second volume of Rick Atkinson's monumental history of the US Army's western experience in World War II. It chronicles, with all the verve, perception, and insight for which he has become celebrated the painful advance of Allied forces from the beaches of Sicily to the grand piazzas of Rome . . . Atkinson's book is a model of historical narrative and analysis. His accounts of the great battles evoke in vivid detail the horrors endured by the participants. I find it hard to quibble with any of his judgments. This is not least because he understands so wonderfully well the doubts and difficulties of the men of 1943-1944. He does not seek, as do too many historians, to impose upon them the values and perspective of the twenty-first century. The British historian Professor Sir Michael Howard, himself a veteran of the Italian campaign, often remarks: ‘We make war as we can, rather than as we should.' This was profoundly true of the Italian campaign, which Atkinson chronicles with glittering distinction."—Max Hastings, The New York Review of Books

"Near the end of his copiously reported, briskly written The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Rick Atkinson quotes an unnamed BBC reporter who burst into Allied media headquarters in Rome on the morning of June 6, 1944. The Allies had just liberated the Eternal City, but elsewhere in Europe it was D-Day. ‘Boys, we're on the back page now,' the reporter said. ‘They've landed in Normandy.' And so it has been, for six-plus decades. The fight for Sicily and then up the rugged, heavily defended Italian coastline to Rome and beyond largely is forgotten beneath the avalanche of journalism and moviemaking that chronicles the grand crusade from the beaches at Normandy to Hitler's bunker in Berlin. If the Allies' middle campaign, between defeating Rommel in North Africa and storming ashore at Normandy, is to get its due, it well might be from The Day of Battle, the second volume of Atkinson's intended trilogy of World War II. His first in the series, An Army at Dawn, won him his second Pulitzer Prize in 2003. The reporting is meticulous and heavily footnoted . . . The Day of Battle does not glamorize incidents that today would have been instant scandals, like the conduct of individual soldiers or the failure to block German soldiers from fleeing Sicily . . . One of Atkinson's triumphs is his ability to capture the specific incident and the lesson that lurks beneath."—Tony Perry, Los Angeles Times

"Extraordinary . . . Atkinson's mastery of sources, his profound grasp of tactics and strategy, and his use of quotes bring the conflict alive with a terrible vividness . . . His descriptions of combat flow with kinetic intensity . . . He also conveys the horror of battle in unforgettable detail."—The Boston Globe

"Atkinson's sketches of the major characters in the war are striking in their insight and do much to reveal the personalities of the titans (and some of the lesser-known figures) of history."—San Francisco Chronicle

"[The Italian campaign] is described by Rick Atkinson with a brilliance that makes his book one of the truly outstanding records of the Second World War."—Sir Michael Howard, The Times Literary Supplement

"During World War II, Winston Churchill famously called the Mediterranean ‘the soft underbelly' of Nazi-occupied Europe. The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson's horrifying, fascinating account of the war in Sicily and Italy, shows the British prime minister could not have chosen a less apt adjective."—Rick Hampson, USA Today

"A worthy successor to An Army at Dawn . . . Atkinson's fine book will leave his admirers eagerly awaiting the final volume of his World War II trilogy."—The Washington Times

"Atkinson has a reporter's eye for the telling detail and a historian's sure grasp of the larger picture . . . Lucid and focused, The Day of Battle only whets the appetite for Atkinson's third installment . . . The trilogy will stand in the uncrowded first rank of great World War II histories."—The Philadelphia Inquirer

"In Atkinson's skilled hands, the various facets of this war are burnished to a succession of gleaming highlights—bloody skirmishes, the suffering of civilians, the valor of the soldiers, the incompetence of politically engaged officers and the unearthly sounds of the guns . . . An impressive work of history told as deadline journalism—colorful, researched and with a kind of energy that lends it a sense of immediacy."—Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"[Atkinson] combines an impressive depth of research with a knack for taut, compelling narrative."—Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Atkinson is fair-minded and thorough, and a lively writer."—Houston Chronicle

"Atkinson is an impressive researcher and gifted stylist, and his descriptions of battle are unequaled in their beauty and terror."—Newsday

"When it comes to telling the story of World War II, few can surpass Rick Atkinson . . . He may have surpassed his own great work with this latest installment in the Liberation Trilogy."—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"With The Day of Battle, Atkinson again proves himself to stand among the ranks of our most talented popular historians . . . Required reading for anyone with an interest in the battles of World War II."—Austin American-Statesman

"A standout . . . Remarkable in depth, exhaustive in detail, colorful in its storytelling."—Rocky Mountain News

"A seamless, stunning narrative that is the equal of An Army at Dawn . . . Atkinson's success lies in his ability to render bare war's wretched realities in astounding prose."—Contra Costa Times

"The liberation of Europe marches on in the second volume of Atkinson's sterling Liberation Trilogy—though readers may sometimes wonder how the Allies ever won. After the German defeat in North Africa, writes Atkinson, the U.S. military and political leadership pressed to take the war to northwestern Europe. FDR pointedly said that he shrank from 'the thought of putting large armies in Italy,' a country that was historically hard to attack and historically easy to defend. American commander George Marshall added that invading Italy would open a prolonged battle in the Mediterranean that would tie down men and equipment needed elsewhere; he proposed an air offensive instead. Yet the British were successful in arguing for an Italian front and 'making the elimination of Italy from the Axis partnership an immediate goal,' even if the Americans did pledge not to reinforce the front and extracted a due-by date from the British for the invasion of France. How the British succeeded is a tale in itself, one that Atkinson relates with due suspense. How the Anglo-American rivalry played out in the field will be familiar to anyone who knows the film Patton, but Atkinson rounds the story out with a close look at the field tactics of Lucian Truscott's infantry, who 'covered thirty miles or more a day in blistering heat,' and of George Patton's armor. The costs of advancing through 'Jerryland' were appalling, and they forced changes in the order of battle—speeding racial integration in the American military, for instance—while occasioning unheard-of rates of desertion and dereliction: Atkinson observes that the U.S. Army 'would convict 21,000 deserters during World War II, many of them in the Mediterranean.' Yet, despite rivalry, a fierce German resistance and other obstacles, the Allies eventually prevailed in Italy—even if the Italians, one soldier recalled, kept asking, 'Why did it take you so long?' Literate, lucid, fast-paced history—an excellent survey of the Mediterranean campaign."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Flushed with the defeat of Rommel's Afrika Corps in North Africa, Winston Churchill looked ahead to attacking 'the soft underbelly of Europe.' He believed that the conquest of Sicily, followed by a rapid advance up the Italian peninsula, could reduce the necessity for a massive invasion across the English Chanel. Atkinson, a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, has written a comprehensive account of the campaign, which is the second volume of a planned trilogy covering the Allied liberation of Europe. As he illustrates with masterful use of primary sources, British and American war planners were deeply divided over the necessity of the campaign. Once launched, Allied attacks were frequently improvised and poorly coordinated. Still, progress was made, ending with the liberation of Rome in June 1944. Atkinson conveys the confusion and grinding difficulty of the Allied advance as experienced by ordinary soldiers while also providing interesting insights into the character of some of the top commanders."—Jay Freeman, Booklist

"Atkinson surpasses his Pulitzer-winning An Army at Dawn in this empathetic, perceptive analysis of the second stage of the U.S. Army's grassroots development from well-intentioned amateurs to the formidable fighting force of World War II. The battles in Sicily and Italy developed the combat effectiveness and the emotional hardness of a U.S. Army increasingly constrained to bear the brunt of the Western allies' war effort, he argues. Demanding terrain, harsh climate and a formidable opponent confirmed the lesson of North Africa: the only way home was through the Germans: kill or be killed. Atkinson is pitilessly accurate demonstrating the errors and misjudgments of senior officers, Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, Gen. Mark Clark and their subordinates commanding corps and divisions. The price was paid in blood by the men at the sharp end: British and French, Indians and North Africans—above all, Americans. All that remained of the crew of one burned-out tank were the fillings of their teeth, for one example. The Mediterranean campaign is frequently dismissed by soldiers and scholars as a distraction from the essential objective of invading northern Europe. Atkinson makes a convincing case that it played a decisive role in breaking German power, forcing the Wehrmacht onto a defensive it could never abandon."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



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Chapter 1

The sun beat down on the stained white city, the July sun that hurt the eyes and turned the sea from wine-dark to silver. Soldiers crowded the shade beneath the vendors' awnings and hugged the lee of the alabaster buildings spilling...

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  • The Day Of Battle by Rick Atkinson

    In the second volume of his epic trilogy about the liberation of Europe in World War II, Pulitzer Prize winner Rick Atkinson tells the harrowing story of the campaigns in Sicily and Italy.



  • Rick Atkinson

  • Rick Atkinson was a staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post for more than twenty years. He is the bestselling author of The Day of Battle, An Army at Dawn, In the Company of Soldiers, and Crusade. His many awards include the Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing and Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and history. He lives in Washington, D.C.

  • Rick Atkinson Photo © Sigrid Estrada
    Rick Atkinson


    Rick Atkinson

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