“Since most of the Italian campaign after the liberation of Rome has become obscured by events in north-west Europe, little is known of Operation GRAPESHOT generally and the achievements of Eighth and Fifth Armies in that final month of war are not part of the popular memory of the Second World War.
“As a result, few appreciate that the finest example of manoeuvre warfare by western Allied armies in the Second World War was carried out in northern Italy rather than in France, the Low Countries or Germany.”
That’s one of the theses put forward by local historian, Richard Doherty, in his latest contribution to the historiography of the Second World War.
‘Victory in Italy: 15th Army Group’s Final Campaign 1945’ was recently published by Pen and Sword to coincide with the 70th anniversary of the campaign in April.
As befitting a book produced by one of the UK’s leading military history publishers and authored by one of Ireland’s leading military historians it is forensic in its examination of the military tactics and strategies employed in the last days of the war.
Replete with maps, orders of battle and a useful glossary to help lay people such as this reviewer around the sometimes bewildering military terminology and jargon for the varied matériel, machinery and ranks involved, ‘Victory in Italy’ also includes much original research and information that hasn’t been seen elsewhere until now.
Doherty has been through the relevant cardboard boxes of cabinet office papers relating to the campaign.
War diaries from Kew and Rome as well as other unpublished material - including personal conversations with ex-servicemen - inform the work.
‘Victory in Italy’ will be of use to those with a specific interest in military history and will be a welcome addition to reading lists in that regard, but there’s plenty here too for the casual reader.
Of particular local interest will be the actions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers - a regiment original raised and forever associated with this neck of the woods.
Not least the account of how on March 12, 1945, the late Patrick Joseph Doherty - from Creggan - led a platoon of the Inniskillings along the heavily-mined embankment of a narrow spatewater called the Senio stream in the Ravenna province. The book is littered with accounts like this.
When Doherty lowers the microscope on individual, hand-to-hand skirmishing, he provides welcome personal colour amid the rolling divisions and necessary rear echelon planning detail.
The reader is also given an outline of problems such as low morale, beer and petrol shortages, the disastrous consequences of wayward friendly fire, how troops overcame the age old difficulty of getting cavalry, in this case of the armoured kind, over the rivers in the field.
It describes how sawn-off tanks - Kangaroos - were a vital innovation and played a key role in achieving victory by allowing troops to be moved around at speed.
It’s in local bookstores and also available directly from http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/