Helion and Company- Luck Was Lacking But Valor Was Not
The Italian Army in North Africa, 1940-43
Authors: Ralph Riccio and Massimiliano Afiero
Price: £33.75 (on Amazon here in the US for $45.37)
Hardcover, 312 pages with nearly 200 photos, 16 pages of color plates featuring vehicle profiles and uniform references, and maps
From the Helion website:
‘Luck Was Lacking, but Valour Was Not’ begins by examining a number of factors relating to the Italian army’s performance in the desert, including assessments of the Italian soldier, leadership, training, organization and structure, equipment, the supply situation in North Africa, the ability of the Italian air force to support ground operations, and an appreciation of Italo-German relations in North Africa. It then describes the combat operations of Italian forces in the desert beginning with the early advance from Libya into Egypt in September 1940 and ending with the final Italian surrender to the Allies in Tunisia in May 1943.
The extensive appendices focus on organization and equipment, with tables comparing Italian, British and German armour and artillery in the desert.
Taken as a whole, this volume presents an account of Italian ground operations in North Africa, from the time of their initial trouncing at the hands of the British Western desert Force in early 1941, through the see-saw battles of 1941 and 1942 when the combined Italo-German forces battled with the British, through the decimation of the Italian forces during the El Alamein battles in late 1942, and finally with the retreat to Tunisia and surrender of all Axis forces there in May 1943.
‘Luck Was Lacking, but Valour Was Not’ is the first English-language work to address in a systematic way the contributions of the Italian army to the North African campaign and challenges the conventional wisdom that the German Afrika Korps was the pre-eminent Axis force in the desert.
I must admit to having very little knowledge of the Italian operations in North Africa other than their usual sidebar bits of information in other Anglo-American books. The authors here look to remedy this dearth of knowledge. They seek to alter the misconception that the Italian soldier in the desert performed poorly and was "unwilling to fight and quick to surrender". The focus of the book is on Italian military efforts in the desert and so there is little about the German and British side of things. They highlight the Italian Regio Esercito's accomplishments and capabilities as they dealt with fighting without vital resources against an enemy with seemingly endless resources. Another aspect covered in the book was how the Germans, long thought to be a powerful force in the desert, did so with great support from Italy and in many cases, leaving their Italian counterparts to covering actions while they made their escape.
After some initial lists of maps, references for the color plates found in the appendices, and glossaries of terms, we get to the main chapters in the book. One can rather quickly ascertain the passion both authors convey in the text in presenting the case that the Italians really did their best to maintain pressure on the Allies, despite vital shortages in supplies and adequate equipment and ammunition to counteract the increasingly effective Allied armor they faced. Early on, Italian armor stood up to and in some cases surpassed the British armor they faced. However, the thick armor and 2 pounder guns of the British tanks made things difficult, and the eventual introduction of Grant and Sherman tanks definitely tipped the scales against them, but not from lack of effort.
There is a lot of information inside and as someone not so well-versed in Italian WWII armor, I found it very interesting to read. The seesaw combat that was Italian operations in North Africa was evident as the authors related British offensives followed by Italo-German offensives, and the challenges of supply convoys both by sea and over the treacherous desert terrain. There is a small section outlining the impact that the Regia Aeronautica had as well. I was at a disadvantage though in not knowing the difference say between an M13, an M14, and the Semovente. This is where the appendices really helped.
There are fifteen of them in all as can be seen from my shots of the Table of Contents. The divisional histories section sums up the actions from the book nicely, as do the charts that compare tanks, tank gun performances, and field and antitank artillery comparisons. The sections on Italian armor, artillery, and motor transports used in North Africa were easily the most helpful in instructing me on what each tank and gun was- and the first set of color plates with profiles of the tanks were excellent. The second set of plates highlighted the different uniforms worn by Italian forces.
This book is a great place to start if you are like me and find your knowledge in Italian North Africa operations lacking. It certainly challenges some of the preconceived notions of their performance against the Allies and their working relationship with the DAK and may not be popular with those who have spent all these decades since war's end poring over those previous books. I know there are a few books out there with similar concepts as presented here, but I can only speak to what I have read here. The authors are thorough and definitely passionate on their work in this book- and they've certainly gotten me looking for some different Italian model kits from the one or two I have in the stash.
Recommended for anyone interested in Italian operations and efforts in the North African front in WWII.
Thanks goes out to Ralph Riccio for this review sample.
Reviewed by Michael Reeves
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