Received the book that I asked for from my nephew for Christmas. I read it a little while ago but did not write about it. It is perhaps one of the best books on the Italian front during the First World War I have read to this date. The book is written by Eileen and John Wilkes and published by Pen & Sword, 228 pages with maps.
The book does deal with Irwin Rommel and actually goes into his service before Caporetto on the Western Front and the formation and history of the unit he served with during the war. It goes into detail about the commanding officer and Rommel’s service during the war. His various exploits during actions that led to his being award the Blue Max following the battle.
The book is well documented and footnoted and goes into detail describing his actions and those around him both his commanding officer, those serving under him and other units that fought alongside him. It gives an interesting view of Rommel the young officer. Perhaps it does reinforce the image of the aggressive attaching officer he is more famous for during the Second World War when he held high command and became known as the Desert Fox. It also shows Rommel and an individual who cared about those he fought not a self-centered individual bound on glory. Pretty much the opposite.
For me the best part of the book is the makeup of the lion share of the book that really deals with the Italians on the front. The book gives you the history leading up to the battle from all angles. You learn from the top command on down. What people did and did not do that led to the great defeat for the Italians. The book goes into great detail about the commanders at Supreme Headquarters, the corps and division level. You learn just what a perfect storm that happened that led to the overwhelming defeat of the Italians at the battle. Yes, they faced good leaders and elite highly trained troops such as Rommel’s and that had an effect but even that was the only thing that led to the collapse of the front.
For me the information on the Italian army and commanders is excellent. The book really tells you everything that happened on the Italian side and I really think that is great. It really brings out the good (not much) bad and ugly of the Italian command on all levels that led to the defeat. If you want to learn about the mistakes made both leading up and during the campaign, this is the book for you. It is descriptive and you learn a lot about the Italian commanders and forces defending against the German and Austro-Hungarian forces.
The book has a large number of maps but if I were to criticize the book, it is the maps are not clear. Constantly the book goes into great detail about battles along the lines and mountains but it is sometimes difficult to match up the maps to the descriptions in the book. The maps are somewhat rudimentary I felt. No photographs are given either in the book and even though it goes into great length to describe how rugged the terrain is a photograph might have been nice to back that up.
The lack of preparedness of the Italians both from a tactical stand put. Not being ready for infiltration tactics used at this time by the Germans and Austro-Hungarian and strategic level is well detailed in the book. I really got a sense how this was a real perfect storm that hit the Italians and if not for the Allied powers sending troops and Central powers deciding to limit the offensive the Italians may very well have been taken out of the war.
For the Wargamer
The book has potential for a wargamer looking to recreate the battle. The book has excellent detailed descriptions of the terrain even without having any pictures of the actual battlefields. In addition, order of battle for both sides and unit strengths are given down to the number of men and machine guns. One could I feel easily run battles on the company level especially for Rommel’s units and the battles they fought.
Battles on this front are largely ignored by wargamers for various reasons but the Caporetto campaign gives the gamer a chance to play some small scale company level actions to large scale actions. It can be turned into a fast moving campaign instead of the stagnate trench warfare seen on Western Front and to a large part on the Italian front as well.
No details of the uniforms are given but that information can be found in other places such as Osprey books. As for figure choices, I do not know much in the way of availability but as this is late in the war the German, Austro-Hungarian troops were using infiltration tactics, and storm troopers so I figure figures are available.
This book has a lot to offer people on various levels and is available from various sources for not a lot of money. If you are interested in Irwin Rommel and his background this book gives you the information on his First World War service on both the Western and Italian front. If you are interested in the Italian campaigns of the First World War this book is excellent for the political, strategic and tactics used by both sides. For me one of the best parts was the detailed information on the Italian commanders from the very top down. The decisions, tactics and personalities involved are examined in detail.
I wanted to read the book to learn about Rommel’s early military career, which the book does well. I found I learned much more about not just the battle of Caporetto but the Italian front as a whole. I did have some information on the subject and interest but by far, I got much more than I expected. This is a good read for the military historian wanting to get away from the Western Front battles of the First World War for sure.