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Reviewed by:
  • With Utmost Spirit: Allied Naval Operations in the Mediterranean, 1942–1945
  • Kathleen Broome Williams
With Utmost Spirit: Allied Naval Operations in the Mediterranean, 1942–1945. By Barbara Brooks Tomblin. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2004. ISBN 0-8131-2338-0. Maps. Photographs. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. xiv, 578. $39.95.

In spite of the title, this is not, as Barbara Tomblin explains in her introduction, a definitive account of Allied naval operations in the Mediterranean in World War II. Rather, the action revolves around the operational and tactical role of the U.S. Navy and the Royal Navy in support of the five major allied amphibious operations that took place there between 1942 and 1945: the landings in French Morocco and Algeria (Operation Torch); Operation Husky and the Sicilian campaign; the invasion of the Italian mainland at Salerno (Operation Avalanche); the Anzio landings of Operation Shingle; and the landings in southern France (Operation Dragoon).

Tomblin examines the broad range of support activities undertaken by naval forces, including many often neglected in other accounts. In addition to supply and transport, she covers escort duties, minesweeping, salvage, ship repair and conversion, dry docks, and naval air and antisubmarine operations. She notes the introduction of new technologies such as MAD, new weapons such as the Apex drone boat, and new vessels such as LCIs, DUKWs and LCFs. She considers preinvasion planning and training and postlanding support of ground troops, particularly with regard to fire support. Tomblin covers enough of the action ashore to give context to the course of the operations and to make sense of the supporting activities. She also steps back, occasionally, for a larger view, presenting strategic and command decisions made at various levels up to Roosevelt and Churchill.

Tomblin relies heavily on secondary sources, from the multivolume classics of Morrison and Roskill to the works of Barnett, Blumenson, D'Este, and others. To these she adds fresh archival research from the Washington Naval Historical Center and the National Archives. Her emphasis on the tactical often results in a seemingly endless progression of small actions and the tedious enumeration of the names of vessels and commanders. What makes her work distinctive, however, and worth reading, is the way she weaves personal accounts into the action. Many of these accounts come from Tomblin's own correspondence with veterans and the rest are culled from interviews, memoirs, collections of letters, and illicit wartime diaries. Tomblin spent thirty years assembling these accounts and scatters carefully selected and well-placed quotes throughout the narrative. What results is not "a truly joint history" (p. xii), as Tomblin herself admits; her own research has been in American sources. But many of her correspondents were British and their insights add authenticity to the Royal Navy side.

The significance of Tomblin's work is that she knits all elements together in one volume, demonstrating the progression in competence of the various activities and their importance to the success of amphibious warfare. She notes the critiques undertaken at many levels after each operation and how the lessons learned were incorporated into planning and training for the next [End Page 543] assault. By the end of the book she has convincingly shown that during the course of the campaigns in the Mediterranean the Allied navies mastered their side of amphibious warfare. This takes them from a successful but flawed Torch operation to what Tomblin termed the "near perfect" (p. 444) Operation Dragoon.

Kathleen Broome Williams
Oakland, California


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pp. 542-543
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
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