Brian R. Sullivan - Forgotten Battles: Italy's War of Liberation, 1943-1945 (review) - Journal of Military History 67:1 The Journal of Military History 67.1 (2003) 275-276

Forgotten Battles: Italy's War of Liberation, 1943-1945. By Charles T. O'Reilly. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2001. ISBN 0-7391-0195-1. Maps. Tables. Appendixes. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. 364. $90.00.

This history of Italian military assistance to the Allies, 1943-45, presents contradictions. O'Reilly brings strengths to his book. He served as an interpreter with Italian Service Units (ISUs) in the conflict. He perfected his Italian studying and teaching in Italy. O'Reilly saw duty as a reserve counterintelligence officer during the Korean War. He has read widely in Italian-language military history. He conducted research using captured Italian military records in the National Archives and endured the frustrations attendant on utilizing the Italian army's Ufficio Storico.

Thus the book's rich detail and deep passion. One feels O'Reilly's fury toward denigrators of Italian efforts for the Allies. Over 90,000 died, 26,000 in organized units and 65-70,000 as partisans in Italy, the Balkans, and [End Page 275] France. This compares with 45,500 British Commonwealth and 35,400 American deaths during the advance to the Alps. Another 75-80,000 Italian soldiers died in German captivity rather than fight for Hitler. By war's end, 99,000 Italians had been incorporated into the British Eighth Army as combattants, 66,000 were performing security duties, and 196,000 working in ISU labor units. 100,000 more served as sailors and airmen. Over 40 percent of Allied troops in Italy at war's end were uniformed members of the Italian military. Including civilian partisan losses, over half of the Allied fatalities in Italy between September 1943 and April 1945 were Italian. Forgotten Battles tells this story, also providing chapters on the Italian Resistance and another episode largely unmentioned in English-language sources: the 500,000 to 750,000 Italians who served in Axis Italian or Wehrmacht units.

Yet serious flaws mar this work, a labor of love bereft of editorial and professional historical support. Errors, typos, and misspellings abound. Large sections present irate views of sources, better placed in endnotes or omitted. The book seems to be O'Reilly's repository for opinions on many irrelevancies, including civil-military relations under Mussolini, Allied code-breaking, Italian anti-Semitism, British policy toward Yugoslav partisans, punishment of Italian Fascists, American-British differences over Italian politicians, the Cold War's origins, and Polish forces in the Italian campaign. Worse, the author quotes misleadingly. In one egregious example, he states: "John Gooch . . . said 'the Italians can not and will not fight'" (p. 89). But the full quotation from an article by Christie Davies reads: "Andreski and Gooch are correct in saying that Italians can not, or will not, fight." Furthermore, Christie's statement not only distorts what Stanislav Andreski and Gooch wrote but reflects her poor translation of her article's title: "Itali Sunt Imbelles," Journal of Strategic Studies 2 (1982): 266-69, better rendered as "Italians are unwarlike" than her "Italians do not fight." Of all this, Gooch is innocent.

Even at one-quarter its excessive price, this book would be a poor investment.


Brian R. Sullivan
Vienna, Virginia

Additional Information

Print ISSN
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Archived 2010
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.