(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

By the time American victories in the Pacific region and in North Africa had downsized the debacle at Pearl Harbor, World War II was moving into its fourth year. The Allies in both theaters had reason to be confident. Hitting Japanese bastions, though costly in casualties, caused their fall much more quickly than had been expected. With attrition working against Japan and U.S. production ballooning on the homefront, Japan would last only as long as the Philippines. In the European theater, the Allies were poised to conquer a Third Reich that was being softened up by Soviet resistance on the eastern front. By mid-January, 1943, the noose had tightened around Stalingrad.

On January 14, 1943, U.S. president Franklin Roosevelt and British prime minister Winston Churchill met in the newly liberated city of Casablanca, Morocco, to plan the invasion of Italy. From this point, Matthew Parker launches Monte Cassino, his study of what, justifiably, he calls in the book's subtitle The Hardest-Fought Battle of World War II. Behind Casablanca's outward shows of Allied unity lurked serious disagreements about strategy. The Americans, the young British military historian declares, wanted to proceed with the invasion of Europe across the Channel from Britain to Normandy, through France, and into Germany. Churchill believed the Allies were not yet ready to take on the Germans. That he was right is proved for Parker by the Normandy landings which, although battle-ready and precise in design, proved to be no walkover.

At issue, however, was what to do with large numbers of idle soldiers until D day. Winston Churchill proposed to lay siege to Italy, despite sensing the opposition of Gen. Bernard Montgomery to a campaign “Monty” saw as lacking overall direction. He was relieved of duties in Italy. Sir Harold Alexander, a hero of World War I, would become Allied commander at Cassino. The British got their way. Preparations were made for the invasion of Sicily, a prelude to the bloody battle of Cassino.

“Americans were unwilling participants in Churchill's ’Mediterranean adventure.’” writes Parker. It “fed the distrust and dislike between the two principal Allies, which was to reach its grim conclusion at Monte Cassino.” With most of the Italian army surrendering, the Allies thought they could look forward to an easy walk to the eternal city. The Germans, however, fought on under their formidable commander, Field Marshal Albert Kesselring. At the center of one of Europe's strongest natural defensive positions...

(The entire section is 1037 words.)