An Army at Dawn Audio Book Review

An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943

Authored and Narrated by Rick Atkinson

Audiobook, 7 hours and 2 minutes

Published by Simon & Schuster Audio

Language: English

ASIN: B000083F5T

America entered the North African campaign with the Torch landings in November 1942, the first offensive for the Americans against the German and Italian armies.  America was new to the war but full of confidence, even though the commanders and their Divisions were untested.  The most complex of military operations are opposed amphibious landings, and Torch would be the first combat for the troops as well.  Adding to the complexity and confusion would be the opposition – Vichy French who were former allies, but who were obliged by the terms of France’s surrender to defend North Africa and who had a rather complex relationship with the British.

An Army at Dawn examines the North Africa campaign through a political lens.  Eisenhower, himself untested in combat, was appointed Supreme Commander and found himself in command of Gibraltar as well as Allied forces from a number of countries.  Most of the foreign units and their commanders had seen considerably more combat than their American counterparts.  Further complicating matters were the French, whose Generals were insisting on military control of Allied forces and administering the population and infrastructure of their colonies, all the while contesting the loyalty of rival French factions.  Adding to this, the inexperienced American Army, while eager and learning quickly, made numerous blunders and saw several officers replaced.

The author relates several of the battles of the North African Campaign, but omits others – Kasserine being one.  In some cases the engagements are followed in detail which gives a good feel for what the average infantryman encountered in North Africa, but these battles are related almost as anecdotes rather than unfolding in a series to determine the outcome of the campaign.  One does get the feel for the fluidity of the war in the desert though, with units sometimes rushing across great distances with only vague ideas of what they were to do when they got to their destinations.

This book is useful to illustrate the complexities of command at the upper levels, where Generals and their staffs vie for power and influence.  The political roles played by military commanders was surprising, not only within their own governments but with Allied governments as well – a real tightrope which had to be negotiated at the same time as managing the armies.  At times this appeared to be more important than the fight at hand and added another level of complexity to an already complex situation.  This book is not a typical military history of a campaign, but adds much more of the perspective from the senior command level than usual.