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Crossing the Rapido: A Tragedy of World War II by Duane Schultz

Rapido crossing.jpg

I felt kind of guilty reading this shocking story. On one hand, I was appalled as a human being at the fantastic stupidity of the entire affair, but on the other, I was fascinated at the utterly useless slaughter of good men for no apparent reason. It was like watching a really dumb horror movie that's impossible to look away from, or in this case, stop reading. World War II is dotted with stories like these; for instance, the unnecessary landings at Peleliu come to mind, but the story of the unfortunate men ordered to cross the Rapido River in Southern Italy during January of 1944 stands out as a true catastrophe of bad leadership and wasted lives.
Relying heavily on interviews from survivors of the debacle, Schultz tells the tale of General Mark Clark's insistence on having the 36th Texas National Guard Division repeatedly attempt to cross a heavily defended river during the night. With casualties mounting and no stronghold on the other side of the river, General Clark ordered another assault across the Rapido in the morning. The unfortunate men of the 36th suffered 50% casualties in the badly planned mission. On top of that, the entire operation was designed as nothing but an eleborate ruse to keep German troops away from the landings at Anzio, much like the Peleliu assault were designed to take the heat off MacArthur's return to the Philippines.
As shocking as this book is, it is also a glowing testimony to the common soldier who followed orders and attempted to reach their objective, no matter the cost in blood. Reading this book made me feel a tad queasy, like looking at road kill or finding a hair in your soup at a greasy spoon restaurant, but it is a story that needed telling, if only to pay homage to the men who couldn't tell it themselves. Well written, superbly documented and containing many helpful illustrations and maps, this fine book will appeal to military history enthusiasts of all ages.

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Submitted by Dan@Central

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on September 15, 2010 10:13 AM.

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