My cousin didn't enjoy much of 1944. He tried to get across the Garigliano river and protect the left flank of the US 36 Division's attack across the Rapido river. His regiment, The Queens, didn't make it - and neither did he. He was killed on January 18 1944; he was just 24. Lance Sgt. Ian S. A. Smith lies with 2048 of his comrades 50 miles north of Naples at Minturno War Cemetery. They were not able to help US 36 Div - but they tried.
`Crossing The Rapido' is the story of many more young lives lost, crossing yet another river of blood four miles away, called the Rapido. It is a study in ineptitude, another manifestation of that quotation from the Crimean War: “…lions being led by donkeys”, only in this case they were not only Equus asinus, but egotistical to boot.
Duane Schultz has written a masterpiece. His appreciation of the plight of front line soldiers is remarkable. His assessment of the commanding generals mirrors precisely views and opinions that would have been held by the fighting men at the time. This is a short book, but nothing is lost to its concision. Indeed, voluminous works on the same subject often miss the nub of this tragic event.
Schultz' skill is in his ability to accurately describe appalling scenes and situations without deadening one’s brain. Too often war chroniclers pile one atrocity upon another until one is impervious to the human tragedy. Not so Duane Schultz. Reading 'Crossing The Rapido' is akin to an 18th century spectator observing a Napoleonic battle from an adjacent hillside.
My only complaint - not so much a complaint more an observation, is the author's failure to expose General Mark Clarke completely. He does a good job making us aware of Clarke's incompetence as far as it goes, but I would have liked to hear him mention the opportunity that was lost in not cutting off the retreating Germans. Instead, Clarke chose to 'grand-stand' in Rome thereby lengthening the war. It can be argued with some efficacy, that if Clarke had kept his eye on the 'War' ball, and off his own image, there probably would not have been the “Battle of the Bulge”. How many men ultimately died because General Mark Clarke needed to act out his Caesarian phantasy?
The Italian campaign does not get the coverage that it deserves. That is probably because it was a fabricated political endeavor and all sorts of holes can be shot in its justification. But the fact remains that our young men fought honorably and too many died horribly, and whatever is said or done with the `donkey-generals', we cannot bring them back.
Duane Shultz has paid an enormous tribute to the fallen heroes as well as the damaged victims that survived. His book should be read by everyone who realizes that by their sacrifice we can enjoy the freedom we enjoy today.