Book Review: The Rock of Anzio (by Flint Whitlock) : WWII

8/12/2001 • Antebellum Period, World War II Reviews

The 45th Infantry Division is remembered for its hard fighting, particularly during the Anzio campaign.

By Major Dominic J. Caraccilo

By the author’s own admission, The Rock of Anzio covers considerably more ground than one momentous battle in Italy. It is at the same time a complete history of the 45th Infantry Division and an accurate chronology of one of the fiercest battles of World War II. Unlike other unit histories, however, The Rock of Anzio (Westview Press, Boulder, Colo., 1998, $37) is more than merely a parochial division history; it is a stark and realistic view of war as seen, lived and remembered by those who were there. The author, Flint Whitlock, interviewed dozens of Anzio survivors before creating this compilation of World War II vignettes.

This book is a well-written and interesting account of the war in Italy. It conveys to the reader that the 45th–with its cadre of troops from Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Oklahoma, supplemented by draftees from all over the United States–was not just another “second line of defense” National Guard unit. Rather, it sustained itself for 511 straight days in combat even though it suffered 20,994 casualties.

Lay readers and serious academicians will appreciate how Whitlock traces the roots of the 45th back to the antebellum era, when Brig. Gen. Stephen Watts Kearny’s New Mexico Volunteers stood guard against raids by hostile Indians and incursions by the army of Antonio López de Santa Anna during the war with Mexico in 1846. Whitlock organizes his facts in an interesting manner, providing fascinating background information on how the 45th came to be. By the time readers reach the section on the infamous Battle of Anzio, they have a good feel for what kind of history the 45th brought to bear when it invaded Europe.

Whitlock makes it clear that Anzio was a living hell. Fittingly, each chapter of this book begins with a quote from Dante’s Inferno. This method of setting the stage for each chapter repeatedly reminds readers of the ultimate price paid by many of the men who fought at Anzio. Even before going overseas, the 45th had made its mark as one of America’s toughest combat units, and in Italy it confirmed its reputation as a formidable fighting force.

From the effects of Anzio Annie, a large German railway gun, to the controversy surrounding the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp, Whitlock’s book captures the immediacy of combat so horrific and heroic that it will be remembered forever by those who read about it.