The Gothic Line.
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre
Price: Hardcover (unknown)
Like Mark Zuehlke's other two books on the, Canadians in the Italian campaign, The Gothic Line is a masterpiece. Veterans, now in their eighties, will marvel that they were able to do what they did, and readers from later generations will wonder how a Canadian soldier could go into attack after attack in that murderous September of 1944 and retain his courage and his reason. The spirit was certainly there and the flesh was not weak.
Zuehlke subtitles his book Canada's Month of Hell in World War II Italy. And indeed it was--casualties were higher than in the more famous Ortona fighting the previous December. The Gothic Line is a very personalized account of the Canadian assault on this heavily fortified line extending across the width of Italy from Pisa to Rimini. The book focuses on the part played by 1st Canadian Corps. The narrative is well supported by many other published works, but the main thrust of Zuelke's story is based on personal interviews with the survivors, all ranks being represented. This makes for a colourful survey of the battlefield from the various headquarters to the most forward slit trench.
Zuehlke also reveals how politics can distort the facts of battle. The Royal Canadian Regiment had been given the task of capturing Rimini which it did in a two-day battle.
Shortly after reporting the city in Canadian hands, the RCR was ordered to withdraw to an area a thousand or more yards away from the outskirts. For political reasons, the Greek Mountain Brigade had been brought over from Greece, which was in turmoil. Churchill and Eden had been in Greece and wanted to show the world that, basically, the Greeks were fighting on the Allied side. By giving them the honour for the capture of Rimini (at the RCR's expense) the world was apprized that Greece was an active ally.
Zuehlke's research shows that all Eighth Army records were purged of any mention that any Canadians were involved in the battle for Rimini. Indeed, the official history The Canadians in Italy, by Nicholson, perpetuates the lie. Even the official maps were changed to serve some political purposes.
This book is notable for its battlefield realism as recounted by both the officers and men the author has interviewed, as well as two Rimini residents who lived through the battle: Professor Amedeo Montemaggi and Oviglio Monti were invaluable sources of information during Zuelke's visits to Italy. While he and Montemaggi, the local historian and a specialist in the Gothic line fighting, conducted Zuehlke around the battlefield they made it patently clear that it was the RCR that "liberated" Rimini and not the Greeks, as the doctored official histories claim.
Despite its blotting out of Canada's participation in the Rimini affair, the Eighth Army, considering Canada's role in the entire Gothic Line fighting, communicated a "Well Done Canada." No doubt the readers of this book will say, "Well done, Zuehlke."
Review by Colonel (retired) Strome Galloway. (A veteran of the Italian campaign, Galloway was 2nd in command, RCR, at Rimini.)