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

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

4.2 148
by Rick Atkinson

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The Liberation of Europe and the Destruction of the Third Reich is an epic story of courage and calamity, of miscalculation and enduring triumph. In this first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson shows why no modern reader can understand the ultimate victory of the Allied powers without a grasp of the great drama that unfolded in North Africa in 1942 and


The Liberation of Europe and the Destruction of the Third Reich is an epic story of courage and calamity, of miscalculation and enduring triumph. In this first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson shows why no modern reader can understand the ultimate victory of the Allied powers without a grasp of the great drama that unfolded in North Africa in 1942 and 1943. Opening with the daring amphibious invasion in November 1942, An Army at Dawn follows the American and British armies as they fight the French in Morocco and Algeria, and then take on the Germans and Italians in Tunisia. Battle by battle, an inexperienced and often poorly led army gradually becomes a superb fighting force. At the center of the tale are the extraordinary but flawed commanders who come to dominate the battlefield: Eisenhower, Patton, Bradley, Montgomery, and Rommel. Brilliantly researched, rich with new material and surprising insights, Atkinson's vivid narrative tells the deeply human story of a monumental battle for the future of civilization.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
Rick Atkinson, Pulitzer Prize winner and author of The Long Gray Line and Crusade, delivers a blockbuster in Volume One of his World War II Liberation Trilogy. On paper, Operation Torch -- the American amphibious invasion of North Africa in November 1942 -- had clear strategic goals: Join the British in the fighting, expel Axis troops, regain the Mediterranean, and safeguard Suez. But complications abounded. American planners favored Operation Sledgehammer (the cross-Channel invasion of France and an advance on Berlin); Operation Torch was seen as supporting British imperial interests. Atkinson highlights the dramatic Churchill-Roosevelt partnership and the maneuverings that led to U.S. adoption of Torch and illuminates the roles of Harry Hopkins, George Marshall, and Dwight D. Eisenhower -- the Allied commander in cliff-hanging operations against the brilliant but finally exhausted German general Erwin Rommel.

Atkinson's clear-cut analyses and fast-moving, quotation-studded narrative bring American, British, and Axis leadership styles and blood-and-sweat battlefield experience into sharp focus. Key issues come alive: Allied strategy feuds fueled by the conflicting personalities of Eisenhower and the British commander, Bernard Montgomery; Rommel's surprise moves; George Patton's difficult genius; French grandstanding and double-dealing; the raw American troops receiving their first battlefield experience; horrific physical conditions and near-insoluble supply problems -- all are presented with keen insight.

The ultimately victorious six-month campaign achieved all goals, making possible the invasions of Sicily and Italy: Churchill saw it as "possibly the beginning of the end," and the German propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels, admitted it was "a second Stalingrad." Undoubtedly it assured Eisenhower's rise to supreme command and American dominance in subsequent WWII grand strategy. This is the definitive account of the opening gambit by the Allies from a master historian and storyteller. Peter Skinner

Publishers Weekly
Atkinson won a Pulitzer Prize during his time as a journalist and editor at the Washington Post and is the author of The Long Gray Line: The American Journey of West Point's Class of 1966 and of Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War. In contrast to Crusade's illustrations of technomastery, this book depicts the U.S. Army's introduction to modern war. The Tunisian campaign, Atkinson shows, was undertaken by an American army lacking in training and experience alongside a British army whose primary experience had been of defeat. Green units panicked, abandoning wounded and weapons. Clashes between and within the Allies seemed at times to overshadow the battles with the Axis. Atkinson's most telling example is the relationship of II Corps commander George Patton and his subordinate, 1st Armored Division's Orlando Ward. The latter was a decent person and capable enough commander, but he lacked the final spark of ruthlessness that takes a division forward in the face of heavy casualties and high obstacles. With Dwight Eisenhower's approval, Patton fired him. The result was what Josef Goebbels called a "second Stalingrad"; after Tunisia, the tide of war rolled one way: toward Berlin. Atkinson's visceral sympathies lie with Ward; his subtext from earlier books remains unaltered: in war, they send for the hard men. Despite diction that occasionally lapses into the melodramatic, general readers and specialists alike will find worthwhile fare in this intellectually convincing and emotionally compelling narrative. (Oct. 2) Forecast: While there's no clear news hook for this title, Atkinson is well known enough to garner readers on name recognition. An eight-city author tour will help raise awareness, as will the marketing of the book as first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, Atkinson's study of WWII. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A former staff writer and editor for the Washington Post, Atkinson (The Long Gray Line) here offers the initial volume in a trilogy concerning the liberation of Europe during World War II. The invasion of North Africa was the first joint military operation conducted by the Allies, and it influenced many future decisions. Using battlefield reports and archival material, Atkinson tells a fascinating story of the North African campaign that is hard to stop reading, even though one knows the outcome. He includes the perfect combination of biographical information and tactical considerations, and eyewitness accounts give readers an idea of what the average soldier must have endured. Similar in scope to Stephen Ambrose's Citizen Soldiers or Cornelius Ryan's The Longest Day, this book will have wide appeal for both public and academic libraries. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/02.] Mark Ellis, Albany State Univ. Lib., GA Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
From the Publisher

“A splendid book... The emphasis throughout is on the human drama of men at war.” —The Washington Post Book World

“Exceptional... A work strong in narrative flow and character portraits of the principle commanders... A highly pleasurable read.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A master of the telling profile... This vivid, personality-driven account of the campaign to drive Axis forces from North Africa shows the political side of waging war, even at the tactical level.” —Chicago Tribune

“In his gripping An Army at Dawn, Rick Atkinson skilfully chronicles... the invasion of North Africa in World War II... [This is] the first volume of the Liberation Trilogy, in which Mr. Atkinson intends to tell the entire story of the U.S. armed forces in the European theatre. Based on this book, he is off to a rip-roaring start. An Army at Dawn may be the best World War II battle narrative since Cornelius Ryan's classics, The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far.” —Max Boot, The Wall Street Journal

“A book that stands shoulder to shoulder with the other major books about the war, such as the fine writing of Cornelius Ryan and John Keegan.” —Associated Press

“Atkinson's book is eminently friendly and readable, but without compromising normal standards of accuracy and objectivity. More than a military history, it is a social and psychological inquiry as well. His account of the Kasserine Pass disaster is alone worth the price of the book and stands as an exciting preview of the rich volumes to come. I heartily recommend this human, sensitive, unpretentious work.” —Paul Fussell, author of Doing Battle and Wartime

“This is a wonderful book--popular history at its best. It is impressively researched and superbly written, and it brings to life in full detail one of the vitally important but relatively ‘forgotten' campaigns of World War II. What Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote did for the Civil War in their trilogies, Rick Atkinson is doing for World War II in the European Theater.” —Professor Mark A. Stoler, author of Allies and Adversaries

“One of the most compelling pieces of military history I've ever read, An Army at Dawn will become a military history and strategy studies classic. Atkinson writes with incredible insight and mastery of the details, and he is always mindful of the larger picture. He goes from the highest political levels to the deepest foxhole without missing a beat. This is history at its finest.” —Gen. Wesley K. Clark, U.S.A. (ret.), former NATO supreme commander

“Rick Atkinson has done a beautiful job of research and writing in An Army at Dawn. This is the North African campaign--warts, snafus, feuding allies, incompetence--unvarnished. It whets my appetite for the rest of the Liberation Trilogy Atkinson has promised us.” —Joseph L. Galloway, co-author of We Were Soldiers Once... and Young

“A masterpiece. Rick Atkinson strikes the right balance between minor tactical engagements and high strategic direction, and he brings soldiers at every level to life, from private to general. An Army at Dawn is history with a soldier's face.” —General Gordon R. Sullivan, U.S.A. (ret.), former Army chief of staff

“For sheer drama, the Tunisian campaign far overshadowed any other phase of the Second World War. Rick Atkinson has told the story with zest and brutal realism. His account will be a monument among accounts of World War II.” —John S. D. Eisenhower, author of Allies and The Bitter Woods

An Army At Dawn is an absolute masterpiece. Atkinson conveys both the human drama and historical significance of this campaign with a power and intensity that is nothing short of electrifying. This book is storytelling--and history--at its most riveting.” —Andrew Carroll, editor of War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars

“Rick Atkinson combines meticulous research and attention to detail with an extraordinary ability to tell a story. It is a rich and powerful narrative which is certain to become a classic.” —Ronald Spector, author of At War At Sea and Eagle Against the Sun

“Atkinson's An Army at Dawn is a superb account of the Allied invasion of North Africa. From the foxhole to Eisenhower's supreme headquarters, Atkinson has captured the essence of war in one of the most neglected campaigns of World War II.” —Carlo D'Este, author of Patton and Eisenhower

“Atkinson's writing is lucid, vivid... Among the many pleasures of an Army at Dawn are the carefully placed details--shells that whistle into the water with a smoky hiss; a colonel with 'slicked hair and a wolfish mustache'; a man dying before he can fire the pistols strapped in his holster.” —Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“What distinguishes his narrative is the way he fuses the generals' war... with the experiences of front-line combat soldiers.” —Raleigh News & Observer

“Brilliant... This is history and war in the hands of a gifted and unflinching writer.” —The Kansas City Star

“The most thorough and satisfying history yet of the campaigns in North Africa . . . Given his success with modern military history, the penetrating historical insights Atkinson brings to bear on America's 1942-43 invasion of the North African coast are not surprising.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Atkinson, author of the best-selling The Long Grey Line (1989), a chronicle of the West Point class of 1966, here debuts an ambitious three-volume saga about the North African and European theaters of World War II. This first volume covers the conception of Operation Torch through the German surrender in Tunisia in May 1943 and reveals the author's skill in balancing big-picture strategizing with unit-level tactical fighting... The ground of every battle is precisely assessed, with the author apprising readers of how often the experienced German army was superior to the green American army in exploiting hills and roads. Having personally tramped over the battlefields in Morocco and Tunisia, Atkinson incorporates their look--the mud, the dust, and the cactus. An exemplary work that feeds anticipation of the succeeding volumes.” —Gilbert Taylor, Booklist

“Atkinson here offers the initial volume in a trilogy concerning the liberation of Europe during World War II. The invasion of North Africa was the first joint military operation conducted by the Allies, and it influenced many future decisions. Using battlefield reports and archival material, Atkinson tells a fascinating story of the North African campaign that is hard to stop reading, even though one knows the outcome. He includes the perfect combination of biographical information and tactical considerations, and eyewitness accounts give readers an idea of what the average soldier must have endured.” —Mark Ellis, Albany State University Library, Georgia, Library Journal

The Philadelphia Inquirer (front page) on The Long Nicholas Proffit
As masterfully executed as it was conceived.

Product Details

Gale Group
Publication date:
The Liberation Trilogy , #1
Edition description:
Large Print
Product dimensions:
6.20(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

Twenty-seven acres of headstones fill the American military cemetery at Carthage, Tunisia. There are no obelisks, no tombs, no ostentatious monuments, just 2,841 bone-white marble markers, two feet high and arrayed in ranks as straight as gunshots. Only the chiseled names and dates of death suggest singularity. Four sets of brothers lie side by side. Some 240 stones are inscribed with thirteen of the saddest words in our language: "Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God."

The stones are devoid of epitaphs, parting endearments, even dates of birth. But visitors familiar with the American and British invasion of North Africa in November 1942, and the subsequent seven-month struggle to expel the Axis powers there, can make reasonable conjectures. We can surmise that Willett H. Wallace, a private first-class in the 26th Infantry Regiment who died on November 9, 1942, was killed at St. Cloud, Algeria, during the three days of hard fighting against the French. And Jacob Feinstein, a sergeant from Maryland in the 135th Infantry who died on April 29, 1943, no doubt passed during the epic battle for Hill 609, where the American Army came of age.

Meet the Author

Rick Atkinson, recipient of the 2010 Pritzker Military Library Literature Award for Lifetime Achievement in Military Writing, is the bestselling author of The Day Of Battle, The Long Gray Line, and In the Company of Soldiers. He was a staff writer and senior editor at The Washington Post for twenty years, and his many awards include Pulitzer Prizes for journalism and history. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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An Army at Dawn: The War in North Africa, 1942-1943 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 148 reviews.
Azpooldude More than 1 year ago
An Army at Dawn, The war in North Africa 1942-1943, by Richard Atkinson tells about the United States first involvement in World War II under code name, Operation Torch . It deals with the planning, shipping of troops to Africa, fighting and many more aspects of this historical moment of the Second World War. It is a prized read, hence it won the Pulitzer Prize for journalism. This book goes into many details and covers all aspects of the campaign from General Eisenhower to the lowest private. This campaign was an incredible feat and little is known about it to the average American. November 1942, the United States ships thousands of troops and supplies to the shores of Morocco and Algeria, under Task force 34. The objective was to fight the French and later the Germans in North Africa. The French were fighting under the puppet Vichy government that was loyal to Hitler because he threatened to take over the rest of France if they did not comply. US troops met some resistance and had its share of mishaps, but beat the French quite easily. Through diplomatic channels and negotiations the French quickly switched to becoming our allies. But, this was only a taste of what was to come because the Allies would soon face a well seasoned and trained Axis Afrika Korps under Field Marshal Rommel. Having been badly beaten by Montgomery's British Eighth Army a few months earlier in El Alamein, they were on the move westward to face the Allies. Early attempts to reach Tunis by the Allies met with little success. Part of the problem was that the Allied Command was disorganized, poorly coordinated and split by rivalry and national chauvinism. Also, American troops were very green, were under poor field leadership, and critical supplies needed were not being delivered. Hence the Axis make gains in Northern Tunisia at Longstop Hill and at Medjez-El-Bab. With the infamous meeting of Churchill and Roosevelt in January of 1943 in Casablanca, pressure was mounting to finish off the Germans so that a new offensive could take place in the spring and early summer to land troops in Sicily under code name, Operation Husky. But it would not be quite that easy. A bits and pieces war continued in Tunisia for the next two months. Heavy fighting continued at Faid Pass and the Axis made their greatest last attempt to stop the allies at Kasserine. Under operation, Spring Breeze, the Germans were planning, "to go all out for the total destruction of the Americans", General Kesselring declared. They pushed the Allies further back with the aid of their superior Tiger tanks against the weaker Shermans. It seemed like it would be no match. But as they neared the border of Algeria, they would go no further than Thala. Rommel realized that his Afrika Korps, use to freewheeling combat in the open desert had much to learn about this new type of terrain of vulnerable valleys in hill country. Also his supply lines were over extended and they were low on ammunition and fuel. This would turn out to be the high point for the Allies in Northwest Africa. The tide had swung. Torch saved the Allies in the war. It gave the United States a jumping off point to invade Italy, it diverted German air power to that region from others, and most importantly, it deferred a cross channel invasion from England, that would have been a disaster if carried out too early. The taste of war had come to an inexperienced American force that would get much better in the years ahead. Robert Glasker
Guest More than 1 year ago
Filled with elegant writing, I found myself rereading and savoring many passages of this rich, densely detailed, and tragic story. I could read only a few pages at a time before needing time to think about it. History classes I have taken and those I have taught glossed over the North Africa campaign as merely a prelude to the main event in Europe. Now I know better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
An Army at Dawn is an extraordinary book. It reminds us that the first Army boot that hit the beach was in North Africa, not Normandy.The book also makes it quite clear that a fighting machine like the U.S. Army just doesn't automatically happen. It takes the courage to learn from mistakes and to be succesful, one must bring maximum force to bear in fighting the enemy. The powerful narrative smoothly moves from the generals to the privates in the foxholes. The research is quite impressive. The book is superbly written. I can't wait for the next volume.
jay1967c More than 1 year ago
I'm almost done with this volume. I really enjoyed it. Had finished a Biography of Hitler recently (900+pages) and while it was good it was very dry. This book however, was thoroughly entertaining (as much as possible considering the subject matter). Would definitely recommend it to WWII devotees.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm only about half way thru this book but it's very, very good at illuminating a theatre in the war that never seems to get the attention that surrounds D-Day and the Northern Europe actions. Can't wait to finish the book but then wonder how long I'll have to wait on volume 2? Recommended
Guest More than 1 year ago
An Army At Dawn is the first full-scale study of the American Army in the North African Campaign of World War II to appear in many years. If less in-depth than the official histories in the Green Book series, it is a far easier read. Atkinson has a gift for shifting from the high command to the impact of war upon the lonely frontline rifleman. He is, moreover, an excellent stylist and his writing is superb. Unlike the increasingly common practice in more popular histories of ignoring notes and sources, both are included. The maps are also surprisingly good, if as always too few in number. Overall this is an excellent book and the only complaint is that the publication schedule for the next two volumes in the Liberation Trilogy means that the wait will be too long!
tripledawg More than 1 year ago
Without first reading anyone else's reviews, I dove in and came to agree with what most reviewers have applauded. It was good history, it was good journalism, it was good literature. And two other delightful features which I appreciated: It was suitably long; Atkinson neither ran out of enthusiasm nor felt the need to throw in extraneous trivia, so it was a good workout for my reading muscles. And he expanded my vocabulary; I loved clicking on $10 words to look up in my new Nook's dictionary.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
One of my favorite books about the men and events of World War II. Expertly researched it has a great balance in present the large scale geo-political aspects of the war as well and some of the personal effets of the war. Thanks Rick, looking forward to finishing the series with the thrid books next year.
Henrys8 More than 1 year ago
It's simply amazing we won the African Campaign. It is a long book to read but well worth it if you are into the history of WWII. The one problem I had was that I purchased the book for my Nook and the illustrations on the maps was useless. Other than that one issue it was a great book. We just simply had luck and fate on our side, along with men and women willing to pay the ultimate price for freedom.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Never before has a book sucked me in before I even finished reading the prologue! Rick Atkinson has a writing style reminiscent of other journalists/authors such as Cornelius Ryan and Ernie Pyle. This book appeals to the historians looking to broaden the knowledge of the subject, to those just beginning to take interest in military conflict. I can wait for the release of the next book in the Liberation Trilogy!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
xenophonmil More than 1 year ago
The author has published three more excellent military histories - this is the first of the three covering much of World War II participation by the United States in Europe. The number and quality of battle maps much exceeds the common standards. Atkinson has done excellent research that enables him to meld personal accounts of individuals at all levels of command with reports in official sources. The narrative is from the American view point, but adequate descriptions of the German side provide context. The British and French view and participation are included only as absolutely necessary. john sloan
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
PhrogJK More than 1 year ago
The beginning of the trilogy on WW II by Ray Atkinson. This trilogy is the best I have read on that war. All three books in the trilogy are 5 stars.
Runner510 More than 1 year ago
I often felt blitzed by this nearly day-by-day chronicle of Operation Torch, the campaign that American forces fought against Germany in WWII between November 1942 and May 1943. Between many unfamiliar US, English, French, and German military figures (Fredendall, Ryder, Anderson, Giraud, Nogues, Arnim, etc) and places I’d feel foolish trying to pronounce (Medjez-el-Bab, Sidi bou Zid, El Guettar, Ousseltia Valley, etc, though the 19 maps included in the book are invaluable in keeping track of where these places are and the movements of the Allies and Axis around them), many of the details were way too much for me to take in. (Now that I think about it, I had a similar problem with the last book in the Game of Thrones series I read.) However, in the end I was completely won over by the amazing scope of the book and just wish I had the mind to absorb and process it all. The writing at times is lyrical, almost novelistic, though much of the account describes hardcore military tactics and brutal battles, which I assume would please truly knowledgeable readers. I, on the other hand, appreciated more reading the insights into what Eisenhower, Patton, Rommel, as well as the lesser-known participants thought about the ups and downs of the campaign, where the Allied forces certainly did not steamroll their way from Morocco to Tunisia; there were what seemed to be daily setbacks and botched efforts. And, of course, many casualties (estimated at over 70,000 Allied soldiers killed, wounded, missing, or captured). Atkinson stresses, though, that this baptism by fire was essential to Eisenhower’s maturation as commander general of the European Theater, as well as to the entire American force. I definitely plan to read the other two books in Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Atkinson doors a great job of finding the balance between detail and readability. Very readable book while doing the subject justice.
rgfoste More than 1 year ago
Rick Atkinson does the best job of recapping what went on for the Americans in WWII. He does it like a news reporter. This what was going on. This is what happened. This is the result. If you know nothing about WWII this will get you started. If you've read a lot this will summarize it for. The right mix of facts, personal incidents and perspective. He does not judge the generals, just tells you what was going on.
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