“Of all the military leaders in World War II, Mark Clark is the one who never got the proper credit publicly. He didn’t seek it-and somehow he didn’t get it. But we all knew. We knew what kind of a man Mark Clark was.” Colonel Paul Tibbits
When many history buffs and readers of military history, especially World War 2, recite a list of leading Allied generals, Mark Clark is perhaps not on it or at least in the bottom of the top 10 with Eisenhower, MacArthur, and Patton at the top of the list. To me this is borne out by the fact that when I attempted to search for information about the last published biography of Clark I could only find one, that being Martin Blumenson’s, published in 1984.
But Jon B. Mikolashek, currently a professor of history at the U.S Army Command and General Staff College branch at Ft. Belvoir, VA, has given we history readers and buffs, as well as military historians a new introduction to a key American General of World War 2. Published by Casemate Publishers General Mark Clark: Commander of America’s Fifth Army in World War II and Liberator of Rome provides an honest and fair view of the strengths and liabilities of the Fifth Army commander who, as Deputy Commander of Operation Torch led a clandestine mission to meet with the French command on the Algerian coast to seek their surrender and assurances the allies would not be attacked during the invasion, only to lose his pants and a valuable supply of gold as they fled from the French police who were coming back to the meeting house they had previously visited!
I knew little of Mark Clark though I had heard of him in my readings of World War 2 history and about other generals. But Mikolashek has provided a fresh introduction to this vital American general who led Allied forces across the Mediterranean and onto the Italian mainland until the end of the war in Europe.
While he provides a brief sketch of Clark’s early years, his membership in the West Point class of 1917 which Mikolashek points out would see eleven of its class receive general’s stars, and his rise to notice and prominence through the slow moving grade promotions of the 1920’s and 1930’s, Mikolashek focuses the majority of the book on Clark’s time as deputy commander of Torch under Eisenhower and then as Commanding General of the US Fifth Army in the invasion of Italy. The result is comprehensive look at the tactics of both the overall campaign, the strategic importance of the Italian campaign in line with the overall Allied campaign in Europe, the personality dynamics and tensions between Clark and his British counterparts, as well as the historical issues related to Clark as officer and a man and the decisions regarding key points in the campaign such as Salerno, Anzio, the decision surrounding the bombing of the Monastery of Monte Cassino, and ultimately his decision to disobey orders of the Allied Commander in Chief, British General Harold Alexander, to take Rome instead of attempting to defeat the German Tenth Army as ordered.
I liked this book because Mikolashek neither venerates nor scourges Clark as a Commanding General nor what others have called a publicity seeker. Instead he seeks to contextualize Clark’s decisions and actions within the dynamics of the Italian campaign – an increasingly second place campaign against the developing and then active Normandy/Central European campaign of 1944-1945 that caused not just his unit but the British to lose men and material in preparation for it. And he does so as he points out the strategic importance of the Italian theater of operations which pinned down numerous German divisions that would have been used against the Normandy invaders in the west and the eventually advancing Russians in the east.
I rate this book as a ‘great’ read and one that students of history as well as military history and leadership studies will enjoy.
Note: I received a galley copy of this book from the publisher, Casemate Publishers via Net Galley in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.