New readers of Bowlin will find this third installment of the Texas Gun Club series to be strongly reminiscent of the best of W.E.B. Griffin - and every bit as satisfying. For God and Country tells the story of the 36th Division’s tragic assault across the Rapido River in January, 1944 - a bitter and controversial episode in American military history that resulted in Congressional hearings over Lt Gen. Mark Clark’s (Commander of Fifth Army in Italy) conduct of the battle.
Closely following the actual history of the “Texas Army” during the Allied advance through Italy, For God and Country begins as the 36th Division halts at Monte Cassino to recuperate from their epic battle at San Pietro - having taken 1400 casualties, and providing the subject matter for John Houston’s Academy Award-winning documentary, “The Battle of San Pietro,” (almost censored because of its graphic illustration of the plight of the ordinary infantryman). While the rest of Fifth Army prepares to resume its advance towards Rome, Captain Perkin Berger and First Lieutenant Sam Taft are sent to the Adriatic for a week, where they quickly become involved in a covert battle between the German Abwehr and a secret Vatican network evacuating Allied troops out of Italy (also based on historical events). After considerable adventures, the two officers find their way back to their unit in time for the Rapido River assault.
The German retreat through Italy was methodical and punishing for the Allies, who now waited behind the Gustav Line - considered by both sides to be an impregnable last line of defense. The brilliant German commander, Feldmarschall Albert Kesselring, had more than twenty dug-in and prepared divisions, many of them elite and hardened units, including the Herman Goring SS Division and the First Parachute Corps. The Germans occupied the high ground and commanded the flat open plains of the Liri Valley, traversed by three fast-flowing rivers (all mined) and dominated on both sides by sheer mountains from which the Germans fired preregistered artillery on all Allied movement.
Knowing the futility of trying to break through such a formidable defensive line by frontal assault, the Allies planned a flank attack with an amphibious landing at Anzio, to the north of the Gustav Line - an operation considered so important that it postponed the D-Day invasion from the first week of May until June so that the Anzio invaders would have enough landing craft available.
However, despite the knowledge that a frontal assault would be a slaughter, the Supreme Allied Commander in Italy, British General Alexander, ordered an assault across the Garigliano and Rapido rivers by Fifth Army as a method of holding the German forces in the Liri Valley and preventing them from reinforcing the relatively light defenses at Anzio. The crossing of the Rapido River was given to The Texas Gun Club, with predictable, and devastating results.
Bowlin handles the seriousness of his subject with alacrity. There is no romance in his retelling of the slaughter, but neither does he turn this book into a tale of carnage. Rather, he humanizes the characters and pulls us into the story, making the reader hope against hope (and history), that this time the boys will somehow manage to break through. Moreover, the lighter tone of the first half of the book and the Vatican subplot ensure that the book doesn’t get overly heavy or morose. Bowlin’s characterization is outstanding, and we can forgive him for making his heroes larger than life -- both physically as well as in their embodiment of the best qualities and values of military service. The real villains in the story aren’t the enemy forces, rather, they are the usual weaknesses and incompetencies found among servicemen and women whenever a nation fields an enormous force to fight wars of such magnitude on short notice.
Bowlin is a fine writer and For God and Country is an enjoyable, engaging, and enlightening read. You won’t want to put it down, and when you do, you’ll want to do more research on the 36th Division and the Battle of the Rapido River. Highly recommended.
Reviewed by: Robert Schaeffer (2013)
In Mark Bowlin's third installment of the award-winning Texas Gun Club series, the chronicle of Sam Taft and Perkin Berger's journey into the hell of the Italian campaign continues. The Fifth Army remains stalled before the formidable German defenses at the Gustav Line, and the prospect of reaching Rome has never seemed as remote. In an attempt to break the stalemate, and against all sound military judgment, the exhausted and under-strength Gun Club is ordered to cross the Rapido River and breach the Gustav Line...alone.