The war had been raging for nearly five years in the Pacific, in eastern Europe, in Asia, and in the North Atlantic sea lanes. After holding out alone against Germany for over two years, England was now allied with the United States. Russia, following Hitler's betrayal and invasion, was now fighting with the Allies. With Russia engaging the bulk of the German army on the eastern front, the Allies were poised to open the long-sought second front in western Europe. The D-Day invasion of Europe was about to be launched.
In the final installment of his Liberation Trilogy, Rick Atkinson tells the story of the final year of the European war in The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945. Rich in detail, the book covers the familiar events and developments (D-Day, the delayed breakout from the Normandy beach head, the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge, and the disaster of Operation Market Garden). It also relates lesser known actions, including the stories of the Falaise Pocket, the encirclement by the Germans of American paratroopers in Bastogne, and the desperate back and forth struggle for Strasbourg. While clearly explaining the strategic and tactical decisions, both wise and otherwise, of the senior generals (Eisenhower, Montgomery, Patton, Clark, and Bradley), Atkinson excels at bringing the story of the war down to the soldiers on the front line, letting the reader almost feel and smell the reality of the struggle to survive the horrors of combat.
As in his first two installments (An Army at Dawn, for which Atkinson won one of his three Pulitzer Prizes, and The Day of Battle), the final volume takes the reader, sometimes day by day and often inch by inch, with the Allied armies as they advance and the German armies as they retreat, both sides suffering thousands of casualties and in the process devastating most of Europe. At the end, both Hitler and President Roosevelt are dead, the British Empire is exhausted and in decline, and the stage is set for the beginning of the Cold War.
Atkinson's The Guns at Last Light is among the best of the narrative histories of the European war, and the Liberation Trilogy is destined to be among the classics of World War Two histories.
Review by Carl Caton