Derry author pens new study of famous WWII campaign

Richard Doherty.
Richard Doherty.

Derry author RICHARD DOHERTY has written the first ever detailed study of one of the most famous episodes of the Second World War - the great final battle in Italy. SEAN McLAUGHLIN delves into the newly-published ‘Victory in Italy’.

Richard Doherty - whose new book has been published to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the World War II campaign on April 9, 2015 - is recognised as Ireland’s leading military history author.

‘Victory in Ireland’ - published by Pen & Sword - casts its eye beyond what was the main focus in the final year of the global conflict: the advance on Germany.

It zones in on 15th Army Group - made up of Fifth (US) and Eighth (British) Armies which were achieving remarkable results in Northern Italy.

The eventual success in Italy, concludes the author, came in spite of the diversion of major formations to North West Europe, the appalling terrain, harsh climate and general battle fatigue.

As the author, a past pupil of St Columb’s College, reveals, the campaign, overseen by Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, succeeded due to exceptional planning, preparation and training.

Above all else, says Richard Doherty, outstanding leadership - particularly that shown by Lieutenant General Lucian King Truscott (Fifth Army) and Lieu. Gen. Sir Richard McCreery (Eighth Army) - laid the foundations for victory.

The challenge was all the greater, says Doherty, due to the multi-national nature of the forces involved which included Indian, Italian, New Zealand, South African, Brazilian and Polish in addition to the main US and British elements.

In April 1945, the Allied offensive surprised the Germans with its “speed and brilliance”.

As a result, the Germans capitulated on May 2, 1945, before the surrender in Germany.

Winston Churchill wrote to Field Marshal Alexander on April 29: “I rejoice in the magnificently planned and executed operations of 15th Group of Armies.”

Interestingly for local readers, ‘Victory in Italy’ features the story of Patrick Joseph ‘Rex’ Doherty, of Derry, who earned the Military Cross during the battle in Italy.

Richard Doherty reveals that, during a battle along the Senio line in Northern Italy in March 1945, Lance Sergeant Doherty, of the 2nd Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, led a patrol during which he saved the life of one of his soldiers while attacking a German machine gun position that had been harassing a forward platoon position.

A citation for L/Sgt Doherty’s Military Medal reports: “L/Sgt Doherty led his men along the floodbank to within 15 yards of the emplacement when Schu mines were encountered. The patrol moved cautiously on, removing the mines as they advanced. At this point, the patrol was heard and the enemy threw grenades at them, but the patrol kept on advancing and retaliated with their own grenades, whereupon the enemy sent up three white Very lights and threw over a large number of grenades, slightly wounding L/Sgt Doherty and one other member of his patrol.

“L/Sgt Doherty withdrew his patrol, reformed and attacked again. This time, he was met with Spandau [machine gun] fire as well as another shower of grenades. The Spandau position was rushed and silenced, and has not opened up since, but the patrol suffered three casualties in doing so, one of them falling just in front of the gun. L/Sgt Doherty immediately went to his aid, although he was not sure then that the gun had been silenced, and helped him to get clear, and then withdrew his patrol intact.”

For his outstanding courage and leadership, which led to the success of the operation, Sergeant Doherty was awarded the Military Medal - a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army and other services, and formerly also to personnel of other Commonwealth countries, below commissioned rank, for bravery in battle on land.

Richard Doherty says the campaign featured in his latest book is not well known.

“In fact, when I first thought of producing a study of it, there was, to my knowledge, only one book dealing with this remarkable campaign,” he says.

“Having known many who fought in that campaign in Italy, and having study the Italian campaign over many years, I felt that it was time that a new book was produced.”

The offensive, says Richard Doherty, is one of the finest examples of “manoeuvre warfare” carried out by the Western Allies.

In the course of the campaign, the Allies, he asserts, “gave the Germans a master class in such warfare. But, like all master classes, this owed its success to skilful planning, preparation, training, husbandry of materiel, co-operation between arms, and inspiring leadership.”

Victory in Italy, he says, was overshadowed by victory in Germany.

“It seems that the Italian campaign began to slip from public consciousness even while its final phases were being fought,” he writes.

However, the author is in no doubt that the final Italian campaign represents the “most outstanding victory” by Allied forces in Europe in the Second World War.

As Winston Churchill later wrote: “This great final battle in Italy will long stand in history as one of the most famous episodes of the Second World War.”

‘Victory in Italy: 15th Army Group’s Final Campaign 1945’, by Richard Doherty, is published by Pen & Sword.