Diary of Writing Italy’s Sorrow

Imperial War Museum, 24 August 2006

For a while I’ve been thinking that the issue over Mark Clark disobeying Alexander’s orders and veering off to capture Rome rather than heading straight to Valmontone and cutting off the retreating German Tenth Army is really only a post-war controversy.   Today, while looking through the papers of General Leese at the Imperial War Museum, I found another piece of evidence to support that.  Leese’s letters to his wife reveal his personal dislike of Clark and he repeatedly refers to Clark’s ‘obsession’ with taking Rome.  He chastises Clark for this and makes it clear he expects the Fifth Army Commander to make a hash of it.  He also says that he hopes Clark’s determination to take Rome won’t cloud is military judgement.  However, at no point does he criticise Clark’s decision to attack the German Fourteenth Army in the Alban Hills south of the Italian capital, rather than concentrating all his forces in the direction of Valmontone as Alexander had initially directed.   It seems to me that Leese would have been happy to criticise Clark if he’d felt the American had been a) disobeying a direct order, and b) that he’d made the wrong decision.  In fact, I’m sure Alexander’s order to Clark was like most of his orders: ie, here’s what I’d like you to do, but if circumstances change and you feel you should change the plan, then it’s your call as battlefield commander on the ground.  Certainly Alex never challenged Clark’s decision and had he felt it had been the wrong decision, I personally feel he would have done, as Alex was a great one for visiting the front and checking on what was happening for himself.  And anyway, having had a good look at that part of Italy back in June, I rather agree with both Clark’s and the German General Von Senger’s assessment that even if the American VI Corps had taken Valmontone quickly then pushed on eastwards, I’m not certain they would have achieved much anyway.


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