History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 17-18

Hey, I actually got to read these chapters lounging in a cool public library on warm summer’s day. Seemed like the perfect  place to read and write to me…

Today, you’ll find notes for Chapters 17 and 18 in this article. Did you notice we’re over half-way through the tome?

Kiddos and teachers –heads up: language is especially rough in these chapters and the descriptions of atrocities are graphic. As usual, my chapter notes are family-friendly, so consider using these for now and save the book for college years.

Chapter 17: Asian Fronts

  • Japan’s war in China was especially brutal.
  • The Chinese military was divided with forces under Mao Tse-tung and Chiang Kai-shek; Mao commanded the communist forces which held back from fighting the Japanese, leaving the Nationalists to carrying on the conflict and deplete their men and resources, making it easier for the Communists to seize power in the future.
  • The occupation of China created a shocking resource depletion for Japan, costing 202,958 dead.
  • Estimates place Chinese casualties (military and civilian) at 15 million during the Japanese occupation.
  • Japan used biological warfare in China, the only large scale users of these terror weapons during the war.
  • By 1943, the Allies and the United States had decided on a strategy for the Pacific War, pursuing moderate objectives through that year to keep the major of supplies and armament available for Europe.

A command post on Tarawa

  • The British attempted to retake Burma in 1941 and Indian troops fought in the battles, but there was little progress in 1943 on this front.
  • U.S. Admiral Nimitz commanded the much-expanded American navy, opening a naval offense in November 1943 on Tarawa (Gilbert Islands) with a four day battle that cost 3,407 U.S. casualties and nearly all 4,500 Japanese defenders.
  • Cultural differences and opposing views of warfare and on-the-ground tactics made the conflict between the Americans and Japanese exceptionally brutal.
  • From Tarawa, the U.S. Navy moved quickly, capturing the Marshall Islands while General Douglas MacArthur’s men fought in New Guinea.

Quote of the chapter: “It was lined with amphtracs, all of which appeared to be burning and smoking… The attack appeared to be have dissolved in confusion. I was terror-stricken and amazed at the same time. We were Americans and invincible. We had a huge armada of warships and a division of Marines. How could this be happening? I discovered the rows of Marines along the beach weren’t lying there waiting for orders to move. They were dead.” Karl Albrecht, U.S. Marine, at the Battle of Tarawa. (page 423)

Chapter 18 – Italy: High Hopes, Sour Fruits

  • While the Russians ground the Wehrmacht (German Army) to pieces, they grumbled that their other Allies didn’t seem to be doing much; in the end, Russia suffered 95% of all Allied casualties.
  • Churchill and Roosevelt eventually decided to postpone an invasion of Europe through France and finally agreed to assault Italy, believing that may Italians were tired of Mussolini and Hitler.
  • Mistakenly, the Western Allies decided that with an open front in Italy, the war could end by spring 1944.
  • On July 10, 1943, 2,590 ships brought 180,000 Allied troops to Sicily, commanded by British General Sir Harold Alexander.

British troops landing in Sicily

  • Surprisingly, some German defenders on Sicily were quick to surrender, but others counterattacked and hunkered down to wait out the Allied naval bombardment.
  • Italian soldiers happily deserted to the Allies, think their war was over; scandal erupted and was quickly hushed when Allied soldiers murdered the surrendering Italians.
  • On July 25, 1943, Italians arrested Mussolini and sent him into captivity; later, the Germans rescued him and briefly reinstated him as a puppet leader in northern Italy.
  • On August 11, the Germans began retreating from Sicily, eventually withdrawing 40,000 Germans, 62,000 Italians, and most of their vehicles and weapons from the island with little intervention from the Allies.
  • The Allies had gained Sicily but still had much to learn about amphibious and air operations; British and American commanders blamed each other for mismanagement and the German withdrawal; the campaign had resulted in the death of 6,000 Allies.
  • Throughout the autumn of 1943,the Allies advanced toward Rome, fighting Germans and terrain along the way and continuing to make tactical errors.
  • The Germans fought defensively, reducing the Allied advance to days of bombing and shelling followed by an advance to find roads blocked, bridges destroyed, and an unhappy civilian population.
  • Mud virtually halted the Italian campaign for the Allies, causing great misery for the troops and a logistical nightmare.
  • Italian civilians –and sometimes the soldiers – were caught in a war that most didn’t want; they found their occupations destroyed, families harmed, and often joined partisan groups out of disgust; they did not find the Allies welcome “liberators” in many cases.
  • The Germans and Gestapo rounded up Italian partisans and murdered them or killed innocent civilians as punishment for partisan attacks.
  • In Sicily – civilian children and Allied soldiers climbing on a tank.

    Yugoslavia fought a civil and ethnic war, while taking funds and weapons from the Allies and later claiming to have significantly destroyed Hitler’s Germany.

  • In the end, with Russian assistance in 1945, Josip Tito introduced communism to Yugoslavia and became a player in the Cold War.

Quote of the chapter: “The panorama before us was magnificent. Thirty miles to the north, dominating the horizon was the huge, misty, snow-capped conical mass, 10,000 feet high, of Mount Etna… Along the coast, the city of Catania was dimly[,] visibly, shimmering in the heat. All this would have constituted a picture of great beauty and tranquility, had it not been for the thud of shells, with their tell-tale puffs of black smoke, exploding near the river. The Reality was that down in front of us, concealed in slit-trenches and ditches and sheltered behind buildings and whatever cover they could find, two armies were facing each other in mortal conflict.” David Cole, British Officer on Sicily. (page 432)


Again, I find a “forgotten front” that was not clearly addressed in other World War II sources. China’s war with Japan drained the Rising Sun Empire of needed resources for the Pacific War. It’s curious to think about what could have happened in the U.S./Japan fight across the islands if those resources had not been used in the land war with China.

I appreciated the bird’s eye view of the Italian Campaign. In my past reading, I’ve been more specifically focused on American commanders in that campaign so I thought it was really interesting to learn about the cooperation challenges facing the Allies, the German escape from Sicily, and the overall reactions of the Italian civilians.

Your Opinion

What did you find interesting in these chapters? Any quotes of note? Let’s chat in the comments…

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Read Chapters 19 and 20 to get ready for next week!

One thought on “History Read Along – Inferno: The World at War, Chapters 17-18

  1. Pingback: History Read-Along: Pearl Harbor Christmas, Chapters 10-13 | Gazette665

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