Casemate is pleased to announce the paperback release of Sacrifice on the Steppe by Hope Hamilton. Hope Hamilton, fluent in Italian and having spent many years in Italy, has drawn on many interviews with survivors—including two of her uncles who served in the Alpine Corps—as well as massive research, in order to provide this first full English-language account of one of World War II’s legendary stands against great odds.
The book follows Germany’s Sixth Army advance to Stalingrad in 1942, when its long-extended flanks were mainly held by allied armies—the Romanians, Hungarians, and Italians. But as history tells us, these flanks quickly caved in before the massive Soviet counter-offensive which commenced that November, dooming the Germans to their first catastrophe of the war. However, the historical record also makes clear that one allied unit held out to the very end, fighting to stem the tide—the Italian Alpine Corps.
When the Don front collapsed under Soviet hammer blows, it was the Alpine Corps that continued to hold out until it was completely isolated, and which then tried to fight its way out through both Russian encirclement and “General Winter” to rejoin the rest of the Axis front. Only one of the three alpine divisions was able to emerge from the Russian encirclement with survivors. In this all-sides battle across the snowy steppe, thousands were killed and wounded, and even more were captured. By the summer of 1946, only 10,000 survivors returned to Italy from Russian POW camps.
Hamilton herself is a fascinating figure, humble, and incredibly smart. We had the pleasure of interviewing her about the experience of writing this book. She told us,
I can’t really say when I realized I wanted to become a writer. What appeals to me about writing a historical piece is the process of going back in time and recreating a scene based on facts and words of people who actually experienced those events.
I don’t consider myself to be a “military historian” and have had to rely on assistance from others with a military background.
In order to write this book I have had to do a great deal of research. Most of the books I have relied upon are written in Italian. Although I speak Italian, reading it is another matter and translating yet another. Translating is a time-consuming endeavor requiring not only knowledge of the language but also the nuances.
Initially I planned to write a family memoir to preserve the stories my uncles told me, but as I continued to study this subject, my curiosity and interest led to more in depth study and research, eventually expanding into a full-blown historical narrative. It was a slow process. In fact, at a certain point I put my work aside and began to do research for another one of my interests, the Italian Resistance in Italy during WWII. Eventually I returned to my draft about the alpini. As I became more knowledgeable about the subject matter, I continued my research and was able to expand my number of interviews and engage in the interviewing process with more precision.
What I like most about my book is the fact that I am writing about a true event, giving voice to the men who actually participated. It took a long time to write this story because I had to study, read, integrate and piece together many facts from many different sources while staying true to my mission of providing a narrative from “the bottom up” rather than a mere historical thesis.
I usually write at home, but during the past ten years, I have had the opportunity to spend time in Anguillara, a village near Rome Italy. It is there where I am able to converse with various people about the Russian campaign, which is still very much alive in Italy. While there, I have conducted interviews with survivors of the campaign, as well as relatives of people who had a member of their family in Russia. Being in Italy while writing my narrative has added a very special flavor to my work, almost like an immersion in my subject matter.
Hamilton shared with us that (unsurprisingly) reading is one of her favorite activities, and told us about some of her favorite authors:
Obviously, I read a great deal of history in English and Italian. I have accumulated a large library of books about WWII written by Italian, British and American authors. The most recent books I have read in English are: Italy’s Sorrow, James Holland, The Day of Battle, Rick Atkinson, Crossing the Rapido, Duane Scultz, Ivan’s War, Catherine Merridale, plus many, many books by Italian authors. I do enjoy reading fiction when I have the time. One of my favorite American authors is Pat Conroy. Recently I have re-read numerous Russian classics by Tolstoy, Sholokhov, and Pasternak.
This highly anticipated title has already received glowing praise for its clarity and diligent research.
“The rarely told story of 227000 Italian troops fighting and dying in Russia in WWII … details the Italian defense of their sector with tactical placements and actions in harrowing details of logistical failures, indefensible positions and bitter cold endurance.”—Marine Corps Gazette
“With the Italian Army often the butt of cruel jokes, this book sets at least one of the records straight. Hope Hamilton’s account of the Italian Eighth Army on the Steppes of central Asia is compelling and informative.”—Books Monthly, UK
“Raw courage and endurance blend with human suffering, desperation and altruism in the epic saga of this withdrawal from the Don lines, including the demise of thousands and survival of the few.”—Recollections of World War II
Copies of Sacrifice on the Steppe are now available in paperback, as well as in hardback and PDF, on our website and can be found by clicking here.