Read The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II Online

Authors: Jeff Shaara

Tags: #Fiction, #Historical, #War & Military, #Action & Adventure

The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II

TO
COLONEL JESSE WIGGINS,
USAF (RET.)

TO THE READER

W
hen I began to think about writing a series of novels dealing with the Second World War, one obvious question came to mind. What could I possibly add that hasn’t already been written about so many times before? I felt I knew much about the history of the war, certainly the high points: Pearl Harbor, D-Day, the Holocaust. I knew who Patton was, and Rommel, Eisenhower, Hitler, Mussolini, and Churchill. I’ve seen films about fictitious characters with names like Mr. Roberts and Private Ryan, that to some are as familiar as the figures in our high school textbooks. But when I began digging into the research, the diaries and memoirs, the personal lives of the characters I hoped to use in this story, I found out that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did. What I also found was a
story
.

None of my books are comprehensive accounts of a historical event, the detailed, blow-by-blow fact upon fact that you’ll find in a textbook. My goal is to find a few voices, and to tell their story through their eyes, to put you in the same room with some of the most important and fascinating characters in our history. In this kind of story, there must be a variety of characters, different perspectives, different experiences. I focus not only on the famous, those men who changed history, but also the unknown, whose experiences mirrored the experiences of thousands, or hundreds of thousands, just like them. The events are real, the history is accurate, the conversations are often from recorded memories. But this is a novel by definition because I take you into the characters’ minds, using dialogue and action to tell a story, as they might have told it themselves.

The Rising Tide
covers the war in North Africa from spring 1942 to its conclusion in 1943, and then, the Allied invasion of Sicily and Italy, through the beginning of 1944. It is the first book of a trilogy that will take you to the end of the war in Europe. I am well aware that as the time line of this book unfolds, an extraordinary drama has been unfolding throughout Western Europe, another in Russia, another on (and beneath) the Atlantic Ocean, and another across the Pacific. Each of those stories has as much drama, sacrifice, and heroism as this one. But those are stories that would not fit here. To those who feel that their own history or that of their ancestors has been ignored, I apologize. The war in the Pacific, certainly, is an epic story that I would one day like to tell.

This story follows several primary characters, including Dwight D. Eisenhower and Erwin Rommel, and two who are far more obscure, a tank gunner, Private Jack Logan, and a paratrooper, Sergeant Jesse Adams. Included also are the voices of several well-known historical figures whose pivotal roles make them essential to the story, including Bernard Montgomery, George Patton, Mark Wayne Clark, and Albert Kesselring. Not all are heroes, not all are “good guys.” But they are all important.

One note about the language in this book. Occasionally I receive somewhat hostile letters condemning my use of even mild profanity. This amazes me, since with rare exceptions I do not go beyond the bounds of what any child might hear on prime-time television. I am no prude, but if I chose to make the dialogue in my novels as graphic as it certainly was, it would likely make
me
blush. Some of our most illustrious historical figures were famously profane, but I have always believed that if I cannot tell you their story without bombarding you with stark profanity, then I’m not doing my job. But, four-letter words serve a purpose. They reveal character and they illustrate and emphasize emotions. I am aware, and extremely gratified, that young people read my books, and I do not believe that any boundary has been crossed that makes these stories inappropriate for young readers. And believe me, when you’re writing from the point of view of George Patton, or a twenty-year-old paratroop sergeant, a great many boundaries
could
have been crossed. The most profane words in this book are direct quotes, and their inclusion is, I believe, entirely appropriate.

You may disagree with my portrayal of certain historical figures. This is, after all, my interpretation of who these people were, and how they responded to events around them. However, I take few liberties with characters whose thoughts and actions are well documented. In all of my books, I take pride in historical accuracy. To portray these events and these characters any other way would be a gross disservice to the legacies of these extraordinary men.

Ultimately, this is a story about people not so very different from us, though their experiences are quite different indeed. Some would describe our world today as an endless source of bad news: war and bloodshed, horror and strife, bombings and chaos and civil war. But imagine a world where the ongoing event filling our daily news reports ultimately claims the lives of
fifty million
people. It is not my place to question or pass judgment as to whether the Second World War was, as some have described it,
the last good war,
or whether it should have been fought at all; whether it could have been avoided, whether mistakes were made on all sides, or whether there are lessons we should learn from this human catastrophe…these are questions for historians and political scientists. My goal here is to offer you a good story. I hope you find it so.

JEFF SHAARA
October 2006

RESEARCH SOURCES

The question I receive most is what are my sources for the characterizations, dialogue, and historical events in my stories. In this case, I made considerable use of the memoirs, diaries, collections of letters, and assorted documents from the following historical figures, among many others:

Field Marshal Sir Harold Alexander, BEF
Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, BEF
General of the Army Omar Bradley, USA
Captain Harry Butcher, USNR
Prime Minister Winston Churchill
General Mark W. Clark, USA
Admiral Lord Andrew B. Cunningham, BRN
President Dwight D. Eisenhower
Lieutenant General James M. Gavin, USA
Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, Deutsche Wehrmacht
Historian Robert Leckie
Journalist and historian Sir Basil Liddell-Hart
Colonel Hans von Luck, Deutsches Afrika Korps
Field Marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, BEF
Journalist Alan Moorehead
General George S. Patton, USA
Journalist Ernie Pyle
General Matthew Ridgway, USA
Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, Deutsche Wehrmacht
Major Heinz Schmidt, Deutsches Afrika Korps
General Siegfried Westphal, Deutsche Wehrmacht
Lieutenant General William P. Yarborough, USA

In addition, I wish to heartily thank the following, whose generous assistance in providing research material for this book is most appreciated:

Colonel Keith Gibson—Lexington, Virginia
Ms. Phoebe Hunter—Missoula, Montana
Bruce and Linda Novak—Needham, Massachusetts
Ms. Kay Whitlock—Missoula, Montana
The American Armored Foundation Tank Museum—Danville, Virginia

LIST OF MAPS

NORTH AFRICA AND SICILY (FROM CASABLANCA IN THE WEST TO CAIRO IN THE EAST)

ROMMEL’S BREAKTHROUGH AT GAZALA (“THE CAULDRON”)

THE BRITISH WITHDRAWAL TO EL ALAMEIN

ROMMEL’S DEFEAT AT ALAM HALFA RIDGE

OPERATION TORCH—ALLIED LANDINGS IN NORTH AFRICA

EL ALAMEIN—POSITION ON OCTOBER 26, 1942

THE BATTLE OF EL ALAMEIN—MONTGOMERY’S BREAKTHROUGH

OPERATION TORCH—CENTER TASK FORCE LANDINGS AT ORAN, ALGERIA

THE FINAL FIGHT FOR ORAN

ROMMEL’S RETREAT ACROSS LIBYA TO MERSA EL BREGA

ROMMEL RETREATS TOWARD TUNISIA

POSITIONS IN TUNISIA (CHRISTMAS 1942)

ROMMEL’S PLAN TO ATTACK THE AMERICANS

GERMAN ATTACK AT SIDI BOU ZID

AMERICAN RETREAT FROM SBEÏTLA

ROMMEL’S PLAN TO ATTACK TÉBESSA

ROMMEL’S ACTUAL ATTACK

FINAL GERMAN POSITION AT KASSERINE

THE BATTLE OF MÉDENINE

PATTON AND MONTGOMERY OFFENSIVES (SPRING 1943)

POSITION FOR FINAL ATTACK IN TUNISIA

PLAN OF ATTACK FOR SICILY “OPERATION HUSKY”

PLAN FOR 82ND AIRBORNE PARATROOP DROP

ALLIED POSITION ON JULY 14—ACTUAL PARATROOP DROP POSITIONS

MONTGOMERY’S PLAN FOR SICILY—PATTON’S RESPONSE

THE RACE FOR MESSINA

OPERATION AVALANCHE—CLARK’S INVASION AT SALERNO

INTRODUCTION

In war, it is axiomatic that the victors of the last war fight the new one with the tactics of the old. Having won, the victor is content with what won for him; but the vanquished wants to know why he lost.

HISTORIAN ROBERT LECKIE

T
he Second World War begins with the conclusion of the First. On June 28, 1919, Germany is forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ends what would come to be known as the First World War. The terms of the treaty are dictated primarily by the two dominant allies, France and England, who seek to punish Germany economically and geographically. The Allies believe that their hard line will prevent a weakened Germany from ever again threatening the peace. What the Allies do not predict is that by nearly destroying the German economy, the treaty insures just the opposite. Within a few years, loud voices of German nationalism rise up, men who would inspire their people by appealing to fear and revenge. The most effective is Adolf Hitler. In the early 1920s Hitler is considered a fringe-element radical by the German politicians in power, but his message appeals to German citizens suffering under a massive economic depression. Hitler’s following builds throughout the 1920s, and his political opponents lack his skill at oratory and his lack of conscience for brutalizing his enemies. Hitler’s political organization becomes a deadly tool for his ambitions, and anyone opposing him is subject to a level of violence that shocks and intimidates voices of reason.

Hitler’s Nazi Party secures sufficient public support so that in January 1933 the aging German president, Paul von Hindenburg, has no choice but to appoint Hitler as chancellor, hoping that Hitler will create a coalition government. Instead, Hitler dissolves the Reichstag, Germany’s governing body, and in March 1933 declares himself dictator. By now, no one is strong enough to oppose him.

Throughout the 1930s, Hitler stages a saber-rattling campaign that alarms his European neighbors. One aspect of the Treaty of Versailles that Hitler uses to great advantage is a clause that strips away German territory, ceding it to neighboring countries, including Poland, Czechoslovakia, and France. But those territories are still primarily occupied by ethnic Germans, who welcome Hitler’s calls that they should once again become part of Germany. In March 1936, German troops occupy the demilitarized zone along France’s border, former German territory known as the Rhine-land. Though Germany’s military leaders are apprehensive, the French do virtually nothing in protest. Hitler learns his first lesson about the Allies’ unwillingness to enter into an armed confrontation. It is a lesson he will take to heart.

In 1938, Hitler annexes Austria, which falls willingly into his grasp. His next goal, which he announces with great fanfare, is to “rescue” ethnic Germans who inhabit a slice of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland. Finally, European governments protest. British prime minister Neville Chamberlain goes to Munich to meet with Hitler and returns home triumphantly waving the documents Hitler has signed, documents that promise that if the Allies simply allow the Sudetenland to fall into German hands, Hitler will make no further territorial demands. Europe breathes a collective sigh of relief, despite the fact that the Czech government has no say in the matter, and no recourse. To other European leaders, it is simply the price of peace.

On August 23, 1939, Hitler signs a nonaggression pact with the Soviet Union, which allows him to act without fear of Russian reprisal. His next move comes on September 1, 1939. German troops, aircraft, and tanks surge across the Polish border, sweeping away the grossly inferior Polish army. In little more than three weeks, Poland is crushed. (Barely noticed is that Russian troops have made an invasion of their own and occupy roughly half of Poland as well—one key term of the nonaggression agreement Hitler had made with Joseph Stalin.)

Western Europe reacts with outrage, and by September 3, 1939, both Britain and France declare war on Germany. But it is a diplomatic gesture that carries no real weight. Though France possesses what is thought to be the most powerful military in Europe, the French seem unwilling to actually commit arms to a struggle against Germany. Memories of the Great War are still too vivid. Much of the land along the French-German border is still a wasteland.

W
hile Hitler cements his hold over the German government, the German military is rarely involved in Hitler’s frequent public demonstrations of patriotic fervor. The Treaty of Versailles is specific that Germany is to maintain a minimal army and navy, but among the veterans of the Great War, officers begin to emerge who understand that the backbone of Germany’s proud military heritage is still intact. Far below the radar of official Europe, the German army retrains and reequips itself. Though German officers are taught that they did not truly lose the Great War, they are aware that mistakes were made. The tactics must be different in the future. As Hitler shouts into microphones all over Germany, the army discreetly goes about its business. Distrustful of the West, Stalin allows German tank and aircraft units to undergo training deep inside Russian territory, far from the eyes of Western diplomats.

Technology becomes as important as manpower, and enormous energy goes into the design of modern tanks, aircraft, and submarines. When Hitler single-handedly abolishes the Treaty of Versailles, the German army, the Wehrmacht, and the air force, the Luftwaffe, are given a free hand to add to their men and machines, so that they once again become a powerful force.

During the invasion of Poland, Hitler is astonished at his army’s efficiency, at their skill in crushing an enemy by what he learns is
blitzkrieg
tactics. Those tactics had first been used in the Great War, German commanders ordering shock troops forward in a hard strike with lightning speed, launched along a narrow front. In 1918, the tactic could not be sustained by the meager technology that supported it. In 1939, Hitler sees for himself that all that has changed.

F
or several months after the invasion of Poland, both Germany and its professed enemies seem to take a breath, shocked perhaps by the reality that what Hitler has begun might again erupt into another human catastrophe of a kind that no one believed could ever happen again. Though the British deploy their Expeditionary Force in Belgium and northern France from September 1939 until May 1940, there is no fighting in that region at all.

The French work feverishly to complete their Maginot Line, which they believe is an impregnable defensive wall along their German border. Diplomatic efforts continue, ministers from all sides beginning to believe that Hitler’s aggressiveness can be halted. There is considerable unhappiness with Hitler within Germany as well, and the British receive discreet feelers from German officials who suggest that many German army officers would cooperate with efforts to remove Hitler altogether. Nothing results but talk.

The next six months allow the world to breathe easier, and in capitals all over Europe life returns to a kind of normal, journalists referring to the ongoing state of war as a “Phony War.”

Throughout the calm, Hitler’s propaganda ministry, under the master manipulator Paul Joseph Goebbels, fuels a passion for war in the German people, inflaming their fear of communists and foreigners, convincing them that all of Europe is preparing to invade their homeland. According to Goebbels, the brutality imposed on Germany in 1919 will be repeated. Though many Germans have no taste for another war, the propaganda is successful and secures widespread support for Hitler and his policies. After a long winter of anxious planning and maneuver by both sides, the Phony War ends. Hitler strikes first.

In April 1940, German troops embark on what becomes a race with the British to occupy the neutral country of Norway, strategically important to both sides due to its proximity to so many of the sea-lanes that feed northern Europe. Though the British claim that their intention to occupy Norway’s ports has the blessing of the Norwegian people and their king, the Germans make no such pretext. To the dismay of the British navy, the Germans win the race, occupying Denmark along the way. The fall of Norway is the final straw for the British people and their parliament, who have heard too much of Neville Chamberlain’s continuing calls for appeasement, for peaceful diplomatic solutions to Hitler’s aggressiveness. Chamberlain is swept out of power, and the new British prime minister is Winston Churchill.

On May 10, 1940, Hitler’s military attacks Holland and Belgium, two countries that had astonishingly refused to go along with Britain and France in their official declarations of war against Germany. As Belgian and Dutch officials put hope in their diplomatic efforts, Hitler simply ignores their neutrality. German troops quickly overrun both countries, making effective use of paratroopers and glider aircraft for the first time. In a matter of days, the Low Countries fall. But to Hitler’s military strategists, the primary enemy and most dangerous adversary remains France, still thought to have far superior forces in both men and arms. Any attack against the Maginot Line would surely produce disastrous numbers of casualties, too reminiscent of the slaughter of the Great War. To the north of the Maginot Line are the dense thickets of the Ardennes Forest, thought impassable, especially by German armor. But the Ardennes has carefully been studied by German commanders, and as German troops sweep across Holland and Belgium, an enormous force of German tanks suddenly swarms into the forest, which proves not so impassable after all. In only days, German tanks roll across the Meuse River, bypassing the Maginot Line almost entirely. The lightning strike allows the German panzers to slice a wide gap between French and British defenses. With German tanks rolling rapidly past their flanks, the British have no choice but to retreat. As the Germans continue their pressure, nearly all of the British forces, and other Allied troops, are backed up against the English Channel. Their only avenue of escape is a single French seaport called Dunkirk.

Throughout the first few days of June 1940, the British make every effort to hold off continuing assaults by German aircraft, though many of their troops are helplessly exposed on open beaches. To the dismay of German tank commanders, Hitler has ordered them not to attack the massed British troops. For reasons known only to Hitler, he is skeptical of his generals’ reports of overwhelming victory and refuses to believe that his army has been so successful against forces he knows outnumber his own. In addition, Hitler is convinced by his overbearing and boisterous air commander, Hermann Göring, that the Luftwaffe alone can destroy the British on the beaches at Dunkirk before they can make good their escape. For days, Luftwaffe fighters and bombers harass the British, but cannot compel any British commander to surrender. Instead, as frustrated German troops look on, a thousand British seacraft, from warships to fishing boats, ferry desperate Allied soldiers away from the beach and transport them across the English Channel. Nearly a third of a million British, French, and Belgian troops are saved.

With most of the British gone from the fight in Western Europe, the Germans turn their attention to the French, who are braced to defend their own country, as they had done in 1914. But this time, German tactics and battlefield skills far outstrip what the French bring to the fight. On June 14, 1940, after less than three weeks of fighting, German troops march triumphantly into Paris.

Hitler now installs a puppet government in France, known as Vichy, headed by Henri Pétain, one of France’s most popular and decorated heroes from the First World War. Pétain is feeble and easily manipulated and believes that by going along with Hitler’s wishes, France can be spared a brutal conquest. In return for Pétain’s cooperation, Hitler agrees not to invade southern France. For Hitler, this is no sacrifice at all. He has conquered Paris, something no German leader has been able to do since the Franco-Prussian War.

With Western Europe firmly under Hitler’s thumb, the German strategists turn their attentions elsewhere. One key challenge to maintaining control over such an enormous military force is supply. The Germans begin to look beyond Europe, where vast natural resources may yet be exploited. To the dismay of many professional soldiers in Hitler’s command, Hitler has cultivated a friendship with the bombastic Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini, which is formalized into an alliance in September 1938. Mussolini also signs the Anti-Comintern Pact, an agreement first drawn up in 1936 between Japan and Germany, which pledges mutual assistance should either be attacked by Russia. The pact is a thinly disguised treaty that insures that neither Japan nor Germany will act against the other’s best interests.

Mussolini’s ambitions have taken him to East and North Africa, and since the mid-1930s Italian armies have attempted to subjugate lands from Tunisia to Ethiopia. But the Italian war machine does not compare to that of the Germans, and in Africa, Mussolini is dealt major setbacks by the British. Though the German strategists would much rather focus on capturing the British-held oil fields of the Middle East, Hitler agrees to supply German troops to assist Mussolini in what the Italian dictator believes is his personal destiny, to conquer Africa as part of a glorious new Roman Empire. But Hitler has his own distractions. With Western Europe secure, the German military reorganizes its commanders and begins to look forward. But Hitler stuns them all with his own plans, insisting on a devastating attack on Russia. Though the Russians are ostensibly German allies, Hitler cannot be swayed from his dream of subduing such an enormous foe, especially with the virtually unlimited natural and human resources the Russians possess. There are two other motives for Hitler as well. For one, he feels a searing hatred for Joseph Stalin, which hardens into a personal vendetta that has no basis in sound military practice. The second motive is Hitler’s loathing of the Russian people, whom he considers subhuman. It is an all-consuming philosophy that has already spread its bleak hand across Germany and the countries that have fallen under the German bootheel.

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