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The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II    by Jeff Shaara order for
Rising Tide
by Jeff Shaara
Order:  USA  Can
Ballantine, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke

The world was still recovering from World War I - experiencing economic crises, and mourning human losses. In Germany, Adolf Hitler, a profound motivational speaker, used Germany's low economic status as a ploy to reach for power. Others joined him, including Italy's 'bombastic dictator', Fascist Benito Mussolini (Il Duce). Russia's Joseph Stalin vacillated, harboring his own plans to overtake Hitler, 'once an acquaintance, ally, turned rival'. Jeff Shaara has written a stimulating historical novel, first in a planned trilogy on World War II. The Rising Tide covers 'the war in North Africa from spring 1942 to its conclusion in 1943 ... the Allied invasion and conquest of Sicily and the invasion of mainland Italy through the beginning of 1944'. Shaara's extensive research includes memoirs, diaries, letters, and interviews of veterans - those who were there!

In 1933, the Führer declares himself dictator. German forces march into western Europe, while Allied armies fight in the dusty heat of the North African desert. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's Afrika Korps and panzers are led by a brilliant strategist, who muses, 'we are led by a madman'. The challenges and frustrations of command are seen through the eyes of well-known leaders including Dwight D. Eisenhower, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery, Omar Bradley, Albert Kesserling, Andrew Cunningham, and Claude Auchinleck. Readers also follow two obscure U.S. fighters - tank gunner Private Jack Logan, and paratrooper Sergeant Jesse Adams - in a series of military engagements, depicting the agony of desert warfare and the adrenaline rush of airborne assault. The author qualifies in a message to readers that, 'Not all are heroes, not all are 'good guys'. But they are all important.'

With blitzkrieg ('strike hard with lightning speed') tactics, Hitler sends Germany's Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe to overrun France, 'slicing a wide gap between French and British defenses'. In June of 1940, German troops march into Paris, and establish a puppet government (the Vichy) under France's WW I decorated hero, Henri Petain - in exchange for his cooperation Hitler agrees not to invade southern France. The Germans turn towards Russia, as the Allies launch a united front. Winston Churchill in England and Franklin Roosevelt in the United States work to defeat Hitler, beginning with joint Operation Torch in North Africa. The United States needs to build its forces, update equipment, and assign seasoned commanders. In March 1942, Dwight D. Eisenhower is chosen to lead the overall Allied command.

Shaara reveals the frustrations faced by Rommel, including his need for replacement troops and tanks, and for time to recuperate from illness. In the desert, visibility in dust storms turns 'fine sand into thin clouds ... inhibiting sight through periscope glass'. Rommel makes rapid circular panzer attacks when 'tanks erupted from the dust ... black crosses on the sand-yellow armor'. The British Seventh Armored is commanded by Clyde Atkins, a young twenty-eight year old, 'yet the oldest of the noncoms who ran the tanks' called the Desert Rats - 'In the chaos of a fight in the desert, each tank fought its own war.'

First Armored Division tank gunner Logan and other POWs are taken to German encampments, in cold, driving rain, as each POW struggles for warmth under tin roofs, with minimal food and water. Yet there is still humor as Logan muses about c-rations: 'Leave it to the army ... We ever run out of ammo, I'll just shoot that stuff at the enemy'. Paratroopers are dropped way off target, as chaos reigns, those landing in the trees being shot by enemy troops. Sergeant Jess Adams of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment tells us, 'I'm sick of people telling me to 'have a good jump'. A good jump is one that doesn't kill you.'

The Rising Tide is a masterful opening to the trilogy. Jeff Shaara melds imagination and actual historical events into breathtaking fiction. The book is well-researched, the writing fast-paced, the story engrossing, and the extended use of battle-formation maps resourceful. Shaara writes in his notes to readers, '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 mistakes were made on all sides, or whether there are lessons we should learn from this human catastrophe ... My goal here is to offer you a good story. I hope you find it so.' I certainly found it so, and highly recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, and especially those interested in World War II.

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