Thursday, October 9, 2014

Second Front: The Allied Invasion of France, 1942-43 by Alexander Grace

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: February 18, 2014

One of the great arguments of World War II took place among Allied military leaders over when and where to launch a second front against Germany in Europe. Stalin, holding on by his teeth in Russia, urged a major invasion from the west as soon as possible. The Americans, led by Marshall and Wedemeyer, argued likewise. It was Churchill who got his way, however, with his Mediterranean strategy, including a campaign on the Italian peninsula, which he mistakenly called the “soft underbelly of Europe.” This realistic, fact-based work posits what would have happened had Churchill been overruled, and that rather than invading North Africa in the fall of 1942, thence Sicily and Italy, the Allies had hit the coast of southern France instead. The key element that enables the alternative scenario is the cooperation of Vichy, which was negotiated at the time but refused. If the Allies had promised sufficient force to support the French, however, the entire southern coastline of France would have been undefended against a surprise invasion. In this book, once the Allied armies are ashore, German stream toward the front, albeit through a gauntlet of Maquis, Allied paratroopers and airpower. Meantime the Allied forces push up the Rhône Valley and titanic armored clashes take place near Lyons. Already in desperate straits at Stalingrad, where they had committed their air and armored reserves, the Germans had also yet to switch to a full total-war economy, with tanks like the Panther and Tiger not yet deployed. This fascinating alternative history comes close to informing us exactly what might have happened had D-Day in Europe come as early as some had wished.

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Alexander Grace's Second Front: The Allied Invasion of France, 1942-43 is one of those titles I wanted like more than I did. An alternative history of WWII, the subject matter seemed right up my alley and I've never been one to shy away from a creative premise. Unfortunately, the execution left much to be desired and I spent most of my reading struggling to remain interested in the story.

To be fair, the action is actually noteworthy. Grace is well-versed in the historic elements of the narrative and retains an air of authority even while screwing the timeline. There is an enthusiasm behind the prose one can't help but notice and I felt the chain of events Grace crafted both exciting and imaginative. 

My difficulties with the novel stem from Grace's cast. I couldn't connect with a single player and couldn't care less about their individual fates. I appreciate action-driven fiction as much as the next person, but it needs to be balanced against character development and some micro level emotional turmoil. Second Front lacked that and often found me bored with the constant barrage of military action. 

Second Front is fun for history buffs, but if I'm entirely honest, I don't think the title competes with the work of Harry Turtledove or C.J. Sansom.

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Bentley could not help thinking that he would have liked to have jumped just a few miles behind enemy lines like the boys from the st and the British th Airborne, not nearly two hundred miles from the coast where Allied troops would hopefully be landing in a couple of hours, if they survived the trip by sea, weaving between islands controlled by the Germans, and a good eighty miles even from the main center of the Polish rising in Warsaw. He supposed that he would have to wait for the next war to get to do things by the book, just once.
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