Just Finished Reading: Hitler’s War by Harry Turtledove (FP: 2009)
Europe, September 1938. Using the assassination of a German politician as an excuse Hitler orders his armed forces to launch an all-out attack across the Czech border. With immediate effect both the British and French declare war – hence starting WW2 a whole year ‘early’. Whilst the fighting begins to ramp up in Czechoslovakia the on-going conflict in Spain turns up the gears as fresh supplies arrive from both Germany and the Soviet Union. As French forces tentatively move across the German border and British forces move up to their new front line in France on the Belgian border the Czechs finally fall to the German onslaught led by its new Panzer tanks with close support from the terrifying Stuka dive-bomber. Within days the German forces retake its territory and move through the Low Countries threatening French soil. The question on everyone’s mind is whether the combined forces of France, England and their respective colonies can hold back the full might of the Wehrmacht.
I’ve been avoiding Turtledove for some time now because I had become bored and irritated with his writing style. Despite being a reasonable storyteller he has the annoying habit of constant repetition – characteristics of the main players revealed over and over and over again, constant reference to events that occurred earlier in the book or, if you read far enough into his numerous series, things that happened in the previous book or the three before that. As you can imagine that gets tedious rather fast! One good thing about this book – being the first in the series – is that the repetition never gets to the level where I wanted to throw the book against the wall in frustration. There were times, many, many times, where I rolled my eyes and sighed after yet another mention of a Stuka pilots milk drinking habit or the fact that neither the Russian or German troops could speak freely without the possibility of being ‘disappeared’ for being politically untrustworthy but it didn’t stop me largely enjoying this novel. OK, I’m highly unlikely to read any more in the series, but I still found this interesting and fun enough to make my way through just under 500 pages in quick order.
Being a Brit a few things did stand out. First was the fact that UK air defence was much better than anything the Germans had encountered before and they got their asses handed to them in early engagements (and even more so in ‘our’ Battle of Britain) particularly the early Stuka attacks against mainland targets. It was interesting that the first attacks were beaten off by a Hurricane/Gladiator combination. The second thing that struck me was the loss of Gibraltar to Spanish forces. Now I’ll be the first to admit that a detailed knowledge of the Rock in WW2 is not something that I can claim but the fact the Gibraltar remained firmly in British hands throughout WW2 must stand for something. With the base their being vital to holding the Med it would have been defended with everything we had. Losing it the way the book presented just didn’t seem realistic at all. Despite everyone mentioned above though I did actually enjoy this breezy read and it proved to be a reasonable start to a stack of 10 Alternate-History books I had planned for the early summer. Obviously much more to come.