Today is the 70th anniversary of a day that altered the course of the Second World War…and therefore history. With a brief lull in bad weather, supreme commander of the Allied Forces General Dwight D. Eisenhower took a calculated gamble and launched the greatest amphibious invasion the world has ever seen, to wrestle western Europe back from Nazi Germany.
The night before the invasion, Airborne forces were dropped into Hitler’s “Fortress Europe” to seize crucial bridges that Allied tanks would need for river crossings to break out of the beach head. Conversely, German tanks could have used those same bridges to swarm in and smash the invaders before they ever got organized (lucky for us, Hitler’s meddling kept the Panzer Divisions from being released to do just that).
One of the key cities the invaders had to take and hold was Cherbourg.
It’s D-Day plus three (in the book) and, though conventional Wermacht wisdom had the allies invading across the narrowest point in the English Channel (into Pas de Calais) and in good weather, those crafty Yanks and Limeys have instead landed at Normandy during a brief lull in horrible weather. The German commander in Cherbourg has rigged a gawd-awful amount of explosives in the sewers. Enough to destroy the entire harbor and deny its use to the allies. Without that key harbor, reinforcing and resupplying the invasion force will become very difficult. And, if Hitler decides to release his panzer divisions, the invasion force will probably be crushed against the Channel. Between perdition and the deep blue sea, if you will.
Lucky for the allies, a young German officer who thinks with the wrong head has gotten friendly with a local French girl who knows how to play with both heads quite effectively. The French girl also happens to have a patriotic streak, and is a valuable intelligence asset for the good guys. Through her, the Allies learn of the German plan to destroy the harbor.
Enter chain-smoking, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, butt-kicking Sergeant Mahoney…
…fresh back to the 23rd Rangers from his cloak & dagger mission with the Maquis. Along with Corporal Cranepool, Captain Boynton, and a handfull of other rangers, he is voluntold to fight his way inside Cherbourg and figure out some way to prevent the demolition.
It’s hard to believe Boynton and his superiors are so dim-witted that storming the German fortress would be the best plan they could come up with. But eventually they wise up and, unfortunately for the rangers behind German lines, the mission devolves literally into the crappiest operation Mahoney can imagine. So crappy that he vows to quit the Rangers and transfer to a line unit if he survives.
There is all the bloody mayhem you should expect from a title in this series, plus the subplot of the German officer and French spy (which provides some good laughs), a groanable episode in which Cranepool mistakes a VD inspection tent for a USO donut tent, and a somewhat longer episode in which Mahoney first impersonates a doctor, then plays doctor with a lonely nurse.
By the end of the book Levinson has nicely set up Mahoney’s transformation back to a line doggie…
…which means reams of gratuitous bayonet combat in subsequent books!
I found it a little much that Mahoney himself devised the plan to infiltrate the German fortress, but really that’s the only plot point I remember that bothered me in the book.
This one is also available as an e-book and for those who enjoy fast-paced war fiction, you can’t go wrong with Hell Harbor.