Monday, August 18, 2008

Jeff Shaara: The Steel Wave

Since I’m running so far behind on my reviews, I might as well do The Steel Wave now. As I said in the review of The Rising Tide, this is the second volume in Jeff Shaara’s World War II trilogy. This volume covers the D-Day landing in Normandy, and the Allied breakout from their beachheads.

Key characters again include Erwin Rommel, Dwight Eisenhower, George Patton, Bernard Montgomery, and in an increased role, Omar Bradley. We also continue to follow the exploits of Sgt Jessie Adams of the 82nd Airborne.

The first half of the book deals with plans and preparation. Again Eisenhower’s biggest challenge seems to be keeping the peace between his British and American subordinates. Rommel’s biggest challenge is incompetent meddling from higher headquarters. Patton again causes almost more trouble than he’s worth by shooting off his mouth in front of reporters.

Shaara gives us a good view of the invasion. The paratroop drops go better than in Sicily, but still prove to be a very disorganized way to fight a war. Obviously the landings succeed, but Omaha Beach does not go well, and is very costly.

We get a good view of the final breakout from the beachheads. The British forces do not advance as well as Montgomery has promised, but are facing the stronger enemy. The Americans under Bradley, and with a drive by Patton do break through German lines. Rommel is still hampered in his defense by inane orders from Berlin.

The D-Day story has been told many times in books and movies. The gold standard for years was probably S.L.A. Marshall, until he was displaced by Stephen Ambrose. The Steel Wave complements Ambrose by portraying the personal, emotional side of the events. As with the rest of Shaara’s novels, this is not light fiction. It is interesting, accessible history.

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