Two Fronts (The War That Came Early, Book Five)

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9780345524683: Two Fronts (The War That Came Early, Book Five)

In 1942, two nations switch sides—and World War II takes a horrifying new course.
 
In the real world, England and France allowed Adolf Hitler to gobble up the Sudetenland in 1938. Once Hitler finished dismembering Czechoslovakia, he was ready to go to war over Poland a year later. But Hitler had always been eager to seize Czechoslovakia, no matter the consequences. So what if England and France had stood up to the Nazis from the start, and not eleven months later? That is the question behind the War That Came Early series.
 
Four years later, the civil war in Spain drags on, even after General Franco’s death. The United States, still neutral in Europe, fights the Japanese in the Pacific. Russia and Germany go toe-to-toe in Eastern Europe—yet while Hitler stares east, not everything behind him is going as well as he would like. But nothing feeds ingenuity like the fear of losing. The Germans wheel out new tanks and planes, Japan deploys weapons of a very different sort against China, and the United States, England, and France do what they can to strengthen themselves against imminent danger.
 
Seen through the eyes of ordinary citizens caught in the maelstrom, this is a you-are-there chronicle of battle on land and sea and in the air. Here are terrifying bombing raids that shatter homes, businesses, and the rule of law. Here are commanders issuing orders that, once given, cannot be taken back. And here are the seeds of rebellion sown in blood-soaked soil.
 
In a war in which sides are switched and allies trust one another only slightly more than they trust their mortal enemies, Nazi Germany has yet to send its Jews to death camps, and dangerous new nationalist powers arise in Eastern Europe. From thrilling submarine battles to the horror of men fighting men and machines all through Europe, Two Fronts captures every aspect of a brilliantly reimagined conflict: the strategic, the political, and the personal force of leaders bending nations to their wills.

Praise for Two Fronts
 
“[Harry] Turtledove has another major twist in store for the readers and his alternative world.”SF Site
 
“Turtledove’s new variation on the theme of WWII is departing more and more from the original, sometimes in subtle ways and sometimes in less subtle ones. . . . What’s next is anybody’s guess, except that it will almost certainly be more surprises.”Booklist

“Turtledove is the standard-bearer for alternate history.”USA Today
 
Praise for Harry Turtledove
 
“If you like alternate histories, you’re going to like this series a lot.”—The San Diego Union-Tribune
 
“Turtledove is the standard-bearer for alternate history.”USA Today

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About the Author:

Harry Turtledove is the award-winning author of the alternate-history works The Man with the Iron Heart, The Guns of the South, and How Few Remain (winner of the Sidewise Award for Best Novel); the War That Came Early novels: West and East, Hitler’s War, The Big Switch, and Coup d’Etat; the Worldwar saga: In the Balance, Tilting the Balance, Upsetting the Balance, and Striking the Balance; the Colonization books: Second Contact, Down to Earth, and Aftershocks; the Great War epics: American Front, Walk in Hell, and Breakthroughs; the American Empire novels: Blood & Iron, The Center Cannot Hold, and Victorious Opposition; and the Settling Accounts series: Return Engagement, Drive to the East, The Grapple, and In at the Death. Turtledove is married to fellow novelist Laura Frankos. They have three daughters: Alison, Rachel, and Rebecca.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

9780345524683|excerpt

Turtledove / THE WAR THAT CAME EARLY: TWO FRONTS

Chapter 1

Marine Sergeant Pete McGill lay in the Ranger’s sick bay. He had a cut from bomb shrapnel along one rib and another in the side of his neck. A couple of inches there and he would have been nothing but a snack for the shark that had circled him after he got blown off the Boise’s deck and into the tropical Pacific.

He knew he was lucky to be alive. A lot of good men hadn’t made it off the light cruiser before she sank. The bomb from a Jap Val that flung him overboard broke her back, and she went down fast.

That blast also flung him clear of the fuel oil from her shattered bunkers. You swallowed some of that crap, you were history even if they did fish you out of the drink. And, even though his cuts must have been bleeding like billy-be-damned, the dorsal went away instead of slicing in for the kill. Maybe he was an off brand.

He’d managed to stay afloat, then, till the Ranger came over and started picking up survivors. That must have been a couple of hours. By the time he got rescued, he’d kicked off all his clothes so he could tread water better. And every square inch of him that had been above the surface for even a little while was sunburned to a fare-thee-well. The sunburn would have troubled him worse than his little wounds if they hadn’t had to put about a dozen stitches in the one on his ribcage. They’d used novocaine when they sewed him up, but it had long since worn off.

The Japs had dive-bombed the Ranger, too, but the carrier, unlike the poor damned Boise, must have carried a rabbit’s foot in her back pocket: all the bombs the Vals dropped missed, though none missed by much. She had some sprung seams, and blast and fragments had swept men from her flight deck. But she could still make full speed, and she still answered her helm. What more did you want—egg in your beer?

From what the other wounded men in the sick bay said, right this minute the Ranger was making full speed back toward Hawaii. The little task force of which she’d been the centerpiece had aimed to make life miserable for the Japs on some of the Pacific islands they held. What you aimed for and what you got, though, unfortunately weren’t always the same critter.

A pharmacist’s mate came through. Some of the guys in there were a lot worse off than Pete. Two or three of them, he feared, would go into the ocean shrouded in canvas, with a chunk of iron at their feet to make sure they didn’t come up again.

“How you doing, uh, McGrill?” the pharmacist’s mate asked.

“Hurts,” Pete said matter-of-factly. He knew more about pain than he’d ever wanted to learn. On that scale, this wasn’t so much of a much. But it did hurt. Without rancor, he added, “And it’s McGill.”

“Sorry.” The Navy file sounded more harassed than sorry, and who could blame him? He went on, “I’ll slather some more zinc oxide goop on where you cooked. You want a couple of codeine pills?”

“I’ll take ’em.” Pete knew they’d help a little, and also knew they’d help only a little. As he had experience with pain, so he also had experience with pain medicine. He wasn’t bad enough off to need morphine: nowhere near. They’d want to save what they had for the poor, sorry bastards who really did need it.

“Here you go, then. Can you sit up some?”

Pete could, though moving made him hurt worse. He swallowed the pills, gulping all the water in the glass the pharmacist’s mate handed him. He felt as if the salt water of the Pacific had sucked the moisture right out of him.

Whatever was in the ointment besides zinc oxide, it smelled medicinal and vaguely noxious. It soothed the skin on his cheeks and neck and shoulders and the top of his back. “I wish you could rub it in my hair, too,” Pete said. That was, of course, cut leatherneck short, so he had himself a sunburned scalp.

“I will if you want me to,” the pharmacist’s mate said.

“Nah. It’d be too messy,” Pete decided after a moment’s thought. He asked, “Can your scalp peel?”

“Fuckin’ A it can,” the Navy man said. “I’ve seen some bald guys who toasted their domes. It ain’t pretty, man. Like dandruff, only more so.”

“Hot damn,” Pete said resignedly. “So I’ve got something to look forward to, huh?”

“ ’Fraid so, McGrill.” No, the pharmacist’s mate hadn’t been listening. And how big a surprise was that? He had bigger things to worry about than Pete’s name. Off he went, briskly, to the guy in the next bed, who’d lost a sizable chunk of meat from one buttock, and who’d sleep on his stomach—if he slept at all—for the foreseeable future.

They got Pete out of the sick-bay bed a day later. Since he’d come aboard the Ranger with not even the clothes on his back, they had to give him everything from skivvies on out. Nothing fit real well, and his shirt chafed his tender hide. But clothes make the man. Once he had on even these hand-me-downs, he felt like a Marine again.

Ranger’s Marine detachment figured he was a leatherneck, too. They’d lost a few men to the Japs’ near misses, and had several others worse off than Pete. He got to be low man on the five-inch-gun totem pole again, for the same reason as before: he was a new guy, and had no established place of his own. He didn’t fret over it the way a more reflective man might have. It was useful duty, and duty he knew he could do.

His gun chief was a tobacco-chewing Okie sergeant named Bob Cullum. He had a narrow, ferrety face, cold blue eyes that seemed to look every which way at once, and hands with slim, almost unnaturally long fingers: a surgeon’s fingers, or a fiddler’s. He guided the dual-purpose gun with a delicacy and precision Joe Orsatti would have envied. Unless some other ship had plucked Joe out of the Pacific, he was dead. Pete hoped for the best there, but expected the worst.

Cullum’s long, slim fingers had another talent, too. He could make a deck of cards sit up and beg. Since Pete came into the Ranger naked as the day he was born, that didn’t matter much to him. Cullum said, “Hey, if you want to play I can front you. If you end up losing it, pay me back when we get in to Pearl.”

“Thanks, but I’ll pass,” Pete said. “Never been much of a gambler, and I don’t want to do it on borrowed money.” That wasn’t strictly true. He didn’t add that Cullum seemed a little too eager, though. Anybody who could set the cards jitterbugging like that could probably make them behave in all kinds of interesting—and profitable—ways.

He must have sounded sincere, because the other sergeant didn’t get mad. “Well, maybe you ain’t as dumb as you look, then,” he said. His drawl and Pete’s adenoidal Bronx accent were halfway toward being foreign languages to each other.

“Up yours, too, Mac,” Pete said. He didn’t sound—and wasn’t—especially pissed off. But if Cullum wanted to make something of it, he was ready. Sometimes you had to go through crap like that when you found yourself in a new place. He figured Bob Cullum was faster than he was, but he had two inches and at least twenty pounds on the other leatherneck. Things evened out.

Cullum thought it over. Pete must have said it the right way, because he seemed willing to let it alone. “And the horse you rode in on,” he replied, also mildly. He eyed Pete. “You look kinda like a raggedy-ass scarecrow, you know?”

“Only things that fit are my shoes,” Pete agreed. He spread his hands. “Shit, what can you do, though?”

“Let me work on it,” Cullum said. “I’ve been on the Ranger since she was commissioned, and if I ain’t the best scrounger aboard I dunno who the hell would be.”

“Okay,” Pete said, which committed him to nothing.

But Bob Cullum proved as good as his word. By the time the carrier did get to Hawaii, Pete had clothes that fit better than approximately. He had a wallet with five dollars in it. He had an obligation, too, and he knew it. When he and Cullum got some liberty, he’d be doing the buying.

He didn’t mind. The other sergeant was plainly a guy with an eye for the main chance. If Cullum figured Pete might be connected to the main chance one way or another . . . What am I supposed to do? Pete thought. Hope the son of a bitch is wrong?

Hans-Ulrich Rudel’s flying suit was made from fur and leather. No matter where you took off from, up above 5,000 meters the air was not only thin but far below freezing cold. In Russian winter, that flying suit came in handy when you were still down on terra firma. Rudel all but lived in it from first snowfall to spring’s grudging arrival months later.

He sat in the cockpit of his Ju-87 at the end of a runway made by flattening out a long, narrow strip of wheatfield. The fall rains and the thick, gluey mud they brought were over. The ground under the Stuka’s landing gear was frozen as hard as Stalin’s heart.

He spoke into the voice tube: “Radio behaving, Albert?”

“Seems to be, sir,” Sergeant Dieselhorst answered, voice brassy through the tube. Along with the radio, he was in charge of a rear-facing machine gun. Both he and Hans-Ulrich always hoped he didn’t have to use it. The Stuka was a fine dive-bomber, but it had been in trouble against even the Czech biplane fighters it faced at the very beginning of the war. Fighters these days were a lot nastier—although the Ivans still threw biplanes at the Luftwaffe. The Ivans, from everything Hans-Ulrich had seen, threw whatever they could get their hands on at their foes. If not all of it was top quality, it could still do some damage before it went down in flames. That was how they seemed to think, anyhow.

A groundcrew man yanked at the starting crank in front of the port wing. The crank was hard to move; another mechanic joined the first fellow in coveralls. The Junkers Jumo engine roared to life. Smoke and flame belched from the exhaust pipes. The prop blurred into invisibility. The groundcrew men carefully stepped away from the plane. If you weren’t careful around a spinning prop, it could cost you your head—literally. At least one groundcrew man had been shipped home from Russia in a coffin sealed tight because of a split second’s inattention.

“Everything look good, Herr Oberleutnant?” Dieselhorst asked—shouted, really, because the racket was terrific even inside the soundproofed cockpit. Outside . . . Like artillerymen, a lot of the Luftwaffe troops in the groundcrew wore earplugs to try to save some of their hearing.

Hans-Ulrich checked the instrument panel. “All green, Albert,” he answered, and gave the guys outside a thumbs-up to let them know the Stuka was ready to take off. They waved back.

The dive-bomber lumbered down the unpaved airstrip (as far as Rudel knew, there were no paved ones this side of Warsaw). When it reached takeoff speed, Hans-Ulrich hauled back on the stick, hard. The Stuka’s nose came up. It sedately started to fly, rather like a fat old man doing a slow breaststroke across a public pool.

No Ju-87 ever made was or would be or could be a hot performer. All the same, Hans-Ulrich wished that particular comparison hadn’t occurred to him. The weight and drag of the twin 37mm panzer-busting cannon under his wings only made his Stuka even more of a beast than it would have been anyhow. He’d used guns like this pair to blast enemy panzers here and, earlier, in France. He’d even knocked down a couple of fighters with them, more from desperation than tactical brilliance.

And he’d been shot down twice, once in France and once here in Russia. He and Sergeant Dieselhorst had both managed to bail out twice, and hadn’t hurt themselves too badly either time. No enemy pilot had machine-gunned them while they hung helpless under their big silk canopies, either. The Frenchman who’d got Rudel’s first Stuka must not have thought that was sporting. Victorious German pilots also didn’t murder defenseless French flyers.

The Ivans . . . There were no guarantees with the Ivans, none at all. Hans-Ulrich knew how lucky they were not to have got perforated when the Russian pilot shot them down.

He spiraled slowly upwards. He wanted to gain altitude before he crossed the front and went hunting on the Soviet side. You couldn’t die of old age waiting for your altimeter to unwind. It only seemed as if you could.

“Three thousand meters,” he said at last to Dieselhorst. “Oxygen time.”

“I’m doing it,” the rear gunner/radioman answered. “Delicious.”

“Well, that’s one word,” Hans-Ulrich said with a laugh. Sucked in through a rubber hose, the bottled oxygen always reminded him of gnawing on a tire tread.

He flew north and east, in the general direction of Smolensk. If everything had gone the way the Führer and the General Staff wanted, the city would have fallen to the Wehrmacht before the fall rains slowed everyone’s operations to a crawl. (Of course, if everything had gone the way the Führer and the General Staff wanted, Paris would have fallen to German blitzkrieg before winter 1939 turned to spring. You had to deal with what you got, not with what you wanted.)

Other Stukas droned on in the same general direction. They spread across the sky too loosely to be in anything worth dignifying by the name of formation. They had no set target. If someone spotted something that seemed worth going after down on the snowy ground, he’d attack it. If not, he’d keep going.

If someone spotted something. . . . The Russians had forgotten more about the art of camouflage than Germany knew. That was one of the reasons the hammer and sickle still flew above Smolensk: one of the reasons Smolensk still shielded Moscow from attack. The Wehrmacht had got more than its share of bloody noses on the way east from forces whose existence it hadn’t suspected till it ran into them face-first.

“Hello!” Rudel exclaimed. “What’s that?”

“What’s what?” Sergeant Dieselhorst asked. Like Epimetheus in the myth, he could see only what already lay behind him.

“Train heading north,” Hans-Ulrich said. “They’ve whitewashed the cars and the locomotive, but you can’t whitewash the smoke plume coming up out of the stack.” He spoke into the radio, too, alerting his squadron CO to what he’d found and where he thought it was.

“Go get it, Rudel,” Colonel Steinbrenner answered. “Somebody may show up to give you a hand, too. Here’s hoping it’s a troop train full of French traitors on their way up to Murmansk or Arkhangelsk.”

“Yes, sir. Here’s hoping.” Rudel switched off the radio and called into the speaking tube: “I’m going to shoot up the cars and then give the engine a couple of 37mm rounds through the boiler.”

“That ought to do it, by God,” Dieselhorst declared.

“It had better. And when I pull up, give the train a burst from your machine gun, too,” Hans-Ulrich said.

“It’ll be a pleasure,” the rear gunner replied.

Hans-Ulrich didn’t have to stand the Stuka on its nose to attack the train. He came in at a shallow angle, flying slowly, and shot it up from back to front and from only a few meters above the cars. Then, as he’d promised, he blasted the locomotive the way he was in the habit of shooting up enemy panzers through the thin engine decking that didn’t do enough to protect them from attack from the air.

As he pulled back the stick to climb for another attack if he needed one, Dieselhorst did rake the train with a long burst from his MG-34. “That engine’s blowing steam like a whale,” the sergeant reported. “They won’t be able to keep going like that for long. . . . Ja, the fucker’s already slowing down.”

“Good,” Hans-Ulrich said. “I’ll make another pass and chew up whatever’s in the cars one more time. With luck, I’ll start some fires.”

What was in the cars were soldiers—Russian or French Rudel coul...

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