The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II

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9780739334638: The Rising Tide: A Novel of World War II
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A modern master of the historical novel, Jeff Shaara has painted brilliant depictions of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and World War I. Now, The Rising Tide begins a staggering work of fiction bound to be a new generation’s most poignant chronicle of World War II.

Through unforgettable battle scenes in the unforgiving deserts of North Africa, into the “soft underbelly” of Hitler’s Fortress Europa, and as battles rage along the coasts of the Mediterranean, The Rising Tide is a vivid gallery of characters both immortal and unknown. From tank driver to paratrooper to the men who gave the commands, Shaara’s stirring portrayals bring the heroic and the tragic to life in brilliant detail.

A new level of accomplishment from this already acclaimed author, The Rising Tide will leave listeners eager for the next volume of this superb saga of the war that saved and changed the world.

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About the Author:

Jeff Shaara is the New York Times bestselling author of A Chain of Thunder, A Blaze of Glory, The Final Storm, No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, The Rising Tide, To the Last Man, The Glorious Cause, Rise to Rebellion, and Gone for Soldiers, as well as Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure—two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic, The Killer Angels. Shaara was born into a family of Italian immigrants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University. He lives again in Tallahassee.
From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

1. THE DESERT RAT

The Libyan Desert May 27, 1942

They huddled in the chill, encased in hard steel, waiting, energized by rumors. Behind them, to the east, the black horizon was visible, silhouetted by the first glow of sunrise. The wireless radio was chattering, the voices of nervous officers far behind the line, the men in tents, who pored over maps, unsure, powerless to do anything about an enemy who might be anywhere at all.

They had climbed into the tank at the first sign of daylight, each of the four men finding his place, their commander perched higher than the rest, settling into his seat just beneath the hatch of the turret. It was still too dark in the west, and the narrow view through the prism of the periscope was too confining, and so he stood, his head and shoulders outside the hatch. The long, thin barrel of the two-pound cannon was just below him, pointing westward, where the enemy was thought to be. He stared until his eyes watered, tried to see the horizon. But it would not be there, not yet, not until the sun had given them enough light to distinguish dull, flat ground from the empty sky.

The air was sharp and cold, but that would not last. Once the sun rose, the heat would come again, and the infantry, a mass of men waiting far behind their armor wall, would seek whatever shelter they had, waking the insects and the scorpions and the snakes. The tank was as good a shelter as a man had in the desert, but there was a price for shade. The thick steel made a perfect oven, and the men would man their posts and glance instinctively toward the hatches, hoping for the faintest wisp of breeze. He blinked, wiped his eyes with a dirty hand, annoyed at the crackling intrusion from the wireless.

“Turn that off!”

“Sir, can’t do that, you know. Orders. The captain . . .”

He ignored the young man’s protest, stared out again. The sun would quickly rise, nothing to block the light, no mountains, no trees, no rolling terrain. In a few short minutes he could see flecks of detail, an uneven field pockmarked by small rocks. There was a shadow, right in front of him, beneath the barrel of the two-pounder. It was his, of course, the low, hulking form of the tank. It makes us a target, he thought. But, then, the Germans are in the west, will have to attack straight into the rising sun. We’ll be able to see them first, certainly. Stupid tactic. But what isn’t stupid out here? Sitting in a fat tin can, armed with a two-pound pop gun, hoping like hell we see him before he sees us.

There was a loud squawk from the wireless.

“Dammit, at least turn that thing down!”

“Sir, I think it’s Captain Digby. He’s upset about something.”

Digby. He stared at the horizon, clear, distinct, thought of the officer who sat sucking on that idiotic pipe. His tank smells like a Turkish whorehouse. And he’s upset. Good. Bloody fool. Carries fat rolls of maps so he can find his way. In a place with no landmarks, no signposts. Stuffs the damned maps into his ammo holders, and so, he runs out of ammo. Begs the rest of us for help. Just look at the sun, Captain. All the signpost you need.

The radio squawked again, and he heard the voice now. Yep. Digby.

“Rec report . . . enemy in motion . . . zzzzzzzzz . . . two hundred . . . zzzzzzzz.” The wireless seemed to go dead, and he looked to the north, could see the British tanks in a ragged line. The crews had climbed into their vehicles, and most of the tank commanders were standing up, searching for something across the vast emptiness. He still looked to the north, thought, yep, there’s Digby. The sixth tank over. Brew yourself a cup of tea, Captain. There’s nothing out here but us Rats.

He glanced down through the hatch, could see little, the tank dark. He knew each man well, more experienced than most, but so very young. They were better than the tank they pushed, the A9. She was fast, maybe faster than anything the Germans had, could maneuver easily over the rocky ground, spin around like a top. In training they had been told that the two-pounder was an effective antitank weapon, firing a solid-steel projectile, supposed to pierce anything the enemy had. It had certainly worked against the Italians, who had come at them with machines that were worn-out in 1918. The armor battles had been one-sided affairs, British tanks and artillery decimating the primitive weapons of their enemy. He remembered the first Italian tanks that had actually put up a good fight, something called an M13. But even that machine was small, and far too light, padded by a sad pile of sandbags around the turret. He could see it in his mind, the direct hit on an M13 that made it seem like an exploding sack of flour. And no one inside survived, ever. Bloody awful, that one. Target practice. Brave men sent to die in broken-down toys.

But then the Germans came, and they brought the real thing, heavier, faster tanks, bigger guns, and suddenly the A9 crews were no longer as fond of their machines. There was something else the Germans had, a particular genius for weaponry. They had an eighty-eight millimeter antiaircraft cannon, long barrel, that threw a shell high enough to churn any pilot’s guts. But the Germans figured out that lowering the barrel and pointing it horizontally made for an antitank weapon like no other. Most of the larger artillery on both sides was like the basic howitzers, firing their shells in an arc. You could hear them coming and might even have a brief second to prepare for impact, time enough perhaps to dive into a slit trench. But the long barrel of the eighty-eight blew a shell right through you in a straight line. No high-screaming wail, no warning. And there wasn’t a single British machine that the eighty-eight wouldn’t blow to pieces.

He lowered himself into the hatch, tried to see the wireless operator, Batchelor, the man who doubled as the gun loader.

“Batch. Did Digby say anything else?”

“I’m trying to raise him, sir. He said something about the rec, then I lost him.”

He pulled himself up, stared out again, mulled over the word: rec. Reconnaissance. Hell of a job, flitting all over the place in light armored cars. They run right up to the Jerries, see what’s what, then run like hell to get away. Nothing but machine guns for protection. Ballsy chaps, those fellows.

Below the gun barrel in front of him, a small hatch opened, and a head emerged. It was the driver, Simmons.

“It’s warming up a bit, sir.”

Simmons was the youngest man in the crew, with bad skin and an unfortunate natural odor that even soap could not seem to cure. But there was no soap here, barely enough water to keep a man alive, and so Simmons had become just one more tank crewman who had to be accepted by his own, regardless of whatever unpleasant personal traits he might bring to the confined space. By now, they all smelled bad enough to offend anyone but themselves. Like Captain Digby’s pipe smoke, it had become a part of each tank’s personality.

“I say, sir. What’s that?”

Simmons was pointing out to the left of the barrel, eleven o’clock, and he stared with the young man, could see the cloud rising up, dark, obliterating the horizon. Simmons said, “A dust storm. Big one. Bloody hell.”

The young man disappeared into the tank, the hatch pulled down over his narrow compartment. The cloud seemed to spread out to the south, farther left, swirling darkness, sunlight reflected in small flecks. The radio squawked again, a chaos of voices, and now he could see new motion, a vehicle emerging from the storm, then two more, their dust trails billowing out behind them as they roared toward the line of tanks. His heart jumped, and he raised his binoculars, saw that they were armored cars, their own, the rec boys. He glanced toward the north, toward Digby’s command tank, looking for the colored flag that would tell them to start the powerful engines. But Digby’s wire antenna held nothing but the command flag, no other sign yet.

He glanced down into the tank, said, “Hands off triggers. Those are ours.”

It was an unnecessary order, the big gun not yet loaded, the machine guns still waiting for the belts of ammo that would feed them. The armored cars rolled past the line of tanks, did not stop. He said aloud, to no one in particular, “Jeez. They’re moving like hell.”

He calmed now, ignored the new sounds from the wireless, thought, guess those chaps don’t like eating that dust storm any more than we do. He looked out toward the dark cloud again, no more than a mile away, rolling closer. He let out a breath. Sure. Why not start the day with another one of these damned storms? By all means let’s eat dirt for breakfast. He began to move, lowering himself into the tank, then he stopped, frozen by a new sound. He looked again toward the great swirling cloud, ugly and familiar, the dull roar of wind and fine grit, a dozen tornadoes winding around themselves. But there were other sounds now, familiar as well. Tracks. Steel on rock. Engines. He froze, stared at the sounds, felt a light breeze in his face. That’s not a dust storm, you bloody idiot. That’s armor. Making their own damned storm.

“Jerries!”

Close by, he heard engines turning over, great belches of black smoke spitting from the other tanks in the formation. He looked that way, saw men disappearing into their tanks, hatches closing. He did not wait for the order from Digby, dropped down to his hard leather seat, pulled the hatch shut, shouted, “Fire ’er up!”

The driver responded, the tank pulsing, a deafening roar that drowned out the ongoing noise from the wireless. He leaned forward, searched through the periscope, felt for his machine gun, shouted again:

“Load ’em! Guns rea...

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