British novelist (Silesian Station, 2008, etc.) and military historian Downing focuses on three decisive weeks in 1941—from Nov. 17 to Dec. 8—leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
The author intertwines the stories of three risky military maneuvers on the part of the Germans and the Japanese that would ultimately “seal the fate” of the aggressors—though it would take four more years for the Allies to achieve victory. Germany’s Operation Barbarossa invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 in a spectacular display of might, but by November was scuttled by cold weather, Russian resistance, lack of supplies and sinking morale. In North Africa, General Erwin Rommel and his Panzers were beating back incursions by British forces, though badly needed German munitions were being siphoned off to the Eastern Front. Because of Barbarossa, the earlier German successes in Libya, Greece and Crete were weakened, keeping them from adequately disrupting the British supply routes in Malta and around the Suez Canal. In the Pacific, the Japanese air fleet was well on its way toward a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor at the same time that American and Japanese diplomats were wrangling over initiatives on the Japanese war in China. Although the Americans had cracked the Japanese diplomatic code and knew vaguely of Japanese military intentions, Secretary of State Cordell Hull was stalling for time, since the U.S. armed forces needed a few more months to prepare for war. Adeptly juxtaposing Japanese vainglory—Japan did not possess the might or resources to win a war against the Allies—with American bungling, Downing offers a dark, captivating hindsight analysis with plenty of action.
The subtitle is a stretch, but the densely plotted narrative is sure to please military aficionados.