The story of two teams of OSS commandos dropped behind enemy lines to cut off Nazi transportation routes through the rugged Italian Alps.
Military historian O’Donnell (We Were One, 2006, etc.) once again presents multiple perspectives from various sides of the battle lines, making use of diaries, letters, radio transmissions and reports, as well as hundreds of hours of interviews he conducted with participants. Among the significant actors were a pair of murderous Gestapo officers, a charismatic Italian partisan, a mysterious Swiss-born countess working as a French spy and a colorful OSS recruit whose résumé included stints as a cook, a maitre d’, a soldier for Franco and a deserter from the French Foreign Legion. Most significant of all were newly minted OSS agents Capt. Stephen Hall and Capt. Howard Chappell, young, tough soldiers who had nothing to prove to anyone but themselves. In 1943, Hall wrote a letter to the OSS outlining a plan to parachute into the Italian Alps with enough supplies and explosives to be a one-man wrecking crew. His target: the high-mountain Brenner Pass rails and roads linking Austria with Italy, the Nazi war machine’s lifeblood for supplies. Sent with a small team to make contact with Italian partisan fighters, Hall began his commando operations under the noses of German troops scouring the land in search of saboteurs. Chappell’s team set out to link with Hall’s, even as Hall began a solo move on Brenner Pass after the Nazis tightened their noose around the partisans. The endgame to this cat-and-mouse hinged on who got to whom first. O’Donnell clearly enjoys narrating war’s gristle along with its meat; small successes and failures ground the story in the reality of sabotage, reconnaissance, capture and escape, torture and murder. Along the way, the participants’ motivations, allegiances, thoughts and actions come alive in vigorous, exciting prose.
A taut real-life thriller.