Hellfire is the latest in my bedtime reading of James Holland's Jack Tanner series. After Crete, Jack ends up Cairo, and the Yorks Rangers find themselves withdrawing to the El Alamein position. They are then sent back to the Pyramids to retrain as a motorised battalion with significant anti-tank elements.
Jack is wounded and takes up with a military nurse. At the same time, he bumps into Major Vaughan, one of the Crete story characters working for SIME, MI5's unit in the Middle East. Jack gets temporarily seconded to them in the hunt for a German spy ring linked to Egyptian Nationalists. This builds on the story told in Ken Follett's, The Key to Rebecca, and Samuel Marquis's, Lions of the Desert, which I reviewed last year. I won't spoil the plot, but this also extends to a couple of SBS-style raids behind enemy lines. Our Jack is a busy boy!
The story ends at the battle of El Alamein when the newly commissioned Jack Tanner is involved in holding back Rommel's counterattack. As usual, the battle scenes are brilliantly described. You can taste the sand, smoke and confusion.
One of the interesting intelligence stories picked up in the story is the shooting down by the Luftwaffe of the newly appointed 8th Army commander General Gott. Was it just a coincidence, or was the interception based on intelligence. The pilot flying the Bombay transport aircraft subsequently met one of the German pilots Herr Claude, who told him that when they touched down again a short while later, they were met by a senior officer who said, ‘Congratulations. You have just killed the new commander of the British Eighth Army.’ There are some possible explanations, but my money is on intelligence. It is an intriguing 'what-if' of history if Gott had survived and led the 8th Army instead of Montgomery.
This is the sort of historical fiction I enjoy the most. It sticks closely to historical facts, includes several sub-plots, and plenty of action. It also has some interesting social commentary on the British officer class. Attitudes that had primarily stayed the same since Sharpe's time. Overall highly recommended.
|Some of my 10mm British for the Western Desert campaigns.