With his acclaimed novels of World War II, David L. Robbins awakened a generation to the drama, tragedy, and heroism of some of history’s greatest battles. Now he delivers a gripping and authentic story set against one of our greatest wartime achievements: the Red Ball Express, six thousand trucks and twenty-three thousand men–most of them African-American–who forged a lifeline of supplies in the Allied struggle to liberate France.
June 1944. The Allies deliver a staggering blow to Hitler’s Atlantic fortress, leaving the beaches and bluffs of Normandy strewn with corpses. The Germans have only one chance to stop the immense invasion–by bottling up the Americans on the Cotentin Peninsula. There, in fields crisscrossed with dense hedgerows, many will meet their death while others will search for signs of life. Among the latter are two very different men, each with his own demons to fight and his own reasons to risk his life for his fellow man.
Joe Amos Biggs is an invisible “colored” driver in the Red Ball Express, the unheralded convoy of trucks that serves as a precious lifeline to the front. Delivering fuel and ammunition to men whose survival depends on the truckers, Joe Amos finds himself hungering to make his mark and propelled into battle among those who don’t see him as an equal–but will need him to be a hero.
A chaplain in the demoralized 90th Infantry, Rabbi Ben Kahn is a veteran of the first great war and old enough to be the father of the GIs he tends. Searching for the truth about his own son, a downed pilot missing in action, Kahn finds himself dueling with God, wading into combat without a gun, and becoming a leader among men in need of someone–anyone–to follow.
The prize: the liberation of Paris, where a ruthless American traitor known as Chien Blanc–White Dog–grows fat and rich in the black market. Whatever the occupied city’s destiny, destroyed or freed, he will win.
The fates of these three men will collide, hurtling toward an uncommon destiny in which people commit deeds they cannot foresee and can never truly explain.
From the screams of German .88 howitzers to the last whispers of dying young soldiers, Robbins captures war in all its awful fullness. And through the eyes of his unique characters, he leaves us with a mature, brilliant, and memorable vision of humanity in the face of inhumanity itself.
In his latest WWII novel, Robbins powerfully integrates the theme of racial bigotry from Scorched Earth with the successful formula of his previous three combat novels (The End of War, etc.). The 688th Truck Battalion is part of the famed Red Ball Express, which struggles to supply the fast-moving combat following D-Day as American forces fight through the French hedgerows and villages toward Paris. In recounting the battalion's heroic saga, Robbins's tale unfolds from several perspectives that of Ben Kahn, an aging Jewish army chaplain from Pittsburgh, who fought as a doughboy in the trenches in WWI; Joe Amos, a young, black, college-educated truck driver; and "White Dog," a shadowy, corrupt downed B-17 pilot profiteering on the black market in German-occupied Paris. Bolstered by desperate hope he might find his son a B-17 pilot shot down over France Kahn lands on Omaha Beach five days after D-Day and hitches a ride to the front on a GI two-and-a-half ton Jimmy (GMC truck) with Amos. Both men are quickly seasoned by the horrors of war as Kahn heads for a showdown in Paris and Amos makes sergeant and finds romance with a Frenchwoman after shooting down a German plane. Although this isn't quite up to the standard of Robbins's best work it's occasionally slowed by overwriting and repetition it's a fine effort from an ambitious storyteller.