“Fox on the Rhine” review

Fox on the Rhine, Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson

So, as the back cover says, what if Molotov and Ribbentrop actually got a peace treaty done in ’44?

What if the Nazis got their “screaming Mimis” deployed effectively?  And, what if Rommel was deployed to the European theatre, rather than executed?

Would that have sucked for the U.S.?  Well, yes, it would have.  The basic concept is that Operation Valkyrie is a success, but that the conspirators are unable to keep Himmler from sliding into absolute power.  Then, things happen.

The downside to this, aside from the writing, which is uneven (one of these two authors is clearly a better writer than the other), is that it tends to be a cheer-fest for Rommel that essentially depends on the U.S. acting fairly stupidly.

A note on that — for some reason, it’s popular to present Rommel as a soldier’s soldier who could make things happen and also stand up to the Reich.  Problem being, Rommel never stood up to the Reich, in any way, shape, or form.  While not even vaguely the worst man in Nazi Germany, it seems to be popular to try to make him into a better man than he actually was… particularly now that we know that the Wehrmacht was every bit as implicated in the Holocaust as the SS.

The rest of the book essentially sets up revolvers on the mantlepiece, more or less completely destroying any suspense.  The book frequently pops over to letters and historical book accounts, which is a neat gimmick, but serves to defuse the tension at precisely the wrong times, including such forehead-slappers as “Halsey’s going to take the Fleet through the Panama Canal to Europe?  WHAT???”  Okay, let’s say they do that.  Then you have the Jewish guy who’s sabotaging the jet engines — essentially creating a Deus Ex Macchina, and telling you it’s coming two hundred pages in advance.  The ending is also rushed, and badly so, with numerous statements that don’t make a whole lot of sense, such as the surrendering Germans helping the US across the Rhine.

But most damning is that the entire setup for what Rommel supposedly could have achieved is predicated upon the US more or less acting in such a way as to invite it, and in a counter-historical manner.  The US could have done fast, deep drives into france after Normandy — generally speaking, they didn’t, precisely because they were wary of the Germans throwing a counter-attack designed to encircle and cut off said lead groups.

So, what are we left with?  A decent bath-tub Patton vs. Rommel read that takes a couple interesting historical ideas, has decently-written combat scenes (though my Redleg Buddy will note that the artillery is almost completely devalued in the text, as one would expect from a book focusing on the Cav), and some real “OMG did they just write that?”

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3 Comments

  1. blackpine

     /  February 2, 2010

    Broad brush analyses being what they are, there would have been no difference in the war if Rommel had been in the eruopean theater. The German Command without Rommel didn’t make any blunders that I can think of, showed equivalent daring in the Bulge counteroffensive, and unless Rommel had spent his time in North Africa successfully locating the Ark of the Covenant, Russia was coming. Zhukov was still doing pretty good business in wholesale German murder; what could Rommel have done?

    Reply
  2. Well, the theory is that in ’44 they patch up the ’43 failed peace negotiations, so in this case, the Russians AREN’T coming… yet.

    That does change some things, though nothing massive (we’d have nuked them anyway).

    Reply
  3. I haven’t read the book and hadn’t planned to. I scanned it in the bookstores a couple of times and got them same feeling of “good idea, but this doesn’t seem well done”. Rommell is VASTLY overrated in history, both as a actual commander and as a anti-nazi. He commanded Hitler’s Bodyguard unit for crying out loud and owed his command in the 1940 rush directly to Hitler. And yes, Zhukov WAS coming. The best brains in Germany were already fighting the Russians and if guys like Manstein and Guiderian couldn’t do anything, Rommell sure wouldn’t be able to. This is the dumbing down of history for you.

    Reply

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