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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 23 February 2014
This is the fifth book in a series which speculates about what might have happened if World War II had started in 1938 after the Munich peace talks failed. Like most of the previous books in the series this is very much a "marmite" book which some people will like and others hate.

The books in the series to date and planned are:

1) "Hitler's War"

2) "West and East (War That Came Early)"

3) "The Big Switch: The War That Came Early"

4) "Coup D'Etat (War That Came Early (Del Rey Paperback))"

5) This book, "Two Fronts (the War That Came Early, Book Five)"

6) "Last Orders: The War That Came Early" (due for publication Summer 2014)

"The War that came early" is yet another alternative version of World War II from Harry Turtledove. It is quite astonishing that he can still find new perspectives from which to write about that war, but he does.

Nothing in this review is a spoiler for "Two Fronts" but it is difficult to describe this fifth book in the series without major spoilers for the third and fourth books which precedes it. I shall try to avoid completely giving away the major plotlines for "The Big Switch" and "Coup D'Etat" here but if you have not read the third and fourth books, might wish to do so and you don't want to know what happens in them, I recommend that you don't read further here and avoid descriptions of the fourth and subsequent books.

In the opening of the first book Turtledove made two changes in real history, and the first two volumes in the series work from there. First, in 1936 General Jose Sanjuro wasn't killed in a plane crash and consequently Sanjuro rather than Franco becomes leader of the Nationalist side in the Spanish civil war. Secondly, during the Munich negotiations, Henlein (leader of the Sudeten Germans) was assassinated, giving Hitler an excuse to press for even more punitive terms against Czechoslovakia.

In this history Chamberlain and Daladier finally recognised that Hitler was determined on war, and suspected that he had actually ordered Henlein's murder himself. They found the spine to tell Hitler that if he invaded Czechoslovakia Britain and France would honour their obligations to the Czechs. Hitler did order the invasion of Czechoslovakia on the spot, and the war started a year earlier than in real history.

There was (and is) a commonly held view, at the time of Munich and subsequently, that the democracies were not ready for war in 1938 while Germany was. Many years ago my late father summarised this view in seven words when I asked him why Chamberlain failed to stand up to Hitler at Munich: he answered "We would have lost the war then." My dad was ten at the time of Munich and his view reflected that of his elders, but he was faithfully repeating a very common view among my grandfather's generation.

This series is entertainment rather than a serious academic study, but the first two books tried to address the question of whether that view is right, by projecting through what might have happened, taking account of the fact that the lineup of countries on each side would not have been identical, of the state of preparedness of various nations, and of the military and naval kit which would have been available to the combatants in a war which began in 1938.

Both Britain and Germany would have been forced to make more use of armoured vehicles armed only with machine guns (Bren carriers and the Panzer I), or very light tanks such as the Panzer II: biplane fighters and bombers would have been used much more by all sides.

In real history, German war plans in 1938 for war against France were based on a slightly updated version of the Schlieffen plan which had been tried and failed in 1914. However, at the start of the war a copy of those plans fell into British hands. Knowing this, the Germans changed their strategy to the "Manstein Plan" for a punch through the Ardennes, a strategy which succeeded brilliantly and knocked France out of the war in 1940. In "Hitler's war" the Schlieffen plan is tried again with pretty much the results which most military historians think would have resulted if the Germans had been daft enough to stick with it.

By the start of the third book the Germans had clearly failed to secure the rapid victory against France which they actually achieved in 1940, and are slowly and painfully being driven back, though their armies are well inside French territory: in the East the Germans and Poles are gradually driving the Russians back.

At this point Turtledove posits a further "What if" change in events from the real World War II - what if there were a change around in the pattern of alliances? Hence the title of the third book.

Now if you were to ask me whether such an event would have been remotely likely I would have to say no. Particularly in the timeline proposed in this series, because some of the same people who showed more spine in the first book "Hitler's War" than they did in reality, and were actually more willing to stand up to the evils of Nazism, diverge from historical events in quite the opposite direction in the third book. Furthermore, some of the events in real history which reinforced Western hatred of Soviet communism and nearly did lead to British and Soviet troops fighting one another - such as Stalin's invasion of Finland - were in this timeline forestalled by the earlier start to the war against Germany.

Having said that, there was an element within Britain and France, small minority though they were, who hated communism more than nazism and argued for a course of action similar to the way in which the third book diverges from real history. Which makes it a legitimate "what if" to ask provided you don't pretend it is a likely one.

Turtledove went out of his way to recognise that there would also have been many people in Britain and France who strongly opposed any rapprochement with Hitler, and indeed, by the start of this fifth book, the pattern of alliances has switched back to something similar to that in real history. There is one very major difference: in real history Pearl Harbour came at a moment when Hitler thought he was winning the war and he was overconfident enough to declare war on the United States. I'm not going to give the details, let's just say that in this history things don't work out the same way.

If there are any exact dates given in this fifth book I didn't spot them, but since one of the characters takes part in the campaign for the forthcoming US mid-term elections which have to be those which would have taken place in 1942, this must be that year. All sides are starting to get weary of a war which has already been going on a year longer than it had in the real 1942, but there is no obvious end in sight. The Spanish civil war is still dragging on, with the Nationalist side apparently very slowly losing.

Poland in the book is still a sovereign country which has been allied to Hitler since he came to their aid against a Soviet attack. Presumably this is the reason that in the book, although the Jews of Europe are still treated dreadfully, the actual Holocaust has not really got going. About half the Jews who were murdered in the real Holocaust were citizens of Poland. In this story the Nazis are not in a position to take millions of citizens of one of their few important allies to death camps and kill them, so the idea of "Final Solution" wiping out the entire Jewish population of Europe is not just mad and evil but completely impossible to do, and the Nazis have not yet attempted it. In most respects other than this, however, the war is developing in a way which is as brutal and destructive as the real one if not even more so: The Germans cause havoc everywhere they go, the RAF begins to knock hell out of German cities, and the Japanese step up their campaign of bacteriologial warfare.

Watch carefully when reading this book for an apparent change in the course of history for which the husband of one of the American viewpoint characters appears to be responsible, and which may have much more radical effects in the final book.

As usual for a Harry Turtledove book, the war is seen through the eyes of a large number of fictional viewpoint characters, one or more from each of the countries involved. These include an American woman caught in Prague by the outbreak of war who finally got home in the third book and is now trying to raise support to get America to oppose the Axis powers, a Jewish family in Munster, a German panzer wireless operator, infantryman, stuka pilot, and U-Boat skipper, French, British and Japanese infantry noncoms, a Czech corporal who found himself fighting in the Spanish civil war when the free Czech forces in France were allowed to escape there when France changed sides, two Russian Air Force aviators one of whom is now leading troops on the ground, and an American Marine.

The brother of the Jewish girl viewpoint character is hiding from the Nazis by having enlisted in the Wehrmacht under a false name. Turtledove kept us guessing for a while about whether he is the driver of the Panzer in which a Wehrmacht viewpoint character is radio operator, but it is now obvious that he is. In the first four books major historical figures like Hitler, Roosevelt and Franco appear from time to time as they impact on the lives of the viewpoint characters or vice versa. This time major historical figures seem to just get mentioned on the radio occasionally.

Turtledove's homework on the tactical capabilities of equipment available to the armed forces of all sides between 1938 and 1942 is mostly pretty good. Having previously depicted the problems the germans had in dealing with soviet tank designs, such as the T34 and KV1, which reflected the problems those machines actually caused the Germans during the first year of Operation Barbarossa, Turtledove depicts in this book how German hit back with machines like the later Panzer IV variants and the Tiger.

Wanting to see what will happen to the viewpoint characters is one of the things which holds my interest in this series: killing the occasional viewpoint character is one of the ways Turtledove brings home the cost of war, especially how an action which is the work of seconds and then forgotten for one person can be a complete change or the end of everything for another. There was a particularly poignant example in the last book when Turtledove described in a couple of sentences how one viewpoint character, noting someone doing an effective job for the other side, quickly and effectively gunned him down as one might swat an insect. At the start of the next paragraph Turtledove introduced a character by his full name who had previously been described only by his ranks and surname. The individual concerned had been the comrade and boss of a previous viewpoint character throughout the four books up to this point, but that viewpoint character turns out to have been the man who the soldier on the other side shot and killed in the previous paragraph.

There is a similar instance in this book where a viewpoint character gets hit and another character from the same unit suddenly becomes the new viewpoint character.

This is the fifth alternative version of World War II which Turtledove has written. He has previously done a series with aliens from Tau Ceti invading in 1942 (the "Worldwar" series which starts with Worldwar: In the Balance (New English library)). He's also done a parallel history following pretty much the real track, in a world where technology uses magic rather than engineering (known variously as the Darkness, Derlavi, or 'World at War' series) which starts with Into the Darkness. There is an alternative World War II in his massive ten volume history of a Confederate States of America which survives for nearly a century following a Rebel victory in the US Civil War, and in which the same roles as in the historical WWII are carried out by different people - this is the "Settling Accounts" quartet. Finally there is a pair of novels, "Days of Infamy" and "End of the Beginning" which explore the possibility that Japan might have followed up the Pearl Harbour attack with an invasion of Hawaii.

Turtledove has a few annoying weaknesses, particularly his bad habit of repeating the same information time after time, and there is some of that in this series. In this book there are several instances of him repeatedly introducing characters and reminding the reader who they are with details about their past history which anyone with an attention span longer than a gnat's will already know. But overall the writing and characterisation in this series is fairly good.

Overall I have enjoyed enjoyed reading the five books to date in this series and I think many Turtledove fans will likewise enjoy them, though there will undoubtedly be some who do not.
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on 19 September 2014
I was disappointed in this book. The pace was slow, much that was potentially interesting was left out, and in general the book added little to the series as a whole.

There were too many brief stories about combatants in various fronts which seemed little more than an attempt to pad out the series.

The concept that Britain and France would join in the war against the Soviet Union for no better reason that Hess asked them is quite frankly ludicrous. It might be plausible to argue that they'd accept an armistice, but expecting us to believe that they'd send troops to fight the Soviets, and then, after some fighting, simply pack up, go home and re-start the war against Germany defies all reason.

Another minor gripe is that the author believes that "England" and "Britain" are interchangeable.
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on 16 November 2013
As so often with Turtledove, his somewhat convoluted and repetitive prose comes close to ruining what is a well thought out story arc. His attempts to capture the vernacular of the time often grate, particularly with his British characters. Inexcusably for a historian, he uses "England" where "Britain" would be far more appropriate. I will likely finish reading the series, but I may give the next one a miss.
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on 4 August 2014
bit spoilt by the realisation that the guys in black hats are bound to end up loosing
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on 25 October 2014
Good present for my brother. He seems to like it.
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on 16 January 2015
Excellent book
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on 20 August 2013
AS a fan of Turtledove,his books allways leave you wanting more.This view of a different WW2,has you wanting the next book,so you can find out how it ends,Long may he continue to write
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on 28 October 2013
Alternative history at its best, Turtledove does this sort of this better than anyone else. Next book please soon Harry
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