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13 December 2015

Leon Uris: Armageddon

Superb historical saga about the start of the Cold War
I have read many great historical sagas but have to admit that this is the best one I have read by the late Leon Uris. I was totally absorbed by this superb historical reenactment of the fall of Germany, the occupation by the winning Allies, especially by the Russians in the divided city of Berlin and the Berlin Airlift.

Uris first introduces us to a General Andrew Hansen and Major Sean O'Sullivan in 1944 when they are planning what needs to be done when the Germans surrender and the occupying forces take over. The task is formidable, not only how to find and treat the defeated Nazis but also to govern areas mostly flattened by bombing with essential services destroyed.

Hansen and O'Sullivan first cut their teeth governing a medium sized city where some buildings survive but most of its factories have been destroyed. They are immediately faced with the discovery of a nearby concentration camp, not as bad as Auschwitz but with thousands of prisoners left near to death. They are also faced with tracking down and arresting the worst of the Nazis. Sean's reaction to the atrocities is to make sure that all of the locals see the local camp firsthand. Most locals deny that they knew anything about the camp, despite the smell of the camp being evident for miles.

Sean struggles to try to understand how the German people supported the Nazis but are now denying that they had anything to do with them. While he is a just and frequently sympathetic ruler, at heart he has a basic hatred of the Germans, especially as both of his brothers were killed in the war.

After successfully tackling a smaller city both Hansen and O'Sullivan are moved to Berlin to face immense destruction plus the problems of shared occupation of the city by the four main allied powers, America, Russia, England and France. From the start, the Russians play their own game and make things harder and harder for the other powers with dirty tricks after dirty tricks. The real game changer is when Russia closes down all land communication to Berlin from the other occupation zones.

This triggers the Berlin Airlift. At first, this seems a virtual impossibility but American enterprise and the development of advanced aviation air traffic control and radar technology keeps the non-Russian sectors of Berlin alive, even during the worst of winters and appalling flying conditions.

While Sean gradually gets closer to an understanding of the German people he continues to face up to his personal hatred of the people who had taken away most of his family.

This is an epic historical saga written from the American point of view which revealed a lot about a period of recent history that I really didn't know too much about.

A wise American General asked, "Will the German people change?" The reply was "Come back in 25 years and I will tell you". The last 65 years have seen major changes with the building and removal of the Berlin wall leading to reunification with East Germany. Today we see them as the leading power in the EU and facing up to absorbing almost as many refugees as there were in pre-war Germany.

I highly recommend this excellent book to anyone who wants to know more about the period and to enjoy an absorbing and page-turning story of turbulent times.

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