THE FROZEN HOURS
by Jeff Shaara, 2017
Few stories in American military history combine the heroics on the battlefield with the astounding challenges of a historically brutal winter, that embraces both sides in temperatures well below zero. How these men rose to that occasion, how they fought their enemies as well as the weather, is the backdrop for this story.
But first, a bit of history: In June, 1950, the North Korean army, a formidable force, backed by Soviet arms and training, invades South Korea, with the intent of uniting the country under Communist rule. In response, the United States mobilizes a force to defend the overmatched South Korean troops. But the US is no better equipped than their allies, and even with the support of other nations, including Great Britain, the allies cannot prevent the North Koreans from nearly shoving the defensive forces completely off the Korean peninsula. Holding on desperately to a small corner of South Korea, American and United Nations troops are barely able to hold their own, when Allied commander Douglas MacArthur devises an audacious plan for an amphibious landing behind the North Korean juggernaut, cutting them off from their supply lines, and possibly forcing the North Koreans to withdraw. This story begins shortly after September 15, 1950, when MacArthur’s plan is carried out with the landing at the South Korean city of Inchon, what immediately becomes enormously, and to many, surprisingly successful. But MacArthur is not content to drive the North Koreans back across their own border. Rather than end the conflict with a stalemate, MacArthur pursues the North Koreans into their own country, intending to destroy the North Korean army completely, driving as far as their border with China. But the Chinese react to this threat to their own homeland in a completely unexpected way. Despite American intelligence reports, suggesting the Chinese have no interest in entering the war, by late fall of 1950, several hundred thousand Chinese troops have entered Korea, and begin their own strategy to destroy the Allied forces. With MacArthur’s troops blindly pushing northward, Chinese forces maneuver discreetly and lay several massive traps for the oblivious Allies. In November, 1950, the Chinese spring those traps, crushing one half of the Allied forces in western Korea, and surrounding the forces in the east. Those troops, including the American First Marine Division, are already feeling the first tastes of the stunningly cold weather, that catches them completely off guard as they advance around what is known as the Chosin Reservoir, in North Korea. Once the Chinese offensive begins, the stunned Americans are in danger of being annihilated. Fresh from their grand victory at Inchon, and assured by MacArthur that they would be home by Christmas, the soldiers and Marines are now fighting for their lives against the most brutal weather conditions imaginable, and an enemy that outnumbers them more than six to one. This struggle, and how the Americans respond, form the core of this novel.
The story is told from the points of view of Oliver P. Smith, the commanding general of the First Marine Division; Marine private Pete Riley, a rifleman in Fox Company, Seventh Marine regiment, a World War Two veteran who now faces the greatest fight of his life; and the Chinese commander, Sung Shi-lun, charged with destroying the Americans he has so completely surrounded, ever aware that above him, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung watches every move he makes.