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Thursday, June 2, 2011
Hell Harbor: The Sergeant # 2 by Gordon Davis
In keeping with my lead-up to the D-Day anniversary, I decided to post a review of a relevant installment of my favorite pulpy WWII series. I'm thankful I've had so much free time lately, but I'm not sure how frequently I'll be able to blog between Sundays after this.
Previously, I've reviewed Death Train and The Liberation of Paris from this series. In addition, Jack Badelaire has reviewed Slaughter City and Hammerhead at Post Modern Pulps. You might consider reading those reviews, if you haven't already, as a sort of introduction to Master Sergeant Clarence J. Mahoney.
It's D-Day plus 3 (in the book) and, though conventional Wermacht wisdom had the allies invading across the narrowest point in the English Channel (into Pas de Calais) and in good weather, those crafty Yanks and Limeys have instead landed at Normandy during a brief lull in horrible weather. The German commander in Cherbourg has rigged a gawd-awful amount of explosives in the sewers. Enough to destroy the entire harbor and deny its use to the allies. Without that key harbor, reinforcing and resupplying the invasion force will become very difficult. And, if Hitler decides to release his panzer divisions, the invasion force will probably be crushed against the Channel. Between perdition and the deep blue sea, if you will.
Lucky for the allies, a young German officer who thinks with the wrong head has gotten friendly with a local French girl who knows how to play with both heads quite effectively. The French girl also happens to have a patriotic streak, and is a valuable intelligence asset for the good guys. Through her, the Allies learn of the German plan to destroy the harbor.
Enter chain-smoking, hard-drinking, skirt-chasing, butt-kicking Sergeant Mahoney, fresh back to the 23rd Rangers from his cloak & dagger mission with the Maquis. Along with Corporal Cranepool, Captain Boynton, and a handfull of other rangers, he is voluntold to fight his way inside Cherbourg and figure out some way to prevent the demolition.
It's hard to believe Boynton and his superiors are so dim-witted that storming the German fortress would be the best plan they could come up with. But eventually they wise up and, unfortunately for the rangers behind German lines, the mission devolves literally into the crappiest operation Mahoney can imagine. So crappy that he vows to quit the Rangers and transfer to a line unit if he survives.
There is all the bloody mayhem you should expect from a title in this series, plus the subplot of the German officer and French spy (which provides some good laughs), a groanable episode in which Cranepool mistakes a VD inspection tent for a USO donut tent, and a somewhat longer episode in which Mahoney first impersonates a doctor, then plays doctor with a lonely nurse.
By the end of the book Gordon Davis (Len Levinson) has nicely set up Mahoney's transformation back to a line doggie--which means reams of ludicrous bayonet combat in subsequent books. Speaking of that, I have finally acquired The Sergeant # 3: Bloody Bush, making me the first one on my block to own the entire series. Very soon, hopefully, I'll have a chance to read it and complete my Mahoney/Cranepool education.