by Douglas Niles & Michael Dobson



397pp/$27.95/June 2000

Fox on the Rhine
Cover by William Villarreal

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

One of the problems with alternate history is that too often the authors focus on military points of divergence instead of social, scientific, or economic changes.  Although Douglas Niles and Michael Dobson have clearly done their research into the military strengths and plans of the Germans and Allies in the final months of World War II, this very knowledge and their story tend to ensure that Fox on the Rhine will focus exclusively on the movements of military units with a slight background of political maneuvering.

Fox on the Rhine begins with the near fatal attack on Erwin Rommel on July 17, 1944 and quickly moves the the attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler three days later.  In Niles & Dobson's universe, however, Hitler is killed and the leadership of Nazi Germany quickly falls to Heinrich Himmler.  Instead of countenancing the suicide of Rommel, Himmler places Rommel in charge of the Western front against the Allies who are on the verge of breaking out of Normandy.

The authors have chosen to tell their story through several different viewpoints on all sides of the battles and of all ranks, from Frank O'Dell, a waist gunner on an American bomber to Brigadier General Henry Wakefield, the commander of the 19th Armored Division and General Erwin Rommel, himself.  Despite the number of characters, the authors handle them quite well, providing a variety of views of the war and the politics behind it.  Unfortunately, nearly all of the characters (Colonel Jimmy Pulaski excepted) are gung-ho military types whose sole purpose seems to be to attack the enemy without fear.  Their views on the best way to achieve their ends may differ, but none of them seem to have any question about right and wrong or real worry about success or failure.

According to the lengthy appendices the authors include, the only change they made was to have Colonel Heinz Brandt sneeze at an inopportune time, resulting in Hitler's death.  However, as the novel moves forward, they introduce several other changes which are highly conjectural in their conception and execution, ranging from a proposed alliance to the German manufacturing capabilities, neither of which are supported in the novel or the appendices.

Those who enjoy reading about nuts and bolts of military operations will enjoy Fox on the Rhine, which provides quite extensive strategic and tactical examples.  The world outside the battlefield, however, does not seem to exist except as a place for O'Dell to mail his uncensored letters, providing additional background for the reader about the military organization and hardware rather than how the world is reacting to the differences between our world and the world created by Hitler's assassination.

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