Robert Kofman is the author of the just-released Ike’s Journey: A Novel of World War II. Robert is also the author of the award-winning General Meade: A novel of the Civil War and was here on the blog to talk about that novel in 2019. Today, Robert shares some of the history behind Ike’s Journey.
Aside from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most Americans have little knowledge of their nation’s experience in the early years of World War II. The biographical fiction novel, Ike’s Journey: A Novel of World War II addresses this void by telling the story of the first two years of U.S. involvement in the global war through the eyes of General Dwight David Eisenhower.
America was woefully unprepared for war, letting its armed forces shrivel during the 1930’s while Germany and Japan modernized their weapons and greatly expanded their armies, navies, and air forces. While the U.S. Army’s officer corps was thin in competent leaders, the nation was fortunate that its top general was George Marshall whose many virtues included a sharp analytical mind, iron willed determination and a knack for spotting talent.
Five days after Pearl Harbor, Marshall ordered the obscure Ike Eisenhower, a recently minted one-star general to leave his Texas army base and come to Washington. Eisenhower was tasked with saving the Philippines. Although Ike failed, his perceptive analysis and strong work ethic impressed Marshall. Soon Eisenhower was promoted to a two-star and then a three-star general, and in June 1942 sent to England to plan the invasion of France. The English, being short on manpower, assigned a former fashion model, Kay Summersby, to be Ike’s driver. She quickly became part of his close-knit army family.
The British oppose Marshall’s proposal to invade France in 1942 arguing that Allied forces are too weak for a successful invasion. President Franklin Roosevelt wants American soldiers fighting Nazis before the November midterm elections and pressures Marshall to accept a British plan for attacking French North Africa. Those French colonies, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia are controlled by the Nazi collaborating Vichy government that was formed after the July 1940 Franco-German armistice ended the fighting in France.
Eisenhower is tasked with planning the African campaign, Operation Torch. He creates Allied Force Headquarters [AFHQ] and insists that his staff be integrated with Yanks and Brits working together. The final Torch plan calls for convoys to sail directly from the British Isles and America and discharge their troops on Moroccan and Algerian beaches. The goal is to first control Algeria and Morocco and then quickly seize Tunisia before the Germans do. A key Torch objective is having French colonial officials switch their allegiance from Vichy to the Allies and join the fight against the Nazis.
Ike’s blood pressure soars as events unfold. He learns the French colonial army is likely to fight because of Vichy ties to Hitler. Nazi U-boat attacks on Allied cargo ships force him to leave thousands of tons of critical supplies behind due to limited shipping capacity. Many American soldiers train without their equipment because the army’s logistics operation is a chaotic mess. Worst of all pressure from his political bosses, Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, for an early invasion means his green, untested soldiers will not have sufficient time to train before attempting the largest amphibious invasion in world history.
On November 8, 1942, Torch forces hit African beaches. The French choose to fight, and American and British blood is being shed. By happenstance Admiral François Darlan, a notorious Nazi collaborator and Vichy’s Defense Minister, is in Algiers visiting his son who had been stricken with polio. To end the fighting Eisenhower makes a deal with Darlan that achieves all of Torch’s initial objectives including having the French North African Army cut ties with Vichy and join the Allies in the fight against the Nazis. The deal gives Darlan administrative control of North Africa.
The Darlan deal leads to a firestorm of condemnation in the U.S. and England. Edward R. Murrow, whose CBS radio broadcasts are heard by millions, asked, “Were Americans waging war against the Nazis, or sleeping with them?” Despite the turmoil, Roosevelt and Churchill defended Eisenhower’s decision as a “temporary military necessity.”
Eisenhower moves AFHQ to Algiers and reunites his army family. He brings Summersby to Africa to be his driver leading to rumors they’re having an affair.
The Nazis win the race for Tunisia. In the first battle between the American and German armies, U.S. troops suffer a humiliating defeat when they are routed by General Irwin Rommel’s famed Afrika Corps in the Battle of Kasserine Pass. It isn’t until May 1943 that Eisenhower achieves victory in Tunisia.
Sicily is the next Allied target and Eisenhower’s good friend General George Patton leads the American army. While performing brilliantly on the battlefield, Patton looses control of his temper and slaps two GIs who are suffering shell shock in army field hospitals. Ike severely reprimands his friend but doesn’t relieve him from command. When newspaper reporters approach him with the story, Eisenhower asks them to refrain from publishing it for fear of losing his best field general. While the reporters on the battlefront agree to sit on the story Washington D.C. Journalist Drew Pearson breaks the Patton story on his NBC radio show creating a national scandal.
After Sicily is conquered the next Allied target is Italy, Hitler’s ally in the European war. After Mussolini is deposed, Eisenhower conducts secret negotiations with the Italians. In plot twists worthy of a Hollywood movie, Italy is convinced to surrender on the eve of the Allied invasion. Hitler who has 400,000 soldiers in Italy chooses to defend the Italian peninsula. The invasion at Salerno nearly ends in disaster but Eisenhower’s luck holds, and the Germans are forced to retreat. The mountainous country is well suited for defense. The Allies become bogged down in vicious fighting.
On December 7, 1943, exactly two years after Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt gives Eisenhower a new assignment, Supreme Commander of Operation Overlord, the 1944 invasion of France. Ike’s experiences in North Africa, Sicily and Italy have prepared him for the largest and riskiest operation of World War II, the D-Day invasion of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
Many thanks, Robert, for sharing the history of Ike Eisenhower. What an amazing leader.
Ike’s Journey by Robert Kofman ~~ Ike Eisenhower is charged by Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill with leading an alliance to liberate the subjugated people of Europe from Hitler’s iron grip. The US Army is humiliated in its first battle with the Germans. Prima donna generals Patton and Montgomery create crises that threaten to rip apart the alliance. Fractured French politics and Charles de Gaulle cause Eisenhower more headaches than the Nazis. In the tunnels of Gibraltar and Malta, he makes monumental decisions involving the lives of his soldiers. Under enormous stress, he finds comfort and camaraderie with his beautiful English driver, Kay Summersby. A wartime romance could help him cope with the crushing burdens of command, but the thought of betraying his loving wife, Mamie, offends his deep sense of morality.
From Pearl Harbor to Washington, London, North Africa, and Italy, Ike’s Journey follows Eisenhower’s odyssey in the early years of World War II—one that tests the strength of his convictions, challenges his leadership, and prepares him to lead the greatest invasion in world history.
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M.K. Tod writes historical fiction. Her latest novel is THE ADMIRAL’S WIFE, a dual timeline set in Hong Kong. Mary’s other novels, PARIS IN RUINS, TIME AND REGRET, LIES TOLD IN SILENCE and UNRAVELLED are available from Amazon, Nook, Kobo, Google Play and iTunes. She can be contacted on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads or on her website www.mktod.com.