Swastika Night from Katharine Burdekin.
With the now-almost laughable prospect of a Nazi invasion of the British Isles a very real and prominent fear at the time, Burdekin used a pseudonym in the event that Hitler’s Aryan supermen actually managed to make it over the pond – an act that in reality would require the collapse of Britain’s superior naval and air forces in an alternate Battle of Britain, and a complete debellation of Fighter Command and the English channel defence.
Even in the event of successful landings, wargames staged in the ’70s conclusively proved that even had landings been possible, the logistics of supplying those troops would have proved impossible in the face of a determined British naval and air defence, lending Operation Sea Lion its infamous moniker as The Unmentionabe Sea Mammal: Bane of all Alternate History Buffs Since 1946.
Yet World War II offered slaughter and suffering of an unparalleled savagery; the epic magnitude of the carnage had never before been seen, and all being well, never shall be again. Yet the incalculable misery and bloodshed it brought to the world is the very reason why such minor annoyances as fact and logic will likely never deter the adventurous writer whose compulsion leads to the realm of alternate history.
In the subject-specific realm of Unmentionable Sea Mammals, Jackboot Britain, the alternative history novel of 2014 has had no backlash for its playful skirting around the possibilities of a successful invasion. Of course, multiple factors had to be introduced in order for the downright impossible to become merely implausible – a Luftwaffe strategy that focused solely on Fighter Command and not bombing cities, the avoidance of British scuttling of the French fleet and the combined forces of Germany, Italy, Vichy France and Spain all turning on the beleaguered British Isles, et al. Sea Lion was not the focus of Jackboot, merely the backdrop of its narrative.
Thence, this combination of potent factors had to be translated onto the pages of Jackboot in a way that did not detract from the rest of the epic novel; the wide-ranging narrative of an all-encompassing tale of captured soldiers, Waffen-SS jailers, Wehrmacht Occupation Force troops, Jewish teachers and liberal journalists of the civilian population, auxiliary partisans in the underground resistance, monosyllabic alcoholics and Great War survivors of the Lost Generation, men of the SS-Einsatzgruppen murder squads, the Nazi elite and as chief antagonist, notorious villain of the 20th century in ‘Blond Beast’ Reinhard Heydrich himself, the depraved Machiavellian scoundrel christened ‘The Man With The Iron Heart’ by none other than Adolf Hitler.
A wide range of characters –British, German and otherwise, civilian, partisan, military and paramilitary alike – combine to depict the love and loss, suffering and slaughter, triumph and tragedy that stems from the carnage and chaos of war, and the destructive effect of prejudice, hatred and man’s lust for power.
Jackboot Britain is available now on Amazon.
Earlier works dealing with the successful invasion of the British Isles glossed over the minutiae of Sea Lion details, such as SS-GB by Len Deighton, the narrative of which begins almost one year after the Germans had taken administrative control over London and by implication, Britain and the UK whole. The story focused on a police detective and a murder mystery he becomes embroiled in that threatens the fabric of the new Nazi Britain; Deighton weaves a well-paced tale that discards much of the detail of its alternate war history.
The esteemed playwright Noel Coward wrote a play entitled Peace In Our Time during the war, first performed on stage in 1946. The added irony of what is now a relative sidenote in the alt-hist canon is that the talented Coward himself had been included on the infamous ‘Black Book’ compiled by Heydrich’s SD for the SS Security Police; a comprehensive list of over two thousand ‘Enemies of the Reich’ who were to be detained and liquidated upon the subjugation of Britain.
Other works – such as Philip K. Dick’s masterful 1963 Hugo Award winning The Man In The High Castle novel, and the million-selling, fast-paced detective story set in a ’60s era Nazi Germany in Robert Harris’ Fatherland depict a more overwhelmingly victorious Germany, with the Soviet Union all-but annihilated and utterly conquered in both, and in the former, even the United States had fallen to the fascist trifecta of Axis nations in the German, Japanese and Italian alliance.
That possibility – the subjugation of both the British Empire and the United States of America circa 1940-45 by the comparatively weaker Axis nations (the US alone produced more armaments than Japan and Italy combined, while being sufficiently rich in resources to never require the out-and-out war economy as was enforced from Berlin, Rome and Tokyo) stretches the limits of imagination yet further than the now-comfortably held consensus view that it is nothing short of ludicrous to suggest that Britain was ever in danger of falling into fascist hands.
Yet decade-to-decade, the alternate histories of World War II continue to be written. Literature that appeals to the millions of avid and voracious readers of War-Lit and in particular, Second World War era novels and can simultaneously entertain and educate must be considered a very welcome addition to this brand of literary canon.
Jackboot Britain follows in the footsteps of the pioneering alt-hist works of WWII, and all the rest that followed since. It will not be the last. But the sub-genre of alternative history novels that is so loosely thrust into the massive dual-genre of the ‘Science Fiction and Fantasy’ bracket should be welcomed for its varied works across the decades, and only considered to have provided its last meaningful, significant or worthy words when it can no longer produce original, entertaining and educational novels for its fans.
All being well, my own contribution to this sub-genre will be appreciated, and one fervently hopes that WWII alt-hist can continue to produce worthy works long into the literary future!
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