The Guns Of Navarone
, by Alistair MacLean
, is the story of an elite force of commandos
sent by the British to destroy two large guns on the Greek island of Navarone.
The reason these guns need to be taken out by a strike team? They are invulnerable to bombing, due to AA and the Luftwaffe. These two artillery pieces give the Germans total dominance of a sea lane that, while not critical to shipping or tactics, is the only feasable way to evacuate 1200 soldiers (and an unspecified number of civilians) from a doomed base. The importance of this is not only the human life, but political. Turkey, at this stage in the war, is a neutral power being heavily courted by both Axis and Allies. The Axis cannot afford to show any weakness this close to Turkish shores. Neither can the Allies.
Enter the warriors, led by a mountaineer from New Zealand, one of the best in the world, and a hero of the resistance on the embattled island of Crete. The plan is for this small group of exhausted men to climb an impossible cliff, rendezvous with the local resistance, and destroy the impregnable fortress. The mission is dogged by failure from the git-go. They are betrayed, attacked, injured, captured.
MacLean's characterizations are solid, and neither his heroes nor villains are cookie-cutter cardboard caricatures. Cliched? Perhaps -- but when this was written, they were not yet cliches. The mission is believable from outset to denoument, and you can feel the exhaustion and fear of the seemingly doomed squad. MacLean is the master of men fighting the elements as much as each other.
Special thanks to machfive, for caring.