Crucible of Hell

The Heroism and Tragedy of Okinawa, 1945


By Saul David

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From the award-winning historian, Saul David, the riveting narrative of the heroic US troops, bonded by the brotherhood and sacrifice of war, who overcame enormous casualties to pull off the toughest invasion of WWII’s Pacific Theater — and the Japanese forces who fought with tragic desperation to stop them.

With Allied forces sweeping across Europe and into Germany in the spring of 1945, one enormous challenge threatened to derail America’s audacious drive to win the world back from the Nazis: Japan, the empire that had extended its reach southward across the Pacific and was renowned for the fanaticism and brutality of its fighters, who refused to surrender, even when faced with insurmountable odds. Taking down Japan would require an unrelenting attack to break its national spirit, and launching such an attack on the island empire meant building an operations base just off its shores on the island of Okinawa.

The amphibious operation to capture Okinawa was the largest of the Pacific War and the greatest air-land-sea battle in history, mobilizing 183,000 troops from Seattle, Leyte in the Philippines, and ports around the world. The campaign lasted for 83 blood-soaked days, as the fighting plumbed depths of savagery. One veteran, struggling to make sense of what he had witnessed, referred to the fighting as the “crucible of Hell.” Okinawan civilians died in the tens of thousands: some were mistaken for soldiers by American troops; but as the US Marines spearheading the invasion drove further onto the island and Japanese defeat seemed inevitable, many more civilians took their own lives, some even murdering their own families. In just under three months, the world had changed irrevocably: President Franklin D. Roosevelt died; the war in Europe ended; America’s appetite for an invasion of Japan had waned, spurring President Truman to use other means — ultimately atomic bombs — to end the war; and more than 250,000 servicemen and civilians on or near the island of Okinawa had lost their lives.

Drawing on archival research in the US, Japan, and the UK, and the original accounts of those who survived, Crucible of Hell tells the vivid, heart-rending story of the battle that changed not just the course of WWII, but the course of war, forever.


List of Illustrations

PFC Don Dencker, a good student whose hobby was racing pigeons, during training with the 3/382nd Infantry at Camp Luis Obispo, California. (Courtesy of Ann Dencker)

Private Howard Arendt, from Louisville, Kentucky, with five tent mates from the 3/22nd Marines. (United States Marine Corps Archives: USMCA)

A landing ship firing rockets onto Japanese positions on Okinawa in late March 1945. (Library of Congress)

Marines climb into a landing craft on Love Day, April 1, 1945. (USMCA)

Landing craft and ships off Hagushi beaches on Love Day, April 1, 1945. (Department of Defense)

Private Salvatore Giammanco, a 20-year-old Italian immigrant from Brooklyn, the first ground casualty of the campaign. (USCMA)

Major General Lemuel Shepherd, the commander of the 6th Marine Division, with his staff on Okinawa. (USMCA)

An American intelligence officer questions a Japanese prisoner. (USCMA)

The celebrated war correspondent Ernie Pyle enjoys a cigarette break with men from the 1/5th Marines on April 8, 1945, a week after the Okinawa landings. (Department of Defense)

The body of Ernie Pyle, lying in a roadside ditch on Ie Shima. (Department of Defense)

Lieutenant General Mitsuru Ushijima commanding the Japanese Thirty-Second Army on Okinawa.

Ushijima and staff plot the battle. (Japanese Cabinet Intelligence Bureau)

A Japanese light tank with two of its dead crewmen in the foreground. (USMCA)

Marines follow two M4 Sherman tanks into action. (USMCA)

American troops use a flamethrower to flush out Japanese snipers on a beach. (USMCA)

US Marines assaulting a former Japanese barracks at Shuri in late May 1945. (Department of Defense)

Soldier firing a .30 caliber Browning automatic rifle (BAR) on May 2, 1945. (USMCA)

A rifleman looks for a target, while his officer talks into his battery-operated walkie-talkie. (USMCA)

Standing atop the Maeda escarpment (“Hacksaw Ridge”), PFC Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist from Lynchburg, West Virginia. (Department of Defense)

Colonel Francis Fenton kneels beside the body of his son PFC Mike Fenton, a 19-year-old scout/sniper in 1/5th Marines who was killed in the fierce fighting for the Awacha Pocket on May 7, 1945. (Department of Defense)

Ensign Kiyoshi Ogawa, the pilot of one of two kamikaze planes that struck the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill on May 11, 1945.

Smoke and flames pour from the USS Bunker Hill after the kamikaze attacks. (Department of Defense)

Sugar Loaf Hill, near Naha. (Department of Defense)

American soldiers collecting supplies dropped by air during the fierce fighting for Shuri Castle in late May 1945. (USCMA)

Japanese schoolgirls wave cherry blossoms to bid a kamikaze pilot farewell as he leaves on his suicide mission from Chiran air base, Kyushu, on April 12, 1945. (Pictorial Press Ltd/Alamy Stock Photo)

US Marines evacuate a wounded colleague. (USCMA)

Two soldiers cover a Japanese sniper hidden in a wrecked church. (USMCA)

Major Bruce Porter DFC, the commander of 542 (N) Squadron. (USMCA)

A US Marine removes grenades from the corpse of a female Japanese soldier killed in the fighting. (Courtesy Himeyuri Peace Museum)

Miyo Takaesu, one of the 118 student nurses of the Himeyuri Corps—recruited from schoolgirls between the ages of 15 and 19—who perished in the battle for Okinawa. (Courtesy Himeyuri Peace Museum)

Lieutenant General Simon Buckner, with Colonel Clarence “Bull” Wallace and Major Bill Chamberlin of the 8th Marines. (Department of Defense)

Men of the 6th Marine Division raise the Stars and Stripes to signal the end of organized Japanese resistance as they reach the sea at the end of the Kiyan Peninsula on June 21, 1945. (USMCA)

Japanese soldiers surrendering to US forces during mopping-up operations in late June 1945. (Department of Defense)

An aerial view of the “Little Boy” atomic bomb exploding over Hiroshima on August 6, 1945. (Library of Congress)


“Where’s Douglas?”

The heavy cruiser USS Baltimore was greeted by an immense crowd of cheering Hawaiians as it docked at Pearl Harbor at 3:00 p.m. on Wednesday July 26, 1944. It was carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt who, despite a recent illness and the start of what would be his third successful reelection campaign, had come to the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet with just a handful of close advisers to discuss future strategy.1

The first man to greet the wheelchair-bound president* was Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, 59, the Texan-born commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific Ocean Area whose quiet but determined leadership had avenged early American setbacks with a string of victories at sea and on land. Striding up the gangplank at the head of a group of senior officers, Nimitz shook Roosevelt warmly by the hand. The president’s response: “Where’s Douglas?”

He was referring to 64-year-old General Douglas MacArthur, the colorful and opinionated Supreme Allied Commander in the South-west Pacific Area (SWPA) who had been controversially awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor—the U.S. military’s highest award for valor—“for conspicuous leadership” during the failed campaign to defend the Philippines from Japanese attack in early 1942. Some had even accused MacArthur of abandoning his command by leaving the island fortress of Corregidor in Manila Bay before it fell in May with the loss of 11,000 U.S. and Filipino troops. In truth, Roosevelt had ordered MacArthur to leave and, ever since, the general had worked tirelessly to redeem his reputation. Having secured Australia, he went on the offensive, capturing vast swathes of territory in New Guinea and the Admiralty Islands. His aim in coming to Hawaii was to convince the president that the Philippines—a country he had vowed to liberate—should be the next major objective.

Arriving by plane, MacArthur realized he was late and urged the police motorcyclists escorting his open-topped car to get him to the docks as quickly as possible. They arrived, sirens screaming, as the presidential party was disembarking. “Hello, Doug,” said Roosevelt. “What are you doing with that leather jacket on? It’s darn hot today.”

“Well,” MacArthur replied, “I’ve just landed from Australia. It’s pretty cold there.”2

In the strategy sessions that followed in a big room filled with maps of the Pacific, Nimitz spoke first. His plan—initiated by his boss Admiral Ernest J. King, the commander-in-chief, U.S. Fleet and a member of the Joint Chiefs of Staff—was to bypass the Philippines by launching the next major offensive against Formosa and then the Japanese home islands. Indeed this option was also the preference of the other Joint Chiefs—generals of the army George C. Marshall (U.S. Army) and Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold (U.S. Army Air Force)—who both felt it offered the quickest route to defeat Japan. Nimitz, as it happened, was not convinced the plan would work, and preferred to take the Western Caroline Islands first, before invading the central Philippines and Iwo Jima. But loyal to a fault, he argued for his superior’s plan as if it were his own.

MacArthur responded with a masterly presentation, delivered without notes, arguing that the main Philippine island of Luzon was more important than Formosa because with it went control of the South China Sea and Japan’s sea communications to its southern possessions. Whereas bypassing Luzon would expose U.S. forces on Formosa and elsewhere to devastating attacks from Japanese bombers stationed there. Nimitz agreed with this point and, when questioned by Roosevelt, said he could support either operation. So a compromise was agreed: the Philippines would be recovered with the forces available in the western Pacific and Formosa could wait. MacArthur was delighted. The president, he wrote, had remained “entirely neutral” while Nimitz had shown a “fine sense of fair play.”3

During his trip the president was invited to lunch at Nimitz’s official residence at Makalapa Hill. But as the house, in the opinion of the secret service, was not up to scratch, a U.S. Naval Construction Battalion of 500 “Seabees” was sent to repaint it, refurbish the bathrooms and even build a new road behind the house so that Roosevelt could be moved from the car to his wheelchair in private. None of the many generals and flag officers also in attendance—one counted 136 stars on the collars of the guests—were any the wiser as they sat down to martini cocktails and a main course of mahimahi, a delicious local fish.4

Given the seat of honor on Roosevelt’s right was Lieutenant General Simon B. Buckner, recently appointed commander of the U.S. Tenth Army, the formation slated to carry out the invasion of Formosa. The president, noted Buckner in his diary, “talked cheerfully & made everyone feel relaxed & at home.” He also “looked well but his hand shook a little when he raised his cocktail glass.”5 MacArthur, already back in Australia, was far more pessimistic about the president’s health. “He is just a shell of the man I knew,” he told his wife Jean. “In six months he will be in his grave.”6

The practical effect of Roosevelt’s visit to Pearl Harbor was to leave the army and navy pursuing joint but separate strategies: MacArthur would continue his advance up through the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies; while Nimitz edged closer to Formosa via the central Pacific, the first step being the capture of Peleliu in the Palau Islands which was finally secured in late November 1944 by the 1st Marine Division and, latterly, the army’s 81st Division, after a vicious two-month campaign that was made immeasurably harder by the formidable Japanese defensive system of caves and underground tunnels.*

By then, much had changed. From September 11 to 16, 1944, Roosevelt, British prime minister Winston Churchill and their combined chiefs of staff met at Quebec for the Octagon Conference where they agreed, among other things, that Britain would become a full partner in the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany. Churchill’s preference was for an advance across the Bay of Bengal and an operation to recover Singapore and the Malay Peninsula, lost in such ignominious circumstances in early 1942. Roosevelt disagreed. The Americans, he said, had been very successful at “island-hopping” in the Pacific, and bypassing strong Japanese garrisons like Singapore which could be mopped up later. But he was prepared to accept Churchill’s offer of naval support in the central Pacific, overruling Admiral King’s unwillingness to share victory “with an eleventh-hour entry.”7

Happy with this concession, Churchill and his chiefs of staff let the Americans decide the optimum route of advance in the Pacific. On September 15, with the Octagon Conference still in progress, the Joint Chiefs authorized MacArthur to bring forward his operation to capture the Philippine island of Leyte from December 20 to October 20. But there was still an assumption that Nimitz would launch Operation Causeway—the invasion of Formosa—once the Philippines were secured. That, however, was about to change.

On September 16, sensing an opportunity to ditch the Formosa operation in favor of a move directly north from the Philippines to the Ryukyu and Bonin islands, and from there to Japan, Nimitz asked his senior army commanders for their opinion. Lieutenant General Robert C. Richardson Jr., commanding U.S. Army Forces in the Pacific Ocean Area, was firmly in agreement. Regarding the occupation of Formosa as a costly diversion, he argued instead for a dual advance along the Luzon–Ryukyus and Marianas–Bonins axes. This would allow MacArthur to seize the island of Luzon after Leyte, and provide air and naval bases in the Philippines to block enemy shipping lanes and neutralize Formosa. But only the next step—possession of the Ryukyu chain of islands, extending 700 miles south of the Japanese home islands, and the Bonins further to the east—would enable extensive air operations against the main islands of Kyushu and Honshu. These, in turn, would prepare the ground for amphibious landings.

Richardson was backed up by Lieutenant General Millard F. Harmon, commanding U.S. Army Air Forces, who pointed out that the acquisition of air bases could be achieved with far less cost in men and materiel in the Ryukus than in Formosa. The final nail in Causeway’s coffin was provided by Lieutenant General Buckner who pointed out that his Tenth Army lacked the supporting and service troops for such a large-scale operation.8

Nimitz repeated these arguments to Admiral King when they met in San Francisco on September 29. The alternative to Causeway, said Nimitz, was to keep pressure on the Japanese by taking, in turn, Luzon, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Formosa, meanwhile, could be kept in check by a series of air strikes from carriers. Why Iwo Jima? asked King. Because, explained Nimitz, it would allow fighter protection for the huge B-29 bombing raids on the Japanese home islands that were planned for 1945.9

Convinced by Nimitz, King proposed to his fellow Joint Chiefs on October 2 that, because of insufficient resources in the Pacific Ocean Area and the unwillingness of the War Department to make additional resources available until after the defeat of Germany, operations against Luzon, Iwo Jima and Okinawa should precede the seizure of Formosa. They concurred and, a day later, Nimitz was ordered by the Joint Chiefs to “occupy one or more positions” in the Ryukyu Islands, beginning on March 1, 1945. The purpose was to establish bases from which to attack “the main islands of Japan and their sea approaches” with air and naval forces; support further operations in regions bordering the East China Sea; and sever air and sea communications between Japan’s home islands and its possessions to the south and west. But the first step was to “capture, occupy, defend and develop Okinawa Island.”10


Operation Iceberg

“Directive received deferring our project,” noted Lieutenant General Simon Bolivar Buckner Jr. in his diary on October 4, 1944. He added: “Took physical exam. Blood pressure 120/76. Dr. said he could find nothing wrong except danger from Japs.”1

The forced humor masked Buckner’s understandable nervousness about what lay ahead: not only his first test as a field commander, but in a battle of any kind. It may not have helped that he was the son of a famous Confederate general—named after the Venezuelan soldier and statesman Simón Bolívar, then at the height of his fame as the “Liberator” of South America—who, after a shaky start, won laurels at the battles of Perryville and Chickamauga. He became, as it happened, both the first Confederate commander to surrender an army, and also the last. He was 63 when his son Simon Bolivar Jr. was born in Munfordville, Kentucky, in 1886. A year later, standing as a Democrat, Buckner Sr. became the state’s thirtieth governor.

Though he later failed as the vice-presidential nominee of the “Gold Democrats” in 1896, the elder Buckner was a hard act to follow. His young son made a start by graduating from the U.S. Army’s military academy at West Point in 1908. But thereafter his career was largely uneventful as he completed two tours of the Philippines, saw no combat in the First World War and spent much of the interwar period as a student or instructor at various military schools, including a final spell as commandant of cadets at West Point. In the latter appointment he was remembered as a martinet, a stern disciplinarian who allowed his cadets few luxuries. “Buckner forgets,” commented one aspiring officer’s parent, “cadets are born not quarried.”2

Lacking field experience, Buckner clung to U.S. Army doctrine that artillery played the decisive role in combat. Infantry were needed to find and hold the enemy; but only artillery could destroy it. After war came a second time in December 1941, he was eager to put this theory into practice. But by then he was commanding the army’s Alaska Defense Command, a relative backwater that saw only limited action. In 1943, for example, when amphibious landings recovered the Aleutian islands of Attu and Kiska from the Japanese, both operations had been navy-led. A frustrated Buckner clashed repeatedly with both the naval commander for the northern Pacific and the civilian authorities in Alaska, the latter objecting to his illegal hunting of walruses.3

Salvation came in the summer of 1944 when Buckner was appointed commander of the new U.S. Tenth Army in Hawaii, a joint army–Marines formation that was intended for the invasion of Formosa. Worried about resupply, he was relieved when the objective was switched from Formosa to the smaller Okinawa; but that still required a completely new plan of assault. Fortunately Buckner had an excellent staff to take care of that, led by Brigadier General E. D. Post who had served with him since West Point. Their relationship, noted a colleague, was “very close, almost that of father and son.” It helped that Post had a “pleasing personality and a very even temper,” and was a man “it would have been hard not to get along with.”4

Under Post were two deputy chiefs of staff: one for the U.S. Army, Brigadier General Lawrence E. Schick; and one for the U.S. Navy/Marines, Brigadier General Oliver P. Smith. Like Post, Schick had served with Buckner in Alaska, and was one of Buck’s boys. Smith was an outsider, joining the Tenth Army’s staff on Hawaii only in early November 1944 after combat stints with the 1st Marine Division on Cape Gloucester (as colonel of the 5th Marines) and Peleliu (assistant division commander). The new job was not one he was looking forward to. “It is hard to come back from an operation,” he wrote, “and start over again the whole tedious process of training for a new operation. What is needed is new blood.”5

Smith had grown up in northern California where he attended the University of California, Berkeley, before joining the wartime Marine Corps as a second lieutenant in 1917. He later matriculated from the École supérieure de guerre in France, the first Marine to do so, and returned to teach at the Marine Corps Schools at Quantico, Virginia, where he was known as “the Professor” and an expert in amphibious warfare. Intelligent, easygoing and with valuable combat experience, he was the perfect choice as Buckner’s Marine deputy chief of staff. Not least because army–Marine relations were then at a low ebb, following the sacking of Major General Ralph Smith as commander of the U.S. Army’s 27th Division by his Marine superior, Lieutenant General Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith—the so-called Smith vs Smith controversy—during the Saipan campaign in July 1944. Already ill disposed to the 27th Division for a perceived lack of aggression in a previous battle, Holland Smith accused its men of failing to attack on time and costing Marine lives. Ralph Smith was relieved of his command and ordered off the island, a humiliation that his senior army colleagues—including U.S. Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall—found hard to forgive.

The bad blood probably cost the abrasive Holland Smith the command of the Tenth Army. “I found out later,” wrote Oliver Smith, “that both Admiral Spruance and Admiral Turner had recommended that General Holland Smith be given the Okinawa job, but they were overruled by Admiral Nimitz.”6 It was handed instead to the untried Buckner who, in a second snub to Holland Smith, was put in charge of the all-army board of inquiry into Ralph Smith’s sacking. The board eventually—and predictably—ruled in favor of the dismissed officer, though he would never command troops in action again. “Saw Holland Smith at Adm[iral] Nimitz’s conference,” noted Buckner in late August 1944, “and he greeted me without much enthusiasm. (He has probably seen my board report to the effect that Ralph Smith’s relief from command was not justified.)”7

It was into this potentially poisonous atmosphere on Hawaii that Oliver Smith arrived on November 7. Fortunately Admiral Nimitz had helped to clear the air a month earlier by sounding out Buckner on his attitude to the Smith vs Smith controversy. “Finding,” wrote Buckner, “that I deplored the whole matter and harbored no inter-service ill feeling,” Nimitz “announced that I would command the ‘new joint project.’”8

Smith’s early impressions of his new boss, after they met at army headquarters in Schofield Barracks on November 8, were mostly positive. “He was,” noted Smith, “in excellent physical condition: ruddy, heavy-set, but with considerable spring in his step. He had snow-white hair and piercing blue eyes: the eyes were almost hard.” Though he had “surprisingly little troop duty” and “limited” experience in amphibious operations, he did not lack for “character” and Smith had “no reason to feel he would not continue to operate well in a joint undertaking [with the navy].” While Buckner’s “methods and judgments were somewhat inflexible,” wrote Smith, “you always knew where you stood.”

It helped that Smith thought highly of Buckner’s right-hand men, Post and Schick, describing the latter—“a small, wiry man, quick of speech and action”—as the “finest staff officer with whom I have ever had the pleasure of serving.” But not every aspect of life at Schofield Barracks, sited on a picturesque red-soiled plateau 900 feet above sea level, was to Smith’s liking. He particularly resented Buckner’s “fetish” for “physical conditioning,” and his insistence that all his staff officers, many of whom were over fifty, took part. “For the older officers,” noted Smith, “the program resulted in broken collarbones, broken arms, sprained ankles and charley horses [cramps in the leg muscles]. Included in the required conditioning were the running of the Combat Course (for which Lieutenant General Buckner held the record), firing all infantry hand and shoulder weapons, soft ball and conditioning hikes.” One of the latter was eight and a half miles in length, with a climb and descent of 2,000 feet. Recently back from Peleliu, Smith gave it a miss. “What I needed was food and relaxation.”

Yet there were limits to even that, and the vibrant social life at Schofield Barracks was not, in Smith’s opinion, “an appropriate one for troops preparing for combat.” He added: “It is true there were no families present, but there were dances every Wednesday and Saturday evening which were not stag affairs; there were plenty of WACs [Women’s Army Corps], nurses and Red Cross workers. There were dinner parties, beach parties and cocktail parties. At some… the women wore evening gowns. You had the feeling you were half in the war and half out of it.”9

Buckner’s diary backs up Smith’s concern. Hardly a day goes by without him mentioning his attendance at a dinner party or dance, usually in the company of an attractive young woman. One name keeps cropping up: “Missy” Keleher, the wife of a naval officer on duty in the Pacific. A typical entry (for November 21) reads: “Took Missy Keleher… to dinner at Chinese restaurant. Missy wangled a photo of myself and asked me to autograph it with an appropriate message. I did. ‘To Missy with misgivings.’”

On another occasion, not long before he departed Hawaii for the theater of war, Buckner took Missy to a dinner and dance at the Wheeler Field Officers’ Club, and then for a nightcap at a fellow officer’s quarters. It was 2:00 a.m. by the time he got home. “Moral: Don’t take girls to parties who live too far away if you want any sleep.” Undoubtedly flattered by Missy’s attention, Buckner’s behavior toward her might have been, as far as we know, entirely honorable. But the number of evenings he spent in her and other women’s company—often for tête-à-tête dinners—would surely not have gone down well with Adele Buckner, his wife of almost thirty years, and the mother of their three children, if she had known.10


  • Praise for Crucible of Hell:
  • "[Saul David] is peerless now among our military historians... [A] superb book...that often reads like a screenplay, but depicts suffering that was all too real."—Telegraph
  • "Excellent. Saul David's gripping narrative is admirably clear."—Antony Beevor, #1 internationally bestselling author of D-Day
  • "Gripping, even gruesome, yet deeply moving, Crucible of Hell sweeps us masterfully from a coral charnel house in the Pacific to the mushroom cloud over Hiroshima."—David Reynolds, author of In Command of History and The Long Shadow
  • "Vivid and deeply moving, Crucible of Hell paints a rich portrait of one of the most horrific battles in modern memory. David masterfully evokes the desperation and courage of soldiers, civilians, and commanders on both sides, constantly switching perspectives to capture the deep story of Okinawa's horror. Hard to put down, harder to forget."
    Stephan Talty, author of Saving Bravo: The Greatest Rescue Mission in Navy SEAL History
  • "David restores a human dimension to this battle - both sides are brave, stoic, frightened, barbaric and occasionally cowardly. This is narrative history at its most visceral as battles unfold almost in real time... In short chapters David shifts between American and Japanese fronts, providing a gripping reconstruction of the action."—The Times (UK)
  • "Superbly researched, well-written...Reminds us that the defining characteristic of war is the mass destruction of individuals, both physically and psychologically."—The Spectator
  • "A worthy addition to the literature of the Okinawa campaign."—Wall Street Journal
  • "Read this book."—David Saunders, Military History Magazine
  • Praise for Saul David's The Force:
  • "The Forcebrilliantly recounts the heroic exploits of the first U.S. and Canadian Special Operations team, tasked with decommissioning a supposedly impregnable Nazi stronghold. Every chapter is filled with harrowing adventure, life and death struggle, and bedrock patriotism. The amount of new cutting-edge research is impressive. A monumental achievement!"—Douglas Brinkley, #1 New York Times bestselling author of American Moonshot: John F. Kennedy and the Great Space Race
  • "With impeccable research and a keen eye for detail, Saul David has brought to life the surprising story of the original band of brothers. You can draw a vivid line from the make-or-break WWII battles of these daring soldiers to today's US Army Special Forces...Saul David does us -- and history -- a service by dramatizing how and why that 'tip of the spear' was forged. These brave citizen-soldiers did the impossible, and The Forcehonors their brotherhood, triumph, and ultimate sacrifices. An essential part of anyone's library."—Doug Stanton, #1 New York Timesbestselling author of Horse Soldiers and In Harm's Way
  • "Action packed...this thrilling tale will captivate readers."—Publishers Weekly
  • "This remarkable story of the most unique special operations unit in Allied service during World War II throws you into battle during the meat grinder campaign in Italy, where the men of the Force displayed exceptional loyalty to each other and courage under fire all while undertaking some of the most difficult missions of the war. Told at soldier's-eye level, The Force is a gripping and awe-inspiring account of a storied unit and a legendary battle."—John R. Bruning, bestselling author of Race of Aces and Indestructible
  • "With this riveting story of an unlikely group of men becoming elite soldiers and contributing to the Allied victory, Saul David brings us a superb tale, well told."—Gregory A. Freeman, bestselling author of The Forgotten 500
  • "The Force provides incredible insight into the formation, development, and performance of the U.S. Army Special Forces Group, which traces its lineage to these fearless men. With his incomparable gift for storytelling, Saul David captures the brotherhood forged in war, the tragedy and chaos of battle, and the rich tradition of American tactical brilliance that these elite soldiers helped to launch."—David M. Reel, Executive Director, West Point Museum
  • "The First Special Service Force created in 1942 was a unique elite unit...As Saul David makes clear in this stirring account of their heroics, they did much more than their share and established precedents for the U.S. and Canadian Special Forces of today."—James M. McPherson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Battle-Cry of Freedom
  • "Compelling and well-researched, The Force is an uplifting story of bravery, duty, and honor, an account of men who found the courage to take on an impossible mission -- and prevail against all odds."—Howard Blum, New York Timesbestselling author of Dark Invasion and The Last Goodnight
  • "A real page-turner [about] a remarkable military unit whose story ought to be better known."—Kirkus Review

On Sale
May 5, 2020
Page Count
448 pages
Hachette Books

Saul David

About the Author

Saul David is a military historian and broadcaster. He is the author of The Indian Mutiny, which was shortlisted for the Duke of Westminster’s Medal for Military Literature, Military Blunders, Zulu: the Heroism and Tragedy of the Zulu War of 1879 (a Waterstone’s Military History Book of the Year),Victoria’s Wars, and Operation Thunderbolt: Flight 139 and the Raid on Entebbe Airport, the Most Audacious Hostage Rescue Mission in History, an Amazon History Book of the Year. He lives outside of Bath, England, where he is a professor of military history at the University of Buckingham.

Learn more about this author