Alan, many congrats on embarking on your new novel, Rising Tide. We’re now in WW2, and Pearl Harbor after your earlier WW1 adventures. Why did you want to shift conflict?
Thanks very much. In my previous First World War series I looked at how waging a quick decisive war was seen as an effective foreign policy for nations to settle disputes and assert themselves. There had been peace in Europe for a hundred years, the reality of war had been forgotten and the romance of the cavalry charge was still felt. The generation who fought the Second World War had no such illusions about fighting a modern war but fought anyway to defend their countries for a variety of reasons. This is the underlying theme that I wanted to explore in my new series.
What sort of man is our hero, Lt Daniel Nichols?
Nichols is an idealistic young man, who was an active supporter of appeasement up until 1938. This is largely because he saw the effect that the First World War had had on his father, who came back severely shell shocked. However, after witnessing Nazism on the streets of Vienna, Nichols sees no choice but to fight.
Your novel opens with the British surprise attack on Taranto in November 1940. What happened, as it’s not a particularly well-known event?
The Fleet Air Arm attacked the Italian battlefleet at their base in Taranto, with 21 obsolete Farey Swordfish biplanes launched from HMS Illustrious. They sank 3 state of the art battleships and forced the remainder to a less strategically important base. The Taranto raid is overshadowed by Pearl Harbor, but it was the first-time carrier-born aircraft had been used to attack enemy ships in a heavily defended harbor. Although it did not inspire the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor it proved to them that it could be done.
The Pearl Harbor attack is the major plotpoint. What is it about Pearl Harbor that fascinates?
The attack on Pearl Harbor is something that’s fascinated me since I saw the old BBC drama Churchill And The Generals, back in the 70s! The newsreel footage of the attack superimposed over the scenes with Churchill and FDR brought home the feeling that Britain could have ‘The sleep of the saved and the thankful.’ Out of such a catastrophic event sprang Britain’s salvation and FDR’s words have stuck in my memory ever since, ‘we are all in the same boat now.’
Those images of the USS Arizona and the other great ships burning on Battleship Row are iconic and are deeply embedded in the public psyche. However, that meant everyone knows what happens in the end. I have therefore approached the attack from a slightly different angle; focusing on the intelligence war that was going on in the run up to the attack, which could have provided an advanced warning. I have used a lot of artistic license and invented storylines and characters, while remaining true to the historical events that provide the structure.
Pearl Harbor was a big shock to the Americans, but was there always going to be war between an aggressive Japan and a Pacific dominant USA?
A war between Japan and America was looking increasingly likely by December 1941. Japan had no natural resources, a growing population and felt under threat from the great powers. She therefore wanted to expand to survive and a take what they saw as their rightful place as a great power. This led to Japan’s invasion of China in the 1930s and the annexing of French Indochina. In response the United States imposed stiff economic sanctions. To both end the brutality of the war in China and to safeguard their interests in Asia. The sanctions severely limited Japan’s ability to build an empire and Japan’s leadership therefore saw war with America as inevitable and an act of national self-defense that had been forced on them. To either face the humiliation of backing down or to come out fighting. The Americans foresaw this and were preparing to fight them in Southeast Asia. Their fleet was actually resting from its weekly training exercises when it was attacked. The real shock came when they were attacked in Hawaii thousands of miles from the Japanese homeland, in a complex operation the Americans didn’t think possible and had not prepared for.
Ian Fleming makes an appearance – why does he feature?
Ian Fleming worked in Naval Intelligence during World War 2 and was the Director of Naval Intelligence, Admiral Godfrey’s personal assistant and fixer. Fleming was the power behind the throne, everything went through him before it reached Godfrey. Fleming therefore makes a cameo appearance at the beginning of the novel. My lead character Daniel Nichols, who finds himself working in Naval intelligence, uses Fleming’s love of the unconventional and persuades him to back his proposed mission, which then escalates beyond Nichols’ control.
Was it a challenge to include Fleming, given he’s quite well known as a novelist himself?
Yes, it was certainly daunting! I found the really tricky part was trying to get the tone of his speech right so he didn’t come across too much like Bond. Fleming didn’t suffer fools and wasn’t shy about putting a bit of stick about, but he also had great generosity of spirit, and I wanted to reflect that in how he deals with Nichols. Also, I couldn’t find any reference to his views on the threat posed by Japan in 1941. So, I had to base his opinions in the book on what I think he would have thought. However, I was aided in this by a lot of research material, I found Andrew Lycett and Mark Simmons books really helpful.
Is this the first in a series?
Yes, it’s the start of a WWII trilogy featuring Nichols, as he moves from intelligence to special operations. I’m currently planning the next book, which at the moment is going to be a Mediterranean adventure.