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The Horizon, by Douglas Reeman

The Horizon, by Douglas ReemanThe Horizon is the third volume of Douglas Reeman’s Blackwood series. It is set in the years 1914-1918. We meet Captain Jonathan Blackwood as he and the Royal Marines attempt to adapt to the new deadly ways of warfare in World War I.

Jonathan is a Royal Marine from a long line of Royal Marines. For three generations, members of the Blackwood family have served in the Royal Marines with distinction – two of them have won the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for valor in combat in the British Empire.

But World War I is, as Reeman aptly describes it in The Horizon, different. There are no longer, it seems, any rules. There is no room for honor and tradition. With modern weapons and technological advances, the nature of war itself has changed. The battlefields are like slaughterhouses – with cannons, mortars and howitzers roaring, soldiers digging down and building trenches, and machine guns and snipers always present, the new type of war is one of stalemates.

We follow Jonathan as he embarks for the Dardanelles to take part in an allied campaign there, and follow him from the battle cruiser that brought them there, into the battlefield. Tens of thousands of soldiers die – both on the Allied and the Turkish side – and the conditions are extremely difficult. There is still room for bravery, but it is very costly to be brave now.

Jonathan is brave, and he leads his man in a difficult and dangerous assault, achieves the objective, but is severely wounded. He returns to England as a hero and becomes the third man in his family to receive the Victoria Cross. In the end however, it was all for nothing – the bravery, the many dead – the Allied campaign was a total failure. Nothing was achieved – after losing a quarter of a million soldiers; the Allied were forced to withdraw.

After recovering from his wounds, Jonathan is sent to a newly activated battalion of Royal Marines bound for the Western Front. Now it is 1917 and the vast majority of the British Army is located in France and Flanders. Here on the Western Front the same challenges face Jonathan as at Gallipoli – the losses of men due to enemy snipers, raids and assaults that are expected to gain miles of ground and end up gaining only yards, if that.

The Horizon is an excellent tale of World War I, different from, but in some ways almost as good as, All Quiet on The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque. Douglas Reeman (a k a Alexander Kent) has captured the despair, the smell of rotting corpses and the sucking mud, as well as the tragic consequences of applying old fashioned military thinking to an entirely new situation. I strongly recommend The Horizon. It is one of the very best novels from World War I. A powerful book.

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