Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Doom Platoon

“You've got to hate those Germans, Albright. You've got to want to split their skulls and drink their blood. You've got to want to cut out their intestines and chew on them. And gouge out their eyeballs. And stomp on their balls. If you can get yourself in that frame of mind, boy, then maybe you'll be a soldier.”

And that is the essence of Len Levinson's “Doom Platoon”. Take it or leave it, but this is a cold bloody war novel about cold bloody war.  Straight to the point with no restraints, no apologies and no substitutes. It was written under the name Richard Gallagher and published by Belmont Tower Books in 1978. It was Levinson's first war novel, and after Zebra Publishing's president Walter Zacharius read it, he asked the author to pen a series about WWII in Europe. Thus, the stellar nine book series 'The Sergeant' was born, followed later by the equally magnificent 16 book run of 'The Rat Bastards'. 

But, “Doom Platoon” dug those trenches and sets the tone for what is Levinson's best skill – telling the reader about the gruesome, terrifying and utter devastation of war and the men who wage it. 

The book begins on December 16, 1944 with a platoon of the 25th Regiment reeling from a fierce campaign in Hurtgen Forest. This fighting force has been offered “rest” on the French front line in the Ardennes Forest. But, rest is not in the forecast as intense shelling begins to annihilate the troops. The main character is the gritty and defiant Sergeant Mazursky, 29-years old and an absolute badass. After surviving the shelling, Lieutenant Smith receives the impossible command of using his platoon as a rearguard action against an entire German Panzer division. 40 guys against the embodiment of mechanized warfare. The strategy is for the platoon to use a ridge line, concealment and heavy boulders as a defense. This high ground will allow them to immobilize the two front tanks, blocking the road and stalling the whole division until noon. This gives the rest of the regiment enough time to escape to Dillendorf to protect a precious oil reserve. The captain instructs Smith that it can be done, but later in private advises him that at noon he should surrender. It's a no win, no way out situation.

The “Doom Platoon” lives up to its name, taking the suicide mission under Sergeant Mazursky's brutish leadership. The end result? I can't tell you, but I will say that this book is constructed more like three different types of novels. The first is the rearguard battle with the Panzer division. The middle story, the best, is a prisoner-of-war epic, including the obligatory torture, famine, death and escape attempt. The last portion is a war-torn romance with the lust and sex just as graphic as Levinson's descriptions of war. These three parts make up a wholly enjoyable book that blends war, romance (really just a bunch of horny people screwing at the end of the world) and prison escape. While Levinson keeps it engaging with a number of war tragedies (we get introductions of characters that receive violent deaths a page later), he still injects a ton of humor. Morbidly so. I'd read the book again just to hear Mazursky insult Private Norwicki's dick, gun and girlfriend all over again. His BAR cleaning episode is just priceless stuff.

At the end of the day, Levinson is a master storyteller, on top of his game with “Doom Platoon”. Why his books never took off, why he isn't a household name or why he isn't rich is anyone's guess. “Doom Platoon” is about as good as it gets. Pick a tattered old paperback up somewhere, order it on Abe Books or go digital and buy it online for a few bucks.