Hold Back the Sun by Warren Bell

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Mr. Bell catches every nuance one can imagine: fear, hope, love, loss, redemption, retaliation, hate, brutality. It’s all there and expertly twined together.

It’s 1942.

High adventure fills the lives of American and Dutch fighting men in the opening months of the Pacific War. Brave women share their dangers and their love while empires crumble.

Exhilarated by savaging the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, The Japanese Navy moves quickly to seize the rich mineral resources of Malaya and the Dutch East Indies.

Two U.S. Asiatic Fleet lieutenants join the unequal struggle on the sea and in the air. Frank Rhea flies a floatplane off the old cruiser, U.S.S. Marblehead: scouting, spotting fall of gunshot, and attacking submarines. Jack Sewell commands the Gunnery Department of an equally ancient World War I destroyer: directing gun and torpedo attacks against warships and aircraft.

In Java, Captain Garret Laterveer takes a squadron of obsolescent fighters to Singapore and then Borneo to battle nimble Japanese Zeros.

Brave Dutch and British women enchant Frank, Jack, and Garret as the Japanese attacks roll down through the islands. Frank adores Dr. Cinta van Wely, who lives under the threat of revenge by a Japanese colonel she once insulted. Pamela Mallory, an exiled English noblewoman, ensnares Jack. Garret falls for Catherine van Zweden, a skilled nurse. Occasional victories boost the hopes of the Allies while colonial empires collapse around them. Then the Allies stake everything on the climactic Battle of the Java Sea.

HOLD BACK THE SUN is laced with surface, aerial, and ground combat, scorched earth actions by the Dutch to deny their oil riches to Japan, accelerated wartime romance, and heroic efforts to save wounded sailors from the Japanese.

Review by Maurice Grossman:

Warren Bell
Warren Bell

This is a story of desperation from the beginning to the end. It is especially good because it was true. It is a story that is not much known. It will be enjoyed by naval veterans of that era such as myself. It has fine air and ship combat stories.

It reads almost like wartime bulletins. It is a wonder that the United States could finally turn the tide in the Pacific against the Japanese at that time.

Review by Jeff Dawson:

The last book I read on the Asiatic Fleet was “Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR’s Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors” by James D. Hornfischer. It was the first work I read that detailed the valiant effort of the ABDA Command against the surging tide of the “Rising Sun.”

This work is no less enthralling. The author, Warren Bell has done a superb job in researching the actual events from December 7th, 1941 to March 18th, 1942. The mix of historical and fictional characters is seamless.

Many times I went back to my books or Google to recount many of the events described in the story to refresh myself on the battles which took place in this theatre.

Mr. Bell catches every nuance one can imagine: fear, hope, love, loss, redemption, retaliation, hate, brutality. It’s all there and expertly twined together.

The story shows how inept and poorly prepared the allies were for the onslaught of the “Rising Sun.” The story centers around Java, a key strategic oil producing island the Japanese need to fuel their war effort. Despite being outnumbered the allies do everything they can to somehow slow the advance in hopes Roosevelt will be able to send the promised reinforcements.

We know this never happened because one, the war in Europe took precedence and two; the bulk of the American fleet was destroyed at Pearl Harbor. Still with the odds stacked against them and death or capture were the only realistic options in stemming the tide, the characters never wavered and met each and every challenge with undaunted heroism.

I doubt it’s in the works, but if ever a book commanded a sequel, this one does!