The Frozen Hours

Written by Jeff Shaara
Review by Jeff Westerhoff

In June 1950, after the North Korean army invades South Korea, heading below the 38th parallel, the United Nations votes to mobilize armed forces to aid the South Korean government. After landing in South Korea, the U.S. Army and Marines defeat the North Koreans and push north. Landing in North Korea, they march northwest toward the Yalu River, dividing Korea from Communist China. The Chinese army moves across the Yalu towards the American forces and manages to encircle the Americans upon the various hills of the Korean landscape.

In November, the below-zero temperatures and constant snow limit the American forces’ ability to defend their positions against constant attacks by a Chinese army far exceeding their numbers. The allies are commanded by General Douglas MacArthur, stationed in Tokyo. General Oliver Smith commands the 1st Marine Division. Faced with extreme cold and overwhelming odds, the Marines must battle the elements along with an enemy that attacks only at night.

This well-written, entertaining, and well-researched docudrama portrays the Korean War in its first critical year, when the massive Chinese army attempted to stop the advance of Allied forces. The author is known for his Civil War novels, but he has also written about WWI and WWII. He takes a handful of American servicemen and tells the story about their plight, and also writes from the viewpoint of a Chinese general. The battle sequences are both exciting and horrifying as the troops try to survive not only the raging battles, but also the extreme cold, where frostbite becomes another enemy. This is an ambitious undertaking, and the author manages to carry it off.