In this viscerally exciting account, a paratrooper-turned-historian reveals the details of World War II’s largest airborne operation—one that dropped 17,000 Allied paratroopers deep into the heart of Nazi Germany.
On the morning of March 24, 1945, more than two thousand Allied aircraft droned through a cloudless sky toward Germany. Escorted by swarms of darting fighters, the armada of transport planes carried 17,000 troops to be dropped, via parachute and glider, on the far banks of the Rhine River. Four hours later, after what was the war’s largest airdrop, all major objectives had been seized. The invasion smashed Germany’s last line of defense and gutted Hitler’s war machine; the war in Europe ended less than two months later.
Four Hours of Fury follows the 17th Airborne Division as they prepare for Operation Varsity, a campaign that would rival Normandy in scale and become one of the most successful and important of the war. Even as the Third Reich began to implode, it was vital for Allied troops to have direct access into Germany to guarantee victory—the 17th Airborne secured that bridgehead over the River Rhine. And yet their story has until now been relegated to history’s footnotes.
Reminiscent of A Bridge Too Far and Masters of the Air, Four Hours of Fury does for the 17th Airborne what Band of Brothers did for the 101st. It is a captivating, action-packed tale of heroism and triumph spotlighting one of World War II’s most under-chronicled and dangerous operations.
Four Hours of Fury CHAPTER 1 “WHERE IN THE HELL IS EVERYBODY AT?” Northern France. Sunday, Christmas Eve, 1944. Three months before they dropped into Germany, the troopers of the 17th Airborne entered combat for the first time in a manner entirely different from how they’d been trained. Without much warning, they’d been rushed to the front to set up blocking positions along the Meuse River on Christmas Eve 1944. Platoons of paratroopers, not fully aware of what was going on, found themselves digging foxholes in the Meuse-Argonne Cemetery, the final resting place for thousands of Americans killed in the previous world war. The men dug in and waited for orders, each contemplating the odds of becoming a permanent European resident himself. They were as ready as they could be, but like all unseasoned troops, most had no idea what they were about to endure.
Lynn Aas’ platoon stopped to dig their defensive positions in a field littered with frozen American and German corpses. The cold, dead faces of the enemy reminded the twenty-three-year-old rifleman of his German and Ukrainian neighbors back in North Dakota. As he stood there in the snow, a nagging unease took hold of him . . . he had no desire to kill these people.
But knowing the task ahead required resolve, he walked over to one of the bodies and forced himself to stare. In life, the young German had been tall and handsome. Feeling the need to build up his hate, Aas kicked the corpse. This is war, he thought. He is my enemy; I need to prove to myself that I can destroy him. In the coming days almost all of his fellow troopers would get an opportunity to ignite their hate too.
On December 16, Hitler had launched a massive surprise assault to recapture Antwerp, Belgium, and divide British and American forces. The desperate gamble, what would later be referred to as the Battle of the Bulge, caught senior Allied commanders flat-footed, and they scrambled to repulse the enemy’s advance as Wehrmacht troops streamed out of the dense Ardennes Forest, decimating green American troops all along the front. Chased by panzer tanks, entire battalions fled from their positions while Allied commanders desperately tried to stem the retreat. Chaos reigned for several days, and accurate information was in high demand but short supply; defenses appeared to be crumbling all along the front.
James Fenelon served in the military for over a decade and is a graduate of the US Army’s Airborne, Jumpmaster and Pathfinder schools. He is a regular contributor to World War II magazine and has been previously published in FlyPast, Britain’s largest selling aviation magazine. His knowledge of military history also makes him a sought after technical advisor for video games, screenplays, and documentary creation. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, he and his wife live in Texas. Four Hours of Fury is his first book.
“Gripping and well-written… Fenelon provides both the American and German perspectives of the fight, deftly weaving operational history with vivid personal accounts of the paratroopers who so bravely floated down to earth, where the hell of war greeted them.” —Robert M. Edsel, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Monuments Men
“Exceptional…[Fenelon] examines all of the battle’s various aspects: from Allied and German high command strategy conferences, to the logistics of dropping tens of thousands of soldiers behind enemy lines, to the experiences of the paratroopers and glider soldiers in the air and on the ground…. An extraordinary story well told.” —Peter R. Mansoor, author of The GI Offensive in Europe: The Triumph of American Infantry Divisions, 1941-1945
“Deeply impactful… As you experience this four-hour descent into chaos, you’ll feel like your own boots are hitting the ground.” —A.J. Baime, New York Times bestselling author of The Accidental President: Harry S. Truman and the Four Months That Changed the World
“Depicts as few books ever have the complex levels of planning that are a precursor to a major invasion…Above all, [it] showcases the speed, noise, and permanence of horrifying, front-line combat.” —Robert O’Neill, former SEAL Team operator and New York Times bestselling author of The Operator
“Compellingly chronicles one of the least studied great episodes of World War II with power and authority….A riveting read.” —Donald L. Miller, author of Masters of the Air: America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany
"Fenelon has fashioned a mirror of hell… Four Hours of Fury helps us see deeply into this little known but critical fight to the death.” —Winston Groom, New York Times bestselling author of Forrest Gump, The Aviators, and The Generals
"Epic… Four Hours of Fury is a fine tribute to the gallantry of the men and women who, against overwhelming odds, vanquished a great evil.” —Craig Nelson, New York Times bestselling author of Pearl Harbor, Rocket Men, and The First Heroes
“Diving into Four Hours of Fury is like opening the jump door on a C-46 transport high over Germany in March of 1945…. The book is a gripping reminder that the crash of war is at its most deafening before the end.” —Adam Makos, author of Spearhead: An American Tank Gunner, His Enemy, and a Collision of Lives in World War II
“A brilliant tribute to the last great parachute assault, and the men who invaded Hitler’s empire from the air.” —Jonathan W. Jordan, New York Times bestselling author of Brothers Rivals Victors
“A riveting chronicle of personal courage, overwhelming logistics, and inevitable mayhem that is as authentic as it gets.” —Walter R. Borneman, author of Brothers Down: Pearl Harbor and the Fate of the Many Brothers Aboard the USS Arizona
“[James Fenelon] does an excellent job in interweaving personal histories and recollections with unit histories and after-action reports to give a good sense of the heavy fighting that occurred around the drop and landing zones.” —New York Journal of Books