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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The master of military historical fiction turns his discerning eye to the Korean War in this riveting novel, which tells the dramatic story of the Americans and the Chinese who squared off in one of the deadliest campaigns in the annals of combat: the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, also known as Frozen Chosin.
June 1950. The North Korean army invades South Korea, intent on uniting the country under Communist rule. In response, the United States mobilizes a force to defend the overmatched South Korean troops, and together they drive the North Koreans back to their border with China.
But several hundred thousand Chinese troops have entered Korea, laying massive traps for the Allies. In November 1950, the Chinese spring those traps. Allied forces, already battling stunningly cold weather, find themselves caught completely off guard as the Chinese advance around the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. A force that once stood on the precipice of victory now finds itself on the brink of annihilation. Assured by General Douglas MacArthur that they would be home by Christmas, the soldiers and Marines fight for their lives against the most brutal weather conditions imaginable—and an enemy that outnumbers them more than six to one.
The Frozen Hours tells the story of Frozen Chosin from multiple points of view: Oliver P. Smith, the commanding general of the American 1st Marine Division, who famously redefined retreat as “advancing in a different direction”; Marine Private Pete Riley, a World War II veteran who now faces the greatest fight of his life; and the Chinese commander Sung Shi-Lun, charged with destroying the Americans he has so completely surrounded, ever aware that above him, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung watches his every move.
Written with the propulsive force Jeff Shaara brings to all his novels of combat and courage, The Frozen Hours transports us to the critical moment in the history of America’s “Forgotten War,” when the fate of the Korean peninsula lay in the hands of a brave band of brothers battling both the elements and a determined, implacable foe.
“A military story as dramatic and heroic as any that exists.”—The American Interest
“The Frozen Hours . . . illustrates again Shaara’s mastery. . . . This is fiction and history at their blended best.”—Marine Corps Gazette
“Marvelously effective storytelling . . . that shows us what warfare feels like both to those who plan campaigns and those who execute them . . . gripping, precisely detailed historical fiction.”—Booklist (starred review)
Under the Cover
An excerpt from The Frozen Hours
East of Inchon, South Korea—September 17, 1950
“Where’s Puller? I want to see him, see what’s going on. He’ll be in the thick of it.”
MacArthur seemed to speak to all of them, but Smith had to respond.
“His men went in at Blue Beach, sir. He’ll be at his new command post there, certainly.” He glanced to one side, saw Ned Almond hanging on MacArthur’s words like a sparrow on a telephone wire, a hint of anger toward Smith. Smith tried to avoid Almond’s glare, turned to MacArthur again. “The jeeps are waiting. On your command, sir.”
“Well, let’s go. We delay any longer, this thing might be over before we get to see it.”
The aides behind MacArthur laughed, his ever-present audience, Almond laughing the loudest. Smith moved to the door of the crude hut, held out one hand.
“This way, sir.”
Smith backed away from the opening, allowed MacArthur the lead, a tradition Smith had learned from their first meeting in Tokyo, a month before. He kept back, allowed the other staff officers to go as well, Almond first, the man ignoring Smith as much as he could. Smith shook his head, then stopped, clamped down any reaction at all, wouldn’t show any of them a response. The aides flowed past, the room emptying quickly. He glanced at Craig.
General Edward Craig was, by title, the assistant commander of the Marine division, and so Smith’s second in command, a combat veteran whom Smith respected enormously.
Craig said nothing, and Smith glanced at the simple accommodations Craig had established, Smith’s folding cot in one corner, the field desk where Craig had spread the all-important maps. Smith reached for his helmet, said, “I suppose I’m off on a field trip, General. Mac wants to see the action. He’s asking for the right man.”
Craig nodded, a quick smile. “Not sure why General MacArthur seems drawn to Colonel Puller.”
Smith shrugged. “He likes fighters. They go back to the last war. Lewie had a few choice comments about Mac, but Mac doesn’t seem to mind. Or he doesn’t listen to anything a Marine has to say.”
“Or he’s going to arrest him. Just on general principles.”
Smith looked down.
“Then you can have his job.” It was a joke, but neither man was laughing. “Got to go, Eddie. Can’t keep the man waiting.”
He moved outside, saw the others loading up into the jeeps, four vehicles summoned for the journey. There was space remaining in one, directly behind MacArthur, who sat beside a Marine driver who could not avoid a wide-eyed sideways stare. Smith climbed up, wedged his long legs in tightly, looked at the others around them, Almond in one front seat, the others filled now with staff officers and the reporters who had come along with MacArthur. Smith knew the routine, MacArthur handpicking his favorites for the privilege of accompanying the commanding general to the front lines of his great triumph. The Marine drivers all seemed transfixed by MacArthur, but it was Smith who gave the order, a quick wave of his hand.
The jeeps rolled into single file, Smith shifting his weight, trying to maneuver his legs into some kind of comfortable position. MacArthur turned slightly, said, “Puller, right?”
“Yes, sir. As I said, we’re headed to Blue Beach, Colonel Puller’s forward command post. He’ll be there, certainly.”
MacArthur nodded, seemed satisfied, stared forward, the jeep lurching past scattered shell craters, the remnants of the navy’s bombardment. Smith couldn’t avoid the questions in his mind, sliding between the stabs of discomfort in his legs. Was this all it took? The big guns from the ships unload on them, and the North Koreans just . . . take off? It’s never that easy. No, surely they’re still out there. Not sure how many. Puller will know more about that. But we’re in range of just about any kind of artillery right here, and maybe mortars, too. MacArthur must know that, of course. But if I told him that, offered him caution, he’d just order the driver to go faster, closer. Well, it’s his show.
They passed ambulances, other trucks small and large, artillery moving into position. Smith kept his eyes on a long ridgeline in front of them, thick smoke in bursts, spreading out with a light breeze. The thumps from distant artillery came in a steady rumble, the impacts on the ridge mostly from enemy mortars. Smith studied the hill carefully, men in motion, his men, but there was little else to see, the smoke spreading in a wide thin blanket. Up ahead, he saw officers gathering near the road, pointing toward the jeeps. Smith held his hand up, instinct, a message to the driver behind him. He reached a hand out to his own driver, tapped him on the shoulder.
“Pull over here.”
The young man eased the jeep to the side of the road, the officers approaching, a pair of cautious MPs among them. They seemed baffled by the strange convoy, but there was recognition, eyes wide, more men emerging from wrecked huts, all of them coming closer. MacArthur seemed to absorb that, gave the men time to assemble. MacArthur glanced toward a reporter’s upraised camera, rose slowly, stood high in the jeep, leaned heavily on the windshield, made a slow wave to the gathering Marines. Smith kept his place, knew to wait for MacArthur to leave the jeep. Finally, MacArthur stepped off, and Smith was surprised to see him stumble slightly, a hint of unsteadiness. An aide was beside MacArthur quickly, seemed prepared, but MacArthur held him away with his hand. The man backed off, MacArthur fully in control now, hands on his hips, the ever-present pipe in his mouth. He seemed to pose for a long minute, the camera clicking away. Smith jumped down, no reporter aiming any camera at him. He stumbled himself, a nagging pain in his knees, held himself against the jeep. One of the men moved closer, a captain Smith recognized, Puller’s aide. MacArthur said, “Where’s Puller?”
The captain looked briefly at Smith, then pointed behind him. “Up on that ridge, sir. There’s a good many of the enemy . . .”
MacArthur said, “Then let’s get up that ridge.” He turned to Smith. “I thought this was his command post.”
“It is, sir.” Smith looked again at the smoke, a new round of shelling peppering the crest. “I might suggest waiting for Colonel Puller to return.”
MacArthur was already stepping out onto the road, moving toward the ridge. The others fell into line quickly, MacArthur leading the parade at a brisk walk, Smith catching up, keeping the pace. He watched MacArthur carefully, could feel the pace slowing, MacArthur not hiding the weariness in his legs. The ridge was steep and dusty, the smoke drifting past, and MacArthur slowed even more, a hint of a struggle. Smith watched as Almond moved past in a rush, taking his place beside his commanding general.
The road narrowed, more shell craters on all sides, rocks strewn about, the wreckage of a jeep partially blocking the way. Smith looked into the jeep as they passed, nothing but charred metal, and he thought of protesting again, but MacArthur stared ahead, slow, plodding pace, saying nothing. Smith glanced back, the line of reporters and aides strung out down the hill, men with pads of paper, more cameras. He knew he couldn’t allow this ridiculous parade to just wander out onto the open crest of an exposed hill. The incoming mortar fire came again, down to one side, and Smith said, “Sir, we should stop here. Colonel Puller is certainly close by.”
MacArthur took one more slow step, then halted, seemed to fight for air, Almond beside him, pretending not to notice. MacArthur straightened, eyed the crest of the hill just ahead, said, “I want Puller. Find him.”
Smith glanced around, saw Marines working mortars of their own, a heavy machine gun dug into a cluster of rocks, one man with field glasses pointing the way, the gunner firing a long burst. More men seemed to emerge from the rugged ground, all of them recognizing MacArthur. Smith felt the need to grab the man and pull him back down the hill, the thought in his brain: This is no place for you.
And then, the booming voice of Chesty Puller. “What in blazes we got here? Oh, for the love of Gertrude. They told me it was you coming up here. You’re the only man who’d lead a damn caravan to the front lines.” The salute came now, hard and crisp, Puller’s chest puffed out even farther than usual. “General MacArthur, it is my honor. Welcome, sir.” He looked past Almond at Smith now, a hard scowl giving way to the hint of a smile. “You too, sir.”
Smith needed nothing further from Puller, knew there would rarely be formalities between them. He knew that MacArthur had an odd affection for Puller, despite the fact that Puller seemed to bristle at nearly every order MacArthur had ever given him. The thought rolled into Smith’s head. Nobody but Lewie would talk to Mac like that and expect to keep his command. Puller knows something we don’t. Or, Mac thinks he does.
Smith had known Lewis Puller since their early days at Fort Benning, through several campaigns in the Pacific. The two men were complete opposites in appearance, Puller barely five six, with a thick barrel chest that rode precariously upon two birdlike legs. Smith towered over him, a lean frame standing better than six feet. Their temperament seemed radically opposite as well, Puller a profane and caustic man. But Smith had seen the softer side of Puller, knew him to be a man of enormous heart, and if Puller’s first instinct was to jam his Marines into anyplace hot, it wasn’t because he was careless with their lives. Puller had absolute confidence that his Marines could do anything he asked of them, and do it well. If men died, well, it’s war. That’s what men did. But Smith knew that Puller never glossed over his casualties, even if the newspapers portrayed him as the hardhearted and sometimes hardheaded warrior. Smith knew another side of Puller almost no one ever saw, what few newspapermen would find worth writing about. Chesty Puller was extremely well-read, a man who took education seriously. Smith knew they were far more alike than people assumed. No matter Puller’s flaws or rough edges, Smith truly liked the man. And clearly, MacArthur did, too.
MacArthur scanned the area, then said, “We thought we’d find you at your command post, Colonel.”
Puller stabbed a pipe into his teeth. “This is my command post, General. There’s a hell of a scrap down that hill.”
MacArthur studied the distant ridges, smoke billowing up nearby, more incoming mortar fire. Smith closed his eyes, shook his head, saw Puller watching him. You know what I’m thinking, Lewie. This is insanity.
MacArthur said, “Colonel, your regiment is splendid. First-rate. I am gratified to present you with a Silver Star.” MacArthur seemed to rummage through his pockets, then shrugged. “Don’t seem to have one handy. Well, my staff will make note of it. So, where’s the enemy?”
Puller pointed behind, back to the next ridge. “The sons of bitches are right over there, General. There’s no doubt some North Korean officer is up there pointing to all these sons of bitches right here.”
Smith flinched, but MacArthur didn’t react. His aides came closer, binoculars put into MacArthur’s hands. He raised them, scanned for a moment, said, “Seoul is how far?”
Puller said, “Four miles, maybe more.”
“How long before you get there?”
“Three or four days.”
MacArthur lowered the glasses, glanced back at Smith. “I thought we were pushing them more quickly. We should be inside the city now.”
Smith had no answer, knew the timetable had been bested already, wasn’t sure why MacArthur or anyone else would complain. Puller said, “Sir, there’s a good bunch of those other fellows out there. We pushed ’em back to these ridges, and figured they’d keep going, blow outta here pretty quick. But they’ve reinforced. Seems like they intend to make a fight out of this. But we’ll get there, sir.”
MacArthur handed the binoculars to an aide. “I wish they’d come on up here and give us a fight. We’d clean them out pronto. I want that city by the twenty-fifth. You understand that, Colonel?”
Puller took a deep breath, looked at Smith. “We’ll do our best, sir.”
MacArthur stared out again, his hands planted firmly on his hips. The smoke rose from a new round of incoming fire, the artillery behind them responding, sharp whistles passing overhead.
“Magnificent. You Marines have done the job. I told them back on the ship, the admiral, the reporters. The Marines and navy have never shown more brightly. They’ll quote me on that. The world will know. I want a Presidential Unit Citation for these boys.” He turned, looked past Smith to the reporters, who had kept their distance. “You hear that? Write it down.” MacArthur looked again at Puller, kept his hands on his hips, and Smith could feel MacArthur’s pride, the raw satisfaction. To one side, a mortar blast drove the reporters back, a nervous flock of birds, the Marines around them ducking low as well. Another blast came now, farther away, then more, patterned along the crest of the ridge. Smith kept his position, close behind MacArthur, Almond glancing nervously at Smith. He felt the words coming in his head, wouldn’t say anything out loud. These are the front lines, General Almond. Get used to it.
Puller stared out through binoculars of his own, called now for a radioman. He turned to MacArthur, said, “Excuse me, General, but I’ve got some things that require my attention. You want us in Seoul, we need to clean things up out here first.” Smith knew Puller’s mood, that it was time to go to work. Parades could come later.
After a long moment, MacArthur said, “Excellent job, Colonel. Truly well done.” He turned, Almond following in step, both men moving past Smith. But MacArthur stopped, looked again at Puller. “No more delays, Colonel. I want Seoul in hand on the twenty-fifth.”
Jeff Shaara is the New York Times bestselling author of The Fateful Lightning,The Smoke at Dawn,A Chain of Thunder,A Blaze of Glory,The Final Storm, No Less Than Victory, The Steel Wave, The Rising Tide, To the Last Man, The Glorious Cause, Rise to Rebellion, and Gone for Soldiers, as well as Gods and Generals and The Last Full Measure—two novels that complete the Civil War trilogy that began with his father’s Pulitzer Prize–winning classic, The Killer Angels. Shaara was born into a family of Italian immigrants in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He grew up in Tallahassee, Florida, and graduated from Florida State University. He lives in Gettysburg.