Lightning in the Night

1940 novel of Nazi invasion, Pearl Harbor, and atomic bomb

By William Wetherall

First posted 18 July 2008
Last updated 4 June 2010


Fred Allhoff
Lightning in the Night
Englewood Cliffs (NJ): Prentice-Hall, 1979
198 pages, hardcover

This story -- which imagines a Nazi invasion of America in which the United States accepts peace to avoid atomic destruction -- was serialized in Liberty, a weekly magazine produced by Macfadden Publications, New York, from 24 August to 16 November 1940. The story, thus published in 13 installments, comes out as a Prologue and twelve chapters. The prologue, by "Edward Hope", propels the reader into the future with fictional newspaper clippings and radio broadcasts which set the stage for the chapters that follow (Terry Miller, Introduction, page 18).

The 1979 Prentice-Hall book edition begins with a valuable overview of the story and its times by Terry Miller called "Introduction: A Basis in Fact" (pages 7-18), and ends with a two-page postscript, also probably by Terry Miller, called "Afterword: The Final Irony" (pages 197-198). Eight chapters are introduced with full-page illustrations from the original magazine installments.


The Contents page does not show the Prologue.

    Introduction: A Basis in Fact, by Terry Miller
 [  Prologue ]
 1. The Prisoner of Corvo
 2. The Enemy Strikes
 3. Hitler Speaks -- and America Answers
 4. The Girl Who Saved the Fleet
 5. The Siege of Seattle
 6. Madness Over Manhattan
 7. The Bombing of New York
 8. The Fall of Baltimore
 9. A Hazardous Enterprise
10. Der Führer Delivers an Ultimatum
12. Conclusion: The Treaty of Cincinnati
    Afterword: The Final Irony

"The Japs and Russians have decided that, for the moment at least, the Pacific is their playground" (page 90, "The Girl Who Saved the Fleet").

"JAPS SMASH HAWAII" (page 100) and "Great waves of Japanese and Russian planes came in relays, to lay their deadly eggs on Bellingham, Everett, Tacoma, Seattle, and on Vancouver and Victoria in British Columbia" (page 102, "The Siege of Seattle").

The "ultimatum" delivered by Der Führer is to accept his terms of surrender within a one-month grace period or face "literal and total annihilation . . . the terrifying destructiveness of U-235 [that] can and will be unleashed" (page 186).

The Germans are a month too late. Within the grace period, the United States has been busy. The president announces that "bombers equipped with specially-installed fuel tanks [are] heading for every great city in Germany" -- and enough U-235 to destroy Germany (pages 191-192).

The news is received with great consternation among members of the Nazi High Command, and in the Kremlin and Tokyo. Hitler is given an ultimatum to accept America's terms of surrender. He shoots himself in the Cincinnati hotel where he and his entourage had been waiting to sign their treaty. The Japanese and Russian governments capitulate within a day of his death. An American bomber had dropped "Just one 500-pound bomb of the new explosive on the deserted Russian steppes" to demonstrate its awesome power. (Pages 192-194)


Jacket blurbs

The blurbs on the front and back flaps of the dust jacket on the 1979 retro publication of Lightning in the Night are written in two voices. The first, a voice contemporary with the time the story was written in 1940, summarizes its plot. The second voice shifts to the time the book was published, nearly four decades later, and three decades after such a plot had become implausible.

Both voices are those of "peril fiction". The first, though, is one of peril as forecast in futurist fiction, while the latter is one of peril as imagined in alternative historical fiction.

Blurbs on dust jacket flaps

Lightning in the Night

In just 20 cataclysmic months, Adolf Hitler had completed his lightninglike subjugation of virtually all of Europe. Now, he intended to reach his destiny in the east by invading America in the West . . .

What if Hitler had invaded America? This startling novel, written before Pearl Harbor, is the provocative answer.

In 1940, the Nazi war machine was ravaging Europe. Most Americans wanted no part of the foreign conflict, but wondered what might happen if we maintained our neutrality. When would Hitler finally be satisfied? Could the Wehrmacht conceivably attack the United States? Veteran journalist Fred Allhoff interviewed military experts of the day, and his informed scenario, serialized in Liberty, sold more copies of that magazine than every before in its publishing history.

[ Parts of blurb omitted. ]

Yet many of Allhoff's prophecies are remarkably accurate, beginning with his forecast that war would actually begin with a Japanese attack on Hawaii! And his surprise conclusion, melodramatic and far-fetched by 1940's standards, today seems almost uncomfortably realistic.

Now collected in book form for the first time, together with the original Liberty illustrations, LIGHTNING IN THE NIGHT is a unique glimpse of the world of 1940 -- and a chillingly authentic account of the world that could have existed in 1945!

The back of the jacket cites the following graphs from the story. The cited passages are from the penultimate chapter, "Der Führer Delivers and Ultimatum" (Chapter 11, pages 183-184).

Citation on back of dust jacket

"On December 24, 1945, Hitler flew the Atlantic in company with von Ribbentrop and Goering, landing at Nazi-occupied Baltimore.

"He had dinner the following day at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. His personal photographer, Hans Hoffman, took pictures of the Führer as he posed on the steps of the now swastika-topped Capitol, at the base of the Washington Monument, and before the brooding statue of Abraham Lincoln. On Christmas night, he sat up sketching new structures of his own design to replace those 'eyesores' in the city that was to remain the seat of government in his New World Reich.

"New Year's Day found him in New York city. The streets had long since been cleaned of rubble and glass and corpses. German troops had thrown a pontoon bridge across the Hudson hear the demolished George Washington bridge, and Adolf Hitler's party rode triumphantly down Riverside Drive.

"He was in fine spirits, eager to see the skyscrapers. The Statue of Liberty he referred to scornfully as 'the gift of a vanished France to a vanishing America. This symbol of a decadent concept shall soon be replaced by a suitably virile monument to German youth. . . .'"