The German forces were bogged down by the Russian winter, the Russian victory at Stalingrad and then the subsequent spring rain and mud. In the summer of 1943 the Germans had amassed a massive force to attack Russia and regain lost ground. This could lead to the biggest tank battle in history and also lends a dynamic backdrop to this publication.
There are 4 main characters that drive this story. He was wounded in the Battle of Leningrad and is but a shell of his former greatness. The next 3 are from the exact Russian Cossack family. Dimitri Berko, a private driving the T-34 from the Soviet 3rd Mechanized Division. He is commanded by Sergeant Valentin Berko, Dimitri’s son, and Katya Berkovna, Dimitri’s daughter, a night bomber with the famed all-female bomber squadrons of the Red Air Force, so-called the Night Witches by the Germans that they bomb. The 3 primary story lines follow de Vega being assigned to escort the new super panzer of the German Army, the Tiger 1 Panzerkampfwagen VI, through train to the front and assure that the Tigers are delivered intact. He then begins itching for action to command one of the Tiger tanks at the Battle of Kursk. He soon realizes how the Tiger is most successful in battle. With Demitri and boy Valentin in precisely the same T-34 there’s much of the father/son tension along with the tank battles that ensue. The author keeps all entities separate into what seems like 3 different stories revolving around the build up to the tank battle at Kursk. Each character has there own well detailed back stories which are fleshed out through memories, flashbacks and boastful story telling during the lulls in fighting.
The best aspect of this book is the historical accuracy and detail of the Tiger tank and the Battle of Kursk. This book was very close to being non-fiction in the level of detail, but also very engrossing character growth. He’d spent 3 weeks on the battlefields of Kursk in the middle of summer getting a feel for the warmth and sun of the Russian steppes. He also trained in how to derail a train with explosives as the Partisan Russian fighters tried in stopping the shipment of the Tiger tanks in the story. Time was also spent in pouring over video reports from German and Russian tankers’ first hand combat accounts. “Hands on” gear training was given to him ranging from small arms into the tanks in the Aberdeen Ordinance Museum in Maryland and then being driven around in a restored T-34 in Virginia. David L Robbins certainly did his homework for this book and you will feel it when you read it. This is a must read for any Tiger 1 fan and any WW2 fan generally.