The German forces were bogged down by the Russian winter, the Russian victory at Stalingrad and then the following spring rain and mud. In the summer of 1943 the Germans had amassed a huge force to attack Russia and regain lost ground. This would lead to the largest tank battle in history and also lends a dynamic background to this book.
There are 4 major characters that drive this story. The first is a Spanish officer Captain Luis Ruiz de Vega serving with the SS Liebstandarte Panzer Division. The next 3 are all from the same Russian Cossack family. Dimitri Berko, a personal driving the T-34 in the Soviet 3rd Mechanized Division. He is controlled by Sergeant Valentin Berko, Dimitri’s son, and Katya Berkovna, Dimitri’s daughter, a night bomber with the famous all-female bomber squadrons of the Red Air Force, so-called the Night Witches from the Germans that they bomb. The 3 primary story lines follow 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 starts 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 son Valentin in precisely the same T-34 there is much of the father/son tension together with the tank battles that ensue. The author keeps all things separate into what sounds 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 the book is that the historical accuracy and detail of the Tiger tank and the Battle of Kursk. This book was very near being non-fiction in the degree of detail, but also very engrossing character development. After studying about the amount of research that was conducted by David L Robbins, I knew then just how realistic this book was. He had spent weeks on the battlefields of Kursk in the middle of summer getting a feel for the heat and sun of the Russian steppes. He also trained in how to derail a train with explosives as the Partisan Russian fighters attempted in stopping the shipment of the Tiger tanks in the narrative. Time was also spent in pouring over video reports from Russian and German tankers’ first hand combat accounts. “Hands on” equipment training was given to him ranging from small arms into the tanks in the Aberdeen Ordinance Museum in Maryland and then being pushed around in a restored T-34 in Virginia. David L Robbins certainly did his homework for this book and you’ll feel it when you read it. This is a must read for any Tiger 1 fan and any WW2 fan generally.