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About Second Front, Book 24 in the Kirov Series

Every 60 days a special morning comes along—coffee time with Kirov! We get a new installment in the long running series, a full 300+ page novel for the price of a cup of coffee. I treat myself to both that day, settling in at my favorite café with a good brew and my kindle. It’s back to Karpov, Fedorov and all the rest, a much anticipated ritual that has become as addictive as the bean for me.  This time, the Season 3 finale is here, and it starts with a bang, right where we were left at the end of Steel Reign.

The officers and crew of DDG Takami have crept into the tiger’s den, attempting to steal up on Kirov and catch the ship by surprise. Out in front is Admiral Kurita with a pair of fast new Japanese battleships, followed by Takami with her small inventory of SSMs, and probably one good shot at getting that all important first hit on the Siberians. In the air, the Japanese have both land based and carrier based planes, and Captain Harada is attempting to coordinate the whole affair by sending high speed encrypted signals to a modern day radio set and a liaison officer off Takami, who is presently assigned to Kurita’s flagship. From there, the Japanese send WWII era signals to their other ships and planes to try and coordinate the attack.

It’s a clever ploy, but that two step communications link becomes its unraveling, for Captain Harada and his band of modern day warriors have not yet taken the full measure of their enemy. The veteran crew aboard Kirov is composed of some of the best officers in the Russian navy, who competed to earn the positions they now hold, even to the level of something seemingly innocuous like the communications station. It is there that Lieutenant Issak Nikolin begins to unravel the enemy plan, detecting an errant thread in the web of signals he constantly monitors, and determining that it simply cannot have been generated by technology of the WWII era.

Fedorov is on the bridge, and he decides to send a helicopter south to look over the approaching enemy contacts and learn more. So it is that Karpov, Kirov and crew are not entirely caught by surprise as Harada planned. They are alert, with assets up to ascertain what might be coming at them, and Karpov arrives on the bridge right in the middle of this, seeing what he thinks is another attack from his WWII adversaries. He promises that they will reap the whirlwind, the handle on this final three part segment of the last book, and now, here it comes.

The opening two parts of the season finale take us right back to that action, a full six chapters where the two ships are locked in some intense naval combat, like Achilles and Hector. Along the way the difference between a typical WWII surface engagement and the way modern navies now fight is starkly defined. The two modern day warriors may as well be aircraft carriers, their missiles deadly kamikaze planes and fighters dueling with one another, and here we get the blow by blow action, missile by missile, until a decision is finally reached. I’m told this action was simulated several different ways by the author, including six complete run-throughs in a scenario he created using today’s latest and greatest simulation software, Command Modern Naval/Air Operations, the successor to the old Larry Bond Harpoon naval game series. Using that, his own methods, and the imperative of his story line governing all, here is the result of that battle.

Yet this great opening is only a portion of the action offered in this volume. For naval fans, there are another six chapters of knockdown drag out combat when the British tee up a fateful relief and supply convoy bound for Murmansk. History buffs out there will know it by its name—PQ-17. If its fate were not enough as it stands in the original history, this time the Germans go after it with a powerful battlegroup centered on the Tirpitz, but they throw in Scharnhorst, the two pocket raiders Lutzow and Admiral Scheer, new fast heavy cruisers Rhineland, Westfalen and the old Admiral Hipper, along with the brother ship of Graf Zeppelin, Germany’s second fleet aircraft carrier, the Peter Strasser. All that, with the  land based planes and U-boats, give the British and American covering forces fits. It’s all here.

That action concludes near the mid-point of the novel, and we also get a few parts in that first half that are aimed at setting up things to come in the third season. I’ll leave those for you to discover, but there is both intrigue and more action afoot. Then, in the second half of the book, that Second Front in the war in the west finally opens. Fedorov once thought the Allies couldn’t launch an operation like the  Torch plan that seized Casablanca, Oran and Algiers in a stunning blow to topple Vichy French North Africa in one week. Guess again, Mister Fedorov. The Americans and British take their Operation Gymnast, and adapt it to the altered history we’ve been delighting to since Kirov first appeared in June of 1940 in the Season 2 opener, Altered States. Behind it all is the mystery of the those mysterious keys, one of which is linked to St. Michael’s Cave under the Rock of Gibraltar.

Quite understandably, the British want their old naval bastion back. Taking Gibraltar is an absolute pre-requisite if they are ever to fight their way into the Mediterranean Sea again, and that is the final objective of this new version of Operation Torch. Enter Dwight D. Eisenhower and George Patton as the Americans take their entire order of battle for Torch, and plan to throw it all at the coast of Morocco to take Casablanca before driving north to Tangier. Meanwhile, all the British forces, with considerable reinforcements, land at Lisbon when Portugal joins the Allies, and the man picked to lead them is none other than Sir Bernard Law Montgomery.  Now those two “gentlemen,” Patton and Monty, are in a race to see who gets to Gibraltar first. But they will not simply be fighting the Vichy French and Franco’s Spanish Army. Kesselring is joined by Kurt Student, Nehring and von Arnim as the Germans pull together everything they can muster to oppose this bold attack, and so the Second Front opens here, as it already has in the Pacific with Karpov’s operations, and its plans and battles spin out over the next twelve full chapters.

Then we come to the finale, where Fedorov believes he sees yet another impossible paradox on the near horizon, and one that requires an immediate decision and dangerous action to forestall. Without spoiling anything, I can say it involves the fate of Karpov, both of them, as much as anything else, and the fate of Sergei Kirov. And where else might that be decided other than the sleepy little hamlet at the center of all these time travel mysteries, Ilanskiy. It’s Zeppelin time again, another operation that has dramatic and earth shaking consequences is deeply considered as Fedorov and Karpov try to hammer out what might happen. But this fragile alliance is stressed to the max when things finally get underway. What a way to end this season, where this entire alternate history is again on the chopping block of time.

Yes, it’s that dramatic. They’ve cooked up a real war winner at Ilanskiy this time, yet its resolution resides in the unique conflict that has been at the heart of the novel from the very first, the long spun tension between men like Karpov, Fedorov, and Orlov.  In this finale, we get an echo of both the Season 1 finale, Armageddon, and the Season 2 finale, Paradox Hour. What this will all give rise to in the opener of Season 4 is anyone’s guess now, but here we go. As the book concludes, we finally learn the fate of Pavel Kamenski, that mysterious figure who rose through the ranks of the old KGB to take Anton Fedorov under his wing. And another missing story element is also back in play when we learn just what happened to Gromyko and Kazan after they let that nuclear tipped torpedo fly way back in the Season 2 Finale, Paradox Hour. He’s back, and with a new and very disturbing mission handed to him by Kamenski.

This excellent story hears the echo of its own footfalls in the long hallway as it continues. And yet, it remains consistently fresh, skillfully plotted, rich with the history, at times a teacher, at others an intense ride through well styled prose that never disappoints, and with characters that continue to grow and evolve while remaining true to their roots from book 1. It’s coffee time again! Season four?

I’ll be there—with bells on!



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Kirov Saga:
Second Front

John Schettler

Part I – Tiger by the Tail
Part II – Achilles & Hector
Part III – Fafnir
Part IV – PQ-17
Part V – North Cape
Part VI – Page 117
Part VII – Charlemagne’s Ghost
Part VIII – Lighting the Torch
Part IX – Firebrand
Part X – Amok Time
Part XI – Second Thoughts
Part XII – The Wolf


36 Chapters - 320 pages

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