The series moves to finally close out 1942 in Thor’s Anvil, and here the title refers to the grueling battle for one of the great cities of the
Soviet Union, Volgograd. No longer named after the man of steel in this history, Josef Stalin, the city is nonetheless the same cauldron of misery that it was when called
“Stalingrad.” Now it becomes the hard anvil that the German legions hammer upon in an attempt to close out their largely successful Summer Offensive of 1942, Operation Blue.
Yet that action doesn’t begin until the midpoint of this book. Before we get there, the author had a good deal of unfinished business to relate
First up, we return to the
Pacific and learn what happened to the Takami after its failed attempt to take on our favorite battlecruiser. That action clearly demonstrated the virtues of each ship, and their potential shortcomings, but Takami is simply outclassed by the mighty Kirov.
It was able to fend off the missiles Karpov threw at it, but did not have the offensive punch to put harm on Kirov either. The resulting stalemate sees Kurita withdraw at the urging of Captain Harada, and Takami slinks off to consider everything that went wrong. Now both Kurita and Harada must make their report to Yamamoto, who is reorganizing the Japanese fleet around his diminishing carrier divisions, and planning the next offensive moves in the South Pacific
The Indian Ocean adventure was passed over by Yamamoto after the startling eruption of Krakatoa brought us this Takami twist. This now becomes the focus of Harada’s new assignment. They join Admiral Hara’ 3rd Carrier Division, receiving Japan’s latest new fleet carrier, the Taiho,
built early in this history, with a better armored deck. Forming the nucleus of “Carrier Division 3,” Hara departs Singapore for a belated offensive into the Indian Ocean
aimed at Ceylon.
Though he is bringing far less in the way of combat power than Nagumo had when he made his raid in the real history, Hara’s campaign has a far more aggressive
intent. The Japanese actually plan landings on Ceylon, the threat that kept Churchill up nights at the thought of losing that valuable outpost. The author clearly explains why Ceylon was
so valuable, and what damage its loss might inflict upon the Allied cause. Then it is off to the naval action as Hara confronts the British fleet of three carriers and three battleships
with supporting cruisers and destroyers led by Admiral Somerville. This entire segment spans the first three parts of the book, nine chapters for the Pacific War naval enthusiasts among
the readership out there.
The next unfinished business to be covered takes us back to the moment when Fedorov has finally arrived at Ilanskiy in 1908, getting there in a way he
never expected, and literally burning his bridges behind him when he orders the destruction of the Irkutsk. In what is one of the more gripping exchanges of the entire series, Fedorov
sits down for a talk with young Sergei Kirov, then calling himself Mironov. They meet in the same dining room where Mironov was first introduced, (Book 5, 9 Days Falling, Part IV The
Martyr), and this is just a day later from his perspective, as Fedorov arrives on July 1st, the day after the Tunguska event. This is a six chapter segment, absolutely riveting as the two
men meet, and Fedorov holds a pistol in his hand unseen beneath the table. I can say no more about its outcome, but the combination of superb dialogue and moving narrative that the author
is capable of is in fine form here. Read!
By the time we know the outcome of Fedorov’s mission, the author then drops in a 3-chapter segment entitled “Allies” to
catch us up on what has happened in North Africa. Then Fedorov, his mission concluded, makes the journey up those stairs to try and get back to 1942, but not without an unexpected mishap
along the way.
That’s the first half, and it is all very engaging. Then we move to the snowy east front again in Part VII, Fire on the Volga. That fire will burn for the next
18 chapters, through Red October of 1942, and into the city as the terrible fight for Volgograd begins. There are some major changes to the lineup of forces here, and Manstein makes a lot
of substitutions. He really doesn’t want Steiner’s SS Korps there, and is moving heaven and earth to rebalance the front.
Hitler, who is obviously quite upset
when Zhukov launches his winter counteroffensive, becomes the same intransigent and near psychotic obstacle he was in the real history, and the German Generals struggle with some very
difficult situations served up in a new Soviet operation, this time dubbed “Operation Jupiter.” It all takes us to through Christmas to the very eve of 1943, and leaders
on both sides hold quiet celebrations and think about what may yet lie ahead in this war.
The next volume, described in the ending blurb, now takes us into 1943, the year when the
Allies will struggle to reach parity with their Axis of foes, and begin taking the fight to the enemy with increasing offensive fervor. In the real history, that year sees some very
significant action. In the West we will get the alternate history of what was the Tunisian Campaign from January to May of 1943, only this time the German defense is far more robust.
Rommel is rejuvenated, and the great deus ex machina that was Kinlan’s Heavy Brigade has made a fiery exit from the story, so he can now fight on more or less even terms again. Look for a lot of action on both those fronts in the books ahead.
Then the east front must finish up the winter of early ’43, and the German plans and moves for another big offensive. In the real history, that action was focused on the titanic collision at Kursk, which is foreshadowed in the action here in Thor’s Anvil. Whether we get a battle like that remains to be seen. In this book, the author has laid the groundwork in this novel for what might become the big event of the year, the German belated drive on Leningrad. In the meantime, new ships are building on either side, including some interesting “what if” type construction that may soon take us to a carrier duel in the Atlantic between the Royal Navy and Kriegsmarine. It is moments like these, presented all through the series, that the loyal readers live for, and the saga has given us more than a few unexpected plot twists, at once consistent while remaining fresh and engaging in every book. Undoubtedly there will be many more to come, because the thickest years of the war remain dead ahead.
One thing more...
There is a real shocker at the very end of this one. Don't peek, or you'll spoil the fun, another nice little mystery, though the author has been laying a breadcrumb trail to this development for some time.
Thor’s Anvil, Book 26 in the Kirov Series on or before Sept 1, 2016
More info here in the Author Interview