Wow! What a great season as the war in 1943 really heats up. Stormtide Rising took us to Tunisia, Crete and then into Iraq as Guderian drove the British from Baghdad in one of the most detailed battles of the entire series, block by block. Book 30,
Ironfall, is equally busy on many fronts, in the Pacific, the Caucasus, Tunisia, and then with Rommel as he takes his new command in
Syria to launch Operation Eisenfall. Yet that is only half the action here. Right at the mid-point of this volume, events move back to the east front, which is finally warming up
again. With the severe winter imposed by the eruption of Krakatoa, all operations in the east from December through March were literally frozen. Hitler has been using the time to transfer
many units into Syria and Iraq, and to destroy the remaining Soviet units that were trapped in the Caucasus. But all is not well in the east, as we will see in this book. The long
alliance between Volkov and Hitler is slowly beginning to fray at the edges.
But first, the beginning.
The book is literally loaded with battle action this offering, and it all
begins where we left off in the Pacific. The Japanese have been reinforced with the commitment of five new divisions, one being the elite 3rd Infantry Division from China. With these
troops available, General Imamura presses Yamamoto to strike another blow in his ill-fated Operation FS. The target this time is the big Island of Vanua Levu adjacent to the main island
of Viti Levu, which has been contested for many months now. This time the Japanese seek to occupy more terrain in the Fijis, eliminate the American air bases there, and try to swing the
momentum back their way with the infusion of the 3rd Infantry Division.
But first they have to get by one Admiral Bull Halsey.
The attack comes in the midst of
Halsey’s own operations to support the landing on Efate and MacArthur’s troops on New Caledonia. This time Japan empties the cupboard, sending nearly every carrier available
to contest the waters off the Fijis before the planned invasion. It leads us to a dramatic carrier battle that will become known as the “Battle off Yasawa.” Halsey has a
substantial fleet at his command as the newest Essex Class carrier, Bunker Hill, arrives with light carriers Princeton and Independence to fill out his ranks. But in addition to all their ready fleet carriers under King Kong Hara, the Japanese are also sending their Shadow Fleet battle carriers down from Truk under Admiral Nagumo. The resulting battle is bigger than Midway.
We are then returned to Operation Edelweiss,
as Manstein’s forces are mopping up the last of the Soviet armies in the Caucasus. The Kuban and Taman Peninsula have been finally cleared, but who will control all that terrain,
and the vital oil fields of Maykop? Both Hitler and Ivan Volkov have decidedly different ideas about that, and the tension between them continues to ratchet up to a point where big
changes are imminent.
Then, in Tunisia, the Germans are reorganizing after their failure in Operation Sturmflut, and Erwin Rommel has left the scene, chastened, weary and
depressed. But he gets an unexpected warm reception from the Führer, with the promise of another command. While this is going on, Eisenhower also convenes a meeting to see what can be
done to launch a counteroffensive against the Germans in Tunisia, and the south is the most promising location. Operation Hammer is the result, involving a daring airborne drop, and of
course, the galloping energy of George S. Patton.
As this operation concludes, Rommel arrives in Syria after a brief rest in Germany, and begins planning his own offensive, the
battle this book is named for, Operation Eisenfall, “Ironfall.” Receiving units from O’Connor, General Alexander is set to launch his own attack, Operation
Gladiator, in an attempt to drive the Germans from Palmyra. He is upstaged by the Desert Fox, who has found “just another desert” on his left to give him ample means of
outflanking the British with a concerted drive on Damascus. Just as that action comes to a head, we are returned to the situation that developed earlier in the Caucasus, and Volkov
has some hard choices to make.
Meanwhile, with a timetable of their own, the Soviets decide to preempt German operations in the emerging spring and launch a massive attack against
Army Group South, Operation Red Star. This time the target is not Rostov as it was with Zhukov’s planetary offensives Uranus, Saturn and Jupiter the previous year. The
strategy session with Sergei Kirov and Berzin sets the table, as Zhukov sets his sights on Kharkov. An enormous battle develops, which looks like a combination of both the third and
fourth battles for that major city in the real history. The Soviets are fielding newly rebuilt armies after the long winter, and make some surprising inroads, forcing Manstein to pull
reserves from many fronts to try and stem the Red tide.
In the midst of this, we get a marathon meeting between the Führer and General Manstein when Hitler flies to Zaporozhe for a
conference. It completely captures the grueling tussle for control of the battle, as Manstein argues for his own concepts of elastic defense, while Hitler’s stubborn insistence on
stationary defensive tactics threatens to play into the Soviet’s own strategy. The dialog between the two spans over two chapters, a real classic confrontation in the midst of a
growing crisis as the Russian offensive continues. Manstein struggles to win the war of words, but can he then prevail on the field of battle?
All this east front action spans
twelve exciting chapters before we eventually reach a conclusion, and with it, the author covers the Soviet effort to secure Kharkov and cross the Donets, and Manstein’s
counterattack, much akin to his famous “Backhand Blow.” Then we get back to some threads in the plot lines that have been slowly evolving over time.
Brooke finally realize what the Germans threw at them during the Victoria Park Zeppelin raid, Admiral Kita, with Captain Harada and company, finally meet with Admiral Yamamoto to offer
the services of their new carrier task force from 2021. Then our heroes meet aboard Kirov to hash out their own bold plan to checkmate the entire game by taking the campaign to 1908. There are unexpected difficulties in trying to lay those plans, the least of which is a man named Gennadi Orlov…
Enjoy this one! With great battle action on five different fronts, it’s a classic. And don’t miss downloading all the battle maps (15) for these engagements, available here on the map page for Ironfall.