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A continuing Interview with John Schettler - Author Of the Kirov series novels.

The Kirov Saga


Alright, let’s cover some ground from Hammer of God briefly, now that it’s safe to talk about the plot lines in that novel. First off you tackled the issue of how the news of Kinlan’s force might affect things .
Yes, the truth about that force, and the true origins of Kirov itself, slowly begins to widen the circle. Now we have O’Connor, Wavell, Cunningham and finally Churchill himself brought into the club.

But what about the rank and file soldiers?
Kinlan’s force has operated separate from the regular commonwealth forces in North Africa, but they realize this may change. O’Connor’s plan on how they could move units from Egypt to Syria is an example of the secrecy that must now impose on Kinlan’s unit, and Fedorov is correct in his warning that “the truth” must not ever become generally known.

So now we know why Hitler has canceled the attack on Crete .
He goes for Cyprus instead, and that becomes a much easier battle for Student’s troops. The whole idea, of course, it an out cropping of Raeder’s Mediterranean strategy. The clock is ticking here, because while Hitler has seen fit to send additional support to Rommel, and the Vichy French in Syria, it is still really a token effort. His thoughts remain primarily on Sergei Kirov’s Russia, and his plans for Operation Barbarossa are foremost in his mind.

Couldn’t the Germans truly crush the British in North Africa now, particularly after they stormed Malta?
Perhaps, but they’ll have to get through Kinlan’s 7th Armored Brigade first. That’s a trump card that the Germans will find hard to beat at this stage of the war. Beyond that, the question of German intervention in North Africa is largely one of logistics, which I tried to bring out through the historical figure of Paulus, who was sent to review the situation after Rommel’s defeat at Bir el Khamsa. The force Rommel gets is about all the existing ports and logistical network can sustain. So while Germany might have 150 divisions, it can still only really sustain about five units in North Africa.

The capitulation of Turkey was another blow. Why couldn’t they just bring in a full Panzer Army that way?
Because the Turkish rail net was a mess. It had poorly maintained tracks, little rolling stock, and simply could not move large forces easily or quickly. And also because those forces are now allocated to the plan for Operation Barbarossa. The Germans manage to get two divisions into Syria via Turkey, and they also slip in the 5th Mountain Division, largely by sea, and the 22nd Luftland by air.  But again, the question of how to sustain and supply these troops comes into question. The Vichy French have no 88mm flak rounds to offer!

And Kazan also causes a little trouble here .
Exactly, That cruise missile attack on the railheads near Istanbul was an expedient measure, but it served its purpose. Yet the German commitment to Syria has also prompted a response from the British. They have accelerated deployment of Indian Divisions, and manage to put 5 Brigades on the Euphrates river valley. This eventually puts the 22nd Luftland in some difficult situations.

And Fedorov is in that mix as well.
Correct. He moves to Raqqah next, and this is a way for me to keep a core character in all that Syrian action. Yet other events will soon complicate his little stint as a helicopter borne Lawrence of Arabia.

What about that RPG-7 Wolff finds?
That is a story seed. Yes, it will have major consequences down the road when the Germans figure out how it works.

Could this be their answer to the Challenger IIs?
We shall see. Even today that tank can take repeated hits from RPGs and remain battle worthy. But the Germans are slowly discovering what they must do to face these new British weapons. It will be a difficult process. They’ll suffer setbacks, and yet slowly adapt. There is a segment of this next novel devoted to that. By mid to late 1942, get ready for some fireworks.

Well with Paradox Hour next, it has taken eight full novels to simply cover 1941. Will it take another eight to get through 1942?

That would be telling, but consider 1942—it was mostly fought in Russia after Barbarossa launched. That is a titanic campaign, and trying to recount it in the same detail that I have given to these actions in 1940-41 would be difficult. It would take twenty volumes. The battles in North Africa were “manageable” from a standpoint of fictional narrative. They also allowed me to keep the ship in the action during those naval engagements in the Eastern Med. To do that for the Russian campaign, I would have to move Kirov and Kazan into the Black sea, and even then there would be no naval opponent for them there. It would come down to whether or not they choose to blast the advancing German armies with nukes.

Admiral Volsky has been musing on that.
He has. He knows the storm is coming in Russia, and is deeply conflicted about it. All of this was discussed long ago, in Cauldron of Fire, when they made the decision to head for Gibraltar and the  Atlantic instead of going to support Russia from the Black Sea. The story pulled me that way, because at that point I was just conceiving book three, Pacific Storm, and there was no other way to get the ship into the Pacific.

So now they have that question on the table again.
In some ways. They know Barbarossa is coming soon. There is a lot more fighting in North Africa to cover beyond this point, but some of those battles may not occur. Operation Crusader was fought in Nov and December of 1941, largely as an effort to lift the siege of Tobruk. Yet for that battle to occur, Tobruk must be threatened first. Crescendo Of Doom starts taking us in that direction.

So Rommel returns in this next book?
Yes. His story line, and 2nd offensive, gets about 9 chapters in Crescendo. And Montgomery will also make an early curtain call in the history here, as readers will soon see.

Will the emphasis stay in North Africa and the Middle East, or move to Russia?

From the standpoint of involving core characters in the series, keeping it in North Africa is easier to do, but I’m just moving forward through the war in chronological order. In this next novel, Rommel launches his second offensive at Tobruk. The outcome of that fighting will affect all that comes after it, and some historical battles of 1942 may never even happen. That is the curse of alternate history. The farther you get beyond that Point of Divergence, the more convoluted the history becomes. The action in Hinge of Fate, with the loss of Gibraltar, almost precluded an Operation like the Torch landings from happening on the same scale. That campaign didn’t occur until November of 1942, and in this world it may not happen at all, except perhaps a limited operation aimed at Casablanca to eliminate that port on the Atlantic. So the question of how the British build up enough strength to go on the offensive and push Rommel back into Tunisia is still on the table. Even with the successful Torch landings, and a two front war on his hands, Rommel held out in North Africa until May of 1943! To Truly defeat him in North Africa, the Tunisian campaign may have to eventually be fought, in some form or another, but it will look quite different with no Torch Landings and the Vichy French as active combatants. All this remains to be seen.

So then what about the fighting in Russia?
That was “the real war” as the characters describe it in the story. Consider that the British have no more than ten divisions between North Africa and their Campaign in Syria. They have managed to hold on with that, but only against an equal number of enemy formations. In Russia, the Germans will throw nearly 150 divisions at the Soviets. That is a war on such a grand scale that it really does make the Middle Eastern Campaign a sideshow—a very colorful and interesting show indeed, but WWII was not decided there. It was decided in Russia.

So Barbarossa will be covered?
I certainly can’t ignore it, but how I can cover all that action remains to be seen. For now, I have to get through Paradox Hour next, and then see what appetite there is for extending the series further. What we really have here are two linked sagas. The first eight books form the “Kirov Saga” and then books 9 through 16 comprise the “Altered States” saga. Paradox Hour is the finale to this second saga.

Will we see a third Saga then?

Possibly. I’m really enjoying this alternate history of WWII, and the readers seem to have stayed with me. Ahead we have a lot of action, and things start happening as a result of the interventions we have  seen thus far, particularly in regards to new war technology. The shock of the missile technology at sea, and the heavy tanks in the desert, compel the Germans to accelerate their own building programs in these areas. So the appearance of the better armor will happen sooner, and there will even be new models of tanks that were designed but never deployed in the real history.

Are we talking about those monster German tank designs like the Maus?

Quite possibly. The Germans also had a design rivaling their Tiger tank model called the “Lion,”  designated PzKpfw VII Lowe. This tank was dropped in favor of the Maus, but may make an appearance in my series. And the tanks may get bigger yet, on all sides. The Germans are also getting help with jet engine design from Ivan Volkov, so we are going to see the Me-262 and other designs much sooner. This will also spin off to German missile technology. Then there is that RPG-7 that was left behind at Palmyra and found by Wolff. That will also have an effect on weapons development, particularly the design of armor penetrating munitions. Beyond this, we are going to see other novel tech used. The Italians and Germans both developed mini-subs, and there is action ahead involving those down the road.

How do you dream all of this up?

I don’t! All of this technology was conceived in WWII. The only spin I really added was the advance in airship technology so I could throw a little Steampunk into the series. That has worked out very well in Karpov’s plot lines. But the new, emerging WWII weapons will be plucked from things that were already on the drawing boards. There are a lot of well read military historians reading the series, and some are kind enough to contact me with research and other suggestions as to alternative weapons tech, There will be lots of new stuff in the years ahead as the war heats up.

Sounds like 1942 and 1943 will be quite interesting!

There’s a lot of WWII out there yet to be fought. The whole issue of how the Allies deal with French North Africa must be decided, then they have to face down Rommel once and for all. After that, the decision as to whether they should invade Sicily to try and knock Italy out of the war, or go for an early landing in France must be decided. Can you imagine Kinlan’s Brigade shipped to England for Operation Roundup or Sledgehammer, which were both real plans put forward for an invasion  in the spring of 1943? I am very big on the “what if” of military history. One of my earliest war game designs was a title called “Pas de Calais,” which presented the allies landing at Calais instead of Normandy. These are the kind of questions to be decided.

How do you determine the outcome of the battles we’ve seen?

I just used my knowledge of the war, along with extensive simulation design work for each battle. I’ve used several of my favorite computer games to design simulations on every battle, and the results figure into the outcomes I present in the story. I’ve simulated the Operation Felix battle for Gibraltar, the fighting at Ilanskiy , all the Western Desert battles and the campaigns in Syria. Now I am also running through stuff on the east front. Of course, some outcomes happen for story reasons, but I want them to be plausible and realistic.

So what’s next?

At present, I’m still working out how the war develops from this point, as Barbarossa has only just begun. And of course, things will happen in the next book that will affect all that. For now, it’s on to Paradox Hour, which will cover the next three months from May 1941 through the end of July 1941.

We’ll be waiting!

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