1944 begins with plans being laid on every side that will soon be tested in the heat of combat. In the Pacific, as Nimitz schedules preliminary operations to prepare for
Operation Forager into the Marianas, Vladimir Karpov (the Younger) creeps into the narrative aboard the battlecruiser Kirov. Since his elder brother (the Siberian) is off in the deeps of time, he has
busied himself with the Pacific war, taking Paramushiro in the north, and now coming into warmer waters to see what the Americans and Japanese are up to. It is not long before a long-range recon
patrol by F-35’s spots the intruder, and the second big battle between Kirov and Admiral Kita’s task force follows soon after.
The Siberian fought the first, and he has warned his ‘younger’ self to beware those F-35’s. Kirov had difficulty spotting them on
radar as they made their attack approach, often not seeing the planes until their internal ordnance bay doors opened, which changed the plane’s radar signature. By that time, it is almost too
late, because the enemy bombs are already in the air. We have already seen how deadly they can be, saturating the defense in the hope of just getting one hit that could cripple the ship. Now we see
how the younger Karpov fights, as Kita makes his bid to take out Mizuchi before things heat up in the Marianas. Next we move to the West, where Morgan is trying to get approval for his Overlord plan.
The Allies set a tentative location, and conditions they want before the invasion launches, but General Marshall has other ideas, taking the gloves off and urging his Generals to be aggressive.
General Patton is happy to comply. He has been hankering for a breakout operation for some time, and now he goes for Portiers, making gains that quickly get the Führer’s attention.
Patton advances, the Germans see an opportunity for a big counterattack, much akin to the Mortain Counterattack in the real history. That action dominates the center of the novel, with Patton, Rommel
and Guderian taking center stage. The action cascades into dangerous territory for the Germans when Patton does something they do not expect at all.
In the east, Manstein flirts with the
Führer’s anger by insisting the army needs to withdraw to the Wotan line on the Dnieper. This sets up one more tense confrontation with Hitler, as the Field Marshall struggles to retain control
of his front under increasing Soviet pressure.
Meanwhile, Ivan Volkov gets some ink this time out, seeing opportunities to regain lost ground in the Caucasus. His fickle ways have seen him
shift allegiance back and forth to
suit his aims, and now he proposes peace with the Soviets, an offer that Sergei Kirov chooses to ignore. This prompts Volkov to show Kirov just how much of a
problem his field armies can still be, and it sets off a series of clashes in the Kuban, which eventually lead to a dramatic meeting in Leningrad. Volkov has a plan, and now he seems to come begging
for peace again, with a surprising new offer for Kirov’s consideration.
I was expecting that we would then return to 1908 for the conclusion, but ‘beware the ides of March’
was a fateful warning that surely applies here. In all the strategy sessions that present the thinking of the Generals and Admirals, we see that their will to fight is paramount in the outcome of
these events. The decisions they make set the pieces moving, flinging their armies into combat, and the outcomes are often quite surprising. That is no less the case here, for this volume closes with
two events that are rather earthshaking, to say the least. We have been inside the heads of men like Rommel, Hitler, Yamamoto, and so many others throughout this amazing retelling of the war. Now
the hand of fate is heavy here on the shoulders several key players in this drama, but to say anything more would spoil the whirlwind ending of this volume. All I can say is
could be looking at a dramatic shift in this war as 1944 digs in its heels and gets underway here.
This volume takes us all the way to April 1st in the story, the release date of this book,
and the author says that he will probably be presenting these last years of the war at the same pace they were actually fought. That means the series could see us piercing the Siegfried line by
December of this year, assuming the events in this volume do not derail the course of this history. So the last four volumes of Season 5 will be loaded with all the most famous battles of the war:
Overlord, Cobra, Market Garden, Hurtgen Forest, Metz, the Bulge… And this is just in the west! In the Pacific we have Saipan, Tinian, Guam as the targets of American ambitions, with the
Japanese poised to fight the decisive battle they have longed for throughout the war. In the east the Soviet juggernaut grinds on, but God only know what will happen after this book’s events.
The next volume steals its title from Shakespeare, The Tempest, and promises action on three fronts. It will present the Overlord Operation, the onset of Operation Forager with the invasion
of Saipan, and the Soviet assault on the Wotan line as they struggle to cross the Dnieper. Then again, I have no way of knowing how the key decision makers in the story will react to the events that
conclude this novel. All I can say is “hold on to your seat!” Ever taken the Matterhorn ride at Disneyland? You make a long upward ascent, high up on that ride before it really begins. I
feel like we have reached the top of a great hill here in this volume, and the roller coaster is about to tip over the edge and start the wild ride down the other side.