ABOUT THE NOVEL:
Kirov is by John Schettler, the award winning author of the five volume Meridian time travel series, and his latest effort was released in early March, 2012, by the Writing Shop Press. The book is available on Amazon where it sells for just $4.99. and is also available as a quality trade paperback.
The popular movie The Final Countdown opened an interesting can of worms when it dropped a modern US Aircraft carrier into the Pacific on 6 December, 1941 with a chance to use her advanced aircraft and weaponry to decisively affect the outcome of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The initial encounter between two US Navy F-14 Tomcats and a couple of vintage Japanese Zeros set the template, and the suspense is cranked up when the carrier finally launches its powerful air wing to counter the Japanese strike wave as it approaches Pearl Harbor. Unfortunately, the viewers were never treated to anything more of a real battle in the movie when the same odd anomaly that sent the USS Nimitz back in time reappears at the climax to force the ship’s Captain, (Kirk Douglas) to abort the mission.
Now this vintage Sci-fi military tale can no longer claim to be the final countdown, for a new novel by John Schettler, Kirov,
has been released in the popular military science fiction genre, and it again examines a confrontation between a modern naval vessel and the forces of World War II.
Don’t be put off by the odd premise of this book, or you’ll miss a terrific story. Science fiction writers have tinkered with this genre for some time, the closest analog to Kirov probably being John Birmingham’s Axis of Time series. In those books an entire multinational task force from the year 2021 goes back in time and lands right smack dab in the battle of Midway. In Schettler’s book the focus is on the North Atlantic where the Russian leviathan squares off against the Royal Navy and US Atlantic Fleet.
The novel opens in the year 2021, and the Russians have resurrected the dangerous nuclear guided missile battlecruiser Kirov,
built from the aging bones of all four previous ships in her class. The pride of the Northern Fleet, the new design is outfitted with all of Russia’s newest and most lethal
weaponry, including the dread “Moskit-II,” a follow on to the older Russian “Sunburn” anti-ship missile, and successor to the current BraMos SSM being deployed on
their newest ships in our day. (Schettler has devised plausible upgrades to today’s Russian Naval weapons arsenal - See Sidebar for a complete listing of Kirov’s new weapons
inventory.) The ship is fast, at 32 knots, and unlike most typical modern ships, she has also been given increased armor protection for vital areas. On her forward and aft quarters, she
mounts Russia’s latest evolution in naval gun design, twin batteries of 152mm cannon in new stealth turrets. Add in two torpedo mounts to port and starboard, ASW defenses, and
a multitiered array of deadly SAM systems with Close In Defense Gatling Guns, and there is no surface ship in the world that can match her firepower. Her sensors and computer driven
reflexes are equally sharp.
While on a mission in the Norwegian Sea, the Russian battlecruiser Kirov is escorted by the old Oscar-II class submarine Orel for live fire exercises. The sub has an accident when one of its nuclear warheads detonates, creating a strange anomaly that sends Kirov reeling through a breach in time. The ship lands in oddly calm waters, exactly where she was before, yet has moved all of seventy years into the past, to the late summer of the year 1941.
That is the extent of the “Science Fiction” in the book, just a thimble full at the outset as the author simply creates a plausible anomaly in order to move his ship and set the stage for a remarkable naval saga and a conflict that operates on many levels. Unlike Birmingham’s stories where the modern day characters comically meet and interact with historical figures from WWII, with men like Albert Einstein gawking at touchpads, the opposing sides here never lay eyes on one another. They let their ships do the talking. At the outset, each side is operating completely within its own perspective on reality. The crew of Kirov is bewildered by the sudden undersea detonation, which has an odd effect on the sea itself, and struggles to discover what may have happened to its submarine escort and an older ship that was supposed to be towing its target barges for a live fire exercise. When their powerful radar sets detect both an undersea and surface action group contact nearby, their experience takes them on a confounding ride as the slow accumulation of evidence finally leads them to the conclusion that these are not their missing ships, and they are not in their own time.
On the other side, the British forces operating in the region naturally assume this strange new contact is a German raider, and
act accordingly to determine what ship it could possibly be and devise a strategy to intercept and sink it. Like two blind men in a boxing ring, the two sides grope for the truth before
the inevitable fireworks begin, and this period of uncertainty and slow revelation of the astounding facts that now define their new reality is one of the most interesting aspects of the
The arguments aboard Kirov as to what is happening also set the stage for what is really the major plot line of the novel, the conflict between the senior officers aboard, with their differing interpretations about what has happened, and then equally different views about what the ship might now do about their situation. This conflict mirrors the larger struggle with the Royal Navy, and the war itself, and the author probes the Russian psyche a bit to drag out the lurking darkness that becomes war and convey a message on the nature of armed conflict itself. Is conflict and battle inevitable once warships laden with weapons like Kirov are built and put to sea? The answer depends on the man at the helm, the obvious message Schettler delivers without trying to lecture or be too profound here. A quote from Dostoevsky sums up one officer’s attitude perfectly: “It is sometimes very pleasant, too, to smash things...”
But even though the book may have a sly anti-war theme, if you were hoping to see this formidable battlecruiser in action against the combined might of the US and Britain, you will not be disappointed. The result here is an intense naval campaign that pits virtually every ship available to the Allied navies at the time against the Russian battlecruiser. Destroyers, cruisers, carriers and battleships all get their chance in the action, and the story answers the kind of questions often bandied about naval forums--how would a modern ship fare against tough, well armored battleships of WWII?
As the story moves through bewilderment, to discovery, to grudging acceptance of their new reality, the action soon begins to heat up considerably, as the British are intent on hunting this new “German raider” down. Unlike The Final Countdown, the author does not pull his punches in this story, and naval battles rage throughout the second half of the novel as Kirov finally answers the first decisive question after discovering what has happened: If she has indeed moved in time into the cauldron of the World War II, then who’s side is she on? Germany, at war with the Soviet Union, is clearly their enemy today, but it is the British and Americans, forging the heart of the NATO alliance, that will eventually bring about the downfall of the Soviet empire and the eventual diminishment of Russia to the role of a second rate power, harried and marginalized by Western nations in the year 2021
If her modern weapons and radars were not enough, the crew of Kirov has one further edge in the conflict. Fortunately, the ship's navigation officer Fedorov is a bit of a military history buff with a love for World War II, (as the author clearly is!) His library of books on the ship includes valuable information about the situation in which Kirov now finds herself. With a copy of the Chronology of the Naval War At Sea,
Fedorov is able to tell the Admiral and Captains aboard Kirov the composition and location of all Royal Navy task forces in late July of 1941.
Lovingly researched, the author lays out the exact location of each and every ship, drops Kirov into the stew, and pens an amazing story, replete with sea battles and a slowly rising tension on the ship that pits the Russian Fleet Admiral against the ship’s devious and aggressive Captain. The officers aboard Kirov sift through the history books and learn that the secret Atlantic Charter meeting by Churchill and Roosevelt is just days away, and that both leaders will soon be at sea headed for a fateful rendezvous, and in a most vulnerable position. After the first harrowing contact with the Russian ship, the British stalk what they believe to be a deadly new German commerce raider, but the hunted soon becomes the hunter, as Kirov surges south through the Denmark Strait, a menacing predator heading for the secret location where Churchill and Roosevelt are scheduled to meet on 9 August, 1941. This is four months before the US entry into the war, but events are likely to change that history, with consequences no man involved in the struggle will ever live to see.
The Denmark Strait was the route chosen by so many of Germany's most dangerous and successful sea raiders. The action takes
place just two months after the sinking of the Bismarck, and the news of the new raider jangles the nerves of the Admiralty in London and sends the whole Royal Navy into overdrive
as they desperately attempt to marshal the forces necessary to confront this new threat. At least a third of the book is written from the perspective of all the historical WWII characters
as they struggle to understand what this ship is, and how it could mount and deploy such formidable weaponry. The novel clearly illustrates the daunting challenge and threat Kirov poses, and the incredible advances in modern naval technology and fighting ability that now vest a single ship with the power to challenge entire fleets!
Watching the WWII officers grope their way forward and try to adapt their tactics is one of the most interesting parts of the story. It is soon apparent that this ship has weapons and capabilities unlike any other in the world, yet each discovery simply leads them to more unanswered questions. This is where the real suspense and action ratchets up, notch by notch in the novel, as the British throw every ship they have at this mysterious raider and become embroiled in a desperate battle when they confront one apparent new wonder weapon after another. After shooting down a British Fulmar fighter which threatens to get a radar fix on the ship, Kirov’s Admiral uses a good metaphor.
“They have not yet seen a fraction of what we are capable of doing. I want to keep them in the dark as long as possible. We have played out the Jack, but still hold the Queen, King
and Ace close to our chest.”
“And let us not forget the trump cards,” said Karpov.
He is, of course,
referring to the fact that Kirov is also carrying an undisclosed number of 15 kiloton nuclear warheads.
In 1941, technologies involving missiles, radar, and nuclear weapons were all in their initial stages of development. Seeing them deployed as potent, fully functioning weapons of war is therefore quite a shock to the Royal Navy, even as it was when the Germans first used the Fritz-X guided bomb, and more advanced rockets like the little known Hs 293 solid fuel rocket deployed against allied convoys, and the formidable V-1 and V-2 missiles later in the war. But the deadly surface to air missile defense mounted by a modern Russian nuclear guided missile cruiser, and the lethal range and accuracy of her radars and ship-to-ship missiles, make Kirov the most daunting foe the British have ever encountered at sea. The meeting for the Atlantic Charter becomes the setting for a desperate appeal to the American Navy to join forces and hunt this dangerous new “German raider” down.
Coincidentally, the Americans were just beginning to wade into the war in the Atlantic at this time. In addition to their considerable material support for Britain, FDR approved and strongly supported what came to be known as the “King Doctrine,” a policy set down by the fiery Admiral King authorizing US naval units to hunt down and destroy any viable “threat” within a hundred miles of their sea lanes. The US begins relieving British forces on Iceland just as this action unfolds, which places relief convoys bound for Reykjavík sailing right into the smoke and fire of the desperate pursuit being waged by the Royal Navy in the Denmark Strait.
Kirov is using every weapon in her potent arsenal to survive and push out into the Atlantic, but her Achilles heel is soon apparent. While her nuclear engines give her the fuel for an indefinite campaign, with each missile she fires her powers slowly diminish, for she has only 60 SSMs aboard and there are no replacements, nor will there ever be. As the action mounts she finds herself opposed by as many as 26 British and 26 American warships. (See listing in sidebar) To complicate matters, her officers realize that any action they take could have dramatic repercussions for the history that will unfold from this day forward. While intending to get “a better deal for Russia” in the years ahead, the crew also realizes the extreme danger should any of the ship's weapons or components, such as computers, radars, and navigation systems, fall into enemy hands. And the enemy here extends even to their own homeland of the Soviet Union where Joseph Stalin still holds sway. Knowing what Stalin would do with a handful of nuclear weapons aboard the ship chills the officers aboard Kirov.
novel largely focuses on the primary and secondary officers aboard the ship, which is led by the Admiral of the Northern Fleet, Leonid Volsky, an aging, heavy set career officer who
stands as a father figure to many of the crew. The ship’s Captain is the enterprising and scheming Vladimir Karpov, who takes a hard line on the questions the ship faces, moderated
by the Admiral’s higher authority. Karpov forges an uneasy alliance with the ship’s Chief of Operations, Gennady Orlov, the bullying master of schedules and crew assignments,
and they eventually find themselves in conflict with Admiral Volsky as the action deepens, and they realize that there is now no higher authority controlling them back in “Mother
Russia.” They are seventy years and thousands of miles from their home port of Severomorsk, and not likely to ever see their homeland again. These principle characters are well
drawn, believable people, and the author often lets us inside their heads as each one muses over the dilemmas facing the ship.
Yet the ship’s crew is only half of the story.
The author also draws portrayals of principle British Admirals and officers, and his research is accurate from Churchill and FDR right on down to individual pilots and able seamen in the
actual squadrons and ships deployed in the battles. As with the principle characters aboard Kirov, we share in their interior reasoning and worrisome muse as they struggle to
identify what they believe to be a deadly new German raider, and come to grips with its terrifying new wonder weapons, though these figures are clearly secondary to the action and
characters aboard Kirov. The author gives us a background sketch when introducing key British and American players and they get loads of crisply written dialogue as they sort
through the dilemma they now face, but Schettler is not trying to develop these characters too deeply. They are actors on a stage, with a role to play in conveying the nature of the way
the Allied forces plan and react to the crisis at hand.
All in all, John Schettler’s Kirov is an exciting, engaging, and riveting saga, where a hundred questions are asked and answered in a mystery that only seems to deepen by the end of the novel. The author was a former military simulation game designer for four wargame companies, and has created here a wargame in well written prose. The writer first dappled in the realm of naval fiction in Volume V of his popular, award winning Meridian time travel series novels. That story, entitled Golem 7, featured an alternate history retelling of one of the most famous naval confrontations of all time, the hunt for the German battleship Bismarck. Yet, after reading Kirov, the hunt for the Bismarck seems little more than a training exercise for the beleaguered ships of the Royal Navy!
As to style, many writers in this genre, particularly involving modern era stories, load up their prose with a slew of acronyms
and incessant naval jargon thinking this is the only way to guarantee authenticity. Schettler takes a different approach, and one that I much prefer. He includes this information on the
ship’s radars, missiles, etc, just before each system comes into play, but here it is sprinkled in like spice in the stew, just enough to add flavor to the story, but not so much as
to overwhelm the reader and require a lexicon in order to finish each paragraph. In effect, Schettler’s prose does what it should, it is clear, clean, punctuated with excellent
dialogue, and it tells a compelling and fast paced story without bothering with the minutiae of component level detail on the weapons you find in lot of modern stories. You will also get
an informative look at the history, including the men and ships opposing Kirov as the action unfolds.
Kirov is not a manual on naval weapons systems and combat, but it is a compelling and deeply satisfying read by a master story teller. That’s just what I want from a novel, and the author delivers—convincingly. If you are a fan of naval fiction you will not be disappointed by this book. Written in a style that rivals some of the very best authors in the genre, C. S. Forester could not have done it any better!
So “hard a port and all ahead full!” Get yourself over to Amazon.com and grab a copy of this exceptional e-book for
just $4.99. Also Available in Trade Paperback.
Kirov, by John Schettler
ISBN 978-0-9849465-1-8 (eBook Kindle
ISBN 978-0-9849465-2-5 (Trade Paperback, 5.5 x 8.5)
Prologue, 33 chapters, Epilogue - 390 Pages, (about 140,000 words).