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REVIEW: Kirov II – Cauldron of Fire.

Kirov-II-Front-MedIf you were one of the many readers who enjoyed John Schettler’s recent best selling naval saga, Kirov, get ready to raise anchor and set sail again! Kirov II – Cauldron of Fire continues the saga of the world’s most powerful surface action battlecruiser trapped in a time displacement that has sent it rebounding through the naval history of WWII.

The first volume delighted readers with its “Russian Final Countdown” theme, and the mystery and challenge the ship posed to Royal Navy admirals of every stripe. While cruising in the Norwegian Sea for scheduled live fire exercises a nuclear accident sends the formidable Russian battlecruiser back in time to the year 1941. As they struggle to determine what has happened to them, they are soon detected by a British carrier task force steaming to raid German airfields in the north cape area at Kirkenes. Needless to say, the raid is called off when the British believe they have encountered a new German commerce raider poised to make a run for the Atlantic convoy routes.

After drawing his characters in the opening chapters the author then proceeds to take us on a gripping naval saga as Kirov races south through the Denmark Strait, pursued by Admiral John Tovey and anything the Royal Navy can get to sea. The naval action is compounded in the story by a slowly rising tension on the Russian ship when officers disagree on whether or not they should intervene in the war, and how. It is a conflict that sees an attempted mutiny and deployment of all the fearsome power this updated ship is capable of, delivering us to a mysterious ending that left many readers hoping for more.

I am pleased to say the wait is over, as the sequel opens right where the first novel left off, with Kirov headed out to sea to discover what has happened to the world and what timeframe they are now sailing in. The ship spends the next 12 days crossing the Atlantic and entering the Mediterranean, where they cruise the southern coast of France and then scout Italy’s major coastal cities—or perhaps I should say the remnants of those cities, for the world is not the one they left behind them. The officers and crew are shadowed by the haunting thought that this dark and blighted landscape was the direct result of their own tampering in the course of events while trapped in the year 1941.

The ship soon discovers, however, that their position in time is not yet stabilized, and that they are, in fact, rebounding through the epoch where they were first displaced, like a stone skipping on water. Their cruise through catastrophe comes to a sudden end when they re-emerge in the ‘cauldron’ of WWII, this time a full year ahead in the chronology, to August of 1942.

Now the ship finds itself trapped in the Mediterranean Sea, surrounded on every side by potential enemies and with only three routes of escape: the Suez Canal, the Bosporus, and the Straits of Gibraltar. Without having to re-draw all the excellent characters presented in the first book, the author wastes no time in bringing us to this place, and from that point on the novel becomes a fast paced series of air/sea engagements right out of the gate as Kirov faces off against the Germans, Italians and Royal Navy in a desperate run of the gauntlet as the ship tries to find safe open water.

Along the way the sequel manages to hold fast to that edge of mystery and bewilderment that made the first book such a refreshing and interesting read, only this time there is even more realistic and exciting naval action like that drawn so well in volume I. The Axis forces are stunned as they get their first real look at Kirov, and of course they assume this is a fast British battlecruiser. For their part the Royal Navy believes it to be an Italian ship at first blush, then comes round to the opinion that it might be a disaffected ship and crew from the French Navy at Toulon. A photo of the ship taken by a Beaufighter off Malta makes its way to Bletchley Park, where it again stuns naval analysts led by the brilliant Professor Alan Turing. Alarms are soon ringing in Whitehall and the Admiralty bunkers, and we are treated to some very engaging scenes as the Royal Navy brass meet to plan their response to this new intelligence. In the midst of all this Alan Turing begins to slowly unravel the mystery, and sets out to push the Admiralty, and particularly Admiral John Tovey, to a startling new apprehension of the ship.

The ending is deeply satisfying, and arises directly from the various viewpoints of the main Russian characters, who all return for prominent roles in the sequel. The ship’s former Navigator Anton Fedorov is challenged by his new role as Starpom, (First Officer), a baptism of fire indeed as he faces his first attempt to command the ship in combat scenarios. Admiral Volsky remains a strong guiding presence in spite of serious injuries. Doctor Zolkin sounds out the moral dilemmas faced by the crew, and even the principle antagonists from the first novel, Captain Vladimir Karpov and the ship’s former Chief of Operations, Gennadi Orlov, have major roles to play. The author introduces a twist here that poses a grave and baffling problem for the ship, and indeed for all future history.

On the other side Alan Turing and Admiral Tovey get more development, and we also get snapshots of Italian Admirals, German U-Boat Captains, British pilots and Royal Navy officers who are all placed in their exact historical locations at the time the action begins and are now forced to contend with this astounding and mysterious phantom ship while they wage war on each other at the same time. The research is again top notch, and the action unfolds here in a realistic and believable way.

Taken together, the two books would actually make one long mega-novel with some of the  most interesting and engaging naval action published in many years. The ending has also left the door open for a possible third book in the series, and I can’t wait. It is my fervent hope that the author lets this stone skip at least one more time and that we might get treated to a riveting finale.

Both thumbs up for Kirov II – Cauldron of Fire. This second book is structured identically as the first volume, with eleven parts containing three chapters each. it ends with a bang in a riveting 30 page sea battle and an encounter that you’ve been waiting for from page one of the original novel. If you read and enjoyed the first book you will not be disappointed. Grab this one at your earliest opportunity, and enjoy.

- A. Copeland

READER REVIEWS:

I am a history buff, and I like military novels, but this one takes the prize! The action is fast paced, and it's one that you just don't want to end. The brilliant dialogue reveals much about the main characters. I read Kirov I, and I enjoyed it immensely, but I thought the action and plot moved much faster in Kirov II. The historical events and the many ships referenced in the book give it a touch of realism. One more thing, the quotes and titles for each chapter are masterfully named raising the level of anticipation and suspense. Let's have some more! - Old Warhorse

*****

I loved the first Kirov, and the second is just as compelling. Those who loved the Weapons of Choice series should definitely buy this one - Trusten

 

SHIP WEAPONS ROSTER:

BCG KIROV
Weapons Inventory remaining after Book I
  20 x Moskit II “Sunburn” SSM (No remaining reloads)
    9 x MOS-III “Starfire” SSMs
  10 x SS-N-27 “Sizzler” Cruise Missiles
    3 x 152mm Naval Batteries (Two Guns / Turret)
    1 x 100mm Naval Battery
    9 x UGST Homing Torpedos  (10 reloads)
    9 x V-111 Shkval “Squall” supercavitating ASW Rockets
   47 x S-300FM Long Range VLS SAM
 96 x SA-N-92 “Gauntlet” Medium Range SAM
      4 x  30mm Close In Defense Gating Guns
      2 x Kashtan integrated CIWS Gun/missile system
      2 x KA-40 ASW Helicopters
      1 x KA-226 Scout Helicopter
    20 x Naval Marine Contingent
      2 x 15 Kiloton Nuclear Warheads


The following task groups and warships participate in the hunt and battle vs Kirov during Book II: (Some ships assigned to historical forces do not see action and are therefore not listed by name.)

ROYAL NAVY - 11 Aug 1942

Force Z - Adm Neville Syfret
  CV Victorious - 18 Fulmar TB, 14 Albacore, 6 Sea Harrier
  CV Indomitable - 24 Albacore, 12 Sea Harriers, 6 Martlet
  CV Eagle (Sunk by U-73) 6 surviving Sea Harriers
  CV Furious - 4 Albacore, 38 Spitfires for Malta delivery
  CV Argus - 6 Sea Harriers (At Gibraltar)
  5 Destroyers Escorting Furious and not seeing action

  BB Nelson (Flag Adm Syfret)
  BB Rodney (Home Fleet Deputy Cmdr Adm Fraser)
  CL Phoebe
  CL Sirius
  CL Charybdis
  DD Ithuriel (Bow Damaged and Detached)
  DD Quentin (Detached)
  DD Lightning
  DD Lookout
  DD Eskimo
  DD Tartar
  DD Ashanti
  DD Intrepid

Force X - Adm Burrough
  CA Nigeria
  CA Kenya
  CA Manchester
  CA Cairo
  6 Additional Destroyers not seeing action

Home Fleet Reserve - Adm Tovey

BB King George V
BB Prince Of Wales
BB Duke Of York
BB Anson

CVL Avenger
825 Sqdrn (16 Sword)
802 Sqdrn (12 Sea Har)

CVL Pegasus
8 Float Search Planes (Arriving Aug 18)

CA Cumberland
CA Norfolk
CA Sheffield

CL Auora
DD Farndale
DD Partridge
DD Puckeridge
DD Zulu
SS Talisman

ALLIED AIRCRAFT
  Fairy Fulmar II Fighter
  Martlet Fighter (Modified Wildcat)
  Albacore Torpedo Bomber
  Swordfish Torpedo Bomber
  Sea Harrier Fighter
  Malta 248 Squadron - Beaufighter MK I and Mk VI
  PBY & Mariner Search Aircraft
  Gibraltar Air Wing

ITALIAN REGIA MARINA / AERONAUTICA
  BB Vittorio Veneto - Adm Iachino
  BB Littorio
  CA Trieste
  CL Muzio Attendolo
  DD Aviere
  DD Geniere

3rd Cruiser Division - Da Zara
  CL Savoia
  CL Montecuccoli
  3 Destroyers

7th Cruiser Division
  CA Bolzano
  CA Goriza
  4 Destroyers

  SS Bronzo
  SS Avorio
  SM-79 Sparviero “Sparrowhawk”
  3 x Spica Class Torpediniera Boats
 
GERMANY
  U-73
  JU-87
  Do-217
  He-111
 

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