One nation taking a desperate gamble of war.
Another fighting for survival.
Two armies locked in a bloody cataclysm that will decide history. . .
David L. Robbins has won widespread acclaim for his powerful and splendidly researched novels of World War II. Now he casts his brilliant vision on one of the most terrifying--and most crucial--battles of the war: the Battle of Kursk, Hitler's desperate gamble to defeat Russia, in the final German offensive on the eastern front.
Spring 1943. In the west, Germany strengthens its choke hold on France. To the south, an Allied invasion looms imminent. But the greatest threat to Hitler's dream of a Thousand Year Reich lies east, where his forces are pitted in a death match with a Russian enemy willing to pay any price to defend the motherland. Hitler rolls the dice, hurling his best SS forces and his fearsome new weapon, the Mark VI Tiger tank, in a last-ditch summer offensive, code-named Citadel.
The Red Army around Kursk is a sprawling array of infantry, armor, fighter planes, and bombers. Among them is an intrepid group of women flying antiquated biplanes; they swoop over the Germans in the dark, earning their nickname, "Night Witches." On the ground, Private Dimitri Berko gallops his tank, the Red Army's lithe little T-34, like a Cossack steed. In the turret above Dimitri rides his son, Valya, a Communist sergeant who issues his father orders while the war widens the gulf between them. In the skies, Dimitri's daughter, Katya, flies with the Night Witches, until she joins a ferocious band of partisans in the forests around Kursk. Like Russia itself, the Berko family is suffering the fury and devastation of history's most titanic tank battle while fighting to preserve what is sacred-their land, their lives, and each other-as Hitler flings against them his most potent armed force.
Inexorable and devastating, a company of Mark VI Tiger tanks is commanded by one extraordinary SS officer, a Spaniard known as la Daga, the Dagger. He'd suffered a terrible wound at the hands of the Russians: now he has returned with a cold fury to exact his revenge. And above it all, one quiet man makes his own plan to bring Citadel crashing down and reshape the fate of the world.
A remarkable story of men and arms, loyalty and betrayal, Last Citadel propels us into the claustrophobic confines of a tank in combat, into the tension of guerrilla tactics, and across the smoking charnel of one of history's greatest battlefields. Panoramic, authentic, and unforgettable, it reverberates long after the last cannon sounds.
Tigers and T-34s lock horns in this dramatization of the 1943 battle for Kursk, in southwestern Russia, the greatest tank battle in the history of armored warfare. In his fifth novel, Robbins (War of the Rats; The End of War) explores the maelstrom from the perspective of a rich ensemble cast. The Berkos are a family divided by politics: Dimitri Berko, the patriarch, is an old-school Cossack driving a T-34 under the command of his estranged son, Valentin, a fervent Communist; daughter Katya is a Night Witch bomber pilot. The Berkos square off against Luis de Vega, a Spanish captain fresh from Franco's Blue Division, now in an SS tank brigade commanding the dreaded new Mark VI Tiger, a behemoth so heavily armored it is considered impervious to Russian guns. Caught in the middle of this is Abram Breit, a Nazi intelligence officer secretly funneling information to the Soviets. Separate plane crashes land Katya and Breit in the hands of the same Russian partisan band; meanwhile, Dimitri and Valentin are locked in suicidal combat with de Vega's SS tanks and troops. Robbins's writing might be tighter, but he livens his tale with striking incongruities: the final battle for Kursk takes place in a field of sunflowers. Serious WWII buffs may quibble with some of Robbins's portrayals of battles, hardware and key figures. But the real story here is the duel between de Vega and Berko, both of whom are torn from their natural environments (de Vega from his bullfighting, Berko from his horses) by the war and made to serve ideologies that will destroy the ways of life they left behind.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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April 26, 2004
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Excerpt from Last Citadel by David L. Robb
May 10, 1943
The SS colonel eased shut the high, heavy door. The portal closed with a hiss and a soft tap. How many trees went into this, he wondered, lives sacrificed out of the forest to make one of Hitler's castle gates? The black eagle emblem of wartime hung at eye-level against the carved wood. Colonel Abram Breit imagined this symbol of the Reich to be a spread-winged vulture. That's what he left behind in the briefing room--a death scene, a picking apart, sinew by vessel, of Germany.
Breit walked several steps into the hall, striding across the same black eagle laid in mosaic in the floor. Bloodred banners trickled down the walls. He buttressed his back against one of them and lit a cigarette.
He exhaled smoke and stared into it, tired and sad. He replayed the voices of the briefing room, Hitler with his generals and advisers. Citadel--the looming, titanic battle for Kursk on the Eastern Front--consumed the hours. Since morning Breit had watched the little wars between the generals, battling over Hitler as if the F�hrer were a spot of high ground; candor fell in combat with flattery, reason was mauled by pride. Around and above the grand table, more banners festooned the room, great ebony swastikas circled like the buzzards of Breit's imagination. Everywhere Hitler's minions had hung the images of Hitler's belief, to let no eye wander to another way of thinking, to any other allegiance, certainly to no thoughts of Germany's welfare, only the Nazis'.
Breit ground the last of the cigarette into the sole of his boot. He pocketed the white shred and lit another. In the smoke he recalled Hitler's eyes, gray and wavering. In the past month, Hitler had become obsessed with reading about Verdun, the meat-grinder battle of World War I France. Hitler had been a corporal on the Western Front. As a runner he was wounded and gassed. Breit saw in Hitler's eyes the memory of the trenches, and the parallels to be drawn between the butchery of Verdun and what awaited Aryan manhood in the trenches of the Kursk bulge.
This was Germany's third summer of campaigning in Russia. The Reds had yet to swoon the way these generals had promised Hitler before the invasion in '41. Now the army lacked the resources for another major offensive in the East. Instead, their available forces were to concentrate on one smashing blow against the Kursk salient, a segment of the front line that ballooned westward into the German midsection.
The plan called for two immense forces to blast across the Russian defenses--Field Marshal von Kluge from the north, Field Marshal von Manstein out of the south--and converge in the center at the city of Kursk, pinching off the Soviet bulge. The operation was designed to surround massive Soviet formations and, more important, shorten German lines to free up men and machines desperately needed elsewhere. The Americans were sure to come to Italy this summer, and Il Duce, Mussolini, was ill-prepared to go it alone.
Hitler was going to commit every available soldier, gun, tank, and airplane to the action. This would be the largest buildup of German armed power of the war. If Citadel succeeded, it would be a loss of blood that Hitler could scarcely afford. If Citadel failed, the ruin of men and mat�riel would be even greater; worse still, Germany would be exposed to a Russian counterstrike. That could be fatal, the beginning of the end. Citadel would be the last German offensive of the war in the East.
The stakes for Hitler were higher today than at any time in the war. He was being asked to gamble, to throw the dice once on Citadel with everything riding on the table. There would be no second go-round, no backup plan. This was do or die.
The chief problem was that Citadel was obvious. A quick glance at the map of the Eastern Front lines presented the most elementary scenario to any war college student. The Kursk bulge was clearly the best place for an attack, a pincer action was the plain solution. Germany knew this. Russia knew this. The coming fight was going to be without surprise; once begun, it would be brute strength against strength, two behemoths pressing chests.
The F�hrer fretted aloud in the briefing room. He stabbed his finger at the maps spread across his conference table, aerial photos of Soviet defenses in the Kursk region. Even from three miles in the air, the groundworks dug by the Russians looked incredible; the amount of armaments and men flowing into them was monumental. And these defense works would be arrayed directly in the path of the planned German offensive. How could this be, Hitler wanted to know.
The buzzards flew from their perches then.