For six months in 1942, Stalingrad is the center of a titanic struggle between the Russian and German armies--the bloodiest campaign in mankind's long history of warfare. The outcome is pivotal. If Hitler's forces are not stopped, Russia will fall. And with it, the world....
German soldiers call the battle Rattenkrieg, War of the Rats. The combat is horrific, as soldiers die in the smoking cellars and trenches of a ruined city. Through this twisted carnage stalk two men--one Russian, one German--each the top sniper in his respective army. These two marksmen are equally matched in both skill and tenacity. Each man has his own mission: to find his counterpart--and kill him.
But an American woman trapped in Russia complicates this extraordinary duel. Joining the Russian sniper's cadre, she soon becomes one of his most talented assassins--and perhaps his greatest weakness. Based on a true story, this is the harrowing tale of two adversaries enmeshed in their own private war--and whose fortunes will help decide the fate of the world.
Set in the rubble of Stalingrad during WWII, Robbins's second novel hinges on a dramatic mano a mano confrontation between a Russian sniper and his German counterpart during a pivotal stretch of the historic 1942 siege. Vasily Zaitsev is "The Hare," a hunter from the Ural Mountains with deadly skills as a chief master sergeant in the Red Army. His proficiency as a marksman attracts considerable attention from both sides, starting when his Russian bosses put him in charge of a "sniper school" to supplement the front-line soldiers. Zaitsev and his students have so much success against the Nazis that the Germans deploy a master sniper of their own, SS Colonel Heinz Thorvald (aka "The Headmaster"), to assassinate Zaitsev and turn the tide in the battle for Stalingrad. The beleaguered city itself becomes a character in the struggle as Zaitsev and Thorvald attempt to outmaneuver one another. Stalingrad also harbors a pair of lovers, as Zaitsev conducts a passionate affair with fellow sniper Tania Chernova, the headstrong daughter of New York-dwelling Russian immigrants. Tania joins the fight for Russia after she travels to Minsk in hopes of rescuing her grandparents, only to watch them die at the hands of the Germans. Robbins does a brilliant job of dissecting the unique mindset and steely emotions that snipers must possess and painting the battle scenes, but none of the primary characters escapes war novel clich?s. The final confrontation takes a while to play out, but once Robbins (Souls to Keep) gets to the heart of the matter, he presents a riveting account of a battle within a battle, and the sniper motif proves an ideal vehicle to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both sides. Agent, Marcy Posner. (July)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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April 02, 2000
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Excerpt from War of the Rats by David L. Robb
Introduction Not even Napoleon has stabbed as deeply into Russia as the German army had by August of 1942. Adolf Hitler's forces plunged one thousand miles across the vast and hostile plains of Russia to the banks of the Volga River. It was by far the deepest penetration into this Asian land of any foreign legion in history. The German plan was simple: place Moscow under siege to tie up precious Russian defenses, then race south into the Caucasus region and conquer the strategic oil fields there. Once in control of the Caucasus, Hitler could fashion a peace on his terms and divide Russia in half, enslaving the western portion of the huge nation for his dream of Aryan world expansion and "one thousand years of Nazi rule." Late in July of 1942, Hitler called for a temporary shift in the Schwerpunkt, or main weight, of his Russian invasion, away from the southern oil fields to drive eastward, to neutralize a potential canker on his left flank. The city of Stalingrad, an industrial center responsible for almost half of Russia's steel and tractor production, a metropolis of over 500,000 residents, lay on the banks of a crescent in the Volga. Hitler sensed an important, and easy, victory. The legacy of that decision was written thereafter in more blood and destruction than any other battle in history. The Red forces, under strict instructions from Stalin (for whom the city, formerly Tsaritsyn, was named in 1925 in gratitude for his role in defending it from the White forces during the Russian civil war) to take "not a step backward," put up an unexpected and vicious fight. Stalingrad's five-month trial by fire began on August 23, 1942, when the first panzer grenadiers of the German Sixth Army reached the Volga on the city's northern outskirts. The German forces were under General Friedrich Paulus. He and his Russian counterpart, General Vasily Chuikov, commander of the Red Army's Sixty-second Army, presided over a terrible battlefield. The city, subjected to intense firebombings in late August, became a smoking charnel house. Soldiers fought and died in cellars, hallways, alleys, and the massive labyrinths of the wrecked factories smoldering beside the river. For months, the fighting was house to house and hand to hand, and the front lines swayed with each new clash, the rewards of which were measured in meters at a time. German foot soldiers called the fighting Rattenkrieg: War of the Rats. The Sixth Army kept its strength inside the city at close to a hundred thousand troops, drawing on reserves of over a million men from German, Italian, Hungarian, and Rumanian divisions positioned on the great steppe outside Stalingrad. The Red force inside the city never exceeded sixty thousand soldiers and at times was as low as twenty thousand men desperately surviving until reinforcements could be ferried across the Volga. The two armies ground against each other with an incredible will, killing and maiming soldiers in unprecedented thousands. By mid-October the Russians had their backs literally to the river. In some places they hunkered no more than a hundred yards from the Volga cliffs. Somehow they held out until finally, on November 19, 1942, the Red Army sprang its "November surprise." The Russians executed a sudden and immense flanking action that leaped out from both the north and south to close with terrifying speed behind the Germans and their allies, encircling them with a million and a half vengeful men. Hitler called his surrounded Sixth Army "Fortress Stalingrad" and told the world these men would stay in place and fight to the death. His encircled troops, freezing, starving, bedeviled by lice, and under constant threat of Russian attack, called their position der Kessel, "the Cauldron." Of the quarter of a million soldiers surrounded on the steppe in mid-November, less than a hundred thousand we