Saturday, 31 May 2014
Into The Gates of Hell: Stug Command '41 - Bob Carruthers and Sinclair McLay
Title: Into The Gates of Hell: Stug Command '41
Author: Bob Carruthers and Sinclair McLay
Publisher: Pen and Sword Publishing
This book is the second in a series of books based upon notes and manuscripts drafted by an un-named German officer under the pen-name Ritter von Krauss of his experiences during the First and Second World War. His works, written, it is believed, between 1954 and 1968, were released to the authors with the strict stipulation that his family name never be revealed and that none of the works be published while his immediate children were still alive. The manuscripts themselves have been verified as genuine and, while little is factually known about von Krauss, it is believed that he came from a wealthy aristocratic family reduced to poverty in the 1920's. A firm believer in National Socialism, he is felt not to have harboured any anti-semitic views but rather saw the movement and Hitler as a way to reunify and strengthen Germany. It is also believed that he served as an armoured officer in both world wars.
Carruthers and McLay have created an enjoyable read out of the strawman manuscript that they received. The story centres around the German assault on the Fortress of Brest-Litovsk during the opening days of Operation Barbarossa (the German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941). The plot is not terribly complicated but it does impart a great deal of information regarding the various types of equipment in use, tactics of the day, weapons capabilities and historical context. The characterization is rather two dimensional as the Germans, for the most part, are painted in a civilized yet negative and barbaric light in their actions, while the Russians themselves are portrayed as less sophisticated but determined and sympathetic. I felt that this was rather shallow and perhaps a little too stereotypical. Overall, the storyline felt very dense with, I felt, too many lines of approach; it all felt a mile wide but an inch deep.
Nevertheless, the authors do bring to light individuals who played key roles in the defence and assault of Brest Litovsk whose names have subsequently been lost to all but the most ardent of historians. Without the key intervention and initiative of Commissar Fomin and Captain Zubachyov, the battle for the fortress would have been much shorter and easier for the Germans. As it was, their example served to energize the defence and resulted in a bloody fight lasting for weeks instead of hours; as much as possible, the authors have utilized actual participants within their rendition of the battle.
I would have enjoyed having a map of the fortress and a regional map to cross reference against the narrative. This would have provided a much better appreciation of the nature of the fighting. Also, it would have been helpful if the authors had provided historical footnotes to further enhance the storyline by adding additional actual information in a similar way that Peter Tsouras or George McDonald Fraser do in their works of historical fiction.
This work was an enjoyable read and I did find it to be both entertaining and educational. Certainly, there is room for improvement but I still believe that it is worth perusing. Historical fiction is a very difficult genre within which to work and the authors have written a worthy addition to that body.