Friday, 22 November 2019

Claws of Steel (SS Wotan)

Author: Leo Kessler (aka Charles Whiting)
First Published: 1974
File size/Pages: 1595KB / 192pp
Ebook Publisher: Benjamin Lindley
Ebook Date: December 2014

Disclaimer: I have the Futura paperback version (pictured left) of this novel, so did not actually purchase the eBook).

It's time to check in with our German comrades of the Assault Battalion 'SS Wotan' in Leo Kesslers' third instalment of the Second World War series. This book, Claws of Steel was the third to be published, but is actually the sixth book if you want to read them in chronological order (preceded by Forced March and The Sand Papers). This time we join Von Dodenburg, Shulze, Schwarz, Metzger, and their commanding officer Grier (The Vulture), recovering from their time out on the Eastern Front after facing the horrors of a bitter winter fighting the Russians. Unfortunately Hitler has further plans for attempting to thwart the Red Army so The Bodyguard, as they are known, are set for another terrible experience.

Claws of Steel opens with a scene set in the Wolf's Lair, involving Hitler and his senior commanding officers planning out their next steps in the counter-attack on the Eastern Front. It is 1943, and the Nazi line has been punctured by the Russians - The Fuhrer needs a response and he needs it desperately as it is looking like the Americans will be joining the fight in Italy soon. He comes up with Operation Citadel. An attempt to pierce the Russian line and flank their troops that have been ensconced in Pokrovka, Prokhorovka and Kursk. He will use the combined forces of Model's XI Army from the north and Hoth's IV Panzer Army from the south in a pincer move that her likens to "crushing the life our of the Soviet serpent with two huge claws of steel".

Before SS Wotan are ordered to join the southern contingent, and the push into a mass armoured battle the like the world has never seen before, they are resting up in Westphalia. Von Dodenburg and Schwarz are training their men in the use of the newly designed and delivered Tiger tanks. These machines are more powerful and more heavily armoured, able to withstand direct hits to thier front plates from Russian tanks and artillery.

Kessler (Whiting) structures Claws of Steel very similarly to the preceding novel Death's Head, in that we have the first part of the book dedicated to training and whoring, or in the case of Metzger - trying to find out who is playing around with his wife whilst he has been risking his life on the Eastern Front for a year. These can be quite fun, but I wonder if I will tire of them in future books if they follow the same pattern? The second and third parts of the novel concentrate on the push to Kursk and the resultant battles. I really enjoy the way Whiting describes the action in these scenes, they are thoroughly satisfying and packed with suspense and the gory details of 20th centrury warfare.

I particularly liked the way some of the characters develop in this book. Without giving away any spoilers, some of them exhibit the first signs of doubt that the Nazis will win the war. This results in interesting decisions taken in the heat of battle. I was also pleased that SS Wotan's commanding officer Grier has a larger presence in this story, as he is my particular favourite and I had hoped he would be fleshed out more. There is also a more heightened atmosphere of threat to the central characters and you begin to doubt if any of them will survive till the end of the series, or even this installment.

By the end of Claws of Steel, we are introduced to a new threat to The Bodyguard (those of you with any historical knowledge will be able to guess who that is). It certainly made me want to keep on reading this series. I am enjoying it very much.

The eBook is currently available on Amazon UK price at £2.48, good value I feel.