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Focusing on four main characters - two Nazi and two Russian snipers - David L. Robbins takes us into the opposing trenches of embattled Stalingrad, where "The thought of being hunted through a telescopic sight, of being marked unknowingly with invisible black crosshairs and then selected for a bullet in the brain and instant death, was a chilling, ugly prospect." Through vivid, incisive narration and compelling interior monologues, we live with each of these two pairs of killers as they wait for their foe to make the fatal error.
Stalingrad's five months of horror begin on August 23, 1942, as over a million
German forces advance and retreat, parry and thrust, with the 60 thousand Red
Army troops within the city. In trenches and from the ruins of rat-infested
buildings, the Russians' skilled assassin, Army Chief Master Sergeant Vasily
Zaitsev and his assistant Tania Chernova, kill off a daily toll of enemy victims,
including many a careless German officer. Impressed by Zaitsev's body count of
Nazis, Red Army Colonel Nikolai Batyuk orders Zaitsev to recruit and train
carefully selected sharpshooters for a sniper school; the members are soon making entries in their sniper journals. The Germans, aware of Zaitsev's phenomenal marksmanship through an article written for homefront consumption, quickly import their own expert sniper, SS Colonel Heinz Throvald, a suave, sophisticated opera-loving Berliner. His specific task? To kill Zaitsev! Of the four main characters, only Corporal Nikki Mond is completely fictional ("a composite German soldier," Robbins notes in his introduction); Zaitsev, Thorvald, and Tania Chernova were actual combatants at Stalingrad. Each one, as Tania and Zaitsev fall in love, or as Nikki soliloquizes, becomes known to us in often painful depth. On the bloody canvas that was Stalingrad, we live with the characters. And despite the grim horror of their deadly work, readers will care about and remember them.
Dennis J. Hannan lives in Wappingers Falls, New York.