A 1989 novel by Ralph Peters, often counted among the techno-thriller genre thanks to its subject matter — a Soviet invasion of Western Europe. Unlike other techno-thrillers, however, Peters wrote the entire story from the Soviet point of view, and has the Soviets actually win.
As the story opens, World War III has already started (Peters never does mention what started it) and the Red Army under General Malinsky is about to attack across the plains of northern Germany. What follows is the offensive operation that NATO so feared during the Cold War; the mechanized Soviet armies split the alliance's front and pour across northern Germany too fast for their squabbling high command to react in a timely fashion before it's too late.
Like Red Storm Rising, it’s a highly educational read, and is surprisingly easy going since Peters avoids geeky details (he talks about 'tanks' and 'anti-air units' instead of 'T-80s' and 'ZSU-23-4s') and focuses squarely on the characters, every one of whom is properly fleshed-out and three-dimensional. Unfortunately, it had the misfortune to be released at the end of the Cold War and thus for many became Hilarious in Hindsight when the mighty Soviet Union broke up and the Gulf War occured. The use of outdated, export-quality equipment by Iraqi forces in the latter 'proved' to many that the USSR's emphasis on planning and organisation would have counted for nothing in the face of NATO's marginally-superior weaponry note , and Peters was accused of overhyping the USSR's capabilities.
Peters acknowledges in his afterword that his novel portrayed a 'best case' scenario for the Soviets which showcased their strengths (careful, skillful planning) and NATO's weaknesses (reliance on improvisation, severe internal divisions). He's also said that he wrote the novel in part because all the famous World War III technothrillers of the time portrayed best-case scenarios for NATO in which Soviet forces were forced to improvise and fight in unusual situations (only to be thwarted by small bands of intrepid spies/heroes). In this respect it is arguably 'harder' fiction than the latter, as it portrays a mundane/typical WWIII scenario rather than an exciting/fantastic one.
While fans of NATO's military technology are quick to claim that Red Army 'fails the history test' - because Soviet smarts really were on the verge of being outmatched by NATO (weapons-technology-)brawn in 1989 - it's an excellent human drama that devotedly details the workings of a modern army.
This novel provides examples of:
- A Father to His Men: Lieutenant Colonel Shilko. Before the war, he and his subunit had a local reputation for being able to raise chickens for food and profit.
- America Saves the Day: Averted
- Anyone Can Die
- Ate His Gun: Levin
- Author Tract: It's subtle in the story, but it's played straight in the afterword he writes. Peters wanted to show the readers that NATO's strategy of Forward Defense would be extremely unlikely to stop a Soviet offensive, along with the inefficiency of NATO's command structure, lack of unified doctrine and unified troop control, the strategic and operational flaws in NATO force dispositions, and complacency relying on technology and superior individual training.
- Peters does not hold the West Germans (mostly the politicians) in a positive light. He makes numerous references to them being the weak link in NATO, due to their insisting on a policy of forward defence and thus committing NATO to holding as much of German territory as possible - a political decision rather than a military one. This would mean NATO commanders being unable to trade space for time and/or a more defensible location. At the end of the book, though most of NATO is willing to fight on, West Germany unilaterally surrenders to prevent the destruction of their country, thus allowing the USSR to win by default. The West German Bundeswehr generally fights with tenacity and resolve in the book.
- Peters must hate NATO's overwatch tactic. NATO loses two easy wins because they waste time on overwatch tactics instead of selecting a Soviet type charge on line, which are depicted to succeed. The most successful NATO ground attack shown in-book was made by American tanks against a transport convoy ... without overwatch.
- Badass Army: Subverted and a half. Individually, the Soviet soldiers are all a pretty ordinary lot. Collectively, however...
- Batman Gambit: Malinsky’s whole plan revolves around the knowledge of how each of his opponents will react to invasion. For instance, he knows that his NATO Northern Army Group counterpart will let his subordinates fritter away reserve forces on local counterattacks, leaving no force to impact the progress of his main attack sectors.
- The Cavalry: Kryshinin’s forward security element is saved in time by the main body of his regiment’s advance guard and top-priority air support.
- Cavalry Refusal: Type B. The attack helicopters assigned to support Gordunov's air assault battalion pull off earlier than he expected, which promptly reminds him of a similar incident in Afghanistan where his company was ripped apart by a dushman ambush.
- Death from Above: It is implied that Anton's advance battalion was attacked by Apache helicopters, which launched their missiles outside the range of the battalion's air defense weapons.
- Driven to Suicide: Levin
- Friend or Foe?: This is how Trimenko gets killed. His anti-aircraft units mistook his helicopter for an enemy; not helped that his pilot flew higher than normal to avoid striking power lines.
- General Ripper: Malinsky starts sounding like one when he justifies his decision to actively ignore NATO military units which have retreated into West German cities. In his eyes, they are now the Soviet Army's "hostages", to be traded one nuke at a time if the Western Allies nuclearize the battlefield. Given Malinsky's preference for Batman Gambit, he could very well be planning for his counterparts to realize this is what he intends—and thereby desist from using nuclear weapons, which could be what he's banking on to happen in the first place.
- How Much More Can He Take?: Senior Sergeant Hornik is quite incredulous to see NATO tanks shrug off rounds from his anti-tank gun battery. Justified as they were equipped with last-generation anti-tank guns.
- Informed Judaism: Chibisov, as Peters wrote it: "was an ethnic Jew whose family had long ago renounce its religion, but he still felt compelled to struggle relentlessly against every last vestige of his Jewishness."
- Last Stand: When it's clear that no friendly forces are coming to link up with Gordunov’s battalion and the British troops keep on coming to recapture the bridges.
- Million Mook March: Averted. The NATO armies are expecting a Zerg Rush: the battle plan they get is an astute, intricate and strenuously thought-out plan. And it all happens very, very fast.
- More Dakka: NATO’s talent for dakka causes some sleepless nights for the Soviet commanders. For their men, too, come to think of it.
- Mucking in the Mud: The Second Guards Tank Army attacks in terrain that has turned boggy from the rain. Chapter four has an account of a tank battle with both sides' vehicles bogged down to their turrets.
- Old Soldier: Lieutenant Colonel Gordunov is an Afghan veteran.
- "He knew the garrison slang terms that sought to degrade, to cut him and those like him down to size. "Afghanistan mentality. Blood drinker. Crazy Afgantsy." Name-calling that in the end only betrayed the nervousness, the awe and even fear of those who had not gone."
- Opposing Combat Philosophies: NATO is committed to fighting and winning at the tactical level. The Soviets, on the other hand think one scale higher at the operational level. Malinsky’s operational plan involves NATO commanders focusing on and perceiving success at the tactical level against a backdrop of an unfavorable operational situation.
- Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan: Many of the story's characters previously served in Afghanistan.
- Shoot the Dog: When Seroysha kills the surviving German civilian with the butt of his RPK to avoid being discovered by NATO troops.
- Part of the Soviet information warfare campaign is the destruction of the town of Lüneburg. The army commander whose operating sector the town is within doesn't agree with its destruction—neither do the pilots assigned to bomb it. The resulting propaganda works, and is a key factor in the West Germans suing for peace.
- Shown Their Work: Peters was one of the few in the West to actually know and not have a stereotyped view of the Soviet military system, compared to most other authors and military professionals.
- Super Prototype: During a march, one of Anton's battalions is destroyed by an unnamed weapon. It is implied to be an Assault Breaker-type weapon.
- Tank Goodness: Both displayed, and averted:
- Tanks are the main striking force of the Red Army. Particularly true of Starukhin's army facing the British. Not that it helps him much, anyhow, as the British—thanks to their head-start in commencing engineering work—manage to set up defense line after defense line in rapid succession without becoming completely disorganized, until Bezarin manages flank and rout the remaining elements of the core British armored division and link up with an air assault bridgehead.
- However, it is clear that the Soviet armored vehicles are smaller (and implied to be of worse quality) than the "monstrous, boxy, Western tanks," which often results in lopsided distributions of wreckage post-battle.
- Of course, this could also easily be the result of the British being on the defense and the Soviets on the offense.
- Averted, in that tank battalion commander Bezarin overcomes the qualitative inferiority of his tanks (and salvages his superior's idiotic battle plan) with a bit of improvisation and a deadly precise understanding of how to use terrain in modern warfare - exposing the fundamental truth that it's people who win wars, not tools.
- The Deadliest Mushroom: Although no nuclear weapons are ever detonated, Malinsky has plans to use them if he has to. Chillingly, horrifyingly sensible plans.
- The Neidermeyer: Starukhin.
- Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: Gordunov’s air assault battalion has the duty of securing the Weser-spanning bridges in Hameln, fifty kilometers behind British lines. This is a diversionary assault, purely intended to draw West German and British units away from the main axis of attack. The battalion dies awaiting a linkup with Soviet armor that was never coming in the first place.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: The book’s tagline is, ‘A Novel of Tomorrow’s War’. The mention of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty puts the date after June 1988.
- The Unreveal: We never exactly find out what political factors caused World War III to happen.
- Urban Warfare: The Soviets avoid fighting in the cities to prevent losing operational tempo, but one divisional commander of Starukhin’s 3rd Shock Army draws himself into a bloody fight with the mixed West German and British elements trapped in Hannover. Not a pretty sight.
- Combat also breaks out in the many towns. Hameln in particular turns into a bloody quagmire for both Soviet and British.
- War Is Hell: I defy anyone to read about being trapped in a burning tank and then get all patriotic about enlisting.
- The ordinary conscript, Leonid, does not have a pleasant war: "As fast as he could run, he went toward the sounds of battle. He did not think even briefly of rejoining the fight. He simply wanted to be close to other living men."
- World War III: The setting of the book, notable for Peters being more interested in telling how it would go in a more realistic and down to Earth scenario as opposed to a dramatic and exciting techno-thriller common at the time. We also never find out exactly why the war happened, once more, unlike many other war thrillers.
- Would Not Shoot a Civilian: Inverted. Leonid accidentally shoots two German civilians when trying to hide in a basement. Played straight by Bezarin, who nearly fires on his own men and threatens his subordinate with an "immediate battlefield court-martial" to get them to stop raping and killing refugees.
- Xanatos Speed Chess: Essentially the entire Soviet war plan rests not on NATO making giant mistakes, but being too slow in recognizing and reacting to developments at the operational level.
- Results in a horrific, Stalingrad-style siege at Hannover for what is implied to be a large chunk of the Bundeswehr and many unlucky civilians.
- You Have Failed Me: Rounds from a NATO tank shell a building and force two of Gordunov's air assault troopers to surrender. Gordunov shoots them down before they have a chance to walk towards the enemy.