David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Russia Pt. II (Last Citadel), 2004
by David L. Robbins on July 30th, 2014

This was my third trip to Russia, having been also for two earlier books, War Of The Rats and The End Of War. I spent three weeks on the battlefields around Kursk. There I learned how late the sun goes down in July, the crops that were planted in 1943 (especially sunflowers, a major image in the novel), and the view across the endless fields, imagining them from a tank’s firing sight. I visited towns and villages, museums and memorials. I spoke with as many older folks as my interpreter and I could ingratiate ourselves to.

Back home, I spent days at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds Museum in Maryland with the curator, sitting in tanks of all kinds, handling firearms and learning ballistics. I flew in a bi-wing stunt plane to get the sense of acrobatics my Night Witch character  Katya would need to escape the swinging searchlights after her raids. I rode in a restored T-34 over dusty fields in rural Virginia, playing gunner and driver. I interviewed an old Russian found by a local rabbi. The man had been a partisan in the forests around Minsk, blowing up German troop trains. I sat for hours with a retired Green Beret who taught me how to handle C-3 and how to position the explosive clay to derail a train any number of ways. At Russian museums I watched video interviews with old Soviet and German tankers, hearing the battle for Kursk relived in their voices.

Here I'm checking out the optics and the headroom (I'm 6'6") in a Russian T-34 tank I found at a private museum outside Washington, D.C..

Playing the commander, getting used to the view from a turret.

My author photo for Last Citadel. Really, I felt cool.

The T-34 had a top overland speed of 35 mph. The German Tiger lumbered along at 20 mph. You do the math. The Russians won.
The striking memorial for the battle of Prokhorovka on the Russian steppe, where the Germans and Soviet armies fought a vicious battle with thousands of tanks, the pivotal battle in the fight for Kursk,  Operation Citadel.
Sprawling over the valley floor, filling it from the river villages to the foot of the bordering slopes, was an immense sea of bright, blossomed sunflowers. The valley walls cupped the gold like hands cradling a gigantic, shining medallion.

Luis gazed in wonder at the vast field of yellow. He did not forget this would be a battleground. But the omen was clear to him, the metaphor of the golden badge too plain to be ignored.

                                                             —Last Citadel

Posted in Research    Tagged with no tags


Leave a Comment