Siege

A Novel of the Eastern Front, 1942

(Originally Titled: Kampfgruppe Scherer)

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Siege concerns two terrible sieges on the Eastern Front in 1942, at Cholm and Velikiye Luki, that became linked together.

Cholm was a small town in north-central Russia where a German garrison held out for 105 days against a besieging Russian force that outnumbered it ten to one. The Russians had tanks and artillery; the Germans had neither. Most of the battle was fought in Arctic-like conditions in the winter of 1941-42, one of the coldest in recent Russian history. Unprepared for the savage climate, the German army at Cholm and elsewhere was nearly destroyed during this time.

The garrison, under the command of General Scherer, was finally relieved in May of 1942 after being surrounded since January. The struggle for this obscure town was an epic story that ranks with any of history’s more well-known accounts of desperate military stands.

Six months later, the nearby city of Velikiye Luki was besieged by the Russians, with Scherer again in overall command. This time, however, Scherer and part of his force were outside the city; he spent the next two months trying to break through to the remainder of his men trapped inside Velikiye Luki, only to be turned back time and again. At the end he was only able to listen helplessly to radio reports from the doomed men as they were gradually wiped out in a battle even more violent than the one at Cholm.

Part of this novel is told from General Scherer’s point of view, but most of it concerns a group of ordinary enlisted men caught up in these events, with all the confusion, horror, and exhaustion that they experienced going from one hopeless situation to another. Private Kordts is a somewhat mysterious fellow, having learned to keep his impudent and anti-authoritarian attitude to himself. In addition, he finds himself at least temporarily in a more-forgiving mood after surviving the siege at Cholm. A prolonged state of shock induces a kind of numbness in him that he finds strangely pleasant. For a while at least, he finds himself feeling less antagonistic towards everything. It is in this frame of mind that he is transferred to Velikiye Luki.

All the same, he is regarded somewhat suspiciously by his superiors, in particular by his new platoon leader, Sergeant Schrader. Schrader, however, has distanced himself from almost all his men after seeing a previous platoon under his command wiped out in a few minutes during an obscure engagement outside Velikiye Luki, before the siege there begins. He is distracted by recurring nightmares and finds himself unwilling to deal with Kordts, yet realizes he may be forced to do so as the fighting in Velikiye Luki grows more desperate.

Private Freitag is another Cholm veteran transferred to Schrader’s platoon, a teenager possessed by the urge to prove himself as a man, yet who also finds himself drawn towards Kordts terse humor and disdainful outlook. Freitag is better liked by his fellow soldiers, and his friendship with Kordts serves to temper some of the others’ mixed feelings about this man.

The potential for conflict among these men may develop into bitter confrontations, or perhaps any such disputes will be cut short by violent death before they ever occur, as the fighting goes on and on . . . .

Reviews

Nelson DeMille

“Russ Schneider’s SIEGE is in the same league as Theodore Plievier’s classic STALINGRAD–haunting, mesmerizing, and spellbinding.

Siege, as the subtitle suggests, is set on the Eastern Front in 1942 where the Germans and Russians were locked in the bloodiest and most destructive war in the history of mankind. The siege referred to in the title is actually two sieges involving the cities of Cholm and Velikiye Luki, battles that would be monumental by most standards, but which are largely forgotten in the context of the greater slaughter on the Eastern Front.

In Siege, as with any historical fiction based on fact, we know the outcome of the drama, but if the writer is talented—and Schneider is very talented—then the journey is more compelling than the destination.

Historical fiction is, in my opinion, the most difficult of genres, and when it’s good, it’s very good, and when it’s bad, it’s almost comical. Siege is very good, though different, and the reader needs to know that this is a first novel with few of the standard ingredients that go into the formula of war novels today—no love story, no anti-war themes…. Siege is just a straight war story, and that makes it somehow more compelling, more pure, and ultimately more riveting and gut-wrenching.”

Harry Crews

“While this novel only deals with two small Russian cities under siege by the Russians on the Eastern Front during WWII, it manages to give us the face of all war, the horror, blood, exhaustion, hunger, and sacrifice of human conflict wherever it has raged over the face of the world. This darkly painful narrative by a writer himself too early dead will change you forever. Such is art on it’s highest level.”

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