This chapter contains scenes of violence and death, as well as minor psychological distress and drug use. Some descriptions may be considered briefly graphic.
28th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 D.C.E.
Adjar Dominance – Kalu Hills Southeast
Visibility in a tank was tricky even in good weather.
Before the driver was a thin slit and a large hatch – opening the hatch was inviting death or inclement weather and looking through the slit with strained eyes was almost no better than being buttoned down. A few vehicles gave a periscope to the driver. This allowed a limited field of view from atop the tank. However, few vehicles had a moving periscope for the driver. On most, it was a fixed traverse with limited magnification.
Seated overhead from the driver, the commander had a periscope and a hatch as well, offering a second set of eyes, but anything the commander saw had to be relayed down to the driver, this often resulting in a game of donkey party inside a multi-ton vehicle.
Unique problems presented themselves to the tank drivers advancing under the storm in the Bada Aso and Kalu regions. Dark clouds overhead seethed with lightning, and buffeting winds and battering rains worsened conditions on the irregular terrain of the Kalu. Periscopes became wet and the view through their lenses distorted; opening the hatches and slits exposed the crew to the cold rain and the minute debris carried by the wind.
Even with good equipment, vision remained limited to under a hundred meters.
Recon informed them with confidence that there was nothing in the wilds, but the leading Panzer platoons spotted alien eyes everywhere. Shadows and wraiths danced at the edge of their vision, taking advantage of their blindness. They had heard that Ayvarta was a land of magic and myth, a place where goblins and curses and witches still hunted for unaware prey. No amount of recon would assuage those primal fears of this old world.
Who could say the storm was not the work of magic, commanding the land to attack?
Regardless of worsening conditions, the 2nd Panzer Division promptly activated for attack on the 28th. At the head of the advance were scout cars and columns of light M5 tanks with their 37mm guns and sloped horseshoe turrets and tall engine compartments, driving along the main roads through the Kalu, such as they were.
Nuye Road was the main path along east Kalu, a wide dirt road winding through the most navigable portions of the Kalu’s hills, weaving through wood, across flooding ravines, circling rough escarpments of layered earth, precious little of which had been ground into surmountable slopes. Nuye started on the plains, rose along the foot of the thick Kalu in the south and bobbed up and down along the Kalu up to the Kucha in the northeast.
After rounding thirty kilometers from the starting point, a platoon from the 2nd Panzer Division’s 12th Leichte Panzer Regiment found itself driving across a fairly flat area of the Kalu, like a platter balanced precariously a step above the chaotic earth. Before them the path grew thick with shrubbery and packed clusters of broad-trunked trees with dozens of haphazard arms covered in frizzy green. It looked daunting in the gloom.
Vier platoon, as they were known to 12th Leichte, halted its march at the treeline.
A hatch opened atop the lead tank. Covered in his dark-green rain cloak, the Platoon leader rose out of his tank and stared into the shadows before him. Below him, the tank’s crew sat sulking from the sudden downpour falling on their shoulders and backs.
Ahead the road wound into the wood. Walls of green hid his flanks; he tried to peer through the gaps between trees, tried to see through that gloom. He saw shapes, but he saw shapes everywhere in the rain. He saw knife blows playing in the air wherever a branch shook in the wind, and he figures flitting in the shadows wherever a drip of water dropped from the bent arm of a tree. The Commander could not tell his fears from reality here.
In these wilds he saw a place of fog and confusion, where a man became a beast again.
The Commander shook his head.
He told himself that he was letting the nonsense of his peers get to him.
Mastering himself, hardening against these fancies, he descended into the tank, closed the hatch, and ordered the driver, and by extension his whole platoon, to move.
Within the trees the road tightened.
His tanks used to move in a square formation, four tanks forward, and one in the rear, his tank. Now the Commander ordered his tanks into a single file column. His tank, the lead tank, drove in the middle, the third tank in either direction of the five-tank line.
They advanced at low speed, turrets turned every which way. Due to the terrain and their uncertainty the charge had slowed to a crawl. While a straight shot into eastern Bada Aso should have been only forty or fifty kilometers of driving from the starting point, it was impossible to find a surmountable, direct route through the Kalu.
Cognizant of their difficulties, everyone was on edge.
A small voice sounded inside the tank.
“Gefreiter, permission to consume Pervitin ration for nerves.”
The Commander looked down at the radio operator with disdain. “Denied.”
“Yes sir.” There was palpable contempt in her voice, but he ignored it.
For the crew inside the tank, the stamping of the rain outside against the armor was growing almost as loud as the clanking of the treads and the chugging of the engine. This only increased the urgency with which the crew took to their periscopes and slits.
Someone shouted over the platoon radio – “I saw something!”
At once, the Commander alerted the driver. He cut the engine, as did every other tank. Frantically the periscopes swiveled, the vision slits flipped up, and the hatches burst open. Turrets turned in preparatiom, explosive shells were gathered and readied for battle.
Shadows, and the green wall at either side. Overhead, the black sky, the pouring rain. Cold and clammy in their uniforms, the tank commanders and the Platoon commanders stared dumbly about themselves. Lightning struck from overhead, and color inverted in the flash. Old figures in the shadows turned into new figures, but they were just the same made of the fog of the mind and the smoke of unrestrained fears. There was nothing around them.
Hatches shut again. A swift kick disciplined the jumpy gunner who called the contact.
In secret, the radio operator put her pervitin pill in her mouth and swallowed dry.
Platoon Vier advanced. The Platoon Commander called HQ.
“Still leading Tiger group. No contacts, false alarm. Please advice immediately if other elements of Tiger group make contact first. We will proceed to the rendezvous via the designated route. We are making 15 kilometers per hour at best here. Vier out.”
28-AG-30: Kalu Northwest – 5th Mechanized Division Rear Echelon
Unfamiliar voices in a strange language crackled through the radios.
“Löwe-gruppen, anerkennen. Vorrücken–”
Inspector General Chinedu Kimani interrupted. “Translate it for everyone.”
Signals were adjusted, the equipment fine-tuned, the voices became clearer. At the radio the operator, a polyglot, began to speak in tandem with the captured audio, and he put into familiar words the alien tongue emanating from the box. Everyone in the radio car with him and Kimani could now understand the captured radio messages.
Atop a nearby ammunition box a young woman took quick, sparse notes about each message. She drew lines and circles on a map of the Kalu, pinned to the wall near them.
“Lion group heading north through the Turh wood trail. No contacts so far.”
He put on a play by himself, taking on the roles of all the speakers. First was the man whose audio they first captured, the main speaker. Then a woman’s voice appeared as well. She was farther away, and her audio split and cracked more, but they parsed it enough to understand, and the radio operator translated it just the same. They had all the conversation.
“General Anschel wishes for you to advance on a tight front and make sure those roads are clear. You should be ready to move after advancing fifty kilometers or so.”
“Damn it, say something identifying.” Kimani grumbled.
She was frustrated, and her demeanor began to show it. She was not like her crew. Her voice had a somewhat hollow ring, but her lips could curl with anger or viciousness. She had regained some of what she had once lost. All of them did, some more quickly or slowly than others. It was never the same as it once was, except for anger.
Anger remained similar, though the frequency of it was altered.
“Please report any contacts. We do not expect much resistance.”
He did not switch voices to denote different speakers, nor did he gesticulate, or otherwise point it out. He translated everything he heard in a clear and unaffected stream.
“Acknowledged. We will report any contacts. However, under the circumstances, it is unlikely we will spot the enemy at any great distance. We will likely have to recon in force. Should we engage enemy positions immediately or wait for backup before doing so?”
“Engage, but if you cannot overtake the position, hold ground until a Three or Five can relieve you. Maintain visual as long as possible. Right now discovery is paramount.”
Kimani nodded her head. “Thank you, you fools. Given the context, this cannot be an M4 platoon. So it must be an armored scout car platoon, probably Sd.Kfz. D.”
She turned to the woman with the map. “Contact the Turh units. Let the cars pass.”
In response the woman nodded her head dutifully, and she turned from the map to a pack radio beside her. She picked it up and passed on the information through the handset.
“Relocate farther uphill while we still have some peace.” Kimani ordered. Ahead of them the driver raised her hands in acknowledgment, and then started the vehicle’s engine.
Inside a nondescript plot of woodland in the upper Kalu, the Adze scout car brimmed with life. Across the rotating machine gun mount atop its four-wheeled, long-nosed, fully enclosed, armored, sloping hull, the Adze mounted a large aerial that was constantly intercepting signals and feeding them to the unique, powerful radio equipment mounted inside. All this functionality bloated the Adze’s size, but there were plenty of places to hide in the Kalu. There was no shortage of hills, rocks, and trees to maneuver behind.
Black clouds stretched all the way across the Kalu, teeming with angry violet bolts of lightning. Rain fell thick and fast over wilderness, rolling down hills and across flats, making its way over the escarpments across the Kalu like miniature waterfalls.
The Kalu Hilltops was a region of chaotic shapes, a place of scarps and dips that began in the gentle territory south of Bada Aso, and ended in the mountainous terrain of the Kucha to the northeast, in the rocky coastline crags skirting the raised upper half of Bada Aso to the northwest, and in the flat terrain that preceded the border to Tambwe directly north.
Patches of forest dotted the short plains and irregular hills, each plot of woodland a few hundred meters in size. Man-made paths wove through most of them. Where forest did not grow, the terrain was too rocky and dense. Where ancient forces had left cuts along the hard earth little rivulets flowed, bolstered by unceasing rain over ditches and gullies.
The Adze and its crew traveled from one little patch of wood up a hill to another, and past that to a short plain atop a rocky escarpment. Its four wheel drive took well to the terrain. They settled on a high, rocky outgrowth that gave a commanding view of the rest of the Kalu. Normally this was dangerous, but nothing would be flying overhead in the storm, and nothing below would see them against the stone upon which they stood.
Kimani could sit atop the rock, collecting radio messages from the Nochtish crews.
The KVW was not just a military force, but an intelligence and security organ. Long ago, during a time of tumult, they learned to incorporate all of these disciplines into a form of revolutionary warfare that preyed on the strength and confidence of the enemy. Always overlooked, underestimated; that was by design. They were a small and unassuming force to the enemy’s naked eye, but they had all the information, fought from prepared positions, in a place filled with traps to spring, and with much of their strength cleverly hidden.
Radio was only one intelligence tool in an arsenal of many, but it was an important tool, and dedicated intercept crews such as those aboard Adze cars were always at work.
Interception was normally a tense and tedious job, where the operators waited for hours on end, finding busy radio networks, watching the traffic, slowly accumulating many guarded scraps of information, full of codes and secrets to decipher.
In Adjar this task was surprisingly expedient.
Nochtish crews enjoyed their radios and spent much time talking over them, constantly reporting and acknowledging. Busy frequencies tended to remain busy, and were not often switched across the days. Throughout the ensuing battles the Nochtish troops spoke almost conversationally, and their few code words were obvious and easy to decipher.
Whenever something important was gleaned from this exercise it could be quickly passed along to the other information crews across the battlefield, and down to field officers commanding regular troops. Interceptors were not alone in this endeavor; there were radio triangulators and range-finders, along with additional interceptor crews in their own Adze vehicles across the Kalu, forming a picture of the enemy advance.
From intercept vehicles, information that looked important and that was suspected to be composed of code words or red herrings could pass along to cipher crews, who were currently mostly unnecessary due to the simple plainness of the traffic; and to triangulators and range-finders who could find the direction of the transmissions to guide an attack.
That much was also unnecessary.
They had no way of launching an all-out counterattack.
Only small, limited, local engagements.
Unit compositions, headings and overall offensive plans were much more important to the current operation. Her troops had to know what was coming and when it was expected. This would help them decided whether to try to intercept the enemy at all.
“Let’s take some time to review the situation, and then contact ciphers and have them relay information to the KVW attaches in each unit via our codes. I don’t believe Nocht is monitoring our radio traffic, since their assets are still fluid in the theater, but it pays to be careful.” Kimani said. She nodded her head toward one of her crew. “Signals Officer Jaja.”
Beside the map, sitting on the ammunition box for the car’s machine gun, the young woman adjusted her glasses, and wiped some of her long bangs to the side of her head.
“Yes ma’am,” she replied. She cleared her throat. “For past three days we have been capturing radio chatter from what we have identified as the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Divisions south of Bada Aso. These divisions constitute Nocht’s primary armor power in the region, and are composed of veterans from the Nochtish operations in Cissea and Mamlakha. At its base, each division is composed of Panzer Platoons of five tanks. We do not have confirmation, but we are operating under the assumption that these Platoons are formed into Companies of fifteen to twenty tanks, making up Battalions of fifty to sixty tanks and so on from there. Each Panzer Division likely has around 300 total tanks, so there are likely around 600 tanks in the Southern Kalu, compared to our strength of 400 tanks.”
“But this strength is deceptive, I’m sure.” Kimani said. “How much of it is light tanks?”
“That is one of the qualifiers I was about to address.” Officer Jaja replied, nodding her head. Like Madiha, she had served under Kimani for a few years now. She had tanned skin and bright, golden hair and green eyes, ringed by a slight red glow. She was much more Ayvartan than Lubonin, with no knowledge of tongues but their own, and without the sharp-shaped elfin ears. However, one could still visibly trace her diverse heritage.
She continued speaking promptly. “From the frequency of broadcasts, and comparing various callsigns and orders, we’ve found that over 40% of Nochtish radio traffic has been directed toward Light tank platoons composed of previously identified types – the 10-year-old M2 Ranger, now known as the M5, likely composes a significant amount of their strength. I’m willing to say as much as 250 or even 300 of those 600 tanks could be M5s. The M4 Sentinel, and the M3 Hunter assault gun, comprise the rest, along with a smaller amount of recon scout cars and support half-tracks of previously identified types.”
Kimani nodded. She started going through their own numbers in comparison.
“Of our 400 tanks, fifty are Hobgoblins from the 5th Mechanized. All of the tanks from Battlegroup Ox are Goblins, but at least they have the 45mm high-velocity gun, and many have extra armor. We have 300 of those. From the Svechthan heavy division we have twenty-five modified Goblins which they call the Yezh; and twenty-five Gori medium tanks, the capabilities of which I’m unsure of. So the situation is not as bad as it seems.”
“I’ve been told the Gori has a short gun, but is better armored and faster than an Orc.”
“Good then; it can group with and keep up with our Hobgoblins. Any chance the other, oh, 700 or so Goblins of the Battlegroup might be able to do anything for us?”
Officer Jaja shook her head. “Unfortunately not, Inspector General. Almost 500 of the Battlegroup’s Goblins are total mechanical losses. After demilitarization downsized the tank divisions, much of the stored equipment was wholly neglected, and much of it was improperly sheltered. Transporting it to where it can be fully repaired would be a waste of time for mere Goblins. Right now around 200 Goblins have been sent to Tambwe to undergo repairs, and will not be available for a long time.”
“What about the tank units operating in Bada Aso?”
“About 100 Goblins are fighting in Bada Aso, and word has it a quarter of those are already knocked out. So we cannot hope for reinforcement.” Jaja said.
Kimani crossed her arms. “To think, I’ve been dealt such a hand by destiny, that I would be grateful to have more obsolete light tanks at my disposal right now.”
She had spent almost a week out in the Kalu, organizing the mess of obsolete armor from Battlegroup Ox into a workable defense force in prepared areas around the Kalu, and reinforcing it here and there with more experienced troops from the 5th KVW Mechanized Division. Each of the Kalu’s defensive sectors she staffed with an ad-hoc “tank brigade” composed of fifty Goblins and five Hobgoblins. She had six brigades in operation. All of the Svechthan armor, along with fifteen Hobgoblins, she kept in reserve as a response force.
Every Hobgoblin was piloted by a KVW officer, and could carry out operations well owing to its firepower, armor and radio equipment. But she was overwhelmingly saddled with Goblins, all of whom had energetic but thoroughly inexperienced Ox troops instead.
Though the Ox tank crews were motivated, they simply lacked the experience to do anything. Mobile operations and any kind of offense were out of the question.
For one there were no real tank officers, only individual platoon commanders.
And many tankers were so out of practice with their equipment that they found it hard even to travel from one location to the next as complete units. There were tanks straying off target, forgetting to communicate in any way, and exposing their formations. Several tanks had their radios entirely stripped out, or never installed at all, so she ordered those Goblins to stick to the Hobgoblins like Chicks following a mother Hen.
It was maddening how ineffective her troops seemed in this time of dire need.
But she adapted, she had to.
Kimani played to their simplest strengths, and she kept them in the woods and behind the rocks, acting essentially as stationary sentry guns, waiting, watching.
Somehow, she instilled discipline enough in them to believe in that plan and follow it.
“Nocht still doesn’t know our full strength?”
“I believe not.” Officer Jaja replied. “We moved and conducted all our construction and preparations at night to prevent air recon from spotting us.”
Kimani nodded. Everything was established. Now it simply had to work.
This was all for Madiha – she had to protect Madiha, at all costs, and this was the only way that she thought she could. Right now the greatest danger to Madiha that Kimani could imagine were those Panzer divisions rushing up the Kalu to bite into her eastern flank. Such an attack would not only be decisive, it would trap the Major in the city with her troops.
Not the only danger, but the only one Kimani felt she could challenge.
She knew that Madiha needed her on other terms.
In many ways Madiha had never grown from childhood, because much of it was taken from her before she could experience it. For a long time, Kimani had considered this state of things tragic – especially as Madiha began to lose other people in her life as well.
Madiha always hid herself in the shadows of others, and she filled herself with them, and as time went on there were less shadows. Kimani allowed this because she did not know what else to do. Now she had inflicted upon Madiha a cruelty that Madiha herself had reluctantly accepted. Another shadow left her, exposing her to the harsh sun.
That was how Kimani understood things.
It was difficult, and she didn’t know if it was right.
But for now all she could offer was 400 tanks across a wide swathe of frontage.
“How are we doing infantry-wise?” Kimani asked.
It would not do to wallow in pity.
Officer Jaja didn’t even blink. She continued to speak, in a matter-of-fact kind of voice. “Major Nakar gave us two Rifle divisions to use but they’re not very well trained – therefore we’ve opted keep them back in reserve past the river to blunt a crossing or reinforce the city as necessary, and leave the infantry component in the Kalu itself to the 51st KVW Rifle Battalion in the forest. We have around a hundred infantry with each brigade.”
“Judging by our signals capture, how much does the enemy know about us?”
“I’m given to understand Nocht has no idea that any of these formations that I’ve detailed even exist yet. They do not know the extent to which the KVW is operating in Adjar, and believe Ox to still be commanded by Gowon. They believe the Kalu is clear.”
Kimani nodded. She crossed her arms and looked over the map of the Kalu.
“We can expect the Grenadier component of this attack to be small, since it must be packed into vehicles to keep up with the tanks, and those vehicles are at a premium since Nocht’s shipping capacity to Cissea and Mamlakha is limited. However, they are probably very well trained, and they are much more likely to see us coming. This would probably be an issue in good weather, but under this kind of storm they’ll be packed tight under the tarps of their armored carriers. Their training means nothing until they dismount.”
“I don’t believe their training will prepare them for this ambush.” Jaja replied.
That was the plan in essence. For Nocht to be so blind and dumb to the intentions of their forces that their carefully calculated attack became a mess, disrupted and terrorized at every turn. Everything was set. All they needed now was for Nocht to keep its schedule.
Kimani’s radio operator raised his right hand. Everyone turned to him.
“Receiving contact from KVW forces in Nuye. They have visual on the Tiger group.”
“Alright. Give them some noise for us, for as long as possible.” Kimani ordered.
28-AG-30: Kalu Northeast – 2nd PzD Advance
According to the information acquired by the Oberkommando Suden, the Ayvartans had ten Divisions in Adjar and would have no more than this, due to a static system of defense and a fully demobilized and partially demilitarized defense infrastructure.
Of those ten divisions, one was generally considered either scattered, lost or ineffective in general; at least seven of those divisions had been fully or partially identified within the city of Bada Aso. Aerial recon on the Kalu region showed little signs of activity. In grainy aerial photos fleeing civilians could look like a rifle squadron, and rocks like vehicle HQs.
Regardless, by elimination, there had to be two divisions in the Kalu.
Leichte Panzer Platoon Vier had not seen a single solitary sign of life in the Kalu. They woke with the dawn, and started their engines with it. They had advanced for over seven hours crossing around sixty kilometers of terrain. They had trudged through forest, climbed slopes, crossed ravines and forded rapidly swelling little streams. Through Nuye they headed north and east, and now prepared for the next part of the journey. Organizing along the edge of the Kucha mountains, they would instead turn around to the southwest to smash a way into the eastern flank of Bada Aso, subverting the river and the city defenses.
They had several options to cross the Umaiha River. After bearing witnesss to the eerie absence of their enemy throughout the Kalu, Vier’s Commander thought that most of the defenses must have been prepared along the river. He felt foolish for his earlier fears, in fact. Had it been him in this position certainly he would have deployed all his strength around those river crossings. If the Panzer Divisions could not cross those rivers then Bada Aso would remain safe for the moment. So barricading the crossings made sense.
But the Luftlotte’s Jagdflug recon sorties had seen nothing built along the rivers.
Could the Ayvartans really stage a mobile defense of the rivers? Could they prevent crossings without barricades and gun positions, in order to keep their numbers hidden in the patches of woodland and in the shadows of the hills? Why was nobody resisting?
Could they really afford to be so relaxed in the face of two Panzer Divisions?
So far the enemy had been lucky while defending their positions in the streets of Bada Aso, but around those rivers it would be an entirely different story. Or would it? Nochtish commanders received information on Ayvarta that sounded like propaganda. They were demobilized and weak, low on ready troops and usable equipment, unwilling to fight for the tyranny of communism. Had they seen the real fangs of the southern continent yet?
Only ten days had passed in the war, after all.
Inside his tank, the Vier Commander pored over the possibilities. He waited, under the ceaseless rain, in what would be the shadow of the rocky Kucha, if the sun was out.
He was past the woodland, but there would certainly be more of it in his drive toward the river. While his tank was buttoned, he could see nothing, but if he took a look outside he would have seen a gentle northwards slope at the rocky foot of the mountain. To the west were patches of woodland broken up by the rising and falling of hills that concealed the edges of the river. Along the southwest lay the edge of an escarpment overlooking the lower Kalu. Even in this weather these major features were discernible to the eye, though muddy and somewhat indistinct. He wondered how high above the sea level they were.
Where had those enemy divisions set up? Where did thousands of people hide? He looked at his maps, but he was no General, and the information he carried with him to battle was simply too incomplete to extrapolate from. There were limits to his planning abilities.
He ordered his radio operator to contact the HQ.
“I need to hear from the Jagdflug again, I want to confirm a few things.”
About a meter below him, in a niche on the side of the tank, a young woman donned a pair of headphones. She began to operate the tank’s radio, putting in the call to the correct frequency and awaiting a response. She repeated the call twice, and grew frustrated.
“No dice,” replied the operator. “We’re getting a lot of noise on our frequency to HQ.”
“Try the other units, see if they can’t get a hold of them.”
Minutes later, she put down her headphones. “All I’m getting is noise.”
“Do you think it’s the storm?” He asked.
“It might be. I mean, it’s not supposed to be, but I wasn’t really trained in–”
“Is there anything you can do about it?”
“I doubt it. I will keep trying. We might get through eventually.”
“I understand. Keep trying while we wait for Funf and Acht to join us.”
The Commander felt uneasy.
His radio operation had never been interrupted by lightning and rain. Older radios, maybe; but these were M5 tanks, fully modernized from the M2. Storms should not have been a problem. Lightning and rain fading was natural, but complete signal loss was far harder to swallow, particularly with recon radio cars in the operational area.
And not just signal loss to HQ – but to other units, much closer and easier to reach.
It brought to his mind again the idea of the land itself rising them against them.
“We’ll wait for backup and then begin the advance. Is the short range radio working?”
“No, none of the radio is.” replied the radio officer. “It’s all noise.”
Commander Vier clenched his fists. “Good god. I guess I’ll signal with a damned flag.”
Hatches opened; every tank commander pulled himself out under the rain with only a sparse green hood for cover, and every crew felt the rain dripping into the tank from then on. Out of their tanks, the commanders could signal to each other in absence of radio. The Platoon Commander produced a red flag, while the subordinate tank commanders each had a blue flag to acknowledge orders given to them. It was archaic, but it worked.
While sorting out their communications Platoon Vier waited for Funf, a counterpart platoon deployed from the full-sized Panzer Regiment accompanying the Leichte within the 2nd Panzer Division; and Acht, a Platoon of mobile infantry, consisting of five Squire Armored Carriers loaded with a rifle squadron for support. This was just a small smattering of the 2nd Panzer Division’s expected full power in the Kalu region.
Once united these three platoons would form Kampfgruppe Tiger and test two particular Umaiha crossings, all planned out ahead of time. Vier led the way, scouting for the enemy. Funf followed, to deliver heavy firepower from its Sentinel medium tanks. In the rear, Acht’s infantry could dismount and rush forward when battle was joined.
They kept their eyes peeled for the other two Platoons.
Five light tanks could not complete the day’s objectives on their own.
Funf and Acht were absolutely necessary. They should have been following them through Vier’s path at about two or three kilometers distance, but without radios it was impossible to tell when they were coming or what might delay them.
They would not have stopped to fix their radio problem
Everything that was south of the rendezvous point was a bad place to be trying to fix a radio problem. So Vier was confident that the remaining two Platoons would arrive shortly. Tense minutes then followed under the cold Kalu rains.
Whenever time a lightning bolt surged from overhead the tank commanders tried to use the sudden flash to try to see through the nearby shadows and the veil of the rains. All they could see were the blurry contours of the land, the indistinct masses of trees, the lines of the path, the fog of distance, the gloomy shadow of the lower Kalu below the escarpment.
Vier hardly noticed when the first M4 arrived. It had come out of the wood in the southwest, and approached them, struggling uphill toward the rendezvous point and Vier.
One of Vier’s tanks almost opened fire.
Vier’s Commander had to wave him down with a flag.
Everyone was on edge, but this was very clearly an M4. It had its lights off, so that it would not be seen from afar by the enemy, and it was buttoned down from the looks of it. But it had a periscope, so it could be waved to. The Platoon Commander signaled to his tanks to wait, and maneuvered his own vehicle ahead to meet with the newcomer.
He started to flag his approaching counterpart.
The lead M4 closed in silently.
A second M4 started out of the forest, right behind its tail. None of the hatches opened, nobody responded to signals. Then came a third tank following their trail. It was maddening.
Why didn’t they respond? Were they trying their radios?
“Nothing on the waves still!” shouted the radio operator. It couldn’t be that.
Vier’s Commander continued to flag the lead tank ever more furiously. Surely the driver or commander could see them now. He even blared the tank’s horn at them, again to no avail. Quiet and dutiful the tanks climbed the slope, making their way to the rendezvous.
Then he saw something, a trail from the tank’s side, dancing in the rain.
He strained his eyes. It had been hard to see in the ceaseless downpour.
Smoke; from a shell impact on the side of the tank. The M4 was an abandoned husk!
“Fire! Open fire! It’s a trick! It’s a trick!” shouted the Commander.
It took far too long for his wet, cold, stressed crew to effect a response.
Off the side of the M4’s turret a muzzle flashed, and a shell perforated the command tank, exploding inside the hull. Inside the crew saw only a flash before their souls were dragged screaming from their bodies by a shower of fragments. The dead M4 ceased to move as soon as the lead M5 was dead, and from behind the puppet tank its puppeteer revealed itself – an Ayvartan Hobgoblin medium tank had been pushing the vehicle, and hiding behind its silhouette by taking advantage of the slope and the visibility.
Two other Hobgoblins revealed themselves and dashed uphill with their leader.
Soon the enemy platoon reached the crest of Vier’s hill, and paused to take aim.
There was panic among the ranks of the light panzers.
The M5s of Vier, having lost their command vehicle, and finding themselves engaged with an enemy tank type they had never seen before, started backing into the rocks while haphazardly opening fire. Volleys of 37mm shells bludgeoned the chassis and turrets of the three Hobgoblins to no avail, leaving ugly circular dents and rocking the crews inside, but scoring no penetrations. They had too little power against the Hobgoblin’s armor.
Once the M5s got moving in earnest, they hit rocky terrain and started to bob, and their shells started flying over the Hobgoblins, and failed to score even meager hits.
Every tank commander descended into his hatch. All semblance of communication was broken, and the panicked vehicles started to veer in different directions, dashing madly backwards away from the enemy. Vier had been fully broken as a unit.
Within moments the Hobgoblins opened fire, and it seemed that all at once, every M5 tank retreating spontaneously exploded. Two tanks were perforated from the front and faced the same fate as their commander – two remaining tanks had their tracks blown off, as a shell miraculously overpenetrated a front plate at an angle such that it went through the left drive-train of one tank and smashed off the right drive-train on another.
Hatches popped open, and surviving crew members rushed to escape.
Hobgoblin machine guns coaxial to the turrets opened fire, picking off the runners.
Men and a handful of women fell around their tanks, injured or dead.
Bodies vanished into the mud and beneath the pouring rain.
Fifteen minutes was all it took for Vier to disappear from the order of battle.
From the perspective of the Hobgbolins, however, this was all foregone.
Charging the enemy like this was reckless, but the pilots of this particular tank were Ayvartans of a sort who were prone to quiet, almost instinctive forms of recklessness. They lacked an understanding of fear necessary to temper such actions – so to them, this action was a natural one. Deceit had given them an advantage too good not to exploit.
After all they possessed a superior weapon and surprised an isolated enemy.
There was a small chance they could have been hurt or killed, but it did not matter.
Inside the Hobgoblin, a KVW officer with the 5th Mechanized Division radioed HQ.
“Tiger Group has been eliminated. We are advancing toward secondary positions.”
28-AG-30: Bada Aso Outskirts – 1st Vorkampfer HQ
As the storm raged over Bada Aso, the roof started leaking in over a dozen places.
People in the Vorkampfer HQ were getting wet. Spirits were down.
It appeared the restaurant building they had picked as their headquarters was not so intact after all. Long rivulets from the ceiling formed puddles on the floor, but the General forbade the staff from becoming distracted. As long as the sensitive equipment was dry and operational, the floor and the tables and people’s heads could stand a little water.
In a corner of the room, atop a long wall-mounted table, six young women worked at the radios on a crucial task. One of them was getting drenched in the shoulder, and a towel had been given to her to cover it. She started to shiver, her hands shaking as she turned the frequency dial. Then a comforting presence, a pair of hands massaging her shoulders.
Her supervisor, another pretty young lady, whispered warmly in her ear.
“It will be over soon, don’t worry.” She said. “Try your best until then, Erika.”
Erika nodded her head, and her grip on the dial steadied a touch.
She pressed her headphones against her ears. Erika’s radio supervisor awaited a report, with a gentle, reassuring smile on her face. Her presence caused every girl at the table to perk up and work energetically. They all loved working for the chief.
“Any contacts?” She asked.
They scanned the unit frequencies. They sent messages. They tried everything they could feasibly do on their end – increasing power to their transmitters, going outside in cloaks to raise the antennae, swapping the antennae for fresh ones, even swapping one of the old radio blocks for a fresh one in reserve. But none of this seemed to change the results.
After another round of standard contact calls, Erika still had no good news.
“Sorry Chief Fruehauf. Same thing as before.”
Her supervisor sighed, and ambled away, demoralized but unable to show it.
Chief Signals Officer Helga Fruehauf had been having a very difficult time of things in Bada Aso. Her troubles would have been ever so slightly lessened had any of the Panzer companies in the Kalu picked up their radios, but if anyone was shouting across those dozens of kilometers, their voice was drowned out by the radio noise.
She hoped it was merely the thunder and rain.
But she knew that it wasn’t – she just could not say what she really thought it was.
“No response from the Kalu unit sir.” She said. She hugged her clipboard to her chest.
General Von Sturm grumbled from a chair in the middle of the room.
“Keep trying. You’ve got the long range radios, we set up your antennae on the roof, we got you your generators; we’ve done everything! If the Panzer Division HQ can’t reach those units then you must be able to!” He said, gradually working himself up to shouting.
Fruehauf sighed internally, but outwardly, she smiled, nodded, and went on her way.
She prided herself on her spirit.
She wanted to make this war a pleasant home for her girls, the radio operators of the 1st Vorkampfer, and for the men that they served. She tried to be courteous, collected, and exuberant. She tried to wear a smile. But General Von Sturm’s temper had taken a turn for the worse during the Matumaini actions, and though he had calmed somewhat, she saw his growing frustration again during the 28th, and she grew tremulous.
General Von Drachen wasn’t around to stick up for her this time, either.
She was alone.
Several important actions would take place this day. On Penance Road they were supervising attacks by Von Sturm’s own 13th Panzergrenadiers Division, as well as the unleashing of what was left of the 6th Grenadier’s Divisional Heavy Artillery in the Buxa Industrial Region. In the Umaiha Riverside, Von Drachen was resuming Azul’s attacks up the eastern parts of the city, hoping to find a way to the central districts from there.
And in the Kalu, the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Divisions blitzed through, moving rapidly past enemy territory to hit their vulnerable rear areas. Once they surrounded the city from the east, the ultimate encirclement and conquest of Bada Aso was inevitable.
Or at least, that was what Freuhauf had read.
She was a signals officer.
In the organization of the Vorkampfer this simply meant she stood in a tent or a room, supervising a half-dozen to a dozen people on radio equipment, while on occasion calling a ciphers battalion to come up with code words and frequency changes, though such things had become perfunctory annoyances. Oberkommando believed the Ayvartans incapable of advanced signals warfare, so her “ciphers battalion” was gradually converted into an additional ordinary signals battalion who worked radios and did ciphers in their spare time.
Everything still came in a ship, and there were priorities to consider, after all.
Penance seemed to be doing ok; Von Sturm didn’t particularly care about Azul.
What was baffling on that ugly afternoon was the absence of contact with the Kalu.
“Call General Anschel again and tell him to tell his staff to stop jerking around and get those tanks on the line, I don’t care what it takes.” General Von Sturm said. He was reclining on a chair near one of the tables in the HQ, with his hands on the nape of his neck.
“Yes sir.” Fruehauf replied. She hovered close to one of her radio girls, lifted one of the headphone receivers from her ear and whispered the orders. She nodded, and dutifully contacted the 2nd Panzer Division. Minutes later, Fruehauf gave a menial report.
“All they get is noise sir. They think it might be rain fade or lightning interference–”
“Not possible. You know that! You know more about radio than I do! You know it’s not rain fade, Fruehauf!” General Von Sturm said, raising his hands into the air in outrage. In the process he nearly fell back to the floor along with his chair, but somehow he managed to salvage it, and righted himself in time. This near-fall seemed to tone him down a touch.
“Yes sir,” Fruehauf began, “but they have no other means of communication with the troops right now. We could try to change all our frequencies and hope our tanks are looking through every channel for contact; but that would probably mean halting the attack for a few hours until we get everyone organized again, and I know that’s not going to happen.”
General Von Sturm steepled his fingers and rested his chin on them.
“What do you think the problem is? You went to school for this crap, you tell me.”
Fruehauf averted her eyes. She could not smile or be peppy, not about this, because she was about to do something fairly heretical in her response to the General.
“Radio jamming, sir.” She replied.
Von Sturm blinked and stared at her. Fruehauf continued.
“This is clearly random noise across the unit frequencies in the Kalu, and that is why we can still communicate with Bada Aso units, and why we can communicate between HQ units. They’re jamming the Kalu panzer unit frequencies so we can’t contact them for command and control. This noise we keep hearing doesn’t sound like I know our radios sound when they are having audio issues. It’s been introduced by Ayvartans.”
“So the Ayvartans introduced nondescript static noise to our unit frequencies?”
“Yes sir.” Fruehauf replied demurely.
“That’s impossible. They would have to know the frequencies for all our units. When the hell would they have learned those, and how the hell?” Von Sturm replied. He looked more amused, as though this was a theory as far-fetched as an invasion of space men.
Fruehauf herself thought it was difficult to believe for another reason.
In order for them to do this, they would have needed high power radio equipment to be deployed in the Kalu itself. For a noise attack to work, the noise equipment had to be more powerful. She supposed they could have fed such equipment via truck-mounted portable gasoline generators, but it seemed like a difficult endeavor for the Ayvartan army they had fought so far. They would have to hide these stations throughout the rough terrain of the Kalu, from both air reconnaissance and the sight of the advancing Panzers.
Then they would have had to spend time capturing frequencies. Once they felt they had the Panzer frequencies, they would have had to jam them sufficiently, and then take advantage of the silence for whatever amount of time it took before the HQs got fed up, blasted halt orders through random frequencies until someone heard, and ordered the institution of frequency changes across the board. It was a very delicate operation that could either pay off strongly for a limited amount of time, or waste days worth of work.
Nocht’s radio discipline was not the best, but this was all a longshot nonetheless.
It required tireless effort, enormous coordination, and an understanding of the enemy’s timetable and psychology. She had read the reports. It made little sense.
Could the Battlegroup Ox depicted in their intelligence analyses do this? Could their commander, Gowon, have had this foresight and shrewdness? Could the Ayvartan army they know about support such a tactic? What was the Oberkommando missing here?
Regardless it was the only thing that made sense to her.
Advanced forms of signals warfare.
“Fruehauf, you have a big imagination. Get back to your radios.” Von Sturm said dismissively. He waved her over to the corner where the radios were posted, and she smiled, nodded, and dutifully took her place beside them. It was best not to question it when the General let you off without incident. Fruehauf purged her worries from her head.
She returned to Erika’s side, stood by her, and promised to change the towel on her shoulder and to get her some time off if she came down with a chill.
It was all she could do at the moment.
Make this bleak place a comforting home.
28-AG-30: Central Kalu, Southwest of Tigergruppen
Turh was one of the few developed westerly paths through the Kalu.
At no point was it a paved road, but in many places it was solid enough for heavy-duty transportation to pass without undue trouble. Like all roads to the Kalu, however, it became wild with the territory, weaving over hills and between trees.
In the rain it became muddy, but no intolerably so.
For the tanks that dared not navigate straight through the treacherous wood, an open, unguarded road was their best and fastest bet. Nocht’s Panzer Divisions took to those few roads through the Kalu, and charged as fast as they could into what they thought was the depths of the enemy. Tuhr, they supposed, would lead them to the Umaiha and beyond.
And indeed there were Ayvartan eyes stationed along much of the road.
But they were not very distressed by the enemy’s penetration.
Under camouflaged nets, in dug-outs and foxholes hidden by slices of turf, atop trees, and in thick bushes. All of it had been constructed at night or under camouflage, and not a single plane had been able to identify the enormity of their preparations. All six tank brigades and their infantry waited silently, enduring the cold and rain, unblinking under the flashes of lightning. Ahead of them they saw the convoys of Nochtish vehicles moving.
Many of these ambush groups let recon troops pass by unharmed to maintain stealth.
They were waiting for a different prize. Especially along the Turh.
When the first M4 Sentinel was spotted on Turh, an ambush group called in.
“Toast the nuts before eating them, Miss Jaja.”
Minutes later, eyes still peeled on the moving column, HQ responded.
“I can’t toast them without something to burn.”
A rising thunderclap concealed the awakening of men and women from their fox holes and dugouts, the dropping of camouflage nets and earth panel covers, the hard steps of people jumping down from trees, and the starting of tank engines. Grenade bundles were retrieved from backpacks and kept in hand. In small groups the troops followed the moving tanks through the cover of the trees and plants, awaiting an opportunity.
Groups along the Tuhr prepared for their imminent battles.
This particular tank brigade was divided into four groups, each tasked with two kilometer stretch of road, and each with their own unit they would trap and destroy.
In front of one particular group were five M4 Sentinels of Lion Group. These were medium tanks with tough front armor, a machine gun set into the front plate, and a deadly 50mm anti-tank gun on the turret. They had tightly spaced tracks giving speed in exchange for terrain performance, and a curved form factor with a rounded, pot-shaped turret.
Across the column every hatch was open and every tank commander exposed. Instead of looking at the trees they were more concerned with each other. They were holding flags, and focused intensely on these flags and the gestures they made with them.
They were utterly unaware.
A KVW field officer in charge of the ambush gave a radio command. “Trap them.”
Within moments, one by one the tanks ground to a clumsy stop.
Ahead of the lead M4 massive green thing blocked their way, as though a chunk of the earth itself had risen to stop them. It was covered in leaves and had a bright, angry yellow eye. Lumbering before them, it blocked the road and roared at its prey.
Lion group’s commanders visibly panicked and started waving their flags.
But it was not a wraith or elemental, but a Hobgoblin tank in a camouflage net.
At point blank range the Hobgoblin loosed a 76mm shell, instantly setting the lead tank ablaze and stalling the column. A burst of flames and smoke from inside the tank nearly threw the commander from his cupola. His corpse slumped over the remains.
Dozens of grenade bundles flew out from the trees and exploded around the tanks. One bundle hooked onto a shovel strapped to the back of the last M4 tank in the convoy, and detonated the engine. Several others smashed ineffectively against turrets and sides, but they rocked the tanks and the crews and forced the commanders back into their hatches.
The three remaining M4s dashed in different directions – two barreled forward into the ambush line, while another backed away blindly into the trees. The 50mm guns roared, and shells flew over the men and women in the forest. Trees splintered and fell, suddenly crushing several infantry, and shell fragments nicked and cut and pierced and knocked out soldiers, exploding in their dugouts or against the soft, vulnerable cover of the bushes. Panicked drivers squeezed the machine guns set into the glacis plates of the Nochtish tanks, cutting a swathe across the forest in front of them, causing grave injury.
As the woodland came suddenly alive with fire and smoke, the KVW fighters stood their ground without a note of altered emotion. Death evoked little fear in them. The M4s that charged into the wood caused several soldiers to dive out of the way, but the prey advanced no further than the trees before meeting a line of Goblin light tanks.
Piloted by scared men and women from the Territorial Army, they could not carry out the kinds of tricks the Hobgoblins performed, and at a distance their guns would have done no good against the armored faces of the M4 Sentinels. But in a stationary firing position, and within 20 meters of the enemy, the 45mm guns on the Goblins put several perfect holes into the M4’s faces, and stalled them completely. Tracks stopped dead and guns quieted. Inside, the crews made good use of their undulled emotions and started to cheer with relief.
Dashing backwards with reckless abandon, the remaining M4 found itself pursued by the camouflaged Hobgoblin, its spotlight shining across the wood as it chased the retreating enemy. They rolled over logs and smashed down thinner trees. 50mm shells kicked up mud around the Hobgoblin, and blew in half trees behind it. The Hobgoblin fired its own 76mm gun just as recklessly, and smashed the scenery just as much in its charge.
Across a hundred meters the chase stretched, the tanks face to face and the Hobgoblin closing in. The M4’s reverse speed was half the Hobgoblin’s forward speed, and despite its head start the M4 could never outrun it without turning its soft rear to the enemy’s guns.
As it closed the distance the Hobgoblin took fewer shots and landed more.
It blew off the left track guard on the M4, and smashed an awful dent into the glacis plate that warped the front machine gun mount to uselessness and knocked out the radio.
One hit on the front of the turret warped and paralyzed the turret ring.
Then the M4 Sentinel’s front lifted from the ground. It drove itself into a narrow ditch.
Concluding the chase, the Hobgoblin loosed one final shell that penetrated the Sentinel’s underbelly and left the tank burning in the wood. Rainfall and thunder were once again the dominant sounds. The Tank Commander flipped on her radio headset.
“We have toasted some of those red nuts for you, Miss Jaja.” She said.
She heard back from Jaja, “Lion group has been eliminated.”
She nodded. “Acknowledged. Advancing to secondary positions.”
28-AG-30: Central Kalu, Northwest of Lowëgruppen
While the 2nd Panzer Division was tasked with the eastern stretch of Kalu, the 3rd Panzer Division cut across the west, much closer to Bada Aso. Due to the Umaiha river going through the eastern half of the city, the 3rd Panzer Division had almost exactly the same mission as the 2nd. Drive round the Kalu, cross the Umaiha where possible, and force a way into the city via dry land to bypass the Ayvartan front line and surround the city.
To this end they mustered 125 vehicles of various classes as their first wave, traveling in a line of small convoys across the wilds. Across the western Kalu the woodland was much sparser, but the tanks had to contend more readily with the hills and the rocks. Kope Trail was the most direct route, offering the most readily navigable slopes winding around the rocky crags, like horns erupting from the earth that broke up the land in the Kalu.
Twenty of those vehicles gathered at the edge of a sliver of woods thirty kilometers into the Kalu. They paused before a broad, open stretch of slope dotted with boulders and overlooked along its eastern side by a flat-topped crag jutting out of the hillside.
That rock formation would have made an excellent ambush spot.
Puma gruppe had organized without incident, and put its fresh infantry to use.
From one of the M4 Sentinels, a Tank Commander pulled himself out of the cupola and rushed to the back of a Squire half-track. He lifted the tarp, and explained the situation to the men inside. He rushed from it to a second of their five carrier vehicles, and their tarps rolled back, and two squadrons of men departed from the edge of the wood.
At first they crouched low to the ground like thieves, rain sliding off their cloaks and glistening when lightning fell, but gradually the urgency of their situation dawned on them, as there was little cover on the long slope ahead. They worked themselves up to a dash, and charged past the boulders, feet slipping on the muddy earth, until they made it to the rock face. They stood with their backs pressed to the crag’s side for several minutes.
Once it was clear no one was challenging them, the men launched their hooks.
For an experienced climber, it was not every high up, and though water trailed down the rock, their hooks found good holds to sink into. At the top of the crag, the men found nothing but more boulders and sparse green growth like moss. Everything was clear.
One of the squadrons stood sentinel along the edge of the crag, while another ran to the tip of the rock, and waved their flags to signal the convoy to keep moving.
From the woods the tank commanders could see them through binoculars.
Orders were communicated and again the convoy was on its way out, light tanks and armored cars first, half-tracks second, and medium tanks at the back, in order to prevent any element of the group from being slowed down by any of the rest.
The Gebirgsjager mountain squadrons waited patiently, rifles out, scanning the slope for contacts. They watched the tanks moving up without incident, and felt relief.
Behind them, two barrels emerged from inside a boulder. Muzzles began flashing.
Under the sound of thunder, light machine guns opened fire against the infantry squadrons, lancing through the unaware men in vicious, sustained bursts that seemed to fill the air. Men fell from the edges of the Crag and battered against the rock, their legs or shoulders clipped, their ropes cut, and for some, simply from the shock and surprise.
Few men dropped atop the crag – for most it was a fall and a crushing landing.
Tarps and camouflage net were thrown off the inconspicuous boulders, revealing a semi-circular framework in which a squadron of Ayvartan men and women had hidden.
Men and women crawled around the wooden bars, exiting their hideouts. They set up where the Nochtish men had died, BKV anti-tank rifles and Danava light machine guns in hand. With the high land won again, the KVW squadron signaled their ambush.
Across the hill, several boulders flashed suddenly. Shells flew from the gray objects.
Immediately the attack had dramatic effects. Fire and steel fragments consumed a half-track and the men inside it. Two M4 tanks felt their sides scraped by the barrels of hobgoblin tanks, and were shot through at point blank range. An M5 Ranger’s track slid right off its wheels from several BKV shots coming down from atop the crag.
Every vehicle in the convoy switched gears and started to turn front plates and turrets toward the enemy, but found that the enemy was all among them. A dozen of what they had believed to be boulders started to move, all along the flanks of the convoy, between different vehicles, ahead, behind; there was no facing that protected them from the enemy.
All around them Goblins and Hobgoblins awoke and attacked all at once.
In response the Nochtish convoy opened fire just as spontaneously.
Shells hurtled wildly across the slope in every direction, machine guns blared, and fire and smoke raged across the hill. It was a frenzied, directionless confrontation, a tank group’s equivalent to a blind, flailing melee over the mud. An M4’s 50mm gun speared a boulder containing an Ayvartan Goblin and smashed the little tank to pieces.
In turn a Hobgoblin pierced the M4 from behind, punching through the engine and setting the crew horrifyingly alight. In a stroke of sheer brutal luck several M5s focused on the nearest false boulder and battered the hidden Hobgoblin tank to pieces at nearly point blank range. From behind them however, two Goblins scored decisive, subsequent hits on the engines of three tanks, as though lined up in a shooting gallery.
In the midst of these warring titans the infantry dismounted their half-tracks, and reached for their grenades, but almost none could throw before either hiding or retreating from the mortal world. Machine gun fire from friendly and enemy tanks alike shredded the wheels and noses of their carriers, stranding them, and the men stepped out into a killing field. Within the smoke and the rain and the flashing thunder and the brilliant blasts, they could not make out friend from foe, and they quickly learned to keep out of the match.
Many men huddled around husks as best as they could for cover; several dozen ran out to try to fight and had their arms and legs blasted off by snipers, their torsos filled with bullets from the light machine gunners atop the crag or the deadly dance of the tanks.
Minutes into the fight there was a paucity of fire and death.
Enough of each side had been bled out that a battle line had formed.
Further uphill a pair of hobgoblins had survived the savagery, shed their disguises, and faced the enemy, while two Goblin tanks limped away with smoking engines and weeping pilots but working turrets and tracks, enough for the Territorial Army survivors to get away. Fifty meters below them, two M4s and an M5 had survived with some damage. Their strong glacis plates faced forward, and their guns trained on the enemy.
The M4s fired the first pair of shots opening the duel.
Both shells crashed against the front plate of one of the Hobgoblins and penetrated the armor, sending a cone of mental right into the faces of the gunner and driver.
Standing alone the remaining Hobgoblin retaliated, and its AP shell smashed open the turret of one of the M4s and turned the interior hull into an inferno.
Quickly reloading, the M4 Sentinel fired the decisive shell at its counterpart.
The 50mm AP shell hit the Hobgoblin’s glacis – and bounced off from its poor angling.
The Hobgoblin’s riposte collapsed the M4’s battered glacis plate, and ended the match.
Behind them, the retreating M5 Ranger was savagely riddled with BKV bullets, and halted. Rather than set fire to it, KVW infantry emerged and captured the crew – they were close enough to their own lines to be able to take these people away for interrogation.
KVW forces surrounded the tank and arrived in time to subdue the tank commander, who had threatened to shoot his crew. A woman radio operator, and an injured driver were also pulled away. Unfortunately, the tank gunner had been killed by several BKV shots.
Thus, Puma group’s thrust had been blunted.
Another area of the Kalu was retained, for now.
This time it was a trembling Goblin commander who called in the report, on a portable radio hastily installed inside the tank. Having seen death for the first time, he was anxious.
“Umm, this is,” He gasped for breath for a second, “This is Corporal Turasi, and I think Puma group has been eliminated. I’m sorry, but we sustained terrible losses in the attempt. Spirits and Ancestors guard our comrades, may they have peace. And um, also, we’ve got prisoners, we’ll take them to the secondary positions with us, I suppose.”
28-AG-30: Kalu Northwest – 5th Mech Division Rear Echelon
Reports came in from all over the Kalu, and Inspector General Kimani listened in with growing triumph. So far every Panzer thrust in the first wave had been brutally rebuffed by the ambush positions, and the few groups that had been let past the ambush areas would now have to contend with partial encirclement, and attacks by the mobile response force.
She counted those panzers as good as dead.
In any event, the operation was a complete success.
While she had reports of escaped enemies, and some painful losses in her tank brigades, her forces counted almost 150 vehicles destroyed within the span of a few hours. If her intelligence was correct, the force moving into the Kalu could have been no bigger than 200 vehicles. Therefore significant forces from the 2nd and 3rd Panzer Divisions had been crushed. In addition her main objective had been to selectively destroy large amounts of M4 medium tanks, and this had been resoundingly accomplished. Though Nocht’s armored forces still outnumbered the Ayvartans, the quality gap was much shorter now.
She breathed a little easier, and lay back against the wall of the Adze car.
“Send my congratulations to our tank brigades. No need for codes.”
Her radio operator reached out to her, and handed her the headset.
“You need to listen to this ma’am.” He said. He did not make eye contact.
Kimani took the handset and listened. It was an all-unit message from Bada Aso.
‘This is Army HQ. As of 1400 hours we have lost all contact with the Commander. If any units had contact with the Commander please respond. We do not know the status of the Commander. The Commander was last known to be in the Umaiha Riverside area–”
Kimani’s eyes drew wide, and the red circles in them wavered. Her fingers slipped, shaking violently, and the radio handset fell on the floor of the Adze.
Tears started to stream down the side of her face. Her lips quivered.
She raised her hands to her mouth.
“Madiha.” She whimpered.
NEXT Chapter in Generalplan Suden is: Stormlit Memories