28-AG-30: Djose Wood, 8th PzD Headquarters Area
Karla Schicksal maintained radio communication with the different Kampfgruppe, tracking their progress and reporting to Dreschner, seated above her in the Befehlspanzer with his headphones off, tapping his fingers on the iron walls of the tank.
Kampfgruppe K under the command of Lt. Kunze was advancing sluggishly toward its first objectives in the southeast; Kampfgruppe L under Lt. Lenz made decent progress in the West despite tight roads and rubble; Kampfgruppe R under Lt. Reiniger, tasked with the important main thoroughfare in the South, was not cooperating with her.
Schicksal contacted Reiniger various times, and very few times did he reply.
She did not at all intend to cover for him, but she gave him some slack, knowing him a capable enough officer and a willful sort. Reporting to Dreschner, she told him that everything was going to plan and that no engagements were reported. He was satisfied enough with this. “Tell them to give a detailed report at the first objective areas.”
“Yes sir.” She replied. This type of instruction appealed to her. Dreschner being hands-off in these situations was for the best. It meant she had to make no judgment calls.
She sent the message to each crew in turn. Though the Befehlspanzer’s radio could collect multiple frequencies worth of incoming audio in one feed that she and Dreschner could hear, it could only transmit to specific Kampfgruppe channels at a time.
Dreschner hardly ever listened in – it distracted him.
After sending her instructions and receiving replies, she would notify him of what was said instead. Late morning and early noon passed slowly this way, hearing routine reports. She liked the voices of the men (and the very few women) on the radio – the dedicated signals officers were soft spoken and had clear, interesting voices, unlike the fighting crew.
By noon the first objectives should have been seized, and enemy contact long ago reported. Kunze reported his objective and held for instructions; Lentz did the same; both reported no enemy contact. Reiniger reported nothing. Schicksal gave him the benefit of the doubt at first, but then Kunze and Lentz reported advances towards their second objectives, and Reiniger still did not call. He was far past due for a reprimand now.
Schicksal could no longer ignore Reiniger’s foolishness.
She put down her headset and turned on her seat to face General Dreschner, who noticed immediately. “Something wrong?” He asked, still drumming his fingers on the steel.
“Lt. Reiniger’s reports have been sporadic and vague, and for the past hour or so he has not reported anything at all. What’s more worrying sir, is that none of the Kampfgruppe have reported enemy contacts at all throughout the operation. Something is not right.”
“Of course, it had to be Reiniger,” Dreschner grit his teeth. “That insubordinate clod. Had he any less skill or any less trust from his men I would sack him.”
“What should I do, sir?”
“Contact the fool and put him through to me. Accept no excuses.”
Schicksal nodded and put her headset back on and indicated for Dreschner to do the same. She turned back to her radio set, turned the dial to the correct frequency, and picked up her transmitter. Flipping a switch, she spoke calmly into her transmitter.
“8th PzD HQ to Lt. Reiniger, report your progress and disposition, this is 8th PzD–”
“Progress and disposition is everything’s fucked, lady!” Lt. Reiniger shouted.
Schicksal cringed from the sudden, sharp cracking of his voice over the radio.
She heard gunfire around him and the sharp retort of his tank’s cannon firing. Despite the ambient noise it was the voices that disturbed her the most. She had never heard Reiniger sound so anxious and so loud. Dreschner was by that point listening in with his own headset. His face was contorting with anger and confusion. He tapped his headset.
“I’m here as well you thug, do not shout into the radio!” Dreschner said.
Reiniger paused at the Brigadier-Generals’ voice. They heard nothing but his breathing for an awkward moment. “Well, shit sir. I thought I could fix it myself but I’m afraid I’m gonna have to report, we have just gone and lost some tanks to the commies.”
“Explain you miserable idiot! Why have you not been reporting your advance?”
“Sir,” Reiniger began, which for him, was rare and dire a thing to say indeed, “Kampfgruppe R captured its objectives early and met no resistance. I ordered them to advance until they made contact with an enemy, and I was so focused on command–”
“You clown! Of course they were trying to lead you into an ambush!”
“I’m going to need a losses report for the Logistics crew,” Schicksal meekly interjected.
Dreschner waited with clenched teeth and fists for Reiniger to deliver the report.
“Six tanks knocked out.” Reiniger said, his voice growing more guttural and restrained, as though he felt the General’s hands choking him. “All escorts and their motorcycles too.”
“How the hell did this happen?” Dreschner shouted suddenly.
Reiniger devolved into a pronounced stutter. “They blew up the floor right from under ’em. We didn’t know there was a sewer or bombs there sir! All the assault guns collapsed or blew up, and an M4 fell in from not retreating fast enough. All the men had been clearing a minefield when the charges went off, so it took them all too. Remaining M4s are retreating back to the first objectives. But sir, I believe we’ve got a bigger problem.”
Schicksal’s head hurt, Dreschner and Reiniger’s shouting bouncing around inside her skull. Dreschner was shaking from head to toe in anger, and he spoke as though to an archenemy rather than a subordinate. “You are dangerously close to the edge Lieutenant! I should like to know what you have to report, with your record this blackened!”
There was audible gulping on the other end. “We’ve been trying to fight back with just the M4’s but their High Explosive is garbage. I’ve got reports that even the fucked-up–”
“Mind your filthy tongue when you talk to me you pig!” Dreschner shouted. Schicksal nearly cried out in pain, her hands going up to her earpieces and almost ripping them from her head. She had barely restrained herself from doing so in Dreschner’s presence.
“The M4’s guns can’t even break the ruined buildings the communists are hiding in, sir.” Reiniger said, clearly putting in the effort to affect a dialect more in kind with Dreschner and Schicksal’s speech. “Sir, we need more 75mm assault guns out here and fast if we want to break the main thoroughfares. That 50mm won’t cut it, sir, it’s too limited!”
“Your head is too limited.” Dreschner said, in a low and bitter voice that was far more comforting for Schicksal than the screaming. “You know we don’t have equal amounts of M3s and M4s. Your men will hold their position until the next wave of your Company reaches them, and those will be the last assault guns you will receive, Reiniger.”
Dreschner swiped his hand across his own neck, and Schicksal turned the dial, cutting Reiniger off. Immediately the Brigadier-General turned around and tore some photos that had been taped up from the wall of the tank. He pored over them, flipping between them rapidly, looking over the South roads as photographed days and days ago.
“Knyskna’s main thoroughfare is wide enough for a larger formation than the five-tank advances we were using.” He said, aloud but to himself, Schicksal knew. His mind was racing through possible options. “Six tanks, two rows of three, both M4 and M3.”
He looked up from the photos, and then back down, but at Schicksal instead of his own hands. “Send word to Kunze and Lentz to watch for ambush and avoid overextension. They will expand cautiously past the first objective, with an eye toward the roofs–”
Schicksal turned the dial mindlessly to execute the order, but the radio rewarded her efforts with a blast of static and noise that pummeled her senses.
She winced and stifled a cry, almost in tears now from the unprecedented abuse her ears had received in such a short span, but ever the professional she grit her teeth and got to work, adjusting the sound as best as she could with the radio’s controls. Within moments the mess of noise and static became the frantic voices of Kunze and his tank commanders and the ambient chaos around them, together flooding through the airwaves.
“They’re under attack sir!’ She said. “Kampfgruppe K was ambushed in the southeast!”