The Kalu Tank War (16.3)

This story segment contains violence and death and psychological distress.


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–”

Clang.

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.


Read The Next Chapter || Read The Previous Part

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