The Benghu Tank War III (31.5)

This scene contains violence and death.


Dbagbo Dominance — Chanda General School

Automatic fire raged across the school, the Norglers and Rashas competing to drown out the pattering of the rain and the roaring thunder. Green tracers from the Nochtish machine guns swung across the courtyard like rays from a science-fiction book, lighting up the gloom; invisible bursts of gunfire from Ayvarta submachine guns swung back the other way, cutting trails across the concrete paths, keeping men behind corner walls and taking to the floor any men who charged into the crossfire between the buildings.

At the foot of the hill, Noel’s M5A2 Strike Ranger charged up the slope, and quickly dug itself into mud. His hull was barely half on the slope, before the ends of his tracks collapsed into the soft terrain and kicked up a shower of mud. Noel left his cupola and demanded he be extricated from the mess immediately. A dozen Panzergrenadiers pushed on the track guards; after several minutes Ivan finally reversed out of the hill.

From his open hatch, Noel shook his head vigorously at Colonel Spoor, and signed with his hands across his own throat, implying this climb would be the death of him.

Colonel Spoor shook his head from inside his staff car and rubbed his temples.

Noel looked miserably down into his hatch. Water was collecting on the tank’s floor.

“Ivan, back us out into the meadow. We’ll try something on the slope to the field.”

Colonel Spoor interrupted. “No. Stay here. We can spare another tank there.”

“How bad are your losses so far, Colonel?” Noel replied. He raised his binoculars to look out at the field, where smoke and fire from what seemed to be a high caliber gun flashed intermittently along with the green tracers of a Norgler, and the flashes of karabiners. He panned around his own sector near the school proper, and spotted the Panzergrenadiers ripping metal armor from the Sd.Kfz vehicle wreck to use as shields.

“We have about eighty combat personnel left.” Spoor said. He was surprisingly calm.

Noel turned his binoculars on the commander in his car, smiling and waving from his cupola in a bit of out-of-place humor. He had zoomed in on the Colonel in time to see him turn his head over his shoulder, staring at something through his other window. The Captain curiously followed his Colonel’s line of sight and saw a pair of light cars like Spoor’s own, moving in from around the bend at the entrance to the meadow.

Towed behind the cars were two mortars in their wheeled travelling gear.

“There are always reserves, Captain Skoniec.” Spoor said.

When Noel zoomed back in on his car, Spoor waved at him and left the back seat. He walked out to the arriving mortars and urged their crew to take up positions quickly.

“Well, that’s one way to do it.” Noel said. He dove back inside of his turret.

The M5A2 backed away from the hill. At his gunner’s seat, Noel traded one pair of lenses for another, dropping his binoculars in the equipment box on the wall and looking through his periscope instead. He turned the turret around as Ivan reversed them into the meadow, and watched as the first rounds from the Granatwerfers went off under Spoor’s direction.

He reached for the radio box and switched to the Jadgzug’s dedicated frequency.

“Dolph, Bartosz, we’ve got artillery up, please tell me the Ayvartans won’t be able to counter-battery.” Noel shouted. He was keeping an eye out for spotters as much as he could on the meadow, but those Howitzers could decide again to be trouble any moment.

“We’ve taken care of it Captain. Should we help shell the school?” Dolph asked.

“Nah, there’s not much we can do with our pokey 37-mils. Come back.”

Noel switched channels again, and almost immediately he received a new order.

“Captain Skoniec, Sergeant Bialik is requesting a wall breach.” Colonel Spoor said.

He rolled his eyes and sighed loudly into the radio. “Position?”

Colonel Spoor ignored his theatrics and nonchalantly laid out the terms.

“On the meadow-facing wall of that building. Hit one of the center walls.”

“You know I don’t pack a lot of HE? I’m a tank hunter. I have maybe ten shells.”

“Ten is more than enough, Captain Skoniec.”

Colonel Spoor cut out.

Noel sighed, this time to himself; he picked up one of his HE rounds from the ready rack and kept it on hand as he scanned around the meadow with his periscope, and then through his gunnery sight. A 37mm HE shell was light enough that he could have held one in each hand and used them as work-out dumbbells, if he worked out at all.

Along the wall of the school’s Auxiliary building Noel found the Sergeant, Bialik, a tall, thin man waving his hands over his head. He pointed at a wall, near the center of the building’s ground story, made the hold fire hand sign, and backed away from the impact area. He and four other men lay on their bellies from safety and awaited the shot.

“I’d love to see that pouty expression of yours right now.” Ivan said.

Noel was indeed pouting. Ivan knew his idiosyncrasies better than anyone.

“This is a waste of rounds.” Noel replied. He hated demolition jobs.

Aiming for the wall as ordered, he dropped the 37mm HE round into the feed slide, pushed it into the gun, locked the breech and then his electric trigger. He punched a hole into the structure just under the windowsill. Pieces of tin and chunks of cement went flying.

Before the smoke cleared, Noel seized a canister shell from his reserve storage, loaded it, raised the elevation just a tick and shot that round into the wall as well.

Striking the upper half of the first story wall, the canister burst into hundreds of steel balls propelled by a small explosive blast. These fragments smashed their way through the remains of the window and wall, punching through the thin concrete and the leftover tin and leaving a jagged but comfortable hole through which the men could easily enter.

Sergeant Bialik and his men stood, waved their thanks at the M5A2 and charged in.

Noel waved back half-heartedly inside his turret, as if the Panzergrenadiers outside could see him. Another fire mission cared for, but no points scored for the Captain.


On Chanda’s field the Gnoll had been almost backed into the trees around the supply depot. Dozens of holes littered the green turf, and sporadic mortar fire continued to pound the area. Elena peered from between the track and its metal guard, using the thin aperture like a vision slit; she saw dirt burst into the air and water immediately collect in the holes, and smoke pillars rolling across the field, creeping closer and closer.

She clung to the tank and covered her head as a round exploded close beside them.

Mud flung into the air and rained over them, and she heard metal scraping as the tank tried to move a few steps back. Something snapped; Elena heard a whipping noise.

“Light defend us, that’s my track gone!” Corporal Mattar shouted.

“Hold your ground, we have to warn everyone in the depot. We’ll be right back.”

Bonde took Elena’s hand and pulled her away from the tank and toward the depot.

They crept along the side, and around the back. Bonde pounded on the door.

Slowly a teacher opened the depot door. She looked at them with tears in her eyes. Their faces, and Elena’s hair, were dripping wet and filthy, and their hands bloody.

Inside, the children were all huddled in a little nest of sandbags.

“It’s not safe, you have to run.” Bonde said. “Go into the woods. Try to make it–”

Elena found it strange that their words were uninterrupted by mortar rounds.

There was a lull in the attack.

“Get back here right now!” Corporal Mattar said on the radio.

The Civilians and children stared incredulously around the empty depot.

Elena then heard the Danava machine guns on the Gnoll going off, and the boom of the 75mm howitzer. She and BOnde turned and ran back around the side of the depot and took up positions beside the snapped track on the right side of the tank. Considerable damage had been done to it — fragmentation from the mortar rounds had broken one of the road wheels, and cut apart several links, separating the track over the bogeys.

Elena stood, raised her submachine gun and opened fire over the top of the tank as a dozen Panzergrenadiers hurtled down the field from the bleachers. In their hands were pistols, and as they charged they opened fire with them, delivering a far greater bulk of shots than their rifles were capable of. Elena was forced to hide as the volleys of gunfire pounded the face of the tank. Corporal Mattar responded with her machine guns.

From across the field and low to the ground a muzzle flashed, brighter than before.

A larger green tracer cut the distance to the tank in an instant.

It impacted the front of the tank with a solid thunk.

“Agh!”

Corporal Mattar shouted into the radio.

“Anti-tank rifle! It pierced the front of my turret!”

“Are you hurt?” Bonde asked.

“Just grazed! But I don’t know how many times he’ll miss!”

Elena peered over the tank.

She saw it, from the edge of the hill, from the ground.

A second, bright-green anti-tank tracer flew from the edge of the slope.

“One more through my mantlet! It’s taken out my gun sight!”

Elena gulped. She looked out over the field.

“Cover me.” She said.

Bonde blinked. He sounded almost outraged. “Cover you?”

Without warning Elena dashed out into the middle of the field, dropping her submachine gun on the ground. She ran with all of her might. Gunfire from the Danava flew through and past the men charging them, and in turn their pistol fire flew all around her. In the midst of the rain she thought she could see it. It was like running through hail, she thought she could see the pistol rounds thread through the rain, cut through the air.

She felt a slash across her back, a bump along the back of her shoulderblade.

A solid lead fist right into her deltoid. She nearly slipped on the mud.

She screamed, grit her teeth and kept running. She held one arm with the other.

Elena made desperately for the corpses of the Panzergrenadiers.

Those karabiner rifles on them could hit the hill. Her submachine gun couldn’t.

Behind her the desperate clunking noises of the Danava and of Bonde’s Rasha joined the snapping of the Nochtish pistols, the booming of mortar shells hitting the school courtyard, the crash of thunder, the cracking of rain as hit the puddles and mud.

A pistol round swept in front of her face.

Elena ducked, rolled, threw herself forward. She fell onto the nearest corpse.

She took his rifle, set it on his chest and turned it away from his corpse.

Again there was only a ring of iron, with a single, tiny metal triangle in the center.

From the edge of the hill another green lance flew toward the Gnoll.

Elena aligned the sights and pressed the hard trigger.

Pistol rounds swept over her; her shot flew past the Panzergrenadiers.

Over a hundred meters away a helmet flew up from the head of an anti-tank sniper.

There were no more green AP tracers after that.

Elena grinned.

She was dead for sure now.

She collapsed over the corpse, his rifle still in her hand.

“Thank you.”

She felt the pain shoot through her arm, the blood trickling out.

Her head came to rest on the Panzergrenadier’s coat.

She felt her body heat acutely; she felt the pumping of blood through her.

There was a deafening boom.

Her breathing sped as she felt a wave of heat rolling over her.

Turning her head, she witnessed the bright, fleeting burst of fire and smoke as a 75mm Howitzer round from the Gnoll exploded in the midst of the Panzergrenadiers.

At once six or seven men dropped to the ground, writhing in pain.

“Elena, are you alright?” Bonde shouted through the radio.

There was no other sound but his voice, the sifting dust from the blast, and the rain.

Elena pressed on her throat microphone. “I’m a proper mess.”

“Ancestors defend! Never do that again!” Bonde shouted.

Elena laughed into the radio. In the haze she could barely understand what she did or even what had prompted her to do so. She could barely believed she was halfway across the field from the tank, that she was in the open and on the ground and alive.

“Just so you know, with my sights shattered I will not be able to replicate that miracle I just pulled off. Thank the light I managed it, but don’t rely on it again.” Mattar said.

“Elena, can you get up? If they organize again, I can’t–”

She was close enough to the ground to feel the rumbling along the water.

“Oh no.” Bonde said. “Elena, stand up! Come back now!”

First thing they saw come over the hill was the gun.

It took the machine some doing, but the M5 Ranger was soon level atop the hill.

Even from afar Elena could see its gun adjusting, like the trunk on a curious elephant.

“I won’t be able to hit it! I’m abandoning the tank!” Corporal Mattar said.

“Get Darshan out too! Get him out first, he’s a civilian!” Bonde said.

Implacable, like a god of gray iron, the M5 tank began to move on them.

Elena threw her rifle on the ground, and seized the pouch off the Panzergrenadier.

Inside she found a strange object with canvas fins and a round head.

She had no idea what it could possibly be but she knew it was useless.

Once it cleared the bleachers, the M5 Ranger paused. Its turret and gun turned.

Perhaps offended by her little feat of graverobbing, the tank aimed at her instead of the crippled Gnoll. Anything it turned its gun to, the tank was certain to hit at this distance.

It was useless. She couldn’t stop it. All her gargantuan effort was for nothing.

Elena saw the bright flash from the 37mm gun. Her last sight on the earth.

A tongue of flame blew out from the M5’s gun, flame and gas as if through a straw.

It would have been instant; but it wasn’t. There was no shell flying at her.

All of that fire was dispersing from inside the turret. The M5 had not fired its gun at all.

Seconds later the top hatch blew skyward.

Then the entire turret exploded right off the hull of the tank and went flying.

Everyone in the field and around the supply depot was speechless.

An unfamiliar voice called over the radio, breaking the silence.

“Hello? Is this the right frequency? I’m Private Naya Oueddai. Sorry I’m late!”


Corporal Baudin cheerfully called, “Captain, taking the shot–”

And much less cheerfully his voice cut out entirely.

“Yes? Kill confirmed? Hello~?”

Noel patted the side of his headphones, wondering why the Corporal stopped talking.

“Ivan, turn us around, quickly.”

He turned the M5A2’s turret toward the slope to the field and looked around.

One did not have to look far to see the carnage.

There was a spreading fire between the bleachers; perhaps fuel or ammo, cooking.

Much more distressingly, there was a tank turret rolling down the hill.

“Heads up! Eyes down the meadow! Spoor, we’ve got something–”

A round flew from over a thousand meters away.

Behind Noel a truck went up in flames. He heard pieces of it fall over his turret.

“Ten o’ clock, Noel!” Spoor shouted into the radio.

“Ivan, start moving back!” Noel ordered.

Ivan pulled the M5A2 back; Noel stuck to his periscope.

He saw the enemy down the meadow. One tank, painted green. Vaguely hexagonal turret centered on the hull, a streamlined body, wide-spaced tracks, and a big gun.

Noel switched between his gun sight and periscope as if it would look different.

His face twisted into an anxious, twitching little grin.

“Spoor, that is definitely not a Goblin.” He said into the radio.


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