by Paul O'Grady
Hauptman Johannes Bitner, Officer Commanding Sturmtruppen Kompany II, Kampfgruppe Lohr, 7th German Luft-Panzer Division, surveyed the front line. The Heads Up Display on his command model battlesuit, operating in combinated light intensification and Infra-Red mode, brought the night into sharp relief to display the shattered streets and buildings of what once had been a pleasant English coastal town. His division, reorganised into ad-hoc battlegroups to compensate for losses, had linked up with the French 14th Armoured Division, but had been unable to break out of what was euphemistically known as the "Brighton Pocket", the place his troops called the English Meat Grinder. The wreckage of high-tech weapons platforms littered the area and the flickering of burning hulls showed up brightly under IR.
He watched the HUD timeline countdown; sixty seconds before they commenced another attempt to force their way through the English and their Combine allies. He flicked to a large scale tactical map with real time overlays and watched as Cossack and Galahad class GEVs of the Luft-Panzer battalions skirmished to the West with their Anglo counterparts, the deadly Raptor GEVs of the 21st Lancers- a diversion before the infantry assault. Flicking back to scan view, he watched the timeline count down to H Hour.
As the counter reached zero, the night sky lit up with streaks of fire as artillery units pounded the suspected enemy positions ahead of them. A few Jaeger class heavy tanks added their armament to the onslaught. The crashing sound of masonry collapsing was picked up by the battlesuit's audio enhancers as more destruction rained down upon the town. Switching to a tactical display, Bitner watched the icons representing his men start to move as they advanced through the rubble. Icons representing the other units of the Kampfgruppe moved forward in unison, searching for a breakthrough to rupture the front line.
"2nd Platoon reports contact with the enemy. Engaging" his signaller reported.
"So it begins again" Bitner mused and turned his attention to supporting the advance.
Major Timothy Smith, acting Commanding officer of the Prince of Wales Own Regiment of Yorkshire, paced restlessly inside his battalion command post. Since moving up to the line 3 days ago to replace the shattered remnants of another unit, his infantry battalion had already suffered 15% casualties in the brutal urban fighting and a further 8% were missing, presumed dead. The detonation of incoming artillery rocked the BPC reinforced bunker hidden in the subterranean floors of what was once a major shopping district. He walked behind his battle staff, intently watching their displays as he tried to determine a pattern to the attack. As he watched, a group of enemy infantry supported by missile tanks overran a forward observation post and engaged one of his lead companies. The enemy began firing portable missile launchers and brought down several buildings, extinguishing the IFF signals from two of his platoons. The remnants of the company began to withdraw rapidly.
"What support do we have available to assist Bravo Company?" he asked
"Outpost Zulu-Six now has a clear line of fire to the hostiles infiltrating Bravo Company positions Sir" his Fire Support Co-ordination Officer reported. Outpost Zulu-Six was an improvised defensive position, a building reinforced with BPC sheeting fitted with a rudimentary force control system and an improvised weapon system comparable to the secondary battery of an OGRE.
"Engage targets at will" Smith ordered. Nuclear fire flashed brightly in the night and PanE infantry died.
"Verdammt! Where did that come from? Reallocate all fire support in this sector and neutralise that bunker!" Bitner ordered. Kilometres behind him, artillery reoriented and rapidly spewed forth more projectiles. Outpost Zulu-Six was reduced to radioactive rubble, but had neutralised over a quarter of his company and bought enough time for the English to bring forward reserves to plug the gap in their line. Bitner selected new targets for his fire support assets and the advance continued.
"Execute plan Omega-Three and Four" Smith ordered. Two groups of infantry the combat computer labelled as Assault Engineers detached from their reserve area to rapidly move forward, utilising tunnels that they had dug under the city. Their IIF signals faded as they turned off all emitters and went electronically silent. It would take them a few minutes to reach their objective. Smith turned back to the main plot.
The `pannies' were pushing hard all along the front but had yet to make a breaththrough. His men were doing well, but couldn't hold up for long in that uneven match. He dialled into the Brigade command net, gave a short SITREP and requested additional support.
The Brigadier looked calm and collected, but then again he was another 10km behind the font line. "Hold on Tim, I've got you some help on the way" he said before cutting the connection. Smith was left to await the arrival of his reinforcements, desperately hoping that the line would hold until they did.
Bitner watched his tactical display intently as his men traded shots with the English. The situation was stalemated and going nowhere fast. If he could get up there the firepower of the HQ squad might make a difference, as could his presence there as the commander. Even on the modern battlefield the morale factor was vital. He switched his command squad circuit to talk to the other five men of his Company HQ.
"OK team, we're moving up. Lets go" he ordered. His two scouts quickly exited the building and led the way up to the front line, all sensors on maximum sensitivity and trying to watch everywhere at once. As they moved forward the glow of nuclear detonations, smoke, fire and piles of twisted rubble made the going difficult. Three weeks ago it was enough to break a man. Now they were veterans.
As he bounced forward, Bitner quickly flicked his tac map up a scale to see what the overall situation was. He saw a general engagement in progress with no real advantage to either side. The GEV skirmishes had finished, each side taking some losses before withdrawing to lick their wounds while the infantry fought once more in the city. The ruined suburbs were no place for the GEVs where their primary advantage in speed could not be exploited.
The sound of firing at close range brought him back to his immediate surroundings. Less than 900metres away he could see enemy infantry boiling up out of the ground to engage his men in close range firefights. His sergeant pushed him into a hole in the ground that may have once been a cellar just as the unmistakable rattle of a Combine designed rotary cannon sprayed uranium projectiles overhead.
Smith was pleased with the general progress of the engagement. His infantry had stood up to the unequal firefight until the counterattack was ready. Well co-ordinated, his Assault Pioneers had burst forth from their ambush to take the enemy infantry from behind, just as his reinforcements, 2 squadrons of Ranger heavy tanks and some Banshee missile tanks from the 3rd Royal Tank Regiment, launched an attack to the East. The effect was immediate, and the enemy attack stalled. If he could keep up this pressure, maybe he could retake some of the ground they had lost yesterday.
"Sir! Movement to eastůseismic sensors detect movement of a large multi tracked vehicle, type unknown. Visual confirmation unavailable".
Smith cursed, there was only one thing it could be; a PanEuropean OGRE. There were no friendly ones around, so they would have to do this the hard way. The command net signalled an incoming call from the Brigadier:
"Smith, I'm releasing some of the GEVs from the 21st Lancers to help you deal with that OGRE. With them, the 3RTR boys and your grunts you should have enough to stop it. I cant give you anything else right now, the damned Frogs are staging another attack further to the East. Give me a SITREP in 10 minutes. Out". Just like that, it was all up to him. Cursing further, he began to issue a string of orders.
Bitner remained in the bottom of the cellar trying to co-ordinate some support for his boys as the three remaining members of his command team peered over the lip of the trench to trade shots with the enemy. The headless body of his signaller lay next to him, testimony to the skill of the British snipers nearby. Nearly half his men had perished in the close combat with the British and Bitner resentfully had to respect the fighting spirit of the enemy.
The tempo of fighting to the East seemed to be increasing. Adjusting his tacmap, Bitner saw that a Mark II OGRE had entered the fray after loitering offshore. With enemy attention diverted, it was time for Bitner to retake the initiative. Contacting the adjoining unit, he quickly co-ordinated the next few minutes.
30 seconds later, his men laid down suppressing fire and he took position to bring his weapon to bear. His unit engaged the enemy at maximum rate of fire, further devastating what little remained of the city. Bitner saw movement in the rubble as an enemy sapper tried to disappear into the rubble and sighted his weapon onto the target. He fired and saw his target collapse with a smoking fist sized hole through the torso armour.
While they held the enemy's head down, a group of friendly infantry swept in from their left to sweep away the enemy pioneers and continue the advance. Taking moderate casualties of their own, the infantry of the 1st Polish Sea Assault Battalion, now down to company strength, joined with Bitner's men to sweep away the last of the enemy line and moved up to occupy the English positions. Immediately, they were taken under fire from another improvised bunker from the British reserve positions. This one was fitted with at least one anti-personnel turret and commanded good fields of fire along the streets. With insufficient strength to continue the attack, Bitner decided to consolidate where they were and await developments to the East.
The OGRE continued to move up, easily crushing its way through the rubble to create a huge trail. Bitner felt himself wishing it luck, although he was glad to be 6 kilometres distant. All its weapon ports belched fire as it pushed forward, raining death down upon the enemy. The British heavy and missile tanks dodged and ducked to keep out of range as the enemy GEVs tried to get in behind it. The German infantry continued to engage the enemy, trying to draw fire away from the OGRE, but the English only had eyes for the behemoth.
As one, the English GEVs raced in from the flank as the heavy tanks surged forward and the British infantry moved to assault. The OGRE turned toward the heavy tanks, dispatching two almost simultaneously as the smaller bore AP guns carved a swathe through the infantry. Next to die was a Banshee missile tank, which vaporised as its onboard munitions detonated. The diversion had allowed the fast moving GEVs to close the range though and slabs of armour boiled away as their weapons sought vulnerable spots. A large flash obscured all observation for a moment before revealing a gaping hole where a primary weapon had once been. The GEVs screamed outbound, desperate to reach a safe distance. The rough terrain was not in their favour however, and one straggler, evading a large ruin while travelling over 150mph, did not escape. As its drive train and guidance systems failed from the direct hit, its momentum sent it cart-wheeling into the air, shredding large fragments and coming to rest as another smoking wreck.
Four cruise missiles streaked over the battlefield at low altitude in support of the OGRE's foray. Fired from a submerged cruiser offshore, they were targeted against the British command posts and supply dumps. Rapid laser fire strobed across the sky to pluck two of them from the sky. A third malfunctioned and plummeted into the ground without detonating. The forth missile continued on to blossom into a huge explosion on the horizon.
A troop of three Ranger heavy tanks emerged from concealed positions, their Union Jack insignia bright under the electronic camouflage netting despite the grime of battle. As one, they fired and the barrel of an AP mount and fragments of treads spiralled away from the OGRE. Several squads of infantry moved forward to add their firepower and several more wheel bogeys and tread links disappeared. The OGRE turned toward them and overran them in series of severe manoeuvres as the remaining AP mounts fired. A score of broken, twisted battlesuits and two crushed tanks were left behind as it turned south back toward the PanE lines, an entire track unit now missing.
Sensing victory, the GEVs of the 21st Lancers moved forward to engage the monster once more. In their haste, they strayed into range of the sole remaining PanE artillery piece. Leaving one of their comrades burning, the remaining Lancers broke off pursuit and sped toward their own lines. The badly damaged OGRE continued to crawl south, in need of major repairs but able to fight another day.
Smith looked around his command post in shock. They had stopped the OGRE and had established a new defensive line 2 kilometres north of their original positions, but losses had been near catastrophic. The 3RTR detachment was all but annihilated and his battalion was now reduced to two amalgamated companies. Apart from preventing a major breakthrough, the only highlight had been the destruction of a minor command node by a second assault pioneer team. During the distraction of the OGRE raid, the pioneers had emerged next to a poorly concealed HQ and wiped it out with close range fire before withdrawing underground. Hopefully, that would create enough confusion in the pannie lines to enable him to resupply his men and get some reinforcements to the front line. He activated the command net and waited for the Brigadier to come on line so he could report his status and make the requests.
Crunching footsteps made Bitner turn to see a Lieutenant Colonel from the Battlegroup staff trudging toward him, his battlesuit unusually battle scarred for a staff officer. With him was an man in a battlesuit adorned with unfamiliar insignia. The Colonel took Bitner's report impassively behind the impenetrable dark tinting of his battlesuit's visor before speaking.
"Well done Bitner, you are hereby promoted to Major and ordered to take command of the Battalion. This is Major Sergetov, liaison officer from the 7th Guards Tank Regiment. Brief him in and bring him up to speed with the latest on our British friends. Advance elements from his Regiment will begin arriving in 20 minutes. The next attack will commence in two hours".
The battle to breakout would continue. It would be another long day in the Brighton Pocket.