Blood on the Sand, Part One
By Paul O'Grady
Starshiy Leitenant (Senior Lieutenant) Aleksandr Illich Rodimtsev watched as the waves skimmed beneath the GEV-PC as it hurtled toward the enemy coast. The bright red Russian star and the insignia of the 32nd Hover Rifle Brigade were already salt encrusted from the sea-spray and waves. As company XO and a platoon commander in the 2nd Battalion, he was seated in the vehicle's cockpit where he could keep abreast of the tactical situation. The other advantage of this position was that he could see the outside world through the window rather than blindly lurching and swaying like his battlesuited infantrymen in the sealed troop compartment behind him. The heavy and uncomfortable buffeting would be making them more than queasy now. It was not only the rough trip that made his stomach unsettled, this was to be their first real taste of heavy combat. Apart from the endless training exercises, they had seen some light combat during the renewed Chechen insurgency a year ago. They had steamrollered the primitively armed rebels with relative ease, but the experience had been an invaluable introduction to combat and the few casualties they had suffered had encouraged the men to pay closer attention to subsequent training.
The tactical display showed the elements of the 18th Tank Division, to which the 32nd Brigade belonged, hurtling toward the South East coast of England as part of Colonel General Kornukov's 3rd Pan European Shock Corps. Along with the sailors of the 2nd Naval Infantry Assault Group, the 32nd Brigade was the spearhead of this part of OPERATION SEALION. Until recently the 3rd Army had been comfortably based in the Ukraine. Recently however, the well-trained units of the 3rd Shock Corps had been relocated to provide a massive punch to the Invasion force and had been allocated the most difficult target of the campaign- Dover. In order to most rapidly cross the channel and assault the defenders, only the Division's hover assets were conducting the initial assault. The heavier tracked armour units would wait in France until they could be brought over in fast surface transports. The key to forcing the assault would be surprise, aggression and shock action, and not a heavy slugging match.
Rodimtsev frowned as he saw that the winds were far stronger than expected and had blown away the earlier fog. The forecast had been for thick fog and no wind until at least midday, but weather prediction very much a black art now that all satellites had a lifespan of minutes. Fog would at least have been a morale boost even if modern targeting systems made visual acquisitions unnecessary. The loss of satellite coverage also meant that navigation over water was done by the anachronistic method of radio triangulation, with resultant accuracy losses.
As the icons representing the Naval Infantry transports closed the coast, the TacMap displayed the supportive bombardment from the Navy's `Swift Sword' class strike submarines. The number of cruise missiles seemed much lower than expected, however, and he surmised that several of the submarines must have been neutralised by the Combine's naval defences, which reportedly included extensive nuclear minefields. The missiles smashed into to the coast with unknown results as the sailors' began to disgorge from their own submersible assault carriers and storm the beaches. Rodimtsev brought his attention back to the positions of his platoon and saw that they would have the enemy coast visual in 2 minutes.
"2 Minutes men! Load weapons! The situation ashore is still unclear. Be prepared for anything and watch out for the Naval infantry who have already landed. I don't want any friendly fire incidents!" Rodimtsev told his men over their suit comm systems.
"Da" replied Serjant Matyshin, his platoon sergeant, and began to get the men ready.
Rodimtsev reported his platoon's readiness to his Company Commander, Kapitan Gorbatov, then watched as the Brigade's lead wave gained visual on the coast ahead. The TacMap was flooded with symbols as their sensor information was relayed over the tactical datalink. Enemy forces seemed not only intact after the cruise missile strike, but were stronger than predicted by Corps Intel. He grunted at the incompetence of the intelligence staff, then stared in disbelief as the lead two vehicles of the brigade vanished…
Painfully bright beams of coherent light stabbed out from the British coastline and the GEV's cockpit glass automatically darkened to prevent optical damage. The light GEVs of the brigade's reconnaissance company were disintegrating before his eyes as the UK laser defences were brought into effect upon ground targets! Built on high towers to increase their line of sight, these formidable weapons remained potently intact and were now systematically picking off brigade vehicles as fast as they could recycle. It appeared that both the infiltration by saboteur Spetznaz teams and the supportive bombardment had been unsuccessful in knocking out these positions. The men of the 18th Tank Division would pay dearly for that failure.
Kapitan Gorbatov's voice came over the command circuit "All units scatter. Plan Blue One I say again Blue One. Once 2 kilometres from shore close up and head for your designated landing areas". The battalion's vehicles rapidly increased their spacing and began a series of violent evasive manoeuvres. This not only made targeting more difficult, but the increased spray rooster tailing from behind each vehicle helped mask those behind them from the coherent light. The rate of fire from the laser emplacements slowed somewhat, but where their selected targets inevitable died anyway. Luckily for the men of the 2nd Battalion, the towers were mainly concentrating on the heavier attack craft of the 110th Hover Tank Brigade on their right, savaging the tankers and ripping holes in their formation. Rodimtsev cursed he weather forecasters again; at least fog would have reduced the effective range of the enemy laser towers.
As his hovercraft turned and banked toward the designated area South West of Dover proper, Rodimtsev turned his attention once again to the TacMap. He now saw enemy positions flashing in bright red where the crippling fire originated. Ashore, the sailors of the Naval Infantry group were under extremely heavy fire from prepared defensive positions and trying once again to advance up the mined beach. Their forming up points were being blasted by artillery and emplaced weapons in addition to the English infantrymen firing down from the heights. They were effectively pinned and unable to advance. They were far from impotent though and Rodimtsev watched the icon displaying an enemy forward position disappear as it was smothered by a deluge of marine firepower.
Rodimtsev saw that his platoon was now only 6 kilometres from the landing area now and conventional weaponry added to the carnage of the laser towers. Little remained of the Recon platoons ahead of them, the survivors scattered or disabled, and as he watched another light GEV disintegrated and blossomed into a fireball. As it impacted on the choppy seas, it cartwheeled and tore itself to fragments. Losing all integrity, the smoking hull sank immediately. There was no sign of the crew. To his front the coastline flashed with fire, the sky above glowing red and lit by almost continuous flashes of mighty explosions. Impacts upon the enemy positions showed him that the exchange was far from one way, however, and that the Russians were dishing it out as well as taking it.
Bright streaks lofted over the enemy positions then dropped low to race seaward. Increased jamming and their evasive patterns betrayed them as cruise missiles. All vehicle turrets trained around and spat fire as they passed, but the flight time was short and two managed to pierce the defensive umbrella. One detonated on the trailing edge of the 1st battalion, the other further back near the centre of the brigade. Rodimtsev watched wide-eyed in fascinated horror as the fireball grew and the shockwave effect raced across the water, flattening the water and disintegrating anything in its path. At least 4 hovercraft of the 1st Battalion and one of the 2nd Battalion's leading GEV-PCs were wiped out by the first missile. A few other GEVs were picked up and thrown by the concussion effect, disrupting the formation before they regained control and retook their positions. The effect of the second missile was obscured to Rodimtsev but the sudden loss of the TacMap feed and the scream over the command link made him fear the worst. A full 15 seconds later Gorbatov's voice came over the private channel and confirmed his fears.
`Aleksandr Illich, that missile just took out the brigade battle staff- including Colonel Proshkin!' he said, his voice tight but confident. `Our battalion CO is taking charge of the brigade and I am taking the battalion. You've got the Company. You know the orders and the plan. Good Luck'. He cut the link abruptly. Rodimtsev had always got on well with Gorbatov and was pleased that his CO had such confidence in him.
Activating the company command link, he quickly briefed the other platoon commanders and sergeants on the situation. "Serjant Matyshin, you are now acting Starshiy Serjant for the Company!" he concluded, elevating Matyshin to the role of Company Sergeant-Major
`Understood Sir. It's a bit warmer here than Zagreb was' Matyshin replied and Rodimtsev grinned at the massive understatement.
The enemy coast loomed closer with every passing moment...casualties mounted and more men died. Two kilometres to go. Rodimtsev ordered his remaining GEVs to close up as they made the final approach. Nine of 1st Battalion's GEVs had made it ashore but their sacrifice had diverted the enemy fire away from his company ("His!" his subconscious thought proudly) and the 2nd Battalion had suffered only modest losses in comparison. Three of their GEV-PCs lay smoking behind them and the battalion's light hovertank platoon was down to two units. Seeing a group of Naval Infantry pinned down close to his landing area and far from their unit, Rodimtsev made a quick decision.
"Standby for the final run-in Comrades! The landing area is now shifted 3000 metres east near those sailors. We will try to link up with them and get off the beach as soon as we can." His platoon commanders gave a quick acknowledgement.
With engines screaming at the load, the GEV-PCs raced the final thousand metres to the breakers. Enemy fire was almost continuous now and Rodimtsev saw his lead carrier fly to pieces in a fiercely expanding cloud. Bent and buckled scraps of sinking steel and BPC were all that remained of it and its cargo of 6 infantrymen and 2 crewmen. The driver of his PC reduced thrust dramatically in order to negotiate the breakers at the beach and then they were ashore.
"Dismount" he yelled over the platoon frequency and the troopers in the back opened the hatches above their heads to leap from the cargo bay, glad to be free of the confined space. The scene that awaited them outside was like nothing they had ever imagined.
Rodimtsev gasped as he took in the inferno that was like a vision of Dante's hell. Patterns of tracer criss-crossed across the beach, permeated by massive fireballs, blast concussions and reflected light from the laser towers which continued to engage targets out to sea. Whole trees were uprooted and sections of masonry thrown into the air with the force of the blasts, one of them bodily crushing a trooper from 3rd Platoon as it landed. Rodimtsev caught a glimpse of a battlesuit clad body vaporising ahead of him as it triggered a mine. An armoured glove landed nearby still filled with the owner's hand. Little else remained of the man.
Scanning through the general frequencies, Rodimtsev tried to contact the Marines now only a mile or so from his position. Heavy jamming and general confusion prevented him from making any progress, but he ordered his men to engage the enemy positions immediately in front of the sailors. The English fire there immediately slackened off and one marine, presumably the commander, looked over in his direction and seemed to understand his intentions. Taking advantage of the lull in enemy fire, the sailors rapidly advanced up the beach and began to assault the positions that had pinned them down. A fixed anti-personnel mounting continued to scream death as it engaged them but was soon silenced as the marines reached the blockhouse and began systematically destroying it. Pushing their weapon barrels directly into the firing slits, they showed no mercy to the Englishmen who had showed them none earlier. Out of the immediate line of fire and their position consolidated, the sailors turned their fire upon the enemy positions in front of Rodimtsev's company.
"FORWARD!" Rodimtsev roared and started to sprint up the beach. As one, his well trained men surged forward, the GEV-PCs adding their fire into the maelstrom that now engulfed the British positions. The defenders were anything but innocuous observers though and a renewed storm of fire poured from their positions to cut a huge swathe through the exposed Russian infantrymen. The kapiral leading the charge was cut in half by heavy weapons fire and another man activated a mine to disintegrate into a mist of blood, gore and battlesuit fragments. A heavy weapons trooper from the lead platoon established a fire position behind a small dune and a stream of heavy gauss slugs tore into the enemy blockhouse.
Rodimtsev's suit screamed a waning as the GEV-PC's sensors detected an enemy artillery commencing fire on their position. "INCOMING!" he screamed and as one the Russians dropped to the ground and scrambled for cover. Nuclear fire swept over their position as the low yield tactical warheads detonated above them in airburst mode. The blast wave threw Rodimtsev bodily along the beach, knocking the wind from his chest. His suit status display showed that integrity was intact and life support continued to function normally. As he surveyed his men, he saw that the artillery strike has landed near 3rd Platoon, turning one of its squads into a pile of shattered battlesuits on the now glassy and fused sand. Three combat medics bounced their way over there, their bright white helmets and IFF codes transmitting their non combatant status to friend and foe alike. All belligerents had agreed not to deliberately target medical personnel and so far that held. As the medics started to check the casualties however, a second bombardment impacted on the area, destroying a GEV-PC the previous strike has only disabled, and leaving a single man wondering dazed among the crumpled suits and charred corpses. Rodimtsev grimaced at the sight and a boiling hatred surged from his stomach. They had to clear the killing zone fast- they also had to exact vengeance.
"FOR THE MOTHERLAND!!!" he screamed, leaping to his feet and levelling his weapon. As he charged he saw the remnants of his company follow suit, screaming warcries over the command frequency. With blood and adrenaline pumping, Rodimtsev closed the enemy positions firing as he ran. Another of his men fell to enemy fire, but the enemy artillery strike now impacted on empty sand as they cleared the killing zone. A massive detonation on the English blockhouse momentarily stopped the maelstrom as a Heavy Weapon team from the Naval Infantry brought fire to bear. The resulting lull allowed the Russian infantrymen to close to point blank range. Without mercy, the Russian soldiers poured devastating fire into the English trenches next to the bunker. Rodimtsev saw a helmet rise above the trench lip in front of him and moving his weapon slightly, he placed the crosshairs on his helmet display over the enemy's head and let go a three round burst. The enemy's faceplate imploded under the impact of the heavy slugs and the body was thrown against the opposite wall of the trench. The other occupants met similar fate at the hands of his men. Rodimtsev dived into the trench landed next to the inanimate battlesuit of the man he had just killed. The shattered faceplate showed only a smear of red gore and Rodimtsev was glad he couldn't see the man's face. Pushing the corpse aside, he placed the barrel of his weapon over the trench lip and continued firing.
A Russian reached the English bunker, throwing himself to one side in the bunker's blind spot as he primed a demolition charge. More Russians had cleared the beach and threw themselves behind cover as a cry of "Fire in the hole" went over the company frequency. Keeping his body out of the line of fire from the bunker's weapon mounts, the infantryman slapped the shaped charge onto the front of the bunker and sprinted for his life. 5 seconds later an enormous detonation obscured the enemy position as a jet of pure plasma burnt through the BPC armour and into the vitals of the building, stunning or killing its occupants. Two other Russians rushed the gaping hole in the wall and poured fire into the breach before entering to dispatch the stunned enemy. The rest of the Russians wriggled into firing positions to engage the secondary defensive positions.
Dropping back from the trench lip and out of the line of fire, Rodimtsev took stock of his men and surveyed the wider area on his TacMap. His display indicated that he had maybe 35 effectives left in his company and that he had three GEV-PCs left operational. The rest of his men were incapacitated or dead on the beach or on the bottom of the channel in their BPC coffins. The rest of the Brigade had conducted their landings as scheduled, but at a high cost. 1st Battalion was down to maybe two companies in total after the devastating cruise missile strike on the way in. 3rd Battalion had fared little better after landing in a murderous crossfire from two previously undetected artillery pieces in addition to the defensive bunkers. 2nd Battalion was more or less intact, although it could muster maybe a total of 3 companies of infantry. The primary difficulty was that the 3 battalions were isolated, pinned by defensive positions and minefields and unable to support on another. Rodimtsev activated his link to Captain Gorbatov to report.
"We are ashore and have cleared the beach. We are approximately 3 kilometres East of the designated position and have neutralised the enemy bunkers in his location. I have about 40 effectives remaining and am attempting to link up with a platoon of Marines on my right flank" he said.
He could hear the Kapitan panting as he ran and replied to Rodimtsev at the same time. "Well done Lieutenant! Are you in a position to cover the rest of the battalion? We are still pinned on the beach and unable to advance". A large detonation sounded in the background, followed immediately by the whine of a rapid fire gauss weapon.
"Da, Comrade Captain! We will provide covering fire from here but haven't the strength to continue the planned attack without further support"
"Do it. The CO is trying to consolidate the Brigade but we are scattered and it will take time. Damn these English! They fooled us well and have at least twice the strength we expected. Provide what cover you can and await further orders. Out."
Rodimtsev passed the orders to Starshiy Serjant Matyshin, and fire began to pour down the beach to cover the other companies struggling to get off the beach. As he looked back behind him, Rodimtsev saw a lone figure scuttling up the beach toward him, hugging the ground and keeping low to avoid enemy attention. Magnifying the image, he saw that the figure was wearing a modified battlesuit painted in the blue and grey disruptive camouflage of the Russian Naval Infantry. The marine continued to approach and dropped down next to him in the dead ground. Given the scrambled communications situation, he offered Rodimtsev one end of a cable and attached the other end into a socket on the side of his battle helmet. Rodimtsev attached his end and heard him speak.
"Comrade Lieutenant! I am Petty Officer Bykov, 2nd Naval Infantry Assault Group. We landed in the wrong spot after our assault craft was crippled with mine damage - we have been separated from our unit ever since. Ensign Krikly commands our platoon and sends his thanks for the covering fire. He suggests that we link up and consolidate our units."
"Very well, I will take command of our combined unit. Take copies of our command codes and frequencies so that you can link into our TacNet and comms circuits."
Bykov punched the keys on his wrist computer to copy the required information from Rodimtsev's battlesuit, then unhooked the cable between them and scuttled back toward the other Marines. Before he was halfway back he had transmitted the information back to Krikly and the two officers conversed.
"We are to consolidate and establish fire positions to cover other units landing here" Rodimtsev informed the marine officer. "Its a big mess at the moment and we are getting slaughtered on the run onto the beach. Our Brigade is trying to consolidate but it will take some time. Right now we do what we can and wait for further orders"
"I understand, Lieutenant. We have taken severe casualties and I am down to 12 men including myself". Ensign Krikly sounded shaky but in control of himself.
"OK Ensign, maintain your current position and engage targets of opportunity as they appear." Rodimtsev cut the connection to concentrate on his TacMap. Gorbatov's group was making better progress off the beach now that they had covering fire, but their losses were fearful. Including the marines, Rodimtsev now had the equivalent of about seven squads under his command, but what could he do with them now that they were effectively pinned again? Relatively safe where they were, they couldn't advance and enemy fire continued to pour over their heads. Selecting a wider scale on the TacMap, he saw that elements of the 110th Hover Tank Brigade had survived the savage lasers and defensive fire to push inland. They had created a salient a few kilometres deep and were trying to expand it, but they had suffered severe losses. It also appeared that they had silenced the artillery that had fired on Rodimtsev's company earlier and he breathed a silent thanks to the tankers. The enemy were responding in force, however, and the 110th was fighting for survival as enemy heavy armour attacked their flank. Looking in the direction of the armoured battle he could see several large columns of black oily smoke climbing toward the sky marking the spot where vehicles and men had died. The columns rose on both sides of the line, though, and the Russians tankers had taken several English with them.
Rodimtsev chanced to lift his head above the parapet to see what was going on around him. His men were exchanging sporadic fire with British infantrymen holed up in a trench system about 800 metres inland. They were also receiving fire from a couple of buildings to their left, which were now little more than shattered skeletons of crumbling brickwork and twisted metal. As he watched, Private Grov's head exploded in a shower of gore and blood fountained from his neck as his corpse sank to the bottom of the trench.
"SNIPER! Ten O'Clock!" Starshiy Serjant Matyshin screamed. All available weapons swung onto the designated area and blasted at maximum rate of fire. Known as a `sniper check' it was a tactic employed to pin or force the sniper to relocate rather than kill him; they had used in Chechnya several times to good effect. More cautious now, the Russians continued trading shots with the enemy infantry and await further developments.
"Rodimtsev!" Gorbatov's voice came over the command channel. "We are finally off this damn beach and clearing the first line of positions now -" the detonation of a nuclear demolition charge drowned his voice for a moment "…shift your fire to the enemy's secondary positions in front of us and maintain your current position."
"Understood, Comrade Kapitan!" Rodimtsev replied, then relayed the order to Ensign Krikly. The Russians shifted their fire once again to their left and covered Gorbatov's men as they cleared out the first bunkers and began to advance on the next line of defence. Heavy rockets lofted from the Marine's positions to impact on an enemy bunker fitted with an emplaced Heavy Tank gun. It blossomed into a white-hot furnace as its BPC protection collapsed under the onslaught and the resultant fragments were widely scattered in the blast.
"Well done Ensign!" Rodimtsev exclaimed.
"Thankyou Comrade. Unfortunately, that was the last of our rockets. We are without resupply for the heavy launchers and are now down to standard infantry weapons and the designated targets are out of range" Krikly replied. Rodimtsev was pleased to hear Krikly's voice had lost its earlier waiver.
"Understood. Shift your fire to the positions in front of us and cover me as I provide suppressing fire to Captain Gorbatov. I believe the enemy may try to launch a local counterattack to reduce our foothold." Krikly clicked an acknowledgement.
Clicking over the Company net, Rodimtsev urged his men on. "Comrades, lets hit these bastards hard and let them know they face Russians this day!" They replied with a resounding "URRRAH!!!" and fire poured into the enemy positions. Rodimtsev's remaining two personnel carriers moved forward to unmask their turrets and added their fire also. Rodimtsev watched the advance of Gorbatov's battlegroup with satisfaction, seeing a group of British Infantrymen withdraw from their positions and fall back under heavy pressure, figures dropping as the enraged Russians extracted their vengeance. Rodimtsev added his own fire to the maelstrom and watched his target, an infantryman in a Ranger suit, go down hard and lay still.
Absently, Rodimtsev noticed that the edges of his faceplate were beginning to fog up. That shouldn't happen; the suit's life support should have kept the temperature at a constant 21 degrees Centigrade. Fearing that his suit had been damaged, he performed a full suit diagnostic and was relived to see that all systems were still green. However after the exchanges of fire and the effect of the laser fire ionising the local atmosphere, the ambient air temperature was now well over 50 degrees and was reducing the performance of the suit's climate controls. Rodimtsev tried to convince himself that that was the reason for the suit's reduced performance, and filed the information away to mention to the R&D technicians. He laughed humourlessly to himself; he would be lucky to see France again and shouldn't worry himself about being a little too warm. He was more likely to feel a few thousand degrees too warm before this day was out as nuclear fire consumed his body.
Ensign Krikly burst over the net and brought him back to the present "Enemy Tanks advancing on our position- Right Flank! Range 4000 metres! We are taking fire!" Rodimtsev swore and ducked back into the cover of the foxhole to check his TacMap. It showed four enemy Heavy Tanks advancing on the Marines from the right flank. Scaling up the range he saw that the enemy's armoured counterattack had ravaged the 110th Hover Tank Brigade. An enemy spearhead had cut them off and encircled them. An enemy heavy tank platoon had evidently been detached to try and roll up the beach and dislodge the Russian infantry. They were now sitting back and pounding the marines well outside the infantry's range and now that their heavy weapons supply had been exhausted, they were powerless against them.
"Fall back by fireteams to my position" Rodimtsev ordered Kirkly. "Starshiy Serjant Matyshin! Standby to receive armoured attack- right flank!"
Rodimtsev rose to again peer over the trench lip and saw several marines bouncing toward him as fast as they could. His own men were repositioning themselves in dead ground, shielding themselves from the enemy tanks. The resultant drop in supporting fire to Gorbatov was unavoidable, and Rodimtsev had to advise him of the change in situation.
"Understood" he replied "I think we have them now. We will have to consolidate here though. We have taken heavy casualties and can't advance any further"
Rodimtsev looked in their direction. At maximum magnification he saw the lead two squads enter the enemy trench. Going left and right, they began to roll up the trench. Suddenly, an enormous blast disintegrated the position and atomised the Russians within it as the retiring English detonated nuclear demolition charges buried beneath the trench. "Devils!" Rodimtsev spat.
He turned to see the marines continuing to fall back toward him; a few supporting wounded comrades. The enemy tanks continued to fire at them as they retired and he saw at least three stragglers disappear in a ball of fire. A short scream burst through the command circuit then was cut off. Six marines reached Rodimtsev's position and he saw Petty Officer Bykov tumble into a shellhole nearby.
"Lieutenant. Ensign Krikly is down and we lost several more men. I think we damaged one of the tank's tracks with a grenade bundle. We are down to myself and 3 others plus 2 wounded" Bykov reported.
"Understood. The Starshiy Serjant will see to your men" Rodimtsev said tautly and watched as Matyshin took charge of them. He was filled with rage and frustration. After their success in landing ashore and sacrifices in carving out their current fire positions, he was now under fire from infantry in front and threatened with an armoured assault from his right. Gorbatov's attack on his left had reached the second line but was now under fire from three sides and unable to help him. He was overextended and unsupported- What could he do? He looked up to see the enemy armour advancing relentlessly down the beach toward him, relatively invulnerable at that range with all their heavy weapons expended. Shit Shit Shit!
Help came in an unexpected form. A group of Galahad class hover attack craft from the 181st Tank Brigade swarmed in from seaward having taken their share of casualties from the laser towers and other defences and were out for blood. They saw the four enemy tanks near the beach and screamed in to attack. The British tanks swivelled to meet the unexpected threat and their guns belched fire. One Galahad was left disabled and slowly sinking on the waves, another exploded in a fireball effect that were already becoming too familiar to Rodimtsev. Then the GEVs were in range and began to savage them. The turret of one enemy tank blew skyward on a column of fire as its armour collapsed. Another was left limp and lifeless on its side with its undercarriage ripped out. The two survivors began to retire toward their own lines at the sudden reversal. The trail tank took a direct hit on the rear plates as it turned to disengage and was utterly consumed in the resultant explosion. The sole survivor took off at maximum speed and safely disappeared behind cover before it too could be destroyed. The six GEVs, all that was left of their Company of the 181st Tank Brigade, slowed and began to take the infantry positions in front of Rodimtsev under fire as they took stock of their situation around them. The addition of the GEV's heavy firepower quickly reduced the volume of incoming fire, but far from silenced it.
Gorbatov came over the Battalion command frequency once again. "All Commanders! Divisional HQ is ordering a withdrawal - this mess is going nowhere. Enemy defences are vastly stronger than expected and we haven't got sufficient strength to push onward."
"Kapitan! We have neutralised the first line defences, now have GEVs in support and I believe we can take the next line of trenches in a combined thrust if you provide fire support from the flank" Rodimtsev implored.
"I understand your frustration Comrade Lieutenant, but there is a wider picture. Our maskirovka failed and the enemy were ready for us- we cannot prevail here! We must salvage what we can for another time. Our men will not remain unavenged Aleksandr Illich!"
Rodimtsev hated to withdraw after seeing many of his men butchered, but taking a moment to allow reason to replace emotion, he understood. Some Russian doctrine was unchanged even after a hundred years- "Reinforce Success, not Failure!" his instructors had repeatedly preached to him as an Academy cadet. The losses they had sustained here were unsustainable and did not assist in achieving the Corps mission. The trick was to press the reserve forces into areas of weakness, not where the enemy had reinforced, and it was obvious that the enemy had heavily reinforced this area.
"Detailed withdrawal instructions are being transmitted over the TacNet now" Gorbatov continued. "The GEVs from 181st are going to serve as battle taxis for our overflow of men, prioritise the space the Carriers for the wounded, otherwise ride on the GEVs. Anyone who doesn't want to try it can stay and take their chances with the British! The Navy will provide covering fire while we withdraw. Standby to execute in 5 minutes".
As Rodimtsev briefed his men, he saw the GEVs up the beach turn and start toward his position. He ordered his GEV-PCs back from their hull down firing positions and a work party started to fill their troop compartments with wounded while the rest of the infantrymen continued to lay down covering fire. The enemy fire was intensifying, however, and one of the stretcher-bearers was hit while loading one of the wounded into the PC. His companion activated the battlesuit's integral first aid system and heaved him into the PC also. Rodimtsev glanced down the beach to see similar preparations being made by Gorbatov's men. As an afterthought, Rodimtsev ordered that the enemy bodies around them be checked and any wounded taken with them. These English had fought well in the defence of their homeland, as he would have, and deserved to live. Divisional Intelligence would also appreciate a few prisoners for interrogation.
Looking at what was left he wondered idly why Division was bothering to order the withdrawal at all; there wasn't much left to withdraw. When everything was ready, he reported it so to Gorbatov and saw that there was less than a minute until the withdrawal was scheduled. He was to cover Gorbatov's group as they withdrew from the secondary line of defences back to the beach, and then they would cover him as he loaded up and left. Gorbatov's men would then also depart, hopefully before the British could reoccupy their original positions and hit them on the way out. The counter ticked down to zero.
"Covering Fire!" Rodimtsev ordered and once again every weapon available to his reduced company fired on the British positions. The soldiers of Gorbatov's battlegroup leapfrogged back in squads, maintaining coherence like the well-trained and experienced troops that they were. Rodimtsev nodded in admiration, the discipline of these men under such heavy fire and after such casualties was incredible. He was proud to be amongst them. The reached the first line of positions and turned to lay down a withering fire on the enemy troops now advancing.
Gorbatov's voice came over the Command freq once again "There withdrawal is delayed, Brigade HQ is having difficulty in co-ordinating our withdrawal and the covering fire. Maintain current position and standby for further orders." Rodimtsev cursed. They were giving the enemy a priceless opportunity to follow up and pour fire into their backs as they withdrew. If he were the enemy commander he would launch an immediate counterattack.
Unfortunately, the enemy commander had similar thoughts and as he observed the enemy positions, Rodimtsev saw battlesuited infantrymen begin to move forward. A pair of enemy missile tanks, having approached stealthily behind the buildings nosed out of concealment and began to lay down a covering fire. Rodimtsev noted that the vehicles were emblazoned with different insignia- the Hourglass of the North American Combine, rather than the Union Jack of the United Kingdom. He grinned wolfishly; here was the true enemy. This was the enemy that had invented and developed the cyberhorrors and were now building them on the doorstep to Europe. It was their expansionistic policies and militaristic attitude that had forced this war upon the world. Yes, he thought grimly, he would enjoy killing these men much more than the English.
"FIRE!" Rodimtsev ordered and his men opened up. The GEVs concentrated on the enemy vehicles and one was shortly ablaze, the other withdrawing trailing smoke from a damaged engine. The infantry attack quickly stalled without their support and the surviving Combine troopers began to withdraw to their former positions. Rodimtsev gave them no respite and felt no compulsion to check his men's fire into the backs of the retreating enemy. Several more went down hard before the survivors regained the cover of their defensive positions.
"Well done men, keep their heads down and wait for the signal. For now we wait."
Minutes passed and there was no word from Gorbatov. Rodimtsev resisted the temptation to call him-if he had any information he would pass it. He and his men continued to trade ineffectual shots with the enemy, but otherwise it was relatively quiet to their front. Rodimtsev watched a nearby marine with interest as he surveyed the enemy line through the sight of his marine sniper rifle. For minutes at a time the marine lay motionless, then his whole body shook as the weapon's recoil forced his shoulder back and the weapon discharged the huge gauss projectile. Rodimtsev didn't see the impact, but he saw the satisfied look on the marine's face as he ducked back into the trench to ready the weapon for another shot. The marine, noticing Rodimtsev's interest, simply said "Officer" as he grinned and went back to his task.
Gorbatov came back on the line "All units continue to hold current positions. We are unable to co-ordinate the withdrawal and 1st Battalion is under severe pressure" he said to his company commanders. "We are unable to contact the Navy, who are trying to repulse an attack by enemy light missile boats. I don't think we will be able to do this in a co-ordinated manner, and will try to-" Gorbatov was cut off with static as enemy jamming locked onto his signal. The interference then disappeared as the comms units automatically tuned to new frequencies "- I say again; Standby to conduct withdrawal by Companies on my signal".
Rodimtsev acknowledged the call and saw from his TacMap that the company furthest from him would be first to go, then him, then the remnants of the two companies with Gorbatov. They would support eachother in turn, but Gorbatov would be badly exposed as he left the beach last. Hopefully, comms would be been restored with the Navy by then so they could cover him.
At the designated time, the first company mounted up and began to move. Gorbatov's men rapid fired at the enemy positions opposite them and Rodimtsev's did the same. One of the GEVs nearby had been slowly advancing in the dead ground and took the opportunity to rise up and aggressively engage the enemy infantry, smothering them in a devastating blanket of fire. In return the enemy in return called in an artillery strike and the GEV, unable to retire to cover in time was transformed into another glowing hulk littering the terrain. More artillery landed in and about Rodimtsev's men, forcing them to take cover in the bottom of their foxholes and trenches. When he looked up Rodimtsev saw that his medics again bouncing between positions attending to the injured. They returned dragging the body of another of his men and loaded into the GEV-PC with the other wounded.
Rodimtsev jumped on a private comms circuit to Gorbatov. "Captain! We are again under artillery fire and taking further casualties. If we don't get out of here soon, there wont be much left to withdraw! We need to either move now or scatter further to reduce casualties, but that will mean spreading the base of fire unacceptably."
"I understand" Gorbatov answered, knowing his subordinate spoke truth. "The first company is clearing the beach now. Mount up and standby. Covering Fire will commence in 20 seconds."
Rodimtsev clicked his acknowledgement and cut the circuit before addressing his men. "Mount Up!" he ordered and without hesitation his riflemen and marines slithered from their trenches and shell holes back onto the dead ground of the beach. His remaining men clambered up onto the GEVs. As soon as they were loaded up, the hovercraft turned in place and at maximum power left the beach, manoeuvred through the surf and moved out to sea in a Vee formation as fast as they could go. Enemy fire chased them but was light under the covering fire from Gorbatov. The blast from a near miss caused an almost catastrophic crash, but the GEV pilot recovered in time and continued to race seaward. The detonation had blown two troopers from the vehicles deck, however, and on his Command Status Screen, Rodimtsev saw they were dead.
Rodimtsev held onto the gab bar on the rear deck of the GEV as it bounced and heaved away from the enemy beach. He could see the enemy positions that had been opposite him shuddering under Gorbatov's fire. He was stunned to see so many crumpled battlesuits, Russian and British, scattered over the area, but he knew his men had all been checked and that they were not abandoning any wounded to the enemy. He could also now see Gorbatov's men climbing aboard their transports and leaving the beach to the enemy. His attention was diverted as several cruise missiles streaked above him, inbound on the enemy positions from the PanEuro fleet out to sea. The remaining laser towers, far fewer now, went berserk and a rapid firing criss-cross of light illuminated the area. Every one of the missiles was splashed, but the missile strike had diverted the towers' attention away from the withdrawing hovercraft as they raced outbound. The strike, either precisely co-ordinated or by luck, saved many men as they withdrew. Only one GEV, overloaded as it was with battlesuited infantrymen clinging to every fitting on the hull, was caught by the enemy lasers and transformed into another disintegrating hulk. Then they were clear. Behind them, the enemy coast receded to a thin line, then a smudge on the horizon, and then was gone.
Gorbatov came over a private channel on the comm link. "How are you Aleksandr Illich?"
"Alright Kapitan. There aren't many of us left though."
"I know. We left far too many comrades on the beach. I understand that the Reserve Division is marshalling now for another assault further down the coast. They fooled us well here, my friend. I hope the price we paid was worth it."
Rodimtsev was surprised to hear his commander speaking so plainly to him,. They had been friends for years, but one always had to be careful of what you said, especially on an encrypted battle circuit.
"The English fought well. They defended their homeland" Rodimtsev said. "I have a few of them onboard my carriers. They are wounded but will live. They deserve to."
"You did well today Aleksandr Illich" Gorbatov continued. "I'll be recommending you for promotion and that you retain company command when we get back."
"Thankyou Kapitan" Rodimtsev replied and with a sigh, he lay back on the GEV decking and felt a fatigue he had never known before. Now that the adrenaline had stopped flowing he realised just how tired he was. He was looking forward to savouring the taste of a shot or two of vodka as it burned its way down his throat.
His TacMap bleeped for attention, showing the assembly positions for the Brigade's remnants and their allocated decontamination stations. Decon would take at least an hour after the hell they had been through and it wasn't until that was over that they could finally count the cost of the morning's debacle. Looking around at the vehicles skimming back to France over the waves he could see just how costly the assault had been. Idly, he looked at the bright red star near him on the vehicle's hull. One corner was scorched black from a near miss and it was heavily salt stained but the colour remained bright and defiant. It gave Rodimtsev confidence.
End of Part One
The main character, Aleksandr Illich Rodimtsev, is named after a Russian officer who served with the Red Army from the 1920s to 1966 and was twice decorated as a Hero of the Soviet Union. Serving in the Spanish Civil War in 1936 with the Loyalists opposing Franco (and winning his first Hero of the Soviet Union decoration), he subsequently commanded a Cavalry Division in the 1939 Poland Campaign, and in 1941 commanded the 5th Airborne Brigade (3rd Airborne Corps) which defended Kiev before escaping encirclement there. Subsequently reformed as the 87th Rifle Division, Rodimtsev led his men skilfully throughout the German onslaught, for which performance they were redesignated the 13th Guards (Order of Lenin) Rifle Division and continued to fight during the 41-42 Winter Offensive. Promoted to Major General, he continued to command the 13th Guards throughout 1942, including the disastrous Kharkov Offensive, during which his men held steadfast in the face of massive German counterattacks, and the hell of Stalingrad. His division entered Stalingrad on 14 September and held the vital area along the banks of the Volga in the face of heavy German attacks, suffering over 8000 men killed before the siege was lifted in 43 (the famous Sgt Jacob Pavlov of "Pavlov's House, was from the 13th Guards). For his illustrious leadership during the battle Rodimtsev was named a Hero of the Soviet Union for the second time. After Stalingrad, Rodimtsev took command of the 32nd Guards Rifle Corps (5th Guards Army), a post he held throughout the remainder of the war and saw service at Kursk, the Ukraine and Berlin. He rose to the rank of Colonel-General before retiring in 1966. He was an outstanding soldier whose bravery, versatility of command and skill earned the respect of friend and foe alike.