Part 2 - From the Ashes
His new Captain bars shining brightly in the morning sun, Aleksandr Illich Rodimtsev, strode toward the civilian hospital which was being used to treat the casualties returning from the English battlefield. There were many.
After withdrawing from Dover, the remnants of the 32nd (Russian) Hover Rifle Brigade had been diverted to Dieppe where cleansing stations had been established for decontamination. They had been sent south to Dieppe to keep them clear of the other 3rd Shock Corps units assembled for SEALION; nobody knew what seeing the shattered returning units would do to 3rd Corps' morale as they waited to assault the enemy. After completing decon, the Brigade had moved inland to Rouen, along with most of the 18th Tank Division. As the capital of the Normandy region, it was a large city with excellent medical facilities, extensive rail links to bring up replacement materiel, and plenty of room to house the recovering soldiers. It was a good spot to recover from the ordeal and take stock of losses. There was good food and wine in abundance, but the local stocks of vodka had proved to be insufficient for the Russians.
The reality was that after the disastrous Dover operation, the 18th Tank Division was no longer combat capable. The heart of its hover units had been ripped out, many units returning with less than 50% of their men and materiel. Meanwhile, the tracked armoured units and most of the artillery belonging to the Division were still sitting near Calais, ready to load up on transports. Rodimtsev didn't harbour resentment for their non-participation, although they would have made a significant impact at Dover. That wasn't their job; their role was to be brought over en mass after the beachead was established and be used for shock effect to breakout into the enemy rear areas. As an officer Rodimtsev knew this, but the men didn't and the usual friendly banter between the infantry and the tankers had turned nasty. Rodimtsev was glad most of the tankers were still stationed 100km away after being detached from the Division to Corps reserve. That in itself told Rodimtsev that High Command had written his division off for the immediate future.
With a deep breath, Rodimtsev walked through the large hospital doors and into the foyer. He walked over to the orderly desk and the very attractive young French civilian nurse sitting there. He smiled, said good morning in an outrageously bad accent and she smiled shyly back. Unfortunately, that was the extent of his French language skills, at least the ones he could use in polite company, and he turned to address the gruff looking Russian medical Corporal behind her. Rattling off his requirements, he was shortly handed a list of all his men in the hospital and where they were. With another smile at the pretty brunette, Rodimtsev walked off to find the first ward.
The men were in good spirits. Suffering only minor wounds, they were mostly fractures and concussions resulting from blast effects. They joked, laughed and were genuinely pleased to see their commander who had led them bravely and ably at Dover. Most of them would be back with him soon and they counted themselves fortunate. Rodimtsev chatted with them amicably, answering their questions about the town that they had not yet had an opportunity to carouse in. He also awarded them all their wound badges and distributed their mail, cigarettes and other comforts before saying goodbye and leaving the room. Moving up a floor, he saw an increased number of medical staff and more machines in the rooms as he entered the area for the more seriously wounded. Glancing at his printout to make sure he had the right room, he entered the next one on his right and saw several of his men. A couple were asleep either from fatigue or drugs he wasn't sure. More subdued this time; he again asked after them, awarded them their wound badges, distributed mail and comforts and spent some time with them. A few had lost limbs and would be returning home to their families in the Ukraine soon. One of the patients was a Marine who had fought with Rodimtsev `s company and had suffered a serious head wound in the action. It turned out that the marine was a fellow Ukranian from the coastal town of Odessa. The rest of the Marines, including Petty Officer Bykov, had departed in Dieppe to try and find the rest of the 2nd Naval Infantry Assault Group but from what Rodimtsev understood, few had returned from England. He promised the Marine that he would try to find out where his unit was and left the ward, steeling himself for the next visit.
Intensive care was two floors up. The room was darkened and packed with various machines and instruments. He found Lance Corporal Bishkin in the corner hooked into numerous life support apparatus. Bishkin was one of the combat medics that had been assigned to his battalion and his white helmeted battlesuit had seemed to be everywhere on the font line that day in Dover as he dashed about seeing to wounded comrades. Now he lay on the bed, his lower torso and legs missing after several surgical procedures. The rest of his body apart from one half of his face had suffered terrible burns when his suit integrity was lost and a tac nuke had detonated nearby. Rodimtsev sat quietly next to him but Bishkin, heavily drugged, didn't stir. It was amazing that he had survived, but the print out in his hand told Rodimtsev that Bishkin wasn't expected to live. Reaching into his pocket, Rodimtsev fished out a shiny silver star attached to coloured ribbon. Gently pinning the decoration to Bishkin's pillow he murmured "The Motherland is Proud of you". He turned and left the ward.
One stop to go. Rodimtsev found the radiation ward one floor below. In it among others were a few of his men suffering from radiation poisoning when their suit integrity was lost and had not responded to the standard chemical treatments. They were pale, their hair was falling out and the room stunk of vomit and faeces despite the best efforts of the nursing staff. Now receiving more radical treatment all of them were expected to make full recoveries in due course. Putting on a grin, he again went through the banter, awarding them their wound abdges, distributing mail and the like. One of his soldiers just sat and stared silently at the wall. Rodimtsev checked his watch, made his farewells and left.
As passed through the hospital foyer, he glanced up at the desk. The pretty French nurse, seeing his pallor after his encounters, gave him a sympathetic smile as he left the building. Climbing into his appropriated civilian car, he punched instructions into the autopilot and sat back while it took him back to the Brigade area for an all officers and NCOs briefing.
The Brigade area was a scene of turmoil. Trucks were parked everywhere in the compound and mountains of stores were being attended to by supply staff. All damaged and lost equipment was being replaced and although the vehicle losses had not yet been replaced, there was enough materiel to re-equip everyone that was left. Returning the salutes of the supply staff as he passed them Large Red banner of the Russian Forces, Rodimtsev entered the Headquarters building and went to the briefing room.
The briefing room already held most of the Brigade's officers and senior NCOs. Seeing Starshiy Serjant Matyshin in the corner, Rodimtsev went over to talk to him.
"How are the men Sergeant Major?" he asked Matyshin.
"As well as can be expected, Sir. They have stripped and serviced all the new equipment and are returning to normal. They are still feeling a bit lost though. We've arranged a football match against 4th Company this afternoon and I've, ah, `acquired' a supply of vodka that should generate some enthusiasm" Matyshin said with a grin.
"Excellent-I'll be there. Keep them busy." replied Rodimtsev as a Brigade staff officer asked them to take their seats. All talk rapidly ceased and the officers and NCOs were quickly seated. The acting Brigade Commander, Lieutenant Colonel Pavolv, strode in and told them to relax. Formerly the CO of 2nd Battalion, he had taken command of the Brigade when Colonel Proshkin perished on the way into Dover.
"Gentlemen, I've just come from Division Headquarters and have some news on the way forward from here" Pavolv said. He spoke strongly, but with a measure of fatigue that indicated how much time he was spending between HQs trying to reconstruct the Brigade and prepare for future operations.
"As you are aware, Major General Kovichov's 7th Tank Division assaulted Dover 3 days ago with heavy support from naval assets. They took heavy casualties in establishing a minor beachead. Since then the 62nd and 121st Hover Tank Brigades have been combined and the 84th Hover Rifle Brigade absorbed into the 3rd Guards Hover Tank Brigade to account for their losses. The beachead is insecure, though, and Corps HQ has been unwilling to try and force in the heavier elements of our two divisions to try and broaden the breach" Pavlov said matter-of-factly. Every man in the briefing room knew exactly what the men of the 7th Tanks were going through and didn't envy them.
"Given that, it appears that the assault will fail in its strategic mission and it is unlikely that the 4th Guards Tank Division will be committed to the Dover area. I have a "comrade" in Corps Command who suggests that Dover may be abandoned and 3rd Corps assets assigned elsewhere." That statement caused more than a few looks of shock and incredulity. If they were to abandon Dover, then all their losses to date had only served to tie down British units and really meant little in the overall scheme of things. Had their comrades really thrown away their lives for nothing?
Pavlov continued. "In the meantime, our Division is reforming but in order to prevent dilution of our men with new replacements, it has been decided to reform our Brigade into a composite battalion. We have been told that insufficient stocks of GEV-PCs are available to fully re-equip us, so we will predominantly be a Battlesuit Infantry battalion and release most of our remaining PCs to Division for re-allocation." The stares and murmuring in the conference room increased.
Pavlov raised his voice, strengthening the tone of command in it. "Comrades! I understand how you feel, I argued with the Chief of Staff for half an hour over this one, but that's how it will be. The good news is that we are receiving an increased allowance of heavy weapons units and tank busters, which will offset the loss of the Carriers. I think the big advantages we have to capitalise on here is that we wont be flooded with new recruits of unknown worth, and that we will retain a combat capability far stronger than an ordinary battalion. I have worked with the staff to compile the following organisation for the 32nd ." Nodding to a staff officer at the back, the wall behind Pavlov changed from white to display an organisational chart while other staff passed hardcopies around. The CO paused to allow them to absorb the information in front of them.
Basically the new 32nd would consist of 5 infantry companies, rather than the standard four; 4 Line and 1 Heavy Weapons Company. Each line company would also have 2 additional squads of heavy weapons. Rodimtsev welcomed the extra heavy weapons after seeing just how invaluable they had been in the front line. He would retain command of the 2nd Company and would receive most of the men from 1st and 3rd Companies of 2nd Battalion to bring him up to strength. Pavlov and his staff had wisely amalgamated men from the old battalions into the new companies so they mostly know all the men in the new company. He also saw that Pavlov had apparently convinced the Division's Chief of Staff to leave the Battalion with sufficient GEV-PCs to move a single company (which would allow timely movement of a reserve force) and a small force of light GEVs for reconnaissance.
Moving to the manning side of things, Rodimtsev saw that he would retain Starshiy Serjant Matyshin as his senior NCO, which meant that he could be now be confirmed in his acting rank and draw pay accordingly. He was also glad to see his former Commander and friend, Major Gorbatov (also promoted since Dover) as the Battalion XO. A few of the other names were familiar, but Rodimtsev saw he was to be allocated only 2 Lieutenants as platoon commanders, one of which would double up as his XO. He frowned. Casualties among the aggressive and well-motivated junior officers had been very high in the recent Operation. His third platoon was assigned to a sergeant.
Pavlov now continued "This new organisation will be effective as of tomorrow's morning parade, at which time the accommodation allocation will also be modified. That's all for now on the organisational changes, if you have any majors problems or suggestions for change, you can lodge them with the Battalion XO." Pavlov didn't really expect any, but sometimes a few shuffles were required. "In order to integrate our men into their new companies, an intensive training programme has been developed. We don't know how long we have until the Battalion is recommitted to SEALION, or even what that involvement will be, but we have assessed we have at least 2 weeks. We will start off with 3 days of squad and platoon level training, a week of company level training and the remainder for Battalion level exercises. You are now being distributed copies of the programme and your allocated training resources." More paper was handed around showing times for units to attend the weapons ranges and the other training areas. The next two weeks would be busy, but it was essential to the successful adoption of the new organisation, and at least it would keep the men's minds off Dover.
Colonel Pavlov continued on for a few more minutes about the rotation of battalion and training staff before winding up the briefing and dismissing them. Rodimtsev turned from his seat to find Starshiy Serjant Matyshin waiting for him.
"Gather then men together Starshiy Serjant, let them know about the changes and that today will be their last night as they are. Tell them to enjoy themselves at the football match and I'll see you there later. Schedule a meeting for our new company officers and NCOs for after dinner this evening so we can work through a few details and be ready for tomorrow" Rodimtsev instructed him, then left to find Major Gorbatov. He had a few changes of his own to try and make.
The next weeks were a blur or training, meetings, briefings and exercises. Rodimtsev found himself running around during the platoon training observing his men's progress and especially that of his platoon commanders. The company exercises included field work, tabletop tactics and paper exercises while the men continued their practical work with their squad leaders. Much time was spent on the firing ranges re-qualifying with heavy weapons now that they had more allocated to them. One day was spent with the companies stalking eachother through the training areas, alternatively conducting attacks on one another. Only two soldiers, neither of them from Rodimtsev's company, suffered minor injuries and otherwise the training was without incident.
One of Rodimtsev's less pleasant tasks was to write to the next of kin of his men who had died in England. It was a typically anachronistic Russian tradition that such messages were still hand written rather than the vid messages used by many other Pan European Federation member nations. Division had supplied fine paper with emblazoned with a Red Star letterhead for that specific purpose. Rodimtsev was suspicious of the readily available quantity of this paper. How many casualties had been expected?
Despite the heavy workload, there was time to let loose in Rouen. Companies were issued leave passes in rotation and for four nights over the fortnight Rodimtsev and his men enjoyed themselves. There were parties and drinking and more sporting contests to help the men fill in their minimal spare time and the reorganised company soon bonded together.
Rodimtsev also visited his wounded men twice more. Most of the lightly wounded men had returned to duty and the men suffering from radiation contamination continued to respond well, although they would be on the sick list for some time to come. Rodimtsev was pleased to see that Lance Corporal Bishkin continued to hold onto life, although he was always unconscious when he visited. He disappointed to find that the pretty French nurse was not on duty when he visited though. Through some surreptitious inquiries he found out that her name was Yvette made sure his next visit coincided with her being there. After repetitiously practising his French, he plucked up the courage to ask her to dinner and was amazed when she accepted. On his next night out from the barracks they shared a delicious meal and enjoyed themselves despite the conversation being stunted by language barriers. Nevertheless, the evening turned out to be mutually satisfying and one he hoped he could repeat.
Aside from his brief interludes in town, military life was very busy for the men of the 32nd Battalion there were many briefings to attend. Those at Battalion HQ included, amongst other things, updates on the situation in England. The 7th Tank Division had indeed been withdrawn from Dover as anticipated and was elsewhere in Normandy being reconstituted. The rumour mill suggested that Corps Command was getting ready to amalgamate the remnants of both the 7th and 18th Tank Divisions into a composite formation. Many other possibilities were circulated but the future of the battalion and its further participation in SEALION was the major source of ongoing debate.
On other fronts, the invasion was going much better than it had in Dover. The 2nd Combined Arms Corps had carved out a sizeable beachead in Brighton, although it was still having difficulty in breaking out, and the 1st Combined Arms Corps was enjoying great success in South West England. As the weeks passed, progress was eagerly followed by all officers and senior NCOs, and nobody could miss the succession of units committed to Brighton in the attempt to break out of the urban areas surrounding the beachead.
One morning it was announced that the battalion's organisation would again be modified with the addition of an Assault Pioneer company and the battalion was officially renamed the 32nd Independent Assault Battalion. The remnants of the 7th Tank Division's Assault Pioneer Battalion had been broken up and distributed one company at a time to many of the reconstituted units. The engineers of the Assault Pioneer company arrived the next day and were welcomed to the battalion. They would provide a great deal of flexibility with their capabilities in mine clearance, demolition and fortification construction.
Subsequent to the arrival of the Pioneers, the training programme was modified, cancelling the final four days of battalion level exercises for more platoon and company level exercises. Emphasis was placed on re-familiarisation exercises in the newly constructed urban assault-training course.
It was then that everyone in the battalion realised exactly where they would probably be sent. Brighton. The men continued their training continued with renewed vigour.
No orders came through but full preparations were made for the inevitable return to action. Weapons were cleaned and re-cleaned and battlesuits were inspected and checked with greater than usual scrutiny. Finally, the battalion was stood down for 48 hours to one last fling prior to battle and many took the opportunity to enjoy the pleasures of Paris. Rodimtsev took the opportunity to see that city for himself, inviting Yvette to be his guide. She happily accepted and he returned from his short leave tired but happy.
On their return, they were put on twelve hour's notice to move and restricted to barracks. A full briefing was held at Battalion HQ, at which Lt Colonel Pavlov informed them that the Battalion had been officially attached to the 4th Guards Tank Division and would be committed to Brighton in the next 24 hours. He then gave them the details of when and where they would depart and how they would conduct their second crossing of the English Channel.
Rodimtsev was greatly relived to see that they would be landing in a relatively quiet sector and would not have to face the horror of an opposed assault again. They would be ferried across in hovertrucks supplied by Division prior to taking their place in the Brighton Pocket. Initially allocated as a reserve unit, it was expected that they would be part of an upcoming breakout attempt, but no details were as yet available. "One step at a time, Comrades" Colonel Pavlov told them. "Let's get over there, settle in, and see where we go. We have made full use of our time out of the line to re-equip and cement the new organisation. The men are ready and that is due to your effort and hard work. I thank you. I have every confidence that they will handle themselves well and that they will fight well for Mother Russia." At that he dismissed them, allowing them time to brief their men and make their final preparations for the return to action.
At the allocated time, the men of the 32nd Battalion formed up by platoons and companies, mounted their transports and moved out of Rouen toward the coastal city of Le Harve. At Le Harve they stopped for a few hours and were fed by the local army kitchens. Then they made a final check of their combat equipment and sealed their battlesuits. As the clock ticked past midnight, the transports lifted and slowly manoeuvred into the Bay. Then they turned north and accelerated toward England. Toward Brighton.
End of Part 2