This story segment contains scenes of violence and death.
25th of the Aster’s Gloom, 2030 DCE
Adjar Dominance — Bada Aso South District, Matumaini and 1st Block
Kern stared wide-eyed at the latest obstacle blocking their way north. He had already seen buildings collapsed like an avalanche of rubble across whole streets, and roads cratered so deep that one seemed to stare directly through them and into the blackest hells.
Despite these experiences he was still taken aback by the ominous novelty of a crashed bomber, a Wizard plane. On its side a sultry pinup in a swimsuit faced the Grenadiers and blocking passage. Resting on a bed made of collapsed buildings its wings were nowhere to be found. The nose was buried into the rubble and the tail dangled on a strip of metal.
It was the bent fuselage, thirty meters long and almost ten meters tall, along with its nest of rubble that directly prevented the Grenadiers from advancing up Matumaini 1st.
They would have to divert east and then turn around again.
“What’s the hold-up– Oh? Scheiße. Everyone go right, round Goa Street.”
First Sergeant Zimmer joined Kern atop one of the mounds with a map in hand, and took Kern’s binoculars. Kern had been roped into a unit after taking that last intersection. Zimmer swore up and down that Private Beckert belonged in Z-Companie and apologized to Captain Aschekind after finding him “annoying” the CO with his presence.
Kern did not remember Zimmer whatsoever but he went along with it in order to avoid embarrassing himself further to the Captain. Zimmer pushed on ahead with his Z-Companie, with Aschekind bringing up the rear with the remainder of the Battalion.
Slowly the two forward platoons climbed the rubble and approached the wreckage.
Many stopped to stare at it. Such a massive craft; how could it have fallen?
Sgt. Zimmer examined the wreck, fifteen or twenty meters ahead.
“Nice pinup.” Zimmer said.
Even through all the abuse the plane had suffered, the woman painted on the side looked fairly pristine, dressed in a low-cut red corset with black mesh leggings, blonde hair flowing freely as though the plane were in flight and blowing it around. She had flashing blue eyes and a bright smile. Clearly a lot of effort had gone into her. Zimmer shook his head. “Those Luftlotte boys sure know how to paint. Now if they knew how to fight.”
Kern smiled awkwardly. He was not one for inter-service rivalry.
But everyone seemed to have these jokes.
Zimmer handed him back the binoculars. Kern took another look at the plane.
Most of the men started for the east road.
“Get one last good look at her son, because you ain’t seeing a lady like that for a while.”
“Right.” Kern replied, sighing. He was interested in the fuselage than the girl on it.
More men entered the intersection. “Let’s get going, you’ve lagged behind enough.”
He sure was one to talk; Zimmer always seemed a healthy distance from combat.
Kern found something curious about the wreckage, however, but couldn’t confirm it.
“Sir, something is wrong with this. How many windows does a Wizard class bomber normally have? I see at least five along the fuselage and that seems like too many–”
He paused mid-sentence, having found his own answer; Kern dropped his binoculars and shouted a warning, hooking Zimmer with his arm and bringing them both down.
Gun barrels protruded from the makeshift windows along the fuselage.
Long bursts of automatic fire cut across the street facing the wreckage.
Within seconds one whole squadron standing below the wreck seemed suspended in time as they were riddled with bullets, blood splashing from exit wounds, arms flailing, limbs collapsing under the withering fire until they fell dead in a tight heap over each other.
Dozens of men out in the open could do nothing but drop on their bellies or haul away.
Sweeping streams of bullets clipped the legs of many runners, knocking to the ground several helpless grenadiers. Men hit the dirt, covering their heads, while pools of blood formed under them seconds later. Those furthest away ducked behind rubble and into the frames of ruined houses, gathered their wits and exchanged fire, shooting at the ambushers’ firing ports, trying to drive back their barrels or hit the merest hints of a man in the shadows.
These made remarkably small and difficult targets.
Dozens of bullets bounced off the armored hide of the wrecked plane, sturdy enough still to defend the soldiers huddling inside. They hit the frames around each firing port, cleverly cut into the fuselage to appear to be airplane windows.
While the trick would not have fooled an airplane enthusiast, Kern had never even been trained to identify Nochtish planes. That was a separate branch of the service!
Now in the face of this ambush, dozens of men had died or been injured in a moment. Most of a platoon entire had been lost in seconds, and a few scattered rifle squadrons offered all the resistance to the ambush that they could. There were perhaps forty men firing back with rifles against five or six machine guns saturating the area with bullets.
Most of the men had poor angles on the fuselage, shooting from the houses on either side of the street. Everyone who had been in the open was dead or wounded.
“Take them out!” Zimmer shouted into his radio, “I want men straddling that hulk! Respond damn it! Someone run out there and throw a grenade in that hole!”
At first it was unclear that anyone had heard those orders.
Kern saw a dead man ahead with a radio backpack that was making noise.
They finally received a reply from one of the houses relatively closest to the wreckage, and an attack was organized. Zimmer commanded the men to charge on his command.
Ahead of them the machine guns dried and there was silence as the enemy reloaded.
“Vorwarts! Attack the fuselage before they can reload! I want grenades out now!”
But Kern heard the distinctive popping of a mortar nearby.
From a hole atop the fuselage he saw the shell fly out at an almost 90 degree angle, as if directly skyward. Then he saw another, and more shells followed, ejected from the wreckage and blasting the roadway and nearby houses, pockmarking the streets with small craters, throwing up thin columns of dirt and smoke and flinging away dead men.
At Zimmer’s command the squadron came charging across the open street, leaving behind the cover of a hollowed out old brick house. They apprpoached the fuselage from the right, stick grenades in their hands, and closed in as the mortars whistled up and over.
With a great clamor the mortar shells came crashing down.
Men stopped in their tracks as the explosives flashed and sounded all around them. Debris and smoke and shrapnel stung and frightened the men and disrupted the squadron’s charge. Fearing what would come Kern lost his nerve entirely. He flinched away.
Zimmer grabbed him and pulled him behind the slope for cover.
One by one the machine guns opened fire again; Kern heard two explosions to match.
Far less than the twelve men he had seen running.
Zimmer was livid. His charge had failed. His men had died again.
“You coward!” He shouted. “Pull yourself back together, and get reinforcements!”
The 1st Sgt. seized Kern by the shoulders, hit him with his cap and pushed him away.
Kern scrambled down the mound of rubble, but he did not have to run far.
A dozen meters behind them an M3 Hunter assault gun meticulously navigated the rolling hills of rubble and uprooted chunks of the street, climbing over each mound with its tracks and flattening out atop before rushing down the other side.
Kern hurried beside the tank and banged on it.
A hatch opened atop, and Kern pointed the commander forward. Immediately the commander heard the machine guns and spotted the top end of the wreckage ahead, and understood implicitly. Kern rushed ahead of the tank and waved 1st Sgt. Zimmer out of the way. The M3 cleared the rubble mound they had been standing on as easily as any small slope, despite its slippery consistency, climbing atop and aiming its gun at the wreckage.
There was a loud bang and a puff of smoke from the short barrel on the M3’s gun.
A 75mm shell erupted against the bomber wreckage, blowing open the hull with a fierce explosion. Fire spread across the inside of the fuselage, and the burning was followed by smaller secondary explosions, banging and popping inside of the inferno as the enemy’s ammunition caught flame and went up in smoke. Dust and shrapnel blew out like dust.
Tongues of flame and black smoking trails fumed from each of the windows.
Jostled from its position by the blast, the bomber rolled slightly downhill off the rubble. There were no signs of life inside, only a billowing black cloud punctuated by red flashes.
Lumbering forward, the M3 descended the rubble and its tracks came to rest atop the clear, flat street over which so many of their men had died without an opportunity to fight.
In all, the ambush cost them another thirty men – almost an entire company had been wiped out between the attack on the intersection and the ambush on this road.
Kern could hardly contemplate over a hundred men dying in only a few hours.
Their Regiment had around 4000 men, and their Division had over 12,000, but there was something about those larger numbers that registered as immaterial, impossible to think about in the way he thought about these squadrons, these platoons. Over a hundred men in two actions across a few hours. Should this continue, could they lose the entire regiment by the end of the week? Maybe a thousand a day until they were all gone?
He shook his head, forcing himself out of his reverie.
“Come out of hiding!” Zimmer screamed at the nearby buildings. He was livid. When the surviving rifle squadrons slowly vacated their positions he continued to shout at them and swing his hat as though trying to hit them with the thing in spirit. “From now on we do not stop to take in the scenery! You will keep your eyes peeled for the enemy, on every rooftop, across every mound of rubble, inside every building! Whoever I catch daydreaming will go peel potatoes and dig latrines for the rest of the war!”
Kern started walking ahead. Unceremoniously, 2nd Battalion regrouped, and with the tank platoon following, one vehicle staggered every twenty or thirty meters, the men moved on, cutting eastwards into Goa Street to bypass the heavily ruined Matumaini 1st block; their goal would be found on the 3rd, if any man remained alive to claim it.