The Battle of Matumaini II (13.3)

The story segment contains scenes of violence and death.

25-AG-30 Matumaini 3rd, Ad-Hoc Assault Platoon

They heard the fighting across the wall and prepared to burst through and rescue everyone. But they had been too late. Only moments before the Ogre tank smashed into the byway, the machine gun had gone silent, never to fire again.

The Ogre’s fury more than made up for the loss.

Its cannon roared, and a squadron of Nochtish troops was cooked inside a small house and the machine gunners avenged. Armed with two machine guns, one coaxial to the main gun and another fixed on the front, the Ogre unleashed a stream of inaccurate fire as it trundled forward that nonetheless sent the imperialists running and ducking.

Gulab marveled at the sheer brutal power of the machine.

There was no comparing this to a Goblin tank. It seemed that nothing on Aer could stop the beast from its indefatigable march. Soon as the tank was in the byway proper, the platoon following it rushed forward, submachine guns screaming for the enemy’s blood. Gulab readied her new Nandi carbine, turning the switch to select fire, and girded her loins to meet the fighting head-on. She had to contribute this time. She had to.

“Concentrate your fire on guarding us and the tank.” Chadgura told her.

Even following that directive, there was no shortage of targets.

There was a large platoon, perhaps two, of the enemy’s soldiers in the byway, caught unawares. At the sight of the tank a few men lost their nerve and ran, but on the road they ran through more gunfire than open air, the trails of bullets flying past them a hundred a second it seemed, and they were shredded moments into their escape. Most of the men stuck to cover and tried to fight back, but the volume of fire was too heavy, and they spent the engagement with their shoulders to whatever rock could hide them from bullets.

Ayvartan Raksha submachine guns showered the enemy’s improsived positions with frequent bursts of fire, and the twin machine guns on the Ogre seemed bottomless, stopping only briefly to allow barrels to cool. To avoid friendly fire the platoon kept to the sides of the tank, and in this way the torrent of lead methodically expanded from the breach beside the clinic, conserving the tank’s powerful 76mm explosive shells.

“Clear the alleyways!” Chadgura shouted from atop the tank. Her voice, raised so loud, sounded strangely powerful to Gulab. “They may try to ambush the tank!”

Clinking noises followed in rapid succession; bullets struck the top corner of the Ogre’s turret to match the end of Chadgura’s sentence, harmlessly bouncing off the steel a few centimeters from the Corporal. Had the Spirits, or Ancestors, or the Light, whichever, not been guarding her she would have been perforated through the shoulder and neck.

Breathlessly Gulab raised herself to her knees, braced her gun atop the tank’s turret and quickly zeroed in on a second floor window fifty meters or so away and to their upper right, where she saw a man with a long rifle, feeding in a clip and working the bolt.

He had a good diagonal angle on them, enough to hit the back of the tank over its turret.

Eyes strained and unblinking, Gulab held her breath and rapped the trigger with her finger, feeling each kick of the Nandi carbine on her shoulder as five consecutive bullets cut the distance and smeared the man’s face and neck into the air and the window frame.

His body slumped, and his rifle slid from his fingers down the roof.

“Good shot, Private Kajari. Thank you.” Corporal Chadgura replied.

She put down her radio, and clapped her hands three times in front of her face.

Gulab nodded her head, and inhaled for what seemed like the first time in minutes.

Corporal Chadgura seemed to require no earthly resource to continue. Despite a brush with death and having forced her voice throughout the attack, the woman tirelessly issued orders without slowing down. She called again for the platoon to charge, and through her radio she ordered the tank to give them the opportunity. The Ogre’s machine guns quieted, and it hung back, creeping forward at a snail’s pace while the infantry took the lead.

“Squads split into two, chargers to rush enemy positions and shooters to stay back and keep them pinned. Fire on the enemy’s cover and punish any centimeter of flesh they expose! Rush at the enemy from the sides and drag them to melee!” Chadgura shouted.

Had her voice held any affect, Gulab would have thought these orders bloodthirsty. From the Corporal they likely came solely from proper training and cold rationale.

Her words had an immediate effect. Squadrons rearranged themselves mid-battle and grew efficient. Whereas before it was a wall of fire flying from hips and shoulders without regard, now men and women reloaded with a purpose, and marched in a deadly formation.

With a battle cry the platoon fearlessly charged the enemy’s positions.

They had the offensive initiative, and their enemy was helpless before the onslaught. There was almost no retaliatory fire, and what little was presented the platoon seemed to run past, as though the bullets would fly harmlessly through them. With their submachine guns, short-barreled and compact, easy to wield in tight quarters and able to fire numerous rounds in a quick, controlled fashion, the Ayvartans had the edge in this street fight.

Leading elements of each squadron overran enemy cover and drew them out. Shooters trailing behind fired short, well-aimed bursts around their comrades. Sheer frequency and volume of fire kept the Nochtmen pinned down and unable to move or retaliate, rendering them vulnerable to being flanked. Comrades hooked easily around trees and trash cans and porch staircases being used for cover, and with impunity they entered buildings through side windows or even front doors, and they jumped into alleyways, guns blazing, catching the enemy with their backs to cover and unable to respond. Soon there seemed to be a dead man sitting behind every hard surface, his rifle hugged stiffly to his chest.

Inside a few buildings Gulab saw bayonets flashing and comrades exiting triumphant.

One after another they cleared the alleys and emptied the buildings.

The Ogre advanced out of the byway toward the main street, having fired only a single shell the whole way. Light wounds were all the Ayvartans incurred through the byway. It was astonishing. Gulab had received training in firing her weapon and very basic tactics – cover, throwing grenades, calling for help on the radio, jumping over and around obstacles.

Chadgura however had led them to victory against an enemy. Gulab was sure of this.

Then behind the Ogre tank, Gulab heard someone knocking on the metal.

She shook the Corporal’s shoulder, and they turned around together.

Following alongside the tank, a young man had been trying to get their attention.

“Yes, Private? Have your comrades found something?”

The Private saluted. “Ma’am! We found two comrades wounded in that clinic.”

“How badly?” Corporal Chadgura asked. She clapped her hands together.

“They have been bleeding for some time it seems. Very pale.” He replied.

Gulab covered her mouth with anxiety, but Chadgura did not hesitate for a moment.

“I’m not sure how swiftly we can bring medical attention to them. Ordering common troops to haul them around roughly could be the death of them – leave a radio operator with them and call for medical. Have them follow our trail through the alleys.”

The Private nodded his head and ran back to the clinic along with a radio operator.

Gulab uttered a little prayer for the wounded on her side, lying in their own cold blood.

At least comrades had found them now, whether still alive or in the endless sleep.

Having dispatched resistance on the byway, the 3rd Platoon pushed forward.

Their prize was ahead.

The Corporal invited Gulab to look through her binoculars, and she spotted columns of soldiers moving down the main street. Regrettably they would not have the element of surprise on the thoroughfare – there were no more walls to burst, and in the distance Gulab saw the Nochtish soldiers pointing down the byway, and running for the cover found on either side of the road. They had a fight on their hands. Gulab handed the binoculars back, and loaded a fresh magazine. She was amazed at how simple it was, to simply push a box under her carbine and pull the bolt. She had hurt her thumb before trying to load a Bundu!

“Platoon, stack behind the tank! Use it as moving cover!” Chadgura shouted.

A hundred meters ahead at the end of the byway Nochtish soldiers barred their passage, hurriedly pushing two metal carriages into position on each street corner. Small tow-able anti-tank guns, aiming for the Ogre. Each had six men to it, huddling behind the gun shields.

Chadgura called the tank crew. “Shift turret thirty degrees right and fire!”

Gulab covered her ears and the Ogre retaliated.

While its machine guns renewed their relentless tide of iron, battering the metal shields in front of the AT guns, the Ogre’s main 76mm gun was reloaded and brought to bear after its long quiet within the byway. There was marvelous power behind it. Gulab felt her heart and stomach stir, while a puff of smoke and the vibrations of the recoil forces on the metal announced the shot. An explosive shell hurtled toward the enemy like a red dart. In an instant the shell completely overflew the enemy gun crew and exploded over six meters behind them in the middle of the street, throwing back a smattering of infantry.

“Reload with High-Explosive, adjust aim and fire again.” Chadgura ordered.

Bracing for the enemy’s attack, Gulab hid behind the tank’s projecting turret counterweight.

Given an opportunity, the enemy anti-tank guns unleashed their own firepower, each launching their 37mm armor-piercing shells through their long, thin barrels. Launched at an angle against the sides, they stood a better chance of penetrating ordinary armor in a weak spot, and entering the tank. Ayvartan shells tended to detonate after that; but the Nochtish guns usually fired solid projectiles that fragmented wildly inside the turret instead.

But where the Ogre roared the enemy guns merely whined.

Both 37mm shells plunged directly into the thick sides of the tank’s front hull and ricocheted, spinning back into the air without even leaving a dent. Then the shells came to lie uselessly by the side of the road. It was an incredible sight. Gulab did not even know that shells could respond in such a way. No penetration, no damage at all. Thrown aside.

Whether the Nochtish troops fought in disbelief of the failure of their shots, or whether they were even paying attention as they hurried to defend against the tank, Gulab did not know. But the AT guns continued to open fire as fast as their crew could reload.

Shell after shell pounded the front of the Ogre. Fighting back, the lumbering giant traded a few of its own shots back, one exploding a few meters behind the battle line formed between the two guns and rattling the enemy crews, and a second moments later blowing up almost directly in front of the rightmost gun, and blinding it with dust and smoke.

Staunchly opposing the Ayvartan advance a dozen shells in a row flew across the byway and slammed against the Ogre’s face without avail, striking the front tread guards, bouncing entirely off the slight slope on the front and sides, and flying in random directions.

A lucky shell struck the turret on its far side and shattered. Gulab felt metal dust and fragments graze her as they scattered across the surface, but then the Ogre’s gun fired, as if to say it was but a flesh wound. Gulab heard metal tearing and saw the rightmost enemy gun consumed by smoke and fire. Brutally the Ogre’s shell burst through the gun’s shield and exploded right on the crew, setting ablaze their ammunition and shredding the men.

Broken by the sight, the remaining enemy crew fled north, leaving behind their gun.

Speeding up, the Ogre overcame the battle line, running over the discarded AT gun. Gulab clung on to the turret as the tank’s left track rose momentarily, rolling against the enemy gun’s ballistic shield, and then crunching the gun under it into a flattened wreck.

“Private Kajari, keep your head down.” Chadgura said.

The Platoon had broken through to the middle of Matumaini and 3rd.

To the south they could see the intersection again, from where they had fled earlier.

Up north the Nochtish troops charged into pitched battle with the KVW.

Gulab saw the black and red uniforms in the distance, and from her vantage they seemed to stand in a line straddling the dark gray border made up of the Nochtish men. There were columns in either direction now, and the Ogre was holding them both up – the assaulting troops could not retreat into the Ogre and give space to the KVW push, and the reinforcements from the intersection would have to challenge the Ogre to move through.

That challenge was immediate.

From the south twelve men pushed two more anti-tank guns, their crews ignorant to the fate of the previous pair, and set them down 200 meters away down the southern end of the street, in a street corner partially obscured by rubble. Protecting them were three more men with a Norgler machine gun, who opened fire the moment the guns were set down. From the north, an assault gun firing into the KVW line began to pull back, turning into a street corner so it could double back to face the incoming tank. It approached from over 500 meters away and adjusted its gun, readying to stop and open fire at any moment.

“Platoon, take up positions on the right side of the road and pin down those anti-tank guns!” Chadgura shouted out. Then she raised her radio to her mouth and gave orders to the crew. “Load AP and turn the gun north. Keep the tank perpendicular to the road.”

They were going to engage the assault gun, and keep their sides to the enemy.

“Corporal, ma’am, are you sure about this?” Gulab asked.

Chadgura nodded. “Yes, I am sure of my decision. The sides will hold. Follow me.”

They leaped down off the back of the tank, and hid behind the hull rather than atop it.

Nocht afforded them no time to establish themselves any better.

It seemed as soon as their feet touched ground again that an onslaught of fire consumed both sides of the tank. Shots from the anti-tank guns pounded the right side of the Ogre, while a blast from the assault gun slammed the left side of the turret as it turned around.

Gulab and Chadgura ducked behind the tank, nearly thrown to the ground – the assault gun’s 75mm HE shell scattered a cloud of fragments and heat. The Ogre rocked on its left, partially covered in residual smoke. One of its own shells flew out from beneath the cloud and smashed into the front of the enemy assault gun. The Armor-Piercing High-Explosive shell detonated on the assault gun’s face, and caused it to rock violently, but did not kill it.

On the street the platoon’s three squadrons took to the standing buildings, and to the rubble of recent battles, and exchanged fire with the Norgler still over 150 meters away. From this distance they could not threaten the anti-tank guns with their submachine guns. Streams of automatic fire from the Ayvartan side of the street slammed on the gun shields. Gunfire flew inaccurately around the Norgler machine gunner and his team, who retaliated with greater precision, firing accurate bursts of automatic fire that pinned comrades behind rocks and fire hydrants and inside blown-out doorways and windows.

Though there was only one Norgler and eight bolt action rifles to over twenty submachine guns, the chopping sound of the gun intimidated the Ayvartans still, and its range, accuracy and position in cover made it more than a match for them. All the while the infantry dueled, the AT guns continued to fire on the Ogre’s exposed flank as though nothing were targeting them, but always to little avail. From the clouds of smoke rolling over the heavy tank, several small shells flew out constantly, deflected by the heavy armor.

Cutting the distance, the assault gun moved forward at full speed, stopped, adjusted, and opened fire again, slamming the Ogre’s track guard with an explosive shell. Fire and smoke blew again, and Gulab coughed, and buried her face against her knees.

She felt as though in the middle of an earthquake.

The Ogre punched back, planting a shell right into the face of the assault gun, and again causing the enemy vehicle to rock and jump. No penetration was achieved.

Armor was thickest in front.

In the midst of this fury Gulab felt terrified for her life. She covered her head and she nearly cried. “Corporal!” She shouted. “This is not working, we need to pull back! We can fight from the cover of the byway! We’re too exposed, you’re being reckless!”

“I apologize for not considering your feelings. But I will not consider your feelings.” Chadgura replied. She radioed the tank crew. “Keep firing AP on the glacis plate.”

Again the immobile Ogre spat a shell north-bound, hitting the assault gun and giving it pause. Southbound came a retaliatory shell, smashing the top of the rearmost track-guard.

In a split second Gulab threw herself on Corporal Chadgura and pressed her down flat.

Waves of pressure and heat washed over the top of the Ogre tank, and Gulab felt the fury of the explosive shell for a split second. It was as though she were trapped in the middle of a burning building, surrounded in a cage of fire, unable to breathe, unable to escape that building sensation over her skin. Heat and smoke and pressure would have crushed their heads had they stood a meter higher than they were.

Smoke rolled over the tank, and the heat dispersed.

On the ground Gulab felt Chadgura’s heart beating. Somehow they were alive.

Gulab stared into Chadgura’s eyes.

They were not blank – the depth of color was different than a normal person’s, so that they looked dull, but there was a tiny, glowing ring around the iris that was intense and beautiful. Her Corporal was flustered. She was emotional. Gulab felt her officer’s heart pounding, her lungs working raw. She was agitated. Perhaps not afraid, not like Gulab, but alive. It was strange, to see another person’s humanity so bared before her and to see, specifically, the humanity of her professional, toneless, bleak-voiced officer.

“Thank you. I am not unhappy to be in this position, Private Kajari.” Corporal Chadgura replied, her voice unshaken, dull as ever. “But we should perhaps move away.”

Gulab breathed in. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell you!” She shouted.

She heard the sound of a second set of tracks growing closer to them.

The Nochtish assault gun stopped within seventy-five meters to shoot again.

Gulab had no time to brace herself for another shell.

She was spared – the assault gun was interdicted. Behind them the earth rumbled again as the Ogre launched another shell at its adversary, scoring a solid hit on the front plate. There was an explosion, and the shell a few centimeters into the armor and warped the hull around it, scoring a deep a dent into the metal just under the driver’s viewing slit. It looked as though a massive fist had punched the front of the vehicle out of shape.

This wound stopped the assault gun in its tracks.

Seventy-five meters away the machine stopped, its engine stirring gently.

“What happened?” Gulab asked, helping herself to stand via the Ogre’s tracks. She had thought despite the damage the tank was not penetrated and would try to shoot again, but it never did. It was like a corpse whose heart still somehow beat despite its wounds.

“Spalling.” Chadgura said. “Enough continuous damage done to the armor will warp the metal and cause screws and rivets and other small parts to burst under pressure. Inside the enclosure of a tank, they ricochet like bullets. The crew is probably dead.”

That answered why Chadgura had ordered the tank to continue shooting.

“There’s more than one way to kill a tank then.” Gulab mused, a bit in awe.

“Inside that hull there are people, and people are always vulnerable.”

Chadgura knocked her fist against the tank, and called on the radio. “Apologies for the momentary silence. Our lives were in temporary danger. Please turn the turret south.”

To the south fire was still being sporadically exchanged between the Platoon infantry and the Nochtish defenders, without much movement on either end

That was about to quickly change.

Following Chadgura’s direction the Ogre fired on the enemy’s Norgler team, and the shell punched through the rubble and exploded directly in the midst of the enemy troops. At once the Norgler and the four men around it seemed to become gaseous, and the anti-tank crews desperately pulled back their guns, trying to move them back along the street.

They could not outrun the Ogre’s turret and shells carrying their equipment. One shell landed easily behind the men of one of the guns and sent them falling, battered from the explosion. The Ogre reloaded, the turret ponderously lined up with the second gun. Finding themselves so directly targeted the men abandoned their gun entirely.

Hands up, screaming, they ran from the scene.

The Ogre held its next shell in the breech, and instead sprayed in their direction with its coaxial machine gun. One by one the six men in the crew toppled over in the distance.

Within these brutal, seemingly endless minutes the way south to the intersection was reopened. Throwing up their fists and crying with elation, the 3rd Ad-Hoc Platoon left their hiding places and reorganized around the tank, cheering and petting it like a good dog.

“You all did wonderfully.” Chadgura called out. She glanced briefly at Gulab.

Gulab averted her eyes nervously.

She glanced over the fighting on road to the north, and spotted a curtain of smoke expanding over the streets. Gunfire erupted from high windows and rooftops against the road; mortar rounds hit the street and thickened the cloud, the smoke rising up and obscuring the shooters on the high ground. Gulab alerted Chadgura to these events.

Moments later, Gulab spotted two dozen red and black uniforms creeping out of the smoke. Two squadrons of KVW infantry escaped the fighting in the upper street and rushed to their side, catching their breaths in the shadow of the Ogre tank.

Chadgura saluted them, and they bowed their heads back to her deferentially. It appeared there were not any higher-ranking officers among them.

“I hope more of you won’t risk their lives to reinforce me this way.” Chadgura said.

A young woman with a blank expression stepped forward out of the group and spoke.

“It is no problem, Corporal. We crept easily through our smoke. Nochtish resistance along the northern block has been confined to a few buildings, and those will soon fall. We’ve been ordered to support you in an attack on the intersection at the edge of Matumaini and 3rd. An additional heavy tank and supporting infantry will attack from the diagonal connecting road in the west, and a third heavy tank will attack from Goa Street in the east.”

Chadgura nodded and clapped her hands.

“Understood. Pvt. Kajari, back on the tank.”

Gulab nodded, and eyeing the KVW troops quizzically, she climbed back on top of the tank. Everyone assembled, and began to march south, to retake the intersection they had all run from just hours ago. But this time, she felt it would be quite different.

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