The Benghu Tank War III (31.2)

This scene contains violence and death.

Dbagbo Dominance — Chanda General School


“Can’t talk, gotta run!” was Noel’s reply when Schicksal first contacted him.

Events unfolding around him demanded his full attention.

Everything happened too quickly and everyone was in disarray.

In the meadow foregrounding Chanda General School a grievous confusion unfolded. A series of explosions along the stairways into the school had practically destroyed a whole platoon. Both stairways leading into the school had been blown to steep rubble, and the vehicles crossing them were turned to burning scrap and hurled swiftly downhill.

On the muddy slopes alongside the shattered steps dozens of men had been swept away, deafened and bodily thrown and dazed by the violence of the explosions nearby.

They had little time to recover; shelling commenced soon after the detonations.

Mid-range caliber shells crashed haphzardly over the meadow, the blasts raising columns of mud, dirt, water and grass. Every shell was high explosive fragmentation. Through each blast metal fragments cast hungrily out from the impact site, seeking flesh to bite into. Men within a few meters of each sudden blast were pushed by the force of the explosion, but it was the metal that killed, punching through them like jagged bullets.

Once the shells came flying many the men hurried to the foot of the gentle hill upon which Chanda had been built and hid in the flowers and grass and around the wrecks of the two half-tracks sent to their deaths. Though the fear of hidden explosives was all too real Chanda’s hill was the only cover they had. Behind each scattered squadron, in the muddy, waterlogged craters left all along the open meadow by the howitzer shells, there lay the corpses of men who had waited too long to move. Destroyed within the minute!

There were a dozen shots through that long minute and their accuracy was evident in the corpses floating within the wounds carved into the grass and the flower beds.

Immediately orders to hide were given. Spoor’s car and the rest of the soft vehicles turned around and headed sharply back to the slopes that bordered the entrance of the meadow, hugging them for cover. This put the vehicles at about five hundred meters distance from the nearest crater, and more importantly, out of the school’s direct sight.

Noel ordered all of the tanks to spread out along the meadow as best as they could.

Everybody got out of harm’s way with all of their might, but the shells continued to fall regardless, striking around any target that was even partially visible from around the school. Plumes of smoke burst up around running tanks and fleeing staff vehicles.

As soon as Ivan got going Noel rose out of the commander’s cupola with a pair of binoculars, his hair and back quickly drenched in the rain. He raised the binoculars to his eyes and took in the character of the attack. It was starting to become clear to him.

He watched low velocity shells come soaring over the squat school buildings, flying in from the right side, from seemingly between the visible buildings, from over the taller, main building at the rear of the school. He could not see the terrain, it was obscured by the buildings, but he knew there were hills behind the school buildings that were a meter or two higher elevated than the rest, and covered by thin columns of woodland.

There were low-velocity howitzers back there lobbing shells into the meadow.

“Dolph! Bartosz! Round the hills along the right side of the school! They must have a self-propelled gun of some kind behind the trees there, judging by the shell trajectories! And the vehicles are fast, judging by how easily they reposition. Be very careful!”

His underlings turned from their evasive trajectories and hurtled towards the slopes.

Noel dropped back inside the tank and rushed to his instruments. He looked down his periscope and sights. Ivan continued moving around the meadow, zig-zagging and looping around the open field to present a more difficult target for low velocity attacks. Noel ignored the shells falling for now. Instead he focused on the only building that he could see from the meadow — and the only building in turn that could see him.

“Ivan, please power on the Mark Sixteen Spotting Torch!” Noel said.

“Yes, Captain!” Ivan replied. “Let me just reach over here and–”

There was no immediate effect, but Noel knew that the experimental high-powered spotlight set into his gun mantlet was now on. Ivan controlled the power to it from his switchbox at the driver’s compartment. A silly arrangement that Noel didn’t understand, but no matter. His spotlight now invisibly active, Noel began to work his turret pedals, rotating the turret and adjusting the gun elevation, and in turn, the elevation of his spotlight. He knew the beam was hitting the windows of the auxiliary school building.

Most of the windows were shut but there were several open a crack. Standing atop the little hill and facing the meadow it was a commanding position, at least six meters tall with two floors and maybe fifty meters or so in length. Behind it the main school building was bigger, with taller floors and a wider and broader footprint. Enemy artillery could not see over, through or around these buildings. Noel scanned each open window patiently.

Looking through his periscope he suddenly spotted a brief glint in one of the windows.

Noel scowled at it. He loaded a high-explosive shell into his gun breach, rotated his turret continuously with his pedals to adjust his aim to Ivan’s movements, and locked his elevation on the wheel. He saw the glint again and hit his gun trigger. His 37mm fragmentation shell soared over the meadow and smashed into the offending window.

Inside there was a brief flash and a lot of smoke. Noel had gotten the artillery spotter.

It was not the sort of action he particularly enjoyed taking but it had to be done.

Now that their eyes on the combat site had gone, the enemy’s artillery fire on the meadow grew haphazard and sporadic, and it finally abated entirely a minute later.

“Spoor, it’s safe to come back.” Noel said. He then changed the channel. “Hi, Siren!”


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