This story segment contains violence and death.
“A tank platoon is coming right at us.” Farwah said.
His voice sounded enviably calm despite the carnage around them.
Naya saw them. Three M5 lights including that strangely modified tank with the purple stripe. She could make out the words on it now. Konigin. She had no idea what it meant. Back in AT training she had been taught that the kill range of the 37mm gun on Nocht’s light tanks was a thousand meters, but that was against an unprotected anti-tank gun or against a Goblin or an Orc. Those were the known variables both sides had at the time.
Against the Raktapata they would have to come much closer. She seized a shell from her ready rack, loaded it into the breech, looked down the sight. She grit her teeth.
Pulling the lever, she felt the shell fly.
Like a red comet, the shell flew right past each one of the tanks.
“Went wide.” Naya groaned. “Loading AP!”
Her mind started to race. She thought her eyes were tricking her.
At first they had been moving in an ordinary spearhead.
Then they fell into a column, one tank in front of the other, quite neatly.
She thought she had them.
Before she could shoot they started moving.
One tank going left, one right, one left; weaving across the meadow. They were still moving in a roughly straight line at her but because they continued to alternate the direction they were zig-zagging it was hard to draw a bead on any one tank.
Naya’s eyes went out of focus watching them, her vision grew hazy. Colors started to blur together. She worked the traverse lever, and the tanks rolled into and out of her gun sight with dizzying speed. Were they really this fast or was she just disoriented?
She fired another round and it soared harmlessly between the approaching tanks.
“Farwah, move forward, low gear!” Naya said. A stabbing pain started in the back of her head, and the front, and the sides; she felt short of breath and her pain was flaring. Whenever she looked down the gunsight it was as if the world was spinning.
Each individual bullet of sweat trailing down her face felt like an icy pinprick.
It hurt. Everything was hurting. Everything hurt. She gripped; a hand on her machine gun, another on the side of her cannon, her face half-out of her eyepiece. She gasped.
Naya mustered all of her willpower, and through the pain, the exhaustion, the wild swinging of her sight; she raised herself back as straight as she could and she returned to her gun, holding in a breath, looking down the sight at the zig-zagging tanks.
The Raktapata started toward the enemy. Both sides hurtled toward a collision.
Noel’s Konigin weaved easily between his subordinate tanks, sweeping left and right like the belly of a curling snake. AP shells flew past the formation, soaring at their sides, flying between them when they separated, and it was almost as if they were actively dodging the shots, as if they were boxers dancing through a barrage of punches.
Moving as a column constantly changing its direction they made for slippery targets.
“You’re doing beautifully, Ivan!” Noel said. He juggled a 37mm round in his hands, a wild grin on his face. He felt the adrenaline rush through him, and though his arms felt tighter, and a fearful thrill shook through him whenever he moved, Noel was excited.
In the distance the Ayvartan tank grew closer and larger. At first stationary, its tracks soon started churning mud and it accelerated toward them. This did not matter.
In a few moments it would have the honor of being the next notch, the next medal.
Counting the distance in his head, Noel sought a critical moment. No tank in the Ayvartan arsenal had the armor to survive an anti-tank attack at close quarters.
He waited until they were within several hundred meters of the monster.
“Separate!” He called out.
His tanks expertly split from the formation in several directions.
Dolph and Bartosz hooked right in different angles and at different speeds.
Ivan pushed the M5A2 a hard left as fast as the motor allowed.
Speeding forward with abandon, the Ayvartan tank rushed to its own cage.
The Jagdpanzerzug traced a triangle around their prey, exposing all its weak points.
Noel’s tank curled around the enemy’s left side, Dolph pulled quickly away as if toward the hillsides to cover its right and Bartosz rushed past the tank and around its rear.
Not once did it shoot. Their movements were too quick for its gunner.
Maneuvering this way they had guns on all sides of it and all within 300 meters.
Lumbering forward the mysterious tank could not escape their line of fire.
“Go hot!” Noel ordered. He caught the shell he was juggling and loaded it.
He hit his gun’s electric trigger with one hand and reached for a shell with the other.
Dolph, Bartosz and Noel unleashed their 37mm guns with practiced synchronicity.
In a second the grey puddles across the meadow lit up with punishing shellfire.
Achieving over 800 meters per second the impacts seemed instantaneous.
A sharp bounce off the gun mantlet on the right side.
A ricochet off the edge of left track guard at a sharp angle.
Disintegration on contact with the rear turret armor.
Several shots flew right over the hull, flatter than it seemed from afar.
Shots that practically slid off the glacis with the rain water.
Green tracers that soared skyward harmlessly after finding the armor too resistant.
Other than a few dents and dings and some smoke staining they had done nothing.
Unharmed the juggernaut charged through, crossing Noel’s gun sight. Absorbing their gunfire the tank sped up, as if all this time it had been running on a lower gear. It hurtled full bore away from Bartosz and Noel, its gun trained forward but breathing no flame.
Noel rammed the traverse pedals, trying desperately to track it with his turret.
“Dolph, it’s coming right at you!” Noel shouted into the radio.
Dolph’s driver swerved away but the Ayvartan tank shifted and threw its weight forth.
Metal still met metal, track against track.
Yet it was less a hard impact and more like a saber slash from passing cavalry.
At its top speed the Ayvartan tank swiped Dolph’s track near the front, bringing the weight of its left track guard against the raised drive sprocket and crushing it, cutting the track in the process. Barely slowed, the monster seemed to shrug the M5 off its space, tearing past Dolph’s track guard, shoving against the corner of the glacis plate and pushing the tank almost a meter back over the mud. Turning its hull the tank doubled back in a shallow turn.
Along with the hull the tank’s turret also turned. Finding a target the gun depressed.
“Ivan, Bartosz, move, now!” Noel shouted.
Bartosz’ tank swung violently from its previous course.
When the Ayvartan tank shot it really was as if it breathed fire.
A bright red flash propelled a wrathful red tracer.
Noel watched as the red line met Bartosz’s engine compartment.
It flew with such speed and power it punched through to the other side.
Up the field a geyser of mud, grass and rainwater rose where the shell detonated.
“Bartosz! Evacuate the tank right now! Bartosz!”
“We are unharmed Captain! Evacuating now!” Bartosz replied.
On the side of Bartosz’s engine a hole the size of a fist had been bored through.
Had the enemy’s gun been any less powerful that shell would have stopped and detonated inside the compartment, immolating everyone trapped in the tank.
Only the Konigin was left moving. As his subordinates escaped from their tanks, Noel quickly loaded and shot at the Ayvartan tank, hoping to draw its attention.
“Head for the hills, quickly! I’ll take care of this!” Noel said.
For a second he turned over those words in his own head.
Something that was half a sigh and half a laugh escaped his lips.
“What’s the plan?” Ivan asked. His voice trembled.
Noel fixed his gun sight on the Ayvartan tank as the Konigin turned around.
“Spotting torch and supercharger, now.”
Noel shut off the radio for a moment, and shouted down into the tank’s lower hull.
“I love you. We’ll get through this.”
“Full speed Farwah! Ram that guy’s side! I want to see his track fly!”
The Raktapata rumbled past the enemy light tanks hoping to ensnare it.
They had made too small a cage and used too few arrows to bring it down.
Like a predator the Raktapata pounced and swiped at the exposed flank of its isolated prey — in this case one of the unmodified M5s that had been moving at a shallow enough angle, far enough away for Farwah to hit. They tore past the tank, swung around, and Naya saw her opportunity to clear the tanks to her rear.
Her target tried to tear away. Her vision swam, but the adrenaline, the excited state of her breathing, the brimming she felt under the skin, all seemed to work to suppress the pain and anxiety. Her head was a blank, save for the fighting. And though her hands shook, she could control the shaking, anticipate the turmoil of her body, work with it.
It was like the last mile of a good run, when her body screamed to her that she was human, and she pushed and pushed beyond the brink until she felt numb for it.
She held her breath, spun her clumsy turret around just right, and hit her lever.
With a rumble and a puff of smoke the 76mm KnK-3 unleashed a fresh AP-HE shell.
She spotted the impact, the smoke; the enemy tank stopped in place.
Her shell flew right through the engine compartment and exploded outside the tank.
Naya grit her teeth. She would have to complain about all of this to Chief Ravan.
Regardless there were only two active tanks left in the struggle for the meadow.
The Konigin and Raktapata faced each other like two bulls about to clash horns.
Several hundred meters of distance now separated the combatants.
At once the Konigin’s tracks spun to life. It was bearing its own horns.
“Don’t charge, let him get close if he wants!” Naya shouted.
She was not a bull with horns to lock and she had charged enough for one day; she loaded a shell and opened fire without hesitation, hoping to catch her opponent–
It flew quite wide, crossing the field and exploding somewhere far. The Konigin accelerated toward her in that same tricky zig-zagging from before. It looked much less impressive when a single tank did it. Naya was suddenly confident in her chances.
She reloaded. Face glued to her gun sight she obsessively corrected and corrected, her reticle inching over the tank as it closed in. She reached out to grab the firing lever.
A sudden glare drew her away from the lens.
She shook her head, rubbed her eyes. Tears drew from them.
Looking back down her sight she spotted the same infernal glare.
“Farwah, open up with the machine gun, spray over the gun mantlet!”
Naya seized the trigger of her own machine gun and held it down.
She raised her head to the periscope to witness her handiwork.
Red machine gun tracers sprayed across the face of the Konigin, peppering every centimeter of the gun mantlet with dozens of rounds per second. Vision slits closed up quickly; at this distance Naya could see it buttoning up. There was a short-lived sparking from the tank’s face as the light it was shining burst in its little socket.
Satisfied she returned to her gun sight and found herself able to see again.
At under 300 meters the Konigin stopped zig-zagging.
It accelerated, hurtling toward the Raktapata like a bullet.
Naya had never seen an armored vehicle go that fast.
She reached for the firing lever and pulled it. Her gun sight shook with the force of her attack, but the shell soared across the field once again as the Konigin slipped past her.
Such was its speed that it cleared her gun sight entirely and vanished.
Dumbfounded, she rose to her periscope.
“It’s sliding? Skidding? How is that possible?” Naya shouted.
“It’s hydroplaning I think.” Farwah said matter-of-factly.
She hit the turret traverse, but found it suddenly unresponsive. There was a hitching noise from the hydraulics. Her traverse gear lever felt light, and she pulled it back and forward without seemingly any effect on the turret. It was completely stuck now.
At her side she heard mud and water splashing over the hull.
The Konigin drifted right behind her tank.
Noel could feel the tank hitch a little as it switched to its top gear and the supercharging solution made its way into the engine. Wa Pruf 6’s supercharger technology injected a fluid into the motor to burn more fuel and draw more power. There was a danger of burn-out but Noel did not consider it. As the Konigin sped up he focused on his target.
Their Monster remained rooted in place and started lobbing shells their way.
Any hit from that gun meant death, at any range. They could not be hit.
Meanwhile there was only one range in which their gun was effective.
The Konigin hurtled toward the enemy, picking up substantially more speed as another shell flew past. Noel felt the movement of the tank as if there was wind going by.
“Cut track power intermittently on my signal.” Noel said.
Ivan hardly needed a signal. Airing the intention was enough to start the maneuver.
At full speed the Konigin gently started a turn.
Noel gave the signal; a kiss into the mic once again.
Expertly handling the sticks, Ivan cut track power and led the tank into a skid.
Though muddy, the meadow earth was not soft nor was it sinking like the softer earth closer to the river. Over fairly hard ground the slick coating of mud and water acted as a layer between the tracks that could be troublesome for amateurs — or an asset for aces.
Swinging in a close circle around the enemy tank, the Konigin overtook its sides. They brushed close enough that the sweeping mud and water from the tank’s dramatic slide splashed all over the enemy’s green hull. Their enemy’s turret was motionless.
Noel took his first shot against the side of the tank and smashed one of the wheels off the track. Now this monster would be down a foot and unable to respond to the chase.
Seconds later the vehicle cleared the length of the hull and started closing the circle.
Ivan hit the brake and they came to a stop within 10 meters of the tank.
They were almost close enough to see the numbers on the back of the engine.
Now the Konigin was directly behind its prey and poised to bite the jugular.
Noel depressed the gun, aiming straight through the engine block.
A wicked grin on his face, he loaded an armor piercing shell and clicked his trigger.
They were so close that there was no flight, no shell trajectory, just a steel fist striking.
A loud, pathetic clank issued as the 37mm APCB shell spun off the tank’s rear.
“Hashem defend us.” Noel said, the uncharacteristic words slipping through his cold-feeling lips. His fingers shook. It was all-around armored, too much for his gun.
There was a terrible noise like steel grinding.
Swinging unnaturally quick the enemy’s turret completed a turn.
It pointed the gun directly at him.
Noel dropped down from his chair to the hull floor.
Overhead a red tracer punched through his gun and out the back of the turret.
Metal sprayed everywhere; sparks flew as the electrical equipment for the turret traverse was pierced by fragments. Shells fell off the ready rack one by one and he waited for each to explode upon him, cringing and crying out with every round that hit the floor.
None of them did. He looked to his side and saw Ivan pulling back the sticks.
“Noel!” He cried out. The Konigin groaned to life, backing slowly away.
Noel wanted to cry out to him but an explosion silenced him.
There was a blast nearby and a fizzing sound.
He could have sworn it was his fuel burning, but that was not the noise.
He rushed to the front of the tank and looked out the vision slit.
A cloud of smoke covered the front of the monster tank.
Dolph’s voice sounded suddenly. “We will not desert you, Captain!”
“Take this opportunity and run!” Colonel Spoor shouted on the radio.
Noel popped open the front hatch entirely, looking out into the rain.
Crouched at the tank’s sides, Dolph and Bartosz threw smoke grenades and Panzerwurfmines with all their strength, all of which bounced off the tank to little avail or did not even connect with it, but many of which seemed at least to blind and confuse the beast. Rifle rounds flew suddenly off the turret sides as the Panzergrenadiers left over took shots at it while retreating. More smoke shells started to fall; Spoor had set another mortar to help cover their escape. Everything the Panzergrenadiers had left they were throwing at the tank in the hope that Noel could escape. He was speechless.
“Get on top, we’ve still got some engine!” Ivan shouted at Dolph and Bartosz. They had their crews with them — drivers and radio operators. All six of them climbed on.
Under the cover of the thick smoke and random fire the Konigin reversed.
“Captain Skoniec, we are retreating! We must regroup and await reinforcement.”
Noel barely heard Spoor’s voice on the radio. Everything that happened was catching up to him as the Ayvartan monster became smaller in the Konigin’s front vision slit.
He had been defeated. Perhaps not by the enemy tanker, but he had been defeated.
“One more mortar barrage–”
Colonel Spoor cut out suddenly on the radio. Noel heard a sharp noise.
There was a massive explosion in the Panzergrenadier’s rear area.
Noel, staring out into the smoke, saw another monstrous outline.
“Track’s out! We can’t move!”
Almost as soon as Farwah reported this the enemy tank got around their rear.
Naya slammed the single-speed traverse lever, desperately tugging on it.
There was nothing, her turret refused to move.
She felt something slam the back of the tank.
But she was not dead yet — that was a good sign at least.
Naya threw all her weight onto the lever.
Crunching noises issued from all around her — turret finally spun around.
Once again the Konigin appeared in her sights, larger than ever before.
Muttering a prayer she loaded the gun and fired.
A hole the size of her head opened front to back on the enemy turret.
No explosion inside the tank, nor out of it. A dud round. It hadn’t even ignited the enemy’s ammunition for a kill. She reached out her hand for a new shell–
Her back locked up suddenly. A piercing agony spread through her sinews as if her very blood was covered in thorns, lashing under her skin. She bent forward over her gun, gasping for air, feeling her stomach acutely as she embraced herself. She dug her fingers into her upper arms and felt like she had been pressed into an iron maiden.
Several objects hit the turret around her. Naya rocked back and forth on her chair.
Below her the front hatch opened. Farwah cut the engine and peered out.
He rushed back inside the tank, coughing, and crawled out to the floor under the turret.
He stood beside her and said, “Smokescreen. Naya we’re sitting ducks.”
“I’m sorry.” Naya said. Her eyes welled up with tears. She grit her teeth.
“I’ll help you shoot.” Farwah said.
Naya nodded her head. She tried to pull her arms from her body, to straighten out.
It hurt, like nothing had ever hurt. All feeling was obliterated by the pain.
She had reached her limit. She felt like she would never move again. She wept.
Farwah clumsily tried to take a shell but he could not seem to get it between the breech bumper and the feeding tray. He fumbled, sliding it in at poor angles several times.
He dropped the shell entirely when a loud explosion went off down the meadow.
“Naya! Hold on, we’re here to help too!”
Naya looked up in disbelief at the voice she heard on the radio.
It was Lila, the medic girl, the food serving girl. Lila Bennewitz.
“The 152mm Mandeha self-propelled gun is at your disposal!”
That voice was Isa. Farwah raised his own head, his eyes lighting up.
Something rather large trundled past them on the meadow.
“Monster!” screamed the Panzergrenadiers. “Monster! Retreat! We can’t stop it!”
Men charged down the meadow as fast as their legs could carry them. Vehicles took off the very second the last leg of the last man that fit inside them touched the cargo beds.
In the middle of the retreat area a massive shell hit the ground and erupted.
A truck went up in flames despite being several meters from the impact.
From the smoke emerged a massive tank, with a gun thicker than any the Panzergrenadiers had seen. Atop a heavy, flat body, the tank boasted a gargantuan box of a turret, a comical discrepancy in pictures but horrific to witness in the steel flesh. Nearly four meters tall it dwarfed even the beast that the reliable Captain Skoniec had fallen to, and they could not hope to challenge it. Every man that could made his speedy retreat.
In the middle of the meadow, the newly arrived monster tank took several pot shots at the retreating vehicles. A Sd.Fkz. Squire carrier went up in flames despite a wide miss from the 152mm shell; a motorcycle got stuck in the mud and was abandoned, the men choosing instead to run on foot for their very lives. Captain Skoniec’s Konigin bolted away. An unconscious Colonel Spoor was dragged into his staff car and escaped.
When the smoke cleared, under the unceasing rain, the two monsters of Camp Vijaya stood sentinel in the middle of the rain, having now driven back the assault.
For the moment, Chanda General School was safe from the enemy.